2015

Hello Friends

photo-1458925140641-48569e57da75My novel, for the purposes of my thesis, will be done tomorrow. I will submit it to my advisor, who will submit it to the department head who will then send it on to the Dean’s office. I can’t believe it!

The last few months I have been working on editing, rewriting scenes and trying to fully define what I wrote so I can describe it when people ask that much-dreaded question “So what is your novel about?”

Now, I can safely answer, “I’m working on it.”

I am so thankful for the opportunity that Dietrich College gave me to write a novel. The time and the resources provided have given me the chance to prove to myself that I can do it. But more than that, it has shown me that I love long form fiction.

This time last year, I asked my friends who were finishing their theses what they had learned during the process. One friend, who had been working on a historical-fiction novel, candidly said, “That I don’t like novels.”

That response stuck with me. But for me, this experience has been the opposite. I have emerged from this year secure in my knowledge that I really enjoyed writing my novel and I can’t wait to write another one.

I am excited to share my work at Meeting of the Minds and with all of you who have supported me through this process.

Thank you!

Learn more about my project.

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Processing

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Last week, I experienced a lot of death.

Sorry if that was kind of an intense place to begin. Sorry if that’s not quite what you were expecting. But it wasn’t what I was expecting, either.

Although none were directly connected to me, the deaths did impact people in my inner circle, and, as a result, impacted me as well. This summer, I have found space within myself to open up much more readily with those around me. I have nurtured a growing sense of empathy and compassion, two qualities I believed to be beneficial.

Until last week.

There was something so personal about all of the losses. For two days, I allowed myself to be swallowed by grief, part of which was for souls I had never even met.

How could this happen? How could I be so distraught over a loss of something that was never mine?

It all had to do with my processing. I latched onto the sadness of each occasion and allowed my empathy and compassion to overflow to the point that it engulfed me. There was no separating myself from it, or so I thought.

For as long as there is life, there will be death. And, for those of us left behind, there will never be a good time for Death to take the ones we love. It’s a fact. It’s a heart-wrenching, blood-chilling, terrible fact. But, that’s the way it is.

So how do we process this? How do we cope with the things in life that are too devastating to handle? How do we pick ourselves up and move on.

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I’m going to be honest and say, I’m not quite sure.

For me, diving into a creative form helps. Be it writing or yoga, there is always a way in which you can introduce a new concept that shakes up your traditional form. Sometimes, being gentle with yourself in whatever activity feels right, will allow you to dig deep, unearthing words or movements you may not have thought possible. And sometimes, accessing those deep, quiet places is exactly what we need to begin to heal.

Throughout the summer, I have experienced so many varied events, some of them positive, some of them negative. Finding a way to incorporate the painful moments into my thesis is a challenge that I have chosen to accept. Because, life isn’t perfect. It can be beautiful and inspirational and so full of joy at times, but there is a dark to every light, a down to every up. And embracing the fullness of it all is part of what makes us whole.

It might not be easy, but it’s a good place to start.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been learning Lightroom this week, which has meant a lot of increased screen time. When my eyes need a break, I take myself outside for a change of scenery, or I take a nap. Because that’s good for your eyes too, right?

For the Ears: Do you find yourself starting to speak before someone has finished their sentence? I’m definitely guilty of this. So, let’s be mindful together and actually listen to the people we are talking with. Maybe thinking of it as talking with instead of talking to will help.

For the Soul: “Forgive, not because someone deserves forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” -Deepak Chopra.

Til next time, friends.

On Guidance

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“I am so happy to have a mentor.” This was the thought that came to the forefront of my mind, as I sat, meeting with my advisor, Jane Bernstein. It was a warm afternoon, and with light pouring in through her office window, the whole world just felt right.

While my very free summer months allowed me to grow as a creative in so many ways, it is immeasurably comfortable to be able to sink into deep discussion with someone who is much more experienced in the ways of writing. To have a mentor who is familiar with your past work, understanding of your current work, and enthusiastic about your future, is something that has re-ignited my own passion for this project.

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And, the beauty of mentorship, is that it doesn’t just help in academics. This week one of my yoga teachers cued the class into a headstand in a way that I had never tried before. The whole sensation was thrilling and somewhat daunting at first, but with her careful and clear instruction, I was able to dabble with an inversion.

In work and life, it is so necessary to have that someone (or many someones) who can give you advice and ease you into a newer, stronger place. Whether we are still in school or working full time, we can always be students, learning from those around us who inspire us with their own ways of being.

I’m ecstatic to have Jane on my team as I continue to grow my thesis this semester. As of right now, I will continue to produce work, keeping in mind certain aspects of my writing that are especially effective, and letting go of those tactics that tend to weigh down my writing and distance my readers.

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One of the first comments Jane gave me was to “be in my body” while I tell these little life slices. I honestly could not think of a more perfect comment to receive. After all, this whole summer, I feel that I have been working to be more present, to feel each moment, and to savor every breath.

So, now it’s time to flex that muscle and let that life experience wash more readily into the vignettes I am writing. It’s such a joy and a pleasure to be able to bring my professional and personal lives together in this way. I’m so excited to see the quality of my work improve as the time passes. I’m just excited, I think, for this entire year.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Have you been noticing the way the sun looks a little more golden, a little more autumnal? I love seeing beautiful transitions that take place this time of year.

For the Ears: My yoga teacher played her harmonium in class today and it actually made my day. If you’ve never heard of this instrument before (I hadn’t either!), you should definitely check it out.

For the Soul: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~Paulo Coelho

Til next time, friends.

The Three Little Pigs

“Have you thought of an ending?”

“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”

“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”

“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”

“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello friends,

As I near the final pages of my first draft, I have been wrestling with the issue of endings. I often feel like I view my ideas for an ending with the personas of the three little pigs; this one is too happy, this one too sad, this one too cliché. None are just right. I know what my ending should not be, but I lack the knowledge of what it should be. Two-hundred plus pages into my novel, I wished I knew exactly how the story would end.

I realize that in my fear of writing something so important, the ending to my first novel, I reverted back to doing what I do best, planning and focusing on plot. It wasn’t working because I had been using an entirely different style for writing the rest of the novel. I had to put my faith back in the characters and the world that I have spent the last half of the year building, brick by brick.

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Inspiration came from an unexpected place. I recently had the opportunity to see The Moth at the Rex Theatre. The Moth is an NPR sponsored event of slam stories. I had a wonderful time listening to the participants’ experiences and how they related to the theme of the month “Guts.” Reflecting on the stories I saw there, I have decided on two things that I will use to guide my characters to the end of this particular story.

The first thing I have realized is that the main character must have agency in the ending. She must be the one to cause the events that end the story or it will feel unrealistic. The second thing that I realized was that the main character has to grow internally as a result of the rest of the story. Regardless of the plot in the story, the thing that would make the story satisfying at the end was whether or not the character had changed in order to overcome the situations she experienced

With that in mind, I am ready to charge forward in the creation of an ending to my novel. I hope it will be just right.

A Study of American Popular Music Festivals as Youthful Rites of Passage

Have you ever gone to a music festival? Dietrich College Honors Fellow Geneva Jackson spent the summer attending festivals in Tennessee, West Virginia, Delaware and other locations. Why? She’s researching their role as youthful rites of passage as her Senior Honors Program thesis.

Jackson, a global studies and history major, recently presented on her work. In addition to her field work, she worked with her advisor, History Professor Judith Schachter worked to define what a festival consists of for her project.

geneva presents“We have a working definition,” Jackson said. “There has to be music, even if other arts are present, and the duration has to be longer than one night.”

She also spoke about how she had to narrow her original focus from comparing festivals from the 1960s to today. Instead she will just study modern music festivals.

Jackson talked about the unique position she’s in because she’s part of the demographic she’s observing. She also described the types of data she collected – how she wrote everything she saw, trying to be objective, and what she experienced. She also wrote reflections later about what she learned and what it meant.

Moving forward, Jackson will go through all of her notes to see what fits where and find and read anthropological works on rites of passage.

Learn more about her project.

Big Bite: A Student’s First Novel

Creative writing major Eleanor Haglund has written plenty of short stories and even one novella before, but never tackled something as long and involved as a novel. Until now.

Haglund, a Humanities Scholars Program student with a psychology minor, has embarked on writing her very first novel. She spent the summer figuring out just how to do this as part of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Honors Fellowship. The fellowship allows students to get a head start on their Senior Honors Program thesis work.

eleanor presentationHaglund presented her work so far earlier this week – about how her story switched focus and how she made so much progress (100 pages written and counting!)

“My novel is a coming of age story about a girl in college,” Haglund said. “The girl is struggling with school and her family as she comes into her own. It’s totally fiction.”

Haglund was advised by English Professors Kevin González and Jane McCafferty not to outline as she began the writing process.

“But I love structure and schedules, so I freaked out,” Haglund admitted.

However, she said by not having a pre-determined path, so many doors opened for her.

“I would have focused on events and plots – and wouldn’t have focused on characters,” she said.

Haglund said that she needs to write every day, and even blogged about her quest to find the perfect location. But she’s writing and not looking back.

“It’s really hard to revise a large project as you’re going, so I plan on revising later,” Haglund said.

She plans on having a completed first draft by November.

“Then I will start with what Jane said, ‘re-envisioning what I’ve put down,’” she said.

Learn more about her novel.

Hezbollah, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Intersection of Militant and Political Identities

Next up in the series of posts on the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship summer presentations is Chloe Thompson, a global studies and Hispanic Studies double major with a creative writing minor.

chloepresentsWhen she applied for the fellowship program, Thompson wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do her thesis on, but she knew that it would involve non-state groups and political actors. She settled on Hezbollah, Arabic for “Party of God,” and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) because they’re two non-state actors that have separate but active militant and political arms.

Thompson described how she spent the summer looking for answers to questions such as why the PIRA transformed from a militant group to a political one and how Hezbollah maintains having both factions function.

“The great thing about this fellowship was that I didn’t need to produce something right now,” Thompson said. “I could take the time to understand and learn.”

She feels that she now has developed a mastery of the concepts, a depth of knowledge and the vocabulary to analyze and talk about both groups.

“Now, I’m at a jumping off point for figuring out what I want to say,” she said.

Thompson’s most immediate plan to tackle the next stage of her project is to keep looking for ways Hezbollah and the PIRA are similar.

Learn more about her project.

View a group photo of all of the honors fellows before their presentations.

How to Fight Jealousy

Just a reminder that today, the 2015 Dietrich College Honors Fellows presented on their work so far this summer. We had hoped to share videos of each presentation, but due to technical difficulties, we’ll just be sharing recaps and a few photos throughout the week.

For Kaylyn Kim’s Senior Honors Program thesis and fellowship project, she decided to create a psychological study to find out how to fight jealousy using security priming.photo[1] copy

Kim’s project advisor is Associate Psychology Professor Brooke Feeney, an expert in studying interpersonal relations – particularly in how close relationships help people to thrive through adversity and through the pursuit of life challenges.

First, Kim, a psychology major with a minor in creative writing, talked about how she needed to define “romantic jealousy.”

“It’s the threat of comparison and competition and the fear of being replaced,” she explained. “Jealousy is not inherently a bad emotion. It comes from a place of love, but the outcomes can be negative.”

Security priming has been shown to boost moods and self-esteem, so Kim wanted to explore how it affects jealous thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. She used imagining a partner’s touch or sound of their voice as examples of security primes.

Kim has already started running pilots, and she detailed how her experiment works. Participants must speak English, be at least 18 years old and have a romantic partner that they have been dating for at least three months who is also willing to participate. They will not be aware of the study’s real goal.

The couples will fill out background questionnaires and go through a series of activities designed to gather baseline information and then elicit jealous reactions.

Kim believes that the implications from her work will include creating interventions “to enhance the well-being of individuals and their relationships.”

Read more about Kim’s project.

Check out a photo of all of the Honors Fellows before the presentations.

Narratives in the 21st Century

Today, the 2015 Dietrich College Honors Fellows presented on their work so far this summer. We had hoped to share videos of each presentation, but due to technical difficulties, we’ll just be sharing recaps and a few photos throughout the week. (If you want to see a great picture of all of the fellows right before the presentations, click here!)

lwpresentationUp first: Laurnie Wilson. Wilson, a creative writing and history double major with a minor in German, is working on telling narratives through text and photography under English Professor Jane Bernstein. Wilson, who is in the Humanities Scholars Program, began her presentation with a dramatic reading of some of what she’s written so far.

She then talked about how at the beginning of the summer, she struggled with coming up with content to write every day. Traveling helped her solve the problem.

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t inspired,” Wilson said. “I wanted to write more about my experiences. So, I made a leap to non-fiction and travel journal writing, and the floodgates opened. My thesis work became a joy.”

Wilson still wanted to use photography in her storytelling, so she took a class while she was home in June. She said that her teacher will continue to mentor her as she moves forward with her project.

“I realized photography is just as much storytelling as writing, and I noticed that I was absorbing the world around me more,” she said.

Now, Wilson is focused on typing up her handwritten notes and organizing and transferring all of her photos and files to her computer.

“I want to be really organized at the beginning of the semester,” Wilson stated.

Then, she will start to bring out storylines from both her written pieces and pictures. Her hope is to have a final product that is a “book that you can hold” filled with text and images that tell her story.

Learn more about Wilson’s project.