My Capstone Project – “Cut”

When I walked into our classroom in the beginning of January, I had an “itch” that I needed to scratch. It’s an itch that I first noticed all the way back in July, and it had been manifesting ever since. I knew that it wouldn’t go away until I addressed it, so I decided to use this Capstone project as my backscratcher.

The itch regards something that I believe most of us are afflicted with, but few of us have ever heard of: Protagonist Disease. Protagonist disease, or protagonist thinking, describes viewing your life as a story – a story in which you function as the central figure, or “main character.” Protagonist thinkers are in the habit of internalizing their lives as plot developments. They might even fantasize that their lives are being projected onto a screen somewhere in real time, and that the “audience” is rooting for them and sympathizing with them as they follow along with the various scenes of their lives.

 

 

I like to think of my project, “Cut,” as a sort of psychological thriller – one that is meant to capture the essence of protagonist thinking. It’s a little meta, and it’s a little abstract, but I hope that by the end, it speaks to why we engage in protagonist thinking, and what the consequences of doing so might be.

A huge thank you everyone in the Sweetland community who helped me grow as a writer, and who helped this project come into its own. All the class sessions and group workshops certainly made a big difference, but all the support, camaraderie, and inspiration within the Minor in Writing community made a world of difference. Both myself and my project are much better off for having been a part of it.

I’ve been scratching my itch all semester, and I hope that the result is something you can enjoy. Here’s the link to my project site: https://jonruby.wixsite.com/capstoneproject

Giving it Away in the Intro Essay?

My Capstone project is about something that most people haven’t necessarily heard of before: Protagonist Disease. Basically, it involves viewing your life as a story in which you function as the central figure, or “main character.” Protagonist thinkers are in the habit of seeing their lives as plot developments, in a story so captivating, that it would surely draw an audience if ever shown in the theaters. Protagonist thinkers might even fantasize that their lives are being projected onto a screen somewhere in real time, and that the audience is rooting for them and sympathizing with them as they move through the various scenes of their lives.

Protagonist thinking can be employed in almost any situation, but it seems that we are the most susceptible to it during times of difficulty. When we’re sad, when we’re angry, or when we’re failing, we can use protagonist thinking as a sort of defense mechanism to justify ourselves. Surely, we tell ourselves, that if the “audience” had seen the entire story’s development, complete with all our struggles, then they would be sympathetic to us. Convincing ourselves (and our imagined “audience”) that we are sympathetic characters is what protagonist thinking as all about.

Anyway, I’m writing about this topic in a sort of abstract way. I feel that I was guilty of protagonist thinking this past summer, so I’m writing a bunch of independent “scenes” from my summer, but I’m writing them as if I was the main character in the movie that I was constructing to be my life. So, needless to say, the scenes are very dramatized – almost satirically so. I’m also writing them in the third person, as if this “character” version of myself is completely different from my actual person.

On its own, my piece is just a bunch of stories. I don’t mention that it’s about Protagonist Disease at all. And I don’t even reveal that the third person “character” that I’m writing about is me from this past summer until the very end. I want to give my audience enough clues as to what the piece is about, so I’m including some research artifacts that speak to Protagonist Disease in between scenes. But I feel like that might not be enough, so in my intro essay, I’m choosing to explain the concept of Protagonist Disease in a similar way to how I did at the beginning of this post.

I feel like providing context is important, but I also don’t know if it’s too much to give away before my audience even begins reading. Is there value in completely keeping them in the dark and having them figure it out as they read? Since Protagonist Disease is not a very well-known phenomenon, I feel that I have to mention it directly at least somewhere. The question that I’m struggling with is where, and to what extent. For now, it’s the intro essay, and it’s a fairly comprehensive description. But we’ll see if it stays that way.

My re-purposing project last year was not nearly as abstract of a piece, but I also had to make some choices about how much to tell the audience, and how much to keep to myself and leave unanswered. The questions that I found myself asking then was ‘is including this necessary to the reader’s understanding of the story?’ and ‘would including it add or subtract to the richness/depth of the story?’ I think that to resolve my current dilemma, asking the same kinds of questions will point me in the right direction.

Challenge Journal – Executing Transitions

After two months of brainstorming, researching, and organizing, I’ve finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and started writing. It’s relieving to finally see my vision take start to take shape, but it’s also presented me with a new set of challenges. Now, instead of wrestling with big picture stuff, I find myself wrestling with the little details – word choices, design elements, and structural framework.

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Furthermore, because the piece that I’m writing is different from anything else that I’ve ever written, some of these challenges are new to me. For example, my Capstone project consists of a handful of stand-alone scenes that are meant to represent “protagonist thinking.” Instead of talking about protagonist thinking directly, however, I’m trying to show the essence of it through these scenes, which can each function independently as their own short story. Even though I don’t directly mention protagonist thinking, I still want the reader to be aware that the stories are grounded in this concept. To achieve this, I’m interspersing different artifacts from my research on protagonist thinking in between the scenes to help keep the reader grounded and give them a reminder of what the stories are meant to represent.

What I’m struggling with is how to present these artifacts in between my scenes. In addition to re-centering the reader, I also want them to be clear indicators of a break in my narrative. From a design perspective, I’ve been trying to figure out how to accomplish this. Last year, in my re-purposing project, I employed a similar tactic of using a quote in between the two sections of my paper. The quote spoke to the themes that I was trying to convey, and I dedicated an entire page to it, even though the quote itself only took up a few lines. I want to do something similar in my Capstone project, but since my project is on Wix (as opposed to Word), I’m trying to figure out the best way to do it. Some of the artifacts will also be video clips instead of written text, adding another layer of complexity to the design of these transitions.

I’ve thought about using featured images/backgrounds for each of the artifacts, so that the artifact takes up the entire screen when the reader scrolls down. Then, as they continue scrolling, the text below the artifact sort of “eats” the image/background instead of the image/background moving up on the page. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but I know that I’ve seen it before, and I think that it might be an effective way to go about presenting these transitions in my piece. If anybody knows what I’m talking about, or how to accomplish this on Wix, any advice would be much appreciated! I know that the answer is out there…it’s just a matter of finding it.

Challenge Journal: Pre-Writing Jitters and Dilemmas

One of my favorite quotes is by a former businessman and philanthropist named William Davidson. It’s so simple, but strikingly powerful at the same time.

“Just Start.”

I first noticed this quote hanging in the tunnel of Crisler Arena, right where the players have their final gathering before taking the court to face their opponents. Having the quote in that location is strategic. It’s there to mitigate nerves, to quell the paralyzing weight of anticipation, and to reassure the players/coaches that once the game starts, things will fall into place and all the preparation will shine through. In basketball, you can spend so much time strategizing and training that you can overthink the game itself (which is a fairly simple one…just put the ball in the hoop). “Just start” is a way of saying, ‘trust your preparation and abilities, and understand that the first step might be the hardest one you’ll take.’

In the same way that “just start” can be used to inspire a basketball team, it can also be used to inspire us as writers, especially before embarking on a project as sizable as the Capstone. We’ve spent a month (maybe more) brainstorming, searching, envisioning, pitching, planning, and strategizing. At some point – a point that is nearly upon us – you just have to start, and trust that things will fall into place.

Personally, I’ve been struggling with some pre-writing dilemmas that I’ve been unable to settle, but that I’m hoping will work themselves out once I start writing. They all have to do with how to most effectively frame my piece, which is going to be a creative non-fiction story about viewing yourself as the main character of your own movie. This concept, sometimes called “Protagonist Disease,” is a relatively out-there and abstract concept, and I’ve been contemplating how to best capture its essence. My plan is to write a series of independent scenes from my recent summer in San Francisco, when I feel like I fell into this “protagonist” way of thinking, which is very self-important and self-loathing. It was a byproduct of me feeling somewhat lonely/sad/lost and wanting to justify those feelings, but ultimately, I believe that protagonist thinking was counterproductive for my mood and perspective. This will all come through in the writing, but I’ve been debating about what tense to write the scenes in.

Instead of writing it in the first person, I want to write it in either the second or the third person to address myself as the “main character” that I was imagining myself to be. The intent is to provide some distance between who I am now and who I was during the summer, and to show that I was out of touch with myself. But I can’t decide whether 2nd person or 3rd person would be most effective in achieving this. Probably it will end up being a healthy mix of both, but I’m realizing that this problem will be solved during the writing process itself, and that I should let my writing answer the question for me.

Last year, when I wrote my re-purposing project about my experience with the Michigan Basketball team, I struggled with whether to use the present tense or the past tense (i.e. “I walk out of the locker room and into the tunnel” vs. “I walked out of the locker room and into the tunnel”). There is a subtle but distinct difference in how it frames the story. The former puts the reader more in the moment with you, and the ladder is more reflective. I found that certain rhetorical situations were more suited towards the present tense and certain rhetorical situations were more suited towards the past tense. But I was only able to make that discovery during the writing process itself. So again, I think that I should just start.

I’m confident that a couple of my other dilemmas, like deciding how many scenes to write and deciding how to embed my research into the piece, will solve themselves once I begin writing too (but I’m also looking for suggestions so comment below if you feel so inclined).

It’s good to think about the dilemmas now and identify the questions that must eventually be resolved, but there is also value in realizing that the answers don’t have to show themselves right now.

 

Challenge Journal 1: Rituals

There is a certain amount of weight attached to the word “ritual.” To me, it implies something vastly different from words like “routine” or “habit.” Unlike brushing your teeth or watching TV before bed (activities that I would label as routines/habits), rituals are almost sacred. They require a certain level of mindfulness and focus in order to successfully create their intended effects. Before engaging in Tharp’s discussion on creative rituals, I never thought of writing as an activity that would be accompanied by such a practice. But just like athletes go through pregame rituals to signal that it’s time for competition, I’m now convinced that writers should go through pre-writing rituals to signal that it’s time for creativity. Doing so can serve as a catalyst for tapping into the most creative parts of our thinking.

With that being said, pre-writing rituals will look different for each writer. It’s important to discover the most helpful ritual for you. Identifying what that looks like takes a lot of work. As I read through Tharp’s piece, I wondered what kinds of rituals I could engage in to support my writing process. I tinkered with some ideas pertaining to my setting and to my sensory environment, but then I realized that I’ve been engaging in a writing ritual ever since I started college: listening to music.

I don’t just put my music library on shuffle when I write; I’m actually pretty intentional about the type of music that I listen to as I’m writing. As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered that finding the right music to accompany my writing can be a powerful thing. For example, I’ve done a lot of retrospective writing throughout my college career. I often write about personal stories or past experiences that I find worth revisiting. There have been times, however, when I have a lot of difficulty placing myself back in these moments. To help me overcome this challenge, I play the music that I listened to during that corresponding period of my life, and suddenly, my past feelings and memories become much easier to access. I might write about past experiences in my Capstone project, so keeping this ritual in mind will be helpful as I move forward. I would recommend trying it to anyone who is reaching into their old memories in their writing.

Even when I’m not recalling past experiences, I still find the right music helpful for getting my mind in the right place for creativity. There’s a post-rock band called Explosions In The Sky that never fails to get my creative juices flowing. Their music contains no lyrics – just rhythms and sounds that I can casually listen to without too much effort. For whatever reason, listening to their songs takes the edge off of writing. It becomes less stressful, and writer’s block becomes easier to overcome.

Everyone is intimidated by the “empty white room” that Tharp so artfully brought to life in her writing. For me, finding the right soundtrack, the right aesthetic, and the right musical energy makes the empty white room a little less daunting. As we begin out Capstone Projects, the blank, empty pages are right in front of us. I hope that we can all find the right rituals to aid us in turning them into our best work.

ePortfolio Introduction

I feel like I’ve grown in more ways than just as a writer this semester. But in terms of the writing itself, I have learned to view writing as a creative endeavor rather than as an academic task. This class is structured to take you through a complete and intensive creative process, and once I threw myself into that process, my work went from an assignment to an artwork. Learning to embrace the process was the biggest way that I grew as a writer this semester. More than that, I even came to enjoy the process by the end. I hope my passion for the projects are apparent in the ePortfolio, which you can view by clicking on the homepage at the bottom on this post.

During this class, I have expanded my communicative arsenal. In addition to improving my ability to express myself through writing, I also began to learn how to express myself through pictures, speech, and design. Between now and the capstone course, I want to continue to build on these multimodal skills. I will certainly continue to write, but I will try to challenge myself by taking pictures, speaking, and designing. Furthermore, when I see images and designs, I will think about the choices behind them and why they’re significant. I look forward to coming into the Capstone course for another challenging, engaging, and creative experience!

 

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Letter to Future Gateway Students

Dear Future Gateway Students,

Congratulations! You’ve made (or will make) a great choice.

I’m not sure that I can pinpoint one specific takeaway that I have from this course because there have been so many. For me, the one word that comes to mind is growth. I feel like I’ve grown as a writer, student, thinker, and collaborator. Specifically, my creative process has really grown and developed during this course. I used to dread editing, workshopping, etc., but I really fed off the energy of my peers in the Gateway Course. I would suggest coming into this class (and this entire program) with no expectations. The course is really well structured so that the creative/writing process takes over, and resisting that would have been a mistake.

The most challenging part of this course for me was learning to express myself in different forms. I had grown comfortable with writing essays, but through the remediation and ePortfolio, I had to learn to articulate myself in other ways. There was a lot of trial and error, frustration, and working through obstacles, but I worked through it so that I am proud of my work in the end.

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From the very first day of class, there was an open and welcoming environment created in the classroom. Most teachers say that everyone should feel free to share their thoughts, but in this class, that sentiment actually turned to reality. It’s hard to capture that sort of environment at a huge university like Michigan, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a classroom that was totally open, but the Gateway Course made it happen.

I feel like I spent 3X as much time on this class than I did on any of my other classes this semester. That was partly because it was fun and I was passionate about the work, but it was also because it is a demanding course that requires lots of time and energy. If you’re an incoming Minor in Writing student, I would advise staying organized from the very beginning. Plan out your process for different projects and start early. If not, they can have a tendency to pile up on each other and make you feel overwhelmed. The best writing is done with a clear mind and a free imagination, which stress can compromise. So I would suggest trying to space out the work to give yourself the freedom and time to write at your best.

If I were to start all over again, I would have spent more time looking at my peers’ work. I became close with my blog group which consisted of four students, but I was not as familiar with the rest of the class’s work as I wanted to be. Whenever I did come across another student’s work, I always learned something from it. Because learning from your peers is such a huge advantage in this course, I would have tried more actively to seek out their work.

This course is an adventure. As a Gateway student, you learn a lot of new concepts, and work on a lot of projects that you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. While this can be stressful or daunting, I would just say to embrace the spirit of this course because it will absolutely be worth it. This has been the most rewarding class that I’ve ever taken at Michigan, and I feel like my thinking has been pushed by my peers in this class more than any other class I’ve taken here. If you focus on learning from others, delving into your most creative self, and participating in the environment of the classroom, you will do meaningful work and create something that you will be extremely proud of in the end.

Sincerely,

Jon

 

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Re-Visiting “Why I Blog”

During every Writing 220 class, we have exchanged our ideas and thoughts with one another. By doing so, we have pushed each other to become better writers and better thinkers. We do in class what Andrew Sullivan believes is done on the web through blogs. He believes that a blogger is a part of a huge conversation. By taking part in that conversation, the blogger’s ideas are shaped and informed. Conversely, the blogger also has the power to shape and inform his readers.

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Whether it’s through blogs or in class, I wanted to join the minor to participate in this intellectual cycle. In the minor, I hope to offer some insight to my peers while having my own ideas shaped by them. So far, I feel like I am accomplishing this goal by working closely with my classmates and writing personally meaningful pieces.

Sullivan views writing blogs as a thrill. While Didion and Orwell allude to the drudgery and pressure of writing, Sullivan talks about the energy and stimulation that comes from the immediacy of blogging. There is much less at stake in blogging because there is more room for error. According to Sullivan, blogging is about putting yourself out there and letting your immediate emotions and thoughts flow onto the page. Perhaps the instant nature of blogging is less strenuous, but less rewarding in the end because it is less strenuous. Didion and Orwell both seem to struggle with their pieces, constantly searching for the right words to communicate their messages. Although less pleasurable, maybe the struggle makes the end product more rewarding. Everyone writes for different reasons, and blogging seems to satisfy some writers much more than others.

Drafting and Revising

Almost all of my focus thus far has been on content, both in the re-purposing project and in the remediation project. I have spent all my time outlining, drafting, and revising. But reading this chapter made me think more about design and presentation rather than content. The book mentions fonts, color schemes, layout, interactivity, sound, etc. As I read about each of these elements, the vision for my ePortfolio developed, and I could start to picture it in my mind. Such visualization is important for multimodal projects because the final ePortfolio will involve so much more than just the content of our final drafts.

This chapter also helped me think about my timetable for the remediation project. The book made rough cuts seem similar to shitty first drafts – they are to be refined and shaped throughout the revision process. I realized that much of the work is to be done after we turn in our rough cuts. For my remediation, I am delivering a TED Talk, which requires several assets in the final version. For the rough cut, however, I probably won’t be using all of the assets that I will use in the final cut. The remediation project will shape itself over the course of the next several weeks, not just within the next week or so.

I tend to have a desk-clearing mindset; I like to get things done and move on to the next item. While this can sometimes help me work efficiently, it can also rush me. Desk-clearing and creativity do not mesh well. This chapter’s discussion of the revision process reinforced that I have to resist my desire to get these projects done so that I can move on to the ePortfolio. The revision process has multiple layers to it, and I have to give it the necessary time and attention. My re-purposing project will continue to develop, and so will the remediation. Eventually, they will all come together beautifully (I hope) in the ePortfolio, but only in due time.

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My Re-Purposing Process

After I wrote my re-purposing proposal, I felt that I had a firm grasp on what I wanted to say. My plan was to take a personal memoir from my freshman year about my experience as a student-manager-turn-walk-on player for the Michigan Basketball team and expand on it in a couple of different ways. I wanted to expand on the story since I also played last year as a sophomore. I just quit this past summer, so there is more of the story to tell. Additionally, I wanted to include a journalistic element to the piece, commenting on the overall sports culture here at U-M. My experience with the basketball team helped me to see college athletics for what it really is. I found that it’s a lot different from the glorious fantasy that many of us hold in our heads. By coupling my story with some outside research and observations, I hope I can help my audience gain a clearer perspective on Division 1 athletics.

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So after writing my proposal, I started researching the darker elements of college sports – the emotional struggles, the physical demands, and some of the social implications. I scrapped down several pages of notes in my notebook, and proceeded to write a rough outline. The plan is to tell my story first (the more personal element) and then expand to comment on the celebrity culture, idolization, and dehumanization in our sports culture, all of which creates a ton of pressure for athletes to fit a certain image. Finally, after lots of preparation, I sat down to write my first draft.

After writing the first four pages of my re-purposing, I can see that this project might end up being between 15-20 pages long (sorry). I had concerns that I was trying to do too much after that first writing session. I felt that I was trying to write two papers in one (a memoir, and a research paper). However, I think that my experience gives validity to my argument about the sports culture. And my argument about the sports culture is nicely reflected in my personal story. Telling my story is taking a long time to develop, but I want to do it justice. It can’t be rushed, or else it won’t complement the second part as well. Ultimately, I decided to break it into two parts. The project is called “Ball Is Not Life,” and Part One is called “On the Inside,” while Part Two is called “From the Outside.” I fear that this is overly ambitious, but I hope it comes together nicely in the end.

When I sat down to write for a second time, I went to open up the document and I started panicking when I couldn’t find it in my computer. Then I started slapping my desk when it sunk in that my four hours of hard work was vanished into some dark dimension of lost files.

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After about a half hour of pouting and frantically checking my computer, I calmed down and re-wrote my first four pages. We’ve all been there. Now, here I am, with four pages of what I feel like is good writing, but with doubts that I might be trying to say too much in this project. I want to tell the whole story, and I want to communicate something that I believe is important and relevant to my audience. But I want to do it in a way that makes sense and doesn’t leave readers overwhelmed or confused. I think that with an organized structure, I can pull it off, but I am still working towards what that will look like.