This is the end

It is crazy that my time here at Michigan is coming to an end. It is absolutely bittersweet. Growing up, I all always heard people speaking highly about their time in college. The all too common, it was the best years of their lives saying had me very excited to attend. And I immediately loved college.

I know for some people there is an adjustment period or a time where there are some second thoughts about if you chose the right school, but I didn’t experience either of those.  I felt like I loved college from the start. I went to a small high school, and I was so excited to meet a bunch of new people each and every day. The last four years were exceptional, so I am sad to see it coming to an end. But graduating college, a good college, also feels incredible.

I think at this age, or in this past year, the job hunt and thinking about my future at times has had me thinking I haven’t accomplished enough yet. When I didn’t hear back from I job I would think to myself, I haven’t done enough. I don’t think I am going to be thinking that very often after this weekend. Graduating from a good school like Michigan is a tremendous accomplishment. I think we can agree on that and have that with us moving forward. So pretty sappy, but that is what I have been thinking about that.

While this is the end of my time at Michigan, it is also the end of the semester I spent working on my capstone. This has been a really fun experience for me. I came into the class nervous, with no idea what topic I could spend an entire semester researching and writing about. But now, in the end, I am kind of sad to be done with my capstone. I ended up getting really invested in my topic, just like Ray said we all would, and even now I feel like I want to change something to make my site better because I am proud of it.

So I am going to miss this class, and this University, but I am looking forward to the next big group of people I am going to meet, and the next place I live where the rent will hopefully be cheaper than Zaragon please.

Being impressed, but also anxious about my peers work:

I have felt myself feeling this in the past during peer reviews, and I have felt it at times this semester. In all the classes I have taken for the Minor, there has been some element of peer review. I think this is great, as I enjoy reading my peers work and getting their feedback on mine. But sometimes, sometimes I find myself uneasy in the classes where we give each other feedback.

What it stems from is the fact that in almost all of the peer reviews I have done, there is usually at least one, if not more, students who’s work kind of blows me away. I read his or her essay, and one of the first thoughts I have after is, wow, this makes mine look like shit.  This thought is coming purely from a place of jealousy, wishing I would have thought of that or I could write a scene like that. But, it still sometimes leaves me thinking my work might not hold up. Like this better writer who finds all the flaws in my essay might shred me in peer review. But then the peer review actually starts.

I usually (never) volunteer to go first in those awkward moments where no one really wants to volunteer to go first. The confident writer usually ends up going first, but this where things get better. I give them some praise with my comments, but then I make some suggestions and ask too many questions because they got me genuinely interested in what they wrote about. Damn them. But once I see they are receptive to my suggestions, like I make one and they immediately scribble it down, or we get talking about one the questions I asked, I start to feel a little better.

But then I am up, and I approach that moment, with a, alright, let’s see what happens here, attitude. I could see this going so many ways. However, any anxieties I might be feeling are quickly washed away when my group tells me things they liked about my piece. Especially the one I think is a dope writer. Because then I’m thinking in my head, wow, and they know how to write. And they like this shit. Well, it must be pretty fucking good then. 

I will acknowledge, having anxiety over this is pretty ridiculous. Because any time I have gone into a peer review anxious, the same thing has happened and any anxiety quickly dissipated and was replaced with blind confidence. In my time in the Minor, I have only had good experiences doing peer reviews. My peers offered the mild praise I guess I sometimes needed, and their critiques and questions always helped me create a better product in the end.

So this a blog about a weird thing to be anxious about, and a testament to the members of the minor for helping each other become better writers.

Challenge Journal: What I wish I spent more time on

One piece of writing I would have liked to spend more time working on was an essay I wrote on the television show, Bojack Horseman, sophomore year. While I was satisfied with what I produced, I really enjoyed writing about the greater meaning of a tv show. I argued Bojack Horseman was different than other animated shows as it had the ability to make its audience both laugh and cry. I wrote that while it looks like one thing on the outside, it is really something different.

“At first sight, BoJack Horseman seems to be a goofy satire of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but the viewer quickly notices that it is much more. What is at the core of the story is a character study of a very depressed horseman. While BoJack’s life may be outlandish and unbelievable, his insecurities are common. His character development, or lack thereof, turns another surreal thirty-minute animated comedic television show, into one of the most powerful tragicomedies on television.”

The main reason I want to spend more time working on this piece, or another similar one, is because it shows me the power of good writing. As a writer, if I want to tell a story, or teach a lesson, and that is my purgative, Bojack Horseman showed me that I can go about doing that in many ways. I don’t have to be straightforward or traditional for my readers (or viewers) to understand the underlying and universal problems I can explore in my writing. This allows a writer to teach its audience something they might not have signed up for in the first place. Most people who start watching Bojack Horseman likely just want to have a few laughs and relax. Luckily the show is funny, so a viewer gets to have those laughs, but before they know it, the show can take a dark and profound turn. A viewer that signed up to watch something funny soon finds themselves watching something meaningful that will stay with them after the episode ends. To me, this is true artistry.  The ability to be subtle with your point but also impactful with that point is something I want to strive for.

So I would have enjoyed to spend more time on this essay and to create more like it examining different shows or pieces of art. When I peeled back the layers of Bojack Horseman, I really took a liking to what I found. I can only imagine what artistry lies within the writing of other popular shows with deeper meaning than it seems on the surface like The Adventures of Rick and Morty.

Challenge Journal 4: The End?

It probably has something to do with undergrad being over and graduation being in a few days (please weather gods let it be warmer), but I’ve been in a very ~reflective~ mood as of late. I’ve been reflecting on my capstone, and on pretty much every single decision I made throughout my undergraduate career.

When it comes to capstone, finishing it was a little….anti-climatic. Even when I closed wix and vowed to not look at that site ever again because I’m so annoyed with it, I still feel like I need to go over it one more time. Make sure there are no typos, all the links work, things like that.

In a reflection I wrote for English 325, I wrote that

When it comes to my writing process as a whole, writing good rough drafts is now what’s most important to me. It allows me to focus more specifically on the choices I make throughout the essay, and I can work on developing them overtime, as opposed to just in the final draft.

Admittedly, I still rarely (if ever) write rough drafts if it’s not required. Which is dumb, because writing rough drafts improves the overall quality of my final paper sooo much. The more separation and time I can get between when I start something and when it’s due, the better. Which you would think starting capstone at the beginning of the semester and turning it in at the very end would make this like, the best thing I’ve ever written, since I’ve had so much time to revise. But with capstone, it seems like I can’t revise it enough. Maybe it’s because it’s not like a paper where once you submit it, that’s it, but for whatever reason, I just be done with my capstone. It’s done, technically, but it really doesn’t feel like it.

Challenge Journal – Was I wrong?

Looking back at my Why I Write for Gateway, I notice a lot of things. I had a lot to say, and it’s evident in the writing.

But one of my favorite parts of my pieces was the following chunk:

“Once I start finding associations, I run into more. It’s the chase. It’s a web that never ends. I could do this thinking in my brain, but how could I keep track of it? The web is infinite, so jumping from once place to another without at least keeping an eye on the initial or ending place or any of the stops in between is dangerous. It’s like those conversations you have with your best friend that result in questions about how you got on the subject in the first place, leaving you both confused and disappointed by your inability to backtrack and recover any of the beautiful ideas that were elicited mid-conversation.”

Well, I at least like the idea of it. As Ray mentioned a few weeks ago in our class, writing helps us to think critically about things. It’s difficult to develop a deep understanding of something without writing it down. I think a lot of that has to do with the statement I made above. It helps you track your thoughts and keep your point A and point B in your head simultaneously.

However, I might have been wrong. Maybe I don’t do that as much as I should. Going back to my first challenge journal, I discuss how difficult it is for me to write poorly (once again, not because my work is always good but because I have trouble just getting thoughts out). So maybe this really is something to work on.

Due to the scale of this project, I believe I’ve progressed in this area. There were many nights I needed to generate pages worth of content, but I knew I didn’t have time to fuss over the wording of every sentence, so I just wrote. This is a habit I hope to get into when I’m not pressed for time. Allowing myself to write poorly just to get the thoughts out there.

So maybe the idea I had of why I write from before was kind of wrong. I do love writing for its exploratory nature, but I need to utilize that more for sure. And the first step is writing poorly (put simply). Yay!

Challenge Journal – Only in my head

Hello, everyone!

I’ve realized throughout this semester that I assume too much. I come up with these elaborate ideas and map them out for myself in an outline, but when it comes to writing them, I act like the reader is in my head. I under-explain.

This was brought to my attention first when I received the following comment from my GSI:

“Your explanation might have explored in more detail the ways in which rendering the J and P Gods in this way illuminated certain aspects of the text, or dealt with the implications of doing so.”

The piece was for my “The Bible as Literature” course. I wrote a dialogue between the J and P Gods, which are both the God in the Bible, but, according to Bible scholars, written by different sources. Each source seemed to give God a different personality and tendency, so I created a conversation between the two.

Clearly, my ideas for how the conversation between the Gods illuminated particular parts of the text could have been better. But I guess I just assumed the people reading my paper were knowledgable about the Bible and would pick up on the interpretations I was making without me having to say them.

So I could try to be a bit more explicit about the implications of my claims. I guess I just get worried that I will over-explain things and will both make the piece boring and the reader feel underestimated.

Plus, it always brings me a small sense of accomplishment when I understand what the author is getting at when they don’t delineate everything. But maybe I just need to get better at doing that. Or maybe a bit of clarity isn’t such a bad thing.

Challenge Journal 4: The audio

The end of Capstone felt like Gateway all over again.

For my Gateway, I produced an audio component that was meant to be in a podcast format (Here’s the link: http://kmsanto.wixsite.com/writer). And for Capstone, I incorporated an audio portion again. The interviews were originally supposed to become part of my writing, but after actually doing them, I thought they would work better as a complementary piece to my writing.

Anyway, for the most part, I thought the Gateway audio turned out well, other than the fact that the interview was conducted over the phone and made the audio fuzzy. Luckily, I managed to avoid that issue this time around by meeting people in person for the interviews.

But once again, I had to navigate through Garageband. Even though I’d used it a couple years ago for Gateway, editing the audio was still challenging. Specifically, the audio is so detailed that I’d often cut portions of “ums” or moments of silence, and still find that there was a significant portion of it left to be edited. Usually it involved a trial and error process, where I’d edit a small section three or four times until I thought it was good enough to put on the site.

On top of that, I couldn’t figure out a way to edit my own voice out of the audio. I didn’t run into the issue with Gateway, because the audio primarily featured my brother telling his own story, and I only needed to ask a specific list of 10 questions. Once I had the audio recorded, it was really easy to edit out my own questions and then talk over the audio when necessary.

This time around, however, I had far more conversational interviews. As a result, my own small reactions to the interviewees answers can often be heard in the background, but if I were to cut them out, I’d also be cutting parts of their answers.

Ultimately, it was an issue I couldn’t seem to find a solution for, but I’m happier with this audio component just because the audio is a lot clearer.

Challenge 4: How to mercifully review past writing?

There is an art to looking back on previous writing assignments. First, you have to find it one of the 62 file folders that are cluttering your computer. Then, once you find it, you take a deep breath as you open the document. The screen lights up, and your mind immediately mutters, “this is a bad idea” as you scrunch your face and begin to scroll.

Ah, yes. The horror of having to review previous writing assignments.

In my case, this specific task involves looking at essays in which sentences run-on for four lines, and the introduction contains at least one broad generalization about ‘society.’ Even more, I admit that I am still actively trying to kick these habits (more recently, the overuse of ‘society’ generalizations. I’m working on it, Ray).

BUT! That isn’t to say that looking back at previous writing pieces has to be a face-scrunching task of disgust. I do realize that looking back on anything, whether it be an old essay, or a photograph of yourself as a pre-teen wearing youth convertible cargo pants (what?), is, by its very nature, somewhat cringe-worthy. But there are some essays (and photographs) that I can look back on with fondness, or even pride.

So why is it that some essays prove less cringe-worthy than others?

I’d argue that the answer lies in expressions of both authenticity and honesty. In fact, there is one previous essay I’ve written that is, in my opinion, a helpful illustration of this phenomenon. It is my Why I Write piece, crafted for my Gateway portfolio (which we’re not going to talk about as a whole, for reasons listed above).

Before I make my argument for why this text represents my writing at its most authentic and honest, here is an excerpt:

Perhaps confidence is the beginning of the understanding as to why I write. After many years of defining myself in the eyes of others, I sacrificed a sense of my power in constructing my own identity. I reclaim the confidence to use that power through writing, obtaining a clearer picture of the aspects of my own personality—the good and the bad—as well as a means through which to negotiate that revelation. The more I write, the clearer the picture becomes, and the more confident I become in practicing self-acceptance.

I love this paragraph for two reasons. First, it claims that ‘confidence’ is merely a consideration in determining why I write, rather than the definitive reason. At that very moment in my life, specifically as a junior just beginning the MiW program, ‘confidence’ was my argued reason as to why I write. It was the first thing that came to mind in answering the prompt, and was thus my honest response. And there is truth in that claim. I don’t, however, claim to know that I am correct in making that assumption, but rather that is worthy of consideration. It represents my closest, most honest attempt to make sense of my life at that very moment.

Second, in addition to the claim that such ‘confidence’ is a consideration, rather than an absolute, it also acknowledges that such a claim is not definitive. That is, understanding is a process, and my concept of ‘why I write’ will transform as I grow as a writer and a human being. The bubble of college life is real, as I’ll truly realize upon graduation. To assume the concreteness of all decisions made in college is to ignore the inherent transience of college itself, even if said transience isn’t completely apparent at this very moment.

While my capstone site itself does not utilize the personal essay format reflected in my Why I Write piece, my project’s introductory essay does speak a bit to myself, my process, and my perception of my project’s significance as bookend of my MiW experience. As such, I want to craft an essay that I’ll be proud to look back on.

I acknowledge that this may be a hopeless effort, if it is truly impossible to craft something of which your older, more mature self won’t be embarrassed. But, to approach the essay with the knowledge that both honesty and an authentic reflection of thought may prove beneficial in the long-run, well, that is a goal I’ll happily pursue.

Challenge 4: Looking Back to Look Beyond

Last week I refreshed my UMich Gmail account to find an unread message I had seen many times before—Michael Zakalik was in my inbox once again. As Writing minors, we’ve all been receiving emails from him for a few years now, but this particular Google Form was different: Paragraph Reflection of Your Time at Michigan and Future Plans/Goals. 

How did we get here?

Throughout my short, yet ever-eventful, twenty-two years of life, I have faced many challenges. Whether they be psychological, emotional, health-related, or academic—the world has thrown many a challenge my way. As I’ve explored through my Capstone Project, all of these challenges seemed to have boiled to one thing more than most other factors: self-love and lack-there-of. For far too long, I have used alternate means to mask the pain I have caused myself. I have left that burden to fall on others and isolated myself because of it. In doing so, while it may have shielded the pain for a short amount of time, I ultimately did myself a great disservice.

In this next stage of life, I hope to continue to learn more about myself as I grow in new environment. Despite the challenges that I fully expect to come my way as life continues on, I hope to be resilient and take time for myself. By calling attention to the way I feel in each moment, I hope to rectify the blame I have placed on others for the majority of my life. Looking back on college, I know I have changed; I know I have improved. But I have also taken steps backward. There is still so much to learn.

So as Michael asks, what are my goals?

“It is impossible to quantify just how much I have grown in these past four years at the University of Michigan. I enrolled as a numbers student who once flinched at the mere thought of writing in any capacity and am leaving driven by all forms of written communication. I am looking forward to spending the summer months at home with family in Los Angeles. Come August, I will be joining the Anheuser-Busch organization where I will spend the first eight months of my employment traveling throughout the United States. While I am excited for what the next phase of my life has to offer, I am forever grateful for the lasting friendships I have made here at Michigan in the wonderful town of Ann Arbor. Forever and always, go blue!”

Challenge 3: An Opportunity Lost

Identify what you now think of as the greatest missed opportunity.

Second semester of freshman year I enrolled in an introduction Comparative Literature course. The particular section for which I was registered revolved around comparing our own personal experience to that of characters’ from popular coming-of-age movies. My first critical analysis assignment was to discuss anything of my choosing from one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls. At the very time in which I was taking this class, the sheer idea of writing was a large fear, an aspect of academia in which I had never excelled. But nonetheless, I was required to take a course of this type to fulfill my first year writing requirement.

My grade in the course was decided by six essays, which, over the course of 13 weeks, meant that I only had about two weeks in change to work on each one. My idea for this paper was simple but one to which I had a sincere attachment. If given the opportunity of an entire semester to explore this topic, I think I really could have created something special, possibly even important. In the essay that I did have time to write, I wanted to explore the idea heavily projected in Mean Girls, that perhaps in our quest to fit into a social normative group of our choosing, we ultimately lose out on finding ourselves. Growing up, I struggled to allow myself to actually connect with genuine people. Somehow I also found myself gravitating towards the people who had the most money and along with that, the least authenticity. To me, it was better to appease the popular crowd than to find people I actually enjoyed being with, a fact that I didn’t really understand until I graduated high school and moved away.

Mean Girls meant a lot to me growing up. If I had had the time to devote to a prompt of this kind, I would like to think that I would have created something unique and used my own personal relationship to important elements of the storyline to come away with a greater critical understanding. Perhaps this was my greatest (literary) missed opportunity.