My Capstone is FINISHED

After a long and arduous journey, my Capstone project is finally finished. It’s an exploration of 10 different Romantic Comedies through the lens of labor: how does the film treat the woman’s job? What kind of relationship does she have with her profession? All this, and more. Can you believe?

I want to thank Shelley (duh), the rest of my class, everyone that I forced to watch a romcom with me, and Beyoncé (just ’cause). Here it is in all its glory:

https://fishmane.wixsite.com/capstone

-Emily

On Community Engagement

Within the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to work a few different events that reach out to students that are interested in the Minor: the info session on Feb 15 and the major/minor expo on March 19. While talking about the Minor is always fun, and I definitely ate my fair share of free Sweetland pizza and candy, talking to interested students about the Minor got me thinking about the ways we promote the minor. It also got me thinking about what I wish I knew before I started the Minor many many moons ago. So, because writing is a great way to process these thought, I thought I would share.

First, how we talk about the Minor with freshmen and sophomores who are interested in pursuing writing at Michigan. I cannot tell y’all how many times someone asked me: “But, like, how many people get in. Will I get in? What’s the percentage of people that get in?” Or my favorite: “What will the Minor do to my GPA? Is it easy?” I’m grateful that after a few years in the Minor, I can honestly say I don’t look at the Minor as a way to boost my GPA, and I don’t worry about what kind of grade I’m going to get as a result. In Capstone, I’m not worried about making my project great so I can get a good grade. I stay up at night stressing over the Capstone because I want it reflect me, I want it to be something I care about it. TBH I want Shelley to be proud of me. But how do you explain that to nervous prospective students, that the Minor gives you great opportunity to write about what you’re interested in, and that the best writing isn’t motivated by grades? At the major/minor expo, I think I just started telling people that their grades would be fine.

Talking to these students on the beginning of their journey with the Minor, it makes me think about what I wish I knew before I began the minor. Because I have a tendency to procrastinate, I didn’t attend an info session or the expo before I applied into the Minor. So, as a result, on the first day of Gateway, I knew pretty much nothing about the Minor. Whoops. I wish I’d known that we define writing in a way that was much broader than my sophomore-self knew back in the day. I found myself bragging on the other members of my Capstone section to prospective students, trying to show them that there is so much more to writing than just words on a page. Tangentially, I currently wish I knew more about how the Gateway currently looked (I’m a dinosaur and took it before the “experiment” format) because students kept asking me and my general response was: “Uhh, great question! Anyone else want to talk about Gateway?”

So, if you haven’t had the chance to work an event to promote the Minor, you should definitely do it. I can pretty much guarantee there will be free food. Plus, it’s a great way to talk about something we all love: the Minor in Writing. And free food.

Reimagining the Social Commentary

The genre that comes to mind that I’m pretty familiar with is one I’m not really sure how to name. It’s those pieces that usually come out after a particularly salient pop culture moment, such as the recent Pepsi advertisement or when a celebrity does something stupid, and some Buzzfeed writer publishes a piece that’s like “Why Pepsi is Satan” or “How Justin Bieber’s Snapchat is Causing Illiteracy.” While I’m all for social commentary, I think these pieces often lack perspective and tend to make the problem seem like it has life or death stakes. I think a better way of doing this, and one that I sometimes see, would be in more of a podcast format. Having a discussion rather than a monologue, incorporating different voices, and even having some constraint as to how long you could talk about this issue before moving on would provide the social commentary and analysis of pop culture without some of the hysteria that might not be necessary.

Who Can You Trust? Me! Probably?

Would my portfolio have been different?

The choice to repurpose my Daily article about my “crisis of creativity” and my need for structure totally influenced almost every, if not every, choice I made for my portfolio. My “why I write” is thematically inseparable from the through-lines of both my remediation and my repurposing. My site is designed to feel inviting and mirrored, in hopes that it will represent the mirrored narrative of the positive and negative side of my experience as well as the personal nature of the writing. The way in which one navigates through my portfolio is also tied to that first choice of subject, as the “forced march” is indicative of the journey I went on, and the journey I am basically forcing my audience on with me.

The other top contender for my repurposing was a piece I wrote for a Shakespeare class on the nature of Shakespeare’s authorship through the lens of a prompt book of Richard III. I wanted to pull out questions of what does it mean to write, maybe do research on the rewriting of Shakespeare as well as his collaboration, and I could totally see my repurposed piece being a research paper basically proving that Shakespeare didn’t write anything in a vacuum (or even wholly on his own). My remediation would have probably tackled that question of “what is authorship” that I so poorly circled around in the original piece. I still think my “why I write” would have been linked to the previous two pieces in this speculative portfolio, but less so. I think, since I was pondering the question of what it means to write in collaboration or if any writing actually done alone, that I would have addressed my opinion on those topics in the third piece, but it would not be dependent on the first two. Finally, I think my portfolio design would be different. I imagine the whole thing feeling a little less personal (colder, maybe?) to match the sort of somber tone I was taking. Since the pieces would not be connected, no forced march would be necessary.

Can I trust my assessment of why I write?

I feel like based on the journey of my why I write piece, I trust myself pretty well in the assessment of why I write. Because my repurposing and remediation are both about who I am as a writer, I feel like I’ve sat with this idea for a whole semester, so the conclusions I’m drawing feel legitimate. I think my why I write feels pretty honest, and some of the things I claim in the piece are things that I haven’t ever claimed before, which makes them feel a bit like revelations. I think I have kind of a cop-out built into my piece because I basically conclude that I don’t know what I write, so it feels like I’m not saying anything I don’t trust. Probably.

Portfolio Categories: Emily Fishman

Rating:

  1. Idea/Concept
  2. Voice
  3. Composition/Environment
  4. Prose

My portfolio is only going to succeed if the idea and concept is cohesive and the audience gets on board. All three of my pieces are intertwined and because I’m spending so much space speaking about the same thing, I’m really hoping the ideas are compelling and true. In the same vein, because all three pieces are directly about me, I would like to think that my audience will get a good sense of who I am as a person and a writer (and how those are the same) after spending time in my portfolio. With the way it is set up (the composition) I’m not really giving the audience much choice in how they interact with the environment, which is a gamble I hope is going to pay off. While the quality of prose is important to me, I think it ranks last on my list as the other categories are just more pressing. In an ideal world, these categories flow into one another nicely; the idea/concept grabs people and connect with them, the voice invites them to get inside my head, the composition of the portfolio makes it so they cannot do anything but follow my thought process, and the prose doesn’t hinder any of the other things from occurring. I’m more than a little anxious about the possibility that the composition of my portfolio is going to be off-putting and people won’t even want to engage with the ideas, and I’m also worried that the concept, as all three pieces are about myself, will close the audience off from the get go. I’m not sure how to solve this problem yet, I hope it’s going to be okay.

I write for authenticity

So, now that I’ve discovered that as a reader, I read to see myself, I think it says something about my desires or preferences as a writer. I think as a writer, it says that I don’t really know who I am, so I write in order to bring some version of myself into existence. When I read, I am looking for a version of myself, perhaps in an effort to understand myself better. This extends to when I write, which is why I think I reject writing that doesn’t feel authentic, doesn’t feel like me. I am always scared that my writing is not honest, not representing myself in the way that I should be.

This is in part why I think I’m struggling with my repurposing and remediation (which are all about my authenticity and my identity as a writer). Maybe this realization about myself, and my need to represent myself well in prose will help me going forward? I don’t know who I am, and I write to know, because maybe I’m not seeing it in what I read.

Emily Fishman: Mixed Feelings

Something that I recall reading that I both loved and hated was the first book in the Maze Runner series by James Dashner. The plot is reminiscent of the average YA dystopian novel that was ludicrously popular six years ago, and just like with every other book in that genre, I read it right when it came out. The features of the maze, the camaraderie between the boys, the mystery of the monsters beyond the walls were all things I loved about the book.

However, there were so many things that I hated, primarily the main character Thomas. Thomas was boring, basically useless until the plot decided he needed to do ALL THE THINGS. The character’s main issue is that he doesn’t know anything (he’s had his memory wiped) and because he was so annoying I didn’t care at all that he spent most of the book asking questions that nobody answered.

For me, I think there is a relationship between what I liked and what I  hated. Thomas was so bland because the story, with all of its intense moving parts, couldn’t handle an interesting/compelling main character, so Thomas just became a vehicle by which the audience discovered the world. One necessitated the other. If James Dashner ever asks me to do a rewrite, I think this probably could be fixed by putting the entire novel in first person, so at least the reader could feel connected to the boringness that is Thomas, but it remains a third-person mess.

Observations on Why I Write

I looked at a handful of “Why I Write” essays on the internet, and many seemed to follow the same format or similar formats: a linear progression of the author’s journey as a writer, an in-depth exploration of a few key themes, etc. While these are all interesting and valuable approaches, I wanted to find a piece that tried a different format, perhaps allowing for a different tone. Writing for Medium, Jon Westenberg approaches his “Why I Write” piece as a list of 30 reasons, allowing the tone of his article to be varied — he is serious, self-depreciating, proud, funny, and philosophical all throughout the course of the piece. He makes a lot of “boilerplatey” statements, but his piece really succeeds with the items in his list that have the greatest specificity, such as his admiration for the innovation of digital publishing or his admittance that his “girlfriend likes writers.” The listicle format also allows for ideas to be boiled down to their simplest form, which is both a blessing and a curse for Westenberg’s article. Overall, this “Why I Write” example is a good reminder that specificity of experience goes a long way.

Keeping with the list theme, I found another “Why I Write” example from a nonprofessional writer, entitled Why She Writes. This seems to be on a personal blog, and follows a similar format to the Westenberg article. There is a list of 10 reasons why this author writes, and while I’m sure they’re true for her, they come off as a bit corny in the piece. The final reason says “I write because I love writing. No reason is needed in love.” This was an interesting point to consider, but ultimately not one that should come following a list of nine other reasons why you write. The main takeaways for me with this piece were to not contradict yourself, and to maybe avoid the cheesiness. The list format is also interesting, but ultimately not where I think I’m going to go with my piece.

Finally, I looked at Rachel Wilson’s Why I Write Gateway piece. Rachel is someone I was in a student org with before she graduated, so I was excited to see the direction in which she took this piece. Rachel is definitely concerned with the “process” aspect of writing, and much of her piece is devoted to making sense and order from chaos. She uses repeated phrases as connective tissue for the whole piece, enforcing the ordered nature of writing that she finds so compelling. What I liked most about her contribution to the “Why I Write” genre was how the structure of the thing itself reflected what she surmised to be the reasons why she writes. We as readers got an insight into her process and essentially got to see it realized in the piece.

Looking at these three examples in the “Why I Write” category, I’m thinking a lot about how structure informs meaning (both with the two lists and with Rachel’s piece) and how easy it is to slip into the appealing trap of boilerplate and cliche. For my own piece, I will probably need to pay close attention to form as well as think of something original to say — no small task. I really enjoyed this “Why I Write” journey and can’t wait to see how everyone’s pieces turn out!

Boilerplate: Emily Fishman

After combing through my Google drive, I regret to say that I couldn’t find my original letter of interest for the Minor. Tragic, I know. I promise it was full of boilerplate that would have made for riveting discussion. I did, however, find an application essay for a college that I (surprisingly) got into but didn’t end up attending. It’s so chock full of boilerplate that I can’t even tell what the prompt was. Some noteworthy examples include:

“Words and stories have changed me in ways that I cannot begin to express and they influence everything I do.”

  • This is one of the first sentences of the application essay, so already we’re off to a boilerplate-y start. This feels like it’s saying something important, but actually says nothing. Also, if I couldn’t even “begin to express” how much reading meant to me, why did I spend the next page and a half expressing what reading meant to me? And as far as influencing everything I do, that’s an overreach for sure, and one that this essay doesn’t even make an attempt at proving. This is filler language.

The books changed me in ways I will never be able to quantify.”

  • This one made me laugh. Again, if this concept is unquantifiable, why did I even bother trying to do so in this essay? This statement was trying, I suppose, to convey to the reader that I was forever changed by reading and that stories I had read as a child taught me important values like friendship and courage, but I’m not sure it actually has that effect. I think it just comes off sounding like I didn’t know what to say about how reading influenced me, so I said this instead.

I read books in order to understand the world around me.”

  • To understand what about it exactly, Emily? This is a statement that I think could be really cool if clarified, but for some reason past-me just left it at that. Possibly because of word count restraints, but more likely because I thought this sentence sounded smart and intellectual without really putting any thought into how I could expand upon this point.

“I believe stories have the power to change us, and they’ve certainly changed me.”

  • Again, this is boilerplate in its utter disregard for specificity. I think I was trying to close my essay with a broader theme and a rallying cry behind why I wanted to be an English major, but I don’t think this accomplishes that at all. Also, it’s cheesy as heck. I want to be able to justify this, but I can’t. I’m wondering why the college that received this actually wanted to let me in.

Not sure why the college I applied to let me in on the basis of this essay. It was fun to look at all the ways in which I used boilerplate back then, but I am 100% sure I still use it now. Keep calm and boilerplate on, I guess?

Writing 220 Remediation Idea: Emily Fishman

Hey y’all! I’ve been thinking about what I want to do for my remediation and I think there’s any idea with which I’m interested.

My repurposed piece is a mock-stylebook based on a piece I wrote for The Michigan Daily about my lack of creativity and my need for structure and a different way of thinking about the creative process. The stylebook is pretty referential and serves as a guide for how to write about not being able to write (as confusing as that is).

My current idea for my remediation piece is to take the stylebook that I have created and apply it to a fictional magazine or other publication. The piece would be a combination of prose and design elements: ideally, I would create two or so pages of the document and then “edit” them according to the stylebook repurposing piece. The “original” piece would have flaws and errors that are emblematic of my creative anxiety, and the “edited” version would indicate the superior skill set and perspective that I have after discovering my need for structure. This feels like a complement to the original, as the fictionalized publication would not be meant to stand on its own without the original stylebook. I’m excited to see where this piece takes me!