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!

Capstone Challenge 1

The beginning of the Capstone journey was intimidating to say the least. I wanted to choose a topic that not only would keep me engaged and entertained the entire semester, but would also invigorate a conversation within a larger audience. I have landed on the topic with these three driving questions:

  1. What effects does gymnastics have on mental health, specifically anxiety, and sexual assault?
  2. Is the advertising surrounding the sport portraying the sport in a problematic light?
  3. Are the cultural norms connected to gymnastics the root of the problem?

These such questions will allow for an intersection of mental health, sexual assault and the sport of gymnastics. This is something that not only I am passionate about, but I connect with personally. I find this to be an important and relevant societal conversation that I am looking forward to exploring. I am joyful as I begin to think of the proclamations I will be able to make and the voice I will be given in this conversation. I think this is a hot topic in society as of right now, and especially in the gymnastics world. Too many people have too close of ties to make bold statements without treading tumultuous water, whereas I feel these statements need to be made. I think this would stretch beyond just the gymnastics world, however, since such a large portion of society was invested in the Nassar case which was heavily surrounding this topic. I am particularly interested in this topic because it not only would be a positive self-exploration for me personally, but I think it has a possibility of being extremely conducive for positive change in the gymnastics world once it is put out into the world.

Challenge Journal 3: Tactility

At a Christmas party two years ago, I sat across from one of my best guy friends from high school. We were the only people our age at this party, which had always been the case. He was recounting the stories from his second year at Williams College and, with great enthusiasm, his decision making process regarding his double major in History and Economics. He had always been a bookish type, but now he seemed shrouded an earnest professorial glow. He described forty page papers and hundreds of pages of reading – and he seemed genuinely excited. I felt a little twinge of jealousy, because my major didn’t lend itself to finding the perfect study spot or the satisfaction of finishing a complex, historically significant tome.

“Have you declared yet?” he asked good-naturedly.

“Yeah, I went in Voice Performance.”

“Oh yeah!” he said, nodding as he remembered. “That must be cool.”

“Yeah! I mean – I love it…I did add a minor, though- a Minor in Writing?”

“Oh cool! Why?” he leaned forward.

“I guess…I mean I love writing and I want to get better and it…and, I dunno, voice and music doesn’t really lend itself to tactility. Like, you don’t get the satisfaction of holding your work in your hands and feeling the weight of it- it just goes out of you and POOF!”

“‘Lend itself to tactility…’” he chucked. “That’s the most ‘Emily’ way you could’ve said that.”


Writing has always been a marker of effort and skill for me. In high school and college, I often enjoyed the moment when you print out an essay or research paper and feel its weight in your hands before giving it away for someone else to hold. I used to think of those stacks (big and small) of paper as a quantifiable and tactile version of my brain power.

But as I went through undergrad, even with the Minor in Writing, I found that my writing took that physical form less and less frequently. Save English 425, which effectively obliterated my print budget, most of my classes in writing have relied on digital writing and multi-modal forms. Although I was grateful for the experience in experimenting in multiple genres and forms, I missed the experience of printing stuff out and feeling my “brainpower”’s weight in my hands.

And now we’re here – at the end of undergrad and the end of Capstone. And, despite my initial intent, I don’t think I am going to get the satisfaction of holding a giant research paper in my hands on the last day of class.

But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing?

My project has, at its foundation, remained the same: exploring the relationship between classical vocal music, diversity, and our voice curriculum at Michigan. It has morphed, though, from a research paper to a journalistic article to (now) a sort of argumentative/opinion piece on why representation matters in our program and how diversity can, perhaps, be the thing that “saves” classical music as a whole. I went from trying to focus on and explain all of the theory surrounding diversity and representation in music to focusing more on how to conduct a palpable change in the program. A change people could hold in their hands – something that goes beyond scholarly articles (but still needs to the articles to substantiate the argument!).

My project always centered around interviews and the effects of our program on the people. As I conducted my interviews and learned more about the nut and bolts of our curriculum from faculty, I felt compelled to involved even more people in my project. Seeing project’s like Laney’s and Ashley’s – who directly ask on their website for users to share their stories – inspired me to include my own “comments” section on my website.

But, as I continue to wrap up the project, I want to go further. This brings me to the “question” of this very roundabout blog post: should I include a link to a petition which states that there should be at least two African American composers listed in the “American Song” section of our requirements? This request is the palpable/tactile action I landed on based on what I know about American art song, my research in identity theory and representation in classical music, and my interviews with students and some faculty. Would it be too ballsy? Would I be overstepping the boundary of a student? What do y’all think?

I may print out some version of my Capstone so I can hold it in my hands. Or, I may just throw a pizza party for all my interviewees and give them all a hug; or print out a revised version of a Michigan SMTD undergraduate voice repertoire sheet – hopefully somewhere down the line – that includes more than just the names of old, dead white guys. I have a feeling those few words and/or those embraces will feel a lot more satisfying than a stack of my own words alone.

Challenge Journal 4: Writing as a Medium for Change

(Apologies in advance for this horridly watermarked image)

As part of my capstone project, I’m interviewing five performers and writing about their experiences as people of color in the world of the performing arts. One of the people I recently interviewed, Yoshiko, spoke extensively about finding ways to marry her interest in writing with her dance major. She spoke about how the world of the performing arts, especially dance, can often feel daunting and esoteric, and thus dance is often as a world inhabited by dancers & dancers alone. She mentioned that written pieces often feel accessible and approachable, even if the reader is unfamiliar with the subject matter. (Of course, there are many factors that go into this — the format in which a written piece is presented and to whom it is primarily presented also affect the piece’s accessibility)

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I prep for graduation. What are ways I can practically apply my writing minor to my career in musical theatre? Of course, I could always intern for a publication like, but I’m wondering if there are less explicit ways to utilize my writing minor to help me achieve my career goals & make a lasting impact on the industry at large.

Many of my goals in musical theatre are centered around furthering diverse representation of all ethnicities on stage. I also am focused on the inequality and injustices that take place in show business, specifically surrounding issues such as sexual harassment and unequal pay between genders. I wonder if there are ways to write about these issues without seeming overly preachy or politically biased and to write about these issues in such a way that I inspire rather than belittle. (I mean…I know there are ways, I just need to think harder about them and actually carve out time to carry them out)  I think that’s what I’d want to use my writing minor for ultimately!

Hmm…I’m still tackling this problem. Honestly, school has me swamped at the moment, and I’m not really expending energy thinking about things that are unrelated to my immediate plans. I probably should, because those things are obviously super important to my own personal integrity as a writer & artist & human being! But I’m just trying to get through the next two weeks of classes! However, I’m holding myself accountable to sitting down the day after classes are over with my notebook & writing down some of my top goals and priorities for the next five years. I’ll keep you posted (:

XO, Jess

What’s Left


The stress is hitting. I have 4 weeks left and more to do than I thought possible.

Just today, my parents and I began the move out process.  They brought a load of my stuff back home to Chicago.  While it feels good to get things started, doing so triggered a bit of panic within me as I realized all of the things I have to wrap up before April 26.

I have jobs to apply to, moving plans to solidify, competitions to submit my work to, I have 3 classes to wrap up… two of which are thesis project classes, friends to say goodbye to, clothes and furniture to pack up and move out, and what seems like a zillion other little things to cross off of the list in just 4 weeks.  What have I done to myself!!

Ok, I’ll calm myself down a bit.

The problem I am beginning to need to work through is that, when I am stressed out and short for time, I have a horribly hard time writing.  I’ll build a sentence, delete it, write a new one, delete it again.  I can’t make decisions on narrative or linguistic style, I get mad at my fingers for not typing as fast as my head is thinking, and so forth.  What should be a peaceful and enjoyable process turns into one of frustration.  This sometimes goes on for hours.

This has happened so many times before and will certainly happen again.  Something good about being a senior is that, with four years of this under my belt, I finally have an idea of ways to relax myself out of it…

While I was trying to wrap up my final project in my gateway course my sophomore year, I was also trying to wrap up 18 credits worth of classes.  I remember being stressed and frustrated with my lack of efficiency while I was writing.  I could annoyingly work on my math and physics courses in this state just fine, but when it came to writing, it just burned me out.

What I’ve found to work is when I separate myself from the world around me a bit.  I get rid of my phone.  I go to a coffee station where I know none of my friends will come to.  And I give myself 5 to 7 hours of a day to be unbothered.  It is all about time, location, and interior energy.  My thoughts are less scrambled, my body and muscles relax, I have no one to answer to, and I can just breathe.

I need to give myself a day to do this for my project and I need to do it as soon as possible.  I achieved NONE of my writing goals for this past week so I will need to start this week off strong and focus some of my time on this project instead of some others for a second.  Hopefully, Tuesday will be a day that I can try to reach this state.

I need to rediscover my energy and excitement for my project again!  I’ve gotta get the wheels turning for this.  I can do it.  It WILL happen!