Billy Magic

Hello, friends. (Or rather, for most of you, soon-to-be-friends.) Does anyone else feel like they’ve hit the ground running at full tilt this semester? Welcome Week lasted for a day, and then the floodgates opened to swamp me with more responsibilities than I know what to do with.

Well, I’ve procrastinated on this blog post almost as long as possible. Even in the course of writing these first few paragraphs, I’ve reorganized my desk, gotten up to get water, fussed with my hair, and made a couple of playlists on Spotify in order to avoid it. I guess I was hoping that the longer I waited, the more time I could give myself to come up with an idea that I felt had a truer spirit of originality or had a better value than the ideas I currently have. Yet, here I am (shoutout to the other citizens of the procrastiNation), sharing what I feel like isn’t the coolest idea that I have the potential of coming up with, but sharing it anyways, because I’m a fan of working with what I’ve got.

I’m an engineer, and on the brink of my job-search process. As a ChemE with a minor in writing, I think I can speak from unique position on what it’s like to be a soon-to-be-graduate, a woman, an engineer, and a hopefully-soon-to-be-employee. I also spend inordinate amounts of time with my fellow ChemEs, so I would be able to draw on not only my own experiences, but also those experiences of my friends and classmates as we navigate the post-graduation-planning process. My hope in writing about myself and my experiences would be twofold: to inspire those who follow in my footsteps as ChemEs (or engineers in general) and to enlighten those who haven’t walked the same path as I. If I’m being ambitious, and since it’s so early in the semester I feel like I might as well be, then I’m going to say this: I want to be the Billy Magic of navigating the job search as a female engineer. (Sans musical though. I can’t sing for beans.)

I certainly don’t pursue the act of writing about myself in a public forum as a source of comfort or relaxation, so using myself and my peers as my subject material wouldn’t fail to present opportunities for learning and growing pains. I’m still hesitant about this topic, especially in light of Ray’s caution against “splashing around in creative non-fiction.”

However, if I were to pursue this idea of documenting my job search experience, I would be able to draw on the disciplines of entrepreneurship (via the UM Center for Entrepreneurship), psychology (regarding the related processes of choosing companies and candidates), and engineering (regarding how learned topics are applied to interviews and on the job). My focal objects would include myself, a few of my peers, and perhaps a recruiter or an academic advisor.

When it comes to my confounding variable though, I’m somewhat stumped. I initially was drawn to the idea of putting a twist on the topic by adding a filter that accounts for gender, and whether or not female engineers get jobs because they’re the best candidate or because they’re fulfilling a diversity quota set by their company. But I’m not sure that this is quite enough. Perhaps adding a layer that involves video-recording my experience (as I attend career fairs, as I polish my LinkedIn for the thousandth time, as I sit in interviews) might be what I need, but I’m not sure how I feel about recording certain parts of this process. I don’t really want to jeopardize my chances of getting my dream job because I strapped a GoPro to my head during the interview. So, more to come on that component.

Thanks for reading, friends.

-Rachel

PS. On another topic entirely: I’m fascinated by letters and letter-writing. If I were to create an idea that feels more “cool” than what I’ve got right now, I think it could be really interesting to dive into the culture of letters. Before the telephone and the internet, handwriting was such a pivotally important part of everyday life. I’m enchanted by memories of perusing the bookstores of Berkeley, spending time flipping through collections of letters written as personal correspondence centuries before my birth. The idea that penmanship and composition could be more important, more practiced, more valued than they are in the modern age captivates me. If anyone has any pointers or if I spark an idea, I’d love your input on this subject.

Project Idea: One-Child at Home

I realized that I have been procrastinating on writing this post because I want to retain the feeling of possibility towards the final project. My six preliminary ideas are all interesting to me in some way, some being more intellectual than others while some seem more as an experiment or immersion writing. Anyway, I would like to explore the idea of understanding the cultural influence of China’s one-child policy. It is an idea that I think will be more challenging to work with and something that I could see myself continuously exploring.

It is of particular interest to me not only because of my personal background of growing up in Hong Kong, one of the few places that are exceptions towards the policy, but also because I have been bombarded with biased information towards how unethical / ethical the policy is. In some way, China’s one-child policy could be a discussion of the pro-life or pro-choice debate. However, having met many of peers who came from Mainland China and made friends with some of them, I realized that it is not uncommon to hear that they would like to have siblings to grow up with. In some way, they recognized some social phenomena the policy brings. For example, resource is centralized on one child in a family and therefore, the policy indirectly encourages a high growth of competition in education and career. There are some news articles, op-ed, and non-fiction works that have explored the cultural implications of the policy. However, it seems that all the information I have encountered is negative. Therefore, I would like to understand whether there are positive cultural impacts of the policy and if so, how the future may look like of a system of values and believes in the Chinese community.

Discipline: History, Psychology, Legal, Economic, Sociology, Culture, etc.

Focal object: Children, environment one was raised in, social values

Confounding variable: Humor? Comics with caption?

Capstone Project Idea: Haiti

At the moment, my favorite idea for the capstone project is writing a fictional piece about the foreign aid catastrophe that took place after the Haiti earthquake. Honestly, I don’t know much about it aside from when it was briefly mentioned my Political Economy and Development class last semester. Apparently, after the earthquake, the U.S. did dish out a substantial amount of foreign aid money, but it went to all the wrong things. Soccer fields and cultural centers were built in areas where people lacked sanitation. A large portion of funds was sent to a city the was not directly affected by the earthquake, but which supported industries from which the US benefited.

I’m choosing fiction for this project because, unfortunately, it’s a genre I’m rarely able to use. The first time I was able to write fiction was in the gateway course when I wrote a short story about Pikachu. It was so liberating being able to write whatever I wanted, and I’m aching for a chance to feel that again. One downside of having so little experience in that type of writing is that I don’t know if I’m actually any good at it. I’ll probably have to meet with Ray and get some feedback on that… Anyway, I’ll outline the general idea I have for a plot right now.

The story will follow the lives of 2 characters: a woman working for a U.S. aid agency and a Haitian girl who survives the earthquake.

The woman will be in her late 20s or early 30s. She will be somewhat caught up in the bureaucracy of managing foreign aid and will play a part in collaborating with industries, focusing on profitable partnerships, and ultimately not feeling any emotional connection to the initiatives for which she should be advocating.

The girl will be young, maybe 7-9 years old. With her character, I want to completely deteriorate the cliché image of the suffering, malnourished, Haitian child, and invent a character full of personality, quirks, creativity- traits that make her universally lovable and relatable. I still have to remain realistic, which is why I’ll have to brush up on my knowledge of Haitian culture and avoid westernizing her for the sake of having a relatable character.

The two will meet during the aftermath of the earthquake, or perhaps even during. The woman will be visiting Haiti’s capital for business related to her agency when the earthquake hits. I’m not sure how they’ll meet, but the girl, who is more familiar with the area, will end up helping her. They’ll eventually find the girl’s family who is generous to the woman, despite their poor condition. I will spend some time talking about the destruction of health care infrastructure, and elaborate on the medical side of what went on (since I have a strong interest in medicine) As the story unravels, the woman will experience first-hand how foreign aid initiatives (that she helped work on) fail her and other survivors- something that will be unsettling and eye-opening. The story may end with her looking across the destruction, taking in the suffering- the poor living conditions, the broken infrastructure, the cholera outbreak- and feeling the true weight of the decisions she made earlier in the story. Maybe the girl will die from cholera. Is that too much? I want the story to be moving but not completely dismal.

Anyway onto the assignment:

Disciplines: history, cultural anthropology, politics, economics, business, medicine

Focal object: failure of foreign aid investments in Haiti

Confounding variable: fiction. I’ve found several non-fiction pieces on the subject, but haven’t seen much fiction writing on it. I think this genre will really help readers be able to emotionally connect with the issue.

 

 

 

Projects and Chaos

So…blogging…how do you do this again? Oh right, the thing with the words and the thoughts. Cool – let’s do it. That’s definitely how I felt when I just wrote that sentence back in the day five seconds ago, but it’s also kind of how I feel about this whole semester project in general. It’s not that I’ve never written anything of length before, or ever done substantial creative writing, but it’s been a while.

Okay, now that weird opening tangent is out of the way (and I’ve once again remembered how to write things), to the project we go. So I’m pretty sure I want to write some sort of fiction. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing in the past and would very much like to try again.

The next part of the puzzle is what I want to write about. I started with six pretty terrible ideas, and somehow transformed them into two slightly less terrible ideas for stories. I’m only going to talk about one of them, though, because it’s the one I think I’ll end up choosing in the end anyway and I’d hate to spend time deciding between the two when I could spend it napping or watching Narcos on Netflix. And what a travesty that would be. Unless this idea sucks – so let me know.

Alright, topic time. Remember that movie The Butterfly Effect with Ashton Kutcher and that girl whose name I can never remember? Basically, this guy (Kutcher) develops this ability to go back in time through this weird journal thing and change his future life, but whenever he changes something from his past different stuff gets messed up in the future. It’s not really a very good movie, but the idea has always been very interesting to me – that small, specific decisions we make can have drastic consequences on the rest of our lives. This is what I want to write about.

Unlike The Butterfly Effect, I don’t really want it to be science-ficitony, because I think the concept is very real. Take my mother for example: One day in her early thirties, her mom convinced her to go to this political fundraiser event thing she really didn’t want to go to. She met my dad there, and a year later they were married. Had she not gone to this event, which she very nearly did not go to, she in all likelihood never would have met my dad, as they traveled in very different circles at the time. And, had she never met my dad on this day, literally every moment of her subsequent life would be different. So this is what I want to write about…how small, concrete decisions can have vast, enormous consequences.

(This is kind of something called chaos theory, but I just watched a five-minute video on it and my head hurts now so I won’t bother you with it.)

So – three factors:

Disciplines: literary fiction, short story/novelette (probably), chaos theory (ugh)

Focal object(s): probably a person or several people (did I do that right?)

Confounding variable: People of course have wrote about this sort of thing before – how a fork in the road can lead to another fork, and so on. But, I have another component that I don’t think many (if any) people have written about. What if you could go back to the fork, and what if you could decide to continue or walk away? That’s a cool concept I think.

Brainstorming the Capstone Project

As I sat in class Thursday, I changed my mind every ten minutes about what to do for my project. Some ideas are too vague, some aren’t monumentally “new and inventive”, and others are simply bigger than I can successfully tackle in the time given. So many possibilities. So many uncertainties.

When initially writing down six options, I did not feel strongly about any choice, either way. In class, I attempted to narrow them down with minimal success. There are two options that stick out in my mind. One more concrete than the other.

The first is songwriting as a form. I initially thought of this because it is something I always wanted to learn, but have never gotten a chance to explore it in my coursework as a Communications Studies major. I sang my entire life until college, so although writing songs is a whole new playing filed, I believe I would genuinely enjoy spending time on this. My apprehension with this as a project is what the main topic would be. It is possible that I could try to make the process of learning how to do it the actual topic. It definitely warrants research of music theory, the psychology behind music/songwriting, and much more. This process also warrants much reflection, and multimedia work. I just worry about how to make this a well-rounded, interesting, and “new” topic. What scope would I actually use? To be determined.

If I did this, the disciplines used could be: Music composition/theory, psychology, sociomusicology, and more?

Focal Object: Songwriting

Confound Variable: No idea, I would say doing all of this work via songs, however writing songs about songwriting sounds as boring and it does absurd.

There are many loose ends with this idea….

It’s a dog’s life

I have always struggled with indecision. It’s not that I don’t know what interests me; It’s that I am interested in too many things.

When we were first asked to think of six possible project topics, I was discouraged by the prospect of doing so. And now that I have successfully imagined six possible topics, I am discouraged once again; I cannot for the life of me decide which to choose. Some topics interest me more than others, but those are also the topics for which it is hard to develop a concrete vision of what I would like to do. So, while I internally wrangle with which idea will dominate the next four months of my life, I discuss here just one.

My family dog passed away this summer and the devastation it caused reverberated for months. It is incredible the impact a dog can have on a human. Then again, it is incredible the impact a human can have on a dog. My family has always rescued dogs – from shelters, foster homes, humane societies. We all know that it can be a total shot in the dark; you never really know what you’re getting with a rescue. What has happened to them in the past? What kind of scars did those events leave? How will the the animal react to new situations? There are so many unknowns – so much risk. But every time I watched Max roll around in the grass or bury, dig up and re-bury his bone in the dirt, hike in the woods or whimper when I came home from school, I thought about how happy he was and how we had changed his life. He had lived with a terrible family in North Carolina probably thinking there was no way out; that would be his life forever. He even ran away at which point he was hit by a car and, sadly, returned to them. But there was a way out. We were his way out.

In light of my dog Max’s life and death, I want to create a project about rescue dogs. I am still very vague on the form my project will take and do not have the exact content pinned down. But here is what I do know:

  1. Disciplines included: psychology, animal science, ethics
  2. Focal object/subject: dog (Max?), training
  3. Confounding variable: In our class discussion, a friend of mine suggested that I write from the dog’s perspective. I am now considering writing from the perspective of my dog in particular. I know some of the things that happened to Max before we adopted him and just about everything that happened to him after. I have a connection to Max that I think would help facilitate a really interesting piece.

Early thoughts on the Capstone project

I want to write about boob jobs. Seriously.

My inspiration for this topic is (shocker) my own insecurities about the size of my chest and the various ways being boy chested has impacted my life. I’ve pestered my parents about getting an augmentation ever since I figured I fell in the short end of the gene pool my little sister developed a larger chest than I and birth control seemed to “affect” every one of my friends besides me. Obviously I haven’t gotten one yet, party because they haven’t agreed that surgery would make a good graduation present, partly because I haven’t been able to fully able to wrap my mind about changing my body in that way. Some days I think that all of my problems would be solved if I got a boob job. Other days I look down at the six inch scar on the outside of my left thy and think “there’s already enough foreign material in your body and you’ve got a giant butt anyway.”

So really, I want to write about the decision to get breast implants — the social, psychological, gendered and organizational pressures that bring a woman to elect to a surgery to put silicon into her body. I want to research perfectionism and the ways it manifests both in my own life and in organizations associated with attractiveness.

Right now, I am looking at creative nonfiction for my form, taking a nod from writers like Ann Hodgman who wrote about eating dog food and researching the pet food industry. While my personal stake in this topic will serve as my narrative ad a form of self discovery, I intend for my research to become a business proposal either to my parents or myself as to the virtues (or lack thereof) of getting implants. Ultimately, creative nonfiction will allow me to achieve both and, perhaps most importantly, write satirically such that my final product will be smartly entertaining.

I’ll combine my fascination with sports and my background in Organizational Studies to address the following questions and more:

  1. Who are breast implants for? Are they for the self, the man or the woman?
  2. What is society’s consensus on boob jobs? Is it more important to be natural or to be busty? How do opinions vary among different organizations or cultures?
  3. How big is too big???

Form/Genre:

  • organizational theory, sociological theory
  • Satire, creative nonfiction, personal narrative

Object/Subjects:

  • Myself, women in exercise classes
  • Breasts

Nuances or confounding variables:

  • Extensive observational/field research accompanied by medical and organizational research
  • Application of theory balanced by satire

 

~ The girl who wants to write about boob jobs.

The Nature of the Force: A Capstone Project Idea

For those in McDaniel’s Capstone class, I’ve used the following tag to write about what we discussed today (Tuesday 1/12): Capstone Project Components

 

Alright, everyone, here’s the deal: I’m a huge Star Wars geek. I have been ever since my dad showed me A New Hope when I was about four years old. Ever since then, I have consumed the films, books, video games, comics, and toys of Star Wars with a ravenous appetite.

 

Seriously, I have so much Star Wars in my life that it is absurd. My apartment is littered with Darth Vader novelties and posters, and my phone case resembles a Stormtrooper’s armor.

 

I used to spend hours in my front lawn jumping around and waving PVC pipes like lightsabers. I even taped duct tape around the bottoms of them for hilts. I would write stories ― very poorly-constructed and badly-written ones ― based on my knowledge of Star Wars lore, and then I would act them out with my sister and my next-door neighbor. This continued for years on end, and Star Wars was my main source of entertainment (outside of Harry Potter). By the time I reached my teenage years, I began to conceal my fandom because it didn’t exactly improve my dating chances. But, I have continued to remain invested in Star Wars culture. Recently, I purchased a PlayStation 4 just because it was a special Star Wars bundle. It had a design of Darth Vader’s head on the console itself, a controller modeled after Vader’s chestplate, and the bundle included a copy of the new Battlefront game.

 

Naturally, I am interested in focusing my Capstone project on something to do with Star Wars. I have a few different ideas of what this could turn out to be as far as content is concerned, but I am pretty set on writing a piece of fan-fiction.

 

There are a few considerations that go along with writing such a piece. Of course, I would need to investigate whether or not any copyright considerations would creep up. Also, I would need to present a concrete form of any and all research into the (now-defunct) Expanded Universe. It wouldn’t be enough for me to simply be well-versed in Star Wars lore and to hope that my readers would also be. Such a piece of writing would, therefore, need either footnotes or endnotes to explain and contextualize references or story elements that would otherwise be lost on the casual fan.

 

But anyway, in reference to our discussion in Professor McDaniel’s class today, here are the main elements that would need to be considered and addressed as part of an undertaking like this:

 

  1. List of disciplines and genres that inform the topic
    1. creative writing, film, sociology, politics
    2. genres: fiction, specifically fan-fiction
  2. Focal object/subject
    1. military characters, ground troops
      1. This is inspired, primarily, by the new novel “Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company.” It is based on the new video game, and delves pretty heavily into the psychology of the troops involved in the Galactic Civil War (Rebels vs. Empire from the original trilogy). It follows the story of Sergeant in the Rebel Alliance that is recruited from a backwater colonial world, where tribal wars are commonplace, who struggles later on with his beliefs in the Rebel cause. There are a few side characters from the Empire that are similarly portrayed.
    2. Grey Jedi (neutral Force-users that practice both Light and Dark side)
      1. Not much has been developed on this front, at least not in official canon. There are some wiki pages and the like that attempt to give them stories, but many are unimaginative and somewhat cheesy.
      2. The Grey Jedi are often portrayed as Jedi that leave the Order because they don’t believe in focusing solely on the Light Side. They believe that the Force cannot achieve balance without both the Dark and the Light. The only examples of this philosophy are (postulated) Qui-Gon Jin from Episode I: The Phantom Menace, who is portrayed as disagreeing often with the Masters of the Jedi High Council, and Jolee Bindo, who is a character from the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He formally left the Order and became a hermit on Kashyyk, the homeworld of the Wookies (Chewbacca’s species). He is the first character in any Star Wars production to have articulated the philosophy that became that of the Grey Jedi.
    3. Confounding variable
      1. Humanize the characters ― not much is done in this regard in a wide majority of SW EU novels. Some is done in video games, but there is still the overriding Light/Dark binary and extremism.
      2. Perhaps spin the light-falling-to-dark trope on its head, dark-to-light? Something along these lines may be a new twist on familiar SW tropes. Although, the dark-to-light things seems to be a possible direction that the new movies will take with Kylo Ren.

 

Well, I suppose this post ended up being longer than I thought it would. This almost looks like a proposal…

 

Anyway, if you made it this far, thank you! Any feedback/ideas are appreciated. Happy Writing!

 

Evan