Challenge Journal 4: Title-less

I find coming up with a title one of the most challenging parts of writing. Whether it be a literary analysis, a research paper, or even an post on Instagram, my creativity seems to disappear. There was one time a friend came to me to help come up with a title for an app, and for the life of me, I could not come up with anything. I’m always so impressed with those who are able to come up with catchy titles and captions, as it is most definitely not my forte.

I seem to be in the same predicament with coming up with a title for my exhibition for my capstone. When museum exhibitions focus on a single artist, it is pretty straightforward, using his or her name as the title. In my case, I am looking at a variety of painters from a wide range of time. My focus is the agency of women in portraiture… basically comparing how male artists illustrated women and what sort of say those women had in their image, in comparison to how female artists portrayed their subjects and themselves. I like the idea of having a catchy couple word title with a colon and then a brief explanation, “____: ______________” but coming up with the words to fill in the blanks has proven difficult.

Although it is a small piece of the project, a catchy title is so important to get someone to look deeper into the project. As much as we are taught to not judge a book by its cover, by scrolling through so many projects, the title and aesthetics of a Capstone project are critical to capturing a reader’s attention. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out soon!

Challenge Journal 3: Indecisiveness in Tone

One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in the process of developing my capstone project is how I want to talk… well, write… about it. It is not a question of genre, as I am very committed to writing labels like museums and having an intro text to the museum like a professional intro text to an exhibition. My difficulty comes when I think about writing the introduction to my project, my “about” section, and my more extended pieces of writing.

Writing in the museum field is fairly standardized, with introduction texts between 200 and 300 words, and object labels approximately 150 words. Although I am following that standard for those pieces in both length and tone, I depart from traditional pieces in my one to two longer pieces. In attempt to maintain cohesion, should I maintain the relatively formal tone, regardless of whether or not they will physically be in the exhibit? I am leaning toward yes… but I fear that people may not want to read a block of text even if I am capping the length at about 500 words. I would like to think that the topic would be engaging enough, even though the tone may not be conversational.

With regard to the introduction to the project… would it be more engaging to have it be more explanatory, relating to the capstone and explaining the purpose of the project that way, or attempt to maintain the sense that it is a “real gallery” until one reaches the about section?

This seems to be the first time that I’ve really encountered writing a significant number of pieces that culminate together into a single project. For the gateway, although each of the three pieces were related and built off of each other, they each stood alone. There was not a need to have a unifying tone throughout. I think that this being the first time having to do this may contribute to my indecisiveness when it comes to finalizing words on paper.

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I’m my own biggest obstacle

A challenge I’ve continuously faced in my writing career is the fear of starting. You will never see me arriving late anywhere, yet this concept of being early seems to fall short in the academic realm of submitting assignments. I am a notorious procrastinator. I marvel at people’s ability to start drafts weeks in advance. I’m jealous of people who aren’t awake at 3am the day a paper is due while I’m half-consciously adding finishing touches.

For example, last semester I was in an English class that informed in the syllabus us we could write an extra credit essay that would be due a couple of weeks before the final. Over the course of the semester, I knew I needed to do it, but there was always something that seemed more pressing. And there I was at 11pm the night before it was due, finishing Dante’s Inferno. I proceeded to write a three and a half page paper, not going to sleep until 3:30am. (Fun fact, I left my keys at the apartment and had to call my cousin to come let me into the building because my roommate was asleep.)

                                                                (How I felt finishing the paper)

I know that for this class I will have far too much to do to leave it to the last minute. I’ve spent more than a week trying to determine the pieces I want to include, formatting them into PowerPoint, excel, and word documents. I’ve gone over the preliminary things multiple times but find myself struggling to get into the real meat of the project. I’m not exactly what I’m afraid of… Messing up? Not being interesting? Not being able to execute what I set out to do? Maybe jumping right in to research will help getting over this fear? (I feel that fear is not the right word.) I just need to figure out how to get out of my own way.

Challenge Journal 1: Do I have a ritual?

I have always been a creature of habit and routine, preferring explicit structure to freedom. Yet I do not consider myself ritualistic, a term deemed more spiritual than utilitarian. To be honest, having a ritual hasn’t been something I’ve desired or even thought about in the past. I do the things I do in the manner in which I do them because it’s what works, not for any deeper or more meaningful purpose. I often consider my actions as a concrete means to an end. I very much value the process; I just don’t put significant thought into why I personally perform each step.

When looking at writing, I never really considered having a ritual. Sure, I have tendencies like handwriting the first draft or writing a page in cursive if I find myself getting bored, but those are habits. I lack a deliberate reason as to why I do these things, while also not consistently following a set of steps to begin my writing process.

During class, Emily mentioned that she needed to change locations to be able to write. I immediately agreed, having not done any homework in my dorm, house, or apartment since starting at Michigan. I am always studying in the basement of the Ugli, or really anywhere other than my home… that is unless I have a paper to write.

It was at this point that it dawned on me that I might in fact actually perform a ritual. I love writing in silence or with white noise. I will venture to North campus and spend hours writing in GG Brown or the basement of the Dude in attempt to avoid noise pollution of people’s voices, while still being surrounded by human presence. I find I am able to best construct my thoughts in this muted environment and struggle to compose sentences with chatter around me.

For example, throughout the process of writing my term paper for my class on art and philosophy in renaissance Italy, I would unproductively stare at a blank page or screen when in the Ugli. Refusing to completely waste the evening, regardless of the time, I would drive to North campus and dedicate too many hours to figuring out what I wanted to say. Did the amount of time I spent up there always lead to great quantities of writing? I wish, but no. With that being said, I found myself able to put pen to paper more effectively, having a clearer mind in the silence and having less doubt when figuring out wording.

On the other hand, I sit writing the blog in the Winter Garden in Ross. I figured that this is a short post and it would be unnecessary to make the journey. I find myself constantly writing and erasing and rewriting, while wondering if I were in the Dude, would I already be done. Through this class, I hope to gain a greater appreciation for the word, “ritual.” I want to embrace my trek to North campus as a ritual, as well as hold myself more accountable to a timeline for writing. Each time I set out to write, I want to have a clear idea of what I want to get out of the session. Will I always achieve the goal? Not necessarily. But being more conscious of my time and actions will (hopefully) make the time I spend writing more productive and foster improvement in my writing style.

Restaurants are all the same and people are lazy.

Similar to AnnMarie, my initial instinct when looking at boilerplates was “About Us”.  Specifically, I was drawn to investigate the descriptions of family restaurants.  Each one claims to have its signature dish, “the best [insert food] in [insert town], [insert state].  Each restaurant tells a similar story of grandparents establishing a cute little joint, or how it’s a “great time”.  Beyond local restaurants, chains like The Rusty Bucket, for example, create a local, personal atmosphere, attempting to be unique, yet falling in to the same descriptions as every other restaurant on the street.  Based solely on the About Us sections of these restaurants’ websites, without names, they really are (cue cliche) all one in the same .

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The more I’ve thought about it, the more I have realized how often we inadvertently use cliches.  Especially when dealing with advice, cliches tend to creep into writing or speech.  For example, to “take it with a grain of salt” is used way too often.  Be skeptical.  Doubt the person.  Consider the advice, but don’t necessarily listen to it.  The intent of the cliche is relevant.  But we get bound into only expressing it one way.  People get lazy and resort to the cliche without a second thought.

What you mean, not what you say

Our discussion about words that both conceal and reveal meaning I felt really was applicable to the language our generation uses. Basic, nice, cute, bro, each one holding significance when spoken to one another, yet interpreted to mean something completely different when said to an adult or parent.

 

When it comes to words that serve a similar purpose when it comes to writing or writing about writing, I find myself coming up with phrases that sometimes just beat around the bush or do actually say something, but end up being difficult to describe.

 

“I liked it”: This tends to come up when I don’t really have much to say about a piece, at least from the positive end. It is generally followed by a “but” or a trail off due to the inability to come up with some form of substantial praise or critique. Along similar lines, there are “good idea”, “interesting”, and “It has potential”. Each vague statement creates a sugar coating that will be canceled out by the next criticism.

 

“strong voice”: This seems to be used quite a bit, yet what isn’t a strong voice? If a piece has a monotone feel, then that is the strong voice. Maybe a unique or identifiable voice, followed by an explanation of what the reader feels might say more about the writing.

 

Remembering Why I Write

I remember sitting at the big desk in my grandparents’ office every Wednesday with a pad of paper and a mechanical pencil that I thought was ridiculously old (though I found out just a short while ago that they were just meant to look old, but were in fact brand new).  While my grandpa was at work and my grandma was baking cookies, I would spend hours writing down whatever thoughts crossed my mind.  Page after page, I scribbled down stories and poems about everything from the kids at my daycare, to roses and love… well whatever understanding of love I had at the ripe age of three.  I had no inhibition regarding what words transcended from my mind, through my hand, onto the paper.  What’s more is that I shared everything I wrote without fear of judgement from my family, friends, or teachers.  And I always received a positive response.  Adults seemed impressed with what I wrote, so I continued to do it.

When I was young, I thought I could do absolutely everything.  Not only that, I thought I did everything well.  I am now very aware that this is untrue, especially with regards to singing.  But anyway, it was this complete confidence budding at such a young age that so strongly influenced my desire to write.  As a result of this confidence, writing became a skill that I strived to perfect, both for my personal sake and to continue to impress others.

This absolute freedom and  assertiveness continued through middle school when I still had the time to write for fun.  Whether it was in one of the five diaries I attempted to keep over the years, or returning to stories that I began when I was in elementary school, I wrote for two primary reasons.  As cliche as it seems, I genuinely enjoy translating ideas (whimsical or technical) onto paper.  Secondly, I loved, and still love, writing for others.  I get excited when I can transform thoughts into an accessible form for more than just myself.

I hope that my reader can feel the passion I have for both language and concept.  That when I discover a topic that inspires me, I could repeatedly return to the piece without exhaustion.  At the same time, I hope they understand that this enchantment with writing is not a permanently active thing.  Sometimes I can go dormant, or more accurately develop writer’s block.  Just like anybody else, there are things I don’t care to write about and feel uninspired.  It seems that there is an expectation of constant positivity toward writing, yet I strive to emphasize that this is an impossible standard to hold.  Just as one can’t expect a professional athlete to perform perfectly in every game or match, one can’t expect a writer to be able to produce an award winning piece each time he or she picks up a pen.  In truth, I hope my readers gain a sense of humanity from my writing, not a robotic or unemotional being who happens to somewhat effectively string words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into completed pieces.

Potential Remediation Ideas

I will openly admit that so far, the repurposing assignment has been an incredible challenge. Figuring out how I wanted to say, what I wanted to say, though exceptionally frustrating, has led me to think about how I potentially could remediate the piece.

 

  1. Because my piece addresses feminism and symbols in society, I think it could be cool to make a video interview girls and look at who they look up to. I address Serena Williams, Hillary Clinton, and Beyoncé in my repurposing, and believe it would bring another aspect to talk to people about their opinions of both these people, as well as others. Additionally, I could gain their opinions about feminism and symbols in society, progress that has been made, and what still needs to be done.
  2. I could do a photo blog where I interview different people and find out their opinions of the role of role models and symbols in society. I would photograph people of different backgrounds and take excerpts from interviews, creating a visibly appealing compilation.
  3. Another option would be to do a TedTalk-esque piece, reflecting on feminism and symbols in society. It would be more of an expansion of my repurposed piece. This could be effective in giving a more personal opinion, especially being a female athlete who is interested in politics.

 

Exploration Driven by Arguments

People are creatures of habit. Before this experiment of not clearing my history, I had a pretty good idea of what the results would be. I would visit the same handful of websites with a couple random ones thrown in. This definitely proved to be the case. CTools and Canvas were almost always open… sans the time that Canvas refused to work. It became evident that my go-to procrastination site was Sporcle. Just like some people get lost in the endless abyss of Facebook or YouTube or Netflix, it is way too easy to get caught up in saying “Oh just one more quiz”. I always have a tab open for Google+ to stay up to date on the continuously active and growing group message that my friends have.

The rest of my history is surprisingly varied. Well, “surprisingly” may be a bit of a stretch. I spent quite a bit of time looking at runway shows on Vogue and Italian Vogue, doing research for one of my other classes. I also looked up chain making techniques for my metalsmithing. To add to the randomness, the Puppy Bowl spurred me to look at PetFinder. Just a warning, that’s never a good idea because you’ll end up just wanting all of them. Finally, there were numerous searches for random people and stores prompted by random debates and arguments, the Super Bowl, or searching for some new shoes.

For the most part, my Internet use revolves around the same few websites. Research and debate result in periodic exploration, but in general I am pretty unadventurous. Maybe next time I am trying to delay writing a paper or my reading, I’ll try and branch out, taking a small step in discovering what lies hidden in the ever-expanding world of the internet.

Born to be funny? I don’t think so.

If I told you I liked formal, literary, academic writing you would probably call me a liar right? Well… in part this is true. Sometimes, writing papers suck. But sometimes, when the assignment, topic, and research all fall place properly, the results can be magical. Finishing a final draft of a multi-page literary analysis in which the diction is effortless and each sentence flows easily into the next is one of the best feelings.

 

Now let’s get real for a minute and address the fact that these mythical unicorn-like papers only occur about once in a blue. More often than not, writing such papers are about as pleasant as pulling teeth, or commonly described as “hell”. This tends to be the majority of writing that is done in high school and college, though I have dappled in poetry and journalism.

 

Although the modes in which I have written vary, the genres tend to remain fairly traditional. With this being said, I would love to be able to be able to be a comedic writer, breaking the mold of serious and customary writing.

 

I envy those who write for the Every Three Weekly or The Onion. Witty responses? I can give you plenty of those. Tell a funny story to my friends? Easy. Come up with my own funny or satirical material? Ha, jokes on… well, me? Premeditated comedy, sadly, has never been my forte. Now, don’t get me wrong, this by no means I don’t want to be able to write in this style, it just hasn’t seem to come as naturally. Some people just aren’t born to be funny.

 

I guess we’ll see though… Maybe the next article you read about matching with your GSI on Tinder, will be written by, yours truly.