The Fourth of July is usually the day that sets me into a panic that the summer is over. In reality, though, at this point the summer is still at its early stages; New York’s beach water has yet to warm by the stored sun, my August birthdate hasn’t reached my radar and my mother has yet to plan the last hurrah family vacation. On the Fourth of July, I remind myself to focus on the present days, that August is sprawled out somewhere far ahead.
But here we are: past the midway point of August, perhaps my favorite month (I mentioned the birthday part, right?), but also a month that feels like one long Sunday. As I soak up some of the final moments, I also reflect on all that I learned while working on my honors fellowship and how I can use the momentum to carry on in the midst of my challenging fall semester course load. Here are a few things that I came up with:
- Schedule in daily writing time. Even when I feel bogged down by homework assignments and exams, I need to schedule in my writing time as if it were a class I wouldn’t dare miss.
- Tune everything out. Find a quiet space where people won’t be coming in and out, power off my cell phone and tuck it away somewhere out of sight.
- Give a story a chance. I have so many ideas of what I want to write about that sometimes, in the very early stages, I have trouble sticking to a story. Write down those ideas, save them for later. But an idea is not yet a story, and I need to remember to stick it out before swapping out. Usually, once I get three to four pages in, I won’t want to switch anymore.
- Ask “What if?” If my characters feel stuck, asking some questions can help me figure out their next moves.
- Pick up a book. And if all else fails, reading a little bit of a really well-written story or novel (For example, I recently finished “Half an Inch of Water” by Percival Everett – recommended by my adviser, Kevin González) always inspires me and makes me want to sit down and write again.
Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.
Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.
Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.
“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”
In the center of Michigan, the lakes are not clear water, but are golden colored wheat and tall corn. The combines are friendly giants that wander outside of the wooden posts, traveling on the main roads even as far as to the McDonalds on the corner of 3 Mile Road, taking up both lanes and forcing the smaller cars to trail behind at the slowed pace. The rural roadways are long and straight and unpopulated, aside from the birds, just enough so as to give drivers the confidence to do unlawful things without thinking twice.
I learned all of this as I spent a few weeks in field research, collecting details of scenery and cultures and conversations. I also learned of the tremendous economic and social impact that a city can feel in the midst of a large acquisition and layoff by their major source of employment. In certain cities in our country, companies seem to grow along with the community, playing a central role in names of high schools and community gardens. These companies sit at the family dinner table; they create story lines from grandfather to grandchild. While I was there, though, this name was suddenly on the lips of everyone around me as a word of caution and worry – who would stay, who would have to move away, as 700 men and women were let go? From my yoga instructor, who worked as a freelance contractor for the company, to a volunteer at the community boathouse who worked as an economic planner for the city government, no one seemed to left out of the conversation. These conversations, these long, quiet roads, have been on my mind as I begin to write my next story.
It’s been about a month since I’ve begun my research for the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship Program, and I’m happy to say I’ve finally found what I believe is the perfect balance of work and play within my schedule.
Since beginning my freshman year at CMU, I have worked as a part time employee and the Carnegie Mellon University Store. Though research is my full time job for the summer, I couldn’t quite part ways with my beloved bookstore. So, in addition to my research, for the past couple of weeks I have been working at the store a couple hours a day, not only to make some extra cash (gotta pay those bills $$$$), but also in an effort to give myself some balance. Prior to starting back up at the bookstore, I was spending most of my days just doing research. Though this was quite informative, it could be frustrating at times. And, because I had no other obligations, I would just continue working through this frustration at times when it would have been best for my sanity to just stop and take a step back. However, now that I’m “back to the old grind,” I am better able to balance the time I spend on my research with other things.
What has been most helpful to my balance this summer, however, both in terms of time and physically, has been my newest obsession – hot yoga. My wonderful housemates turned me onto hot yoga over this past year, but I never had the time (or frankly, the commitment) to go on a regular basis. Fortunately, once the summer came around, it seemed as though I had nothing but time. I signed up for a three-month pass, and though it was tough on my bank account, it’s been the best decision I’ve made in recent history. Going to yoga every day has bettered me physically and mentally, and given me yet another activity to balance my research with.
As I begin my thesis, I also begin to think about process. I think about committing myself to sitting down to write every day, an action as essential to the day as is my morning routine of grinding the measured amount of coffee beans and brewing espresso on my stovetop moka pot, as pushing myself for that outdoor run.
There is a book titled “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” that describes the daily habits and work regiments of sculptors, composers, writers, filmmakers and other creators. The section on composer Igor Stravinsky describes how he would wake up at 8:00 a.m. to exercise, and then work on his music without a break from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in solitude with all windows closed. These four hours were often all he could dedicate to his creations in the day, and he would sit down to work each day regardless of inspiration. In a section on Leo Tolstoy, he also describes writing every day from morning until dinner so as not to get out of the habit of daily writing.
Daily writing is essential to almost every writer. It requires diligence and focus, but also the power of schedule. During the school year, I am conscious of my wish to create a time for daily writing outside of classroom assignments. However, in midst of exams and homework and my appreciation of eight hours of sleep, I end up writing in bursts – a few consecutive days here, a few days there, and then perhaps radio silence for weeks.
This summer, I will form the habit of writing or researching for my writing every day. I look forward to acquiring a new daily ritual, and seeing what form my daily writing will take.
The Dietrich College Honors Fellows are presenting their work today! We will have photos and recaps throughout the week.
Eight exceptional juniors have been selected to be 2015-16 Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences Honors Fellows at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Honors Fellowship Program – in its second year – is part of the college’s Senior Honors Program and is designed to give students a head start on their thesis development.
The fellowship program does this by providing students with support to spend the summer before their senior year researching their thesis topics. The extra time allows them to focus on their projects while not also juggling demanding course loads, internships and other extracurricular activities.
“I’m both thrilled and humbled to have been selected as a fellow for this year’s program,” said Laurnie Wilson, a creative writing and history double major who will be working with English Professor Jane Bernstein to create a series of narratives that examine themes of growth and self-discovery from the perspective of a young woman. “I’m excited for many aspects of the approaching summer, however, I’m most looking forward to the chance I will have to fully devote myself to my art. During the semester, it can be difficult to set aside time to write, and creative inspiration can be hard to come by. The fellowship not only encourages but requires me to pursue a meaningful project, while the generous funding allows for me to completely immerse myself in this work, without any other distractions.”
Meet the 2015-2016 Fellows.
Stay tuned – each fellow will be blogging about their experiences throughout the next year!
In this video, the four students participating in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program’s inaugural year discuss their projects, which range from relationship research to anthropology and ethnography studies.
For more information on the program, the projects and how to get involved or provide support, visit http://hss.cmu.edu/honorsresearchfellowship/.