Challenge 4: Looking Back to Look Beyond

Last week I refreshed my UMich Gmail account to find an unread message I had seen many times before—Michael Zakalik was in my inbox once again. As Writing minors, we’ve all been receiving emails from him for a few years now, but this particular Google Form was different: Paragraph Reflection of Your Time at Michigan and Future Plans/Goals. 

How did we get here?

Throughout my short, yet ever-eventful, twenty-two years of life, I have faced many challenges. Whether they be psychological, emotional, health-related, or academic—the world has thrown many a challenge my way. As I’ve explored through my Capstone Project, all of these challenges seemed to have boiled to one thing more than most other factors: self-love and lack-there-of. For far too long, I have used alternate means to mask the pain I have caused myself. I have left that burden to fall on others and isolated myself because of it. In doing so, while it may have shielded the pain for a short amount of time, I ultimately did myself a great disservice.

In this next stage of life, I hope to continue to learn more about myself as I grow in new environment. Despite the challenges that I fully expect to come my way as life continues on, I hope to be resilient and take time for myself. By calling attention to the way I feel in each moment, I hope to rectify the blame I have placed on others for the majority of my life. Looking back on college, I know I have changed; I know I have improved. But I have also taken steps backward. There is still so much to learn.

So as Michael asks, what are my goals?

“It is impossible to quantify just how much I have grown in these past four years at the University of Michigan. I enrolled as a numbers student who once flinched at the mere thought of writing in any capacity and am leaving driven by all forms of written communication. I am looking forward to spending the summer months at home with family in Los Angeles. Come August, I will be joining the Anheuser-Busch organization where I will spend the first eight months of my employment traveling throughout the United States. While I am excited for what the next phase of my life has to offer, I am forever grateful for the lasting friendships I have made here at Michigan in the wonderful town of Ann Arbor. Forever and always, go blue!”

Challenge 3: An Opportunity Lost

Identify what you now think of as the greatest missed opportunity.

Second semester of freshman year I enrolled in an introduction Comparative Literature course. The particular section for which I was registered revolved around comparing our own personal experience to that of characters’ from popular coming-of-age movies. My first critical analysis assignment was to discuss anything of my choosing from one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls. At the very time in which I was taking this class, the sheer idea of writing was a large fear, an aspect of academia in which I had never excelled. But nonetheless, I was required to take a course of this type to fulfill my first year writing requirement.

My grade in the course was decided by six essays, which, over the course of 13 weeks, meant that I only had about two weeks in change to work on each one. My idea for this paper was simple but one to which I had a sincere attachment. If given the opportunity of an entire semester to explore this topic, I think I really could have created something special, possibly even important. In the essay that I did have time to write, I wanted to explore the idea heavily projected in Mean Girls, that perhaps in our quest to fit into a social normative group of our choosing, we ultimately lose out on finding ourselves. Growing up, I struggled to allow myself to actually connect with genuine people. Somehow I also found myself gravitating towards the people who had the most money and along with that, the least authenticity. To me, it was better to appease the popular crowd than to find people I actually enjoyed being with, a fact that I didn’t really understand until I graduated high school and moved away.

Mean Girls meant a lot to me growing up. If I had had the time to devote to a prompt of this kind, I would like to think that I would have created something unique and used my own personal relationship to important elements of the storyline to come away with a greater critical understanding. Perhaps this was my greatest (literary) missed opportunity.

Challenge 2: Implications of Capstone Project

In class on Monday, Ray had us discuss what the possible implications of our final projects might be. Some people have this easier than others: those whose writing might reveal a new theory or interpretation of certain conflicts in politics or popular culture can be more easily forecast whereas the possible implications of my personal inner-workings might be more muddied. I told myself when I started this project that there could be no boundaries. If I was going to delve into my personal life, nothing could be too personal or too private to share. My favorite professor always told me that the best writing will always “make the private public.” That was precisely my plan with my nonfiction essay anthology.

In my proposal, I wrote that “I wanted to explore how age informs personal experience and my reflection upon that experience after-the-fact.” Perhaps one of the possible implications of my Capstone project might very well be that some ages are better or worse than others and that particular discrepancy could leave to an adverse effect on how life is lived. However unlikely, this result is certainly possible. In truth, the greatest implication most likely revolves around the essays’ subject matter—me. Do I uncover a previously unknown, or perhaps buried, explanation for why I am the way I am? Because of these discoveries do I change the way I interact with others? Do I grow embarrassed by the sheer number of private instances I chose to reveal to my audience?

By writing about myself, I hope to understand myself in a deeper manner. But perhaps my greatest fear and my project’s likely implication, is that I don’t come to understand myself at all.

Challenge 1: Starting From Scratch

I don’t really know where to begin, and perhaps that is my greatest disadvantage as I begin to prepare for the Capstone project. I hold these lofty ideas in my mind but applying them seems to be an entirely different matter. I assumed that breaking down the initial step into a proposal, research lists, and production plan would assist in helping the project as a whole seem less daunting, but here I sit with all of that completed feeling no less intimidated. There is only one thing that can take me from Point A to Point B in this case—content.

How to do I begin to even formulate the words; the structure; the tone? The concept is there; the content is not. Somehow I need to align myself in a position, quickly, where I can freely begin to jot down even the simplest of phrases, mere sentences just to give the illusion that progress from a content standpoint is being made. Hopefully as I come to approach challenge post two I will have started to conquer this first fear—the fear of creation.

I first saw this challenge last semester in English 425 where the only requirement for a four page essay was the following sentence: make the private public. Having been cursed with a last name that consistently falls on the early side of the alphabet in classroom attendance lists, I was one of the first to present my essay with little to no prior examples off which to base my own. I started writing in the only way I knew how: describing the current situation in which I saw myself in that immediate instance.

“The heaving and wailing had managed to taper off little by little, each gasp for air landing almost exactly forty-five seconds apart. My eyes were swollen, practically screaming out of their sockets and sending throbbing pains through the back of my skull and down to the very tail of my spine.”

It was a simple description but words on a page nonetheless. And from this point I could begin. While a collection of essays in certainly more daunting than the one from English 425, the practice is the same: make the private public, over and over again.

Introducing my ePortfolio

After a long semester of hard work and strenuous editing, my ePortfolio has finally arrived. It was certainly a long process getting to this point but what a rewarding journey it was. I walked into the Minor in Writing hoping to find a conveniently placed haven right in the middle of my school day, a time for me to be alone with myself on paper. I found that haven and more. For the first time since I’ve truly enjoyed writing I began to workshop my pieces with other people. As we grew attached to each other’s work, it made it easier to ask for feedback in order to make my writing the best it could be.

In the simplest of ways, I have grown this semester because I can now comfortably call myself a writer. I officially study writing in school and therefore by default I am in fact a writer. It took me some time to become one with this identifier but now that I have, I fully embrace all that it implies.

Between now and the capstone, I hope to grow the narrative I created with my re-purposing piece. Perhaps maybe I’ll even find myself with a small collection of essays that can be packaged together. I want to explore submitting my work from Gateway to other publications.

So here we are, the end of the semester.  I find myself on the cusp of a new reality as I prepare to study in the UK for the next six months. On my travels I hope to keep extensive records by way of blogging. Maybe I’ll even add a blog feed to my ePortfolio.

All in all I’m beyond proud of what I’ve created.


A Room Tied Together With Words

The Gateway? I have never before been in a room with a more diverse array of academic majors. But somehow regardless of our different academic pathways we all found ourselves at the same crossroads, the Minor in Writing. The truth of the matter is we really don’t have much in common other than perhaps the common likeness we share for the written word.  Across from me sit two Art and Design students and to my left a pre-med, but regardless of what brought us to this room in North Quad, we all grew to share a common descriptor…we’re a room full of writers.

I entered this room as someone who loved to write. I was given the chance to revisit my past in an interesting manner and mold it into what I dreamed it might have been the first time around. I got the opportunity to break from my otherwise monotonous days of politics and war-torn conflicts with an hour and a half of just me and my thoughts; me and a blank canvas open for any and all suggestions. If I were to start the course all over again, I would take myself more seriously, make that final leap to identifying as a writer because regardless of however I may have twisted it to be inside my head, I was really a writer all along.

I’ve never really had a problem writing about my personal life, but that being said I never was tasked to write about my personal life for a grade. I never felt quite comfortable leaving my deepest and darkest secrets ready and able to be quantified by a letter grade. If I already felt insignificant would my personal reflections be below average too?

Don’t be afraid to let your thoughts take shape, regardless of the subject matter. Be fearless.

I came in with a goal: come away feeling confident in the work you produced. I feel that as a class we succeeded in that and then some. We left everything we had to say on the table, no stone left unturned.

Good luck and happy writing!



Why I Blog: Revisited

In comparison to Didion and Orwell’s Why I Write pieces, Sullivan explores the dynamics of blogging. Sullivan describes a “spontaneous expression of instant thought,” in comparison to heavily edited and developed essays for print. Sullivan doesn’t necessarily address why he writes but more why he chooses to blog. The medium gives him a new way to express his ideas, to leave them open to interpretation and critique from all readers. He sees the instant and un-proofread process as a drug a stark comparison to the world of essays and columns he used to reside in. The value of realtime writing and interaction is extremely vital to Sullivan’s overall process of writing, leaving himself and his work vulnerable to conceptual info or all out negative comments.

While I believe Sullivan argues for a medium, Didion and Orwell describe overall motive for writing. While I didn’t necessarily align myself with Orwell’s reasons for writing he made a good point that the job of a writer is to make sure a bad mood is not incessantly penetrated throughout all works. The job of a writer is to make sure that our emotional attitudes evolve with the times, to prevent ourselves from remaining immature about the past. I think my overall goal throughout the minor is to work at my emotional attitude, to ensure that I’m not only improving in my technical skills as a writer but that I am evolving as a young adult. Despite the past that I’ve lived and the past that I’ve used as inspiration for much if not all of my work it is important that I don’t let my past define me. As I write I hope I write to an understanding where I can mature and become more comfortable in my own skin. I hope to write about the present in a way that isn’t shadowed from my attitude and reflection on the past. The storm cloud should not follow me as I continue to make my way to graduation.



Drafting and Revising

Since I’ve been extremely preoccupied focusing on the repurposing draft and now the remediation mock up, I haven’t had much time to even dwell on the larger assignment of the eportfolio as a whole. In an elective course last year, I took Writing 200, in which I had the opportunity to create my very first eportfolio. This very class and assignment led me to discover my interest in the writing minor in the first place. I had never before been told to personify myself on a webpage in any manner that I please; the task was daunting and one that I worked on throughout the entirety of the semester. From this experience, I have learned what I want to keep and what I want to avoid in this edition of an eportfolio. In my initial template I wanted to focus on the words, in order to avoid other forms of media from taking away attention from what I believed to be the main attraction. From reading this section of Writer/Designer I have learned that there are actually in fact many other additions that can only help increase the message of my words rather than hinder as I had initially been led to believe.

By making my eportfolio interactive, with videos or moving images, I will be able to give a more understandable and approachable description of what my eportfolio is about—me. Seeing as my intended audience is people my own age, a generation that relies on internet interactivity, it is essential to master this balance.

In regards to my remediation project— this is where I anticipate the hardest and most extensive revision process. For my remediation project I have chosen to take on a screenplay, something I have never before explored. Typically I tend to stick within my comfort zone when writing, so this will certainly be an interesting experiment. This chapter gave me comfort in understanding that everyone will have a lengthy revision process. It is going to be essential for me to rely on the feedback of my peers in order to best achieve my goal with this project.


In Class: In-Process Reflection

When it came time to submit my repurposing draft, I was initially extremely concerned about how my peers would receive my work. I usually don’t share it for others’ viewing until I’m 100% confident in my work, but I had no choice but to hand over a shitty first draft. While I knew that I wanted to keep my piece in the creative non-fiction genre, I had no idea that the ending point I ended up concluding with would have even made it into the piece. What I thought would be a distinct expanded narrative based on a five minute segment of my life turned into a reflection about what brought me to that very moment, referencing several incidents over the course of my lifetime. While I ended up satisfied with the direction that it took, one that referenced events of the past, I definitely think I need to work on the narrative aspect more. This overall was the main critique I received from my peers; while they were moved by the overall theme my narrative represented it seemed more like a personal essay than creative nonfiction.

As the re-purposing project goes on, I want to really hone my skills on crafting a narrative that is true to my life, depicting how the events unfolded in as much detail as I can muster, perhaps even including dialogue from the other players that were present. While I certainly have a overall lesson that is hidden between the lines of my writing, I don’t want to make it too obvious to prevent it from being too preachy. It is in that sense that I hope humor or perhaps just a light-heartedness shines through. It’s not this sad, sad moment of depression that I want my readers to wade through but rather to find the humor in it, or just how I personally see it after that fact. Even in the face of daunting and depressing realities I was always hung up by the more superficial of problems.

The other advise I received was about deciding whether it should be humorous or more serious. I don’t necessarily think I need to decide one or the other, I think I can find a place for both if I do it correctly. I certainly need to work on my craft, amending my typical style to include a stronger narrative while also making sure my voice stays authentic. At the end of the day, what is most important to me is that once my reader has finished they conclude that no one else could have written my story but me. Hopefully as I continue to draft I will find my stride. I certainly want to expand on the original event depicted in my first two paragraphs while also temporarily shedding the spotlight on prior experiences that foreshadowed towards the ultimate battle.

Blogging Your Process

After much debate, I finally settled on a creative non-fiction short story for my re-purposing project. Trying to write my own life into a narrative and greater story line has been more challenging than expected. While still writing in the first person as I would typically do in any other personal essay, I have been struggling to finesse my language and dialogue in order to lengthen the overall point and draw in the reader’s interest. It is difficult to step outside of myself and write about perhaps the simplest of events in a more interesting and dynamic manner that a short story demands.

The other day I finally sat down and attempted to start out my first shitty first draft. It took me a while but I finally constructed a paragraph, but I spent wayyyy too much time editing the words the second after I put them on the page. I would like to try to let my consciousness flow more and edit later, in order to prevent my compulsion for perfection from censoring my creative flow. I think so far the most success I’ve found in the project is my success as starting out my piece right smack in the middle of the main event. In order to get myself there, I crafted a typically introduction and after some consultation, simply deleted the context that had come before the meat of the paragraph.

Overall I hope to continue to power through the difficulties that come with constructing a narrative, trying my best to save the editing for later in order to access thoughts that might not have otherwise been given the opportunity to sit on the page.