A Semester in Review

Being accepted into the Minor in Writing program was so exciting, but I honestly had no idea what to expect. I remember coming to class the first day worrying about how intense the program, and my instructor, would be. I can honestly say this class (and the minor) surpassed my expectations, and has only assured me that this is the right direction for me. While I’ve probably done more revisions in the past 3 months than I have in my entire life, I’ve loved every second of it, and truly believe that I am progressing as a writer. One thing Ray said to us that has really stuck with me is that every year we grow. Senior year we wrote English essays that we thought were incredible, only to turn around freshman year of college and think “dear god, how did I ever put my name on that?” Then freshman year we wrote even more essays and thought we had nearly perfected our writing capabilities, only to realize sophomore year that we hated what we produced the year before. The cycle goes on. This really stood out to me because, while I’ve never recognized it, the pattern is true, and it was comforting to know that everyone, even people writing dissertations and working towards their doctorates, feel the same way. This realization has encouraged me to use every year as a stepping stone; although I will never think my work is perfect, it will always be better than whatever I wrote the year before, and that’s a really exciting and encouraging fact to recognize. In this way, I could probably spend years working on my site and never be truly satisfied, but what I’ve produced this year is definitely way better than what I’ve produced in years prior, and I can see how much I’ve grown as a writer. I’m excited to see what my future in this program (and beyond) will look like.

Project Update: Content

This project has been incredibly fun, but incredibly challenging for me. The number of times I’ve written, re-written, and re-written AGAIN is almost ridiculous. It’s not that I think my original work was bad, but I keep thinking of new ways to present my ideas, and mastering my intended tone has been difficult. My original pieces felt too forced in terms of comedic content, and my revisions felt too sterile. It’s taken a lot of time, but I think I’m finally achieving the tone I was looking for. The only way I’ve been able to achieve this is to think of my blog as a conversation between friends (almost as if I’m texting one of my friends about how I’m feeling). Obviously, this isn’t exactly how the piece comes off because I had to “dress it up” a bit (make it slightly more formal to appear credible), but it’s really helped my find MY voice. As I’ve said in my previous experiment reflections, personal writing, especially personal writing with satirical elements, is really challenging for me because I’ve dedicated years to writing and perfecting formal papers, but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I don’t think I’ll ever consider the work I produce (both on this site and otherwise) perfect, but I am really happy with how things have turned out.

Designing My Site: Image Selection

I knew from the beginning that the visual component of my project would be incredibly important, but I was never exactly sure of the direction I would take. Honestly, the design of my homepage started as somewhat of a joke: a placeholder until I could think of something better. Interestingly enough, I ended up really liking what I had created (the engagement ring & storm cloud backdrop) because it gave my site the sense of lightheartedness I was aiming for. Obviously this topic is important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent the entire semester writing about it, but I also never wanted to appear judgmental or preachy, so I knew that implementing some form of comic relief (not sure if that term applies here, but I’m going with it) to encourage readers to see my posts as conversational, as if talking to a friend, instead of as a list of criticisms and instructions on how people should behave. Because I decided to keep my mock-up home page, I started playing around with a black and white color scheme. As you can see on my sight, there are pops of color, but for the most part I maintained a grey-ish hue throughout my pages. This can be seen particularly well in the images I selected for my blog posts, which are all black and white. Honestly, I didn’t even realize this was the direction I’d be going in because it was only by chance that the first two images I selected were black and white, but as I continued designing my page, I realized I really liked the aesthetic I had created. This was also very easy to maintain because if I found a picture I wanted to use that was in color (like the digital clock for my “Ru up?” blog post), I simply converted it to black and white; an incredible quick and simple fix! In terms of my images’ content, they’re all pretty self-explanatory because they all reflect exactly what my blog post is about (i.e. my post about Snapchat has a picture of the Snapchat logo). The only post that was a little difficult to find an image for was “Thing (n)…,” but I got really lucky and found an image I loved when scrolling through my Instagram feed one day. Not only did I love the message by itself, but it also fit perfectly with my content! Additionally, there was one image that was incredible important to me to include: my grandparents’ wedding photo. My grandmother was actually the one who inspired me to write about this topic. Every Tuesday we would talk on the phone, and every week she would ask me “so are you dating anyone??” (as Italian grandmothers tend to do). I would always laugh and tell her that dating these days isn’t what it was when she was growing up, and she would always say “well when you find a guy as great as your grandfather, keep him.” My grandparents loved each other more than any couple I’ve ever seen. They were high school sweethearts, and celebrated their 60th anniversary just a month before my grandmother passed away. She used to tell me stories about the dates they would go on, and how well he treated her, and as happy I was to hear these stories, it made me realize how different relationships are today. The best way to describe their relationship was genuine and pure, which is something I can’t say about any relationship I’ve had yet, but is something I hope to have one day. Given this extreme disparity, as well as my desire to honor my grandmother, I knew that their wedding photo would be essential to my site, even if no one else understood the significance behind it.

Semester Reflections

When I applied to the Minor in Writing, I had essentially zero expectations for what to expect. Naturally, I figured my experience in the Writing Minor would be equivalent to my experience in any other minor at Michigan. I had never heard of these “Capstone” or “Gateway” courses. Nor was I familiar with the concept of developing my own website. Within the first Gateway course, I realized that whatever expectations I did have were far from true. The Minor in Writing gives you what many students desire, and many others fear — freedom. You are free to put in as little or as much effort as you choose. One of my experiments was nearly 20 pages, and the next was just about 5. It was my choice to stay up late at night editing my Wix website, which offered more opportunities for me to choose. I chose which colors I wanted to incorporate, which themes I wanted to use, and what topic I wanted to write about. It was through this freedom that I was able to grow as an individual, as a student, and as a writer.

The Power of Questions

Classes at the University of Michigan tend to feel large and impersonal. This was not the case in Gateway. Each day we began the class by discussing some abstract, personal question. An example of which may be — “If you could live in another decade, what would it be and why?” We were also asked to share more intimate information through questions like, “On a scale of 1-10, what is your current level of panic?” It was through these questions that our class became unified, allowing us to know each other on more personal levels. They also paved the way for smooth, exciting transitions into the class instruction. These questions ultimately defined my Gateway experience.

Emotional Implications of Writing About Grief

Having written extensively about grieving the loss of strangers, I have gained significant insight on a very peculiar topic. At times, I felt I had been so zoomed into the content that I began to view everything in regards to how it related to grief. Every time I received a high school newsletter about a family passing, I began to analyze how I was reacting, versus how others were reacting. I started studying my own habits and comparing it to everyone else’s. In a certain sense, I committed myself to this topic and used myself as a sponge for knowledge. The problem was that I was focusing solely on grief. At times I would force myself to remove myself from the topic and distract myself with any other topic. But in the end, I am incredibly happy with how everything turned out. I am excited to continue working on my project and see what happens in the future.

Tracking An Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Throughout the semester, I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort towards uncovering the human tendency of grieving the loss of strangers. Some of you may relate to this phenomenon, and some of you will not. Regardless, I highly encourage you to read the original content that provoked my gateway content. Last year, I read a heartbreaking piece entitled You May Want to Marry My Husband, written by the late author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I need to advise you that this piece is devastating. But it is also incredibly beautifully written and truly changed my life. If you want to read it, you can find it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/style/modern-love-you-may-want-to-marry-my-husband.html?_r=0.

And if you have, or haven’t, experienced the phenomenon of grieving the loss of a stranger, please consider reading my Gateway piece (https://hberson.wixsite.com/writing). You may find it very relatable. At least, that was my goal.

Possible alternative topics

After the thrilling conclusion of my gateway project, I have been thinking about other things that would have been interesting to write about, and what that would have entailed from a writing perspective. I understand that part of the gateway centered around revisiting an old work and work shopping it, but some subjects of interest to me have no old work that I can fall back on for inspiration. I really was hoping to write at some point about my veganism, and how that effects my outlook on life, but I have not done that in the past. It could be an interesting subject to look at for the capstone, but I do not know how that would work in the context of he capstone project. This was an interesting restriction on our subject matter, as the final work I produced was not very similar to the original work at all, so knowing that the basic direction on which we were expected to go was unclear. I would love to write a work in the future about things that are new topics for me, but that did not happen here.

Moving Forward in the Minor

With the conclusion of gateway comes the next step down my path of the writing minor. I will be enrolling in professional writing next semester, which is a class I look forward to especially as someone who plans on going into a career in public policy. This course will hopefully teach me applicable skills to my work, and will help me with my professional writing skills, which are crucial to my career prospects in any field I hope to enter, especially those in the public policy arena. Coincidentally, my major requires two upper level writing courses on policy, so the proposed changes in the minor requirements will not only help me, but will greatly improve my ability to engage with the material I do have to take, as I will not have to bend my own coursework as much to fit arbitrary requirements. This will help me develop my own policy skills, as well as the writing skills needed to do well in my career. Finally, I hope to take capstone next year to complete the requirements of the minor. I am very excited for what this will hold moving forward, and think that I will do well in the rest of the program.

Course Eval

Like everything in my life, I waited till the last minute. One thing I forgot to do in the haze of it all was the course evaluation. I frequently forget to do these, as I feel like response bias leads me to only submit responses if I feel strongly in one way or another about a course. In this course, I unfortunately did not submit one. I appreciated this course on a level that may not have been evident by my work or by my statements everyday in class. Writing 220, and the minor in writing program as a whole, has helped me open up an understanding of myself I did not have before. As a public Policy student, I try to avid the moral hazard that frequently befalls my fellow policy students, which usually centers around talking aggressively and ad nausea about an issue, but failing to have anything come out of the talk. In Writing, we put the rubber to the road to say, and even in situations where the bare minimum comes out of a conversation or debate, a written statement that is usable is a lot more palatable in the long run than a good talk among undergrad students, however helpful it was.

The course was structured well, but there could be a little more in the way of clarity regarding expectations. I understand that writing is not a “gradeable” subject in the way that math or science is, but there is still a 3.3 GPA requirement for this minor, and being zero percent done with the project 2 weeks before it’s due with 7 blog poss left to write is a little nerveracking.