Holy wow I am behind on this assignment pool

Sweet, innocent Mary of two days ago thought she was doing alright on this whole capstone situation.  Project website pretty much all designed, writing up content, feeling good.  Yeah, there are some “assignment pool” points to rack up, but what does that even mean, really, since I’m making good progress on the project? (I’m dropping third person, third person is lame)

“I’m a busy woman with four other classes and jobs to apply to!  I’ll breeze through that assignment pool later!” -actual record of my thoughts

Anyway, that assignment pool is looking a lot bigger this side of spring break.  I made a big list of all the assignments that it seems I could feasibly do in the next two months, and the grand optimistic total (including attendance) is 765 points.  That puts me squarely in the “Doom” grading category, as noted in the syllabus.

I’m not whining about fairness — it’s my fault for not adjusting to the grading system earlier.  I’m just wondering, how are you all doing it?  Tell me your secrets, capstone writers!  Are you doing five assignments a day?  Are you doing them in your sleep?  Did you (gasp) actually start way back in January?  Please comment on this so I can also comment and get more points and also so we can have a valuable and information conversation, obviously.

In conclusion, this is my face right now:


Wix Template: Descriptive or imaginative?

Over spring break, I’m going to design my project website because I know that having that template in mind will be key for my content-creating process over the next month and a half. Also, side note for some reason the words I’m typing for this post only show up when I’m highlighting them so be prepared for some typos.

As I’m looking through the Wix site template options, I’m feeling divided on what I want my site to look like. My project is on the process science fiction world-building in a story which I’m writing, and I’m conflicted between having the site open directly into the universe I’m creating with an image and different things to explore and click on, including an “About” page that describes what the project is, or opening on the about page itself. The first option is more aesthetically pleasing and the second is clearer.

Second thoughts on the proposal

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about my capstone proposal.  It might be focusing too much on the general central question of the value of writing science-fiction and abstract concepts of the sort of research, while everything I outline in my production plan is very specific work related to the scifi novel that I’m writing.  Is there any way I can re-work my central question to make it more specific to what I’m doing, or does that defeat the purpose of the capstone project?  Is it supposed to end up being very general?

Also, in the time between submitting my proposal and receiving feedback on it, I have ended up focusing way more on certain concepts within the story I’m writing.  I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about the impact of technological progress on religion, womanhood, and the way humans interact with nature, and how those things intersect in my story.  I’m thinking of re-doing my proposal to center more on that realm of things and less in the general questions of the value of writing scifi.  Of course, that could come back to the original question — the value of writing science fiction is that we are able to conceptualize the social impacts of technological changes before they ever occur.

What do you guys think?  Is this project just navel-gazing?

Hard Work vs. Passion

Now that I actually realize what the assignment point pool tracking thing entails (I was not totally on board before), I’ve realized what a great idea it actually is.  Instead of being graded on how good our finished project is (which is a hard to do objectively), we are being graded on the little things that will lead up to a good project.

This has got me thinking about how different professors try different methods of motivation for big projects.  For instance, last semester I was in two classes that had large essays due near the end of the semester, one fifteen pages and the other 25-50.  The fifteen-pager was for a science class, EARTH 380, and most of my fellow students were Geology majors looking to get their ULWR credit.  I was the only one in my discussion section who seemed enthusiastic about my topic and writing the actual research paper, but the professor was very thorough in breaking down the assignment into manageable chunks spaced out over the semester, and was very clear on what his expectations were the whole time.  Not everyone enjoyed writing the paper, but everyone got it done, and had gone through at least four drafts by the time it was submitted.

In contrast, every single one of my classmates in my senior thesis-writing course was passionate about their chosen topic.  We were given near-complete freedom over the semester; the only concrete date was the due date.  Despite our passion for the subjects, nearly everyone in the class floundered because of the lack of structure.  The only reason I was able to succeed in writing my paper is because I met frequently with an advisor who gave me constant feedback on my drafts, and because I used the structure given by my EARTH 380 class to map out what I should have accomplished for my senior thesis at each point in the semester, rather than hastily writing the whole thing in the last two weeks of the semester.

For most of my life, I’ve assumed that passion for your work is the most important component for success.  Now, however, I realize that if passion can’t be narrowed and focused into consistent day-to-day work, it’s no use for anything more than a hobby.

Question for the comments: have you ever had a passion project that you just couldn’t get started on or finished?  Have you ever enjoyed a project you didn’t initially care about because you had enough external motivation to actually delve into the topic?


Proposal: How to Write Yourself a World


For a long time, I took the advice to “write what you know” as my credo.  The fiction I wrote was mostly events from my life, with feeble half-characters pasted over the faces of my friends.  It was cathartic to write, dull to read, and embarrassing to look back on.

That changed a year ago, when I got caught up in the scifi TV show Firefly.  The show lasted less than a season and, despite what its rabid fans will tell you, it’s not that good.  The acting’s kind of mediocre and the dialogue occasionally stretched, but I LOVE it, as in hearts-in-my-eyes doodling-in-my-notebook learned-the-theme-song-on-guitar love it.  I watch it over and over for the same reason I read books like Redwall and Lord of the Rings as a kid: it takes me to another universe, a place drawn out with such careful love that the atmosphere of the story bleeds even into my real life.  In a totally not-nerdy way, I swear.

That’s what I want to do with my writing.  I’m writing a scifi novel (still having a hard time admitting that to any of my serious literature-y friends), and one of the most challenging aspects of the writing process is the research that goes into creating that new world.  I’ve been pulling inspiration from all over the place: Nepalese honey-hunters, turn-of-the-century Argentine brothels, Salt Lake City geology, Chinese yttrium mining.  In that way, the scifi novel has become a new sort of autobiographical writing for me.  Rather than writing about events that happened to me, I’m taking what I’m interested in, and blending those different passions into one coherent world and story.

Up until now, I have been storing all that information in my brain, but Professor McDaniel suggested that for my capstone process, I take one chapter of the story and illustrate the research-based scaffolding that went into writing that.  That’s an idea with potential, but I need to spend a lot of time figuring out how exactly I’m going to present and organize all that in a cool way.  Any suggestions from y’all would be much appreciated!


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It’s hard for me to let go of editing my portfolio and release it into the internet-world, but it’s time.

To those of you who looked over my first draft earlier in the semester, or even my classmates who saw me present my eportfolio in class last week, THIS IS COMPLETELY NEW

Yesterday I was seized by an uncontrollable impulse to entirely start over with my portfolio.  I set up an account with Wix and was immediately blown away by how much more control I had over the formatting!  It was a whole new world for me, and I haven’t quite emerged yet.  I think my new portfolio captures the spirit of who I am much better than the old one, as well as being ten times more aesthetically pleasing.  It was also a ton of work; I have literally done nothing else for the past 26 hours, except sleep and eat Ritz crackers and clementines.

I haven’t been this happy about a school assignment for a while, and I think it’s because it’s an assignment that’s way different from all my other classwork.  Even if I write an awesome essay, it’s still an essay just like the ones I’ve written a hundred times before.  But I’ve never made a website before!  So this has been an exciting learning experience, and I feel very nerdily proud about my new eportfolio website.

Click here to read it!

What’s up with this portfolio thing anyway

I’m trying to make my portfolio simple, but with one consistent theme that will draw people in.  In my early draft-ish versions I’ve been using one of my favorite pictures that I’ve ever taken, while I was driving through the Badlands.

(not this Badlands picture)

I really like the blue-brown color scheme, and want to use that throughout my portfolio.  I’m playing with the color scheme and I think that is a very accomplishable goal!

What is more difficult for me to figure out is how to orient my writing projects within the website.  Julie said to make it look “less like essays,” so now I’m trying to work out how to do that.  I honestly have no idea how to form them in a non-essay-looking way, so if anyone has any suggestions, please throw them this way!  I have exactly no sense of aesthetics.

I’m really excited to learn how to do this online stuff, because I feel like all my future employers are going to expect me to play my role as a millennial and make all their websites look pretty.  Gotta play the part!  I’m also glad that I have this opportunity to think about my undergraduate education as one comprehensive whole, and see how everything fits together.

The only thing I do in my spare time

One aspect of my life that may not be clear based on the classwork I’ve produced so far is my involvement in the fair trade movement.  I did mention in my video presentation how my freshman year paper on corporate land grabs in Tanzania sparked an interest in globalization, but that interest didn’t fully solidify until last year’s semester in Costa Rica, when I saw first-hand the impacts that free trade has on economically vulnerable communities.

This summer I started up the University of Michigan chapter of United Students for Fair Trade.  Haven’t heard of us?  That makes sense, because we only have about six people.  It’s really, really hard to get people to care about trade policy, even though it has a serious effect on pretty much every issue that my friends care about.

Anti-TPP Protest in Japan

For instance, that company that’s currently suing Canada for Quebec’s ban on fracking?  They’re able to do that because of NAFTA’s investor-state dispute resolution provision, which grants corporations nation-state status and the ability to sue entire countries for any environmental policy/ health code/ labor law that could interfere with their expected profit.  Wonder how companies are able to offshore factory jobs from the U.S. and get away with abominable sweatshop conditions overseas?  Look into trade policy.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is what my group is currently campaigning against, incorporates those provisions as well as restrictions equivalent to SOPA/PIPA (for those of you concerned about internet freedoms) and gratuitous extensions of pharmaceutical patents, which limits access to life-saving medications for those who could only afford generic prescriptions.

I spend most of my extracurricular time working on that stuff, and that’s what I’d like to work on after I graduate, too.

Anti-TPP Protest in Minnesota

My hope is that the Minor in Writing is enabling me to write clear, concise and interesting pieces that will inform people about how complex political policy affects issues they care about, and, ideally, inspire them to get involved with the movement. If I’m lucky, what I do in my spare time could become my job, and I could actually do something else for fun!