The Jean Goldman Cookbook Project

There’s something strange about finishing a big project in the middle of a pandemic. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) The Capstone that I’m turning is a bit different than the project I envisioned back in January, and it’s hard to tell if the changes I made would have happened anyway, or if they’re a result of the strange times we found ourselves in come March.

Either way, I’m proud of the project I’ve created. It’s a cookbook that compiles my late grandma’s best dessert recipes, with some stories and reflections and memories mixed in.

This class and this project challenged me in ways I didn’t expect, but I think I’m a better writer (and maybe even a better person) for it. I needed to explore this idea, and I’m grateful the Minor in Writing gave me the opportunity to do that.

If you find yourself looking through my project, I hope you’ll consider baking some of the recipes in there. If you do, let me know how they turn out!

Trying to avoid pressing “publish” on this because when I do, I’ll have turned in my last assignment of undergrad…

Thanks for everything, Minor in Writing, and thanks for everything, UMich. Happy baking!

Best,

Maya

https://goldmanmaya49.wixsite.com/cookbookproject

So you’ve decided to take a Capstone course…

As I write this in April 2020, things are, in a word, weird. When I began the Capstone course in my final semester of college, I never expected a global pandemic to disrupt the term. Who would have?!

Still, though my Capstone has been a bit unconventional, I feel lucky to have had this experience. It’s been exciting, it’s been fun, it’s been a little bit painful. But most of all, it’s been an opportunity for growth, as a writer and as a person, and I hope it is that for you, too.

That said, if you’re here, you’re probably looking for some words of wisdom to get through those painful parts, so here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Don’t be afraid to speak up in class! 
    • Moving to online somehow seemed to make our class discussions more robust. Maybe it was just that we were farther along in the semester and felt more comfortable with each other, or maybe it was because people felt less inhibited behind a screen. Whatever it was, class felt much more useful and productive once people began to share and speak a little more freely. 
  2. Pick a project you’re passionate about 
    • I was able to come up with an idea I loved right at the beginning of the semester and sustain my passion for it up until the end — and I still had a hard time motivating myself to work on it at times. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to slog through an entire semester of a project you aren’t thrilled about. 
  3. Set achievable limits and work goals, so you can chip away at a little bit each day
    • Okay, this is probably something every Capstone alum will tell you, and no one ever seems to heed the advice (at least, I definitely didn’t). But setting up a good work schedule — and sticking to it! — will help you so much at the end of the semester, when everything seems to be piling up.
    • Additionally, if you’re working online and are stuck at home under a “stay at home” order, setting “work hours” for yourself, or a schedule that details what part of the project you’ll work on at each time every day, can be extremely helpful. 
  4. When you get stuck, find someone to talk it out with
    • As a writer, it’s so easy to get tangled in your own thoughts or develop writer’s block. Don’t feel like you need to struggle through it alone! I was highly skeptical of the whole “project mentors” thing, and probably waited too long to find mentors who could actually be effective sounding boards for me. But when I did find those people, it became so much easier to work through roadblocks in my piece. T was also incredibly helpful throughout the project, and became a great person to bounce ideas off of — make office hours (or scheduling a call, if you’re working remotely) a priority!
  5. Remember that your project can change throughout the semester
    • Maybe you decide you want to add a component to your project in Week 4. Maybe you realize some part of your project isn’t necessary in Week 6. Maybe your entire world becomes upended in a time of global crisis during Week 8. Whatever the situation may be, it’s okay to rework your project throughout the semester to fit your goals and needs! Talk to your instructor, talk to your classmates, talk to your mentors, and then remember that this is all for your own benefit, and you should do a project that YOU feel good about.

Hopefully this can be slightly helpful for you future Capstone students. All advice aside, though, if you made it far enough to get to Capstone, I think you’re going to do just fine. Good luck, and I can’t wait to see what you create!

-Maya

Reflections on Pitching

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to work on for my capstone when I sat down on the first day of class last week. I’d just spent the second half of the fall semester working on an immersive essay about Detroit’s Jewish community, and I still felt like I’d barely scratched the surface of a topic that was incredibly important to me. Capstone seemed like the perfect opportunity to expand on my research and incorporate as many perspectives and as much history and nuance as possible.

But then at the end of class on that first day, T asked us to write a few things we were interested, passionate, or curious about on an index card. I paused when I reached that question, and then wrote down some topics that have been at the forefront of my mind recently: cooking (I’ve been trying to find a new hobby and build life skills), letters (I’m taking an English class about the art of letter writing), and my grandma (in preparation for my letter-writing class, my dad had recently unearthed a stack of my grandma’s old correspondences for me). Immediately a new idea emerged — what if I worked through my grandma’s recipes, reflecting on our relationship as I baked her classic dishes? And what if I put that all into a cookbook that incorporated images of her letters, too?

I came into our pitch workshops with four ideas, but as soon as I said the cookbook pitch out loud, I knew it excited me more than any of my others. Luckily, my groupmates (Ashley and Sydney) seemed thrilled about the idea and it’s reflexive, intergenerational nature, too. Their enthusiasm had me almost convinced, but I thought I should still go through my other pitches, in case something else caught their eye. Sure enough, when I brought up the idea of continuing to work on last semester’s essay and Ashley asked if I thought I’d had enough time to process what I’d already written, I knew I hadn’t — and that meant it wouldn’t be the right project for this class. Cookbook it is!

Interestingly, Ashley and Sydney also experienced this same pattern of “I thought I knew what I wanted to do but then I started the class and something else inspired me.” I wonder if there’s something about just being in the capstone environment that sparks new ideas, or makes our old ones seem more vibrant. I loved seeing how excited all three of us got about our pitches, and how we were able to encourage each other to chase down the ideas that we felt most passionate about. Maybe I’m naive to hope all workshops in this class make me as happy as this one did, but wow — we’re off to a good start.

Cycle 2: My foray into poetry

By the time I finished Cycle 1, I had a pretty clear idea of what I didn’t want to do for this experiment, but I wasn’t sure of what I did want to do. I knew I should do something more traditionally “creative” than my podcast had been, but what type? A short story? A children’s picture book? Maybe a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type piece? The options seemed endless, and I was getting so exasperated that I thought I might have to just write them all down on slips of paper and pick one out of a hat.

Luckily, a family gathering saved me from having to do that. As I sat in my grandparents’ den over the weekend, I opened a book my uncle had made several years ago of all his writing since college. I’d browsed the volume before, but this time a set of poems I’d never noticed before caught my eye. During graduate school, my uncle had written a poem for each member of his family— my dad, my aunt, and both of my grandparents— and each poem perfectly encapsulated its person. I felt positively inspired after reading my uncle’s poems, and I finally knew which genre to use for my experiment cycle: poetry.

My poetry experience is limited to a few units throughout high school English classes. While I enjoy reading poetry, it’s always seemed way too abstract for me to replicate well, and as a result, I’ve never seriously tried to write a poem. To figure out how to best approach this task, I turned first to Oprah (obviously).

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An article on Oprah.com from poet Honor Moore gives a list of twelve writing prompts to get an aspiring poet started. I already had a theme for my pieces, so I scrolled to the bottom of the article, where I found more general tips. Oprah and Honor told me that I should write a poem between 20 and 30 lines, with each line containing 10 or more syllables. And also I should “think of the poem as a dream or a psalm you are inventing, and don’t force it. Write in your own speech, allowing its music and sense to speak through you.”

Another source, this one from Seton Hall University, questioned whether I was writing to capture a feeling or to communicate with an audience. I found this to be a very interesting question. What is my purpose in taking on this project? I decided I want to communicate with the audience— like my podcast, I don’t want these poems to be about my own experiences with family and being an oldest child, but rather a way to showcase the wide range of experiences others have had. With that in mind, I gathered several useful tips from Seton Hall, including the advice to know my goal, use concrete words, communicate a theme, and REVISE.

These practical tips were helpful, but as I researched, I found myself also wanting some real examples of poetry to base my own work on (aside from my uncle’s, of course). Fortunately, during our conference, Julie told me to look up poet Marilyn Nelson, and sure enough, Nelson’s work did not disappoint. Although our subject matters are different, Nelson takes real-life events and turns them into poetic musings that add a whole new dimension to her subjects. She seems to be a master at taking a single moment and using it as a window into a whole society— a skill I’d love to mimic in my work.

(Daughters 1900, by Marilyn Nelson)

I’m moving into this experiment with a renewed enthusiasm. Poetry is new to me, and exciting, and will provide me with a creative challenge. I’m ready to get started.

Making a podcast seems kind of scary (revised)

Last weekend, I spent a great deal of time searching through the depths of my Google drive. This led me to rediscover all of my college application essays; I had nearly forgotten about the one I wrote for the Michigan “community” prompt (a fact that would probably torture 17-year-old me, who spent so many hours agonizing over the 250 word blurb). It was about my identity as a member of the “community of oldest children,” and I knew this would fit all the origin piece boxes I had drawn up for myself. As I reread the essay, I decided, somewhat radically, that my first experiment cycle had to be converting this idea into a podcast.

Okay, if I’m being honest here, I didn’t just decide to go with a podcast for this experiment cycle because “it would allow me to bring together the voices of many different people who identify as part of this community” or because I thought “having people actually talk about their lived experiences will add a certain personal aspect to the piece.” Those are real goals that I have for this project, but the primary reason was simply that I have always loved podcasts. My dad got me hooked on This American Life when I was in elementary school, and I’ve been a fan of many others for nearly as long.

And I suppose this is also a personal endeavor in another sense. I recently joined the team that is jumpstarting The Michigan Daily’s news podcast, so I’m eager to figure out what makes a good podcast. Perfect timing!

Before I learned about what makes a good podcast, I wanted to understand what makes me so attracted to the genre. What’s so interesting about them, and why do I instinctively feel like they would be a good mode for this experiment? Well, an article from Vanity Fair describes the rise of podcasts as an “audio renaissance,” and the genre’s rise akin to that of blogs about 10 years ago. They are “a return to the intimacy, wombed shadows, and pregnant implications of words, sounds, and silences in the theater of the mind… Podcasts can induce [an] immersive, time-suspended float.” Right. That’s a beautiful way of saying audio is a unique manner to use to tell someone’s story, and sometimes it feels more personal to hear someone talk about themselves than it does to read words about them on a page.

So what did I find? Well, according to Mashable, the first step is picking a topic you’re passionate about. Easy enough. Next they suggest choosing between a video and audio podcast. According to the Mashable writer, video podcasts are more personal, and make it easier for the audience to connect with the subject. Personal, emotional appeal is definitely something I’m going for here, so that will be something I’ll have to put more thought into. The article also suggests planning content beforehand. This includes breaking the overarching theme up into segments, finding people to interview, and preparing an intro script.

A Forbes article instructs readers to make sure the show is consistent over episodes (which makes me realize that this isn’t just a one time thing— podcasts usually produce new episodes weekly, which is another important thing to consider). The article also talks about getting good equipment to ensure the best possible audio or video quality. I’ll have to look into renting out microphones from ISS or going to the recording studio on North Campus if I actually want to produce this.

Ok, so how am I going to incorporate these tips into my own project? Well, I have some initial ideas.

  1. Sourcing: my ultimate goal for this experience is to show how a wide variety of people have experienced being an oldest child, so I’m going to need to figure out how to reach out to people and convince them it’s a good idea to talk about their experiences on this podcast. I might be able to achieve this through posting on class Facebook pages, or finding friends of friends.
  2. Planning: I think the most effective way to get these stories across will be to let my interviewees drive the narrative. This will likely lead to a minimalist interview format, where I ask a few questions but let the interviewee do most of the talking. I’ll also want to segment the podcast, so the finished project is more like several different vignettes per episode (or one story per episode) than one big conversation.
  3. Recording: We recorded our News podcast at the Duderstadt Center last weekend, and the sound quality was fantastic (but I’ll need to figure out how to work the equipment—  and convince the interviewees to come to North Campus)
  4. Editing: I’ll want this to sound good, so I’ll have to figure out how to edit audio (probably my biggest challenge going into this project). For this, I’ll look to online sources and the audio editor of the Daily’s podcasts.

Excited to look exactly like this dog as I embark on an adventure into the unknown world of podcasting!

Me, according to me. And some other people.

I have a complicated relationship with introductions. I like to meet new people, and as a result I often find myself going through the motions of an introduction. I think it’s a great concept, a necessary one, but I also feel like it’s a bit misleading. People who meet me usually get to know a few things right away— things like my majors (International Studies and Anthropology (for now)), where I’m from (Farmington Hills, MI), what I’m involved with on campus (The Michigan Daily, mostly, and a few other much smaller time commitments). But those are much more things that I associate myself with than things that are actually about me, and I think you guys deserve something more substantive.

 

Of course, when I sat down to write something more substantive, I realized it’s actually pretty difficult to write about yourself. So I decided to do some crowd-sourcing. I asked a few friends and family members to tell me some distinctive traits about myself.

 

From my freshman-year roommate:

 

  1. “You like orange.”

This is very true. Orange is far and above my favorite color, and in middle school I had one of my bedroom walls painted orange (just one, because my parents were concerned about the bright color affecting my sleep habits— I’m still waiting to see the research). My current bedspread is orange. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it in class, when I pull out my orange laptop and place it next to my orange water bottle, but at the end of the day I’m not going to stop buying orange things because I love the color unconditionally.

 

From my current roommate:

  1. “You have a hard time staying awake during movies.”

Ok, I’m really just a victim of genetics here. I grew up in a household where there was no enforced bedtime and still everyone was asleep before 10pm. We’re and early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of family, and even though I love watching movies and hanging out with my friends at night, I’m almost always the first one to fall asleep.

 

From my mom:

  1. “You live well in chaos (this is a nice way of saying you’re messy).”

Well, my mom is not WRONG (my former and current roommate both agreed with this one, funnily enough!) but if you ignore her translation, living well in chaos is a pretty good trait to have, right? Not a lot of things phase me, which definitely makes working as a news reporter easier. This is also probably a relevant place to mention something else important about myself: when I was 13, my family decided to go on a trip around the world. We traveled to 15 countries and my mom homeschooled my sisters and I for the year— it was definitely a year of chaos and it shaped a lot of who I am today (and, coincidentally, was my first experience with blogging).

 

So that’s me, I suppose. Me according to me, and also some other people.