I’ve been told by multiple people that I never stop talking. Not in a mean way, but it was more of an observation.
I always respond, “well, I have a lot to say.”
I have thoughts and ideas rushing through my head 24/7. I currently have seven to-do lists: today, short-term, long-term, school work, vacation packing, job applications, and cleaning. All this to say, I have a lot that I want to do, but never enough time to do it.
This semester, I finally crossed something off of my long-term to-do list.
I have always wanted to tell my story. It didn’t matter what form I told it in, I just wanted to tell someone. And I wanted them to listen. What is my story you might ask? It is one of insurmountable loss that led to unexpected growth. It is unique, yet relatable. It is painful to read, but gives you hope at the same time. I wanted to take people on the same journey that I went on.
This is my Jar of Happy Things. I started it when I was at my lowest point in life as a reminder that there were still good things happening in the world. Any time something good happened, I wrote it down on a sticky note, put the date on it, folded it up, and tossed it in the jar.
For my project, I went through all of the sticky notes that I’ve ever put in my jar. I narrowed it down to the ten that I felt showcased my growth as a person over the past few years. I spent the past semester delving into old memories, drudging up old emotions, and looking at them in a new light.
During my time in the capstone course, I learned a few things.
I was always overwhelmed by the possibilities. There were so many suggestions coming my way, so many things that I wanted to try. But, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it all. There comes a time when you’ll have to sit down and decide what you want to spend the semester writing about, what form you want it to take, and what you want the project site to look like. The sooner you do that, the better off you’ll be.
The best thing that I did for myself was choosing a project that I was passionate about. Doing the work never felt like work to me because I was enjoying myself as I did it. Everyone in my capstone class had such different projects, but the one thing they all had in common was a passion that inspired them.
I found that immersing myself in my peers projects was extremely beneficial. Workshop days are the best because you get to see everyone else’s projects developing. I learned so much from workshop days, even when it wasn’t my work being discussed. When looking at your peers work, you can see first hand what works well and what doesn’t. Then, you can apply it to your own project. You can learn just as much, if not more, from reading, critiquing, and supporting the processes of your classmates.
I definitely had my hiccups along the way, but I am so proud of the work that my classmates and I produced. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Okay, I’m being a little bit dramatic. But, rightfully so.
As of 5 days ago, all of my work from the past 8 weeks came crashing down. The project that I intended to complete for the capstone course is no longer possible. It’s frustrating to realize that I spent so many hours of work on something that will no longer come to fruition any time soon.
Good news? It’s nothing I can’t handle. Honestly, I do my best work under pressure. AND…I’m actually falling in love with the new idea for my project as I spend more time developing it.
I am terrible at asking for help. I hate admitting that I can’t do something on my own. Learning to accept the help of others is something I am really trying to work on this year. On Monday, I realized that a seemingly small conversation can turn into something amazing. There is something about T that makes you feel like you can do anything. My favorite brainstorming sessions have been when I am sitting in a seat opposite her and her creative mind. Then, taking the conversation even further with my classmates led me to discover interests that I had never realized existed in my mind.
During our draft workshop on Monday, I had walked into class with a vague description of my new project. I felt so behind as I listened to everyone updating the class on how far along they were. But, by the end of class I felt confident. Confident in my idea, confident in my ability to execute it, and confident that I’m surrounded by some of the coolest, most creative minds ever.
I would compare my experience on Monday to making a snowball. You grab a chunk of snow, plop some more on top of it to make it full enough, and then you round it out into its final shape before you’re officially ready to launch it. I started with a basic description of what I wanted to do. Amy helped me add more depth to the project by giving me a ton of ideas that built it out even further. Then, Brianna dug deeper, asked some meaningful questions, and helped me make the necessary connections to visualize a solid form for the project. Now, I have somewhere to launch from, and I am ready to go. Not only am I ready, but I am excited.
Memory. A faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information. Something remembered from the past. A recollection. Thank you, dictionary.com.
My new project will focus on the theme of memory. What is the drive behind documenting, recording, and collecting memories? What purpose does this serve in our lives presently and in the future? Why do some people collect and record memories but others don’t? When do we reach a point where our brain can’t hold all of the memories that we want it to, so we are left with no other choice but to write them down?
My senior year of high school, I was struggling. A lot. I felt broken, damaged, like I was going to be perpetually sad. I spent a lot of time wallowing in these feelings. One day, I decided to start keeping track of the good things that happened. Maybe, just maybe, I would realize that even though it wasn’t obvious or happening in abundance, there were still good things happening around me. Thus, my “jar of happy things” was born. I bought a jar and a package of sticky notes, and I went on my way. I would fill out a sticky note, include the date, fold it up, and place it in the jar. On New Years Eve, I would open all of the notes from the previous year to celebrate all of the good things in my life. After looking at them all, I put them in an envelope with the year written on the outside, toss them into my box of important things, and start the new year with a fresh jar. My first ever entry? I made it through a day of school without crying. Not your idea of a typical “happy” memory, but baby steps I guess.
To date, I have sticky notes from 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. While working on this project, I am really excited to go through all of my happy memories again. I’ll get to see how my life and my values have changed over the past few years. Who used to be mentioned in my jar a lot that I don’t keep in touch with much anymore? Who has come into my life and made a significant impact? What was my favorite memory from 2017? Well, I’m about to find out. I am really excited to be focusing on the positive, happy aspects of my life.
While I’ve been building out this new project, I had an inkling that I had written about my need to document memories before. Then, it hit me.
“Our relationships with others help define who we are and how we live our lives. Are we compassionate? Are we envious? Are we lovable? Are we lonely? Family or friend. Platonic or romantic. Long or short. There are countless combinations of the types of relationships that we can have in our lives.
I write to maintain mine.
Sending a birthday card to my aunt who lives in the Dominican Republic, writing a letter to my mom&dad when I’m at summer camp, or writing a text message to my sister who moved to North Carolina. I can communicate with those who matter most even though they are 1,559 miles away.
It’s not enough to make these connections. What’s the point if we cannot remember the intimate details of our encounters with those we love?
I write to remember them.
The girl who paid for my coffee as a random act of kindness. Celebrating my birthday. Going on vacation with my family. Having a movie night with my best friends. The first time my boyfriend told me he loved me. Getting a puppy. My first job. Getting my license. The last thing I said to my grandpa before he took his final breath. My first kiss. The day I moved away to college. The taste of a home-cooked meal. The events that led me to find my passion in life. Millions of memories, big and small, that I never want to forget, but my brain does not have the capacity to hold on to. When I’m 40 years old and have kids of my own I want to be able to tell them what I was doing on January 14th, 2018.”
I wrote that two years ago in my “Why I Write” piece when I was a student in the gateway course. My desire to journal and keep sticky notes stems from wanting to remember the intimate details of my encounters with loved ones. But, where does that desire come from? I am going to ask myself this over and over until I find a deeper meaning behind this habit of mine.
My current worry for the project is that I am 8 weeks behind. That’s never a good feeling. I don’t want to feel rushed to get things done and sacrifice quality. To mitigate these feelings, I plan to dedicate all day Sunday and Tuesday to catching up on this project: new proposal, research list, production plan, rubric, and of course drafting content.
I’m slowly, but surely building up my research list right now. I’m looking into scholarly journals about the functions of our memory, articles about the rise of degenerative diseases leading to an increase in the desire to document our lives for when we can no longer remember them, and I’m looking into my own personal items such as old journals. I truly think that the capabilities of our brain are fascinating, and I am enjoying learning more about it. The most interesting piece of research that I have found so far is a Ted Talk called “One Second Every Day”. I find this piece to be so interesting because the man has a very similar desire to mine, which is to document important moments in life so that I don’t forget them, but he does it in a very different way. It opened my eyes up to all of the different ways that people achieve the same goal. Yet, that underlying goal is still the same. They don’t want to forget. But, what is it about forgetting that is so scary? I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
That’s enough out of me. I’ll be journaling if you need me.
I’ve never thought of myself as a creative person. It all goes back to the 3rd grade. Indulge me while I go on this short rant…
It was November 1st (yes, i’m crazy and remember the exact date). We were just starting to learn cursive. The new month meant a new seating chart. For all of September and October I had been hoping to be seated next to Pierce, the “it boy” of Mrs. Larkin’s class. I swore to myself that I loved him, and maybe I did in a weird little kid way, but I soon would learn that the feeling was NOT mutual. It was official, for the month of November he would sit across from me (yassssssss). We pulled out our cursive practice books and began to write. He looked up at me and said, “Are you sure you’re a girl? Because you have the handwriting of a boy.” I began to notice that I had bad handwriting, I was terrible at drawing, the girl next to me in art class always had a better painting than me, etc. To this day, sometimes I still feel like the least artsy/creative person alive.
Well, Pierce was right. I did have terrible handwriting. Still do, actually. But, I was wrong. I was wrong to take this tiny comment and twist it into something that hindered me for so long. I am creative, and writing is my outlet for that creativity.
For the first time in my entire life, I have too many ideas. Normally, I have a bunch of ideas and i’m like “eh” “no” “nah” “maybe” and I end up choosing the one stand out idea that I had. But, this time is different. I love them all. I’m passionate about sexual health, mental health, celebrating love, preventing sexual violence, and speaking my truth. SO, why is this such a predicament? How could having too many passions ever be a bad thing? Well, it is a bad thing right now. I cannot decide which project to pursue as my capstone project.
Giving my pitches to the class might’ve been helpful if I wasn’t in a room full of creative geniuses that offered up ideas and suggestions, making me love each of my ideas even more.
That might’ve come out wrong, so I’ll explain further. Giving my pitches to the class helped me to develop each of my ideas, providing me a launch point to take each one further. However, it did not help me to choose which idea I should move forward with. I think that I’ve narrowed it down to two. Have I really, though? When will T make me decide?
I know it will all work out, but until then I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep writing up little snippets for each idea, hoping one of them will jump off the page at me, screaming, “PICK ME, PICK ME, I’M THE BETTER OPTION!!!!”
In eight grade, I was on the morning announcements crew. Every single morning for a whole year, my job was to give words of wisdom. Even though my classmates were probably too tired to listen, or didn’t want advice from someone their own age, I was honored to hold that position and took it seriously.
Here I am, five years later, and I’m gonna take another stab at it.
Dear future gateway students,
I learned a lot about myself over the course of this semester thanks to this class. But, it didn’t just happen over night. I worked for it. I struggled, I was confused, and I was challenged. But, I came out on the other side a better writer. That’s why you’re doing this, right? Well, here are ten tips to help you succeed in the gateway course:
1) Get to know your classmates.
I wish I had done this earlier on in the semester. Now, classes are over and I wish I had more time with the new friends that I made. It’s not like a big lecture where you sit by somebody new every day. You spend a lot of time with your classmates; take advantage of it. Some of them are in the same major as you, and now you have a study buddy. Others are in cool clubs that you now have the plug to get into. And others don’t relate to you at all, but you can still learn so much from them.
2) Meet individually in “office hours” with your instructor.
I definitely did not take advantage of this as much as I should’ve. But, I had some of the most incredible brainstorming sessions when I met individually with T. Having an outsiders perspective opens up the door to so many new possibilities, especially when it’s your instructor. They know what you’re capable of and give you the confidence to do it. Thank you, T.
3) Volunteer for workshop.
Whenever T asked for volunteers for workshop, I avoided eye contact and sipped from my water bottle. “Please don’t look at me, please don’t” I was thinking to myself. Then, I got to my third experiment and was really proud of how far I’ve come. So, when the dreaded question came, I volunteered. There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than your entire class reading your work, and then discussing it right in front of you for 20+ minutes. But, here I am. Still alive to tell the tale. The experiment that I had workshopped turned into my final project. Half because I was passionate about it, but half because hearing feedback from other people inspires you to take it in directions you never thought were possible.
4) Embrace the lack of structure.
I am a planner. I’m the one in my friend group that calls and makes the reservation, plans the surprise party, and gets us to class on time. Structure makes me comfortable. I feel like I can breathe easily. So, when T said that we had three assignments where we could do anything that we wanted, I kinda freaked out. I never thought of myself as a creative person, but that changed. You don’t really have any other choice. Embrace it.
5) Start your e-portfolio early on.
If you’re like me and have never tried to make your own website, this is important. Some people are naturals at this kind of stuff, and then there’s me. I’m so proud of my e-portfolio now, but at first I was very skeptical. If I can do it, you can too. Just start early, get feedback from your classmates, and keep making changes until it’s something that you’re proud of.
6) Try a new genre.
I hate writing poetry. I’ve tried in the past and I just suck at it. At the beginning of the year, I told myself I would write a poem as one of my experiments. Andddddd, I didn’t do it. I chickened out. I wish I hadn’t, though. I tried other new genres, but not the one that made me feel the most vulnerable. I regret it. So, take the risk. Just do it.
7) Take notes.
During class discussion people will talk about stuff that they’ve done in past projects that worked, they’ll mention a good book or poem, and sometimes they’ll recommend really great professors and classes. Write. This. Stuff. Down. There were so many times where I would try to think back and remember these things, but my brain was stuffed with too much other work to remember it.
8) Use your writers notebook outside of class.
I journal every night before bed. Topics range from what I did that day to how much I miss my dog to an in depth description of the delicious sandwich I ate that day. It pretty much covers everything. If you’re not one of those people that journals every day, challenge yourself to start. Try using the writer’s notebook a couple times a week outside of class. Soon, you’ll find yourself drawing on text from your notebook as inspiration for your next experiment. I think it made me a better writer, and it might do the same for you too.
9) Give yourself the credit you deserve.
As fun and rewarding as writing is. It can be hard. Acknowledge it, give yourself a pat on the back, take the compliment. Let yourself feel awesome and talented. It gives you a confidence that shines through in your work. You’ll be better for it.
10) Read through this blog occasionally.
You’ll probably have 15 other people in your class, but don’t forget about all of the other writing minor students that you have access to. If you have some free time, take a minute to go through and read blog posts, comments, etc. You can learn a lot (and maybe even find some inspiration) in the sea of posts. There is another whole gateway class, capstone students, and a huge pool of people in between the two. Some of them might have something to offer.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, you rock.
When the semester began, I was really excited to see the unique layout of this class. “Ahhh so much freedom,” I thought. But, crap. I’m not a creative person. I’m used to guidelines and structure — it makes me feel comfortable. But, I realized that they’ve restricted me and my ideas in the past. When you’re told, “do whatever you want” it forces you to think about what you actually want to do (sometimes you have no idea), how you’d go about doing it (production plans weren’t really my thing), and why you would do it (I found what I’m passionate about). It forced me to take risks, be uncomfortable, and to actually learn.
In regard to the experiments, I truly enjoyed them. Having the opportunity to taste test different genres allowed me to try things that I probably never would have.
As an avid planner, nothing drove me crazier than when my experiment didn’t go where I expected it to. But, I learned that it’s okay. My first experiment ended up as a completely different genre by the time I finished the sample, but I learned more from this ~adventure~ than I would have if my sample went as planned. It’s all part of the process.
The first time T mentioned a peer review activity that we were going to do, I rolled my eyes. I thought back to english 125 and how these activities were epic failures. I can’t remember a single comment from my peers that actually helped me edit my paper. But, this year my viewpoint took a complete 180, like Miley Cyrus after her and Liam Hemsworth broke up a few years ago. I received thoughtful, applicable critiques, and also learned how to give the same in return. I realized that 2 minds working together is better than 1 (shout out T for those incredible one on one meetings where she makes you feel like anything is possible). But, 16 minds is better than 2 (shout out to my gateway classmates and T for their help and support throughout this semester). My final project wouldn’t be the same without them.
For my final project, I am continuing with experiment #3. It took me a while to come up with the title of my project, but I decided on “Where do I go from here?” Now, I find myself asking the same question about this project. What do I do next? How do I do it? When should I do it? Where do I go from here? Thinking about all of this has me like………
The goal of this project is to shed light on the unknown, inner experiences of those who have been victims of sexual assault. To do this, I am focusing on the aftermath. How do they cope with the trauma? The project is a photo essay that focuses on objects of comfort. I asked survivors to come up with an object or activity that was significant to their healing process, along with a quote about their journey and said object. For my experiment, I had six participants. For the final project, I am hoping to have 15-20. I chose to continue on with this experiment because I feel like it has had the most impact on me. While working on this project, I have felt empowered. Being able to facilitate a safe place for survivors to share their story, and hearing them say that it was therapeutic for them, was incredible. Because most of the work is behind the scenes (seeking out participants, meeting with them, taking the pictures, etc), the sketch will be very helpful. I already have the questionnaire written out for those who wan’t to participate, and I’m following the same structure for each one. First steps will be to reach out to more campus organizations to increase the number of participants. I’m hoping to end up with 15-20. I’m really looking forward to seeing my final project laid out in blog format on my e-portfolio. I think that the presentation of this piece will have a big impact on the effect it will have on viewers, so to see it in it’s final form will be very rewarding. As for concerns, I’m worried about getting more participants. It was very easy to find the first couple of participants because I know a lot of them. However, people are not always quick to share on such a sensitive topic with a stranger.
When I first thought about myself as a writer, all I could think about was how I’ve come so far, but still have so much to learn. So, I guess that means I’m making progress. But, in it’s most concrete form, the word progress implies that there is an end. A destination. “Forward or onward movement towards a destination.” When I write, though, there is no end in sight. Every time I look back at something that I’ve written, I find something I could change. It’s a never ending cycle of thinking that you’ve reached your destination, only to realize that you have so much further to go. So, as a writer i’m not progressing, i’m just doing. And the more I do, the better I get. I write. I edit. I make changes. I accept that i’ll never be perfect, and that’s okay because nobody is. I’ll keep moving forward and pushing myself because when there is no destination, the possibilities are endless. So, for now i’ll just keep doing.