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.

Shifting standards of normalcy

In the course of a few weeks, everything has changed so drastically. I remember saying about 3 weeks ago, “Sure, COVID-19 will come to Michigan, but they won’t close school.” Then, after Schlissel closed school, I assured myself the administration couldn’t shut down commencement – the school had too much money at stake. Even after being dealt that blow, I told myself bars would stay open indefinitely. “College kids are dumb,” I remember telling my roommate. “If Ricks can keep making money, it’ll stay open.” Restaurants and bars shut down three days later.

What we consider “normal” is shifting rapidly, and I’m beginning to think about this in the context of my Capstone project. The best writing, in my opinion, challenges a widely accepted norm, destabilizing the seemingly sturdy foundations of an idea or phenomenon. I’m currently reading Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, and this is something she does well. Tolentino writes about things many others have already tackled – feminism, weddings, racism, reality TV – but probes why we hold the basic truths that we do and then pokes holes into those truths. For instance, in an essay about the idea of the difficult woman, Tolentino digs into the modern feminist approach of defending celebrity women who are publicly critiqued, suggesting that perhaps we are beginning to conflate the criticism of a woman with her worth. She doesn’t just embrace modern feminism and run with it; first, she finds the limitations of certain widely accepted assumptions.

I want to do this with my project, too. In discussing the ideas of anthropocentrism and the environment, I’d like to shake people’s faith, ever so slightly, in their belief that human lives have inherent worth. I don’t want to do this in a destructive or aggressive way, but in a thoughtful way that makes my readers rethink their relationship with the environment. Tolentino is a good model – she’s radical without being degrading or judgmental.

I think the COVID-19 outbreak has actually shed some light on the extreme extent to which our presumptions of normalcy can change. Actually, the conflict I’m addressing about the value of a human life might have more to do with COVID-19 than I originally thought. We’re now seeing a desperate scramble to protect basic human life – the actual life itself, not the material things we used to think were really important (like clothes, shopping, and other luxuries). Perhaps this focus on human life is anthropocentric, but it’s also humble in some ways. Lots to think about.

Writer’s Block

I am struggling to motivate myself to complete my project. Is my project even important right now? It feels ignorant and naive to continue with the project as if it were 13 days ago. I am facing a block. So, I guess I will do what all writers do, and write about it.

I thought I cried until I felt numb to my surroundings, but now, I am at home, in my childhood bed, crying again. Thirteen days ago, I was planning a 700 person conference, my birthday, a bucket list of everything I wanted to do in Ann Arbor and drafting ideas for an essay proposal. Thirteen days ago I was victorious. Twelve days ago, I was defeated. A virus that felt distant deteriorated the 700 person conference that, after a full year of sleepless nights, perseverance and every ounce of dedication that I had, was just 10 days away. I wept. I could not find the words to tell the 54 person team I co-led that it was not happening. I could not tell them that a virus so distant, so far away, was stopping us from gathering; that we were going to let it win. I stared at the floor unable to make eye contact. I could not let them see me cry. I thought that was going to be the worst day.

10 days ago I went numb. I do not remember the days but classes got moved online (we had so much free time for activities!), we were told to stay at school (it was going to the best semester ever!) … then suddenly two bullet points on an email: graduation is canceled, go home. The virus no longer felt distant. It was here. That day was my worst day. A week later I am now in my childhood bed, crying. I am not returning to school – this is it. I am not returning to school, but people are not returning to work; small businesses are closing, people are losing their jobs, people are getting sick. There are people who are having worse days. But that’s okay. We are all going to have our “worst days”, no one is immune to this. We all need to grieve. I need to grieve and that’s okay. That is how we keep going.

I’m Kind of Stressed ngl…

So I know I am supposed to use this post to talk about what my project is and how it’s going, but if I’m being honest I think I’m still wondering the same thing…

confused zero gravity GIF

Okay, Okay, I know this is mostly on me since I probably should have been spending much more time on it than I actually have, but the more I wrote the more I felt stuck until all together I quit mentally for a bit.

HOWEVER, having my workshop date looming over my head and realizing the progression of everyone else really put things into perspective and gave me the pressure push I needed. THERE IS LESS THAN 7 WEEKS LEFT…and I have quite a bit of work to do. So I pulled myself together and decided to make a plan on Monday to have a complete (or roughly complete) draft by next Sunday to show for during my workshop. I am putting that deadline on this blog to hold myself much more accountable as well.

THE PROJECT…so, on Monday I spent a lot of time reorganizing and drafting and realized that while I am still struggling to exactly decipher the purpose of my project and the target audience, but as of now it feels like it is centered around the concept of “growth.” I will be using my high school experience at a boarding school as well as experiences in college and additional research to supplement whatever I choose to make my main argument at the end but I tried spending this week just free writing.

Given the fact that we are in the midst of a literal pandemic…

parks and recreation stress GIF

inspiration and concentration has been hard to come by. BUT I am finally getting back into the swing of things today and hoping to get back on an academic track for next week. Once I really figure out more specifically what I want my project to be about and what purpose I want it to serve, I’ll keep y’all updated!

progress

Since the beginning of the semester, my goals for this project seemed to have changed at least a dozen times.

The good news now is that I’m fairly certain on what I want to deliver: a collection of mockups for a number of different common mobile apps accompanied with some text focusing on the process. I think this will appeal to a wider audience than my original idea of developing design system guidelines.

Recently, I’ve been working on screens for a notes app, as shown to the left. And, rest assured, I have a list of others that I’d like to get to.

Thankfully, my work for this project can proceed with minimal disruption from the COVID-19 emergency.

I will have to adjust how I gather feedback a bit, but I feel much more motivated to push through now that my direction is clear.

Where I am—and where I’m (hopefully) going!

Hey friends –

What a crazy week. I hope you’re all doing well, and staying safe. I’m writing this post from the Law Library, where they have every other chair on top of the table for social distancing. I miss being in NQ with all of you, and am really looking forward to chatting with you next week on BlueJeans.

My project has evolved quite a bit since talking with you all last. To get you all up to speed, I’ve decided to change topics. As we listened to the former capstone students chat about their time in the class, I heard a recurring theme: “Make sure you are in love with—and totally invested in—your project. Your heart needs to be there.” I had fashioned a project about loneliness in the United States. I was intrigued by it because I saw it not only as a devastatingly sad issue, but also one that has drastic consequences. I had come to find that the effects of isolation are immense—both individually and collectively. But as I pondered it a bit more, and as I began to devote more brainpower to it, I could tell that something was off. And then it hit me. The words in class resonated perfectly. My heart wasn’t in it, and I thought I knew exactly where it might be: my dog.

To my mind, the general topic of this project will be—very simply—dogs. More specifically, I’d like to document certain people’s relationships with their dogs (what it means to them, what it provides, memorable anecdotes, etc.). I know it sounds a little vague, but stick with me. I’ll narrow the scope and provide a bit more background. The topline, over-arching question that will run through this project is:

(1) What is the inherent value that dogs provide in people’s lives? In other words, what benefits, if any, do they confer onto their “owners” or the people around them?

When I pivoted to this topic, I still wanted to stick with the podcast as my medium. The structure was going to be as follows:

(1) 4-5 podcast episodes with folks who have a dog(s)—and have stories that they are willing to share.

(2) Each episode will be guided by a set of interview questions (roughly seven or eight). These are, of course, the shell or outline of the conversations, but can be filled in with other tangents, comments, etc.

(3) The podcasts will be featured on my website under a tab entitled “THEIR STORIES”, and each sub-tab will feature their specific episode.

(4) In their specific pages, I will display not only an audio clip of their episode, but also a written transcript of our discussion. In this way, the viewer will have two options: to read the entire dialogue, or to more casually listen to it.

(5) These pages will also (ideally) feature photos of the individual and their dog.

(6) In addition to the “THEIR STORIES” tabs, this website will also feature “MY STORY” and “YOUR STORY” sections. The former will detail my story, with my answers to my set interview questions. And then the latter will offer the viewer the option of inputting his or her own story. They will be given a PDF document of the 7-8 interview questions so that they can reflect—or, perhaps, ask others around them.

Now that we are transitioning to online classes—and buildings/events are being shut down—I am thinking it might be wiser to stick to a written/non-audio project. I would still like to interview people, but getting in the podcast booth with them may prove to be a little tricky. With that in mind, I could still interview folks, and then transcribe their answers onto my website (similar to what Ashley did for her project).

I am fairly comfortable with this potential switch. If I were to do this, I could potentially feature a few more tabs on my website, aside from personal stories. As of now, I have 2 folks to interview (and am hoping for 2-3 more), and I have my interview questions set. I am looking forward to chatting with them next week, and then beginning to build my website. I’m really looking forward to getting these conversations rolling, and then to doing my own personal narrative/writing.

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you! And if you—or someone you know—has a special relationship with their dog, let me know! Talk to you all soon 🙂

New Directions

So it’s a little more than halfway through the semester and especially with the past weeks events and the cancellation of in-person class sessions, I am unsure of how to proceed with my project. Originally or I guess most recently, I have been planning on doing a podcast, however I think in light of the seriousness of the situations, instead I am going to do a written piece.

So to catch everyone up to speed, I was originally going to do a podcast with my best friend talking about mental health and other important topics, while also telling the story of our friendship. Following the closure of campus though, I think I will be going home. As such, I think I am going to do a long-form memoir/vignette type story. Through this story I plan on highlighting difficult times in my life through journal/diary entries or random snippets I have written and then putting those into context with how my friendships and support systems have gotten me through.

I have given this a lot of thought, and I think this will allow me to stay true to my true purpose (which was to talk about the importance of friendship in mental and physical health) and to stay safe and also not spread any illness.

new blog post, completely new project

My last blog post discussed my wide variety of project pitches, but alas, the project I’m actually pursuing is not even CLOSE to what I initially proposed.

A few weeks into working on my original project, I spent a weekend at home and got lunch with my Grammy’s childhood friend. The conversations we had inspired me to change my project. I am now writing an essay about the Pleiades, my Grammy’s group of friends that she’s had since high school.

So far, I’ve done pretty much all of my research. I’ve done tons of research on the Pleiades (as in, the cluster of stars the group is named after), and read lots of different stories cultures have told about these stars since ancient times. I’m planning on weaving in this history and these stories in with the stories I’m telling.

Here are the Pleiades, if you were wondering!

These stories are of the lives of the group of 6 women who call themselves the Pleiades. So far, I have recorded interviews with 5/6, and have an interview planned with the last one tomorrow. After that, I’ll continue the writing process! I’ve started writing my narrative, but definitely still have a ways to go. I’m hoping to meet with someone from Sweetland to help me with the writing process.

That’s all for now! 🙂

here i am!

I’m going to be honest: I haven’t thought nearly enough about my project as I probably should have. So here I am:

Realizing I should probably get myself together and start doing stuff!!! It’s MARCH!!! Having my workshop originally planned this past Tuesday was super helpful; I wrote a bunch of stories, and am now moving on to thinking about recording the actual podcast. Yikes.

I know, I know, I’m probably overreacting a little bit. I’m not the most technologically savvy person, so this kind of stuff stresses me out. But it’s okay! I’ll be okay! I’ll come to class next week with some audio to show to the class, even though I hate hearing myself speak.

But no matter. I got this!

Where We Are and Where We’re Going

Here I am, knee-deep into the semester and there’s really no turning back now. If you told me freshman year that I’d be making a podcast before I graduated, I’d probably laugh in your face, with an eye roll and a, “yeah, right.” I’ve never been the type to fully push myself out of my comfort zone (and audio is nowhere near that realm).

But this is where we are.

My podcast will be an exploration of traveler’s guilt, inspired by my semester studying and living abroad in Barcelona. I’ll be having conversations with other students who had the privilege to study abroad to delve into issues like gentrification, overcrowding, overdependence on the tourism industry, the depletion of natural resources, and more.

But what better way for me to introduce you to my podcast than by sharing the trailer with you all! This is Not Your Mom’s Travel Guide.

Over the next month and a half, you’ll all be with me on this journey to see this idea through. I’ll be speaking with four guests about their time living in four drastically different countries: Australia, Italy, South Africa, and Spain.

Can’t wait for you to see where we’re going.