The Great, the Unfortunate, and the Worst – Challenge Journal #4

Is using the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with alternative words interesting or just cliche? Maybe a little of both. Oh well.

As graduation approaches and my world will soon be completely new and scary, I feel the need to categorize and segment my feelings into these buckets – the great (yay), unfortunate (ugh), and worst (boo). It helps me to better understand my head space and to more easily identify potential problems. So let’s get to it:

The Great

I just bought a new car (71 miles!!!!!). My dog might be coming to stay with me this weekend (heart eyes). I packed away my winter coat and gloves/hats/scarves for the season. I have my dress(es) for graduation celebrations. I graduate in 10 days!!

The Unfortunate

My new car is still sitting in my parent’s driveway. I’m going to have to take her on a lot of walks. My hands have been cold every morning on my walk to class. I still haven’t found my shoes for graduation. I graduate in 10 days.

The Worst

I’m terrified to drive my new car because I’m afraid that I’ll total it before it reaches 1,000 miles. My dog hates staying with my because I don’t have a yard for her to run around in. I hate cold, dry hands. I still haven’t found my shoes for graduation and I told my mom that I did months ago. Crap, I graduate in just 10 days…

Alas, everything seems to have a good and bad angle. So much for categorization.

Happy writing everyone 🙂

A twinge of project regret – Challenge Journal #3

So it’s April. And that means a few things. First, my last semester as an undergraduate is almost over. Second, I have to start packing my stuff to bring back home (ugh). And third, I am having serious creativity regrets about my capstone project.

I mean, my capstone project is cool, don’t get me wrong. I’ve recently hit a productive patch where I’m working on it at every free opportunity I get because I’m so excited about how far I’ve come from the beginning of the semester. But, also, it could have been like a short video, or a podcast, or a video documentary where I would get to use those more classic creative skills of sound and editing and camera angles and stuff! I guess I’m just wishing I had pushed my medium just a little bit harder and had picked a different, more interactive media than a written article.

And that’s fair, right? I mean, the grass is always greener on the other side. While I’m asking my friends to read over my work for spelling errors, others are worried about editing sound bites and getting the *perfect* contrast on their vlog. I really should count my blessings. But as I hear and get glimpses of other peoples’ projects, I can’t help but wonder if I could have done something just a little cooler!

And yes, I know each project is cool and unique in its own way, and I’ve put in a ton of work and that makes my project uniquely cool to me. But the things that everyone else is doing are just awesome and so creative!

So, as this comes to a close, I’ll just summarize by saying that I’m so impressed with everyone’s work and creativity. And I can’t believe just how different everyone’s projects are turning out to be!

My lack of focus is only slightly alarming – Challenge Journal #2

As I wake up after another annual “spring forward” to some confusion to my phone saying one time and my stove saying another, I can’t help but notice a little blur in my vision. Now, this blur is partially due to the lack of tasks I have accomplished over the past nine days during break despite my ambitious list. But it is also due to that general lack of clarity accompanying long breaks from working on a particular project; i.e. my writing capstone project.

It would be easy to tell myself that it is okay, considering I still have 24 hours until I will be back in class to find my focus. It would be easy to say that this happens to everyone and I will get my focus back soon enough. Hey, it would even be easy to say that it’s fine if it takes me a couple of days because I have other class deadlines on my mind. And while the lazy person in me is telling me to take those thoughts and run with them, I also have a little voice telling me that that isn’t good enough. That I need to actually do something about my lack of focus rather than just let it envelope me.

Now, I wish I had a great solution to this. I really do. I wish I could tell you that I drank some questionable tea and sat in silence for a few hours and my head was suddenly void of the blur and full of clarity. I wish I could tell you that reading over my project so far and looking at all of my research made me excited to get back to school and start working again. But none of those worked. So I decided to sit here and write this very unorganized and rambling journal.

And so far, it really has helped. It has nudged me in the right direction of school and class and project and slightly numbed my thoughts to playing with my dog and watching Criminal Minds for the fourth time. As I am writing this journal, I have to keep stopping to right down little tasks for myself for afterward. Print out syllabus for new class. Find out class room. Fill out monthly planner.

So even though I do have a lack of focus, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to get it back. And writing was just what I needed.

The fear of a privileged point of view – Challenge Journal #1

Before coming to the University of Michigan and taking part in some self-awareness exercises, I had not considered myself to have privilege. I mean, I was a female coming from a poor/middle class family and town with no exceptional talents or opportunities growing up. I went to school, played some sports, worked at a fast food place, and had some friends. Middle average at best.

In media today, the word “privilege” is thrown around a lot. It was one of those buzz words I had heard but didn’t really know what it meant, like “sustainable” or “diversification.” I knew “privilege” had negative connotations and did not think it really applied to me because it was not really a part of my world. In my hometown, everyone basically came from the same money and opportunities, so the idea of privilege had never occurred to me.

But now I know that I am privileged: privileged to be able to attend a great university, that my parents love and support my desire to go to college, that I have no major disabilities that would deter me from attending college, that my parents are both working and able and willing to help with my tuition payments, and for so much more. Everyone has their own privileges, whether they acknowledge them or not.

But the point is, I had believed for the most part of my life that I was not privileged. I had carried myself without acknowledging that I had opportunities that others did not. I had spoken my mind and given my opinion without thinking that others may have a different experience and point of view. And the day that I realized this, I vowed to always “check” my privilege before saying anything or writing anything I was not an expert on.

Unfortunately for me, this promise to myself had turned into a little voice in the back of my head every time I went to speak in class on a tough topic or write something of substance.

What do you know about that? You’ve never done any research on it. You don’t even read the newspaper. Who cares about your opinion? 

I wanted to write about something important and have a real, valid opinion, but I was so afraid that what I say would be considered privileged or ignorant that I would stop.

I began to deal with this fear in Gateway last year; for the final project, I chose to do a presentation about sexual assault and sexual violence. Now, even though I have the privilege of never having first-hand experience, I had second-hand experience and was always very interested in the effects on survivors. I wanted to learn and write and teach about something that really mattered to me. But I had that little voice in the back of my head again.

What gives you the right to speak about sexual violence? Why do you care so much about it? It’s way too personal of a subject to be talking about. It’s only going to make actual survivors uncomfortable and resentful toward you. 

I snubbed that nagging little voice by doing a TON of research. I learned about the formal effects (i.e. PTSD, increased anxiety, etc.) as well as the informal effects that they don’t list on websites that actual survivors reported on anonymous forums. I learned about the many branches and trap doors of sexual violence and how just recently it is becoming normalized to talk about. I learned that, even with my privileged opinion, I can still do good by continuing the conversation and teaching others what it is all about and why it should be able to be talked about.

Although I cannot “solve” the fear of others viewing my point of view as privileged or ignorant, I can do research and learn as much that I can and then acknowledge my privilege. Acknowledge that what I am saying may not be immersed in experience and first-hand knowledge, but it is still an informed opinion worth speaking.

On Rituals

The hardest part of writing for me is the start. There are so many beginnings in the process of creating—beginning to move toward my desk and journal, beginning to open my pencil case to find exactly the right pen to use, beginning to set my writing space up the way I like to, beginning to open my journal, beginning to put my pen to paper, beginning to find words and thoughts and ideas. Getting myself to my desk is the hardest part of the battle. I have the ritual, it’s my mind that’s in the way. I try to combat this difficulty of beginning by taking away many of them all together. I have a ritual of stripping away things I view as obstacles in my path toward putting my pen to paper. I plug my laptop into its charger. I stack my journals neatly on top of each other; I take out a single purple pen and line it up neatly with the edge of the journal. I fill my water bottle, place it within easy reach of my right hand. I turn my desk lamp to the exact angle that I like it, so that the light filters out from under its shade without bouncing light off of my computer screen. I push my chair into my desk. I turn the lights off. I go to sleep. When I wake up, hypothetically, I am ready to write. 

            But writing for myself in the morning is somehow exponentially easier than knowing what I write will be read by others. I am crippled by this fear of an audience’s judgement—even if I know it’s someone that loves and cares about me. I am curious how ritual could play a part in minimizing this fear, or how others deal with it.

Help! I’m Drowning! Also, In Need of Advice on Being Done!

So I have officially come to the conclusion that I bit off way more than I could chew.

Three weeks ago I had my full class workshop. That means that three weeks ago I came to the conclusion that I needed to trash all of the writing that I had completed thus far this semester and start over. More specifically, three weeks ago I set out to write six brand new, not-even-outlined-yet personal essays, each of length of around 1500 words, and each of which was themed around an incredibly personal and complicated and emotional and hard-to-write-about topic.

Yikes.

As might be expected in my situation, I have done literally nothing but my capstone for the past two weeks. My other two classes have been placed at the backburner, and I have never before been so close to missing deadlines on projects and homework. Just last week I walked in to my meteorology class and was surprised to find that we had a project due at the beginning of class that I had never even heard about! Luckily my professor was super understanding and extended my deadline, but STILL! As a person who prides herself for organization and time-management skills, this kind of mental slip was super uncharacteristic!

In addition, I have been in a pretty bad funk for most of the last two weeks (shout-out to my housemates for still loving me even when I stop talking to them for two days or when I project my stress and anxiety the moment I step into the room). Writing for hours on end every day about things like loneliness and anxiety and how they relate to your mom’s cancer remission is really emotionally exhausting!

But it’s fine.

My current status is worse than I was hoping, but acceptable. I have four of six essays mostly completed and only one is completely nonexistent. My original goal had been to finish the project by the last day of classes, but this weekend I came to terms with finishing by the showcase Thursday instead.

I am currently struggling to keep my perfectionist tendencies at bay. I think that this is partly because I care so much about getting my topic “right.” I just don’t want to hurt anyone or misstate something. But, I really need to wrap up my essays. The project’s landing page is a vital aspect of the final project on which I have not yet spent ample time. I am planning to complete my essays by Tuesday so that I can spend all of Wednesday on the site, but in order to do so, I need to start accepting that my finished product will be less than perfect. This currently feels impossible.

In the past when I have written about my family members or my boyfriend (all of whom are featured in my Capstone), I have been able to move past my perfectionist tendencies. Usually when I look back at the final product weeks later, it is better than I thought at the time. But now, I am struggling.

Any suggestions on how to “be done” and to have faith in the process would be much appreciated!

Gossip:

We have all contributed or at least passively listened to it at some point in our lives. For most of us it has probably been accompanied by an initial feeling of mean satisfaction. Later perhaps, a more guilty, icky feeling arrives. That is what happens to me at least.

I am writing about my family in my Capstone. More specifically, I am going to be using the personal essay as a medium to write about my journey (which is closely tied to my family’s journey) through my mom’s cancer remission. I am positing my work as a tell-all “things I wish I had known, because remission does not equate to a return to normality even though that is what I was led to believe.” I will be writing on several overarching effects of having a parent with cancer that I have worked such as depression, anxiety, and the responsibility and resulting pressure of becoming a parent figure to my younger sister.

While some of these topics include mere mentions of my family members, painting them as background characters to my own struggles and/or triumphs, others will require deep analysis of the dynamics between each of my family members. And since one of my primary goals for my Capstone is to keep everything brutally honest and devoid of sugarcoating, some of that analysis will probably seem harsh. I worry that my honesty in “writing about my family” will feel more like “gossiping about my family.” Because while I will not be telling lies, I worry that I will feel guilty afterwards. I worry that my honesty of the past few years of my family life will overshadow the beauty and love of my family life in the years leading to my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I worry that my family members, should they ever read what I plan to write, will be hurt. I am so worried that I have not even told my family what I am writing about.

I have not been able to start writing either. Every time that I lay my pencil point upon a blank page in my notebook, readying my wrist for the inevitable ache from the proliferation of my ideas and thoughts, I am overcome by a panicky fear that my work will be hurtful to those I love most.

Last Friday I met with my mentor Nick Harp who coached me through several personal essays when I took his English325 class. I brought my concern to his attention and he asked me if I had struggled with this guilt in my other personal essays. I realized that I had indeed struggled when I wrote about my experience with love as defined by my long distance relationship. I vividly remember wanting to talk about the passive fights and the conflicts that were driving our relationship apart at the time. In the drafts I made attempts to do just that. But in the final essay, out of concern that I would be “too harsh” and “too hurtful” I omitted the “ugly” details of our relationship. I did not realize it at the time, but when I look back at the essay, something about my omission rings false. Perhaps it is because I know something is missing. Or perhaps it is because I now sense that my writing leading up to the “ugly” parts of the story more than imparts my love to readers, and I therefore could have included the “ugly” parts without seeming hurtful. When I am writing, perhaps I have been confusing hurtful and truthful.

I do not want my Capstone to be a repeat of history in that I look back one day and regret not going into more “ugly” details. I am not sure how exactly to go about doing that, but I am going to try to stop feeling guilty about my honesty. If anyone has any suggestions on how to do so, let me know! In the meantime, I will be sure to share if I come to a cure to my writers’ guilt.

Committing is Hard

I chose my topic. I know what I want to write about but I have a hard time committing to how or what I am doing with that topic. I feel like maybe I do not know enough about it yet? The fact that I love a TV Show about Witchcraft does not make me an expert on Witchcraft and now that I have decided that this is what I am going to write about it feels like I have no idea what to do with it. No idea that I have feels good enough.

I go from an academic more history based project to a fun 21st-century Witchcraft project with 10 other ideas in between. Nothing seems like the perfect project to me. I like the topic so much that I want everything to be perfect but in the end, I can’t commit to anything and that will hardly make anything perfect.

I feel like I have rarely had that problem in the past. I usually have an idea as soon as the assignment is given and then I brainstorm it and something comes to my mind and here it is. I have a final product. But for this project, it seems as if there is more Storming than Brain and I cannot seem to commit to anything I come up with. The only other time I remember feeling this way was during my Gateway class when I had to choose which one of my past work I would be working on. I remember coming up with three different work that I had liked but also felt could be worked on more and improved but when it was time to commit to one I could not decide which one I actually wanted to use. I had to talk with my professor and other students in my groups to make a decision.

I have been thinking that maybe I should just start doing some research, some readings or even write something but even that I have a hard time deciding on which way to go, where to start. So for right now, I will just tell myself to start and eventually, it will take me somewhere. Hopefully.

Let’s get to work!!

On Being A Ritual Slut

Considering Tharp’s words and looking back on my writing experience, I discovered that I’ve had a floozy relationship with rituals. My count continues to increase, but I can’t seem to stay married to just one.

After class discussion, I think the art of rituals depends on the environment you create and the mindset that affects.

Environment isn’t necessarily “created” but something you insert yourself into: a location that is conducive to constructing creative content. My first time with the college writing experience, I gave myself to Espresso Royale. A coffee shop offers the picture-perfect scene, but is logistically a nightmare: machines making noises, people making noises, and where the hell are the outlets? I moved on. Next, I made an attempt with the League. The more ignored version of the Union seemed to be love at first write with its old architecture and infrequent foot traffic. However, that flame was soon squashed by the intense effort it required to walk across campus. After several more flings, I notice I was trying to combine the environment and mindset factors as one; however, I needed a strikingly practical environment in order to achieve the creative mindset I was looking for. Thus, nowadays I prefer to study at Aikens Commons. Conveniently placed across the street from my house, plenty of outlets, and a “white noise” environment where everybody else is working. Once I got past all the distractions, I could work on the creation.

Although I found love with a certain environment, I still struggle to devote myself to a ritual that inspires me to be creative. I’ve thought a lot about what Thorpe mentioned about the taxi cab before the gym. As I mentioned, minor distractions are the bane of my creative experience. Cue my newfound fleeting relationship with rituals. I tried not looking at my phone for the first two hours of the morning. I attempted to stay away from social media. I flirted with reading the news with every cup of coffee. I made a pass at playing a game of sudoku when I woke up. I pursued several different avenues of inspiring introspection, critical thinking, and cosmic thinking, but have not found the one. I always end them.

 

I think rituals need to become a habit. Which just makes me consider, why is it I can stay committed to something as unproductive and annoying as biting my nails, but I frolic between activities that would actually make me a better person?