A rough sketch for my capstone project- Detroit as told by Detroiters

 

When I was a younger, it was trips like these that ignited my initial interest in Detroit.  Painting graffiti, trespassing, exploring, and climbing to the roofs of abandon buildings a dozen stories tall for the thrill and the breath-taking views (pictured here, the former Fisher Body Plant 21).  It was the sense of lawlessness and excitement that was so alluring.  Completely oblivious to the wide array of ethnic neighborhood cultures, or the rich, and very troubling, history of such an important city–I was perfectly fitting the mold for your stereotypical white suburbanite who claimed to “love” Detroit without really knowing it.  Like many kids growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, I had fallen prey to a lust for the “ruins porn” archetype of Detroit.  Ruins porn describes a style of photography that focuses on glamorizing the severely dilapidated features of a historically struggling city while casually “glossing over the deep structural problems of the city” as Wayne State Professor John Leary says.  This is happening in urban centers all over the country, but Detroit in particular is frequently misrepresented and misunderstood this way by outsiders.

So how this all connects with my portfolio……

In class, I had said that I had been thinking about having my capstone portfolio focus on answering a rather broad, open-ended question of how to improve the quality of education in urban, low socioeconomic status areas.  I said this in part because my recent academic pursuits all have led me to the same question: can all children be given the same chances at academic success and receive the same opportunities regardless of where they grow up?  Unfortunately,  it seems that as long as there are differences in socioeconomic status, true educational equality will always remain an ideal rather than an attainable.  Because of this, I realized my interests in educational improvement could be more easily explored through a local focus in a city I am already very interested in.

I would now like to have education be one part of a multiple dimensional analysis of both social issues and social change in the city of Detroit as told by those individuals who work and live there.  While not a member of this community myself, in the last couple of years, various volunteer experiences, jobs, and other opportunities have led me to have several connections in the educational sphere and other social spheres in the city of Detroit.  Wanting to understand the truth for myself, my goal is to metaphorically paint an accurate portrait of both the daily social issues, and successes, that are going on in this city.  I also want to include historical aspects (perhaps this could be part of my essay, including gentrification, ect).

I plan to go into inner city school psychology, hoping to attend Wayne State next fall for graduate school.  Between then and now I would like to learn more about this city, and to educate myself while hoping to educate others through this portfolio.

I am also taking a mini-course that meets on U of M’s Detroit satellite campus called “Detroiters Speak” that holds lectures featuring local Detroiters speaking on social issues in the city that may be helpful in gathering resources.

 

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom for the Future MIW Cohorts

dali llama

My advice to those future gateway course students is simple– don’t treat this like just another writing class.  There are no stereotypical “dreary” exercises or tedious papers that carry no significant meaning or interest to your life.  We’ve all had our share of writing or English classes throughout the years where you just “do the assignments” with the primary motivation being to achieve the best grade you can.  If you have chosen to be a part of the writing minor, you must have found joy in some aspect of writing, and look no further: you will get a chance to explore that joy in this class.  Yes it is an introductory course, but there is SO much that you can walk away with IF you have the right attitude.

This class allows the student a lot of creative freedom.  If you treat the assignments as an opportunity to explore a passion and create something that will last (rather than just more homework, and another course to get through) then you are going to walk out of the Gateway with sense of pride and accomplishment.  This class is truly what you make of it– the two biggest assignments have almost no explicit requirements and can be conducted through, quite literally, any medium of written expression you can think of.    Since the dominant portion of the class revolves around these re-purposing and remediation projects, don’t rush the process of selecting an old piece of writing to spend the semester working with until you are confident you can really push the boundaries with the topic.  From my own experiences and observing my classmates in my section, many people have created stand-alone pieces of work in this class they are not only proud of, but will stand the test of time and be worth keeping over the years.  It would be a shame not to take advantage of such a opporunity  by viewing the entire process as “work”.

The Most Bangin’ Piece of Punctuation

interrobang

The interrobang is unquestionably the most bad ass, yet delightfully practical, piece of punctuation man has conceived.  In fact, I am shocked to discover that WordPress does not recognize “interrobang” as a word, seeing as it has been underlined with red, yet to my further disbelief “WordPress” has been recognized as perfectly valid.  According to an online article, American Martin Speckter, the head of an advertising agency, first founded the interrobang in 1962.  He believed that advertisements would look more presentable if rhetorical questions were expressed with a single mark.  By 1968, an interrobang key was available on some Remington typewriters, and by 1970 one could buy replacement interrobang key caps for some Smith-Corona typewriters.  Literally comprised of “interro” as short for interrogative question, and “bang” for an exclamation mark, the interrobang was featured in several news and magazine articles during its peak in the 1960s and 70s.   Although today seen by the general public as little more than than a fad, many fonts on Microsoft word do include  an interrobang.  While most casual writers seem perfectly content using the two separate marks, “?!”, to express an excited question, I urge you to reconsider the ease of use in communicating  such a frequent emotion with one fluid stroke and a dot.  Not to mention how much more fun it is to draw.  Trust me.

As for a piece of punctuation that I despise, this was tougher to select because there are many that slow down the creative process of writing, but I’m going to have to go with the reference mark.  There is nothing wrong with the reference mark itself, but rather what it signifies.  It signifies, a reference to a citation.  My least favorite part of academic writing is the technicalities involved with citing sources.  I understand this may sound childish, but it surely isn’t that I don’t respect and understand the importance of attributing the people who gave me the ideas for what I wrote.  Moreover, it’s the notion that the proper formatting and inclusion of referencing every idea you pulled from someone else (let’s face it, by 2014 almost every “novel” idea comes from another idea) is precedent to the actual writing itself.  As someone who doesn’t pay close attention to details, I’ve found it incredibly frustrating in my coursework that if I spend a lot of time creating a particular argument or claim, yet I do not have the proper citation, the entire idea is thrown out the window as rubbish.  Again, it might be naive of me, but I believe at the university level a majority of “plagiarism” is unintentional, and more carelessness and lack of attention to detail than true intent of deceit.  Because of the anguish bibliographies and sourcing has caused me, the reference mark, symbolically, is a piece of punctuation that far from excites me.

 

 

 

Repurposing: For the Next Generation

Long ago, in the open-ended process of selecting topics for our re-purposing project, I knew that I wanted to transform the narrative research paper I had written for my First Year Seminar, that was based on memoirs my grandfather had written about his immigration to America during World War II.  Because it was a research paper in it’s original form, I had conducted and incorporated a reasonable amount of outside research on Germany’s invasion of Poland, and statistics relating to Polish soldiers and Polish immigrants.  For Project II however, I wanted to approach the meat of the story in my grandfather’s memoir from a more creative perspective.  After chatting with T, the seed was planted that turning my third person, research based account of a story of immigration, into a gripping, historical-fiction, first person short story would be the best way to go about this.  Taking a look this weekend at how to write short stories for the first time years was certainly exciting, and instilled some passion for the project, but it was actually a recent external event that deepened the meaning of my decision to move forward with this topic.

“A reader of war stories probably expects tales of dangerous adventures, of heroic deeds.  There are no heroes in my story only frightened, confused and helpless people trying to survive against heavy odds in the midst of a cataclysmic storm.  There is no happy ending either, even for those who survived, since there never was a return to peaceful normality, never a celebration of happy reunion.  That war was a great tragedy for everybody it touched, and no one escaped uninjured on body or soul”- George Mahr (my grandfather), 1992

Only a couple weeks after his 93rd birthday, my grandfather became a great-grandfather this weekend as the first child of the next generation of our family was born on February 21st, 2014.  My cousin (one of my grandfather’s 3 grandchildren) gave birth to Lincoln Chase Nasser, an event I had no idea would be so meaningful to this project.  It had been a very long time since I had seen (or held, for that matter) a newborn baby.  It really shatters the illusion of what can seem like a static extended family, and puts the new, dynamic concept of “family” in an entirely fresh perspective.  Upon further reflection, I realized exactly why I was so passionate about project.  I want to play an active role in preserving my family’s history, a re-purposing for the next generation.  My grandfather is a braver man than I’ll ever be, and my grandparents have endured more hardships than I’ll ever likely see, and for one reason or another keeping the story alive for the next generation is important to me.  Family history, ancestry, and genealogy is something I have always been fascinated by, and also something I have easy access to.  With four living grandparents, all whom were immigrants from either Poland or Ireland after the age of twenty,  it has never been too difficult to quench my thirst for stories and information from our family’s past.  Some of my relatives are, understandingly so, less comfortable with talking about details from an unpleasant time in the past.  Yet, thankfully, my father’s father (the subject of my story) enjoys sharing his wisdom and stories of the past as much as I enjoy  hearing them, and has already agreed to be a part of my interview/movie/documentary for Project III.  Below are pictures of the newborn, and me with the newborn, the day after his birth.

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Nostalgia, Our Greatest Gift

There are a lot of things I things I could do for as long as I’m on this planet and never be bored.  But I suppose it’s easy to say that because I wouldn’t really know what it’s like to do anything forever.  I think part of the reason we cherish certain activities is because the activities we claim “we could never get bored of” are outside of our sphere of responsibilities.  Acknowledging that obscure exceptions exist, most of us have either work, schooling, family duties, or any combination of the three and more that dominate our daily activities.  Therefore, what we enjoy doing the most is probably a result of the fact that we cannot do these treasured activities all the time, and we spend time  looking forward to and anticipating our participation in them while we partake in our responsibilities at hand.  That being said, two things I can think of that would never get old.  One is always available and free, the other can be expensive and have limited accessibility.

Dwelling on the past, reminiscing, getting lost in the nostalgia of my childhood and my teenage years, both good times and bad times.  This is something, the older I get, the more I enjoy.  The more time that elapses, the more I have to dwell on, laugh at, smile, and question the ever-changing person I’ve become.  Friends and acquaintances that have come and gone, and those friends who’ve managed to stay around after all these years.  Places I’ve been and hope to return .  And then best of all, having been at the right time at the right place with the right people to make the construction of an irreplaceable memory.

Of course, if in the active present one was always thinking about the past, it would be impossible to have a past to dwell on.  The ultimate irony!  While nostalgia indeed never gets old, and brings me great joy, nothing brings me greater joy than traveling to new places.  I am convinced that seeing as much of our inhabited earth as you can is one of the few tangible things that would never get tiring.  Sure sight seeing is nice, but for me, seeing how people from different walks of life live, how different cultures place different values on different areas of life, and how different societies are built around different landscapes perpetually fascinates me.  As a Midwestern suburbanite, just about every other culture on the face of the earth seems richer than what I grew up with, so I’m extremely grateful at any chance I get to travel to other places.  Often times, past, small spontaneous travels of mine have triggered the largest amounts of nostalgia, so the two  things that never get tiresome for me have quite the symbiotic relationship.  Most recently, I had the opportunity to visit my girlfriend in Washington D.C as she spends 4 months there for an internship, and because she provided all accommodations once I arrived, I was able to drive there and stay two nights for just about $200.  I had never been to several of the states I had to drive through, nor had I ever driven 8 and a half hours myself anywhere, but taking chance of an opportunity I may never have again proved to be a fruitful experience.  But when an experience like such has come to a close and you realize all you  have are the memories, it seems that nostalgia might be our greatest gift.  And a priceless one at that.

Myself, in the residential foothills of the Alps in the Vienna country side.
f Myself, in the residential foothills of the Alps in the Vienna country side.
Playing speed chess against "Big John" in Union Square Park, Manhatten
Playing speed chess against “Big John” in Union Square Park, Manhatten

 

At the Washington Monument
At the Washington Monument

Why Bother, (Right?): A Writer’s Creed

Why write?  Well why bother, right?  Is it alright to just not WRITE?  When compared to thought and speech, it almost makes writing seem elite.  Now, if it were alright to ignore what may seem like a bore, there would be no hard-wood floor for the world to rest on.  Furthermore, there would be no door, to open up, pore, and explore the endless combinations of written language.  Writing gives us a physical, tangible, concrete method of language that we can touch.  Something that thought and speech cannot trust.  Without writing, we might as well all be dust.

A message someone living in Alphabet City, Manhattan felt they needed to share with the world.


Superman Isn’t Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

superman01

 

 

 

Who is Conrad Mahr?

Conrad Mahr is a world-renouned author, known particularly for his anthropological, first hand narratives that explore individuals involved with organized crime in some of the most dangerous cities in the United States.  A college drop-out from the University of Michigan, Conrad hails from the suburbs of Detroit and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and children.  His work has been published in ten different languages.

Conrad, atop the abandon Brewster Projects in Detroit, Michigan
Conrad, atop the abandon Brewster Projects in Detroit, Michigan