Challenge Journal #4:

One of the constants that I’ve brought up in previous journals is my worry that my Capstone will be boring. The topic can feel very niche – I’m not convinced that a broad amount of people purposefully seek out stakeholder perspectives on the I-375 Freeway improvement project. And when I think other people will be bored, I get bored of my own topic. That’s an experience that I’ve been having for the past couple weeks but I think I’ve finally broken out of the feeling that my capstone is just something I have to do to graduate with both my major and my minor, and that it’s returned to being something that addresses the fundamental questions about policy and society that interest me.

Another assignment that could have been boring but actually ended up interesting (to me) was a policy memo I wrote about infrastructure and President Trump’s potential infrastructure plan. I think the piece became a lot more engaging because I was able to make recommendations and include my own opinion. Here are some examples from when I moved on from facts and analysis to opinion:

“Federal private financing would be a disaster, so I suggest shifting from federal advocacy to local and regional initiatives”

“A public advertising campaign to address the previous failures of PPPs in providing infrastructure investments and profits for Wall Street instead of the government and the public will help to sway public opinion against public financing, while acknowledging infrastructure as a vital concern. “

Even though those ideas are similar to what I wrote in my last journal, this assignment helped me to think about ideas that I thought were important and then turn those opinions into something succinct and readable. Hopefully, my capstone does the same as I address larger issues of representation, “stakeholder” involvement, and impacts of past and present planning. My capstone process has helped me mold my thinking about my issue in the same way my memo did, but has also given me the flexibility to be more prose-based and evocative in my writing unlike a basic policy assignment.

Challenge Journal #3: Missed Opportunities

When I thought about an assignment that I would love a chance to re-do with thirteen weeks of useful guidance, I couldn’t come up with anything at first until I remember the policy brief on transportation that I wrote as part of my semester in DC. The fact that this assignment barely came to mind is already a sign of how little importance it had to me – especially as it was just written in December and (technically) was a semester long project! It had all the potential to be something interesting, but I’m not proud of it, nor do I even consider it a “real” paper I’d want to share.

The fifteen page paper was written within the span of a week after 3 topic changes and some barebones guidance from the professor, whose main concern was that I simply “make him an expert” for when he went to dinner parties. Because he was my direct audience, and that minimal level of detail and analysis was what he wanted, I didn’t let myself focus on the topics that really interested me, about transportation or any other policy topic. I let myself be limited by his concerns instead of pushing back on his desire for a basic, explanatory policy brief. Because of the lack of inspiration, I ended up writing lackluster sentences, such as “reliable and efficient transportation is of key importance to all Americans” and “although the fund was created in 1956, the Mass Transit Account within the Highway Trust Fund was created in the late 1980s.” When I read it back, I can almost hear the dryness and boredom in my voice, a tone that does nothing to appeal to a wider audience.

If I could re-do this assignment, I would take more ownership of the final product and use it to figure out how to write a brief that doesn’t bore me and a research paper that sounds exciting and worthwhile. I know there are ways to be creative and write efficiently and beautifully in a research paper — another shot at this paper would have given me a chance to try.

Challenge Journal 2: When Disaster Strikes (or am I just really dramatic?)

My last journal was about my tendency to procrastinate and my hope that I could confront that impulse while still creating the honesty of work written against a deadline.

Well. I kind of did this, and spent my incredibly boring spring break trying to stay on top of the production plan deadlines I missed. I tried out seven or eight different online mapping softwares, testing for what could be closest to what I wanted without making me pay or learn a complex new interface. I gathered data about racial demographics in Detroit and planned developments, sourced archive photos of where freeways were built to create before and after photos spanning decades, and played around with different mapping perspectives. I know the mapping and visual aspects of my capstone will be the most time-consuming, so I tried to give myself time to experiment.

So you can imagine my panic when I could only find one of these maps when I went to upload them to my site — after an hour of desperately searching and calling every technology adept person I knew, I had to give up and just mourn the loss of my work.

Luckily, this didn’t happen in April, because I probably would have just laid on the floor to scream and given up completely, but it still totally sucked. But it also reminds me that, in writing and in life, there are a lot of things you can’t control and you just have to get up and get it figured out (even if it’s not by your content workshop deadline).

In my immersion memoir class, my final paper about “political bubbles” was initially dependent on interviews with students and professors. But when people didn’t respond to requests/didn’t have the time/didn’t actually have anything to say, I had to choose a different direction – one that might utilize the interviews, but was not centered on them. This shift in direction actually helped me to realize what I wanted the paper to be – not a forced attempt to exit whatever political bubble I was being told I existed in, but a reckoning with my own frustration with the shame I was expected to feel.

Here’s an excerpt from the final paper, where I am 1.) very dramatic and very bitter (as always) and 2.) annoyed, not just with what I felt people were telling me to be, but with the way that I had automatically agreed with them:

“It was a fact that, at first, filled me with some shame. Was I not doing my part? Was I causing our democracy to deteriorate? … [but] Why should I change my tune from a battle cry to a peaceful, heavenly choir, singing with earnestness, “Respect the results! Give him a chance!” I had given him a chance – in exchange, I had gotten a stark reminder that hate was not only an abstract that I was dealing with, but an actual threat to my communities, and a sudden glimpse in to what the next four years would hold.”

That’s not really the paper I was expecting to write, but when things didn’t go as planned, I think I created a piece that was more honest and genuine than what would have been written otherwise. I’m still going to re-create the maps and work on my visual depictions, but I hope this experience will also push me to think through what I really wanted the maps to do and what I’m really trying to accomplish with this capstone.

The Solutions Journalism Network (for when you need some proof of problem-solving)

Hi everyone! I wanted to follow up on Ray’s comments about the way that we often read the news, think-pieces, books, etc. for clarity, but we only learn how to understand the problems, and rarely think critically about potential solutions. I’m currently a Story Fellow at The Solutions Journalism Network and that’s a lot of the work they’re doing right now!

Their entire mission is to promote “rigorous reporting on responses to social problems. [They] seek to rebalance the news, so that every day people are exposed to stories that help them understand problems and challenges, and stories that show potential ways to respond.”

Some of the stories I read that stuck out are this one about algorithms that can aggregate information from separate databases to better assess risk of child abuse and this fun one about using zebra costumes to shame people into following traffic rules.

They have a StoryTracker database of solutions-based journalism that is fully searchable — you can search for solutions through location, issue area, success factor, and a lot more. It’s super cool and I’d love if you all would check it out!

Challenge Journal 1: The Lateness Here is Symbolic

My writing process is generally a bit of a mess; I recognize that’s not a particularly optimistic way to begin a genuine reflection in preparation for a semester-long capstone project, but it’s the truth. Every writing assignment I’ve ever had has included the following stages: stress about the prompt, thinking about the prompt, thinking deeply about the paper that I could write if I started right at that very moment, stressing about the fact that the paper isn’t written, and then typing very, very fast in a desperate attempt to get the assignment turned in on time. I do not recommend this method. Unfortunately, it has worked very well when my goal is a “good” grade. It has not worked as well in creating work that I’m proud of.

When I think about the work that I feel proud of, the work that might not be technically perfect but helped me learn something about myself and my writing, I automatically think of my pieces from English 425. The class was centered on immersion memoir, and I found that my rushed attempts to write a full rough draft before workshop actually forced me to be more vulnerable and honest in my work. My words only began to flow when an upcoming deadline forced me to stop thinking so much, and just write. I would always look at the work I had written at 4am in a bleary eyed panic with new, caffeinated wisdom and realize that there were actually some interesting, new developments that I could refine into something that might actually mean something.

My hope for this capstone is that I can find that space where I know enough to just write relatively quickly so that I have time for the necessary revisions. I’m concerned, though, because my topic feels like one where I need a certain amount of knowledge before I can start. In my production plan, I acknowledge that I have that tendency and am trying to schedule despite it so I can hold myself accountable for just starting without completely chickening out every time I think about it. I’m also worried because this project doesn’t really have anything to do with me, but I’m vain and I love writing about myself. Most of the policy writing I read is important, but boring – it leaves me feeling uninspired, and that’s not how I want my audience to feel as they go through my project. So hopefully I can figure out a way to do this right!

Learning nothing through CSG Elections

When I think of the concept of boilerplate, I think about election platforms. Hannah mentioned these in her blog post with regards to the current CSG election, and I have to say I agree. I have been inundated with the same 30 second pitch from candidates for the Central Student Government and have taken to grilling them for details in their proposals because hearing someone say “diversity and inclusion” with no emotion or respect for what that might mean makes me want to gouge my eyes out (it’s been said ALOT – I am very frustrated).

NewMich Platform:

NewMICH brings together a diverse and passionate group of student leaders dedicated to implementing transformative change at the University of Michigan. With an emphasis on diversity, inclusion and student engagement, we strive to further an environment in which all students can thrive, have their voices heard and grow during their time on campus.

Your Michigan Mission:

Your Michigan is a community in which wolverines will feel heard, protected, and empowered.

I know that there are differences in their platforms and that they are articulated in other pages on their website, but these mission statements tell me nothing. When representatives went dorm-storming, they repeated these same words until I had to ask for more. So for me, this is a prime example of boilerplate.

 

Going off this same theme, a cliche I have heard often is: It’s time for change.

It’s always time for change, but this has been said so often that it means nothing. It’s also a cliche that people use to make themselves seem unique and/or able to actually create that change.

Concealing/Revealing Words

When thinking about the dynamic we discussed in class, about words that both conceal and reveal meaning, and after reading through posts written by other students, I definitely think there are a lot of words used to describe writing that don’t really mean a lot. One that was brought up earlier is the word “strong”. A lot of people will ask for a “strong” thesis or a “strong” argument, and I know what they’re trying to say but it doesn’t actually mean a whole lot about what kind of writing they want. Some more descriptors that might fit the dynamic are memorable and unique.

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When asked why a general reader might be interested in my own “Why I Write” essay, my initial reaction was to think that they wouldn’t be interested. It’s hard to see why someone else might be interested in seeing why you write when you don’t even write extensively or outside of coursework But then I realized that may be the unique perspective I have to offer. I applied for the minor in writing because I know that writing is super important no matter what I end up doing in the future and because it was a skill I knew I needed practice at. But I also really liked the idea of liking writing. It feels very romantic – to have this need and ability to transfer your thoughts and emotions into carefully arranged words, to create something so personal and yet still meant for the public. When I was a kid, I always thought I wanted to be a writer – as an adult, I’m not so sure if that’s the primary title I’d like to hold. I think that the push-and-pull that I feel with writing, the love/hate relationship, is one that might provide something new to a reader wondering why I write.

Ideas for Remediation

After some serious thinking, I’ve realized that my original idea for the repurposing project was too broad and contained too much information. I wasn’t contributing anything new or original to the topic I was writing about, so it seems a little soon to be thinking about remediating a project that hasn’t even solidified into an idea yet. However, my streamlined idea is to take my research paper about the Desire projects in New Orleans and use it to identify what has been continusouly misunderstood about similar problems. I am going to focus on the ways that communities are not consulted and people who believe they have a higher authority assume they know best in creating solutions. This way I am not pretending to offer a solution (and thus contributing to the same problem I want to critique), but offering a relatively unique lens about what can guarantee failure in projects meant to “help”.  The following are some ideas I had for a potential remediation project:

 

  1. Interactive Website/Digital Project
    1. The way I’m envisioning this currently, I’m seeing a multimedia website that includes a lot of primary sources – audio and video interviews, along with pictures or clips of news articles. It would also have an interactive timeline and other interactive properties to repackage my themes and creates clearer connections between what I have written and other times where interventionist ideas can, in my opinion, be more hurtful than helpful.
  2. Photography
    1. One of the themes that (I think) I’m trying to get at in my repurposed piece is outsiders vs. insiders and the affect of that dynamic on communities, specifically with regards to race, class, and location. Photography may be an interesting way to look in to these dynamics and the differences that are caused. Possibly some sort of before and after?
  3. Podcast
    1. The last idea I had was turning my feature article into a podcast. This way I could split up what is becoming a pretty long piece in to shorter sections that may be more accessible while incorporating many of the same files I discussed in my idea for the website.

 

My biggest worry for each of these is that I have no experience with these mediums and don’t really have a lot of confidence in my ability to execute them well.

My Internet Habits

When I first heard about the prompt for this blog post, I was worried because I knew there wasn’t going to be anything particularly sophisticated in my internet history. However, looking back on the weekend, I’m actually surprised because I was relatively productive this weekend (mostly because I have an exam coming up). The most recurring websites were sites for class: CTools, Canvas, and access to textbooks. Beyond that, I did find myself on Facebook a lot. I think I often use Facebook as a mindless distraction between assignments, but I generally limit my time and/or only view friends’ pictures.

My internet history also showed me the general way that I learn about things outside of class. An example of the order of the sites I visited – “Outsiders (2016) Trailer – YouTube” –> “Third World America: 5 insane realities of Appalachia”   –> “Capturing Appalachia’s Mountain People – Smithsonian” –> “Appalachia – Wikipedia” –> “Appalachian English – Wikipedia” –> “Exploring Appalachian English – YouTube”.

I definitely need to go out of my comfort zone more. The pages I visit are all school or career related, spurred by some kind of pop-culture event, or the news (from New York Times, generally).