Chudley and Me

Hey friends,

I’m really excited to introduce my project today: On Dogs—a site reflecting on the value that our little (or medium-sized! or large!) friends confer to those around them. As I mention within, I think most folks tend to passively state (or think about) how much they love their dogs. Perhaps it’s self-evident. You don’t need a reminder. But in losing my own just a few months ago, I’ve realized the value in thinking deeply and out loud about my relationship with him. I’ve come to find that intentionally and thoughtfully reflecting is, well, really important. My aim is to inspire that sort of robust discussion, and hope to have my site serve as your own personal springboard.

This has been quite the ride—I’m really proud of the final product, and I hope to continue visiting and contributing to it over the next few months and years. So with that—as they say in my new favorite show of quarantine, Top Chef—I’ll pack my knives and go.

To T and all of my W20 classmates, thank you for such an enriching semester. It has really been a blast, and I will surely miss it. Congratulations to all of you.

To Michigan, thank you for a truly wonderful and formative four years. It’s been a pleasure.

And to Chudley, thank you for being the best dog, friend, and brother any boy could ask for.

https://ntomaino4.wixsite.com/mysite-2

Final Thoughts—And Insights?

Future Capstone Students,

I’m tasked with giving you some advice on the class (generally), and on transitioning to online learning (specifically). I feel ill-equipped—candidly, it still feels like I am still learning myself, even as I’m about to click send on my last project of undergraduate. In any event, I hope some of these thoughts prove useful . . . and also know that if you’d like to reach out and chat about the class, I am more than happy to do so.

  • By now, you know what the Minor is all about. It’s creative, introspective, and daring. It pushes you out of your comfort zone. Lean into that. It’s likely your last semester in college, and it would be all too easy to take a back seat. Don’t do that. View this project as a culmination of your time at Michigan—academic or otherwise—and commit yourself to it.
  • In that vein, don’t be afraid to try new things. I suppose that’s tired feedback, but seriously—this will feel the most rewarding, in my opinion, if you experiment a bit and use your creative muscles.
  • Try to be open—not only with yourself, but with your classmates too. One of the best things about this class is the sense of community that we developed. It was really a joy to walk into class every week; once we transitioned to online classes, I looked forward to our sessions more than any other. That’s in large part—if not entirely—because of the people that filled the room. Conversation was honest, fun, and at times cathartic.
  • Definitely consult with your peers, professor, and mentors. I’ve found that feedback has been very useful (more so than in any other class).
  • Budget your time, and know yourself. Make sure you dedicate time not only to your project, but to your classmates’ as well. Transitioning to online platforms hasn’t been terribly difficult, but you do need to make sure you’re staying on track, which is often made more difficult by not having the normal routine of going into North Quad every week.
  • Have fun . . . don’t take your time in class for granted. It’s been such a pleasure to spend the last semester in this class, and I’ll surely miss it. Do the 5-minute journaling, and throw yourself into it.

This can be daunting, sure. But all will be well—plan the work and work the plan. I can’t wait to check back here in a few months to see what brilliant pieces you create!

Where I am—and where I’m (hopefully) going!

Hey friends –

What a crazy week. I hope you’re all doing well, and staying safe. I’m writing this post from the Law Library, where they have every other chair on top of the table for social distancing. I miss being in NQ with all of you, and am really looking forward to chatting with you next week on BlueJeans.

My project has evolved quite a bit since talking with you all last. To get you all up to speed, I’ve decided to change topics. As we listened to the former capstone students chat about their time in the class, I heard a recurring theme: “Make sure you are in love with—and totally invested in—your project. Your heart needs to be there.” I had fashioned a project about loneliness in the United States. I was intrigued by it because I saw it not only as a devastatingly sad issue, but also one that has drastic consequences. I had come to find that the effects of isolation are immense—both individually and collectively. But as I pondered it a bit more, and as I began to devote more brainpower to it, I could tell that something was off. And then it hit me. The words in class resonated perfectly. My heart wasn’t in it, and I thought I knew exactly where it might be: my dog.

To my mind, the general topic of this project will be—very simply—dogs. More specifically, I’d like to document certain people’s relationships with their dogs (what it means to them, what it provides, memorable anecdotes, etc.). I know it sounds a little vague, but stick with me. I’ll narrow the scope and provide a bit more background. The topline, over-arching question that will run through this project is:

(1) What is the inherent value that dogs provide in people’s lives? In other words, what benefits, if any, do they confer onto their “owners” or the people around them?

When I pivoted to this topic, I still wanted to stick with the podcast as my medium. The structure was going to be as follows:

(1) 4-5 podcast episodes with folks who have a dog(s)—and have stories that they are willing to share.

(2) Each episode will be guided by a set of interview questions (roughly seven or eight). These are, of course, the shell or outline of the conversations, but can be filled in with other tangents, comments, etc.

(3) The podcasts will be featured on my website under a tab entitled “THEIR STORIES”, and each sub-tab will feature their specific episode.

(4) In their specific pages, I will display not only an audio clip of their episode, but also a written transcript of our discussion. In this way, the viewer will have two options: to read the entire dialogue, or to more casually listen to it.

(5) These pages will also (ideally) feature photos of the individual and their dog.

(6) In addition to the “THEIR STORIES” tabs, this website will also feature “MY STORY” and “YOUR STORY” sections. The former will detail my story, with my answers to my set interview questions. And then the latter will offer the viewer the option of inputting his or her own story. They will be given a PDF document of the 7-8 interview questions so that they can reflect—or, perhaps, ask others around them.

Now that we are transitioning to online classes—and buildings/events are being shut down—I am thinking it might be wiser to stick to a written/non-audio project. I would still like to interview people, but getting in the podcast booth with them may prove to be a little tricky. With that in mind, I could still interview folks, and then transcribe their answers onto my website (similar to what Ashley did for her project).

I am fairly comfortable with this potential switch. If I were to do this, I could potentially feature a few more tabs on my website, aside from personal stories. As of now, I have 2 folks to interview (and am hoping for 2-3 more), and I have my interview questions set. I am looking forward to chatting with them next week, and then beginning to build my website. I’m really looking forward to getting these conversations rolling, and then to doing my own personal narrative/writing.

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you! And if you—or someone you know—has a special relationship with their dog, let me know! Talk to you all soon 🙂

Project Pitch Reflections

It feels like nearly centuries ago since I last posted on the MiW Word Press, but I am back baby — and it sure feels great. So, without further ado, I’ll jump into how my pitching process went during our second day of class.

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I’ve been loosely thinking about my Capstone project since learning about the course, say, two years ago. I’ve known that I wanted to make it something of a thesis — a product that signifies the culmination of my academic work at Michigan. The cherry on top, if you will. It’s certainly a massive undertaking, so when actually taking pen on my pitches, I started out by leaning on what I was comfortably with. My pitches included exploring (1) occupational licensing, (2) the University of Michigan, (3) loneliness, with public policy as a potential corrective, and (4) running.

The first — occupational licensing — is a topic that I have developed a serious, albeit unconventional, interest in over the last two years as a public policy student. I have written a lot on it (particularly the ways in which it can be reformed), and really enjoy reading editorials/reports/etc. on the topic. But, after talking with my group in class, I realized that it might be time to let go . . . at least for now 🙂 I want to push myself out of my comfort zone and try my hand at something a little new.

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Chatting with my group members was cathartic and clarifying. We talked about the ways in which topics (2) and (3) may overlap. I liked that idea a lot, and since leaving class have been incredibly excited about it. I’m currently thinking not only about the correct medium for the project, but also, with that in mind, the appropriate balance to strike. I want the project to serve as a potential recommendation — either to U-M administrator (if I write about loneliness within the context of the school), or to a government official (if I expand the scope).

Our Capstone goals also excited me, particularly the idea of “leveraging writing experience in order to address current writing problems in conversation with other Capstone students during discussion, workshop, and the MiW blog.” Already I can see that honest, vulnerable conversations in class will be invaluable along the way.

All that is to say that I feel like I am in a great headspace right now — I’m excited, motivated, and, maybe, a little nervous. But I’m ready to go, and I can’t wait.

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TED Talks for Dummies

Summary of Stage 1:

In contemplation of which origin piece to select, I felt really fortunate to land on my first essay from my English 125 class, entitled “Checklist.” I wanted to started off my freshman year with a creative spin, so I resorted to what I knew best – checklists. As you can imagine, the essay was structured as such, with each list followed by a narrative account. It felt right, except for the fact that at the bottom of each list was always a box left unchecked – a certain goal that was frustratingly unattainable. At the time, I thought that this structured organization and rigid system of goal setting was flawless, but, you will come to find out that at the end, I seriously consider dropping this way of approaching life. The last sentence of the essay reads: “☐   Leave the checklists in the past.”

 

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I’ve realized that the main problem with this piece is that it is, well, unfinished. I have not made up my mind and, as I continue to follow down this structured path in my current life, I am left uninformed as to whether or not I am doing myself any justice. My first experiment aimed to delve into the psychology behind checklists; however, after researching the topic, I ran into a dead end. What’s more – like Maya and her podcast experiment – I found that the “research motions” that I was taking were far too similar to my daily routine. So, moving forward, I’d like to have more fun with my experiments (and venture into disciplines that I am unfamiliar with). I’m really excited that this class lends a lot of flexibility in this cycle, so this time, I’d like to tackle a TED Talk.

 

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How to Present a TED Talk:

This approach is definitely exciting, though fairly daunting. I would wager that most people have seen at least one TED Talk before, so they would know that they are pretty amazing presentations. They are all very well thought out, covering stimulating topics, accompanied by aesthetically pleasing slides, graphics, etc. For some background information, I should add that TED — which stands for technology, education, design – began in 1984 as a yearly conference wherein industry leaders and creative types went to exchange “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

So ~inspirational~ right?

Since then, though, TED has created a variety of spin-offs, putting hundreds of speeches online every year, garnering millions of views. Notwithstanding that my goal isn’t fame of this magnitude (though, that would be pretty awesome), I still think that I should go about its production in a similar vein. Chris Anderson, the owner and global curator of TED, mentions that in order to create a talk, “you have to have something meaningful to say, and your goal [should be] to re-create your core idea inside of your audiences minds.”

That’s easy enough, I suppose. My ultimate goal is to spark a conversation regarding checklists – a pretty typical, yet, perhaps, overlooked topic. Similarly, in “TED’s secret to a great public speaking” (a YouTube clip), they suggest that presenters must give people a reason to care and build ideas with familiar concepts. I definitely think these are really salient factors – and ones that I think I can incorporate. Crafting stories might prove to be relatable to the audience wherein they might also be able to think about their own personal anecdotes. I know that my origin piece is essentially a compilation of four different personal experiences, all centered on a checklist, so I think that could work really nicely.

On a more detailed note, TED’s website is also very informative as how to develop slides for the presentation. It notes that the slides should be light on content so as to not distract the audience and should use a simple slide background. Although these might be rather straightforward, I think it underscores the importance of a minimalistic approach. I’ve found that a lot of the talks that I am really fond of use pictures, instead of written words, so I think that could be really neat. I’d love to run with some of the visuals that correspond with my stories.

Perhaps one of my greatest takeaways — and most profound revisions to this post — is the fact that when approaching a TED Talk, I must “pick a side” when discussing the topic. In other words, I cannot ambiguously present a variety of perspectives regarding checklists; I must answer the “unresolved” aspects of my origin piece and persuade my audience to agree with me. As noted above, I will still attempt to do this through pictures and anecdotes.

I am really looking forward to hearing everyone’s feedback! There are so many intricate talks that have inspired a lot of people, so I am interested in hearing about all of the different twists that I might be able to incorporate within mine.

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How to Write an Academic Article

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Stage 1 Summary

Hey everyone! Ok, so in contemplation of which origin piece to select, I felt really fortunate to land on my first essay from my English 125 class, entitled “Checklist.” I wanted to started off my freshman year with a creative spin, so I resorted to what I knew best – checklists. As you can imagine, the essay was structured as such, with each list followed by a narrative account. It felt right, except for the fact that at the bottom of each list was always a box left unchecked – a certain goal that was frustratingly unattainable. At the time, I thought that this structured organization and rigid system of goal setting was flawless, but, you will come to find out that at the end, I seriously consider dropping this way of approaching life.

The last sentence of the essay reads: “☐   Leave the checklists in the past.”

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I’ve realized that the main problem with this piece is that it is, well, unfinished. I have not made up my mind and, as I continue to follow down this structured path in my current life, I am left uninformed as to whether or not I am doing myself any justice. So, for this stage I would like to delve deeper into the underlying psychology at play here. More clearly, I’d like to tackle a research/academic paper in lieu of a strictly personal narrative. And, at the end of it, I’d like to walk away with something ~scientific.~

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How to Write a Research Paper

Ah, yes – the dreaded land of academic articles and research papers. We all have encountered them and their esoteric jargon, but how do we actually go about writing them? Do we just throw a slew of fancy words against the page and hope they sticky? Probably not (though, that might be what BuzzFeed would suggest). So, in an effort to avoid that, I’ve contacted the source directly – that is, academic articles on how to write academic articles. It’s a match made in heaven.

 

  • From A Guide to Writing a Scientific Paper: A Focus on High School Through Graduate Level Student Research” I’ve learned the proper formatting for such papers. This guide, provided by Renee A. Hesselbach, details the importance of providing an abstract – one that could in fact stand alone. Throughout my experiences, I’ve always found these to be incredibly helpful – perhaps even too helpful – so I will definitely need to find just the right amount so as to deter my audience from focusing exclusively on the primer.

 

  • Additionally, from Harvard’s Writing Center’s “A Brief Guide to Writing the Psychology Paper,” I’ve learned that the majority of sources used will be empirical reports found in journals. It also mentions that, whenever possible, I should cite articles from peer-reviewed journals (meaning that the journal requires that the article be reviewed by experts in the field before it is published).

 

  • And, lastly from Columbia University’s “Writing a Research Paper” I’ve learned the importance of something that I once though to be, perhaps, very trivial. Here, it stresses that the title must be specific enough to describe the contents of the paper, but not so technical that only specialists will understand. Given that I don’t want my paper to be used by really niche groups – but rather, well, everyone – it’s important that I not overlook the fact that the title should be appropriate for the intended audience (in hindsight, I suppose I knew this, but I now will be giving it much more thought and attention).

 

Lastly, in order to be effective, it would be helpful to have a specific research question. For this, I think what I am targeting is something along the lines of: “Do checklists – as they pertain to everyday life – increase anxiety and ineffectiveness or do they allow for increased happiness and productivity?”

 

That is all for now; if you’ve gotten this far, thank you! And, if you have any experiences with checklists, I’d love to hear about them!

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~The Inarticulable Nature of Self~

Alas, I’ve been asked to introduce myself again — a feat that has not grown easier with time. In contemplation of who I am, I have encountered the same difficulties that faced Leslie Jamison and Jack Gilbert. I’ve found that language often can encapsulate precisely what I want, but that it also has its deficiencies. Whenever I want to write about myself, I have a slew of thoughts, but can never find the appropriate words or tone. Notwithstanding this oft-felt befuddlement — or perhaps, because of it — I have a fascination with words. And, for me, one of the best ways to broaden this reservoir is by making a list of particularly striking ones when I read. Over the past few months, I’ve started to collect a respectable list on a sticky note on my laptop.

Given that I find writing about myself to be relatively challenging, I figured that a few of these words that stuck with me might have the ability to shed some light as to who I am. Here goes nothing…

Circumspection (the quality of being wary and unwilling to take risks; prudent): Although it’s on the list, I’d say that I’m not entirely circumspect. Throughout my time in college — particularly starting in my second semester of freshman year — I think I’ve become significantly more daring. I’ve started to release my inhibitions (thanks, Natasha Bedingfield).

Letting the perfect being the enemy of the better: Ok, I wasn’t totally transparent; I also like to put phrases on the list as well. This one that stuck with me — and is one that initially made me pause for a few seconds. You’ll come to find that I like things to be done a very certain way (even to a fault). This line has taught me to be a little more reasonable my own personal expectations. Beyond my own work, I think this is germane to a wide variety of disciplines.

Apoplectic (overcome with anger, extremely indignant)Similarly, I wouldn’t say that I am ever this angry — that is, except when the Cavaliers continue lose to the Warriors.

Perspicacious (having a ready insight into and understanding of things): This word is on the list (1) because I think it rolls off the tongue nicely, but also (2) because it is something that I value. I’ve always been intrigued by renaissance men/women and hope to embody them someday.

In hindsight, maybe this approach didn’t suffice. I think I’ve barely scratched the surface as to who I am. But, maybe that’s a positive thing. This wasn’t an exercise of circumspection; it was definitely an unconventional way of going about introducing myself to you all. I’m not totally in love with it, but I’m not letting the perfect be the enemy of the better — that is, instead of writing something rather trite. I’m also not too apoplectic about it (and I hope you aren’t either).

I don’t think I’ve quite reached the last word; perspicacious.  Recently I watched an account of Winston Churchill and, at the end of the movie, a particularly compelling quote was displayed on the screen. It read: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Put simply, it is incumbent on all of us to go with the ebbs and flows of life. So, while this post might not have been entirely perspicuous, the continued effort to get there counts. In short, that is where my excitement for this Minor stems from…the pursuit of becoming better.