Together Through the End: Final Capstone Project

Together Through the End is a collection of creative non-fiction essays with the purpose of giving comfort and guidance to people currently taking care of loved ones at the end of life. The essays revolve around the stories of past caregivers and medical professionals in palliative care.

Special thanks to all five people who have shared their stories with me, Chaplain Paul Arnold for mentoring me, Shelley Manis for teaching and advising me through the Sweetland Minor in Writing, and my capstone class for their feedback and support on this project.

https://katrinasoyangco.wixsite.com/palliative

Navigating Cultural Differences

After putting a substantial amount of writing on paper this week, it finally feels like the ball has started rolling for my project. The interviews that I conducted this week and last week are insightful. I’m greatly appreciative of the people I talked to this week, and I hope to do their stories justice. For those of you who are not familiar with my project, I am writing a series of creative nonfiction essays on the experiences of people in end-of-life care. These people range from medical professionals to people who have taken care of loved ones at the end of their lives.

There were a few things from the interviews that that surprised me, the main one being the consistency of the stories that I heard. From the few interviews that I did arose the common theme of taking care of someone at home. Both people were about to have the person at home, partly because the loved one was well enough to keep them at home and not in a hospital or nursing home and partly because of their cultural background. In the countries these people are from, nursing homes aren’t very common. Instead, members of the extended family tend to live together, and grandparents are often taken care of by many people living in the house.

This cultural difference was enlightening, and the conversations about it allowed me to show the cultural variation of end-of-life care that can even be found here in the United States. However, this has made me want to be more cautious about the next people I have interviews with. By the end, I would like to have talked to about six people. I hope that by doing so, there will be a variation of experiences to share. With my interviews, I don’t want to fish for specific information. At the same time, I don’t all of the stories to be too similar. Not everyone who will come across this project will have the means to take care of a loved one at home and may want to hear from someone who was in a situation more similar to theirs. How else can I navigate cultural differences as I write these stories? Are there any other differences or assumptions I should be aware of?

Difficult Conversations

As I write down questions for my mother’s interview, I feel like I was in a minor groove, or perhaps in an illusion of one. Due to the fact that I know the basics of my mother’s story, I feel more comfortable creating questions. At the same time, I am writing several questions for my other interviews. Not knowing who I will meet and what stories they will have, I naturally have fewer questions. On one hand, I am looking forward to meeting these people and learning from their stories. On the other hand, I am nervous.

I have conducted interviews before, once for an English paper on the relationship between humans and animals. For this, I talked with my dad about his experience growing up with a lot of animals back in the Philippines. This flow of this interview is what I expect in my mom’s interview about her experience caring for her mother from afar. The other time I conducted an interview was for the peer writing consulting class. While I didn’t, know much about my peer, the conversation was pretty casual and questions came to me pretty easily

The main difference between these past interviews and the ones I will have soon is the subject: end of life care. It is more serious, and it will require a bit of vulnerability and trust from the interviewees. One of my fears is that no one will be willing to meet with me. The other is that I will not conduct the interviewees sensitively enough. Are there any specific things I could do to uphold respect during these interviews? Right now, I hope that others can trust me through the process. At the same time, I should also maintain trust in the process and the flow of the interviews.

Writing as an Outsider

At this point of the project, there are several things that I am sure about: 1) that I am interested in exploring the complexities of end-of-life care and 2) that taking care of a loved one at end of their lives can be a sorrowful, confusing, and lonely process. I am going to write a guidebook for supporters of the dying. However, instead of bullet points of advice, the guide consists of the stories from others who have been in similar positions. From these stories, I hope that readers can get comfort in knowing that they are not alone. For some, the stories could provide some indirect guidance for making some tough decisions regarding their loved one.

The form of these stories would be creative non-fiction. I have written in this genre before in English 325 and 425. This past semester, I wrote an essay about my mother and how she unknowingly taught me how precious the memories of our loved ones are. Throughout the essay, I incorporate both my mom’s and my narratives to talk about various people in our family. The distinction between this essay and my capstone is that I will be writing down the stories of strangers. When I wrote the 425 essay, I consulted my mother numerous times to make sure that I got her story right. From having known her all my life, I also already had an idea of what tones to use when writing her stories.

I can’t say the same for the people I’ll be interviewing for the capstone. For now, I look to models to form my voice. For example, I am nearly done reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande has a vibrant and respectful voice. There are still some models I would like to add to my reading list. If you do know a good example of a writer sharing someone else’s difficult story, feel free to tell me in the comments below.

As someone who has not taken care of someone at the end of their life, I am an outsider. With the help of the Minor in Writing community, I’ve reconciled with this position. Now, it is only a matter of figuring out how to write and form the guide. I hope that people can trust me to do their stories justice.

The Creative Ritual

Before beginning Tharpe’s book The Creative Habit, I had never really thought about any of the rituals that I have for writing. I have my own general rituals for productivity. There’s the bullet journal that I strive to maintain. Before I go to bed, I also put my keys in a bowl by my front door so I don’t forget them the next morning. This also encourages me to think about anything else I may have forgotten to do that day.

However, I have recognized how hard it can be to just start writing. This became especially clear to me last semester which was the first time I had so many writing assignments due in short periods of time. I would linger over readings and ruminate, not getting anywhere with producing for a while. Over time, I’ve found that it helps to sit down and write down whatever comes to mind about the topic in question. It doesn’t matter whether all of the words show up in the final draft. At least I have my thoughts down which can cause new ones to arise.

It can get very disorganized. After I’ve doing this, it let the document sit for a while. Eventually, I come back to it and try to make sense of it all, usually color-coding similar ideas and eliminating ones that I like.

This can be hard to do, as I consider myself a very calculated person and not the kind that can usually think before they speak. Becuase of this, I often am surprised by how much material I can develop from this exercise alone.

 

An ePortfolio by Person In-Progress

I remember the end of college applications. I took all of my admissions essays and bundled them together in a neat folder with an owl on it. “Yes,” I said, “this is my baby.”

After clicking the submit button for my gateway ePortfolio, my first thought was “Gee! And I thought college apps was a lot of writing.”

I’m really thankful for having the opportunities that this class has given me: improving my writing by working with a topic that interesting, working with a cohort of amazing writers and people, and being taught by a great teacher that cares.

I feel like I’ve grown so much as a writer in the past few months. With a science major, I so used to working to deadline after deadline. It was refreshing to think that all my work being in progress. I remember spending a bit of time trying to figure out what my topic for the class would be and ended up changing it the next week. But that was okay; my work was in-progress. I submitted a second re-purposing draft that I wasn’t sure of. But it was okay; that was in-progress too. This class reminded me that after my classes, that’s not the end. There’s still more that I can learn, more than I can improve. While I’ve just turned in my ePortfolio, to be honest, I’m probably going to keep working on it in the near future before turning it in to study abroad and fellowship committees.

I’ll always be growing, and I find that thrilling. If you’d like to my progress, my ePortfolio lives here!

Looking Behind and Ahead

I’ve never done so much writing, let alone blog writing, so much for one class. At the beginning of the semester I tended to overthink my posts, making them as neat as possible. Now I can write a post well within an hour. I think Sullivan’s article led to this improvement. There’s always going to be something better that I’ll want to say. But I realize that I don’t have all the time in the world to say it. At the same time, I think investing so much time on one post takes away a bit of the personality and the spontaneity. Blog posts aren’t supposed to be the whole conversations, but the beginnings of them, and I think that is something I need to keep in mind in general with my writing.

For the longest time, I used to think of writing as this solitary act, that classic image where someone just sits down and puts words to paper or screen and looks over them themselves. Taking this gateway course has definitely changed my mindset about that. No matter the reason you write, whether it be communicating ideas to other people like Orwell, or figuring things out for yourself like Didion, writing is a conversation. It’s between the writer and the reader(s). In general, when I put up my writing online, I don’t know who the reader is. I’m grateful that for this class I know who my readers are and am able to receive feedback from them.

The feedback is especially important because sometimes I suck at asking questions. I have a mindset that sometimes I should just know something and not need to ask for help. But letting go of that mindset, especially in writing, is liberating. In a way, there’s less pressure on myself to get it all right the first time. At the same time, having people read my writing and give feedback makes me realize more how limited my perspective is. I am only one person and have experienced so much. With feedback, I find that I’ve overlooked important points that others see. There is so much that I need to learn as a writer, and while I never will be a perfect writer it’s still pretty exciting to me.

No really, I'm fine...Actually yes, I'd appreciate the help.
No really, I’m fine…Actually yes, I’d appreciate the help.

I think back to Sullivan’s metaphor of blogging to jazz. Jazz will never replace more structured music, like classical music, but it is there. Likewise, blogging coexists with traditional writing. Blogging even draws more attention to the importance of traditional writing. Through my experience with blog writing, I have found this to be true. Because of this process, I see more now how writing is more of a conversation than it is a one-way message. And this is a lesson I want to carry on over to whatever writing I do in the future.

I don’t know how I’m going to feel when this semester is over. I’m going to miss workshops and watching people work on amazing projects. As gateway students we are starting and joining many conversations, and I’m excited for all of you in seeing where they take you.

Stuck in a Muck of the Good Kind

Right now, I’m kind of at a stand still with my projects, as I’m still solidifying even my repurposing project. I embarked on this subject partly because I’m trying to figure out why it matters to me so much and why it should matter. I don’t think I have a complete answer to either yet. The two things I struggle with the most: Specificity and tone. Part of the specificity struggle comes from my personal view. In particular, I am still striving to integrate my personal experience of my topic of humanities and sciences into my project. With my repurposing I’m having a tough time making it less removed from myself. And so here I am with these ways I can express my argument, and I’m trying to figure out how it will all work together.

The chapter help me see these projects a bit clearer in several ways. Most importantly, I learned that there was a distinction between a rough cut and a rough draft. It’s nice to think of the process as more broken down than I thought I would be. I’m grateful for how the Writer/Designer book listed the necessary elements of each kind of rough cut. It gives me a good amount of guidance and helps me set up the things I need to get down this week. Also, It’s good to know that I’ll be able to think about my process and have it critiqued more often than not, even if it’s not completely done yet.

At the same time, thinking about the portfolio, a place where I’ll present the remediation, is making me consider what my focuses are. Thinking about my projects being of a cohesive whole is helpful in that it keeps me from losing sight of my argument and audience. So in a way they will all lead each other and give insights into how I want to present things generally. Being a visual person, I think that I’ll be able to get some insight from starting my portfolio a little bit. I’m kind of surprised at myself for not even starting it yet. Having already designed other blogs and websites through WordPress, I look forward to the freedom that Wix brings and what insights it can bring.

In the middle of all this, I’m growing more confident knowing that I’m improving in my writing. I came into this minor not because I was a good writer, but because I wanted to get better, and I believe that I am getting what I asked for out of this experience. True, I don’t think I’ll consider myself a great writer after this semester finishes, but I’ll be better than I was before. At the same time, I’ll have learned a lot about something that I’ve been interested in. And hopefully, this can turn into something amazing to present as well.

The Sciences + The Humanities + Comics = ???

The longer I study this debate about how we value fields of study, the more I realize how messy it is. It’s both fascinating and terrifying. The idea of taking my argument and this complex debate about it and fitting it into a series of comic panels that are easy to understand is intimidating. However, through this I hope to make the this debate and my argument more accessible to college students, so that they themselves can start thinking about it and what it means for the their futures and the future of society.

At the moment, I aim to be inspirational and have my comic invoke a sense of wonder and maybe even comfort. My main models come from a web comic I’ve been reading since starting college: Zen Pencils. The artist, Gavin Aung Than, takes quotes of famous people from all sorts of fields and creates comics that embody the quotes line by line. It’s quite beautiful.

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Gavin Aung Than: creator of Zen Pencils, fantastic graphic artist, quote junkie

While I won’t be as artistically ambitious as Gavin, I do like how he presents themes and the tone of the comics.

Here’s my favorite comic: Isaac Asimov: A lifetime of learning

Right now, I am contemplating two ways in which I can creatively compare the humanities and the sciences in my comic.

 

The sciences and humanities as the characters

This would be an interesting take in that it would give more life to the. It would reinforce my view that the fields are fluid and dynamic rather than static. My main concern about this is that while the fields themselves are a great focus, my argument targets the views and misconceptions that people have of them. This still could work though, as long as I keep the misconceptions and real representations distinct.

The sciences and humanities as the landscape

Here, the sciences and the humanities would be part of the setting. I would depict the fields as islands separated by water. I think that this would really get at the idea of these boundaries that we put up between the humanities and the sciences. My metaphor for flexibility would bridges, which would allow people to flow in and out of the islands at their leisure. I would also compare the relationships between the people before and after including the bridges in the story. The disadvantage here would be the limits of the setting. This way of structuring the comic would limit the kinds of things that characters could do and could be a little too abstract of an idea to be applied to important points, like the job market.

There will not only be organizational challenges, but also design challenges. I plan to use Adobe Illustrator, which I have only a little a long time ago. And while I will be drawing things by hand first and then finalizing on the computer, I fear that it might have more difficulty using it than I think I will. I have seen people work with it. Overall all, I think it will be worth it to challenge myself with a new medium, as well as gain a new skill. I will continue to research comic conventions and learn how to use Illustrator, and I will take advantage of the resources the university offers.

 

FullSizeRender (7)
I make stuff sometimes. But with the time I have and the relatively little drawing experience I have, my illustrations won’t be as realistic as this. (Expect more stick figure-esque.)

But for now, I will tackle some to-dos. The first order of business will probably be solidifying my re-purposing and using it to create an outline for my remediation. At the same time, I will keep researching comic conventions and start playing with Illustrator. This will be challenging, but also exciting. I think this could really turn out to be something really awesome.

What I Really Mean Is…

After talking about my paper with my blog group, I realized that I needed to do a better job addressing between the sciences and the humanities. For the most part, the definition of the sciences is pretty defined for some people, whereas the definition of the humanities is a little fuzzy. In general, we know they are different, but how? I attempted to define them at the beginning of the article, somewhat abruptly. I stated that the sciences were any field that was based on the scientific method. The humanities, on the other hand, were fields based on the study of human creations.

I discovered the importance in explaining how the different types of analysis for each. A little over a week ago, I was at my sociology lecture, where my professor talked about a period when the sociology was finally acknowledged as a field of study. He described how it arose from philosophy, a humanities field, and became a science. I was curious about how that happened. So I went up to him after lecture and asked him about it. He pointed me to a paper written by Mayer Zald, a sociologist who wrote about how sociology in several ways, should be considered a semi-scientific and semi-humanities field. In it, I found some in-depth descriptions about the kinds of analysis needed in the sciences and the humanities.

I hinted at this distinction in several parts of my article, but I believe that I should elaborate more. And in turn, this will help me in making the point that people should learn to make both types of analyses to some extent, to the extent that will be most helpful in understanding the world and improving themselves.

Well, that's one reason why we need both.
Well, that’s one reason why we need both.

One piece of feedback I was surprised to hear was that people saw my article is as a research paper. I didn’t have the citations conventions of a research paper. But it also made a lot of sense. My paper was filled with statistics and facts, which aimed to support my claim. Something I forgot about Atlantic articles is that they can be narrative.

This lead to the piece of feedback that stuck out to me the most. It was a question: Why does this matter to you so much? I had some stories written up in another document that I restrained myself from putting in. I feared that my anecdotes would be less effective compared to my facts. After all, I am one person, with one life, one perspective. Why does my situation matter? Now I understand why. Of course people would want to know why this important. As a young on a pre-professional track with a science major, a path that some would consider “practical,” why would a diverse education matter to me?

While walking home the other day, I contemplated what my stories would do to the audience. I suddenly realized that my primary audience would be other students, especially those who are afraid that their interests in a field won’t allow them to make a living. And for a brief moment, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to reach anyone else. But then I remembered the genre. Through the genre I’ll not only reach students. I’ll also reach parents, teachers, and maybe even members of education boards. But will I? Is there a better way I can reach these people, or am I on the right track?

If anyone else, I mainly want to reach the students. I want to tell them “Hey, I can relate to you. I love the sciences, but I also love the humanities. Whatever it is you’re interested in, if it makes you a better person and the kind of person you want to be, then it’s more than okay.”