Capstone Introduction: Broken Glass Fears

While brainstorming a list of discomforts for class at the start of the semester, I came up with one that continued to niggle at me—broken glass. It’s not a phobia or something that plagues me, but I have what might be considered an overreaction to the occasion of breaking glass. I identified it as a strange sort of fear in between discomfort and true fear. Both rational and irrational, physical and psychological. After examining it a bit more, I realized this fear was symbolic in the sense that the feared object (broken glass) represents something fundamentally disconnected from itself (my need for control). I’ve started calling these symbolic fears. After a bit of this mental gymnastics fit for a therapist’s office, I decided I wanted to explore these symbolic fears in myself and those around me. My project is going to explore my own symbolic fears, those of my friends and family, and the general science behind where our anxieties come from.

Initially, my project was meant to be a podcast. However, I quickly adjusted the form to be a series of linked essays. I wanted to try podcasting, and I felt I could get great interview clips of friends and family. But, at the end of the day, I wanted to craft a piece of written, not spoken, prose. I have been preoccupied with writing short stories in the minimal free time I have for pleasure writing. And while I don’t see a feasible way to disseminate this material into a short story, I felt a series of smaller essays would give me the freedom to use my voice in the same way. I have long enjoyed the works of essayists like David Sedaris, so I am excited to play with a new form I have largely admired but with which I haven’t had much experience.

Uncomfortable Conversation

I would like to to reach an audience that is not usually brought into the conversation nor abruptly enters, which means to do so means I will practice being the mediator between my field of study and the outside audience.

Everyone would like their writing to be good, if not excellent, but what is good writing? Is it good if enough people read it? Is it good if only a certain group are able to read it? What if writing was judged on what it represented, the ethic within the piece?

As I begin to interview people who I do not usually talk to, I am hesitant to do so because of the unpredictable outcome. Will this turn into good writing? Will my readers like it? But then I also consider the ethical questions, would this piece create more equality as it brings in more diverse voices?

As a writer, I am choosing to put the ethical question before others. Questioning, how would my piece impact the lives of others? This encouraged me to enter spaces and conversation that I am unfamiliar with, yet at the same time, my syntax and diction must be persuasive to the reader. So despite the question of ethics, the reader must be able to connect with the piece in order to be persuaded. A piece of good writing is not necessarily based on ethics, but who the readers are that are connecting to it, be it select audience or the mass.

Tackling Capstone from multiple disciplines

In launching my Capstone project, I’ve been reflecting on an essay I wrote last semester in English 325, titled “It’s Just a Girl Crush.” In this essay, I explored the pervasive idea of the “girl crush” (an attraction between presumably straight women) from many different lenses – biological, social, cultural – as well as in the context of my personal experience.

As I wrote “It’s Just a Girl Crush”, I ended up teasing out much of the nuance tied up in this topic, and even probed some of the ways in which female sexuality diverges from male sexuality. I think what allowed me to tap into the many layers of the girl crush was my emphasis on interdisciplinary research. For instance, I investigated the girl crush from a scientific perspective, finding that indeed, sexual attraction and romantic, crush-like feelings do not always go hand-in-hand. However, I also found from reading some academic theory that in fact, women’s sexuality is far more fluid than men’s, and influenced by different factors, so it’s possible for a woman who sees herself as predominantly straight to experience significant attraction to other women throughout her life. In addition, I found it helpful to look to pop culture and more sociological analyses, discovering that the girl crush is problematic in many ways – for instance, it glamorizes and “straightens out” same-sex attraction and contributes to bi-erasure. If I hadn’t used these many different lenses, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the complexity of the girl crush, a social construct that is rooted in both truth and stereotype.

I’m proud of the nuance I was able to achieve in this essay, and going into my Capstone project on the relationship between religion and climate change, I hope to achieve a similar level of multidisciplinary thought. The premise of my project is that many liberal houses of worship in the United States have proclaimed their commitment to environmentalism, and similarly, many religious scholars have pointed out ways in which religious texts and tenets support an environmentalist mindset. However, I want to dig into this idea of compatibility, to see if there is in fact some inherent disagreement being smoothed over. I hope to extend that critique to the environmental movement itself by illuminating the cognitive dissonance most people need to hold in order to reconcile their personal needs with their environmentalist beliefs.

To make this critique interdisciplinary, I plan on drawing from the perspective of religious environmentalists themselves, perhaps taking a more academic approach to presenting their analyses and arguments. I’d also like to rely heavily on personal observation, since I’m someone with both a Christian background and a strong interest in environmentalism. Hopefully, that personal experience can be bolstered by others’ sociological commentary. Perhaps working in scientific research on the timeline of climate change will also help me get my argument across. Overall, I think that using frameworks from different disciplines helps to enrich and complicate a piece of writing. I welcome any suggestions as to how I can achieve that effect in my project.

A Purpose for Descriptive Writing

In Art of the Essay, English 325, the main focus was on descriptive writing in order to make the reader believe that he or she is a part of the experience of the author. I took this course in the summer and at the time I was beginning to work on my senior thesis about Ancient Near Eastern galleries in university museums. It was in this class that I began to practice describing the designs of the galleries that I was visiting over the summer, practicing how to explain a display or object as if the reader was the visitor in place of myself. 

One of my essays explained, in ten pages or so, how the statue of the Lamassu Iraq was displayed in the Oriental Institute. I was able to bring the reader into a detailed analysis of it from describing its texture, shadowing, color, material, movement, posture, and then explained how these details might attribute to its original function and how its functioned has changed since being displayed at the Oriental Initiate. I then used this practice to incorporate a description about a wall relief into a conference paper that I recently presented to scholars in my field of study.            

 As my proposal for English 420 is about redesigning the Mesopotamian Gallery in the Kelsey Museum of Archeology, I will use what I learned from English 325 to incorporate detailed descriptions of my proposed design. The purpose will be to make the reader believe that he or she is standing in the gallery that I create, believing that it could exist

Capstone Challenge Journal 4: When to Reflect

            Showcase has come and gone, and with it my concerns over finishing my project in time to be able to show anything at all. Despite my best efforts to procrastinate until the bitter end, the project is finished, and a semester’s worth of work now rests quietly in my odd corner of the internet. All there really is to do now is reflect, a process that can easy become a stressor itself. Did I work hard enough on this section? Did I actually make a clear point on this part? Will anything I’ve done actually matter? If looking over my gateway project months upon completing it are of any indication, I can only assume I’ll return to my capstone and feel the weight of everything I failed to do with it rather than appreciate what it was I accomplished. I know this about myself, and as such I need to be cautious about how I direct my reflection, lest it be little more than me giving myself a hard time.

            To this end, the past work that this post brought me to thinking about was a paper I wrote for a course I took on Shakespeare. It’s a piece where I compared Lady Macbeth from Macbeth with Emilia from Othello, both the wives of villainous characters, and both with something of a hand in their husband’s villainy. I’d go into greater detail about my claims, except, well, for one thing they’d probably make for a boring blog post, and more importantly because I don’t actually remember them in detail. You see, I don’t actually have this essay anymore. It’s nowhere to be found on my computer, nor in the cloud or on my google drive, or on old canvas pages or in old backups of my computer. I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to recover it, but it’s seemingly been erased, and I have no idea why.

            And that’s just it, my memory of this piece is all I have left of it. My reflective ability, as far as that work goes, can only surround what I remember and what effect it had for me in the class – which is to say it got me an A in the class, so that’s a pretty positive thing to reflect on. While I certainly wish I could read the piece again just to see it, I understand that a part of why I feel so strongly about it is because I no longer have the ability to over-examine it. It served its purpose then disappeared, forcing me to reflect on what it left behind rather than what it actually was.

            This isn’t to say that I’m going to delete my capstone now that it’s over with, but it is a necessary reminder of how much the work itself can change in the writer’s eyes after the work has served its purpose and now just stands as forever embodying that purpose, unable to change even as the writer moves on and develops a more mature understanding of the work’s subject matter. Having the actual thing in front of you can be stifling in this maturation, the writer getting bogged down by the reality of their work rather than in the ideas they represent. With that in mind, I’m going to step back from my capstone for a while, so that I may more easily see the good in it rather than focus so much on its shortcomings.

Challenge Journal: Reflection

Pursuing a corporate career, I often ask myself: “Why Writing?” The business world is moving away from writing as a valuable skill. Even in professions that do value writing, appreciation comes few and far between. Why in the world did I dedicate countless hours to a Minor in Writing? To the Michigan Daily?

As my journey isn’t finished, I can’t say I have an answer for it. But I am getting closer, and excuse the cliches when I share my possible answers.

I furthered my understanding of what constitutes a community. through writing I felt something strangely tribal at the MiW showcase as I listened to fellow classmates share their projects after students from others. I felt proud of what we accomplished even when there was no overlap between what any of us did.

Similarly, the minor showed me that writing can build relationships. I think people better understood who I was after my workshop in the class. I certainly felt the passion that others had when I saw pieces of their work. Finding a voice and looking to be unique is what drove me on the Daily and in the class, and I am grateful the opportunity to further figure out what that means for my writing.

Finally, my time spent writing showed me my potential when I work on something that I am passionate about. When will I get the freedom on an assignment like I did with the gateway and capstone? When I am working, will I have to put passion projects to the wayside? I’ve certainly gained an appreciation for the variety of projects I saw and the fun I had making mine.

So why writing? There isn’t one good way I can put it. I may always wonder if the good I gained from it really would make a difference later on. But maybe it doesn’t have to. I can appreciate that there was something good to be had at all.

Does Showcase Mean It’s Over?

Sitting here as the capstone showcase wraps up, I can’t believe it’s already over! I don’t know if it’s the result of being done with college or just with a massive project that took up much of my semester. Probably both. I think I often feel this way when I finish large literature pieces. Maybe it’s especially strong this time because I made something I had never made before this semester; a podcast. Learning how to create and edit a podcast was something that was actually a lot easier than I anticipated (shout out Garage Band!) Still, it feels weird. It reminds me of when I typed an essay about my experience with nationalism and feelings of strong emotions during my trip to Washington D.C. It was the largest piece I had created (until now) and it never really felt done. Kind of similar to how I feel now. With a topic as meta as feelings of emotion and then subsequently, a discussion on free will and determinism, I guess the discussion is never really done. With something that’s hard to explain or something that can never really be over, it leaves the creator feeling unfinished. That’s how I feel now. I feel like I could continue this free will discussion with countless more guests, experts, friends, etc. and keep this podcast going as more and more stories and incidences of guidance and free will continue to occur in the world. Well, I guess there isn’t much more work to be done now that I’m leaving showcase, but this topic is definitely something I will continue to ponder as my life progresses.

Into the Sunset

When I was younger, I was really into old Western movies for no particular reason. From classics like A Fistful of Dollars to more recent entires like No Country for Old Men, I was always drawn to the genre. Maybe it’s the tumbleweeds, or the desolate landscape, or the eerie soundtracks, but I found Westerns simply incredibly compelling.

One of the hallmarks of many of these classic Westerns is the ending. Typically, in many of these films, the final shot features the protagonist riding off into the sunset, having successfully overcame their adversaries or or otherwise resolved their conflicts. Seeing that shot at the end of each of these movies was reassuring in a way. It felt like everything was right with the world when a gunslinger acknowledged their success, while simultaneously deciding it was time to move on to a new challenge.

That same feeling has dominated much of my thinking lately. Between finishing the Minor in Writing and graduating from Michigan, it feels as if I, too, have overcame my own obstacles. Like many of those fictional characters, I feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and pride in my success. Yet, I also feel a strong sense of sadness and unhappiness. Being the one actually riding into the sunset, I now realize the pain that accompanies leaving or finishing something of real value. Deep down, I ache for the story to go on, for another capstone project to come along, for another opportunity to develop more as a writer at Michigan.

It’s why these past few weeks have been so difficult. I want to keep going–to keep pushing, to take another course, to create another piece, to do anything to prevent that solitary sun from finally setting and from the screen fading to black.

At the risk of assuming another person’s emotional state, I think some of those characters felt the same way. Or, at least, I like to think they do. Really, I struggle to believe that these tough-guy gunslingers can all move on without feeling a twinge of sadness at leaving an entire place behind, regardless of how tantalizingly exciting the future may be. It’s this specific act–the moving-on–that I think reveals much about a person’s character.

For me, my difficulty in moving-on shows how much I’ve enjoyed my time at Michigan and, more broadly, how resistant to change I am. I’ve always struggled to adapt to change, and finishing the Minor and graduating represent massive changes to my life–to all of our lives. Yet, I’m still hopeful that this will ultimately be a positive change. I may be being shoved into the sunset, rather than going voluntarily, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t enjoy it.

Into the sunset we go.

Challenge Journal – Writing After College?

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’m a just a little nervous for life post-grad. While I’m grateful that I have a job that I’m incredibly excited for, there’s a lot of things about college that I’m going to miss: waking up a little too late, staying up with my roommates just to talk, football games, walking in the diag, and, well, writing.

My college experience has been shaped by the writing that I’ve gotten to do – through classes (specifically the minor), my journal, and extracurricular activities. I’ve written for online magazines, for a startup, and for myself. I’ve found a place for writing because of my passion, but also because I’ve carved out the time for these activities. I’ve been passionate about writing from such a young age, and I know that’s not going to go away the minute I graduate from this University. But, what if I don’t have the time post-grad; no, what if I don’t make the time? In college, that time has been carved out for me, but not anymore.

I don’t think that my love for writing will necessarily go away, but I am scared that it will start to diminish until it’s really just me writing in my journal once every couple of days. How do you all plan to make time for writing post-grad when you’re balancing work, health, and a social life? How can we make sure that we don’t lose all of the progress we’ve made throughout our time at Michigan?

The Great, the Unfortunate, and the Worst – Challenge Journal #4

Is using the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with alternative words interesting or just cliche? Maybe a little of both. Oh well.

As graduation approaches and my world will soon be completely new and scary, I feel the need to categorize and segment my feelings into these buckets – the great (yay), unfortunate (ugh), and worst (boo). It helps me to better understand my head space and to more easily identify potential problems. So let’s get to it:

The Great

I just bought a new car (71 miles!!!!!). My dog might be coming to stay with me this weekend (heart eyes). I packed away my winter coat and gloves/hats/scarves for the season. I have my dress(es) for graduation celebrations. I graduate in 10 days!!

The Unfortunate

My new car is still sitting in my parent’s driveway. I’m going to have to take her on a lot of walks. My hands have been cold every morning on my walk to class. I still haven’t found my shoes for graduation. I graduate in 10 days.

The Worst

I’m terrified to drive my new car because I’m afraid that I’ll total it before it reaches 1,000 miles. My dog hates staying with my because I don’t have a yard for her to run around in. I hate cold, dry hands. I still haven’t found my shoes for graduation and I told my mom that I did months ago. Crap, I graduate in just 10 days…

Alas, everything seems to have a good and bad angle. So much for categorization.

Happy writing everyone 🙂