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.




Completing a thesis is a pretty big task.

At this point, I think I can probably speak for all of us when I say that this summer hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. From my own experience, I’ll share that there have been moments of absolute progress and success, but also moments of setback, discouragement, frustration, and worry. When one embarks on a culminating project of this scale, the journey to completion is filled with ups and downs, twists and turns–and we’re really only just at the beginning. It’s kind of amazing to turn for a moment to look at the path that I’ve taken to get to this point, and then turn once more to see what lies ahead.

With so much still to do, you might be wondering how one manages to push ever further along the road to completion, especially at a time of the year that begs for days spent sleeping late and lounging in the sun. It’s safe to say that the other fellows and I have an immense amount of dedication to our projects. And even though things have been going much smoother since I realized the need to alter my original thesis idea, it can sometimes still be difficult to muster the motivation.

So how does one endure?


Endurance is an interesting concept. It requires support, practice, and, perhaps most of all, love. I have discovered that my endurance comes from those who are around me. Lately, I have been so grateful to be surrounded by so many friends and family members who encourage, respect, and celebrate each and every day of our lives. That kind of community is what has kept me going, even when the light on the path has seemed dim.

No matter what you’re working towards in your life, or where you are in the world, I hope that you may also find a sense of belonging.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been following this hand-letterer for a while. He’s in the midst of a 27-day free tutorial about hand-lettering and a lot of what he’s saying can apply to success not just in his field, but in any field.

For the Ears: Rain. There were a few nights in Munich where we had these outrageous thunder storms. I felt so lucky to fall asleep, listening to the rain as it splattered against the roof and windows–the ultimate lullaby.

For the Soul: Loved ones. After traveling around Munich and Stockholm by myself, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be reunited with friends and family in California. So, go surround yourself with love. You deserve it.laurnie3

Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.



I’d like to preface this post with the reassurance that it will tie back to my thesis.

I’ve been thinking a lot about intentions. Those of you who know me personally will know that yoga is an important part of my life. Yoga instructors often speak of setting an intention for your practice. For me, this often means connecting with a word, phrase or thought for the duration of the class. Setting an intention can be a way to find focus, guidance, and peace. When we greet our yoga practice with intention, we are less likely to be distracted by discomfort or uncertainty. Intentions can make you fearless, confident, or, at the very least, brave.

But intentions aren’t just for the yoga mat, they’re for much more than that. And, over the past few weeks, the idea of acting with intention in my daily life is something that has really started to sink in. Recently, I started to take note of all of my daily behaviors. I was amazed to see just how few of them I did with intention.

Checking Facebook, for example, is one behavior that often is so mindless it’s scary! I can’t make assumptions about anyone else, but for me, it seemed that I was logging into my Facebook more and more frequently, with very little purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for social media. I’m a HUGE lover of Instagram. You can follow me at @laurniewilson, if you’d like 🙂 But it’s almost too easy to become addicted: to scroll forever through the seemingly endless flow of updates and articles, without absorbing a single thing. I’m certainly guilty of it. But it seemed like a habit I could break, and setting intentions seemed like the way to start. I decided to ask myself, every time I logged in, why I was logging in, in the first place. If I had a good reason, I would continue. If not, I would close the tab.


Mindfulness is another idea that goes hand-in-hand with intention. Pema Chödrön (who I mentioned in my last post), and many other teachers, write about the importance of mindfulness. The idea behind mindfulness can be summed up roughly as living in the moment. Regardless of what you’re doing, be it slicing a tomato, or taking a test, mindfulness asks us to be present in that moment. It may sound silly, but when we wander from the present, when we lose our mindfulness and become stuck in our thoughts and inhibitions, we miss out on enjoying the precious moment we are in. If we aren’t mindful, then whatever we are doing will not be as good as it could have been.

Intention and mindfulness are powerful tools when you choose to use them. They can open up so much more of life than you ever thought possible. I’ve only just begun to skim the surface of these resources and am excited about what they can bring.

With all of these thoughts simmering in my mind, I realized that my thesis needed some serious changes. I dreaded sitting down to write because I wasn’t enjoying any of the stories I was writing. I felt disconnected and uninspired. I had known for a while that I was just writing to write, regardless of how much I disliked what I was creating. I was looking for themes and squeezing them out of already parched narratives.

Then I took a step back. A huge part of my summer has been travel. Honestly, I’ve spent more time outside of Pittsburgh than I have in it. Yet, none of my travel experiences were finding their way into my work. This was clearly a problem, especially since I have felt the most inspired since I’ve been away, free to wander and roam. Why wasn’t that a part of my thesis? Why weren’t those feelings translating into what I wrote? They needed to.

And so, without any expectations or pressure, I told myself to write about sitting beside Lake Twenty-Two on that warm, Sunday afternoon in the Washington state wilderness. When I sat down to this task, determined to access that which I already possessed within, I didn’t expect myself to have a full-blown story with subplots and a sweeping arc. I didn’t ask anything more of myself than to recapture that serenity and share it in a way that others would be able to feel it, too.

And that’s exactly what I did. Then I read it to my mom. She liked it.


It was in that moment that I realized what my thesis would really be about. As I move forward, I will select feelings, experiences, and brief moments from my journeys. I will take these selections and write about them. Some entries may be longer than others. Until I have a few more, I’m unsure as to how they will take shape. But I will write what feels right, what feels like the most important take-away from that event, that emotion, that fleeting second that is now a memory. I will follow each entry with a photo story to illustrate what I’ve narrated.

In this way, my writing and my pictures, both directly influenced by my travels, will interact with each other, creating what I hope will be an impactful collection of thoughts and images. The themes that I had tried so hard to craft before will create themselves. Since all of these reflections will come from my life, my growth, and my inspiration, they should naturally link with each other.

It’s taken me over a month to get to this point. But I’m starting to understand that the journey is the most important part.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Have you taken a moment to look up, recently? The sky offers so much to see, if we only take the time to appreciate it. (Especially on the 4th of July.)

For the Ears: Sizzling sauce pans, gurgling streams, all of these repetitive sounds have been really soothing, lately.

For the Soul: My most favorite yoga teacher is leading a month-long meditation challenge via her Instagram account @meghanjcharles. If you’ve been curious about starting your own meditation routine, this might be just the inspiration you need.

Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Scribbles and Snapshots

Now, where to begin?

This was the first question I asked myself as I sat down about three and a half weeks ago to begin my thesis. Having never taken on a project of this size before, I felt more than a little bit overwhelmed by what lay ahead.

For those of you just jumping on this blog’s bandwagon, welcome! Let me briefly recap what I’m doing: For my thesis, I’m planning on writing a series of short stories, along with a series of photo stories. In an effort to keep myself inspired, I’ve planned a somewhat nomadic summer, spending time in Maryland, Munich, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, with a bonus weekend in Seattle. I will also be taking a photography class to supplement the visual side of my project. My goal is to find a way to have the text and images work together in the most effective and meaningful way possible. It’s a big task, but I’m ready for it.

So, if you’re still reading, then you’re probably wondering what I’ve been up to. Yes? Great!

This whole first segment of my project—my, shall we call it, “pre-departure” segment—I imagined would be a time of planning, researching, and gathering. But let me tell you something about all of my plans thus far: I’ve thrown all of them entirely out of the window.

It’s funny, really. I’m such a planner. But, in just these first three weeks, I’ve seen that planning my stories has been a pretty solid waste of my time. Originally, I believed that planning out my work would help in keeping me on track. And while I think it may have helped me get started, it also left me somewhat uninspired. (Think: Me realizing that I had brainstormed six identical stories. Eep!)

For the first two weeks, writing felt like ramming a cast-iron skillet against my head, every day, for 5 hours a day.

Ah, yes, the life of a writer. Romantic, no?

1 Photo 02.06.15 13 06 06

I hear brain freeze helps writer’s block.

But then on Sunday night, while corresponding with a friend, I happened upon inspiration for a story that I have fallen in love with. So I’m beginning to think that plans are overrated.

Who knew that starting my thesis would lead me to realize deep, life lessons? And I’ve only just begun!

The photography part of my thesis has been a bit more stop-and-go. The first week, when I was still in Pittsburgh, I went to two photo exhibits–One at the CMOA and one at the Silver Eye Center for Photography.

A snapshot from the Silver Eye Exhibit

A snapshot from the Silver Eye Exhibit.

I also spent time with a really lovely Eugene Richards book, Red Ball of a Sun Dipping Down. This was a gorgeous combination of text and images. If your library has a copy, I would highly recommend taking a peek.

Last week, however, the photography element took a little snooze. But this Wednesday, I revved that engine back up for my first photography class!! I’m honestly so excited, friends. My class has two people, including myself (three, if you include the teacher), so we are going to get SO MUCH personal attention! I can’t believe my good fortune.

So far we’ve only really discussed the basics. This week, we have quite a bit of homework to get us comfortable with the manual settings on our camera. (Think shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.) Apparently we will never be using automatic again.

Since the creative process can be such an amorphous thing to document and describe, I thought I would also accompany each of my posts with little bits of inspiration. This way, you can see the external influences that are shaping my experience as a creative. (This is a term my photography teacher applies to people who practice any form of art. I love it and have decided to adopt it.)

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Red Ball of a Sun Dipping Down—really a must // Hand letterer Lauren Hom for a new definition of creative writing.

For the Ears: It’s gray and cold and generally miserable in Maryland right now. That means Alt J (the second Album especially) on repeat–to go with the mood–and anything by the Hot 8 Brass Band to lift your spirits.

For the Soul: Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty, because uncertainty is one of the hardest qualities of life to embrace.  

I’m looking forward to bringing you along on this journey. So keep a look out for more interesting posts from my fellow fellows and me!

Til next time, friends.