David Throwing Stones @lib.umich.edu

Since the Capstone Project was first introduced to our writing class last spring, I have occasionally thought of and jotted down ideas for what seemed like the most intimidating project I’ve been assigned to date. A few ideas were further developed after being recorded in my Notes app, but nothing was solidified. I knew one thing: this project would not surround business, which is my primary concentration. The problem was that none of these ideas was more noteworthy than the one that preceded it. They didn’t have the spark or pull that I was looking for; something was missing from this list of ideas, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Fast forward to the start of the Writing 420 course when the Capstone Project becomes a reality. An assignment to aimlessly browse the Michigan Library Research Guides seemed easy enough but I had no expectations for fruitful results. To my surprise (and slight dismay), my list of ideas quickly expanded to include topics I had never considered before: genealogy, architecture, numerous histories of remote subjects, an espresso book machine, and cartography, just to name a few. My initially close-mindedness quickly faded away as my list of potential topics tripled in size.

Although the list in its current form now looks somewhat daunting, I am comforted in knowing that there are so many paths to explore during the initial part of this course. It certainly raises exciting, new challenges for me to tackle as I take on the Goliath that is the Capstone Project.

Come On, Mitch. You Can Do Better Than That.

Mitch Albom penned an opinion article this weekend discussing the most recent uproar from BAMN (By Any Means Necessary): a protest against the University of Michigan Admission Office for denying Brooke Kimbrough admission. Despite Kimbrough’s 3.5 GPA and score of 23 on the ACT, BAMN, an affirmative action advocacy group, claims that Kimbrough was denied admission on the grounds on race.

The intention of this blog post is not to comment on Kimbrough and BAMN’s efforts. Instead, I would like to discuss the quality of Albom’s article covering the topic. Admittedly, I haven’t read anything from Albom since senior year of high school, at which point I thought Tuesdays with Morrie was a work of art. I recall enjoying Albom’s work for his simple yet direct use of language. Reflecting back on what I read, it wasn’t incredibly thought-provoking. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoyed his work so much in high school.

Upon revisiting Albom’s work when I opened this article, the quality of the piece was disappointing. It was not well-phrased by any means, in fact I thought his argument was written quite poorly considering the journalistic nature of this piece. There were several instances throughout the article when Albom could have used stronger language and more thorough support for his argument. For example, he uses the following passage to explain his interaction with Kimbrough:

When I asked Brooke why it’s wrong for U-M to set a similar bar (she was denied admission with below the U-M averages of a 3.6 GPA and a 23 on the ACT) she said U-M needed to “represent the state. Blacks are about 14% of the population, so it should be 14% roughly.”

I pointed out that whites were 79% of Michigan’s population, but officially 57% of U-M’s, so should we adjust that up? “That’s ludicrous,” she said, claiming it should only apply to minorities. I then noted U-M was 11% Asian American, but our state was only 2%. Should we adjust down?

“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” she said.

While I appreciate Albom’s logic, this was a lazy way to explain his point of view. Instead of including research on other universities or even citing UM’s efforts to become more inclusive of minorities, Albom asked Kimbrough, 17, to answer these questions and simply inserted a few statistics which require little effort to obtain. It is important to note that Kimbrough is just 17. While one could argue that Kimbrough brought this media fire upon herself, she shouldn’t necessarily be expected to have all the answers to deeper issues of race and inclusion. Although Albom did state that he found Kimbrough, “passionate, affable, intelligent and, like many teens her age, adamant to make a point,” this passage portrayed her as careless and short-sighted. Kimbrough may have a lot to learn; however, this passage was written in poor taste.

Additionally, Albom made several unsupported statements throughout the article. For example:

And in the future, if she really wants to change things, she can create a two-parent, high-standards home for her own children, and follow an age-old pattern of each generation pushing the next to do better. More than any ethnicity argument or admissions policy, home life will determine educational success.

This passage is full of offensive assumptions. First of all, why does Kimbrough have to change this by making a better environment for her children? Did she mention she wanted children or is this an assumption based on her gender? If Kimbrough wants to change UM’s diversity policies in the future, there are numerous ways she can go about doing so besides having successful children.

What’s more, several studies have concluded that two-parent homes yield more successful students, yet Albom doesn’t mention any of them. This is a blind assertion that would easily offend anyone coming from a single-parent household. 61.7% of households with children in Detroit are single-parent households, and this article was published in the Detroit Free Press. Therefore, Albom alienated a large portion of his audience. Furthermore, the phrase “age-old pattern of each generation pushing the next to do better,” sounds condescending towards Kimbrough’s family and families of other students who were denied acceptance to their universities of choice. This wording makes it sound as though the parents of those students did not create a “high-standards home” or push their children to do well, which is likely not the case in many instances.

More importantly, the last sentence ignores major sociological factors that determine academic success. Home life is critical to success for students, but so are the school environments that students have access to. Inner-city schools more often than not have high drop-out rates and rarely send students to post-secondary institutions of UM’s caliber. If Albom wished to be more convincing, he should have acknowledged this fact and then cited studies about home life and its effects on educational success.

The final key issue with Albom’s article, which I alluded to earlier, is that Albom took advantage of a 17-year-old to make his point. Kimbrough was an easy target and Albom certainly leveraged this fact to write an easy argument. Albom discusses Kimbrough’s future success in his conclusion:

And with that, Brooke Kimbrough wasn’t white or black: She was one of countless kids today who feel that without their first college choice, their future is doomed. I told her it’s not. She can do great things attending Michigan State, Iowa, Western Michigan or Howard — all fine universities that accepted her.

I think Brooke Kimbrough has a bright future. She was tossed into a fight that she doesn’t want to become personal. That’s good. Because this decision wasn’t personal. It wasn’t a “noose.” What she experienced was disappointment, not racism. And when she said, “I don’t have all the answers,” that, Brooke, is the start of wisdom.

After Albom condescendingly dismantled Kimbrough’s arguments earlier on, the conclusion seems like a half attempt to make himself seem level-headed and kind. To me, the conclusion comes off as incredibly patronizing.

Though I agree with Albom’s logic in this piece with regard to the actual issue, I believe this article could have been revised to make a stronger argument and do more service to Kimbrough. In addition to isolating a large audience, Albom ignored several critical components to educational success. This dampens his credibility as a journalist. Hopefully Albom isn’t planning on writing any novels about diversity and education any time soon.

Sorry, Mitch. Might be time for a J-school refresher course.
Sorry, Mitch. Might be time for a J-school refresher course.

Take your coat off. Stay a while.

My mother once told me that some people only come into your life for a short while, and that’s ok.

I’ve given that same advice out to plenty of friends in college. Whether I was comforting an acquaintance freshman year upon her realization that she would likely never see many of our hall mates again, sympathizing with someone after an unexpected breakup, or consoling a friend who lost someone dear, I could always offer one piece of advice. Many humans will come into your life. Some of them will always stay just that, humans. Others will grow to become friends. Of that group, a few will stick by your side for a significant amount of time. An even smaller number will remain with you forever. Those that come and go aren’t any less valuable.

Then someone walked out of my life.

It was not ok.

I asked myself ten times per day what I could have done to make him stay, but the answer was nothing. After being together for two years, he decided he couldn’t be in two places at once: physically in Chicago after graduation and mentally here with me in Ann Arbor. As hard as I tried to persuade him that his logic was flawed, there was nothing that could be said to convince him otherwise until it was too late. He let me go, so I finally let him go.

Losing a best friend that way made me doubt all of the advice I had touted to friends. Moving on from that part of my life seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. For anyone who has been through something like this, you know that this specific feeling cannot be put into words. It’s an experience and a state of mind that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. As I laid back in bed counting the ceiling tiles to distract myself for a few seconds, I thought I would never heal. I thought nothing would be the same again.

I was wrong about many things but I was right about the last part; nothing is the same. I’m better off because of this experience and grateful that I had him in my life, even though I still wish it was for a longer duration of time. I allowed time to do its job and gained some perspective on loving and losing love, and I’ve realized loss and love are actually very similar. Both are malleable. Both are so overwhelmingly powerful they take you to places you couldn’t conceptualize before. They each have the ability to knock the wind out of you and leave you standing as though you have holes punched in your heart. Both produce an unfamiliar sensation in your gut that feels like your stomach and kidney are playing jumprope with your intestines. Love leads to loss and loss leads to love.

Most importantly, love and loss both make space for something new. Some people will walk into your life and sit down, while others will leave without ever taking their shoes off. In the meantime, I’m happy to keep a coatrack near me for the next stayer.

An example of loss leading to greater love. My grandfather c. 1985.
An example of loss leading to greater love. My grandfather c. 1985.

 

Ode to the Rudest Roommate

Greetings MIW Colleagues,

I’m going to take advantage of blogging bonanza and the open forum that is the internet to introduce you to my roommate. We’ll call her R.

It’s currently 3:18 AM on Easter Sunday during finals weekend. Most of you are asleep, and I’m jealous. R has invited over several of her associates to engage in some form of socializing, an unfamiliar concept to me during finals. I say “some form” because this is not traditional college socializing. No. It’s a mix of drinking and yelling with a conversation about existentialism, prison reform, the purpose of higher education, neo-conservatives and liberals, and the “evil” that is Bloomfield Hills. Don’t ask me how all of those things relate to each other – I don’t have an answer. I witnessed some of it first hand, but after the following quotes I quickly retreated and am now coming to you live from my bedroom:

“If Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had a baby, it would be Kony.”

“I have a fundamental disagreement with the hashtag.” #what? #badmillennial

“I’m not welcome on this campus because I believe capitalism is the root of all evil. I’m a proud socialist!”

“Business school students are all sell-outs and evil. It’s a crime that they make money.”

“Everything is symbolically meaningless.”

“Free will is an illusion. Just like majority votes.”

Now, regardless of your political views, the intellectual level of this conversation is about on par with that of a fourth-grader. And that might be selling the fourth-grader short.

My alarm is currently set to 9 AM so I can wake up to celebrate Easter and then make my way to the library. That’s in less than 6 hours.

6.

Hours…

6 hours.

My frustration has resulted in the following haiku, drafted for your entertainment.

 

Sad Roomie Haiku:

R you disappoint.

Your friends are all neurotic.

Please tell them to go.

 

I’m sure many of you have experienced similar frustrations during your time in college. I can only hope that the sounds coming from the other sides of your doors are a little more enlightened than these.

For the record, my first attempt at spelling existentialism was “eggsistentialism.” Welcome to 3 AM.

R. You're killing me.
R. You’re killing me.

 

Future MIW Kids: You’ll Never Really Finish Anything

Seriously. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my first semester as a writing minor, it’s that you will turn in every piece of work feeling as though it’s not done. It could be tweaked. It could be altered. That one sentence in the third paragraph on the fourth page is ever so slightly off, but you turn it in anyways. And you read it proudly out loud in front of the class. Because we’re writers, damnit! And writers are never finished.

And that’s ok. You aren’t alone. The sooner you accept this to be true, the sooner you’ll be able to embrace this experience for all that it is. It’s an opportunity to explore not only your writing process, your language, your structure and tone; it’s a chance to experiment with ideas and words and smash them together until you’re left with a big, beautiful dictionary collage. You’ll write things that are silly. You’ll write things that are much more significant and meaningful than you thought possible. Best of all, you’ll start thinking like a writer.

Thinking like a writer means you read sentences in your textbooks twice and ask yourself whether they could have been formed better. You admire writing in new places, like documentaries, songs, and the menu scribed in chalk at your favorite coffee shop. You become more effective in your own speech, learning how to say more in fewer words. You’ll piss your friends off by arguing about semantics, but that’s ok because now you’re thinking like a writer!

So, my advice to you is to keep an open mind. As someone who has always been told she was a good writer, and I’m sure many of you can relate to that sentiment, learning how to keep an open mind was easily my most important takeaway from this class. I realized I have so much to improve upon and becoming a writing minor was just the first step on my journey to become a better writer and thinker. You can never be done growing as a thinker. So you’ll never be done writing.

A writer is never truly finished.

I consider myself to be approximately three in "writer years." Old enough to be slapping words together but not old enough to be saying anything too profound.
I consider myself to be approximately three in “writer years.” Old enough to be slapping words together but not old enough to be saying anything too profound.
This is a photo of me and my brother (still in little potato form), c. June 1996.

Punctuation: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

When I approached this task, writing a post about favorite and least favorite punctuation, the first step I took was to look up a list of punctuation marks so I could make sure I was choosing from a complete list. I discovered that in the English language there are 14 punctuation marks. 14 seemed surprisingly low considering how much time I spent throughout elementary and middle school staring at the blackboard while my teacher lectured for (what seemed like) hours on the four types of commas.

Despite my initial disbelief, I was still sure of my choice for least favorite punctuation mark: the exclamation point. (!) The exclamation point is and always will be the most unoriginal, lazy way to send a message. If you’re using language effectively and efficiently, the words should be strong enough to convey your message by themselves. If you think about it, every other type of punctuation has a unique purpose. The apostrophe makes contractions possible and denotes possession. Colons and commas both separate thoughts and eliminate confusion. Quotation marks bring life to dialogue. But the exclamation point? It modestly alters the tone of the sentence to make it slightly more impactful. There is nothing the exclamation point can do that a can’t be accomplished by a well-worded sentence.

My disdain for the exclamation point is quite different from my admiration for the semicolon. (;) Maybe it’s because of its complicated rules or antiquated origins, but I enjoy that the use of the semicolon is reserved for writers who make an effort to really understand it. People who do not actively pursue writing or care for proper grammar and punctuation usage never attempt to use the semicolon. It eloquently strings independent clauses together; this is no easy task for many writers. It’s as if the semicolon is the Hamptons of punctuation marks (for reference, the exclamation point is about equivalent to Fort Lauderdale full of spring breakers). 

For many, punctuation rules can confuse many young writers. Once mastered, however, punctuation has the power to give new meaning to writing. period.

The best kind of punctuation.
The best kind of punctuation.

It’s Tough to Hit a Homerun if You Never Step Up to Bat

While researching sources for my second project, an exploration of the gender gap in the United States political landscape, I came across an intriguing article that had the following to say about women in politics:

While ongoing analysis of political wins show that female candidates are just as likely to win their races as men, they’re still much less likely to initiate a run. The Women’s Campaign Forum, a non-partisan nonprofit established to encourage more women to run for office, estimates that 50 percent fewer women than men consider running for office.

In the article, Why So Few Women in Politics? Ask Sandra Fluke., author Robin Marty continues to explain that a large reason why females are not equally represented in Congress is not because they cannot get elected – it’s because they do not run for election in the first place. After years of unequal representation, women feel as though they are not qualified, educated, or experienced enough to even consider running for public office.

Upon reading this article, the direction of my research took a bit of a turn. The original scope of my project was a bit broad; I intended to focus on female portrayal in Congress and explore why female candidates are not elected at the same rate as their male colleagues. Now that I realize this statement is not true, I will now focus on why the female population, as a whole, feels as though it should not and cannot run for public office.

This is an important message for women to hear because there are fewer examples of strong female players in politics than there of strong men. Furthermore, many of the women who make powerful moves are either not discussed by the media or criticized for their wardrobe choices (and what do men even know about fashion anyways? UGH). The goal for my article is to show women everywhere that they are just as capable as men of holding public office, the United States needs female voices in Congress, and women should consider running in more political elections. Because let me tell you, I think most of the women I know could do a pretty amazing job.

We need more victory pictures like this one. You go, Nancy Pelosi!
We need more victory pictures like this one. You go, Nancy Pelosi!

Valentine’s Day: Diabolical Singles Rejoice

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. A time for couples everywhere to celebrate their love and singles to be reminded of their singleness, whether they are happy about it or not. Elementary schoolers bring paper heart cut-outs for their whole class while older valentines bestow boxes of chocolate and flowers on their loved ones.

While some claim that Valentine’s day is simply a “Hallmark Holiday,” invented solely for capitalist reasons, one University of Michigan student has taken this premise one step further. M., as I will refer to her, recently posted the following on Facebook for her entire social network to see:

Forget to make reservations on Main Street and now you can’t find a reservation for you and your loved one? Look no further. I have taken the liberty of making multiple reservations at many Main Street restaurants. You may now bid on reservations to secure a dinner for Valentine’s Day! Message me with offers.

what………

 

I’ll call this girl clever, but that’s as generous as I can be. Call Valentine’s Day what you will, M.’s plan is evil. Evil!

1. Leave the happy couples alone. I’ve been single on Valentine’s day a total of 18 times (unless you count my perpetual Valentine, my dad), and it’s completely bearable. Good for everyone else for shamelessly toting their happiness around town. Buy a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

2. It’s illegal. For a good reason. Driving up demand on one of the busiest days of the year makes everyone lose out. The customers, the restaurants, pretty much everyone involved except for M.

3. If you don’t endorse Valentine’s Day, there are plenty of other ways to channel your frustration into something more productive. You could plan a party for your single friends. You could volunteer at a soup kitchen and adopt a bunch of needy Valentines. You could call your parents and wish them a happy Valentine’s Day. Just don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

One thing is certain. Anyone who becomes M.’s tattletale will get a heart-shaped card in the mail from me this February 14.

JCO Masters “Less is More”

JCO Mastering the "Less is More" look in real life.
JCO Mastering the “Less is More” look in real life.

There is a special place reserved in heaven for people who can convey impactful messages in just 101 short words. Joyce Carol Oates is one of those people.

Her piece, My Faith as a Writer, eloquently summarizes her core beliefs about writing in 12 quick lines. The piece zips past you speedier than you’d think, and it is over almost as soon as it began.

Brevity; Conciseness; Succinctness; Compact; Economy of language.

I may be alone here since this is a community of people who love everything about the written word, but I prefer any of the above adjectives to the flowery, verbose language that I’m used to reading for class. It takes great skill to masterfully edit work down to its bare bones and include only what’s necessary to get the message across. I have respect for Joyce Carol Oates; she says what she needs to and not a letter more.

So, I will treat this post in a similar fashion and model it after My Faith as a Writer. JCO fan out.