Choosing a Project Format

In my last post I discussed how I’ve been moving past the academic voice I am used to. Now that I’m trying to write in a “non-expert” style, I’ve decided to structure my project site as a blog (which you can view here). I am dividing my writing into blog posts, each of which will discuss one of the things I learned about urban informatics this semester. This has been made really easy by Wix’s blog post feature, where all I had to do was insert the content into a template and it is automatically organized into the stream format that is recognizable as a blog.

I like this format because I think that I can add new writing to it in the future, and maybe adapt it into a blog that I will update regularly. Although I’m proud of the work that I have done this semester, I have this strange feeling that it should have been easier. Now that my site is finally coming together, it seems like a lot more straightforward of a project than it was. I think this is because I didn’t start off with a familiarity with either the subject matter or the genre that I was writing in, and had to learn both on the fly. Confusion and uncertainty about what I was doing, or what I should do, caused my progress to be slow. And all of the background research I did was necessary to make my blog about its current subject matter. So on second thought, I think that this seeming inefficiency was actually the necessary experimentation I needed to go through to make my project site what it has ended up being.

Breadth vs. Depth: An Undergraduate Allegory

I took a lot of Big Capstone Leaps this past week: I sent my “finished” poetry collection off to the printer; I completely overhauled the design of my project site; I finished drafting my intro essay; I received my poetry collection back from the printer; I rejoiced a little.

Now, moments away from our Capstone showcase, I pause to reflect on this whole crazy-frustrating-rewarding whirlwind of an experience. It’s remarkable how my project narrowed and deepened overtime: I decided against photography in favor of printing a book; I took out the digital “poem bank” feature to focus on my own words; I spent months wading through the murky waters of editing, and editing, and editing. And editing.

It’s funny, though—it doesn’t feel like anything was lost, per se. Perhaps I sacrificed breadth to dive into depth, but this felt more appropriate for a project about loss and mental health. These topics deserve our full, undivided attention. All my project’s original extra bells and whistles ultimately felt like distractions.

However, when I think about the totality of my undergraduate career (ha…), I think about the promises of breadth. A notoriously indecisive student, I managed to select two of the least specific majors on campus (American Culture and Women’s Studies). I joke that these majors are for students who can’t make up their minds, and I’m right, in a way: American Culture is the most frequently cross-listed department at this University. I’ve taken AMCULT courses in History, English, Political Science, Arab and Muslim American Studies, Latinx Studies, Sociology, Women’s Studies, and Psychology. And I value this interdisciplinarity, this rejection of institutionalism and “pre-requisites” and all the other expectations that make majors rigid. I know it’s just one of those linguistic coincidences, but it seems apt that “breadth” sounds so like “breath”—the breadth of my coursework has allowed me to breathe.

But, sometimes, this breadth lacks focus—I’m driven by whim and not by rigor, and I enter my last semester of college wondering if I know much about anything at all, really.

In light of this, I think my capstone project provides a refreshing degree of depth: never have I spent this much time on a single piece of writing, a single project, a single word (honestly). And so, as I add the finishing touches to my Capstone Project and assemble my annotated bibliography, I’m thinking about how much I’ve valued the time and ability to magnify, to revel in detail, to generate something so full. What a remarkable opportunity.

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For any and all who want to see my collection in its final “book” form, I present a link.

It’s personal…

Initially, I had fears that my project which is essentially a bucket list, would not seem weighty enough for my capstone. It seemed that everyone was focusing on serious, important subject matters for their project, while mine seemed too surface level. I guess it just didn’t feel like it would have a place in the world without more context.

That’s when I realized that I would have to open it up, and myself, a bit more. I had to explain why I made the list. That meant that I had to delve back into the entire reasoning behind it, which is essentially a lowkey philosophy on life. It is also deeply personal and caused by things that have happened in my life. I knew that I didn’t want to dwell on them, nor did I want to write any more about the negative experiences (I wrote about them plenty in high school), but I realized that the reader would have no idea why this meant anything to me unless I showed them.

So I sucked it up, stopped being a baby, and talked about my life and what led to me to choose my capstone project. It wasn’t easy – I feel like when I write, I have to put myself into the mindset of what I’m talking about or it just won’t feel authentic. But, as many people pointed out, it needed to happen in order to create something meaningful.

Memoirs I’ve read don’t shy away from exploring the crummy parts – they don’t skim the surface and keep only the happy, light events/thoughts. They are gritty, they hurt, but they are powerful. The preface was my way of doing this, and I hope it gives context, relevancy, background, and significance to my piece.

I think what’s left for this project is to refine the narrative components. These do some of the work of the preface in that they provide substance to the seemingly fluffy.

 

 

 

Am I crazy or a writer?

^me trying to write for eight consecutive hours today.

Today was finessing my capstone project. It was a major overhaul of what I had before. A lot of the time was spent messing with Wix to help create the vision I had for the project in my head.

Subsisting on coffee, more coffee, and then some more coffee, my site and capstone finally feel (more) complete – likely it will never be TOTALLY complete in my mind but so it goes. It took a lot, if I am to be honest. I had to dig through my journals to try and capture the emotions of the experiences I was writing about, and I even called up one of my friends who was heavily involved in one of them and started bombarding her with questions about that particular night. It helped immensely to hear the same experience from a different perspective; it added depth and variation to what might have otherwise been a one-sided account of things. I still need to work on the narrative of my summer internship, but at least the shitty first draft is up.

Though as it is right now, it doesn’t seem to be something I can make a book out of, I would still like to play around with the idea of printing it somehow. I put a lot of work into the site and feel it is the primary mode of consuming the work, but there is something to be said about a physical copy of the work. It could compensate for the “randomize” button that Wix doesn’t have (all a reader would have to do is flip to a random page).

The biggest change (besides for the completeness) is the editing of the “preface.” With suggestions from the class, from T, and from Angie Berkely at Sweetland, I reconstructed the piece – though some basic elements are the same, the main point has been adjusted a bit, and I’m curious to see if it “works” better now. It’s definitely more specific and personal, which may or may not be a good thing. Time will tell I suppose.

Anyway, it’s late, I’m rambling, and I can tell that a caffeine crash is imminent.

A Change in Voice

Much of the writing I’ve done in the past few years has been for academic essays in school. These pieces seem to have a fundamental contradiction: I write about subjects that in all honesty I know hardly anything about as if I’m an expert researcher. I understand that this style of writing is useful in a class setting because it allows students to demonstrate their knowledge to professors. But it seems totally useless for anything other than that. Who wants to read dense, formal writing by an author who doesn’t have the expertise to say anything trustworthy and substantial?

I’ve engaged with and learned about a lot technical subject matter over the course of this semester: mapping software, health disparities, socioeconomic inequality, and academic research on urban accessibility, among other things. Although all of this has been really interesting, I don’t feel like I have the same authority as the professionals to make arguments about ideas in these fields.

A solution to this problem is to reorient the essay to be about my journey as a lay-person, seeking to learn about the subject matter. Since this is a new perspective for me to write from, I’ve been studying models in science journalism to see how other writers assume this voice. One idea is to lay out a premise and say something like, “So I decided to find out more…” and jump into a conversation with an expert, letting them use their authority to talk about the ideas. Although it’s uncomfortable to break out of my old habits, I think that this project will be a good opportunity to become more versatile as a writer.

Resisting resistance

 <<The level and depth of motivation I needed to start

Having finally landed on a specific project idea AND beginning it was an immense relief. Since my project involves a list of 50 items, and then narrative expansions on select items, I was particularly daunted by the whole undertaking. It was like staring at the Mind-Slayer from Stranger Things right in the tentacles and saying that I wasn’t afraid of it. Minus the weird exorcist-esque possessed theme, that’s kind of how I felt before starting.

T setting a deadline for me to finish an introduction to the project really helped get the ball rolling. I don’t know why, but sometimes, unless someone lights a fire under me, I resist starting the writing. It’s awful, and I wish I didn’t need it sometimes, but a deadline generally helps me get going on a piece of writing.

In past writing classes, this hasn’t always been an issue, but I’ve noticed a pattern for when it is: it’s usually when I am personally invested in the project. I think I resist because it means so much that I don’t want to mess it up or disappoint myself if the product isn’t as good in real life as it is in my head.

I seriously need to get over this though and accept that there are shitty first, and second and third and fourth, drafts and just begin writing.

Once I got started, the ball kept rolling, and within a matter of a couple hours, I had an introduction to my capstone, but more importantly, I finally gained a clear sense of what I wanted my capstone to accomplish and why it mattered to me. Based on feedback received from the class, this introduction helped them understand the project better and gave it context. If only I had done this sooner….

Grasping for Stove Burners (and other thoughts on editing poetry)

Hi. Hello. Howdy. Your friendly neighborhood Imposter here. On today’s episode of An Imposter Writes Poetry: an overly ambitious prose writer seriously underestimates the sheer amount of (mental and emotional) labor required in the poetry editing process.  

 

Because, as it turns out, editing a poem is not like editing an essay. It’s not a matter of logical consistency—you can’t simply ensure that every topic sentence reflects your thesis statement, that your arguments are supported with properly cited evidence, that you avoid passive voice.

Rather, editing a poem is a relentless series of impossible, subjective, detail-oriented questions, and they all matter. Punctuation matters. Word choice matters. Tense matters. Spacing and line breaks and indentation matter. Rhythm matters. One of my mentors explained it this way: editing is like putting on a blindfold, reaching over the stove with your bare hands, and trying to figure out which burners are hot. You need to feel the heat, the pressure points. The whole process is risky, dangerous, even a little futile. And, after considering every nook and cranny of the poem, after chopping and rearranging, after locating the heat and boiling some water and making yourself a nice spaghetti meal, you have to ask: does it still flow? Maybe? Somehow? Does it still mean anything?

The last time I seriously undertook the task of editing was in Gateway, when I repurposed a couple disparate journal entries into a (relatively) cohesive 12-page theory paper. When I consider this experience in the context of poetry editing, and I’m struck by a stark difference: whereas editing prose is largely a process of filling in gaps—to flesh out my repurposing paper, I added sources, filled in logical holes, refined personal narrative, and deepened my analysis—editing poetry is largely an effort in deletion. I look at my words and ask: Where am I over-explaining? Which stanzas are too opaque? What is unnecessarily repetitive? Whereas editing prose is largely a means of polishing—tighten syntax here, refine diction there—editing poetry is an exercise in destruction. One of my mentors explicitly asked me to “fracture” my poetry, to take away the tidiness. Perhaps I’d go so far as to say: whereas editing prose requires soldering words and binding thoughts, poetry editing requires breaking language altogether.

And so, after 5 iterations of drafts and 5 mentor meetings, I now pause and consider my collection. It’s funny how 7 poems seems like such a feeble number, but the effort itself feels so significant. It’s remarkable how much time I’ve spent on each and every word. Even as someone who deeply admires and appreciates poetry, perhaps never before have I considered the true feat that is the published poem.

I look at my collection, at my mountain of discarded drafts, and realize: there’s work yet to be done.

An Update

A week ago, while doing an in-class writing on challenges that I was facing, I wrote that I know the genre of writing I will attempt, as well as the subject matter I will write about, but that I felt like I didn’t have an argument. Fortunately, I think that I have made a lot of progress on that front over the past week. Last Wednesday I met with Tim and Tom, two PhD students in the Industrial Engineering department who are doing research on accessibility to public services in cities like Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago. This means they study things like the percentage of people who live within walking distance to a grocery store. After telling them that I was interested in writing about health disparities related to cardiovascular disease, they offered to help me see if there is a link between their accessibility data and publicly available data on health outcomes. So I think that this analysis will be central point that my other writing coalesces around.

Another problem I’ve been facing is that it’s hard to find the time and energy to write. A lot of classmates have mentioned this in their blog posts, but it’s a very busy time of the semester for all of my classes, and as I’m also in the process of applying for jobs, it’s hard to find uninterrupted blocks of time to work on my project. Overall, I am excited that my project seems to be coming into focus, but disappointed that it’s not progressing faster. Considering how my project has changed, and taking into account the busyness of life right now, I will have to reorganize my timeline to make sure that I will be able to have a finished product by December.

Ahead, and Behind

My capstone project has been progressing rather quickly this week, compared to weeks past. I have now finalized the data collection and statistical analysis necessary to write a publishable research manuscript, and created various tables and graphs to present the results in an accessible manner. The abstract, introduction, methods, and references are also written, and my mentor has already reviewed these components. Nonetheless, I can’t seem to figure out whether I am ahead of schedule, right where I need to be, or wildly behind.

I still need to write the results, discussion, and conclusion sections of my research article; create a website to house the final capstone project; write the Introduction Essay; and create an annotated bibliography to accompany my work. Additionally, the University of Michigan Pediatric Research Symposium, at which I will be giving a talk about my capstone project, is quickly approaching and I have yet to begin the accompanying PowerPoint that will supplement my presentation. It seems the uncertainty surrounding how much time it will take to complete the abovementioned tasks is fueling my uneasy feeling.

Nonetheless, I am looking forward to realizing the project I set out to complete, and my eagerness to potentially publish the research manuscript at the end of the term is especially motivating. After all, I find myself in this position at the mid-way point of almost every term, and up until this point, things have always worked out in the end. I am (sub)consciously depending on the same outcome in 6 short weeks.

LATEST NEWS: It’s All Coming Together

Now, over halfway through the semester, I can confidently say that my capstone project is comingtogether and I could not be happier about it. With my production plan always at the back of my mind, I have somehow managed to surpass the timeline I had estimated for producing the content for my website. As of today, I have completed what I expect to be the final blog post on advertising campaigns, as well as the formatting and layout of my site. Once I got moving on the first post, the others came naturally. Thankfully, I am researching a topic I am so passionate about that I never grew tired of the content I was reading, even if that meant spending a whole Sunday researching advertising from different brands.

Looking forward, there are three main components I still plan to add to my site, all of which will be found under the “About” tab located at the top of the page. The components are as follows: “About the Site,” “About the Author,” and “About a Professional.” The content for “About the Site” and “About the Author” will come from my introductory essay, once it is written. Here, I plan to detail how my project came to be and how my interest in advertising was initially sparked. This will give the site context, as well as credibility, as I do have experience in the industry. The “About a Profession” content will most likely be formatted as a question and answer sort of layout, as I plan to conduct an interview with my mentor when we meet. As a professor, Head of Social Engagement at an agency, TEDx Speaker and Cannes Lions Speaker, I expect my mentor’s experience with advertising and engagement to be extremely beneficial for aspects of this project.

Overall, my capstone project is headed in a positive direction. Once I receive feedback from my class during class workshop, and make any edits to my already existing content I think I will be in a very good place. I am looking forward to finishing out this semester strong and having a digital project to show for it.