Challenge Journal 4: The End?

It probably has something to do with undergrad being over and graduation being in a few days (please weather gods let it be warmer), but I’ve been in a very ~reflective~ mood as of late. I’ve been reflecting on my capstone, and on pretty much every single decision I made throughout my undergraduate career.

When it comes to capstone, finishing it was a little….anti-climatic. Even when I closed wix and vowed to not look at that site ever again because I’m so annoyed with it, I still feel like I need to go over it one more time. Make sure there are no typos, all the links work, things like that.

In a reflection I wrote for English 325, I wrote that

When it comes to my writing process as a whole, writing good rough drafts is now what’s most important to me. It allows me to focus more specifically on the choices I make throughout the essay, and I can work on developing them overtime, as opposed to just in the final draft.

Admittedly, I still rarely (if ever) write rough drafts if it’s not required. Which is dumb, because writing rough drafts improves the overall quality of my final paper sooo much. The more separation and time I can get between when I start something and when it’s due, the better. Which you would think starting capstone at the beginning of the semester and turning it in at the very end would make this like, the best thing I’ve ever written, since I’ve had so much time to revise. But with capstone, it seems like I can’t revise it enough. Maybe it’s because it’s not like a paper where once you submit it, that’s it, but for whatever reason, I just be done with my capstone. It’s done, technically, but it really doesn’t feel like it.

Challenge Journal 3: The F Word

Do I explicitly talk about feminism in my capstone? Even though Beyonce, the only person that really matters, publicly identifies as a feminist, feminism is still a relatively controversial topic that most people have strong feelings about one way or another. My capstone has to do with women’s health, so it would be difficult not to discuss feminism. But it also feels like it would be difficult to do so. Do I fully lean into it, or play it safe and try to dance around it?

Last semester, I was enrolled in Women Studies 220, which is a women’s health class, and also the class that was the original source for my capstone topic. I originally wanted to write about pinkwashing for my final paper for that class, but for reasons I still don’t agree with, I wasn’t allowed to.

Anyways, what I ended up writing about instead was treatments for opioid addiction for pregnant women. I was interested in the topic, but like many lower level classes, the prompt for the paper was almost too specific, and had very narrow requirements (i.e. literal phrases) that you HAD to include in your paper. The requirements had to do with different feminist thinking strategies that we had been discussing all semester, and we had to discuss at least three in our paper.

The three I chose to talk about were social position, patient/doctor power dynamics, and generalizations/essentializations by arguing that:

“women of lower social position face more hurdles when it comes to receiving the care that the medical community agrees they should be getting, which could result in them not being able to get clean, and can have long term impacts on both health that last far beyond pregnancy”

“in 20 U.S. states, healthcare providers must report pregnant women abusing opioids to the authorities, and those reports can be used to convict the mother of a crime. This creates an imbalance of power between pregnant women addicted to opioids and their healthcare providers”

“most research surrounding women and the opioid crisis is focused on a specific demographic of women, and is then generalized to women as a whole. White women of reproductive age are increasingly “the face” of the opioid epidemic”

While it was annoying to have to be required to use exact words and phrases, it was to be able to fully lean into the feminism of it all. Here, feminism was the heart and soul of the class, and I didn’t have to worry about anyone (namely the GSI grading my paper) having differing views and my grade suffering because of it. But now that this much larger project will be viewed by a much larger audience, I’m not so sure.

 

Challenge Journal 2: A Missed Opportunity

An essay that has always stood out to me as something I wish I had more time to work on was my second essay for English 325. The essay was a personal narrative, and it was supposed to connect to a some sort of larger social issue. I chose to write about my experiences in Sociology 225, also known as Project Community. As a part of soc 225, I went to the Washtenaw County Jail once a week to teach a creative writing class to some of the mail inmates there. My plan was to tell a personal narrative of what it was like going to the jail, and then talk about the larger issue of mass incarceration.

The paper turned out…fine. It wasn’t bad, but I just felt like there was so much more I could have done with it. My general format was to talk about one of the inmate’s stories, and then talk about the issue as a whole (for example, tell the story of an inmate who was in for a low level drug crime, and then discuss mandatory minimum sentencing in the U.S. that sprung from the War on Drugs). I wanted to use their stories to illustrate the larger problems with the criminal justice system.

What I felt like I could have expanded further on, though, was my own story. I started the essay off by saying

“I didn’t know where I wanted to go to school or what kind of law I want to do specifically, but one thing I knew for sure was that I definitely did not want to do criminal defense”,

and ended it by saying

“Eight months after deciding I want to go to law school, and telling every family member who asked that I definitely was not interested in criminal defense, criminal defense is now all I want to do”.

I briefly discussed how uncomfortable and scared I felt the first few weeks, but other than that the narrative wasn’t very personal.

Had I had more time, (say, an entire semester as a capstone project), I would have liked to make the essay more personal. I would have liked more time to talk about how the experience changed me, and what misconceptions I had going into the experience.

But to be honest, I’m not sure if more time would have helped. I have an entire semester to work on my capstone, and I’m still having the same problem- how much of myself do I insert into this? I wrote about this issue in my first Challenge Journal (almost two months ago, lol) and I’m still having the same problem.

I don’t want to cloud the more analytical parts of the essay with my own opinions/emotions/judgements, because I don’t want to come off as too attached to the topic to make a clear judgement on it. But capstone is a personal project, and I feel like it would be strange to act too robotic and pretend like I don’t have any investment in it either. Not to get tooo therapy session, but I’m starting to wonder if my aversion to wanting to add too much personal voice in my work is a larger problem of me just not being a very open person, but that’s another problem for another time.

What’s the worst that could happen?

When thinking about what’s the worst that could happen if the phenomenon of pinkwashing continues down the road it’s on, I first started thinking about the consequences we (we being a collective group that is susceptible to diseases like breast cancer/cancers in general/health problems as a whole) are already facing.

The problem seems to to be two-fold. Firstly, breast cancer charities (or more general organizations like the American Cancer Society) are losing out on donations, and secondly, the wrong kind of “awareness” is being raised. When a charity partners with a for-profit business, a very small cut of the profits from whatever is being sold with a pink ribbon on it is actually going to the organization (which leads into the fact that non-profits are receiving less money the government and personal donations which is why they take these deals in the first place, but that’s a whole other conversation). While this is troubling, what is more scary to me is what that money is going to.

Groups like the NFL often tout their breast cancer awareness projects as promoting things like early detection through mammography (it’s not just the NFL, this is the most dominant conversation when it comes to “raising awareness”). Contrary to popular belief (and this is something that still is pretty confusing to me), screening mammography is not nearly as useful as it seems. While early screening does detect breast cancers earlier, it has little to no effect on the overall mortality rate of breast cancer. In fact, it often leads to over diagnosis and treatment, which results in unnecessary medical procedures, not to mention anxiety.

Ok, so very long winded answer, the consequence that I am most concerned about is the wrong kind of awareness being raised. Pinkwashing campaigns that focus solely on early screening, likely because it is a “do-able” task for many and puts the onus on the individual, is not where money should be going. Money should be going to researching things like breast cancer genetics, and not just promoting mammography that does little to save lives. If pinkwashing continues in its current state, I worry that the conversation surrounding “awareness” will be the wrong one.

Challenge Journal 1: Finding My Voice

The biggest challenge I’m facing with my capstone is how much of my own personal voice to include. My project is heavily researched based, and it could turn into a research heavy, academic (boring) paper very quickly. The purpose of my capstone is to inform my audience about the drawbacks and shortcomings of cause marketing, mostly from a financial standpoint. As a result, there are a lot of numbers involved, plus some general background information that I feel is necessary since a lot of people don’t know much about the topic. The research is necessary for my paper, and there’s no way I could write the paper without it. But what I definitely don’t want to happen is have my capstone turn into a standard research paper that’s just straight prose divided into an intro, lit review, discussion, etc.

The obvious solution here would be to just add in personal voice to not make the paper so academic-y, but I have two concerns with this. First, I don’t want to take away from the importance of the topic. I don’t want to sound too self righteous, but I feel like my capstone is an important topic that I want to be taken seriously, and I don’t want to take away from that by making it sound too informal. Second, I don’t want it to come off as though I am trying to guilt people into liking my project. Part of why I picked this topic is because of it’s personal relevance to me from when my mom was sick, but I don’t want that to come across as though I am just looking for sympathy.

In my Why I Write Essay for the gateway, I briefly touched on my mom having cancer, but I feel like that was a bit different because that essay is inherently personal so using a lot of voice was king of the point. In that essay I spoke about how I am a pretty shy person and how I had never told many people I know IRL about my mom being sick, but writing about it was fairly easy for me. I even said in that essay that

“it is so much easier for me to convey my thoughts and personality in writing”

and that

“papers where I used more of a personal voice as opposed to academic papers were the ones I did the best on, but I also felt as though I was communicating with my teachers much better that way than I ever would be able to face to face. I’ve always said that my voice is one of my biggest strengths in my writing. When I’m not doing formal research based papers, I feel like I do a pretty good job of incorporating my personality into the paper (or at least I hope I do, because I have spent a lot of time claiming to do so)”

Oh the irony. Three semesters later, in my last writing minor class, I am struggling to find my voice. Or maybe finding my voice isn’t the problem. I have my voice, I’m just not sure if I should use it. I don’t want it to a be a cry fest, and I certainly don’t want readers to feel as though they are being guilted into agreeing with me (like “oh, her mom had cancer, I have to agree with what she’s saying”) So yeah…that’s where I’m at, trying to strike a balance between personal and impersonal, but not really having much luck negotiating that.

 

Is that my voice? I don’t know anymore

When the question of whether or not the voice in my paper is really my voice (as opposed to just a version of it) was first proposed in class I was like um yes of course it’s my voice…I wrote it…that’s what I sound like. But now that it’s been a few hours and I’ve had more time to think about it, I actually don’t know and I’m starting to have an identity crisis. It’s like when you hear a recording of yourself talking and hope to God you don’t actually sound like that.

As far as I can wrap my head around it, it is my voice…sort of. While I pride myself on incorporating voice into my writings, I guess I can’t really say that it is ever 100% my authentic voice. As far as school assignments go, no matter how laid back the assignment is or how personable I’m trying to be, I think it’s always going to be at least a somewhat “cleaned up” version of my voice. The fact that it’s an assignment, and it will be graded, and probably graded by someone I don’t know super well makes me feel as though I shouldn’t sound the same way I do talking to friends I’ve known for a long time and know pretty well. It’s definitely not fake, I’m not trying to be a completely different person, it’s just…different.

While I don’t know that this is ever going to change, I’ve never realized that what I’ve been calling my voice for such a long time is really a polished version of my voice. I now want to find different outlets/ ways of writing where I feel as though I can use my authentic voice, and not the version of my voice I’m now realizing I put on.

Enjoyable Reading

Enjoyable reading for me automatically associates with vacation reading. Motivation to pick up a book during a normal week is pretty low, but vacation makes me a completely different person. I can knock out 3 books on vacation, and I think it’s because the environment (the beach) is not only so pleasurable, but also something I rarely get to enjoy, so reading at the beach almost seems like an event.
While obviously I would love to just be on a beach at all times, that’s not super realistic in the midwest. Having said that, I want to start making reading in my every day life as much as an “event” as vacation reading, and just as stress free. Someone mentioned in class reading in the bath, so I think that’s going to be my strategy. I hardly ever take baths, and if I throw in some Lush bath bombs, hopefully it will be almost as good as the beach.

Questions for Repurposing Essay

  1. How did the Greek debt crisis affect day-to-day life for Greek citizens?
  2. How did it affect tourism?
  3. How did it affect how outsiders see Greece/Greek people?
  4. Who is to blame for the debt crisis?
  5. How has the rest of the EU reacted?
  6. How does the geographical location of Greece (being so close to the Middle East) impact the economic and political situation?
  7. Why did Greeks vote the way they did in the referendum?
  8. Will Greece have to go to back to the drachma?
  9. How has the economy of the EU been effected?
  10. Was “Grexit” a precursor to “Brexit”?

The economic and political implications of the Greek debt crisis are complicated, so I think I can best help the reader engage with my writing but trying to avoid those details, and when they have to be included, simplifying them as much as possible. I think that most people will find the topic more interesting if the paper isn’t just a list of facts and figures. Focusing on the “human” side of the debt crisis will make the topic more personable and relatable, hopefully allowing the reader to engage more.

Having said that, I can also play on the knowledge that most people already have of Greece. While it’s a little stereotypical, most people associate Greece with yogurt, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and those paintings of white buildings with blue roofs overlooking the ocean. While I obviously don’t the paper to be one big stereotype, incorporating things people already have knowledge will be important for reader engagement.

Digital News Sources

As someone who hasn’t touched a physical newspaper in…a long time…I pretty much live and die by digital news sources. That, combined with how much time I spend scrolling through social media and seeing the links that everyone shares, I feel as though I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp on what I enjoy and what I cannot stand.
Something that I feel is a bit beneath me would have to be Buzzfeed. Love it for the quizzes about what Disney princess I am and articles about Harry Styles’ haircuts, can’t really take it for its journalism. While there is a BuzzfeedNews section, dedicated to more pressing matters than what my sign says about my taste in men, I find the way in which Buzzfeed covers news to be in the same clickbait style as the rest of the website. All of the articles seem to contain pretty broad summaries of the topic, and whatever the most gif worthy moments are. I feel as though I never really get the full story- more of a very general overview.

At the other end of the spectrum would have to be The Wall Street Journal. The issue I have isn’t so much that it’s mostly business related journalism, as this is something that I am interested in, but more so the way in which it is written. I feel like the business articles as well as the other topics aren’t written in a way that is accessible to the general public. Reading from the WSJ often makes me feel as though I am lacking some prior knowledge, or at least vocabulary, that is needed to fully comprehend the articles.

Having said all of that, I absolutely love NPR (don’t tell my parents, because I complained about having to listen to it A LOT when I was younger). All Things Considered and Fresh Air are, in my opinion, the two best programs that they do. Both shows feature a combination of current events/breaking news, as well as unusual stories that you would think would only appeal to niche audiences, but are so intriguing. The way they present the news almost feels like storytelling, and it is at a level that isn’t dumbed down, but is still enjoyable. Listening to NPR is my favorite way to get my news, as well as pass an hour at the gym on the elliptical. Also Serial. Like every other person in the world, I am obsessed with Serial. The weeks between Serial episodes are the longest of my life.

Acquiring Voice

When reading my own writing, it always sounds like me, but it also sounds like someone completely different. It sounds like how I think, but not how I talk. As someone who is pretty shy, I usually keeping the talking to a minimum, unless I’m around people I know pretty well, or in a super fun mandatory participation classes. The voice that comes out in my writing is what I think I would sound like if I wasn’t as introverted as they come. In a sense, I use written language to “make up” for the ways I don’t use spoken language, as written language is something I am extremely more comfortable with.

The content I am most drawn to write about are things that are going on in my own life.  It is so much easier for my voice to come out when I’m writing about things that are pertinent to me, rather than a topic I’ve been assigned and can’t really identify with. I know the best writing I do is the writing that has the most of my own voice in it, and this is best when I’m speaking from personal experience (which I’m sure is probably the case for almost everyone and doesn’t make me special, but whatever).

I think the parts of my personality that come out the most, or what I try and include most often, would be humor and sarcasm, and just the general idea of trying not take myself to seriously. In writing but also in general it’s much easier for me to be funny and even a little self deprecating then it is to be confident and boastful.

I didn’t really realize it until sitting down and thinking about it just now, but I do have a few things I always try and include, and ways I always structure my papers. Most essays I write always follow the same order- opening paragraph, body paragraphs with arguments and evidence, transition, closing paragraph. It makes more sense for me as both a writer and reader to always have it follow that order. In 225, we had a paper where the professor encouraged us have the introductory paragraph be the second paragraph, and another where we didn’t introduce our argument until the end of the paper- both times I could not get my head around it and my papers felt wrong when I was reading them. I also try and throw in personal anecdotes and examples whenever possible, because as a reader, that’s something I love to see.

I wish I had a clear or defining moment as to when I acquired my voice or figured out what it should be, but I really don’t. I only started writing outside of school assignments pretty recently. Up until then, I guess it had just been a process of trial and error- turning in papers, getting feedback, seeing what worked and what didn’t. While it has been helpful and I do feel as though I’m continually getting better at identifying my voice, I’m hoping that the more I move away from solely academic writing, the more I can identify it.