When I compared the topics I chose with the ones my classmates chose, it occurred to me that it came down to one of the following two options for most of us: some of us chose topics that interest them but are not directly addressed in the rest of their schoolwork they had been pursuing in other majors and minors, and it looks like some of us chose to integrate academic ideas and delve into them further. My original plan was to go with the second option; since my majors are linguistics and international studies, I originally wanted this project to be an opportunity to tie all the stuff I learned into a single big discussion. But I ended up including much more that was personal and anecdotal than I had originally planned, which led me to focus less on the academic ideas underlying the topics than on direct accounts of experiences in the real lives around me. Because I was given a chance to write without constraints, I ended up discussing things that are more directly relevant in my daily life. Even so, the amount of time and energy required for the project made the experience a challenge, and it made me think once again about what it is that I really want to do for the rest of my life as a student. Do I want to spend even more time and energy writing dissertations that are far less personal and far more rigidly academic and theoretical? Maybe. I’m still thinking through it, but this project gave me such a perspective that I otherwise wouldn’t have developed at this point.
Because the amount of writing I had to produce for this project was nothing like anything from before, I was compelled to organize a systematic writing process so I don’t get lost. In the end, I did discover an efficient and convenient trick that I will continue to apply when I write: First, I would have two Word documents open at once. I approached this project by opening two blank Word documents and accordingly dividing the kind of writing I put on. On the first one, I put down basically any idea of fragment that came to mind. It worked like an unorganized notes folder. The contents on this unorganized document weren’t in any particular order, because I didn’t know yet what order would make most sense. Some were barely bullet points and not even grammatical. They were mostly ‘mental cues’ that haven’t been formulated into actual sentences. But on the second document, I only put what I considered finished paragraphs. I assembled fragments from the first doc, and whenever I thought I finished a paragraph, I pasted it on the second doc. Then, I opened a third doc and try to reorganize the finished paragraphs into cohesive order. This process helped me keep track of what ideas have been touched and what ideas are still left alone. Another thing that was useful for me was to create a folder on the Notes app on my phone for the project, but I don’t think this applies to everyone. Some people get all the writing done at designated times on their desk, and not even think about it elsewhere. But I often got stuck sitting on my desk and had to come back to the ideas I didn’t get to finish. New plans and ideas would suddenly come up when I didn’t have my laptop with me, so for the first few weeks, I wrote them down on my phone. But because they were besides all my other notes on the app, it was hard to put them together to my laptop later. So I created a separate folder towards the end of the process, and that really hastened the production.
Until I came here as a freshmen, I had neither ever been to the Midwest nor ever had a close friend from the region. I came clueless, got used to the place over 4 years, and now I leave again in a week indefinitely. It is possible that I never come back to Ann Arbor, even though I now know almost every street and store here. I’ve never gone back to New Hampshire since middle school or to New Jersey since high school. When I stop and think, it feels weird that a place, its people and culture, can consume the whole of my daily life for a long period of time, and become the default environment of my life, and then suddenly vanish from me, never become a daily part of me again, and gradually start to fade away from my memory forever. I’ve repeated this process several times that I am altogether numb about leaving Michigan. It is only when a slice of memory appears involuntarily much later that I’ll be able to feel nostalgia.
I don’t think this is either good or bad; I think it just is. There isn’t a location that I feel cannot be separated from my life, because pretty much every place has already been separated from me. To be sure, it’s not that I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I certainly feel like I belong here, in South Korea, and in NYC, too. But, all the same, I don’t feel like I am grounded anywhere. I’m not sure if I can name a single place that is the deepest foundation of myself. It’s all scattered, so in order to bring out a cohesive narrative out of those pieces, I need special memories from each place. And having worked hard for something one cares about is always one of the things that can later invoke nostalgia in her mind. Among other things, I think this class will be one of those experiences by which I will remember Michigan.
When I look back at this project in several months or years from now, it will, as always, look bad. Everything I’ve written in the past now feels unsatisfactory, so when I was planning for this project, I had in mind the notion that this project, too, will not be good enough for the future me, however much the now me liked it. For mandatory essays for other classes, I think I didn’t put a lot of thought and energy into it, both because the requirements were laid out and because I thought of them as little more than labor for grades. But the fact that I had to choose something I do care about and build a website from scratch made this project register to me as different from anything else I’d written. So there was a bit of dissonance between the part of me that pessimistically assumed that this project was inevitably going to be another amateur piece I will end up dismissing, and the part of me that wanted to produce something that would remain meaningful to me after I get the grade.
Now I think that both of these ideas can be true simultaneously. When I become a better writer in the future, the quality of this project will of course seem unsatisfactory, but I wouldn’t be the better writer I will be if I hadn’t created this project. This was the longest thing I’ve ever written, and I don’t think I’ve ever had another school assignment that occupied so much of my leisure time as well. It’s not that I was required to do more work; it’s that ideas and fragments for the project suddenly popped up in my head even when I was resting, and I had to open my laptop and write them down. While the unprecedented degree of agency ascribed to me gave me a lot of pressure, it prompted me to put in much more thought and care. So I think I will continue to think of this project as meaningful because of the uncomfortable yet fruitful writing experience I had.
My creative piece is going to be just writing, and up to a recent point in this process I thought embedding other visual or audible content would somehow jeopardize a certain tone or authority that a written work possesses when it is presented only as writing. But in another perspective, it is a very simple matter. I’m writing about music and referencing specific works, having them available right where they are mentioned would be far more convenient for the reader. I think I had that slight distaste for embedded media because the written works I most admired, mostly novels and articles from certain venues, usually didn’t include other content than themselves. Maybe the assumption that graphic novels and cartoons have lesser value as literature played a little part. But what I originally believed was a matter of quality of writing might have been just a matter of familiarity. The Internet became so ubiquitous only recently, and lot good written works, most of which are writing only, probably have been out in the world for long enough to become canonized. I’m sure there is good writing with embedded media being produced currently, so I realized that I’d just have to look for more of it and pay attention to the writing of this age. I’ve decided to have YouTube links directly available, a decision that would be, from one angle, an attempt to challenge the assumption I had, and the most sensible way to address my subject from another.
What Richard Spencer tries to do strikes me a plan less for a visit than for a strategic attack on the values upheld by the U-M institution. But then I thought such would be the case only if this school’s values stand against Spencer’s, in both theory and practice. And many of the Regents’ statements led me to doubt. The grounds of their justifications for allowing a fascist platform on our campus seemed to be, in descending order of expressed importance, ethical (pronounced almost unanimously), legal (occasionally), and financial (not at all). The criticism that the school’s moral standpoint amounts only to rhetoric not to action, is definitely not new. Witnessing the emotional harm done to many classmates throughout this week, let alone the possibility of physical harm, I was able to develop my belief that Spencer should be banned. Forcing a minority student-worker at the Union to help set up the corporeal stage for white supremacy might not be the destruction of that person’s self, but it will be the destruction of this place as home. What provides future generations with greater ethical insights may be Cameron Padgett v. University of Michigan, not a boycotted rally filled with fascists. My knowledge falls short but the school’s principles shouldn’t, if this is an honest institution.
I came across an article by Mary HK Choi featured on NY Times. Rather than that her writing itself stood out in particular, I just recognized her Korean name and decided to look her up. Although there was no Wikipedia page, she presented her life story as an op-ed piece on NYT. She is actually a Hong Kong native who immigrated to Texas then to New York. Unfortunately, I was not able to learn how her writing career set off. Yet according to her Squarespace website, she writes for GQ, NY Mag, The New York Times, The New York Times, The Awl,The Hairpin, Jezebel, Elle, The Fader, Complex,WIRED, Allure, Matter, MTV and The Atlantic, not all of which I recognize. She is also a Vice News cultural correspondent and surprisingly a comic book writer for Marvel (namely, Lady Deadpool.) It was interesting enough to me that she has been able to establish herself in such a diversity of venues and media forms as an Asian immigrant and with a casual, unequivocal tone of prose.
I looked up another writer on The New Yorker, because I thought it would be better to get the most out of the venue I’m most familiar with before branching out. Evan Osnos focuses on politics for the magazine. I read his extensive report based on his visit to North Korea as well as his conversations with some of their government officials, and he seemed to further share his knowledge about the topic with several following articles. Having joined the magazine in 2008, he is invested in foreign affairs: he devoted four years in China to a report, and he first released his book about China through the magazine. He provided me with an example of a freelance writer who does a lot of on-the-field research, travels a lot, writes ‘reports’ that are more narrative and personal than academic journals and longer than daily newspapers, writes his own book, and still has a career with a renowned institution.
In a recent conversation, one of my roommates pointed out, “Reddit tells you the truth.” I, too, have considered Reddit one of the few outlets on the World Wide Web from which I can often encounter raw, uncensored information that sheds a unique light to my understanding of the world free from institutional imposition. I view similarly rappers such as Mobb Deep and Gang Starr, and comedians like Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock. But I also realized that I would turn less often to these voices for quick fact-checks or answers to my practical reality, than I would to college professors or The Economist. Most of these voices I deem trustworthy possess a tone of some sort of resistance to the establishment, yet it is the most established voices in which I see the most promising sense of authority. Even though I strive not to trust individuals like Heidegger and Schopenhauer whose paths I don’t wanna trace, it’s hard to deny their authority that lurks in my head. And I still can’t figure out if my general disillusionment with the institution is nothing more than a typical adolescent tendency that only amounts to a fabricated binarism. At least within my perspective, authority often functions as an alignment with the institution, and the harder I try to steer away from it, the clearer its importance seems in turn.
And interestingly, we’ve all been taught at school not to rely too much on Wikipedia, but no student seems to have fully refrained from seeking answers first and foremost from it.
I too looked into The New Yorker because it is both the only periodical I’ve been following and a reputable source for such type of writing I’m trying to learn more of. In an issue I read lately, there was an article that addressed the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and human smuggling problems in Sicily. This article redefined the boundaries of my perception of journalism. Whereas I’d always considered it a type of fast-paced writing that seeks to be rather cold and objective, this article illustrated a vivid narrative that, to me in particular, challenged the arbitrary labels of fiction and nonfiction that constitute the very first dividing line that classifies all writing into categories that dictate how we perceive the work. It’s written by a journalist named Ben Taub, who seems to be involved often on the spot gathering information for his writing through firsthand interactions. His way of exploring the reality of fellow humans in other parts of the world through real communication looked like a very exciting creative process. He received degrees in philosophy and journalism with specialization on politics, and has been awarded grants and prizes from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Livingston Award for International Reporting etc. He became an official New Yorker staff writer early on this year.