The Tension of Flying

Back in the day, my high school English teacher used to describe graduation as jumping off a cliff. “You’re either going to have a cushion you’ve built up for yourself, or you’re going to have a rough landing!” she’d always conclude dramatically.

I never gave much thought to the metaphor then, probably because I could very clearly see the giant mass of pillows I’d made for myself at the bottom of my cliff. This time around, it feels foggier.

With graduation a month a way, it feels like I’ve hurtled myself confidently into the abyss and am falling with style through the clouds. I know I’ve done at least a decent enough job of preparing myself for “the real world” during the last four years, but I still don’t know where I’m landing. It’s the strangest tension of being both cheerful – things are going to be great! – and entirely clueless to what I’m actually going to find when I hit the ground. By some miracle I’m not anxious (yet?), but feel almost illogically naïve and hopeful. Like, because nearly everyone I know and their mother feels stressed about graduation, so should I.

If nothing else, I feel at least somewhat confident that my capstone project isn’t an anchor around my ankle speeding my descent to the ground. It might be, like, a bag of sand, but definitely not an anchor. There’s hope.

Does anyone feel this strange tension of optimism and inconclusiveness, or is it just me? Or the pressure to feel more stressed, exhausted, or worried about something than you actually do, whether related to graduation or otherwise? (Alternatively, feel free to just use the comments as a venting space.)

Only one month to go…




Getting the Ball Rolling

For some general info on my project, click here.

After what seems like months of considering and planning, I’ve reached a point of excitement and slight impatience with my capstone project. My biggest anxiety is the song composition aspect and the ever-worrisome questions of “Can I do this? Will it be any good? Am I entirely overconfident in my musical abilities?”

Although I could fret over this from now until April 18th (and, honestly, probably will), I mainly want to just get started. This sense of antsiness has led me to begin doodling around on piano and guitar, which has calmed some of my worries (turns out, I still remember how to play piano), but I’d really just love to jump in.

I’ll continue to worry about the pending success of my song, but I feel most confident in writing in the style common with other pieces like this (the “Christian women’s ministry, warm-and-fuzzy, aesthetically-pleasing, and welcoming” style). Although I haven’t specifically researched a lot of the content I’ll discuss in my project, this style of writing is something I immensely enjoy and have picked up through my experiences with my own church and through reading other books, articles, etc. I’ll certainly need a lot of fine-tuning, but I feel much more comfortable with this than with the musical component.

This extensive brainstorming and idea-refining process has honestly been a test of my patience and determination. I’ve always hated brainstorming and am much more comfortable jumping in, getting messy, and cleaning things up later – which is a weakness. Forcing myself to sit in these ideas, carefully develop them, and consider them deeply before starting to research and create content has been a learning experience – one I begrudgingly know is good for me.

…but I’m still excited to get started.

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

My dad is a financial advisor, meaning he’s a pro at goal-setting and scheduling. How many clients he has, how often he meets with them, and how much he earns in a year are all, essentially, up to him. Although he’s been leaving motivational leaflets on my desk since middle school, he still doesn’t comprehend that my mind doesn’t work the same way his does. Honestly, his sort of “5-year business plan” goal-setting method stresses me into paralysis. (Also, from my perspective, his life seems almost entirely structured around his professional goals, which also terrifies me. No, thank you.)

Regardless, with graduation just around the corner, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” has become his favorite question. He’s taken to hounding me for specific answers to questions like, “Exactly how much of your student loans will you have paid off? Where will you work? How much money would you like to make?” or, worst of all, “What steps will you take right now to accomplish these goals?”, and I’ve taken to avoiding his questions in every manner I can think of.

Probably to his dismay, my answers are much vaguer than he’d like. Mostly, when I’m 26, I’d just like to be involved in a women’s church ministry, have at least half my student loans paid off, be working in science communication, and, if the stars align and the wind blows from the right direction, be married. It’s not that I’m not striving for higher than that – for example, my professional dream is to have a Master’s degree and work for NASA, Boeing, or Lockheed Martin – but the things on my list are the things I’ve learned matter the most to me.

If college has taught me anything, it’s that I am more than my academics or professional goals. It’s not that these things are unimportant or not worth giving attention to, but they aren’t the entirety of who I am. If I wanted to please my dad, I could probably give him a list of acceptable salaries, companies, graduate school programs, and locations, as these are things I’ve thought about extensively (and that are helpful for, y’know, responsible adult living), but they aren’t reflective of the person I want to be in 2021. I don’t want “where I am in five years” to solely be defined by my professional life – a concept that seems nearly out of the question for him.

Though my dad and I have talked about my specific professional goals, where I’ve mentioned many of these things, I still stubbornly continue to avoid questions about “where I see myself”. Maybe I’m just being silly. Maybe I’m too conscious of how much I don’t want my life to be “breakfast, work 9-5, dinner, TV, sleep, repeat.”

Regardless, I imagine “Where do you see yourself in five years?” has been at least a small topic of conversation in the lives of most graduating seniors. What do you think? Do you think about this question solely in terms of professional life, personal life, or a mix of both? If you’re feeling adventurous, where do you see yourself in five years? Alternatively, where don’t you want to be?

…and if these kind of questions drive you entirely up a wall, here’s a fun Internet game to take your mind off things.

Idea Overhaul

When Ray asked us to blog about how our ideas for our capstone projects had changed since the last time we posted about this, I laughed a little bit (mainly in my head, but hey). Just about everything about my project has changed since my last blog post.

Initially, I planned to do what I knew how to do (or at least was familiar with) – write about science. After all, I plan to do that in some form or another with the rest of my professional career, so why not just start now? I picked a topic I was fascinated by but unfamiliar with (quantum physics), a medium that sounded adventurous and unusual (a children’s book), and settled into a comfortable rut of “there’s nothing else I would rather do.”

Long story short, I clawed my way out of that rut and found something much more exciting on the other side. Writing about science is great, sure, but, again, I like to think I’ll be doing that until I have children of my own potentially lamenting over their future capstone projects. I had 2.5 intense months to create a project entirely of my choosing – an opportunity I likely will never have again. Why waste that on the familiar?

Much naval-gazing, contemplating, advice-seeking, and an eerily well-timed workshop later, my capstone project has evolved into this: a website dedicated to giving young women in high school and college a low-stakes opportunity to explore what the Bible says about being a woman.

My faith has been the most important part of my life for most of my college experience, but, being a BCN major and future science journalist, I don’t exactly get the opportunity to study the Bible and talk about God on a regular basis in the classroom. My education and my faith have existed in two separate bubbles, and I’m excited about using this project to create an intersection between them.

Although my proposal goes into much more detail (give me a shout if you ever want to read it), the project as it currently stands can be summarized with the following:

“The Bible teaches that men and women are distinctly and uniquely created, just as light is different from and complements darkness (Genesis 2) – but what does this mean? Women learn many things about “what it means to be a woman” from their parents, friends, and culture, but what does Christian Scripture say that’s different about the heart of a woman (i.e. her core tendencies) compared to the heart of a man? Why is it important for women to take ownership of who the Bible says they were created to be, distinctly as a woman? Why does the world needs these specific aspects of the feminine?” (from my project proposal).

I will explore these questions in my project by…

  • composing a worship song (think this, not this) that praises God for the feminine aspects of His character and for uniquely created women to reflect those aspects (there are a lot of worship songs in the world, but I’m still trying to find one that specifically talks about this part of God)
  • creating an informal, documentary-style “making of” video about my personal experiences writing the song and researching the theology and information behind it, which will invite the audience into my own story and hopefully invite them to consider theirs as well
  • writing either a web page or short series of Bible studies about the theology behind the song
  • creating a supplementary sub-page on the website about the music theory and compositional aspects that went into writing the song, should anyone care to also write their own or have interest

Unlike my initial capstone idea, which felt nice enough but forced, this idea seems sustainable, like something that will challenge me dramatically (emotionally and intellectually), and useful for more people than just myself. I feel throughly excited about it and can’t wait to get started!


Much like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, I tend to believe at least 6 impossible things – or believe in six ambitious ideas – before breakfast. Perhaps unlike Alice, I also tend to dismiss all of them as unoriginal and not worth pursuing by lunch, and the first two days of the capstone course have been no exception: On day one, I left with a relatively certain idea of what I wanted to accomplish with my project, and by day two, I felt entirely inadequate and questioned my competence as a writer.

This lack of confidence is likely because what I hope to do with my project sounds nothing like any of the examples that were given in class, whether by Raymond or by other classmates. I didn’t enter the Minor in Writing program to learn to create multilayered, beautiful essays on feminism and Beyoncé or social analyses of World of Warcraft or philosophy-journalism hybrids. These things sound interesting, sure, but I cannot imagine devoting more than a hot second to writing about them.

When it comes down to it, I entered the Minor to become a better science journalist.

My passion has always been making the general public care about science – and the big, lofty parts of science, too, like astrophysics or quantum mechanics or the surface composition of Pluto (which, for the record, is full of nitrogen glaciers the viscosity of toothpaste that swirl up and down from surface to interior and back again like a not-quite-planet-sized lava lamp). I love creating enthusiastic, ambitious things like YouTube videos or infographics or podcasts or social media accounts that communicate how breathtakingly beautiful and exciting the universe is and how science isn’t quite as terrifying as your high school physics class might have let on. I became a writing minor with the hope that I would learn to communicate that better, which led me to the natural conclusion of “I want to create some sort of nonfiction, science writing piece for my capstone course.”

That being said, my hope for my capstone project is this: To create a small, low-stakes, unassuming book that, in a narrative style, overviews the exciting beauty of a quantum mechanics (I’m jumping right into the deep end here) and doesn’t send readers fleeing with terror in the opposite direction.

Initially, I had absolutely no clue how to make this interesting. To my ever-comparing brain, it doesn’t sound grandiose or exquisitely layered, which has resulted in a great deal of self-doubt, but it both accomplishes what I set out to learn in the minor (i.e. how to write and write about science better) and is something uniquely mine. Although the world certainly isn’t filled with young women studying psychology who want to write about some of the universe’s most complicated physics, sure, this idea seemed, simply, “not enough.”

…and then, thanks to the beauty of blogging, the more I typed, the more an idea developed, which led me to this: a children’s book, fully illustrated and narratively written, about the highlights of quantum mechanics.

Disciplines would include quantum mechanics/physics, education, and science writing. The focal object would be an overview of quantum mechanics, from basic atomic parts to the basics of string theory and M-theory. And confounding variables, well, it’s a children’s book. A child could shrink smaller and smaller, examining the individual parts, or different atomic parts could be different characters. It could be an interactive eBook or a traditional watercolor+text combination. I’m sure more options will arise in the coming days!

I like to imagine that this is the sort of impossible idea I believe in just before breakfast, but also during lunch, and my 2 o’clock coffee that lingers too long in my mug before I rinse it out, and the crock pot dinner that spent eight hours cooking. Mostly, I hope it is “enough,” or that it will soon be.



Is there any better way to celebrate my 21st birthday than turning in my ePortfolio? (Well, possibly.)

Regardless, I am so excited to have finished this project and be able to share it. It’s not much of an over-exaggeration to say I’ve poured my blood, sweat, and tears into this portfolio, and it feels incredibly nice to sit back and relax. As with any project, there is always more I’d like to do, but, overall, I am definitely satisfied with the way it turned out!

That being said, without further ado… my gateway portfolio!

Now, off to claim my free Ben & Jerry’s birthday ice cream! See you in the fall!

Is This Christmas?

I watched a lot of Potter Puppet Pals was I was nine, and it’s sort of stuck with me. That being said, while trying to summarize my attitude about the ePortfolio, my brain immediately went to the beginning of this episode:

“I love to learn.”

I am Hermione, and I am so excited about this project.

Instead of going on a rant about how ecstatic I am to craft my ePortfolio, I’ll leave you with this video of a toddler experiencing rain for the first time. You can put the pieces together from there.

As I begin considering my ePortfolio, I’m looking forward to seeing what I have to learn! I’m hoping to incorporate my main passions – art, video, writing, and science – into its design somehow. That may look like scattering scanned doodles throughout my work, making a video introduction on the front page, or just tying science and artistry together through my theme. (I was particularly inspired by Rachel Wilson’s “left brain/right brain” theme in her Gateway Portfolio.)

The idea of the portfolio as its own composition was interesting and wonderful to me. The idea of (ahem), “presenting a writerly identity connected to other co-curricular, academic, and professional interests” seems both practically useful and also just continues to make me giddy. Creating a representation of myself through writing and design? Are you sure this isn’t just a project for fun? It combines all of the things about writing I love with my enthusiasm for symbolism and aesthetics.

Mostly, this just feels like Christmas. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be equally excited in a few weeks, but I hope to carry this enthusiasm to the completion of the project. I’ve continued to learn the obvious this semester – that I make the best work when I’m most excited about my project – and hope that will be true again.


Seeking: Fairy Dust

University of Michigan writing student seeks magical fairy dust. Hopes to fly above the chaos of her current repurposing draft. Please send to second star on the right, ext. straight on ’til morning.

I was silly for approaching drafting the way I did. Maybe that’s an understatement. Maybe it’s the crocodile ticking the realism of wasted time. Who knows.

All Peter Pan references aside, I made the mistake of diving into my rough draft blindly. I knew I wanted to make a Christian relationship article similar to something from Relevant magazine (see my initial repurposing post), but I thought I could make it by without a further skeleton. I turned up my music, opened a WordPress draft, and made… something. Ideas were conflicting, there was no sense of coherency, and the “piece” was a jumbled mess.

Is that my repurposing draft?

Needless to say, I have learned! And I’m excited about that! Now that I know where I stand and how much of a framework I need, I’m looking forward to spending the next few days creating my skeleton. I’m still passionate about my idea and can’t wait to flesh it out into something a little more Wendy and a little less Lost Boys.

A few other, smaller triumphs:

  • I’ve decided to base my article on content from Relevant Magazine, which conveniently has a length suggestion (750 – 1200 words) for their articles! How helpful and specific!
  • In the style of Relevant, I want a faded, “hipster-esque” photo of a couple to serve as a header for my piece. Conveniently, two very hipster friends just got their engagement photos taken. They’re perfect. 
  • I’ll be hosting my piece on These Neon Hearts, my blog for Writing 200, and just began re-designing the layout to make it closer to what I want. If you have any suggestions for making the page more professional (with a free WordPress template), I’d love to hear them.

Also, if you have any framework/brainstorming strategies that work particularly well for you, leave them in your comment! I’m going to take this opportunity to try something new with skeleton-building, so suggestions are welcome.


30 Minutes for a Source-Surfing Safari

“An episode of SpongeBob takes thirty minutes.”

spongebob-readyWith half an hour on the clock, this is my first thought. Always. Including this time around. I can’t say I was initially excited about the idea of spending thirty minutes actively searching for genres and modes, but the promise of watching this gem was waiting for me at the end. (I don’t even know why. I haven’t been obsessed with the show since I was a kid. Habits run deep.)

Let’s do this.


  1. socks – Mine have “Boo” printed all over them. Functional, fashionable, and out-of-season festive. Soft, fuzzy joy.
  2. T-shirt – Baseball-style, with the crest of the Michigan Marching Band horn section (yes, we have one) on the chest and my last name and rank number (Stempien, 12) on the back. A navy-and-grey declaration of who I am and what I do.


  1. EECS lab assignment – Thankfully not mine, but with enough information and MatLab tutorials to inform half of north campus. A technical guide for educational purposes.
  2. Peace Tea – A can of nectar of the gods permanently perched on the dresser across the room. Its bold, catchy designs (usually depicting a political situation – this one has the Berlin Wall) make it more cylindrical hippie-hipster artwork than “here’s the calorie count”.
  3. Closet – Filled with T-shirts branded primarily with declaratives of various extracurriculars at Michigan: Michigan trombones, Michigan Marching Band, Michigan Rocket Science, New Life Church. Wearable identity statements.
  4. CDs – All of them not mine. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m not in my own bedroom. Regardless, a portfolio both of artists/tracks/biographical information and of personal musical taste.
  5. alarm clock – Marks the passing of time in glowing green letters. It’s been twenty minutes or so. I haven’t been writing this post chronologically.
  6. AERO 325 notes – I am not a rocket scientist. If I were, I imagine this would contain a lot of information about space flight dynamics I found particularly helpful.


  1. iCalendar – Filed under “things Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ is not about”. Conveys information, generates disgruntled Alexises, and is a multi-hued mess of scheduling.
  2. “How Teleportation Works” – A desktop folder filled with informal-but-educational science journalism articles I used for my last video project.
  3. Spotify – The digital form of the aforementioned CD collection – this time with more biographical information. I imagine it’s a right of passage at Spotify to slave over lengthy artist biographies for obscure angry Irish bands. (Don’t hate it until you’ve tried it.)
  4. Facebook – A bizarre amalgam of thoughtful posts, curses at sports teams, cutesy photo captions, and “10 Articles You Won’t Believe You Missed!” It’s like Ye Old Marketplace, except vendors are shouting to attract your attention, not your money. Sometimes, you even come away with a thought-provoking idea or two.
  5. 2015 Gates Annual Letter – Bill and Melinda Gates’s (#marriageaspirations) annual letter. This time, they’re betting that the lives of the poor will increase more than ever in the next fifteen years. It’s a casual but well-researched letter designed to inspire, mobilize, report, and encourage. Also, it’s wonderful.

An episode of SpongeBob takes thirty minutes. Exploring different uses of writing, however, turns out to be even more worthwhile than numbing my brain. It’s been interesting and exciting to see all of the ways words can be used to communicate identity, information, and general shenanigans! (Hello, “Boo” socks.)

Thanks for tagging along on my the safari!


God, Shipyards, and Relevance

996817_10201122301727108_528540248_n(Author’s Note: Though typing this title already made me feel like half of Ann Arbor has arrows aimed at my head, I’ll dare to continue – but first, I’ll hand you this. If you don’t subscribe to my faith, know that this is then coming through a lens of bias. Still, I hope you can gain something, if only a perspective.)

Apart from God, there is shipwreck.

For context, there are two things worth noting:

  1. Until this fall, I had been single my entire life.
  2. Two years ago, I became a Christian and restructured my life around God.

Although Jesus calls me to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind (Luke 10:27), that turns out to be a bit difficult when everyone around you is suddenly getting engaged. A year ago – nineteen years old and still without a first kiss – I sat by as friends and family started relationships, popped questions, and flooded Facebook with a hundred gorgeous wedding pictures.

“Okay, God,” I would pray, first patiently and then less so, “what about me? Where’s my grand, romantic adventure? I’m tired of waiting.”

“Wait,” He would answer, and my patience would renew…

…until the next engagement hit Facebook.

This attitude peaked in November 201insta3, when I left a church team meeting with a visible cloud of bitterness around my head. (That week, the meeting had centered around the question, “For what do you need patience?”) Blinded by this haze of frustration and impatience, I sat down to journal.

I resurfaced two hours later to find that I had penned a multi-page extended metaphor that not only eased my bitterness, but restored my confidence and faith. Apparently the Holy Spirit is also a writer (John 16:13).

In summary, the piece is called “Shipyard”, and it tells of a young girl who grew up watching ships sail to distant lands. When she reaches womanhood, she begins to grow impatient and longs for an adventure of her own – that is, until an old, battered sailor warns her that a ship cannot be steered without a skillful captain. Without a leader at the helm, the ship is surely doomed for a rough voyage. In case the theme weren’t obviously enough, it story ends with the name of a perfect ship captain: “Emmanuel”, which translates to “God with us”.

It is important to know how God-centered my piece for re-purposing is. In class, when chatting with Kaitlin, I disregarded this and tried to brainstorm ways to make the piece secular. As it turns out, pulling a religious piece from its true nature ruins it. Kaitlin’s ideas and our discussion were wonderful, but I still quietly knew that they wouldn’t do.

I chose this piece because it holds a dear place in my heart, and I’m excited about re-purposing it for an audience that is not “my eyes, and my eyes only”. In its original form, “Shipyards” is an extended metaphor. This time around, I’ll be using more research (Biblical and otherwise) to transform it into an article aimed at teens and adolescents, Relevant Magazine style. I hope to take the original message – “be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14) – and present it directly instead of abstractly, using quotes and Scripture to strengthen the argument. “Shipyards” will be made into a piece that is both practical and uplifting for those upset with singleness.

My insecurities lie in the fact that this piece will have a very targeted audience. I can be hesitant to share my beliefs in a class setting, but I hope that my writing and discussions will not cause anyone to feel pressured. If this re-purposing comes out like I imagine, I will consider pitching it to Relevant Magazine, a more specific, Christian audience, in the future.

Above all else, I’m just plain excited and am ready to delight in this project. Let’s go!