Connecting the dots: project brainstorming idea 1 (of many)

So I don’t know what I want to do or what is appropriate to do for my Capstone project. I’ve been racking my brain since the first class because I can’t come up with the topic, format, style, etc. But this struggle alone has made me think about a particular topic: distraction.

Last class, Ray asked us to speak about class that has intellectually stimulated us –a class that has transformed us. Listening to everyone’s responses, I couldn’t help but think, “Shit. These all sound like such cool classes! What have I been busy doing for the past four year?” While everyone else was speaking, I was half listening, half trying to remember what classes I’ve taken, what they’ve taught me, and even what they course title was. And then it clicked: I spend most of my time distracted, both in class and out of class. Have I been distracted for the past four years? Are we all distracted and is it inhibiting us from truly learning? Or are these distractions necessary? Is this what college is supposed to be?

Last year, I wrote a paper for my Communications class about how Facebook negatively impacts other people’s happiness. We’re so distracted, not only by the emergence of social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.), but we’re also distracted by the thoughts that consume our minds because of this new trend. I have such a thirst for knowledge, but I spend my days doing everything but studying. And then I think about the last four years and wonder what I’ve done, what I’ve learned.

Trying to understand all of this, I want to conduct a survey and write a comprehensive analysis of the nature of distraction and how it affects our college experiences. I want to ask students similar questions as the ones Ray asked us in class and try to find a pattern or correlation, and see whether this is a widely accepted idea.


The Great Gatsby

Choosing a theme for a given piece of writing is never an easy task. What complicates the process most is not creating the theme itself but is finding if it has the innate ability to reflect my character.

Project 1 seemed at first particularly challenging because I was unsure of how to incorporate academic research into my piece. After talking to T, I have now cleared that up and am left with two persisting ideas:

1). Repurpose old FaceBook messages (from middle school days) into some form of story or personal narrative. Why? Because I find the way I interacted with people then to be entirely different than the way I do now and I am interested in exploring that. I am not sure why I am drawn to this idea, however I believe that everyone at some point has a desire to sift through old messages and moreover, that everyone has an interest in exploring how they used to be. Through this piece, I feel that I could reveal much about myself in addition to much about the community of social media, and about how people choose to depict and portray themselves to others through these sites.

2). Repurpose an essay I wrote for Eng 124 about what provides pleasure to viewers in a horror film, a genre that is meant to scare and upset the viewer. Through this repurpose, I would embark on the creation of my own horror piece governed by my previous research for that essay but also using new research on horror literature to turn it into a piece of writing. I don’t find any personal attachment to this idea, however.

The Professional Self

After experiencing the workshop process and reading some of my fellow classmates’ “Why I Write” essays, I started to notice a common theme. We as college students rarely get to write about what we want to write about. This idea jumped out to me, and once again became relevant when we started to discuss projects 2 and 3. I was both excited and slightly overwhelmed upon learning that we have full control of what we write about for these projects. I started thinking back on pieces of writing from my college (and even high school) career, but nothing easily came to mind. This was a little frustrating, but after going through documents on my computer I was able to come up with a few options.

The first piece of writing I am considering is an essay I wrote last year in a Writing class about new media. It was called a “digital media self reflection” and I wrote about how I rely on digital media to enhance and shape my memories. I thought it would be cool to transform a piece that discusses how media influences my life into something that expresses this notion through an actual new media platform. Additionally, I liked that this essay is somewhat personal, which provides an opportunity to do some research and see how other people experience digital media. I think this essay has potential to make for a very intriguing project, but another piece of writing has caught my attention even more.

Over the past two years I’ve often felt that I write more for a professional purpose than an academic purpose on a weekly basis. Between updating my resume, writing various cover letters and filling out applications, it seems I spend a lot of my time writing as what I call my “professional self.” While browsing through past pieces of writing, one cover letter in particular caught my eye. It was for a BuzzFeed Food Editorial Internship, which at the time I considered my dream job. I want to use this piece to explore the reasons that our generation is expected to write letters in which we declare our qualifications in what usually feels like a fake way. I think I could utilize surveys and interviews to find out my peers’ opinions, and hopefully repurpose this letter into a meaningful 2nd and 3rd project. One idea I had is to discuss alternatives to these lengthy and dry letters, for example a digital resume like the one below. Although I am not sure what exact direction I want to go in, I am pretty confident that I want to use my cover letter for this repurposing project!

My "digital resume"
Not your average cover letter…

Where to start?

As a business major, much of my class schedule is predetermined. This made deciding whether or not to join the writing minor, and add more requirements to my schedule, a difficult decision. When weighing my options, I decided to look deeper into the type of assignments I would be spending my time completing in the Gateway Course. When I first read the course description of working with one piece of writing for the majority of the semester, I was discouraged. There was nothing from my past academic writing that I wanted to play around with for an entire semester. It was not until I thought of all the writing I had done surrounding my travels to Ethiopia, that I was convinced to join the Minor in Writing Fall 2014 Cohort.
I am set on using my writing from Ethiopia for this project, as this is something I am passionate about and would like to dedicate more time to. However, I have yet to decide on the angle from which to approach my experiences in Ethiopia. I can start from my photo blog, Humans of Ethiopia, or I can start from my personal journal.
I like the idea of starting from my journal since this material is more raw and there are endless possibilities of the directions I could go with it. However, the journal has remained untouched since my travels and I am not sure that right now is the best time to tackle what is inside. I have been saving the journal for when I most need it, and I am not sure I am ready yet. The photo blog, while more developed, offers the appeal of being a public space and therefore a project that I would feel comfortable working on alongside my classmates and anyone else who finds themselves on the Minor in Writing Blog.
So I know where I want to end up – back in Ethiopia – which leaves me with the pressing question, where to start?

Caught Between Grandma and Football

When Project 2 for the gateway course was proposed, my thoughts did not immediately turn to any specific piece of writing I have done. I thought of previous papers and projects of mine that I thoroughly enjoyed – for example, my process analysis essay from senior year of high school in which I guide the reader through the steps of creating an essay that literally contains no content – but then considered that it might be more useful to turn to a piece of writing that I wasn’t particularly happy with. This got me thinking about other works I have produced, as well as scribblings and notes of mine that I have long been considering turning into something bigger.

That brings me to my first idea. For a long while now, I have been thinking about the possibility of writing a biography about my maternal grandmother. So far, all I have gathered in terms of research is a page of notes after talking with my grandma on a few occasions. She has a million stories – some, it seems, I have heard a proportionate amount of times – and I think I could paint a grand picture out of all of them to make something that would be special for her and the rest of my family. I’m not sure if this would work in the confines of this project, but T did mention a student who based their entire project off a sticky note that wasn’t even their own words. So it is definitely a possibility. I think, in the grander scheme of things, I could use the product of this semester’s projects to finally jump into a novel-length work on this topic. That idea is exciting.

A second option for Project 2 that I am considering is another one of my essays from senior year of high school. It was the first paper assignment of my English Composition class and the objective was to write a narrative – my favorite kind of writing. I wrote about my days of playing high school football, and of one game in particular that epitomized the whole experience in my mind. While I absolutely loved the subject I chose for the paper, I felt the final product was not exactly up to par. Reading over it again, there are parts that sound way too cliche and where the writing feels a little rigid. In the scope of the project, I feel there is an adequate amount of research I could do into my school’s football program as a whole, including my personal experience.

My four best friends from high school and myself after our senior year Homecoming game.

Beyond those couple of things, I have just a few others in mind that are more or less outliers. One is a descriptive essay about my first car, one is a poem about lost love, and the other an unfinished poem with an as-of-yet ambiguous subject. I don’t think any of these will make the cut, though.

For the time being, I will let the two predominant ideas bounce around.

Brainstorming Project 2 ideas

Sometimes it baffles me how hard it is for writers to work with their own writing. I, for example, often have trouble editing my own work, and occasionally it takes me some time to figure out where I’m going with a particular piece.

It was also hard for me in this project to figure out ways to repurpose writing I’ve already done. But I have a few ideas:

1. I wrote a Michigan Daily story last February about gay athletes and how the environment has changed for them in college sports over the years. This issue, I think, has far-reaching consequences and implications in society; treatment of gay people has been one of the most widely discussed issues over the past decade. In this story, I wrote about several gay former college athletes–three at Michigan, one at Penn–and I referenced the story of Michael Sam, which unfolded around that time last winter. Since then, a lot more has happened on the issue: Sam has been drafted, cut and then resigned, and another player from Arizona State came out to his team before the season. This story could be modified to fit a variety of different themes.

2. I wrote another Daily story in August after the International Champions Cup match at Michigan Stadium between Real Madrid and Manchester United. That game brought all kinds of people with all kinds of different stories to Ann Arbor: fans of both teams, fans from different countries, people from around the U.S. who helped put on the event. Those stories could be told through a variety of different lenses, and I still have the audio files from the interviews, allowing for some sort of multimedia project.

3. I wrote a final English paper in April about the media and a variety of subjects relating to it: understanding biases, handling issues regarding race, sexuality and language, coverage depth and shaping norms. This paper also had a variety of examples pertaining to these subjects, everything from the Daily’s coverage of former kicker Brendan Gibbons’ expulsion, to Hurricane Katrina, to FOX and CNN’s political news coverage, to Sports Illustrated cover stories, to NBA vs. WNBA and vs. The issues involved in these situations are critical and can be evaluated in many different ways.

Rock On!

For me, the decision of selecting a written piece for my project was relatively easy. After thinking it through, I’ve decided to use a “history of rock n’ roll” tumblr project I did last semester in an American Culture Class. However, when first thinking about what to choose I had three main categories in mind: standard academic essays, personal essays such as narratives and college application papers, and creative argumentation projects such as the one I have ultimately selected. After brief consideration, I quickly ruled out my standard academic essays. Although the articles or books they are about may be interesting, I found nothing I am super passionate about and would want to work with for the rest of the semester. Next, I read through all of my personal essays. Although I have a strong connection with these papers, I have been writing many personal narratives recently such as the Why I Write project in this class and another paper in my English 325 Class. A little worn out on writing about myself, I stumbled upon my rock and roll project and was immediately sold. I am very passionate about music and I’m convinced I can think of creative ways to re-purpose this project and present it and new and informative ways.

SOS: terribly lost in my own ideas

The goal of the second project is to re-purpose an argument and stretch my writing abilities by finding inspiration for a new piece in one that I’ve already completed. While at first glance the selection of a topic seems like it would be the easiest part, I suddenly found myself lost and overwhelmed when sifting through the large body of work I’ve produced in my years as a student. Clicking through my archived documents, I found everything from a ninth grade essay on “To Kill A Mockingbird” to a college paper arguing against the validity of generational entelechy in the context of immigration. I began to narrow down my options and eliminated some, but in the end I approached the printer and realized that I had thoroughly abused the print button, since there were about seventy pages of my writing sitting in the tray.

I decided to begin by reading everything. Seventy pages later, however, the only conclusion I had come to was that I really like a lot of things I’ve written already. At this point I asked for some help. “How do I decide?” I asked my professor, T. “Maybe you could tell me about the strangest, or most odd essay you printed out in the pile?  Which one was the most difficult to reckon with?  What left you with more questions? she replied. At this point I decided I needed to be a little more selective and read everything again, this time keeping T’s questions in mind. I ultimately set aside four pieces that I am interested in pursuing further. In my opinion, these four were the ones that most left me wanting more.

The first is the piece I mentioned above about generational entelechy. This piece was written for a political psychology class and involved me interviewing my grandparents to determine how generation shapes political attitude. I was most intrigued here by my ultimate conclusion that while generation plays an important role in attitude formation, it is superimposed by culture and experience, which means that those with different origins may form drastically different political attitudes from others of their generation. This is very interesting to me in that I want to know more about the effects of culture and national origin on our beliefs. Are Americans drastically different from the Chinese or South Africans or Costa Ricans? In project two, I would develop the aspect of this piece that focuses on these questions.

The second is a speech I wrote for a class entitled “Great Speeches: Ancient and Modern.” The goal of the class was to study the great speeches of the past, and then take the elements that made those speeches great and incorporate them into our own speeches, which we presented to the class. My speech centers on the role of the media in perpetuating poor self image and eating disorders. In this speech, I use an interesting combination of empirical evidence, individual observation, and personal narrative to tell the story of the media intervening in our lives. I was most intrigued by my idea that the media has the ability to change how and what we feel, even without our knowledge or consent. In project two, this element would drive my creative process and I would look to expand into other media effects.

The third piece was written for a class entitled “22 Ways to Think About Race.” Specifically, this essay was an independent study project that I completed outside of class in order to convert the class to honors. In the piece, I analyze three novels about outsiders in American culture and conclude that you can never escape your past or your roots. I think that it would be very interesting to explore this concept further and investigate whether or not it holds true for those outside of fiction.

The final piece I set aside is a personal essay I wrote for a creative writing class. The piece investigates the love lives of myself and six friends with the goal of examining why everything has to be so complicated. In the end, I conclude that nothing is truly complicated, but that everything is subject to complication. In other words, when things get hard, its because we made them that way. In project two, I would be interested in exploring this idea further and determining whether this holds true in other situations.

Choosing a piece to stretch further in this project has been extremely daunting! In the coming days, I hope to think more about these ideas and find one that will guide me in creating a strong project.