Advice to Fall 2020 Capstone

By the time you’re reading this, so much will have changed. Will you be online? Will you be in-person? I can’t say. Either way, you were probably looking forward to your Writing Capstone being just like you Gateway – a tight-knit group of writers that meet twice a week to discuss their writing and make cool things – and I’m here to tell you that that is still possible, no matter if you’re online or not.

Before the criticisms start bubbling up in your brain, let me inform you that I do, in fact, have some basis for this claim. Unlike every other semester of Capstones, I was part of the Winter 2020 Capstone in which we spent the first half of the semester in-person and the second half online. I had the advantage of getting to know my classmates in-person before we were asked to move online, but I actually found our online interactions even more enjoyable and productive than our in-person ones. This may be due to the fact that it was the second half of the semester and not the first, as opposed to being an in-person vs. online thing, but I felt that being online and able to see everyone created a sense of community in a way that an airy, spaced-out classroom didn’t.

It is true that you will have to work harder at this than I did. You, potentially, could be meeting your classmates online for the first time and never seeing them in-person after that, but I have faith in you. Hopefully, by this point, you’re accustomed to using Zoom or BlueJeans or whatever program is being used (unless you’re in-person, then yay for in-person!), and, if your class is anything like mine was, you’ll adjust well.

My advice, then, boils down to this:

  1. Treat this like you would any other crazy adventure: roll with the unexpected, laugh when you can, and give other people (and yourself) a lot of grace and understanding if things start working out in ways that aren’t ideal.
  2. Communicate well and often. Gmail is your friend. (Well, maybe not your friend, but you get the idea.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to share your writing! The notebook reading series was one of my favorite parts of the class. The sooner everybody gets sharing, the sooner you start to get a feel for everyone’s voice as a writer. And the sooner that happens, the sooner online class will feel enjoyable.
  4. Give T (or whoever your professor is) a lot of your patience and kindness, but also make sure you reach out if you need anything at all. She’s super helpful and, honestly, one of the sweetest humans alive. You’re in good hands!
  5. Take your Capstone project one step at a time. Especially if you’re having to work from home, deadlines might seem more lax than they really are. Don’t get behind, but don’t stress out. A good (but flexible) schedule is better than winging it.

Hopefully this helps! And hopefully you won’t need to worry about the online bit, but who knows? Either way, have fun with it! This class can be a blast as long as you keep up with the work.

Enjoy yourself, and happy writing/creating! 🙂

Skins of Dirt and Dust is now LIVE (get it?)

Hello, world.

I hope you’re having the best day possible, whenever and wherever you’re reading this. And if you’re not, I hope my project can help.

My Capstone project, titled Skins of Dirt and Dust, is a series of memoir essays (with cool pictures) that explore the muddled nature of life and how good and bad, beginning and end, life and death, etc. are all kind of wrapped up into one giant jumble that can be difficult to untangle. As such, I seek to work through what made certain bad times/endings difficult for me in my life, and then I seek to change my perspective on it – with you along for the ride.

So far, I’ve covered topics of grief and loss (the death of someone I loved), mortality and health (fearing for my life and struggling with ongoing health issues), disappointment and fear (COVID-19 and the end of my senior year of college – need I say more?), etc. I’m hoping to add another essay on hope and heartbreak (aka singleness) soon, but stay tuned. With any luck, this won’t be the last you’ll hear from me!

And now, for your viewing pleasure, my website: https://aaulepp.wixsite.com/capstone

If you don’t like it, thanks for giving it a peek anyway, and you can stop reading now.

But if you do like it, yay! That means all the hard work I and my classmates (through workshops and other feedback sessions) put in to making this website the best it can be paid off. And for that, I am glad.

See, all about perspective.

Now, because I am truly exhausted and more than slightly delirious (and the assignments for this class are the last things I have to turn in for the entirety of my college coursework), please indulge me in saying a few more things before I sign off:

I want to thank T, Louis, and all my classmates for helping me put this project together. I want to thank my mom for helping me find pictures, look up dates I’d forgotten, and for making me oatmeal when I was too tired to think about anything other than this project (aka this morning after 1 hour of sleep).

I want to thank my Gateway classmates for kicking things off right, and I want to thank my Capstone classmates (again) for wrapping things up fittingly. Y’all were (and still are) the best. Thank you for being bright spots in this whole online-class/shutdown/quarantine mess.

In short: Love y’all. Miss y’all. Need sleep. Enjoy website! Goodnight, America.

Blank Pages Are the Worst (And Yet, Pretty Exciting!)

Sitting down to write this blog post felt a lot like sitting down to work on my project: overwhelming confusion and frustration about where to start or how to phrase something or what even to write about at all, followed by a stream of words flowing almost mindlessly from my veins to the keyboard.

Followed, once again, by an overwhelming sense of writer’s block. 🙂

But that’s ok. The good stuff comes from being patient. I definitely can’t call this blog post “the good stuff” (more like force-feeding the screen in front of me from what feels like an empty pantry), but I do believe that my project, at least, is getting some of that odd, trance-like magic.

When writing my last blog post, my project was still in the very early stages – having barely even been conceived of, much less fleshed-out. To use a metaphor, it was still that unformed ball of cells growing in the mother’s womb. But now it’s been a few weeks, and I actually think it’s got some limbs and a heartbeat! Exciting stuff!

So, like the technician doing the ultrasound, let me explain what you’re looking at:

I’m planning to write about five “memoir essays,” which can be thought of as a hybrid of memoirs and personal essays. In my five memoir essays, I will use creative nonfiction to tell stories from my own life (memoir), then give them a little spin toward the end so that the audience can walk away with something more than just a random story from some random person’s life (kind of personal-essay-ish).

While my goal is to write five stories, my workshop members advised me to write what feels right, without worrying about achieving an exact number of stories, so my plan may yet change and grow into something slightly different than the plan I am laying out now.

For instance, while I have already created outlines for five stories I might want to tell, I am significantly more passionate about three of them compared to the other two. As such, unless I come up with ideas for different stories to tell, I may need to adjust this aspect of my project.

For the three stories that I am passionate about, however, things are going pretty well! I have already drafted the first third of a story that explores grief and loss, and I’ve made attempts at starting two other stories – one that explores relationships/singleness and another that explores health/mortality/the unexpected.

I foresee a couple concerns with being as vulnerable as I want to be in my stories and with discerning if the story I am writing will have the same impact to someone who didn’t live it as I did, but that’s why I have mentors and classmates!

So, what’s next?

In the coming weeks, I plan to continue my research, meet with my mentor(s), and undergo a workshop to get feedback. I will also be writing a lot more (hopefully creating complete rough drafts of each of the stories I plan to tell) and thinking a lot more about what I want to write and how I want to communicate my ideas. Furthermore, I will need to explore and challenge my own sense of self to hopefully push beyond any hesitancies in vulnerability to create a collection of writings that are as honest and powerful as possible.

If all goes well, I won’t have many blank pages for long, and that provides at least some relief.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for my next post!

Let Me Paint the Picture for You

Looking at my four pitches, there are three things that can be easily discerned:

  1. I want to do something more creative and of personal value rather than academic or practical for resume-building.
  2. I am a poet, an observer, a nostalgic, and a lover of stories.
  3. If it doesn’t have a semi-catchy title already in the works, it’s not for me.

When I think about it, none of those things really surprise me about my work, and that’s an exciting (and intimidating) place to be as a writer. It means I know myself – or, at least, I’m getting closer to – but it also means that there’s no arguing with the grinning child in me who demands more paint rather than a nice pencil.

So, all I can do is sigh.

But, truly, I think it will be alright. Talking through my ideas with my partner helped me understand the situation for what it was: a passion project. And if I’m not “all in” about what I’m making, I’m probably going to struggle more than if I had undertaken the thing my heart was set on in the first place.

Taking another look at my pitches, something that is less discernable (but still strikingly evident to a perceptive eye) is that two or three of my four pitches are all getting at the same thing: I want to write and share my stories – either as poetry, creative nonfiction, or both. I want to revisit the experiences that have shaped me, and I want to believe that I am as important as to have learned something worth sharing from the short life I’ve lived thus far.

So, call me conceited. Call me reflective.

Call me thrilled.

Whatever you call me, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

After all, you can’t expect to interrupt an artist when they’re elbows-deep in their work.

Alexis Aulepp’s E-Portfolio

Hello, world!

It’s been a long and tedious ride (you can read about that under the “Final Project/Reflection” tab under “Experiments” on my E-Portfolio site), but now my E-Portfolio is ready for viewing!

Check it out at the following link: https://aaulepp.wixsite.com/eportfolio

I hope you enjoy it! And email me or leave a comment here if you find something interesting! Happy viewing!

p.s. – check out my Final Project (book website) at this link: https://sites.google.com/umich.edu/writing-220-experiment-3

Other than that, enjoy a few snapshots below of some of the stuff you can find on my E-Portfolio and Final Project website!

Words of Wisdom

Five tips (just for you!) written in five minutes (or less)

Tip 1: The semester is what you make it

At least this semester (Winter 2019), it seems like there isn’t a lot of direction/instruction to the Gateway course, so you really have to forge your own path/journey. There were a few structured assignments at the beginning where everyone is doing basically the same thing, but the Experiments start the snowball of “whatever you choose,” so choose wisely! Your depth of learning depends on your own standard/threshold of research and engagement, so if you’re not careful to do as much as you can while you can, you might miss out on this great opportunity to explore new avenues of your writing ability.

Tip 2: Embrace the chaos, but stick to deadlines

“Dive in” early on, plan ahead, and keep up with the deadlines. There really isn’t time to waste when it comes to the experiment cycle, so make sure you know ahead of time where you’re going with your projects, and then make sure to start trying to get to that place as early on as possible. It’s perfectly normal to make changes as you go, but try to have a game plan, even if you expect things to change a bit.

Tip 3: Share!

The “tote bag reading series,” as my professor (T) called it, was born out of a hesitance against participation when T asked for a few people to read their work each class. Essentially, then, we had to pick several names out a tote bag each time to decide who was going to read. As time went on, however – after we realized everyone was a great writer and everyone had something to learn – we warmed up a little more to the idea of participating. So, my advice to you is this: don’t hold back from sharing just because you’re not sure if your writing is “good enough” or “worthy of sharing.” As a Minor in Writing student, you can be confident that you were selected for the program because you’re an amazing and passionate writer. Not only that, you are someone who can both contribute and receive to the overall study and practice of writing taking place in your classroom. And that study is much more beneficial when the participants participate, so be happy to share your work! At the very least, your writing can be a celebration of your craft and/or a helpful way for others (and yourself) to learn, so embrace your identity as a writer, and share!

Tip 4: Get to know your professor and classmates

Getting comfortable with those around you will make reading and discussing writing and ideas so much easier, more fun, and more helpful.

Tip 5: Find your voice

Test new genres and mediums, test new styles of writing, take the chance to write the things you want to write. After sitting through a semester of classes, I can see that most people have their own voice. Some voices are academic and clear. Some voices are cheeky and hilarious. Some voices employ dry humor and resigned narration. Some voices wrap things up with a nice bow. Other voices leave the reader questioning. Some voices make you think. Other voices make you laugh. Still other voices manage to do both. Embrace the different voices around you, and learn from them. Start to tease out how your voice is similar and different from the others in the room; what it is that makes your writing style what it is? Hopefully, by the end of that process, you’ll have a little better understanding of who you are as a writer.

That’s all from me for now! Good luck in Gateway!

Make-One-Get-Three

Though I’ve been crafting several novels in my head for years and years, I’ve rarely worked to create something novel-related other than the stories themselves. That’s why, when T first introduced these “experiments” we would be making, one of my first thoughts was to use one of my novels as my origin document. Eventually, I decided I was going to use a novel for middle-grade readers (titled “It’s Pronounced ‘Pegasus’”) that I had started writing very late last year/early this year. 

Once I had the origin piece set, my experiment genres were soon to follow. I decided that my first experiment would be a sound essay capturing a “morning-in-the-life” of my protagonist – a medium I had never heard of before but was willing to try. My second experiment would be a book trailer (something I had always dreamed of making, anyway), and my third experiment would be a book website/author website.

The top of the landing page I’ve started making for my website

While each experiment was enjoyable to make and left me wanting to create more and more of it, I had to pick only one for my final, realized experiment (FRE), and that pained me. Luckily, I found a bit of a loophole. As such, for my FRE, I will be combining all three of my experiments into one by finishing my website (experiment 3), which will include the sound essay and book trailer as “Extras” on one of the clickable tabs.

Though I portray this little bit of ingenuity as a sudden revelation, it was actually my plan from the beginning. I always wanted to create the best website possible, and I thought that would mean including the other two realized experiments, too – which would require that each of them be finished in order for the website to be fully realized. But my plans changed slightly toward the middle of this journey.

Once I realized how time-consuming these experiments were – and how I was drawn to finish the other two experiments, anyway – I decided that I would make my book trailer my final experiment. I had gone above-and-beyond with the Sample, basically finishing it instead of just giving it a taste, and so the only still-needed piece to call the book trailer fully “complete” was an image of the book cover – which I would need to spend some time designing. In the course of making the Sample of my website, however, I also needed to make an image of the cover for the landing page (“Home” page), and so adding the already-made book cover to my book trailer was an easy few clicks from there, and my Experiment 2 was complete.

The book cover I designed for “It’s Pronounced ‘Pegasus'”

As such, I feel like I have no choice but to fully realize my Experiment 3, as it is the only one that still feels a bit “incomplete,” and – as my initial ideas indicated – the trajectory of my experiment journey seems to have been building toward a fully-realized website from the start.

One of my chief concerns is always time, but I think I’ve put in enough effort already to make it work. I’m also a bit worried about the logistics of it all, but I know I have resources in T and in my classmates, should I need them in the next few weeks. Other than that, I don’t think I have many concerns about this project. Now that I’ve accepted my fate, this feels completely doable.

My next steps will simply be to finish what I’ve started. This will mean tweaking the “Home” page, adding author bios (one short, one long) to the “About” page, finishing out what I’ve started on the “Book” page, and creating an “Author Q&A” for the “Extras” page. Even though this might sound like a lot of work on paper/screen, I think it will be manageable over the next two weeks. But, even so, wish me luck!

Eureka! I’ve created it!

In modern times, pursuing writing and pursuing science are looked at as two ends of a very long spectrum, but I would argue that writers and scientists – at their most basic level – are pursuing the same things.

Now, you might be furrowing your brow, but what is writing if not discovery? What is science if not communication of meaning? Do not both fields act as a lens through which we come to understand the world?

And the realization of this connection was why I found the title of “experiments” so fascinating. Almost literally, we would be combining various elements (thoughts, mediums, individual words and letters) to create brand new products – something we might not have been able to fully envision when we first set out to invent.

For my part, I’ve been enjoying the journey. It’s been exciting to try new things and see what results, but I wish I had more time. Researching has been taxing, and, though I am pleased with how my experiments are turning out, many nights the hurried deadlines feel like they’re sucking away my creative spirit.

My first experiment was a perfect example of this. At the suggestion of my professor, my first experiment was to make a sound essay – something I had never heard of before. Apparently, neither had most other people in the world. (FYI, a sound essay is like an audio essay, but it tells the story entirely through sounds instead of words.) Very little research existed on this genre, and this made figuring out where to start the first major hurdle. Once I had an idea of what to do, though, the actual creating part was a blast! I found myself working extremely late into the night and not realizing this fact until the experiment was done and I looked at the clock. (Time truly flies when you’re crafting a story!)

A screenshot of my monitor while creating Morning Blues (my sound essay) in iMovie

My second experiment was making a book trailer. The research for this genre was much easier and far more exciting. I came into the experiment with a lot more excitement about the genre than with the first experiment, and that made this labor of love a little less laborious than I was expecting. In the end, I wasn’t thrilled with the constraints of the creative platform I chose to use, but I was very happy with how the final product turned out.

A screenshot of one of the first frames of my animated book trailer, made using Powtoon

For my third experiment, I’m planning on making a website. My origin material is a novel for middle-school-aged-readers that I’ve been writing, so I’m hoping to make the website into the book’s actual website. On the website will be both of my first two experiments, as well as fun extras like interviews with the author, pictures of the cover, character bios, etc. While I haven’t started yet, I’m hoping it will be great!

My experience of the experiments so far has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but I’ve been thankful for the push to play with writing in a way I don’t typically have reason to do. Like with science, I think writing is something that should be probed and tested, so I’m glad that these experiments have invited me to try things that are outside of my current wheelhouse, and I look forward to the challenge of continuing to explore.

My Pegasus and Me

Summing up an entire person in a handful of words is an impossible task, but I’ll try to provide you a peek. My name is Alexis Aulepp, and I’m a junior, a COMM major, a book-lover, a night owl, a people pleaser, a “mom friend,” and a writer. Some of my interests include poetry, photography, dad jokes, my faith, good food, cute dogs, and random acts of kindness. My favorite place to be is inside my own head, and my least favorite place to be is inside my own head (or the gym – that place is a nightmare). I write (in part) because I like to spend a lot of time in my favorite place. I keep writing (in part) because my least favorite place gets dark sometimes, and written words often provide the illumination I need.

While I’ve been writing in a variety of forms and genres my whole life, it wasn’t until middle school that I started taking “book writing” more seriously. I had written several “books” before then, but Eighth Grade was the first time I fully fleshed out what I hoped would be my first novel (eventually, trilogy). While pieces of this story have been written, I always found myself spinning my wheels, knowing too much of the characters and the world and the potential plot to dare put the wrong thing down on paper. This hesitation to tell the story incorrectly was, I think, why my Origin Piece became exactly what I needed: a shot in the dark with no expectations (other than to have fun writing it).

My Origin Piece, then, is the first three chapters of a novel for middle-schoolers that I’ve started writing – this time on impulse, with only a vague and malleable sense of plot and almost no sense of characters (save for the protagonist). This novel, titled “It’s Pronounced Pegasus” (or I.P.P. for short), is a gossip magazine, Disney Channel Original Movie, and stereotypical coming-of-age tale all packed into one. It’s narrator and protagonist, Logan Ceallaigh, is the self-proclaimed “Pegasus” of her high school, and she’s just as quirky and hilarious as her chosen moniker implies. Unfortunately, Logan is given another moniker after her first day of high school goes laughably wrong, and this launches a bullying scandal that will be played out over the remainder of the novel. Shortly after the bullying scandal reaches its peak, however, there’s a twist: Wes Cameron, the golden boy of Logan’s grade, asks her out. The resulting plot they hatch catapults Logan into the ranks of the popular, leaving her to grapple with the meaning and value of “popularity,” as well as how this newfound status is changing her.

Since I don’t know much about Logan or her story yet (other than what I’ve listed above), I’m really excited about how these experiments are going to push me to understand the novel in new ways. I’m hoping to explore more of who Logan is and why the events happen the way they do, as well as get back in the “freshman year of high school” mindset. To do this, my current plan is to make a website, a book trailer, and an audio essay as each of my experiments, with the eventual goal of making the website the completed project. Upon completion, the website will house both the book trailer and the audio essay, as well as other cool extras like character bios, cover art, and interviews with the author.

It may be a bit preemptive to make an entire book website before the book is even written, but what can I say? I’m a writer! And, as with any writer, my overactive imagination is both a blessing and a curse, a reason to love my mind and a reason to fear it. Hopefully, this class and these experiments will bring out the best in me, but there’s a big chance that this plan is too ambitious for my perfectionism and grand, creative dreams. But, I suppose there’s only one way to find out. As with any writing, I’ve just got to get started.

Here’s a draft of the “back of the book” blurb for It’s Pronounced Pegasus