[Ray!] Capstone Project Idea

Okay so right now I have this decently semi-rough idea of what I want my project to be like. the medium in which I will present it will be in print. I think my project is going to be about the biological basis for sexism, resource allocation theory ect, but why sociologically speaking sexism should be rejected from our society but we have chosen, as an institution, not to reject it. From this I was also thinking about tying it into our university and discussing how it plays out on our campus.

Musings on a winter’s day

As I lay in the bed I haven’t moved from at 4:00 on this glorious cold day, I am stressed (well kind of) by three questions: 1) Is it too cold to go to the gym? 2) What is this week’s blog post supposed to be about 3) What am I going to do with my life?

Anyone who would like to answer any of the above questions is more than welcome, if not begged for.

On question one: we had a “cold day” and I feel that the University has done a disservice to its students by not closing the gym. There are those who struggle each day to drag themselves to the CCRB, feeling judged by some higher power if they were to take a nap in that free hour rather than jump on the treadmill. Today, when cold does operate as an excuse to sit in bed all day, there are hours to do both nap and gym. But all this napping makes me not want to go, moreso than on any other busy day. Were the University to close the gym, there would be no dilemma! And we could all nap without guilt, and Michigan would be justified in keeping its students off the frigid streets.

On question two: really, what’s the blog post for this week? Class cancellation is fab, but not knowing what to do on the day off is just plain torturous … I guess. For now, I will assume it is on the second reading of Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.” I’ll try, but it’s cold, remember.

And finally, what do I do with my life? The Career Center couldn’t help me. Can you?

As I read Sullivan’s “Why I Blog” a second time, I find myself wishing this person would provide me with an internship. Don’t pay me, just let me tell my parents that I have an internship, let me blog for the summer.

I am positive that many more than half of the students in the Minor in Writing know not what they are going to do with our writing career once the days of Gateway are long past us, so this question seems especially pertinent.  Summer internships are around the corner, as are the end to our college careers. So far, I have applied to the following places, heard back positively from a few, but have been nonetheless on a hunt: the FBI, the US Supreme Court Justice, two political consulting groups, New Jersey Congressman Frelingheysun, Amnesty International, more NGO’s, the Michigan international internship program and more that I can’t figure out. All of those, no doubt, require communication skills, and most involve some form of writing. But nothing is writing with a capital W. There is no internship for a writer, unless you want to be a journalism intern which, trust me, is  gruelingly boring. There is no internship for a writer to sit around and write books or essays or blog posts on the beach in Nantucket — although I did once share a jumper plain with an author whose name escapes me who based all of her books on the island itself, but I digress. That sounds like the best way to spend a summer, or, well, life really. I just want to write what I want to write. Is that too much to ask?

It is cold out. I’m going to the gym. Happy cold day.



Blogging as the digitization of thought.

After rereading Sullivan’s Why I Blog, I once again can lament on my feelings towards blogging, and ironically, express these feelings through blogging itself. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea. When LiveJournal started to become popular in middle school, and with the explosion of music blogs my friends were discovering new music with, I shied away from ever having to record my thoughts onto an online forum for all to read. I occasionally perused the blogosphere and found myself hooked on Perez Hilton‘s celebrity blog during my pop culture obsessive phase. Hilton’s blog read more as a news site with his comments rather than the use of the term we’re getting at in this class as thought-provoking and substantive prose. If I were to read a blog like Sullivan’s, I feel like I would be invading onto his personal space and thus reading something or learning something intimate that I shouldn’t be. The thoughts and ideas of bloggers are instantly transported from their minds to cyber space for anyone to tear them apart, offer suggestions or praise or to even share their words with others. At any moment a stranger can be learning about you through your writing style or what you choose to talk about or link to. The blogger knows this.
Now, I see blogging as our societal move to the digitization of everything, and for me, blogging has come to symbolize the digitization of thought. While Sullivan discusses the phenomenon of being able to say what you want to say in real time and allowing for immediate reader feedback, he does not offer much of a space for voices who see large audiences as dooming, and that the more they say what’s on their mind the less value their work feels. At the moment, that’s what I feel about this new media form of writing.
Perhaps it is my personality that suggests as to why blogging makes me uncomfortable. I don’t rant on social media and if you want to know what’s going on in my life, I’ll talk to you about it, not relate it over texting or a phone call. I value my privacy and feel my stream of consciousness should remain a private affair. Blogging opens up the possibility to extract these thoughts out of my mind and into the open, which I have only done before orally and with close friends. If Anne Lamott compared the writing process to pulling teeth, for me it is laying my personal thoughts out into the world that gives me great pain as of late.
There’s lots of topics I’d like to blog about that permeate my brain and keep me up at night, but if I publish something like that, for who and what am I really writing for? While there is a diary-like quality to a blog because it is most easy to write about yourself, I cringe at the idea of people I don’t know reading about what’s on my mind or what I have to say on a certain subject. They don’t know me and I don’t know them, and why should they even care what I have to say if it’s probably not all that important anyway?
I’d much rather sit at a roundtable and have a face-to-face discussion with someone versus post in an online forum. It’s not old school, it’s my preference for a physical conversation. While Sullivan reminds us that blogging brings out the personality of the blogger and that’s how blogs become successful, this personality emits from a computer screen. It can build a reader-blogger relationship, but I don’t know how that could compare to a best friend or someone you are close with who really knows you and you know them. Perhaps the scale and stage of blogging opens up a new way to form relationships and I’m just shying away because of the grand size of it all is something I’ve never had to deal with before.
I’m still reluctant to see if blogging this semester will allow me to embrace the art more or still see it as a frightening way to reveal something about myself through my writing. But if writing this metapost is any indication, I’m likely on the former track.

My Current Capstone Plan

When Ray surveyed our class and specifically asked each of us how committed we were to our front-running capstone plan, I confidently stated that I was 90 percent sure.  Well, it seems as though the 10 percent has prevailed.  I originally was intending to focus on the perils that athletes face in overcommitting to a sport.  This takes place at multiple levels.  Athletes may become burnt out in their youth, become overpowered by their college coach, or face too much pressure at the professional level.  My initial plan was to analyze the various stages in which athletes essentially lose their life-long war with sports and to weigh in on the various social factors involved.  However, I recently made an impulsive decision to completely alter course.

My current plan (which I will email you tomorrow, Ray), is to give both an informative and persuasive account of the value in sending kids to summer camps.  Having been a camper for seven summers and a counselor for five, I have experienced first hand the way in which camp can impact and transform one’s life.  For now, I do not intend on involving many different forms of media to accomplish my goals.  I primarily want to focus on giving a candid written assessment of what camp has done for me and what I have seen it do for other people.  I plan on informing readers of all that summer camps have to offer for kids, including learning to be independent, self-discovery, forging life-long friendships and memories, and experiencing things one may not experience anywhere else.  Yes, I will do my best to vouch on behalf of the entire camp experience, and hopefully give readers a small taste of what it is truly like to be a camper.

Intent of this Capstone Project

I am excited to begin piecing together my capstone project that has already been an ongoing project of mine for approximately three years. I will be bringing together all of the information that I have attained over the past three years about my family’s genealogy and ancestry. Being Black in the United States and tracing my family tree is an extremely tedious task that many take for granted. The documents coming from West Africa through the slave trade, etc. are not the best. Also, due to miscegenation, many lines of my family are cut off because this was not seen as acceptable and I am trying to fill in these gaps. I am very excited to bring all of this information and present how I personally traced my family tree. Hopefully, this will inspire more people to find out where they came from!

Superman Isn’t Dead

Sherman Alexie’s essay, titled: Superman and Me, caught my attention for a variety of reasons.  Simply put, his story is interesting.  Sherman never explicitly states exactly why it is that he writes in this essay,  and on the surface he appears to talk more about his reading habits than how he became a writer.  For me, however, the story carried the “why I write” undertone in a beautiful and subtle way.

Out of all the pieces we have read for class carrying the theme of “Why I Write”, none of them have taken place on an Indian reservation.  After reading the essay, I was baffled at how little I knew about American Indian Reservations, so I went straight to the Internet to quench my thirst for this information.  But first, the essay.  After discussing how that before he could read, he would fill in the speech bubbles of the Superman comic books with the actions Superman was doing, speaking the words aloud, and eventually through this method he self-taught himself how to read, there is a paragraph I would like to quote.

“This might be an interesting story all by itself.  A little Indian boy teaches himself to read at an early age and advances quickly.  He reads ‘Grapes of Wrath’ in kindergarten when other children are struggling through ‘Dick and Jane’.  If he’d been anything but an Indian boy living on a reservation, he might have been called a prodigy.  But he is an Indian boy living on the reservation and is simply an oddity.  He grows into a man who often speaks of his childhood in the third-person, as if it will somehow dull the pain and make him sound more modest about his talents.”

Normally I would not quote an entire paragraph, but this particular series of sentences was brilliant in its execution.  It is probably obvious that I am referring to how the final sentence cleverly alludes to himself, and so forth.  I found my face cracking a gentle smile after finishing the last line, something I find quite pleasurable (and quite telling of the work).  I also caught my attention that throughout the entire essay was the author’s use of the word Indian instead of Native American.  I realize the essay was written in 1998, and the author is a Native American himself so he is able to call himself damn well what he pleases, but I would go as far as to say his use of the word enhanced the overall tone of the piece.

I also liked the repetition of the phrase that he humbly describes himself as a child: “I was smart.  I was arrogant.  I was lucky.”  Then again as he ends the essay describing the challenge he faces trying to reach out to those Indians uninterested in writing: “I am smart.  I am arrogant.  I am lucky.  I am trying to save our lives.”  The repetition of this phrase is strong and pleasant, and “I am trying to save our lives” being the final sentence of the entire essay made for quite the punch.  It also leaves behind a greater message to think critically about.  Reading and writing skills can have a profound impact on, and might be a ticket out of, the poverty those individuals in Indian Reservations face.  The author’s blatant passion for reading and writing, and his charity of teaching the Native American youth topics like creative writing, send a splendid message about the general population should never take writing for granted.

Thanks to this essay, I did end up looking up and learning a bit regarding the locations and details about the Indian Reservations across the country (beyond the casinos).  But most importantly, I was reminded yet again why we write.





Mind over Matter

Often when I tell people that I work out six days a week, work 22 hours a week, take 17 credits, sleep 6-8 hours per night and get all my work done days in advance while still maintaining a thread of a social life, they look at me like I’m crazy. They also assume I must drink copious amount of energy drinks or coffee or take some sort of medication to function like the Energizer bunny. I hate both energy drinks and coffee, so I tell them that it’s my dedication to time management and getting things done that allows me a schedule where I can freely go about my day well-rested, productive and happy.
As college students, when we think we don’t have enough time sleep is the first thing to get thrown down to the bottom on our list of priorities. The endless amounts of assignments, group meetings, classes and general perception of so-much-to-do-so-little-time we give ourselves should not induce stress but rather motivation. Part of the reason I stay so grounded and can do everything I want is that I realize that my free time should be used to fill in with these many life pressures, not spent social media-ing or watching a movie or trying to do productive housework like washing the dishes to avoid school work.
Why do I constantly hear people say they get excited when class gets canceled, or when they don’t have much work to do today? We’re here at the University of Michigan to learn something, to get an education. While it has been said that much of the learning you do at college happens outside the classroom, classes and responsibilities are important too. I choose to look forward to class and to studying, or writing or going to work because I know that it is what I’m supposed to be doing. It bothers me a lot when people’s attitudes don’t reflect this enthusiasm for learning and attending one of the finest academic institutions in the world.
Is my attitude and perspective just slightly too radical for my peers to adopt? Is the feeling of ranting on Facebook or twitter about how much work you have to do a rite of passage in the life of a college student? Why do so many faces I stumble upon across campus read as nonchalant or sad, when just a smile could instantly improve your mood and attitude and give you a whole new perspective on your day?
I do like to have fun, and I know I can have fun when I’ve earned it. But for having been surrounded with like-minded individuals for the past two-and-a-half years, I can’t help but feel that I’m an outlier in a sea of students who’d rather skip class and take a nap than go to class even if they’re tired because they want to learn.
Really, I let my attitude guide my philosophy on learning. It’s not like I came to this point that easily, it took about four semesters of trying to find my ideal life formula to be successful here. And as much as I talk about how balanced my life is, sometimes I’ll relapse and put off an assignment only to stay up late the night before finishing it. Mostly, I try to stay as disciplined as possible so I can stay happy and energized, willing to take on my responsibilities one day at a time. It’s mind over matter for me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be for you too.

The Mulan Complex

via mediagirl

No, I don’t have a complex that makes me a compulsive rebel, or a complex that makes me lie in order to defend my family, or a complex that makes me save my country from invading Huns, or a complex that makes hunky war heroes fall in love with me. But I am uncomfortable with my reflection.

Reflection. I wish I could say I love that word, and I mostly do. In its passive form. I love the way the redwoods, their reflections interrupted by floating islands of weeds, are mirrored on the stock pond at the local country club. I love the calm patience in my mother’s reflection while she does my hair when I am at home. I love how my friends and I chuckle and shake our heads at our middle school selves during our reflections on old times.

But there are few things that make me uncomfortable the way active reflection can. My reflection becomes an object of criticism and correction when my concealer brush is in my hand. Team reviews after group projects are always an opportunity to reflect on the performances of my teammates and myself and provide a report on our shortcomings. Active reflection inevitably leads to criticism in some form, even if it is constructive, positive, or helpful.

All it takes is a little bit of context and the word “reflection” becomes an unwieldy beast I am most certain I am unable to conquer. Reflection becomes a long, drawn-out struggle with periodic breaks to complain on Twitter and console myself with chocolate. At one point during a peer review assignment for an engineering project, I realized I would rather sing Honky Tonk Badonkadonk in front of the entirety of Cru (the student ministry I’m a part of on campus). This peer review should have been incredibly easy, especially because my team was a well-oiled machine and I had nothing but good things to say about such amazing teammates. But even positive, constructive criticism makes me squirm.

Criticism in any form elicits in me an immediate defensive response. Criticism is a red flag that something could have been done differently and better, and should have been done differently in order to have been better. As a perfectionist, it takes a Herculean effort to get me to admit that I’ve made a mistake or that I could have done something better on the first try. Usually this dramatic overgeneralization applies more to my personal life than to my academic life. But I still have a hard time with my shortcomings when it comes to academics. I refuse to start a problem set until I know I can solve every part of every question; I simply cannot start typing until I know where I want to go with the piece I’m writing.

My defensive response to criticism, and therefore reflection, made me appreciate a young author Roy Peter Clark describes in his book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. The young author accepts each critique from his writer’s group with an open mind, eager to improve. The evaluation focuses on his flaws, but not in a derogatory fashion. The flaws in his writing become his focus points for improvement.

It’s no secret that the Minor in Writing places as much importance on reflection as it does actually writing. Reflection is built into every project prompt, every blog post, every class discussion. I know that by the time I complete this program, I’ll still be just as uncomfortable with my shortcomings and flaws. But my hope is that I’ll be more comfortable with reflection and that my response to my reflection mirrors the eagerness of Clark’s young author.

Holy Self-reflection, Batman

I am the queen of procrastination. That’s just a fact. So naturally, on Wednesday night I had to write not only my “Why I Write” essay for Writing 220, I also had to write a professional statement for my English 229 course on professional writing. Do you know how dreadful it is to just write about yourself for hours on end? You begin to judge yourself a lot and think about how you are selling yourself as a person. Plus this song kept running through my head courtesy of the Muppets (I know I am 21-years old, but the Muppets are always phenomenal).

The entire night I felt so incredibly self-absorbed. And let me tell you, that’s actually very intimidating. I spent the whole night evaluating myself and my life decisions: what makes me Louise? How do I define myself? Why do I write? What do I want to do with my life? It is an absolute whirlwind. I guess that’s what growing up is though— you have to figure out who you are, create a name for yourself, and stick to it.

Now while the “Why I Write” assignment was fun to create, my professional statement left me second-guessing myself. Allow me to give you some context: I am the only Communication Studies major and Writing minor in my professional writing course. The rest of the students come from the Business School, the College of Engineering, the School of Kinesiology, and, of course, the myriad of other majors in LSA. I look around the room and I know that I am one of the only students in that class who reads and writes 24/7. I’m not exaggerating when I say that is ALL I do. My peers want to go into the business world, the medical field, or grad school while I sit by myself saying, “I’m going to move to New York to be a writer.” That holds a lot of clout— I just exude confidence.

I think that’s why it is hard writing about my profession, simply because my profession will revolve around writing, so I feel the need to prove myself in everything I write. I put so much pressure on myself to be that much better, and to make my writing stand out that much more because it IS my life. Guess what my extracurricular activities are: yup, writing. Guess what I do in class: you guessed it, I write. Guess what I do in my journal every night before I go to bed: ding, ding, ding, we have a winner— I write.

I don’t do science, I don’t work well with numbers, and I will avoid business like it is the plague. I am just venturing down an unconventional path; I swear people suppress a laugh when I say I want to write for a magazine. But at least I have goals, at least I am striving for something, and at least I am doing something that I absolutely love to do and that comes to me as naturally as breathing.

I had these epiphanies when I was writing the two highly self-reflective pieces. I was thinking about my smart and talented peers going into all of these exciting fields, some of which I have never even heard about. And then I look at my life: I sit on my computer, I hunch over a notebook, I curl up in bed, and I write. But hey, I guess when you find something you love you don’t need much else. I mean, there’s really nothing to be jealous about, I am happy that I can look at my peers and know that they will be doing such great things and changing the world, because I sure as hell couldn’t do it in the same capacity they will. No, I’m going to stick with what I’m good at, what I love to do, and just keep writing.

Brooke Gabriel doesn’t like cats…

…but is otherwise a pretty decent human being.

Brooke is what happens when you combine equal parts self-deprecation, goofy impulses, and Catholic guilt with a full head of thick, unruly hair, and stew until frustrated enough to do something about it.  She presently attends the University of Michigan, where she is trying desperately to become a real person and hopefully earn something resembling a degree in the process.

Sometimes Brooke looks like this. Other days, she isn’t so lucky.