Challenge Journal 2: Thankful

Some background: I work as a columnist for the Michigan Daily. For my final project, I’m working on a collection of essays. For my latest column, I submitted one of the drafts of my essays. The essay topic fit the topic of my column, and I was hoping to get some good feedback to help me on my revision process.

Last semester I took an English 325 class: the art of the essay. Writing a creative nonfiction essay was really new to me. It was challenging to try to find my voice in the genre and especially hard for me to decide what was worth writing about. I constantly doubted whether my essays were worth writing, whether the stories I was picking were worth telling. Nothing that I had to say was groundbreaking or dramatic. My perspective, in my eyes, didn’t offer anything new.

When I decided I wanted to write a collection of essays for my Writing 420 final project, I went through the same feelings. I wanted to pick topics that felt important to me, that were things I thought about and talked about it my day to day life, but I also wondered if I could really, meaningfully contribute to the conversations that interested me.

After my column was published last week, I received an email from my English 325 professor. He wanted to let me know that he’d read and enjoyed my column and that it had made him think. He also wanted to let me know that he planned to distribute it to his class as an example of the kind of writing he is looking for in an upcoming project.

Getting this email meant so much to me. Even though I’ve been working on trying to be able to internally validate my work and be able to look at it honestly, it still helped to hear it from the outside. Especially to hear from someone who was familiar with my writing and had seen me work through a semester of getting to know a new genre. Having someone else tell me that I’m accomplishing some of the things I’m working toward motivated me a lot.

It also made me feel more eager to ask questions of others, to not be afraid of seeking out feedback and critique. There’s a learning curve everywhere, and I want this project to be something I’m proud of. I didn’t roll into English 325 knowing just where to find myself in a new genre, and I’m still figuring things out. That’s okay.

Challenge Journal 3: An Opportunity I Wish I Had

I took English 125 during my first semester here and loved it. I had a brilliant and engaging professor and the small class discussions were refreshing compared to my large weed out science courses. Beyond that, I really enjoyed writing the essays.

The one that stands out to me in particular was the redefinition essay. The assignment was fairly simple in that we just had to pick a word and change something about the definition or argue for it to be defined in a whole new way.

Being a very indecisive person, it took me a while to settle on my word. Ultimately, I surprised myself by choosing to write about the word Love.

I say it was a surprise for two reasons:

  1. I’m not a very emotional or “lovey dovey” person, so it was a bit out of character to focus my essay on these emotions.
  2. It was a boring word. When the assignment was introduced I promised myself I would choose a really unique and interesting word, but instead I chose the most classic word to discuss.

But I chose it because I was annoyed by how often “extreme” emotions like this are misused and overused by people my age, and I found that I had a lot to say about it.

Most of my argument was centered around the idea that we tend to use love when we really shouldn’t, and not use it when we really should:

How often do we lose our patience with the ones we love, whether it’s our boyfriend or girlfriend or our family, but give strangers all the respect and kindness we can muster up?

This is something that has always really bothered me, and something that I am often guilty of:

We have over-romanticized the idea of love without actually following through with it. Our actions don’t reflect our words. The quote on my mom’s wall claims that: “Love is patient, love is kind, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves. Love never fails.” There are thousands of quotes like these epitomizing what love should be, and an uncountable amount of words describing what it is to love. But to describe how you treat your family who you love, would you say you’re always patient, kind, and trusting? Rarely does that prove true. What we claim love is often doesn’t match up to how we treat people.

The redefinition aspect of the essay wasn’t as important to me as the idea that our society uses words wrong. We don’t say what we mean and we don’t think about what our words should mean.

I couldn’t really focus on this throughout the essay because it didn’t fit the assignment, but I think I would have had a lot to say and explore if I could have worked on this for longer.

I would have talked about other words as well, not just love, and learned more about why there is a disconnect between our intensions and what actually takes place.

This struggle to constrict what I want to talk about to the perimeter of an assignment’s rules is something we don’t have in the Capstone course. While this was frustrating at the beginning since it was difficult to decide what I wanted to do, it has become really nice to be able to guide the project in whichever way best suits my arguments and thoughts. The conversation I started on love and other human emotions could have been interesting to explore in a similar manner- no rules, no requirements, just deciding what matters for me to say.

Q&A

As part of my researching process, I read the book Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature. A mentor of mine thought it would provide valuable insights about audience, as I struggled with choosing who I want to write to and what I want to tell them. There were a few excerpts and pieces of advice that stood out to me.

“The most powerful strand in memoir is not expressing your originality. It’s tapping into your universality. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be original in your writingyou are the only one who can write that universal experience in just that way. Trust that.” — Cheryl Strayed

Universal originality. This oxymoron actually made me feel wildly more confident that my piece could be impactful. I was concerned that documenting such a unique experience and focusing mainly on my own reflections could make my project inaccessible to a large audience. However, my project also emphasizes restrospection, intellectual curiosity, self-discovery, hubris, adventure, travel, romance, etc. In many ways, it is about a college kid learning new concepts and experiencing new things that challenge her beliefs. That is something most of us experience regularly at this stage in our lives.

“As a young teenager I looked desperately for things to read that might excite me or assure me I wasn’t the only one, that might confirm an identity I was unhappily piecing together.” — Edmund White

Edmund White’s recount inspired me to continue in the direction I was heading, as well. At first, I was nervous about writing something I couldn’t find models for. But isn’t that how we normally write? To create something new and unseen? Edmund emphasized the ease of venturing into a new terrain and creating a new space. This advice juxtaposed with Cheryl’s reminded me that it is okay to write something about myself, and then trust that others will relate to it.

“I thought that if I had a book like that, it wouldn’t have made the pain bearable, but it might have made it so that I was able to continue. Holding the realization of what this story could do for a kid like me who’s young now, and lives in the rural South, and might be losing peopleholding that close to me when I felt like I was breaking every dayreaffirmed the importance of doing it.”  Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn’s advice was most impactful on me. Although her experience was much more dramatic (the death of her brother) the idea that the book could help someone else seemed so generous. Thinking, “Would a book like this have helped me?” My answer would be yes, as well. Just maybe if I had read something about culture shock and a journey from judgement to empathy, I wouldn’t have have been so bitter. Maybe I could have just felt less alone. As with Jesmyn, it was a story people needed to read.

 

In the end, this book made me reconsider why I was writing, which led me back to my essay from Gateway, “Why I Write.” Despite resurfacing some of the cringeworthy content my 19-year-old self created, I found it fruitful to revisit Point A in my writing journey.

“I write to answer questions.”

I welcome growth and change and evolution of thought, but I’m content to have remained faithful to at least one proclamation of my younger self.

What’s Next

The Big Picture 

I plan for my final project to be based off of my experiment 2 in which I wrote a poem about my experience going to a predominantly white elementary school and how that affected me, however I am also going to be using my experiment 1 and using that to write one of my poems. When I am finished with my project, I will have 3-4 poems describing important events in my life as well as the lives of others. The goal is to write my poems in a way that is abstract, yet easy to understand. I hope that people that read the pieces will feel like they were there in the moment, or at least leave with a better understanding of how it might have felt going through those different experiences.

Why I am Choosing it

I am choosing experiment 2 as my final project because I feel like although I like my experiment 1 idea which was to write up short entries about other people’s experiences as if it were them speaking, I do not get to put enough of myself into that. In the project I chose to do, I get to write about my own experiences as well as others, but in a way that is based off of my creative ideas.

First Steps

My first steps will be finishing the poem I wrote for experiment 2 and then going back and looking at the topics I had for my other experiments as well as others I have not yet explored. My sketch will help me because although I do not have my poems completely thought out, I have ideas for topics that are worth writing about. From that, I can think about what things I want to highlight and how I can go about that in an abstract way.

What I am Looking Forward to

I am looking forward to sitting down and writing my poems because I find it fun to play around with words and to use them in a way that expresses different issues. I can’t wait until I have a finished product and can go back and look at an organized and attractive portfolio with all of my work in it.

My concerns are that it will be to difficult to write about experiences based off of a restricting poetry format. It would be easy to write all free verses, but I think I want to challenge myself to write at least one poem that is not so flexible in terms of form.

Challenge Blog Four: Fighting with Technology

This week’s challenge came as I was sitting down to edit my first podcast. At the start of this project, I chose to do a podcast series, because it seemed like the best fit for my project, but I also thought it would be relatively easy to figure out the recording, transcribing, and editing process. I was very wrong. After conducting my first few interviews, I just kept telling myself that I’d sit down and edit the recordings in a couple of hours and that it would be easy. Again, I was very wrong. Once I finally sat down to edit my first interview it dawned on me that the editing process wasn’t just converting a file to an mp3 and uploading it to my website.

I needed to listen to each interview (ranging from 30-40 minutes a piece) and carefully mark the parts I wanted to include by the exact seconds in order to edit them out later. Then I had to use iMovie to actually make these cuts, which of course first required me to learn how to use the program. This alone was an hour detour, because I’m technologically challenged. Now I understand how my mom feels when she can’t figure out how to send a picture through iMessage. It should be easy and in fact it is, but when you have no clue where to start, you tire quickly of searching aimlessly for the answer.

After I had a basic understanding of iMovie, I was able to cut and edit my podcast relatively easily. It was a different challenge figuring out how to transition from one clip to another in a way that didn’t sound awkward or choppy, however after a couple of hours I had something I was happy enough with. Something I’ve struggled with during this project is being ok with things turning out differently than I expected. I knew a podcast would be a challenge in itself, but the amount of time it’s taken to complete just one episode has been a wakeup call. Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to finish what I started.

Challenge Journal #3: Get out of my way, Ally

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time; it was that I didn’t use the time I had to my advantage.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the guidance; it was that I didn’t ask her the right questions.

Yes– my greatest prior missed opportunity was my gateway project.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that I picked the wrong topic, but I’m going to say it anyway: I picked the wrong topic. Or, maybe, I just tried to address this topic at the wrong time in my life. The only thing on my brain as I began my gateway project at the beginning of junior year was, how is it possibly junior year already? It felt as though I had woken up one morning on the other end of a time machine, and it was the first time when I began to feel that I was trapped in a vortex as my life zoomed past me at rapid speed. Now, I am living in that vortex, and I have grown to just accept the inevitable pace at which my life is moving. I feel lucky to say that the cliche “time flies when you’re having fun” is working out for me and that it’s fine to just enjoy the ride as life hits fast-forward. As I made my gateway project, I realized quite early that my central question, How do I slow down time? has no real answer. Who the hell was I to try to solve one of the greatest mysteries of life?

For example:

It is all because I am twenty years-old. Curse the damned day that I turned twenty. The day I turned twenty is the day that I lost my mind. I woke up one morning with my entire life behind me: the decade when I learned to write and ride a bike and drive a car was all grouped together in a chapter called my teens. The next chapter was beginning, and I had no idea how to write the first page.

 

I had the time, and I had the guidance, but I could not seem to get out of my own way. I could have searched for a way early on to address this problem in a lighthearted manner that wasn’t so embarrassingly meaningless and boring, but I got inside my own head and just gave up and surrendered to producing a cliche work that I hope nobody outside of my gateway class has seen. I am having a similar problem now but in a different way: I am, again, psyching myself out of producing something great, but not because I have the wrong topic and because I am asking the wrong questions. This time, I know that I am up for the challenge, and I have discovered that as I have made progress week to week. This time, I am committed to writing and rewriting until I find the right voice, because this time I know that it is impossible for me to surrender to a cliche– my topic simply would not permit that.

This time, I won’t be embarrassed to share it. I just need to find the courage to share it.

Where do I go from here?

For my final project, I am continuing with experiment #3. It took me a while to come up with the title of my project, but I decided on “Where do I go from here?” Now, I find myself asking the same question about this project. What do I do next? How do I do it? When should I do it? Where do I go from here? Thinking about all of this has me like………

 

 

The goal of this project is to shed light on the unknown, inner experiences of those who have been victims of sexual assault. To do this, I am focusing on the aftermath. How do they cope with the trauma? The project is a photo essay that focuses on objects of comfort. I asked survivors to come up with an object or activity that was significant to their healing process, along with a quote about their journey and said object. For my experiment, I had six participants. For the final project, I am hoping to have 15-20. I chose to continue on with this experiment because I feel like it has had the most impact on me. While working on this project, I have felt empowered. Being able to facilitate a safe place for survivors to share their story, and hearing them say that it was therapeutic for them, was incredible. Because most of the work is behind the scenes (seeking out participants, meeting with them, taking the pictures, etc), the sketch will be very helpful. I already have the questionnaire written out for those who wan’t to participate, and I’m following the same structure for each one. First steps will be to reach out to more campus organizations to increase the number of participants. I’m hoping to end up with 15-20. I’m really looking forward to seeing my final project laid out in blog format on my e-portfolio. I think that the presentation of this piece will have a big impact on the effect it will have on viewers, so to see it in it’s final form will be very rewarding. As for concerns, I’m worried about getting more participants. It was very easy to find the first couple of participants because I know a lot of them. However, people are not always quick to share on such a sensitive topic with a stranger.

Challenge Journal #3: Missed Opportunities

When I thought about an assignment that I would love a chance to re-do with thirteen weeks of useful guidance, I couldn’t come up with anything at first until I remember the policy brief on transportation that I wrote as part of my semester in DC. The fact that this assignment barely came to mind is already a sign of how little importance it had to me – especially as it was just written in December and (technically) was a semester long project! It had all the potential to be something interesting, but I’m not proud of it, nor do I even consider it a “real” paper I’d want to share.

The fifteen page paper was written within the span of a week after 3 topic changes and some barebones guidance from the professor, whose main concern was that I simply “make him an expert” for when he went to dinner parties. Because he was my direct audience, and that minimal level of detail and analysis was what he wanted, I didn’t let myself focus on the topics that really interested me, about transportation or any other policy topic. I let myself be limited by his concerns instead of pushing back on his desire for a basic, explanatory policy brief. Because of the lack of inspiration, I ended up writing lackluster sentences, such as “reliable and efficient transportation is of key importance to all Americans” and “although the fund was created in 1956, the Mass Transit Account within the Highway Trust Fund was created in the late 1980s.” When I read it back, I can almost hear the dryness and boredom in my voice, a tone that does nothing to appeal to a wider audience.

If I could re-do this assignment, I would take more ownership of the final product and use it to figure out how to write a brief that doesn’t bore me and a research paper that sounds exciting and worthwhile. I know there are ways to be creative and write efficiently and beautifully in a research paper — another shot at this paper would have given me a chance to try.

eight short stories in two short weeks

I met with T after class, which completely changed my plans (in a good way). So for my final project, I look away from the newspaper front page and towards a short story cycle, my third experiment. Quick aside, some background on short story cycles (SSC). SSCs are collections of short stories that can be read as individual pieces, while still connecting/conveying a collective message through the overall work. These connections can be obvious like the same setting or characteristics, or more subtle like themes and moods.

 

So how will I create this? I will base my SSC based on images from my original material (old photoblog —  I would say check it out but I stupidly tried to change the theme when I really only had twenty minutes to spare so it looks like a mess and oh my god what have I done). The connecting elements will be the setting (Ann Arbor) and the shared, unnamed narrator. I’m also exploring use the changing weather to show the change in time (and maybe a change in the narrator?). I don’t know why I like the weather so much…even experiment two had a lot of weather elements in it.

Ok side note, I got distracted by a bunch of weather gifs, so I decided to share some.

Source: Grist

Source: Dribble

I have mixed feelings about my SSC right now. I think its causing me one part happiness, two parts anxiety, but at the same time, I feel like most writers feel this way with their work. While I enjoy creative writing, I struggle refining my voice to fit the story. I usually write the way I talk (why narratives are my favorite), creative fiction pushes me to adopt the voices of my characters and see personalities outside of myself. I want to push myself out of my writing comfort zone.

To alleviate some of my fears with actually finishing this final project on time, I planned out my future steps. First steps…well honestly actually finish up experiment three. It’s been a rough week so I have a lot of catch up to do. Experiment three will probably have two to three short stories, while the final will have six to seven. I already have the images picked out, so it’s just a matter of writing the stories. Easy peasy right?

Source: Gfycat

Source: Tumblr

The sketch draft will help me layout the foundation of the SSC and the ideas I want to connect throughout the pieces. I already have an idea of what I want to say in some of the stories, which I have included in the sketch draft.

Lastly, my what I’m most looking forward to and least looking forward to….the big one first: finishing on time. Or rather finishing on time with something quality. Because I can easily write a lot (can you tell I’m a rambler), but I don’t know how to ensure its quality. I am, however, looking forward to writing these pieces. As I talk things out, I can see my ideas falling into play, so I am excited to see those through, to see my ideas solidify in my eight short stories in the coming two weeks.

The Grand Finale

My final project will be a final version of my experiment one, which was the idea of doing a commercial. The commercial includes the beloved Satan and a lonesome man trying to sell Satan pepper jack cheese at a kiosk in a grocery store. I have always loved working in iMovie and experimenting with different formats, so I think working on making a commercial could be both fun and challenging.

In order to accomplish this large goal of mine, there are a few things I have to get cracking on!

  • First and foremost, I need to finalize my commercial script so I can begin sharing this with the actors (two of my friends) who will play Satan and the salesperson. The casting process was rather vigorous, but I know my two chosen actors will bring their all.
  • This may be a seemingly minor step, but ultimately pretty big in the scheme of things. I need to figure out what the heck Satan is going to wear/ look like in order to correctly convey the image of Satan grocery shopping. Just some quick ideas on how to do this include red clothing, potentially working with special effects to add flames around my actor, maybe using a voice to emphasize fear in the actor’s voice. If anyone has any ideas, toss them in the comments.
  • Location is crucial to this project. I would like to shoot in the dairy/cheese aisle of a grocery store, preferably Meijer or Kroger. Shooting directly in a grocery store creates more of a commercial mood, as well as adding humor through physically seeing Satan grocery shop.
  • Also, I must make sure I film extra footage, in case I need to play around with editing more! Quantity is important!

However, every experimenter must have some concerns or it would be too easy. I am definitely concerned that my vision for this project is so specific that it won’t end up coming out the way I want it to. That will be the biggest thing for me to overcome through this project. I have to keep my mind open to change and new ideas. Another concern I have is that this entire idea is out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done something like this before, so the unknown can be fearful. It scares me but excites me. Challenges are always fun, and I am definitely up for one.

I am really excited to get started with turning this project into my vision. Cannot wait to see what it turns out looking like!

Image Credit