Challenge Journal 4: A Chance to Expand

The Capstone project has been a unique writing experience in the sense that it allows for so much expansion– something I’m not used to as a psychology major, who mostly writes about one specific topic in great depth. Over the course of the semester, I have had to release this mindset, and instead adapt a new one. Instead of writing a chapter of a book, the Capstone project requires us to write the entire book, complete with chapters and images to guide the reader through our thoughts. Looking back on my college career, I am glad that I have had both kinds of opportunities. It is important to be able to dig deep into one specific point and expose every small detail of a case. It is also important to be able to put together a story, or journey for a reader to go on with you as a writer.

That is one thing I have had to adjust to during this Capstone experience. It’s a different way of thinking. Instead of using a microscope, it’s getting in a plane to have a bird’s eye view. One essay I wrote during junior year in English 225 somewhat reminds me of this method of observation and composition. We were assigned to write an open letter– to anyone, about anything. I chose to write to my sister who was a senior in high school with advice on entering college. It didn’t have a specified purpose stated at the top. It was more of an exploration of my feelings about important things to remember during freshman year, and values to keep in mind. I even state that there isn’t a clear cut answer available in the essay:

This isn’t a guide to get you through college without making any mistakes, because making mistakes is part of what makes your college years so memorable.

I structured my thoughts as a list, stating 5 pieces of advice and expanding them into paragraphs. Together, these 5 pieces of advice led the audience (my sister and other incoming freshman) through ways to think about college, rather than an answer on how to succeed– that is too large a question to give a single concrete answer to. Some examples of my “guiding” thoughts as opposed to “solution” thoughts:

Don’t let other people’s ideas about what leads to success and happiness in life affect the choices you make.

You are not the only one who doesn’t know what you are doing.

Smile. A lot.

Similar to the Capstone project, these pieces seem disconnected from each other with close reading. However, together they give the reader a way to approach the idea of freshman year at college. Each page in my Capstone project is a distinct piece of a large idea.

It has felt rather unnatural to so gradually unfold the many layers of the argument I am making. I am so used to laying it all out in a straightforward thesis that encompasses everything I am going to say in a neat and ordered fashion. I have mostly written for audiences that are interested in knowing the conclusion, and the reasons behind that conclusion. However, in my Capstone project, my focus is on gathering different stories– narratives, descriptions, histories and images– in order to make the whole. Rather than having the reader know exactly where I am going to take them, I instead invite them to go on the journey with me.


Challenge Journal 3: Writing About Personal Experiences

A couple weeks ago, I started feeling a little lost about my project. I was struggling to find ownership– to feel like I could write about it in my voice and actually sound like myself. It was turning into more of a straightforward research project than I had planned, and I realized it was because of the way I was structuring it. I needed to frame it in a way that connected to me– to my life, my experiences and my personal feelings. My topic is something I’m really passionate about, and so to completely leave out a reflective element felt unnatural and forced. So I reorganized and rewrote the introduction, recalling my memories of 9/11 and the fear and anxiety my parents felt but hid from me as a child.

Writing about the past is something I remember struggling with freshman year in English 125. All we had to do was talk about a place that was special to us. I decided to write about the cottage in Canada that I visit with my family every summer. I learned to not be afraid of seaweed there, how to make a blueberry pie, how to start a fire safely in the woods and how to connect with the outdoors. It was a very personal subject. But as I wrote I had a feeling similar to the one I had a couple weeks ago during my Capstone process. I wanted to feel connected to the topic as I wrote, to show my voice and paint a picture for the reader the same exact way I saw it in my eyes. However, it felt stiff at first. When I wrote about the history of the cottage and what the cottage looks like, I felt like I was using the same words that someone who had only visited the cottage once would use. They didn’t feel like mine and I knew I needed to change that.

The change that helped me was not worrying about giving the reader enough detail during my first draft. It was easier to write from the heart and paint the picture of the cottage experience, and then go back and insert extra information that someone unfamiliar with the place would need to fully understand. That’s what I did for my Capstone introduction as well– I wrote without worrying. I finally felt like I was using my words and not someone else’s. Below is an example of the way I described the cottage without giving unnecessary background information (the reason for the unique appearance of the cottage, rather than my direct experience with it):

As we dock the boat, the cottage looks down at us from the rocky hill. The peeling paint flakes off of the wooden slats, the roof droops in the middle, and the stairs barely touch the ground on one side.

Challenge Journal 2: A Missed Opportunity

When I think about a writing project that I would’ve loved to have more time to develop before handing in, the essay I wrote last semester about rock music comes to mind. I wrote this essay for English 225. The assignment required us to take an essay we had previously written and rewrite it with a different purpose and for a different audience. I chose to revisit a review I wrote on a New York Times article about “rockists”– people who simply can’t let the classic rock songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80 be surpassed in their minds by any other music today. I found this topic interesting because I grew up listening to rock music because of my dad– someone who I believe to be a rockist, in fact. I decided to explore the reasons people like rockists become obsessed with a music genre and can’t let it go. I researched the psychological side of it, and I also interviewed my dad.

I would have like to have more time to interview other people, especially people my age I know who are just as obsessed with classic rock music as my dad is. I would have liked to intertwine stories from other adults who grew up listening to classic rock music and to hear their stories, because part of what made my paper so successful were the anecdotes my dad told me about his first classic rock album and so on. For example, in my introduction I mention the origin of my dad’s love for classic rock. Excerpt below:

This obsession traces back to the year 1975, when his older brother gave him his very first albums: Chicago and Bachman Turner Overdrive. From that point on, he grew to love The Beatles, Boston, The Cars, and other iconic rock groups of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

It would have been nice to have more time to find out more details about this story, and collect stories from others as well. I also would have loved to learn more about the psychological perspective of music obsession, and even explore this phenomenon in other genres. I feel like this could have been a topic for a semester-long project like we are working on now, and I know that because the essay felt slightly incomplete when I handed it in.

Thinking About the Worst

In class the other day, we were instructed to free-write about a possible consequence of what we’re writing about. I am investigating the difference between the fear that our parents’ generation (the baby boomers) felt, versus ours today. What I’ve found is that the way they dealt with their fears has led to an intense anxiety about the state of the world and our futures.

When I thought about the consequences of this, one immediately came to mind– the possible permanence of this anxiety. As issues and conflicts continue to worsen, that means our anxiety will become more intense. Both baby boomer and millennial populations currently coexist. We are able to make the distinction between a less anxious time and the deep anxiety today because this earlier time’s generation still influences policy and social change. However, what happens when both generations no longer live in our country together, and the generation who is plagued with anxiety and fear for the future takes control. Wouldn’t this anxiety transfer to the next? And then the next? It could become somewhat of a norm– and even exacerbate with time and increase in scale.

These days, anxiety is almost a value– you must be anxious in order to be safe. To be aware. To be realistic about the future. This anxiety has become engrained in the way we way we think, react and anticipate. This presents a significant disadvantage for the future.

Challenge Journal 1: Finding the Focus

The hardest part of the writing process for me lies between the time the assignment is given, and the time I actually start composing my piece. I have trouble thinking of an idea that I am proud enough of, inspired by enough and confident about. I usually have a general idea about what concept I want to explore more and write about, but its the specific angle that often trips me up.

As I worked on writing my proposal and determining the exact angle I wanted to explore my topic from, I worried that I was either missing an important element or focusing on something that I wouldn’t be able to effectively develop. This reminded me of an experience I had in English 225 when I was working on a research paper that was assigned. I immediately knew that I wanted to explore film music and its effects as this is something I have always been intrigued by. However, sharpening that idea was challenging, and it took a while until I was able to decide on the direction I wanted to take.

In my abstract I stated, “This essay aims to investigate these various effects and how the addition of music to visuals and other technical elements of movies alter the audience’s experience.” However, if my essay was going to be purposeful and further contribute to the conversation that revolved around film music, I needed to decide on a lens to view “the audience’s experience” from. After I began researching and writing and reaching many decisions and continuously changing my mind, I finally settled on looking at “the various functions film music has in supplementing dialogue, narrative, cinematography, and other components” rather than focusing only on the psychological effect of music in general.

I am excited to explore fear for my Capstone project from a generational angle– looking at the differences between my generation’s experience with fear and our parents’. As we were reminded in class though, I am prepared for a shift during the writing process if necessary.

Introducing… my ePortfolio!!!!

WOW. Creating my ePortfolio was quite a process. However, the blood, sweat and tears that were shed during the making of this project was all worth it. I am so proud of everything it has become 🙂 Making this ePortfolio has been such a unique experience because it has combined so many different skills, like visual design, creative writing, reflective writing, planning spaces, and argumentation strategies.

Looking back at this semester, I think about all the ways I have grown as a writer. The one way that sticks out to me most in my mind is the relaxation that I have learned to develop as I sit down to write a piece. Before this semester, writing was something I enjoyed and loved and was passionate about. However, it was something that was always associated with stress because I felt the need to get it right the first time. As I have previously mentioned, this is not the way to go about writing a first draft. I have learned to look at a first draft in a completely different way. This is something I would like to build on between now and the capstone. I want to make sure I do not forget the philosophy I have learned to have about taking time and having patience with the first draft of a piece.

I also can’t help but think about the way my blog group played an immensely important part in my writing processes. I learned to open up to them about my concerns and questions for each major project. I also learned how to critically read and analyze other pieces to give advice, which definitely contributed to my writing skills as well.

Letter to Future Gateway Students

Dear Future Gateway Students,

First, I want to say congratulations on being accepted into the Minor in Writing! You have made a great choice to pursue your passion for and interest in writing. If you breathe writing, sleep with your journal under your pillow, or dream of having a career as a writer, great. If you have only written when you are told to for a class, struggle tremendously with starting an essay every time you try, and don’t really know much about writing in general, even greater. The Gateway course will help you explore what writing means to you, and give you time to be the kind of writer that feels most natural. It is a time for learning, reflecting, and growing as a writer– all of which you get to do with an awesome teacher and a group of talented classmates who are there with you on your journey.

After taking this course, I have learned that I worry a lot more about being “perfect” the first time I sit down to write than I should. Whether it be a short answer to a question, a blog post, or a full-blown essay, I used to be so concerned with getting it exactly right on the first try. However, one of the biggest takeaways that I have from this course is that an imperfect draft is key. Nothing you write should be perfect the first time, because it is through the first draft that you learn exactly what you want to write and how you feel about what you are writing. The first draft is not all about producing something you are proud of and immediately feel satisfied with. It is about giving yourself something to work with, figuring out what’s in your head, and then going from there. It’s only a starting point.

During the course, I felt the most challenged when it came time to decide on a piece to re-purpose. I was between two pieces that were very different– one was about a dance teacher who pushed me to work hard through tough love, and the other was about a special place in Canada that I go to every summer with my family. I really had no idea which to choose, because I knew that each would take me in a different direction. However, with the help of my blog group and teacher, Shelley, I took a leap and decided on the one that seemed to speak to me the most.

I am most surprised at the progress we all have made during the course. We started writing short, brief answers to questions and blog posts, and have since then been able to develop three separate major projects that make up our ePortfolio. I was quite overwhelmed when I learned about everything that this course would require us to do, but since we took it step by step, it was manageable. I am also surprised at how close I have gotten with my blog group and how helpful they have been. I have never had such a successful, cohesive group in a class before, and am thankful for them.

Some practical advice now… First, stay on top of your assignments during the course. You will learn that everything you do contributes to the final projects in the end, so you will be thankful that you completed everything on time and with thought. Also, take advantage of your blog group. Be honest about what you are struggling with, concerned with, or have questions about.

If I was starting the course over again, I would try writing the re-purposing version of both pieces I was considering. I still wonder how my piece about the dance teacher would have turned out. However, I am happy with the way my project has turned out, and will keep my other topic idea in mind for future writing projects.

What is so special about this course is that it allows you to uncover what is truly in your heart and mind as a writer. You will realize through this course that much of the writing that has happened so far in your college career has not allowed much room for creativity or exploration. In this class, you have time to write and worry and change and think and change again. This course is for you, as a writer. That is, the kind of writer that you are, and not the kind that anyone else requires you to be.

Enjoy it!



Revisiting Sullivan’s “Why I Blog”

I am happy to re-visit this piece because Sullivan’s arguments about the positive effects of blogging really stuck with me from the first time. I love that HE loves true, honest writing. I think that honest writing is something that is hard to achieve because we are often too concerned with what people want to hear and how they want to hear it. However, I think that true, honest writing is so refreshing (especially in this time of manipulative political speech). That has been a focus on my experience in the writing minor so far. I have learned to address an audience and follow certain techniques that make this address the most effective. However, I have also learned to listen to my ideas and trust what comes out on to the paper and see how it does not need to be twisted and turned in any way to reach an audience.

I see a similar theme in Didion’s piece. That is why during class today, I raised my hand for her when asked who I would rather be– Didion or Orwell. As I read about the reasons she writes, I feel like I am being told the truth and nothing but the truth. She doesn’t hold back. She lets her voice shine and be heard and that is something I strive to do in my writing. Orwell, on the other hand, tells the truth in a different way. I sense the structure and attention to the audience’s needs. Both ways are effective, but Didion’s voice and writing style resonates with me a bit more.

I hope to be able to reach my audience in a way that does not seem artificial and forced, yet still sticks with them and makes an impact. Throughout my writing career thus far, especially in high school, I have been so concerned with writing something that the teacher would like to hear. I haven’t so much written for myself. I think that Sullivan, Didion and Orwell all see the importance and value of writing in exploring your own thoughts and seeing where they take you.


Drafting and Revising My Project

After reading this chapter, I am reminded of the many components that go into making a successful rhetorical situation. Authors need to keep these in mind as they write: what audience the piece is intended for, the purpose of the piece, how the design reflects this purpose, and any genre conventions that may be relevant. Before reading this chapter, I have only been thinking about this in regards to my re-purposing and remediating projects. However, I now realize that in order for my ePortfolio to be cohesive and purposeful, I need to structure it around a rhetorical situation that I still need to think about.

When I think about my ePortfolio as its “own complete composition,” I think about how each piece I upload to my website needs to contribute to a bigger picture I am trying to get across. So far, the pieces that I am going to put up on my ePortfolio strongly convey my values, since they are about the reasons the special place I go with my family every summer is so special. However, as I go forward with adding artifacts (like we talked about in class today), and the “Why I Write” composition, I need to think about how all these parts are going to fit together to create something greater.

This reading also made me think about how it will be important to include my rough cuts for each project. I think that explaining the differences between my rough drafts and final drafts will further the arguments I am making in each piece, and why I made the choices I did. This can also contribute to the overall rhetorical situation of my ePortfolio.

Blogging my Process

I made a big step on Monday– I have finally reached a decision regarding which piece I want to work with repurposing and remediating for the rest of the semester. I was going back and forth between two very different ideas. One piece I was thinking about looking at again was my college entrance essay in which I talked about a dance teacher who I hated and liked all at the same time because of his “tough love” philosophy. I was interested in exploring this more from a psychological perspective, and writing about the different effects of tough love and contrasting these with the effects of the more prevalent parenting style today of “everyone’s a winner” and participation awards all around.

My other idea is the one I went with, though. The piece I have decided to work on is an essay from my freshman year 125 English class where I had to write about a ritual that I do in my life. I wrote about the yearly trip I make up to my summer cottage in Canada on an Island with my family every summer and how during the week we spend there, I notice how much I have grown and changed since the last time we visited.

I spoke to Shelley about this idea and she planted an idea for inspiration in my head– a concept called “Space and Place.” I googled this right away and immediately found a book by Yi-Fu Tuan about this theory called Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. I started skimming and found that this would be a really interesting perspective to write about my cottage from. The Space and Place theory is all about how space and place are related and how humans have both of these things in their lives. Spaces become places, and this happens as the space becomes molded into our lives in a more significant way. This is exactly how I feel about the Island– throughout my life, since my first summer there as a baby, I have come to value the freezing water baths, television-less, wifi-less, 2-room cabin, mosquito attack feels of the cabin. It was a space (just a piece of rock that was fun to go to because I got to swim and make s’mores), and now it is a place in my heart.

I am excited to start writing because I know this is the only way I am going to move on to the next step. I just have to dive in. I know I want to incorporate journal entries into my piece that reflect my changing views of the Island… I just don’t know exactly how to do this. I want to figure out a way to write about the Island in a way my readers can relate to. I will do this by bringing in classic adolescent experiences and feelings into my journal entries during the ages of 12, 13, 14. I will talk about the college process a little during my journal entry from the summer during the college application process. I will talk about my relationship with my little sister and how that has evolved.

I am wondering the best way to incorporate these journal entries so that my piece can also include reflection and analysis of my experiences at the Island…