From Research to Finished Product #Mixer

BuzzFeed

What are you doing?

I’m asking three basic questions in my capstone project: Why do people give up comfort, safety, and security to travel for extended periods of time; What do those adventurers know for their experiences that I don’t (yet); and How can I make my goal of extended, solo travel into a reality?

Why are you doing that?

When I say to myself, “Self, you should really get your shit together…what do you want to do after graduation?”  I always come back to the idea of adventure.  My worst fear isn’t being jobless…it’s having a 9-5 that steals my soul, cripples me into a permanently seated posture, and makes me forget all the things I said I was going to do with my life until the day I wake up middle aged and realize I missed the point.  Answer: adventure.  You’ve got to admit, just the sound of that word is pretty sexy.   Hence, I’m researching people who have done it, polling people who may or may not want to do it, and figuring out what I need to do to prepare myself for it.

What’s that going to look like?

Good question.  This is where I keep coming up short.  Originally, I had envisioned a lot of buzzfeed-esque list articles along with original photography (both mine and from my survey respondents).  Then I started to write one and realized that my inner academic positively bucked at the idea of squashing weeks of reading, interviewing, and internet scouring into bullet points.  Then I thought, “Well maybe I can add an elaborative paragraph after each point in the list…” but soon the list got totally lost amid the surrounding text.  Then my professor suggested, “Maybe you can make each article a number on the list…sort of ’10 reasons I can do this’.”  That idea struck a cord–maybe I could make my entire portfolio a list, with each artifact/article/post/whatever as a number, a reason, and then it’s own academic elaboration.  Would that work?  Would you read it?  Would that fulfill a goal to be both entertaining and academic at the same time?  Thanks in advance for your input!

I feel affirmed in my hatred of WordPress…(Sorry, WordPress)

Embedding video.  24 hours ago I got a little tight in the chest thinking about all the steps that there probably would be, and the hassle…until I actually tried it and realized how easy it was….on Wix.  I now feel very affirmed in my hatred of Word Press as a platform for my portfolio.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to embed a video here.  Oh well.

Check out the video I embedded and the post I wrote to go with it on my capstone portfolio-in-progress!   

 

 

Choose Love Over A Desk

What excites you most about writing at this point in your life and why?

I laughed when I read this question, and then I thought, “Easy.”  Even as a minor in writing, I haven’t felt like there were a lot of opportunities to write about what made me passionate, what makes my skin crawl with excitement, what have nagging at me in the back of my mind.  And then this project happened, and sweetland is actually letting me get away with planning the next year of my life for credit?? It’s insane and wonderful and I love it.

COMFORT-ZONE

What excites me about writing at this point in my life is that I finally feel I have come into my own voice, and I don’t feel that I need to ask permission to say what I mean or wonder “Will my professor be made if I drop an f-bomb in my post…?”  What excites me is that I have found what I want to talk about–adventuring–and talking to this community has pushed me into doing.  Talking and writing about what I want out of life has helped me realize that the things I want aren’t vague impossibilities–they’re possible, and I AM going to make them happen.  I’m excited because for the first time in my life I realize just how many stories I have to tell, the stories I’m about to live during the next year, and the wealth of material I’ll have when I cross the finish line back into Michigan in fall of 2015.  I’m desperately in love with life, and I’m so deliciously at the beginning.

Every time I meet underclassmen and they discover that I’m a senior, I get asked if I’m sad.  Sad to be leaving, sad to be moving into the real world, sad that college is over.  But I’m not–not in the slightest.  What excites me about writing at this moment in my life is that it gives me a medium to explain why I’m not sad to be moving on.  The kids who ask me if I’m sad to enter the “real” world define “real” as boring: the 9-5 desk job where you slave away your youth under awful florescent lights.  That’s not what I call the real world.  And right now Macklemore is in my head shouting “A generation of kids choosing love over a desk.” Writing for this project is helping me explain what I do think the real world is: everything just outside your comfort zone.  And I’m about to plunge into it head first.  What could possibly be more exciting than that?

It’s All About Perspective

perspective This project, I find, is really pushing me to broaden my perspective before I start the writing process.  To give you an idea of what I mean, check out my draft Adventure Survey for this project.  My goal is to figure out what other people think because I can’t help but believe that this project will be a massive failure if it is written from only my perspective with what think and what believe.  Snoozeville, who wants to read that?  Especially when my favorite websites (Buzzfeed, anybody?) go far out of their way to connect with their audience.  What’s a blog/website/essay/piece of writing without an interested audience?  Nada, that’s what.

In terms of how this is going to affect my Writer’s Evolution essay…I think that I’m coming to grips with the fact that I never used to consider alternative perspectives when I was writing.  Particularly in high school when nobody had ever challenged me to ask “Well how would somebody else see it?”  It was my essay so only my opinion mattered…or so I then misguidedly thought.

So help me out!  Take a look at my DRAFT Adventure Survey, and let me know if you think I’m doing a good job of asking for other people’s answers and opinions.  I need all the input I can get before I take this live on Friday!  Thanks!!

The Time to be Awesome is Now

During small group discussions about what we’d like to spend the next few months researching and writing about, I got an excellent suggestion to check out this guy who calls himself Nomadic Matt (thanks, Karly!).  He is, in short, a man who rejected the regurgitated line that your life must follow a contrived schematic moving from one point to the next according to a predetermined timeline.  He bucked the idea that you have to live your life a particular way and point blank refused to be ripped from that notion by unsupportive friends or family.  The result is that he’s spent the majority of his time traveling ever since 2006.  I don’t know about you, but that makes me positively tingle with envy.

Nomadic Matt
Nomadic Matt

His website deals with a lot of things and he is perpetually adding to it.  There’s a base of curated articles for how to start planning your travel, how to work around what you now believe are insurmountable obstacles, how to roll with punches once you’re actually out in the world, and how to dispel the pervasive believe that it’s irresponsible or dangerous to spend your life on the move.  The general tone of his articles is one of recognition (i.e. of the difficulties inherent in extended or frequent traveling) and one of supportive retaliation (basically everything he has to say is themed around why and how you can take down each of those difficulties).

As I plan my project–an exploration of why adventure is so important to so many people, what they know for adventuring that I don’t yet, and how to actually DO IT myself in the year following graduation–Nomadic Matt’s writing is a comfort.  I know that quite a few somebody-elses have faced the same challenges that I am rapidly starting to encounter (for instance a family who has lovingly told me I am insane).  It also made me realize that this project cannot just be for me, nor can it end when this I submit my portfolio for Sweetland to decide my fate.  Rather, if I am not alone in facing these challenges–if I am not alone in craving an unconventional life style–then my writing has to be framed with a similar recognition, retaliation, and continuation.  It has to be helpful for others, not just me, or my project will not have succeeded.    Because life is a team sport, really, and you can’t get allies without being one first.

On the Road

“because there was nowhere to go but everywhere”

– Jack Kerouac, On the Road

road w cam

There is something so deliciously appealing about an empty stretch of road and heading down that path.  Whether there is an end destination or not, the road is intoxicating.  And also full of bumps.

living out of the van

On the road you have to compromise a bit on your standard of living and work with what you’ve got.  Sometimes all you have is a hodgepodge of camping equipment, blankets, and some squished peanut butter Clif Bars.  You really have to channel your inner MacGyver–for instance by making a sun shade out of nothing but a tarp, some duct tape, and a few strategically placed 2x4s.

shady characters

You meet some shady characters along the way.  It can be hard to tell if they’re rough mannered but generally well meaning or if they’re really scumbags who’ll steal your squished Clif Bars and leave your camp smelling like cigarettes.  Sometimes they’re a bit of both and for some unknown reason you end up loving them anyways.

working so hard for a cup of coffee

And suddenly creature comforts like that morning cup of coffee become luxuries that you have to bust your ass to get.  Minor burns and assorted injuries come with the territory.

So why in God’s name try to live on the road?  What’s so great that could make up for living between the back of your car and a tent, eating a steady diet of cold non-perishables, and mingling with might-be-crazy strangers?  What happens to you while you do?  What happens if you never left and stayed home instead?

For this capstone project–the culmination of four years of higher learning and a lifetime of asking, “Why?”–I’ve decided to tackle those questions that have been eating at me for years.  Why adventure for months or years at a time?  Where do adventurers go, what do they eat, what do they listen to, how do they get by, and what do they know now for having adventured that I don’t?  I’m going to use this project as an opportunity to explore those questions and move towards what I expect will be numerous different answers.  Call me Ishmael, and call adventure my whale.  I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn along the way.

Buzzfeed and Roadtrips

I won’t lie to you, I love Buzzfeed.  Read “love” as “spend too much time on” or “may likely be addicted to” Buzzfeed.  In fact, if you really want me to read something, the best way to catch my attention is which a numerical list filled with pretty pictures, funny gifs, and a minimum on the text.  Next to Pinterest, it’s my favorite Internet guilty pleasure.  So while most of my pre-proposal research was spent looking up the adventure themed books that friends and colleagues had recommended, my next stop was (you guessed it) Buzzfeed.  It may not be the most academic of sources, but damn they have their multimedia down.

Before I delve into the specifics, let me give you a quick recap as to what exactly I’m researching.  I’ve always had a desire in the back of my mind to someday with somebody take a road trip to someplace and not come back for a long, long time.  Until talking to a professional mentor who had done pretty much exactly that (a solo, ten month, post undergrad tour of the US), it never occurred to me that, “Hey, I can do that after I graduate, why not?!”  And why not indeed?  I know for certain that I am not alone in having dreams of adventure but no specified date to take off.  Something always gets in the way–money, time, not having the right travel companions, or a perception that now isn’t the right time.  So what made me curious was what were the incendiary moments that pushed people past their objections and made travel not only a desire but an undeniable need.  I turned to books for the lengthy, in depth answers; I turned to Buzzfeed for the sometimes humorous and in general collaborative answers.

 (Trust that here I tried fruitlessly to embed a video for your listening pleasure.)

1. You can experience a genre in a whole new way.

Buzzfeed
Photo from Buzzfeed

2. Apparently, on solo road trips you can take whatever route you fancy, embrace fast food induced flatulence, and serenade your steering wheel without apology to anyone.

Buzzfeed
Photo from Buzzfeed

3. And you can do what I’m trying to do: explore some really great road trip related readings to put your finger on “Why do it, anyways?”

Learning to Say F*ck It

In August of 2012, I entered into a period of my life which I fondly refer to as The Age of Learning to Say F*ck It.  One month prior, I had gotten braces.  That’s right—I under duress voluntary became a brace-face at age 20.  Despite the fact that I needed them and the orthodontist—a good friend of mother—gave me a very kind deal, it was the first time in my life I had ever felt truly mortified to speak or smile in public.

Me in clear brackets & my mom as a much more cooperative model
Me in clear brackets & my mom as a much more cooperative model

I was standing in the kitchen waiting for a friend to pick me up for a Childish Gambino concert in Detroit.  My mom was sympathizing with my self-consciousness about the painful protrusions glued to my teeth.  The last thing I wanted was my photo taken, but my dad told me to kindly suck it up.  Hours later, after the concert openers and the excruciating gap waiting for the main act to start, I was dancing within arm’s reach of the stage.  While the lights pulsed and the heat rose, I kept catching myself every time I started to smile, hissing inside my head, “Don’t do that, stupid; I don’t want people to notice I’m a college aged brace-face.”  And then I got pissed.  While Gambino started into “Sunrise” I berated myself for caring what anybody else thought.  This was my experience.  I was so close to the front I could reach out and touch Childish Gambino, and I was letting some ridiculous fear of what strangers thought ruin it?  That was stupid.  The lights pulsed, the bass rocked through my chest, I put my hands up, swiveled my hips, and let my lips pull back into an enormous smile.  “F*ck it,” I thought.

Me being happy
Me being happy

Now it’s January of 2014 and my face is once again braceless.  I’m sitting in the makeshift vanity I made in my closet, listening to Pretty Lights and taking pictures to remember what I and this space look like right now.  I set my camera to snap pictures in succession, and at first I just sat there and smiled.  The photos looked like me, but they told you nothing of substance.  Then “I Can See it in Your Face” stared to play, and I thought, “Ah, f*ck it,” and danced around in my seat while the camera clicked.  I figured I would look a little silly, but the result was a snapshot of myself as I honestly felt: decently unconcerned with anything besides loving that song.  The Age of Learning to Say F*ck It produced in me a new kind of honesty where I can finally say, “I am what I am, you like it or you don’t.”  And that has been such a liberating experience that I hope everybody goes through, in their own way.  Entering the Capstone course, I hope very much that I can successfully carry that honesty over to make a new portfolio that abides by no one else’s expectations and that is purely, unapologetically me.

Malala Yousafzai: a Humbling Reminder for Anyone Thinking They’re Fearless

I have always been told that I am older than my years or that I seem to have the important stuff all figured out.  At nineteen I realized that each day carried me a little closer to the end.  I came to terms with the idea that if I wanted to do the things I dreamed about then I had to let go of my debilitating self-loathing and handle my anxiety disorder.  Eventually, I did.  I learned how to love myself, and I felt like I had gotten a grip on what was really important.  So what I love are the truly humbling moments: when I find a person younger than me, braver than me, and who’s fought harder than I ever have.  Those moments are the great ones when I am reminded that all I have down are the basics.  There’s still a lot of ground left to cover, and I can’t ever stop striving.

Quote by Malala Yousafzai

I had one of those moments today when I watched a clip of The Daily Show where Jon Stewart interviewed Malala Yousafzai, author of I am Malala.  This girl, at the age of eleven—that’s right at only eleven-years-old—started speaking out for what she believed in: education.  When the Taliban took over Malala’s home, the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan, they at times banned girls from attending school.  Malala wrote under a pseudonym for the BBC around the age of eleven to speak against the theft of an education which she believes is not only each child’s right but is also the means to resolving violence with peace.  But Malala didn’t stop with blogging.  She kept speaking, and she continued raising her voice on every platform she could reach.  In fact Malala so vehemently pursued what she believed in that the Taliban made threats on her and her father’s lives.  But even that wasn’t enough to intimidate her, and I have to say that is damned inspiring.

At age fourteen, Malala had so infuriated the Taliban with her demand of education for all children that an agent of the Taliban shot her at point blank rage while she was coming home from school on a bus.  We’ll never know it was divine intervention, sheer dumb luck, or her own fierce will to keep going, but Malala survived and eventually recovered.  Today, at age sixteen, Malala has published her autobiography, I am Malala, and she has become the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  In terms of humbling moments, that’s a pretty big one.  In terms of reminders, it’s pretty crystal clear: speak up for what you believe in, use your education to benefit others, protest violence with peace, and don’t ever let anyone intimidate you into backing down or shutting up.  If an eleven-year-old can speak up, if a fourteen-year-old can survive an assassination, and if a sixteen-year-old can still fearlessly crusade for her beliefs after all of that, then there really is no reason you and I can’t be just as courageous.

The fun thing about language…

One of the really cool aspects of writing is the fact that you, as a writer, manipulate language.  Well yes, obviously, Sherlock.  What’s so fascinating about the basic definition of writing?  I’m glad you asked.  The cool part comes in when you take a closer look at what language really is and what it does.  When you think about it, languages are made up of thousands of building blocks, aka words.  And what are words?  They’re signs: funny looking characters that stand in to represent the ideas, feelings, and complex processes going on inside the language user’s head.

And this is cool why…?  Ever said something to a friend, sent an email to your group project member, wrote a sticky note for your roommate, and had the message you intended get completely misunderstood?  Yes…there were passive aggressive post-it fights for weeks.  I thought so.  It could either mean you’re a bad communicator, OR it could mean that your friend, group member, roommate, etc. took a different meaning than you intended from the words you chose to convey the idea you had in your head.  The cool (and awful) part of language is that it’s fatally flawed: the signs are not perfect, and the meaning that you ascribe to a sign can have a different meaning or connotation to someone else.  Essentially, we’re using words as representations for what we mean, and representations aren’t always accurate.  As if that weren’t enough, sometimes signs don’t even exist for what we’re trying to express so we make due with less precise ones, thereby widening the gap for misinterpretation.  The flaw is that there is no foolproof way to convey the original idea in your head because 1. no sign can perfectly encapsulate what you mean, and 2. there is no way to get that meaning perfectly into someone else’s head because you have to work with a fundamentally flawed representation of your idea to try to convey it.

That all sounds awful.  Why on earth are you claiming that this is in any way good?  Ah, maybe not good, but it does certainly provide the means for having some fun.  Ever notice how some of the best writers don’t try to fight the multiple connotations you can take from an utterance, but instead exploit it?  Think about good old Bill Shakespeare: he intentionally played with language so that readers could take it in a few different ways—he had fun with it.  So the next time you’re stressing over what word will perfectly encapsulate the meaning you’re trying to express, don’t!  By virtue of the nature of language, there will always be some room for misinterpretation, so instead have some fun with it.  Take a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book and screw with your readers a little, cause lets face it, that’s more fun than being upset later at how readers still managed to twist your intent out of how you meant it in the first place.