Imitation: Truly the sincerest form of flattery?

Recently, as I’ve worked on my capstone project “The Narrows,” I’ve found myself often thinking about imitation. Since “The Narrows” is a fictional, dystopian short-story in the vein of a choose-your-own-adventure piece, I have had to imagine fictional character and institutional names to populate my creative universe. While brainstorming many of these names and basic background elements, I have struggled to balance the fictional constraints of my piece with my overarching desire for it to function as an allegory for political polarization in modern American society.

Specifically, I’ve found it difficult to design fictional political parties for “The Narrows,” given that I am wary of appearing to make a broader progressive or conservative political argument and, in the process, driving away audience members. As much as I want to imitate or draw inspiration from certain characteristics of the Democratic and Republican parties in my project, I also want to craft a fully-fledged and independent universe that is entirely detached from America today.

So far, I have come-up with two distinct political parties with entirely fictional and purposefully verbose names (for example, one is: “The United Covenant of the Everyday Citizen”) unrelated to real political philosophies like conservatism or liberalism. I’ve also created symbols and color schemes for each party (e.g. “three silver boxes” on a gold background) that avoid using any blue or red elements. Although I think this represents a good start, I’m eager to hear any thoughts or suggestions anyone might have for maintaining an objective, impersonal perspective as I continue writing my short-story. I’d also love to hear any ideas for political issues or debates I could include in my piece that are detached from actual contemporary political issues. Ideally, in my short-story I’d like to imitate the American political system without actually appearing to do so.

Capstone Challenge 1: I’m a Little Bit Scared, Guys

Since I finished the Minor in Writing Gateway, the prospect of the Capstone has been looming ominously over my head. I’m a big procrastinator and each time it has crept into my thoughts, I’ve nervously swatted it away, telling myself that I’ll have time later to devote to it. But now here we are, and I’m still swatting nervously.

Why am I so scared? I mean, I shouldn’t be right? I’m a 5th year senior who enjoys writing – it’s a chore to me the same way running is: at first I hate it but once I get on a roll, I can go for miles and miles with no break. But there’s a disappointment I have from my Gateway that lingers and makes me scared about this Capstone. I really don’t want to screw it up. I want to be proud of what I make and willingly showcase it to the people around me.

As of now, the crushing ambiguity and unknowns of my Capstone also seem to be raising my blood pressure. I’m writing about the concept of “Distance.” Don’t worry, even I’m a little unsure of what that really means.

As of now, I have a few main questions my thoughts have been centering around.

  1. What is distance?
  2. Why do we feel distance?
  3. How do we feel distance?
  4. How are distance and feeling alone linked?
  5. How do people manage distance?
  6. And, why do I feel so alone all the time?

I’m looking to loop in both personal narrative pieces and research pieces centered around a few main topics (family, friends, dating, college, adulting, mental health, etc.). I’m not really sure how the two types of writing will be combined though. Part of me wants to write narrative and research separately, however I think it might also be interesting to play with distance by writing the things I perceive as closest to myself purely narratively. Then I’ll work my way out to purely research-driven work surrounding the topics I feel to be the most physically and emotionally distant from myself.

Along with that idea, I’m really struggling to conceptualize a form that makes sense for this type of content. I want to (somehow) play with the idea of distance in the physical construction of my Capstone, but I don’t know how to do that really. Right now, I am planning on writing essays as the main medium for my project, but if podcasting, photography, or even mixed media makes more sense, I’m extremely willing to try it out.

Ultimately, I’m really scared about this Capstone project, but I don’t really have time to put it off anymore. Hopefully I make something I love and am proud of. Wish me luck!

The Rhetorical Circle

Wow.

It feels really weird being done with this semester-long journey of a project.

Like, I’m not sure how to comprehend and process this information.

It doesn’t help either that I’m about to graduate in a week and am still denying the reality of having to be an actual adult.

In all actuality, writing this post is really bittersweet; I remember way back in the fall of my sophomore year when I took the gateway class. We were pushed to write in mediums that were alien to us, and we would eventually publish our work onto a website. Which is the exact same thing that I did for this capstone class (with which said website can be found here). It’s really amazing to compare the work I did in the gateway class with this capstone project; it still retains the humor I like to include in any writing, but it feels so much more mature. It really highlights the fact that I learned a lot in that small window of time. Got to love that Greek rhetorical circle of starting and ending at the same point, am I right?

I guess since this is going to be my last blog post, here’s some advice to anyone about to do the capstone class and is looking for guidance:

Do what you love. It’s going to make the project a hell of a lot easier if you do something you are actually passionate about. The trick here, though, is that you have to know you’re passionate about it. Don’t go into it thinking, “Oh, this might be a cool thing to do,” cause I can almost guarantee you that it is not going to turn out in your favor when the work piles on top of you (although you may be one of the lucky few: if you want to take those odds, then go for it). Find something that you would be willing to spend many sleepless nights on, something that you wouldn’t mind researching for hours on end, something you wouldn’t mind working on for more than three entire months. If you can find that, then it will make the class, the project, and the semester an incredibly vivid and amazing experience. I was lucky enough to find a project that I had such a passion for, and it was even better in that I could include my friends in it. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I would have changed my project in any other way. It’s something that I’m happy with–both in the end product and the road getting there–even with the inhuman amount of coffee I ingested this semester.

There’s more advice I could give, but I give a fair amount of it on the website, so I’ll incentivize you to check it out that way.

For being a Minor in Writing, I’m surprised at how difficult it is for me to come up with more things to say about this project and the journey it took to get here.

So I don’t think I’ll say much else: just sit back, enjoy, and, as always,

Welcome to My Capstone: “A Court of Silence”

“A Court of Silence” is a collection of testimonies from my experiences working in legal offices, observing court hearings, and interviewing attorneys. These stories reflect the blatant discrimination that exists in our legal system. This site is their home. These stories live on here. I have had many fears approaching this project. One of which is the fear that you will leave this site without feeling the anger that I’ve felt; the anger that I am still feeling. If nothing else, I hope you walk away from this site feeling like you’ve learned something about the criminal justice system.

This has been my favorite project to date. Thank you to my mentor, Erin Lavin, for her words of wisdom. Thank you, Shelley, for always offering your eyes and ears at any time of day.

Let’s shatter the silence.

Find my project here: https://anfraser2.wixsite.com/courtofsilence

My Capstone Project – “Cut”

When I walked into our classroom in the beginning of January, I had an “itch” that I needed to scratch. It’s an itch that I first noticed all the way back in July, and it had been manifesting ever since. I knew that it wouldn’t go away until I addressed it, so I decided to use this Capstone project as my backscratcher.

The itch regards something that I believe most of us are afflicted with, but few of us have ever heard of: Protagonist Disease. Protagonist disease, or protagonist thinking, describes viewing your life as a story – a story in which you function as the central figure, or “main character.” Protagonist thinkers are in the habit of internalizing their lives as plot developments. They might even fantasize that their lives are being projected onto a screen somewhere in real time, and that the “audience” is rooting for them and sympathizing with them as they follow along with the various scenes of their lives.

 

 

I like to think of my project, “Cut,” as a sort of psychological thriller – one that is meant to capture the essence of protagonist thinking. It’s a little meta, and it’s a little abstract, but I hope that by the end, it speaks to why we engage in protagonist thinking, and what the consequences of doing so might be.

A huge thank you everyone in the Sweetland community who helped me grow as a writer, and who helped this project come into its own. All the class sessions and group workshops certainly made a big difference, but all the support, camaraderie, and inspiration within the Minor in Writing community made a world of difference. Both myself and my project are much better off for having been a part of it.

I’ve been scratching my itch all semester, and I hope that the result is something you can enjoy. Here’s the link to my project site: https://jonruby.wixsite.com/capstoneproject

Challenge Journal #4: So much noise

You know the best thing about creating a podcast series, other than having deep and heartfelt conversations with your friends?

The hours upon hours spent editing the transcripts for them.

 

 

So. much. fun (as an aside, THANK GOD for canvas having a transcription feature).

I’m slowly chipping away at these, and should have them done by the end of the week (hopefully before the March Madness game on Saturday!). I’m excited because that’s all of the mindless work done; no longer will I have to sit at a computer for hours and listen to a file, pause it, and edit the transcript accordingly.

Now I get to sit at a computer for hours and listen to a file, pause it, and edit the audio file accordingly.

Such a big improvement.

Here’s the thing though: I actually get to be creative with the audio files. I can add my own zany and wacky effects to them to really individualize and distinguish my podcast above all of the others. I can now begin to explore incorporating my voice in a way that is not necessarily written, and it is a prospect that I am happy to start diving in.

At the same time, it is the part of the project that I am most fearful towards.

While I enjoy the abundance of creative liberty that is granted to me with this project, there are two concerns I have. The first involves deciding how exactly I want my voice to be understood with the podcast; not my literal voice, but the one as a podcast creator. How loud do I want my presence as an editor to be known to the listener, and what tone should it take? I’m leaning towards having it be comedic, but I don’t want to inundate the listener to the point where the valuable lessons to be ascertained from the podcast will be lost with the laughter. My other, equally worrisome concern is that I will go down a metaphorical rabbit hole of editing, and that I will not be satisfied with my project until it is what I consider to be the epitome of a podcast, which will involve me spending literal days hunched over a computer instead of enjoying my last few weeks here as an undergraduate (unbeknownst to some readers, I’m a wee bit of a perfectionist: I spent roughly five weeks editing a paper for an English class I’m taking now until I thought it was acceptable).

It’s a similar problem I had with my gateway class and the initial major project we had to do (I think it was the repurposing project?). I knew I wanted to do some form of satire, but I was not exactly sure how to strike a balance being comedic and being informative. So I looked up multiple examples, cycling through various multimodal and written pieces of satire, eventually falling in love with Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

I loved how he was able to include humorous quips into his piece that did not obfuscate the main point of his message, which almost always turned out to be very informative. To that end, I decided to mimic my project to be of a similar nature, and this decision proved to be essential in helping me come up with the editing decisions and script I made for the final project.

Even though there were a couple of podcasts I listed as being potentially useful for my project, I haven’t really been enamored with them. They are fabulous podcasts in their own right, don’t get me wrong; it’s just not something that I am really resonating with. To that end, I think that’s what I got to do for this project. I’ll keep cycling through different podcasts until I find one that I really latch onto. From there, I’ll analyze it thoroughly, try to understand why I find it so captivating, and subsequently attempt to incorporate their editing techniques into my own project.

At least it will give me something else to listen to other than my own voice.

Introducing, my capstone

The Writing minor gateway and capstone projects are daunting. They’ll require hours upon hours of research, revision, re-revision, etc. They’ll make you question your choices, perhaps doubt your ability to finish the task, but they will also inspire you. They’ll make you aim higher, work harder to achieve your goals. In the end, they are always rewarding if you put the effort in.

Here is the link to my capstone project. I hope anyone who visits it will find it useful in their own way. Feel free to contribute to the site as well using the last tab on the site.

chetalijain.wixsite.com/50ways

Trying to think beyond categories

Going to Literati and looking through the essays/memoirs/nonfiction section was an interesting experiment in getting more used to thinking beyond the genres/categories/labels that I’ve grown up learning about.  It was even worth the weird looks I got as I knelt in front of the bookshelf with an index card and a pen, writing down what I saw.  The technique I used was to look at the staff recommendation cards, check out the description at the back of the book, look through the book reviews quoted on the book’s cover, and to quickly scan the pages myself.  I was looking for labels.  Here is what I found:

Essays/collections of essays.

Case studies.  I found one book called The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison.  The author used medical case studies within her prose.  She also used transcripts from tape recordings.  Interesting elements outside what one would normally think of as the essay genre.

Imaginings.  Not really sure what this means, but saw one book described as a series of imaginings.

A history.  For example, On Immunity by Eula Biss was described as a history of immunization.  On the back of the book, the LA Times was quoted as saying that it “occupies a space between research and reflection.”  So I guess reflections makes up another label.  The NY Times said it draws on science, mythology and literature.

MemoirLiterary biography.

Lessons.

DiariesThe Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits was described on the back cover as a series of confessions.

Portrait of a…

Letters.

Meditations.

Quite the list I compiled after only a half hour of skimming through books.  My next challenge is to figure out how to break and fuse together labels like these to make a more interesting capstone project…

Capstone Brainstorm

It’s a picturesque afternoon in southeast Michigan; dad is mowing the lawn while mom grills burgers for a late lunch.  The dog is hunting flies by the screen door to the deck.  And here I sit on my father’s laptop, staring begrudgingly at what can only be described as a quintessential blank page: the blank page to this blog post, sure, but also — and more terrifyingly — the blank page that is my capstone project for the Minor in Writing.

My first inclination for what my capstone project will be is based on form.  When thinking about the kind of writing I love – and the kind that I would love to be able to create – I think of essayists like David Sedaris and Rebecca Solnit, whose book The Faraway Nearby recently left me on the floor of my bedroom staring at the ceiling, the way great books often do. Thus, I am considering making an attempt at writing a series of essays which skirt the line between memoir and nonfiction while incorporating plenty of research- that’s the kind of thing that makes nerds like me excited.

When it comes to content, however, I’m at more of a loss.  My technique for considering what to write about is to reflect upon the endless number of things I know very little/nothing about but that seem to show up in my life, throwing me for a loop on a regular basis.  Lately I am curious about themes like introversion and friendship, particularly where the two intersect.  I am also endlessly fascinated by mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, about what happens when you ask for help but don’t receive it, or when the help you receive does not help at all.

Then again, on the more concrete level, I love to make things with my hands.  I would love to learn more about bookmaking – the old fashioned type that you see at art shows.  I enjoy making my own journals out of scrap leather and parchment paper.  And I enjoy writing in those journals afterward – my own little creation from form to content and everything in between.

These are ideas I am tossing around in my head for the time being. Being both excited and terrified for the project ahead of me, I’m sure I will continue to lay in bed at night thinking about these things.  Stay tuned:)

Field Notes, Brief Poems, and Endorsements of F. Scott Fitzgerald & Abraham Lincoln…or, What My Capstone Project Says About Me

At the beginning of last year, I bought a packet of Field Notes with the intention of keeping track of my random thoughts in a physical form rather than just in the Notes application on my laptop. I am one of those people who is struck by inspiration at all kinds of times and then must immediately jot down thoughts lest I forget the “brilliant” idea. Of course, most of these are disconnected scribbles. Here is a sample:

Field Notes. They're grrrreat!
Field Notes. They’re grrrreat!

05/21/15: “In my dreams I see you still, we walk on sandy shores. I hold your hand, you kiss my lips; everything is like before.”

07/06/15: Possible biography: Captain John Langland (1862-1942), the first and only keeper of the light at Portage Lake from 1891-1917

12/24/15: “…it was as if for the remainder of his life he was condemned to carry with him the egos of certain people, early met and early loved, and to be only as complete as they were complete themselves.” — thoughts of Dick Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night (p. 245)

Look, it's Scott.
Look, it’s Scott.

It’s truly a smorgasbord of all kinds of ditties, though a good deal of the scribblings do relate to my penchant for writing creative fiction (though I now realize that none of the above examples portray this, silly me; unless you count the poem). ANY WHO…I knew from the outset that I wanted my Capstone Project to be a creative fiction piece, and boy, what a whopper I have cooked up for myself.

The goal is to write 20,000 words in roughly eight weeks, and the countdown has already begun. While the outlandish-ish word goal is not necessarily indicative of who I am (I am admittedly a lazy person), the creative fiction aspect is 100 percent me. The project will be, finally, the realization of a story I have wanted to write for years that has taken on differing forms in the past, all of which have generally not lived up to what I expected of them.

Set the bar high.
Set the bar high.

This project says I am now determined to write the novella I’ve had inside me just waiting to break free. And now I’ll stop saying feathery things like that. You’re welcome.

As for other aspects of myself that I want to showcase in my portfolio, a love of literature and history is definitely on the list. This might be evidenced by the inclusion of quotes from famous authors in different places. The ‘About’ page specifically offers a good space for this. Checkout my odes to famous writers on Twitter:

Lewis Carroll Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.43.33 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.45.23 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.46.25 AM

Notice from the insane amount of retweets and favorites that I am damn  popular on Twitter. Also notice that I was taking Ernest’s advice in composing that last sentence (insert “damn” every time you want to write “very” and your editor will strike out the unnecessary word, making everything as it should be).

The last tweet I included there does not have to do with literature directly; Abraham is just The Man. And I’d encourage you to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which inspired the recent Stephen Spielberg film, but I know you are unlikely to do that. And that’s okay. We all have our things.

I'll just leave this here.
I’ll just leave this here.