Wrapping up the Semester / Thought’s on Conrad’s Portfolio

So as I was skimming through portfolios these past few weeks, all of which are stunning, I decided to randomly pick one to comment on because I only needed 50 points and couldn’t choose which one to do. All of you are phenomenal writers and someday I might get around to telling all of you how much I love your portfolios, but for the purpose of points and finals, here are some things that I like about your portfolio, Conrad.

http://cpmahr.wix.com/capstone-project

First of all, one of the things that really stuck out to me about this portfolio was the use of animation. The moving stars and text boxes on the home page and myth page caught my eye in a good way. They really showed you taking it to the next level and really stepping up your game. Also, while I’m on the home page, I loved the map theme you had going on there. I especially like the way you can only see the map at first, so you are given some time to process and form your own thoughts about it before you scroll down and here what you as the creator had to say about the home page. This way, you are giving your audience space, but still directing them in a helpful way.

Another thing that I loved was the use of images in your essays about each myth. It made the text seem much less daunting while tackling some big issues really well. It was great to see the short bio of the people you interviewed as well. It really emphasizes just how diverse and unique the population of Detroit is and how well you got to know these people. With interview projects, it can be easy to sort of focus on what is said rather on who is saying it, but that isn’t the case here and that is integral to your project. There certainly was a great humanistic element to the project and you emphasize it well.

Overall, it is clear you are passionate about this topic, which was the point of the project. I know that you and I talked about your project at a few different points throughout the semester, so it was nice to see it come to fruition. Well done, dude.

 

And well done everyone! I share Joe’s sentiment when I say that you all worked really hard and kicked some serious booty on this project! Good luck to all you seniors out there in the real world!

 

Sam

Making Stress Exciting

So today I returned home from class and basically cried in my girlfriend’s lap for 20 minutes about the amount of work I had to do on the project. She was very helpful actually because she basically forced me to stop crying and get my shit together. The question she asked was simple, but it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer.

“What do you have left to do?”

“A lot,” I mumbled into her dress. Thinking about everything I had left to do had left a knot in my stomach that was easier to leave alone then deal with.

“Well, what specifically?” She was getting impatient, so she got out a piece of paper and a pen and repeated herself. So I started at the beginning and she scribbled everything she heard down as I went.

The end game is the portfolio, which I have up and running with a decent amount of content. But there are so many parts, right? You have the project, the essay, your artifacts, and 3 separate annotated bibliographies. I realized I had bits of pieces of each that I needed to start melding together into one cohesive unit. I have a theme for the portfolio that makes it easier to think about and situate in my mind. I have 75% of a project, an OK draft of my essay, a list of sources (some are annotated), and a link to my portfolio. So now is crunch time. I have the tools, I just need the motivation.

And I found that motivation when I sat on the couch later that day, revising my evolution essay. I picked this project. I was not assigned a mundane project that a professor thought would teach me some facet of a college education that provides me with no real skill necessary to the real world. This is something awesome that I now have the power to make or break. And, when you are passionate about a topic, it is so much easier to make it than break it. So I made a much more detailed plan of action to get my head back in the game transfer the stress of deadlines into the initial excitement that motivated me to write my proposal.

So if any of you are worried and stressed, you aren’t alone. Just write it down, take it step-by-step, and remember how freaking cool these bad lads are going to look when we’ve finished with them.

Keep on keeping on.

Pursuing the Leviathan

Quick back story:

Ever since reading Moby Dick last year, I have a tendency to refer to large, overwhelming, and potentially elusive things as the “leviathan.” While I do have a tendency to be slightly dramatic at times, given the nature of this project, I think the comparison is justified. The translation, for anyone who was lucky enough to avoid this novel throughout their educational experience, is roughly “large sea monster.” Something elusive and overwhelming. Something that will probably make you a little crazy. Something terrifying. But also an entity that sublime and awesomely beautiful all at the same time. From hence forth, this project will be referred to as my own personal leviathan.

Moving right along:

I threw out a pretty random idea in class the other day that I am still working on, but since Ray already provided me with some basic feedback, I thought it best to post about another idea that I am equally interested in developing for this project. Something that I am really interested in and would really like to write more about is music. I started playing piano at age 9 so music has been a rather integral part of my life until I got to Ann Arbor. Once I started my journey as an undergraduate student, there just wasn’t enough time to keep up any sort of relationship with actually playing music, so that passion was pushed aside while I spent my days reading and writing for classes. This semester, I enrolled in Musicology 103 (titled Opera!) to try and incorporate some music into my education once more. (Also I started dating an opera singer). Regardless, it reminded me how much I loved listening to and performing music, and I would really like to use this project as a way for me to try and reignite that part of my life by combining my love of reading and writing with music.

The actual project: 

I was thinking about doing a sort of close reading of a piece of music. Reading a musical piece is rather similar to reading a book. There are many different elements that create the piece, all of which are important and have a variety of interpretations. Dynamics, rhythms, tempo, style, and the type of instruments used are all examples of aspects of a piece that can be analyzed in depth, just like sentence structure or word choice would be analyzed in literature. While I have a previous background with reading music, there are many things I have yet to learn which would require some additional research and probably a trip to the music library, but I wouldn’t ever be completely lost. This adds an educational and enriching aspect to the project so that I am learning, not just falling back on knowledge I already have. Basically, there are some amazing similarities between music and literature that I would really like to explore with the project and a really hands on experience (probably involving some sort of audio/performance aspect) would be central to its development and completion.

To A Writer

Dear Writer,

If you are reading this, you have elected to be bold (or crazy) enough to minor in writing here at the University of Michigan. Congrats, dude! As someone who just survived the gateway course that will introduce you to the rest of your minor, I am writing this blog post (under direct orders) to give you some words of wisdom. So, from one writer to another, here are the three main things I’ve learned this semester that I would like to pass onto you, the future generation of the writing minor.

1. Think big. The projects you will be assigned give you a lot of room to use not only your imagination but a great deal of on campus resources. USE THEM. You won’t regret it. Your project will be insanely awesome and you’ll have a lot of fun making it. Remember: It’s always better to overshoot than to underachieve so keep that in mind.

2. Don’t be shy with your writing. Especially for the first project, the more honest and real you are with yourself about your writing the more it will benefit you in the long run. Be bold, be brave. Try something new. You will got a lot more out of each assignment that way.  It also makes for a better story later.

3. Make friends. Believe it or not, you and the people in that classroom are going to have a lot in common. Don’t fret, it’s always awkward in the beginning but speak up! Talk to the kid next to you. Raise your hand in class. Tell someone they have a great idea for their project. Trust me, you’ll won’t regret it.

Basically, have fun with it. You are in this program by choice, so make the most out of it. Now go get ’em tiger.

;)

Whenever I reveal to someone that I am an English major, I’m convinced they immediately picture me in a classroom diagramming sentence after sentence or taking an exam on proper comma usage. And yes, while it is absolutely expected that an English major has a better than average grasp on grammar rules and regulations, there has yet to be a class in which I actively study such things. In fact, in my 325 class last semester, my professor told us that correcting grammar in our classmate’s drafts that we were peer editing was kind, but not essential. This is because they should be aware of their own mistakes and already possess the knowledge to properly correct them. That being said, I am not a “grammar Nazi.” I don’t walk around judging people for misplaced commas or dangling participles. When my friend sends me a text saying “Whats up?” do I immediately respond with “Don’t you mean ‘What’s up?'” No. I’m not THAT person. So bear that in mind as you keep reading.

That being said, there is one grammar rule that I find I cannot overlook and must correct and chastise whoever commits this mistake. I think that, at our age, we should all know the difference between “your” and “you’re” and “there” “their” and “they’re.” If I see a sentence that reads “When did you’re brother get home?” I literally want to punch something. When I read an email that says “The envelopes are their on the table,” I usually do punch something. It gets under my skin like a sliver of wood and I have to say something, despite the fact that people usually resent me for it. But what can I do? I can’t seem to help it.

On a lighter note, there are plenty of things about grammar that I appreciate. I can’t help to find something beautiful in the semicolon. Don’t you think so, too? No? Okay, well then it’s probably just me. I think the main attraction to this lovely addition to the English language is that not many people know how to implement it correctly and so they fear it. It’s kind of like when you are taking an exam and you are offered two essay prompts and told to pick one to write about. You’ve done the reading (because you are the poster boy/girl for a good student) but there is something about that first prompt that you are not 100% sure about. You THINK you might be able to produce a solid essay out of it, but that feeling in your stomach persists, so you go with the second prompt, just to be safe.

Such is the way most people feel about the semi colon. Sure they’ve seen it used many times before, but there is that ever-so-slight, lingering feeling of doubt that gives them pause. Is this the right way to use it? I’m not sure this is correct? So they make the sentence into two, or add a conjunction. Just so they aren’t wrong.

That’s why I love the semicolon. When I see it used correctly or even manage to use it correctly myself, I am thrilled. It is rare that I am able to properly pull of the slightly foggy use of the semicolon, so when I do, I cherish that moment as much as I can. I suppose a remembrance of that feeling has stuck with me and become associated with semi colons in my mind. So now I love them, even though I know that make me kind of weird. I mean, you can use it as a “winky” face. What more do you want out of a punctuation mark?

(also: shout out to imgur for the adorable grammar Nazi kitten featured in this post)

 

Inception: A Dream Within A Dream

We’ve all seen “Inception.” And even if you haven’t, you know exactly what it’s about (shout out to imdb for the movie poster featured in this post). Dreams within dreams within dreams. It can be quite hard to follow and comprehend, but this is Christopher Nolan we’re talking about, is anyone really surprised? But that’s beside the point. The topic of my second and third projects is going to be dreaming. More specifically lucid dreaming. For those of you who do not know what this is, fear not. I had no idea what a lucid dream was when I had one a few months back. Essentially, a lucid dream is a dream in which you are aware you are dreaming. Weird, right? It was like nothing I have ever experienced before, that’s for sure. The interesting thing about lucid dreams is that they can go one of two ways:

1. Stephen LaBerge, the expert on all things lucid dreaming (check this out for more info), says that once you can learn how to control lucid dreams and even induce them, the possibilities are endless. The main two actions, however, that most people partake in during their first few lucid dreams are flying and sex. Out of all the things you could do, sex? Really? Just to be clear, that is not how my lucid dream went down. And that brings me to the second way a lucid dream could play out.

2. When I woke up from my dream, I was sweating, my heart was racing, and I was terrified. For what seemed like an eternity, I was trapped in my dream. And by that I mean that I was aware I was dreaming and I wanted to wake up, but I couldn’t. What’s worse  is that every time I had thought I was awake, I found out that I was actually still dreaming. That’s how realistic lucid dreams are. It was awful and if you don’t know what’s happening, this could very well happen to you.

Yes, my first experience with lucid dreaming was not the best experience, but once I did some research, I became fascinated. Since then, I have been trying to induce lucid dreaming so as to have the opportunity to control it, to use it to fulfill some desire of mine that has been on my mind for a while. Dr. LaBerge is said to have from 1-4 lucid dreams per night. How is that possible you might ask? Well here are some of the steps to increase the likeliness of lucid dreams. Notice how I say “increase the likeliness.” There is no formula. No step-by-step instructions. No guaranteed results. But there are a few techniques you can practice that will make such a rare phenomenon much more likely to occur.

1. Make a dream journal. As soon as you wake up, write down everything you remember about your dream. Even if you think you did not dream or will not remember, try. This will help will your dream recall and make it easier to remember your dreams.

2. Reality Checks. If there is a piece of jewelry or watch that you always wear, check to see if that is present. If it is, you’re fine, if not, you could be dreaming. If you see a pattern of any kind (wallpaper, bricks on a building) look away then look back. If there are perceptible changes, you could be dreaming.

3. Nap. Research shows that lucid dreams are more likely to occur when you are sleeping for shorter periods of time. The more you take hour or so naps, the more you increase your chances of having a lucid dream.

(For a comprehensive list with a few more steps I myself am not following, check out this website)

I have been working on these three steps for a week or so now. No lucid dreams yet, but I remain hopeful. Regardless of my results, it is fascinating to learn about the vast capabilities of our own minds. It’s nice to know that sometimes, you can be limitless, even if just for a moment.

Practicing What You Preach

The other day, my friend sent me an email asking my advice on writing an academic essay analyzing a piece of literature. She figured appealing to an English major would be her best shot at getting the most beneficial information on the subject. I hope she was right. If I remember correctly, it was on Henry James’ The American, but that’s rather irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. We have been writing each other emails back and forth these past few weeks because she is in Spain studying abroad at Saint Louis University and expressing the necessary amount of detail that will sufficiently bring the other up to speed on the goings on of the other’s life is impossible to accomplish over text message. But I digress. They were good questions, not that there are such things as “bad” questions, but what I mean to imply is that they made me think. She asked me to explain the thesis; the heart and soul of every successful essay. A simple question, true, but an essential one to understand. If your thesis is too vague or confusing, the essay is bound to fail. It’s like trying to build a house without a foundation. So I wrote back: It is the main thing you want to talk about in your essay. It is a chance for you to tell your reader what you want to say and how you are going to say it. It is supposed to be an argument, something that provokes discussion and thought. And then I told her “Be bold. Say something unexpected.” Right after I hit send, I paused. Be bold? Say something unexpected? Since when have I ever been bold when writing an essay? I always play it safe, expanding those arguments that have been mentioned in class, but maybe not gone into as much detail as others. It got me the grade and that was enough for me.

photo (2)
The lovely Norton Anthology of Shakespeare

But here I sit in the Dude (even though I live on Central and am most certainly NOT an engineer), staring at my word document entitled “(Dys)Functional Friendships” (clever, right?) thinking about the relationships between Helena and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice. My thesis was crappy; I tossed together an intro paragraph two nights ago just to give me something to work with went I spent all night tonight (literally all night) scrambling to put together a rough draft suitable for workshop tomorrow at 9 am. What am I missing? I had absolutely no idea and I could feel the frustration washing over me, making my stomach hurt. Then I remembered my own advice, “Be bold.” So I was. Is Shakespeare arguing that these relationships have dominant and submissive positions because Helena and Antonio are so dependent upon the other half of their duo they are willing to sacrifice love and even their lives to be near them? Who’s to say? But that’s what I’m going try and prove in the next several hours. So wish me luck and remember: Be bold. You never know what could come of it.

Never is a Strong Word

The average life expectancy of Americans is about 79 years. That equates to approximately 4122 weeks, 28854.1 days, and 692499 hours on this Earth. Not only did “googling” those numbers give me a small panic attack because they weren’t nearly as large as I expected them to be (but large nonetheless), they made me think. What do we do with all this time? Do we travel to new cities every week and try new foods for every meal and experience new, thrilling events daily? No. Well, some of us might, but they are either terminally ill or have too much money for their own good. The frankly pathetic truth is that there are so many things to be experienced and interacted with in this world, but for the most part, we often adhere to only a few. The world is simply too big to allow for any other outcome. We are creatures of habit; of routine. Schedules and careful planning set our minds at ease. For this reason, it can be rather easy to find yourself bored with various aspects of your life rather quickly.

This is normal phenomenon. There is no escaping that callousness that develops after prolonged exposure to a particular object or setting. In fact, that ability to “get used” to something is precisely what helps us as humans to adapt and endure. The human stomach was not originally meant to be able to process gluten. Yet here we stand, devouring crispy bagels and toast dripping with butter  (aren’t you glad we adapted?).  On the less large-scale (and perhaps more relevant) side, this means that there are many aspects of our everyday lives that we find ourselves struggling to engage with each day as we tire of its ever-present nature in our lives. I get sick of my tennis shoes less than a month after purchasing them; my friend can never have the same color nail polish for more than a week; and so on and so forth. So what a magical experience it is when you find something that you never tire of. Now I know what you’re thinking: Never is a strong word. And it’s true that we can’t know whether or not we “never ” get sick of something until we die, but I suppose still enjoying something after 19 years is a feat in and of itself. So let’s just go with that for now. Here are a few things that I haven’t gotten sick of yet:

The smell of the room after someone peeled an orange – It is the most refreshing scent I have heretofore experienced.

Christmas trees – They remind me of a time when everyone is happy, together, and giving.

Chocolate – Need I elaborate?

Laughter –  I live for those times when I am so happy that all I can do to express it is laugh until tears stream from my eyes and I can’t breathe. 

And last but certainly not least (but certainly most sappy):

My family – Sometimes I think that I just need a break from the five people who I have spent more time with than anyone else, but whenever I leave them, all I want to do is have one more conversation with my eccentric brothers, my sassy sister, my goofy father, and my adorable mother.

This list is not set in stone. While at this point in time, I truly believe that it is, I have no way of knowing what the future holds for me. Human beings are not static; we are fluid. If we are not content with something, we have the power to change it, to make it into something different. Now that is something that I will never tire of: the ability to and make my own decisions and choices as I stumble along this long and winding road we affectionately call life.

 

 

 

 

No Wrong Way to Write

I think it is fascinating when people have delightful origin stories for various things. Once, when I was little, while playing barefoot around the pile of wood we had in our backyard, I stepped on a rather large, dead crow.  To this day, I have an overwhelming and rather irrational fear of birds. Everyone loves a story like that. Not only does it serve to as a source of entertainment, but it also gives people a glimpse into why you are the way you are. These stories open you up, allowing you to explore some of the reasons behind interesting character quirks or eccentricities.

People fawn over couple’s “how we met” stories and are intrigued by your “how I got this scar” story.  Not only are such tales good for pulling out at parties and wowing captivated audiences, but they represent that some solitary event in your life affected you in one way or another. And it affected you enough for you to carry it with you for weeks or months or maybe even your whole life. Such stories are powerful; they can be life-changing.

But I have one qualm with such stories. People don’t always have them. Sometimes, there is no hilarious or heartbreaking moment that led you down a particular life path. Sometimes, you don’t know why exactly it is that you hate strawberries, you just do. Which brings me to Paul Auster’s “Why Write.” According to Auster, he writes because he didn’t have a pencil for Willie Mays to sign an autograph for him one day. From that day on, he always carried a pencil and “that’s how he became a writer.” It’s too neat; too tidy. While that story could be absolutely 100 percent fact, there is still a sense of impossibility that I associate with it. Now, that sense of impossibility, in my humble opinion, has two implications.

One: It makes for a wonderful story. Like I mentioned earlier, there is a certain charm to such stories that make people smile and sit back thinking how great of a story that was. It also adds to Auster’s idea of writing to tell stories and pass tales on from person to person.

Two: It puts pressure on us to come up with such a tale. We begin to feel that we need a charming anecdote to tell at parties about why we wanted to become writers and then we panic when nothing comes to mind. This is troublesome to me especially, since I am severely lacking in such an incident that led me to writing.

But, now that I am reflecting on it, I needn’t be troubled by this fact. While Auster’s story is a good one, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that you can’t be a writer if you don’t have a similar one. I think what he is saying is that there is no wrong way to be a writer. His origin was not driven by a love of words or by writing his first book at age 10. It was because he missed out on getting an autograph from his favorite baseball player. What is magical is that such an incident that was completely unrelated to writing led him to be a writer. It just goes to show that people can and do write for many different reasons. It is inclusive and far-reaching. And that is why I love it.

For When You Find Yourself Wondering Why…

Write because why not? What do you have to lose? I know it’s scary. I’ve been there too. You think you don’t have anything worthwhile to say. You think no one will care. You think what you do have to say has already been said, and for that matter, said better than you could ever say it yourself. So what’s the point? But the funny thing about writing is that it can be whatever you want it to be. That’s what you need to understand. You don’t need to publish your writing. You don’t need to let your best friend read what you have written. You don’t even need to proofread it if you don’t want to. Just take the thoughts that are swimming around in that vast ocean known as your mind and write them down. Any thought will do. It doesn’t have to be happy or sad or funny or clever. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or political or eloquent. It doesn’t even have to be fully formed. Just write it down. I don’t care what you do with it after you write it. You can rip it up in a fit of passion. You can light in on fire and watch your emotions disintegrate into the air before your eyes. You can make a paper airplane and sail it across your bedroom, watching it float effortlessly above the clutter on the floor. You can scribble it all out, write something else, scribble it out again, and then write something completely different. Words are magical in that sense. The combination of them is infinite and so too are the possibilities for you as a writer. So write. Not necessarily because you dream of seeing your name on the New York Times’ Best-Sellers’ List or on every shelf in every bookstore in the country. But because why not? Write because maybe something on that paper has the power to change someone’s life. Write because maybe, something on that paper has the power to change yours.