When do I do my best?

I used to think I worked the best under pressure, like in the last two hours before a project was due (haha look at me right now), but realistically I was only preparing myself for an early heart attack from stress.

When I look back at the projects I am most proud of, from writing to art projects to even big gifts I prepared for someone I love, the common denominator is the anticipation of the end result. Funny, how my best work isn’t focused on the process, but rather how it could turn out.

Metaphorically, I place the end result of a project up on a pedestal, looking up at it dreamily while I work on its rough draft. Whenever I improve a piece of the rough draft that mimics what is up on the pedestal, I feel satisfied and encouraged to keep working. Pretty nerdy, right.

I can be threatened to produce good work with a “This is 30% of your final grade” hovering above my head, and I can be inspired as well. But under circumstances of my own anticipation and excitement, I think I feel the most relaxed producing the work, and thus create the best work.

The story, not the history, as relatable

“Is there a written art that is the furthest away from you and both the most meaningful to you?”

It took me a while to think of a written medium that fits into this category, of something relative to me yet so incredibly different than who I am right now. So I brainstormed what the different written forms I consume, from songs to books to texts. I thought of all the assigned reading I had to do for all of my classes this semester, and while I wasn’t a fan of reading history from judgmental white dudes (like Le Corbusier on architecture, ugh), I really enjoy reading about history.

To clarify, not just history, but the cultures, habits, struggles, and achievements of civilizations throughout the age of existence. Technically, nothing can be further away from me (chronologically) than learning about why cave art drawings were made during the Paleolithic era.

The fact that we enjoy learning about the people in history is a little sweet to me. We were doing relatable things back in 12,000 BCE. It gives me hope that humans will always find something in common, since, if we can relate to cultures from way back when, we can relate to the diverse cultures around the world today.  Whether its having the same favorite song or drawing the same cave painting of a bison, we all like to express ourselves. An endearing thought, isn’t it?

We all have access to history, but how do we know if it’s a proper retelling? If it’s good quality writing? Or is history even relatable?

In my opinion, learning about battle strategy from the War of 1812 isn’t relatable, but reading a personal account from a nurse at a military camp or from a soldier on the British side could be much more relatable. Its the difference between black -and-white factual writing and colorful writing.

Scary emotions, but look!

Why do we live in a society that encourages us to push down and ignore how we feel ? Darn it there’s nothing wrong with emotions! SURPRISE! We all have them! 

How are you feeling right now? Like RIGHT NOW. Probably a little overwhelmed by my all-caps screaming, huh? Maybe anxious that I am asking you to look inside and analyze what you are feeling. It’s a big and scary word, emotions.

Disclaimer: I first wrote this blog post when I was feeling very confrontational. I suggest not reading if you feel like I am yelling at you. However, this blog post does relate to my topic, so keep reading!

While researching for my second experiment, I had to talk to some friends of mine to get their opinion/test their knowledge on my topic. Talking to them revealed that I too was reluctant to interpret my emotions, especially in response to architecture. I realized I would openly recognize the spaces I love to be in, so in other words, I acknowledge my positive emotions. However, except for the MLB, which I openly despise, I hypocritically don’t stop and think about how a space is affecting me. If I can’t even do it, how can I expect others to do it as well?

Jen Proctor is cooler than you (and me)

Jennifer Proctor is not your typical filmmaker. For starters, she greatly enjoys horror films and thrillers because of how they commonly end with a female hero, usually as the last one alive. I’ve never come within five feet of a horror film, but after hearing her point out that horror films are oddly feminist (?), I may have to watch one. 

What makes Jennifer Proctor a unique filmmaker is how she doesn’t film any of the footage herself. So how can she call herself a filmmaker? While listening to Jennifer talk about Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix, an interesting movie where she studies how the film industry represents women in bathtubs on film, I realized Jennifer is an investigative filmmaker. She seems almost like a detective, compiling various footage from multiple films to make her own movie. Jennifer called this process “confound footage” during her Writer to Writer talk at Literati Bookstore. 

In other words, Jennifer produces movies about movies. It’s quite an interesting process, to be honest. Her process reminds me of meta-cognition — thinking about thinking — but we’ll instead call her process meta-producing, or making films about films. And there we go again, getting philosophical and all. 

But that is exactly what Jennifer does. She is basically doing a thematic literary analysis on the entire film industry in her movies, uncovering hidden meanings in the angle of a certain shot, the clothes of a certain character, or the actions of an actor. She divulged during the interview that producing her movies is also an emotionally taxing process, since she is uncovering biases and patronizing acts. 

One thing Jennifer mentioned during the Writer to Writer event, was how she sometimes doesn’t even know what the movie will be about when she begins researching. She begins by watching a lot of movies, and I mean a lot, which sounds like a great job to me. However, while watching these movies, Jennifer never really knows what she is necessarily looking for. She related this process to trying to put together a puzzle without a picture.

That statement of hers, the one about the puzzle without a picture, reminded me of the process of our three experiments in the gateway course. When we all first started the course, I, if not all of us, was tiptoeing around my chosen topic, wondering if it would go anywhere. When starting my research, I knew I had some guidelines on what I was looking for, but was A) still not that confident in my ability to reach an audience, and B) was dabbling in a genre and medium of art that I had no prior experience in, and was in a bit over my head. However, after that first experiment, I had gotten my mojo, and now, looking at the podcasts I produced, I can see why Jennifer takes the plunge into researching the unknown.

I don’t know why this image is sideways, but its a photo I took at the Writer to Writer event as I stood awkwardly in the back.

Let’s change the address

A few days ago, I had to choose the sub-domain name for my gateway website. I was nervous! A website is such an official step! However, when I looked at the names of post-gateway students’ websites, what I saw surprised me. The majority of the websites were some variation of the student’s first and last name. I was expecting the website name to be connected to the student’s research topic for the Gateway course, which is what I was planning to do.

There is one reason why the website names were mostly students’ unique names, though. Most of the students used the website builder Wix. Wix is a great tool, with its only downfall being that you can’t choose your sub-domain name. The sub-domain is the first part of the web address, so for this website, the sub-domain is ‘writingminor’. So since Wix limits this choice, every gateway student who uses Wix is forced to use their email account as their web address.

After seeing that the norm was to use your name as your web address, I became uncomfortable with the idea of using an address that relating to my topic. I ended up doing research on a few different types of web page building services, and decided that I did want to have the power to choose my own domain name.

But then came the stress of choosing my website’s name! I wanted it to be catchy, and, I’m sorry to you haters, but punny. I was not sure how to shorten my topic into two or three words though! I was completely stuck in the website-naming form of writers’ block, and decided to call my creative friend Olivia, who has previously helped me through the architect’s version of writers’ block. Together we brainstormed and wrote down a few ideas. I ending up going with a name I came up with, DrawingOnEmotions, which can be interpreted in two ways. First, the word drawing applies to the hand drawing that occurs in architecture — so that’s my reference to a pun. Second, when someone draws on their emotions, they are bringing them into their awareness and consciousness (which is exactly what I want people to do!) .

Publishing my website that did not fit status quo was a little nerve wracking for me, because I was being ~different~. But now that I have a website that I could add to my resume (we’ll see how it goes first), I am glad it has a web address similar to a professional website.

Spooky questions that are the true terrors of Halloween

When reading back over the questions Ray had us write down in class last Wednesday, I realized some of them aligned with my irrational fears as well.

For example, when we started the exercise, I immediately wrote down “Why do we even need architects?” If the world was black and white, it would appear that architects just do fancy engineer work. There is even a major at most engineering schools called Architectural Engineering (like what’s the difference)! This is a question I definitely need to answer as soon as possible. It makes me question whether I chose the right major, if I will ever be successful or, even scarier, valued as important as an occupation. It’s bound to come up in the future, and if the question knocks me speechless, it’s something I need to explore! Writing about this, however, has inspired me with ideas about my 3rd experiment, which right now is going to be — wait for it — a podcast! With the combination of interviews and reviews, I hope to reveal why the world really does need architects.

Another spooky characteristic of architecture is the unnecessary (?) abstraction of basic objects and structures. An architect will see a square room with a door and think, “Hmm is this space really a space of reality? How does it embody the client’s hopes and dreams? Was the use of 90 degree angles in connecting the walls chosen to imply the concept of continuity and geometric balance? etc. etc.” But while I am joking about this quality of architects, it is a question that resonates with my topic. In order for architecture to be related to people’s emotions, there needs to be a certain degree of philosophical thinking of simple design concepts. While diving deep into abstract thinking frightens me (there is no certified right and wrong), it is something I need to do for my next experiment.

Beware … what follows is the spookiest (i.e. highest risk) observation and question of them all!

There are many occupations that walk the line of ethics and morality. The big ones are lawyers, psychologists, pharmacists, and physicians. All listed face the moral difficulty of how they make their money; they all help people, but once the people are helped, no more money is gained. In order for these occupations to survive, people have to be suffering in the first place. Now that is a tragic idea. Luckily for me, I don’t have to deal with that in architecture! Before I get ahead of myself, what I do have to deal with as an architect is the effect my designs will have on the general welfare. If bad architecture correlates to high negative affect and stress, which are the leading psychological factors of mood and anxiety disorders and in some extreme cases, death, then shouldn’t the architects of the bad architecture be held responsible? Architects hold the power to induce depression in people. This is a question of morality. It reveals the importance for architects to know the detrimental psychological effects their designs can have on society.

So basically in conclusion, we need to find whoever designed the Modern Languages Building and send them to jail — because that building makes no one happy.

Collecting data on an unattainable topic

Before I address the obstacles I encountered not only making my first experiment but also in the topic as a whole, I want to surface something interesting. That is — is there a topic that does not have difficulties of understanding? In class the other day, we discussed how everyone knows at least a little bit about every topic, but there is some sort of difficulty that we falsely believe stands in our way. And now, the 13 of us in that class have reflected on our own topics’ difficulties of understanding. What I am trying to get at is that if all 13 of us could find the comprehensive difficulties of our 13 incredibly diverse topics, then maybe every subject has its own difficulties. There is no ‘easy’ subject matter. Or maybe the problem is that we think there are difficulties with each topic, and therefore falsely complicate it. 

Transitioning now to my own topic of architecture, I am almost scared to dive into its difficulties, because I don’t want them to discourage me! But, addressing the difficulties is also beneficial because then I will be aware of them, and when encountered, will be ready to move past them.

I think my topic  of “How Architecture Affects Our Emotions” is difficult to talk about, research, and make into a universal conversation because of it’s cognitive burden and abstract complexity. First off, we are dealing with emotions here! Are any of us even able to understand our own emotions? Sometimes we cry when we are happy, and then we will laugh when we are sad! If we can’t even make sense of our crazy emotions, how can we make sense of how non-animate objects and surroundings affect our emotions?  Thinking and reflecting on how we feel is tiring. Thinking and reflecting on how we feel and then applying it to a physical situation or environment is exhausting. Big oof.

In terms of concrete scientific research, it does not exist for my topic. Gauging emotions in response to architectural features isn’t something I can measure the weight of, or complete mathematical equations with! It is an abstract, nearly unreachable thing to study. This difficulty would align with frightening amount of effort required to understand it. It is a lot of work to conduct field research and collect data, and then, ugh, to analyze it! And yet, we, meaning architects and psychologists, try to do that and understand it. We all know that our environments are important in shaping our lives — think nature vs nurture — and that emotional responses do occur in response to specific situations. But the challenge arises in trying to record how emotions and architecture coexist. Are they a causation of each other? Are they even correlated? And that’s what I am trying to figure out.

When you realize you’ve been controlled by designers your entire life…

Disclaimer: I will not be attempting to control you in this blog post.

I first learned about the powers of visual imagery earlier this month. I was researching the genre of the infographic for my fist experiment in the gateway course, and since the genre is based in visual imagery, the psychology of colors appeared in my research. This was not new to me — I think we all have a basic understanding that yellow implies happiness, red:importance, green:growth, etc. But when I began to dig in deeper to the psychology of visual cues and perceptions, I discovered what could be considered the guidebook of design psychology. Colors are not the only visual cues that indicate certain emotions; the fonts, shapes, sizes, orientation, blank space, and occupied space all have preconceptions of meaning within our consciousness. Once studied, designers have the power to force a response from the viewer’s brain that coincides with how they want them to respond!

So to sum this up, mostly everything you see that has information more than likely is using design psychology, so that you can relate it to ideas and emotions you already associate its characteristics with. 

This discovery showed me that my chosen genre of the visual media  and my actual topic of the emotional effects of architecture were more alike than I realized! For example, my genre, the info-graphic, is heavily based on visual perception. Architecture is created in an aesthetic and physical way that is mostly experienced through visual cues. I think it would be great to get some architects and perception psychologists in a room together so they could discuss the best ways to make the built environment a pleasing experience. 

The Death of the Obituary

Ding, dong, the obituary is dead. Well not actually, but it has died in its popularity, frequency of readers, and overall quality of writing. There was once a time when the obituary section of the newspaper had many readers. And those readers would sympathize with the family going through the loss, remember the achievements of the person who passed and regret not knowing them. But what’s the point of having fans after death? And even more so, why do we care about people only once they are dead?

A week ago, I was notified that a family friend’s mother had passed away and was sent the obituary written in her honor. I had never read an obituary, and didn’t know what to expect. After reading hers, I became curious about obituaries as a form of genre and wondered which publications also published obituaries. I discovered that the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other big name publications could be commissioned to write them. While I was reading some obituaries by The New York Times, two things made me uncomfortable. First, I was unsatisfied with the lack of information on the personality and character of the deceased — all that was covered was their jobs and achievements. Second, the there was a lack of diversity in who the obituaries were written about, and more particularly, they seemed to only be written about the lives of old white men.

One obituary I read was romanticizing the life of Jimmy Johnson, the “studio staple of southern soul.” I found that Jimmy’s success and talent as a backup instrumental musician was fueled and exaggerated with name drops of famous artists like Aretha Franklin and the Funk Brothers of Motown Records. The obituary did a wonderful job with describing Johnson’s journey to start his own inclusive recording studio in Alabama, along with how his studio produced soul music that other southern studios refused to publish.

But once I finished the reading, I felt discomfort and dissatisfaction. The obituary honored and remember Johnson well, but I didn’t know anything about Johnson as a human being. I knew him in black and white. At that point, Johnson’s obituary was like a Wikipedia page — although some Wikipedia pages are actually quite informative. I had read Johnson’s resume, a listing of his achievements and family, but I wanted to know if Johnson was loved by his colleagues for his puns or if he was good with his grandchildren. The lack of the rich, emotional information that really makes us understand a person wasn’t included in any of the obituaries I read. And why was that? After all, it’s always those movies that make us cry and remind us of our humanity that we believe are the best. Maybe it’s because of our social protocol to talk sensitively about the deceased, in caution that we will either regret not knowing them better. Or perhaps it’s out of our fear of death. I, for one, am terrified of dying. So by further diving into the life and character of a dead person, who will never again be able to share his or her presence with the world, only forces me to acknowledge the consequences of death.

Now to provide a quick lesson on obituary basics, there seems to be a structural template universally used by all the publications. The template is roughly like this:

  1. Name, place of birth, age, and place of death
  2. Cause of Death
  3. Family lineage
  4. Life achievements (college, job, job #2, retirement)
  5. (Optional) Funeral information

Understandably so, this template for obituaries honors the person who died in a way that makes it appear as though they had lived a full and successful life. Also, the whoever writes the obituary has to please the family of the deceased — because they are the ones who paid for it.

The second reason obituaries make me uncomfortable is the blatant absence of obituaries for young, multi-ethnic or female people. Furthermore, I had expected to see at least one obituary about a victim of Hurricane Dorian, but there were none, at least in national publications. This lack of representation, even in death, is alarming. While I understand obituaries cost money — to have one written in the NY Times is $50 per line — and due to socioeconomic status, an obituary may not be affordable or important, you’d think publications would write some pro bono obituaries to honor the victims of natural disasters and gun violence.

In a change of events, my stance about obituaries has been turned around. In the process of writing this blog post, I searched around and read obituaries from local and national publications. In doing so, I found some obituaries that were written quite well. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, really seems to honor the person who had passed, focusing on the impact he or she had on others in life and in death. The obituary for Valerie Harper, for instance, focused on Harper’s “all too human” attitude and friendliness. I enjoyed reading that portion of the obituary because it allowed me to connect to Harper and respect her. In addition, the obituary focused — more than once — on Harper’s 10 year battle with cancer. As somber as it is, acknowledging Harper’s journey with a terminal cancer reminded me of the strength and perseverance displayed when battling for life. The presence of the themes of hope and strength in an obituary was a complete turn around from the elevator pitch obituaries I first read.

In conclusion, if all obituaries cast the same respect and realness as the ones in the Los Angeles Times, the genre could move people to tears. They may not be your regular Nicholas Sparks novel, but these honest biographies of real people hit a different place in your heart. And once these obituaries become more inclusive in representing a diverse array of the deceased, they may become eligible for a Pulitzer Prize.