The beginning of the Capstone process is weird. It’s some strange combination of coffee and waiting and throwing away one idea after another. This period can last days or weeks or sometimes for an entire semester. Sometimes, If you’re really unlucky it’ll last well into the project itself.
It is, in a word, hard. What makes it so hard is that there are no rules. Not really, you go to a brainstorming session and you sit in a room surrounded by other students–many just as lost as you are–and you talk about what you’ve seen others do and what you want to do. And while you’re sitting there listening to someone tell you about their project idea, you throw away another one of yours, because some part of you thinks that it isn’t acceptable or that it isn’t good enough.
But, that part of you, the part telling you to throw away your ideas or give up on a concept is loud, too loud to allow you to hear the voice telling you that you’re enough, that your idea is enough. And often, it is. But many students, students like me, spend so much time comparing what they want to do to the things other people have done that they fail to see the value in what they’re doing or thinking of doing.
And that’s the hardest part. The pre-proposal, the proposal, the project itself, they’re not the part that’ll leave you crying or have you up until three in the morning–they might, if that’s the way you are, but you get the idea. The part that will steel your sleep and make you cry and leave you ready to drop out, is the brainstorming, because it’s the part that has no rules.
When you write a pre-proposal or a proposal, you have guidelines. You have to tell them what you want to do, why you want to do it, and why it should be considered an appropriate Honors Capstone project. The project itself has guidelines, you have to turn in documentation and results and sources. Even the final presentation has guidelines, a time limit, a layout. But the brainstorming part is an abyss.
You stare at your computer and read what others have done and think about what you’re passionate about, and then you come up with an idea and you start playing around with it and you think you’ve got what you need, and then you give it up because you see something that steals your certainty and you start over.
Capstone projects are hard, they’re meant to be, that’s the reason they exist, to test you. But the beginning, is exponentially harder than the end.
Saying ‘I love you’ before you hang up on your mother.
The way your voice changes when you talk to a baby.
The way you react when someone you love starts to cry.
Something done without conscious thought or intention.
Instinctive, involuntary, unconscious, impulsive, unthinking.
An action or reaction that is completed without cognition.
The first three weeks of the semester are strange, because they’re not really an indication of what the rest of the semester will be like, but they aren’t anything like the three weeks before them either.
You get up and you go to class and you do homework and you work and then you go to bed and do it all over again. But you’re not having to work for it. There are no late night study sessions. You don’t spend the night on the floor of your bedroom with your notes and a cup of coffee. You just, exist, in a routine, simple sort of way. Until suddenly everything is late, everything is hard, the world is on fire, and you’re crying.
The first three weeks of a Capstone semester are even more strange, because they’re a sort of limbo. Nothing happens, nothing is due. And yet, if you do nothing, you’re suddenly behind and scrambling.
No one is presenting, no one is finished, but some people are close, in their final stretch, running toward the finish line because they want to be done so badly that they can taste it. But no one is there quite yet. They’re writing their papers and building their presentation and scheduling their time slots and looking toward graduation day with hope. And then next week, suddenly their advisors will be expecting something that they wont have and they’ll realize the end is closer than they think and they’ll panic a little.
But for now, all is calm. The storm won’t come for a little while more.
So, something occurred to me today. I had never given a large amount of thought to what it’s like to be mute in society built for people who speak and hear. I’ll never really understand, because it’s not something I live with every day, but for better part of the last week, I’ve had no voice.
And no one seems to know how to communicate with me.
I can see, and I can hear, I just don’t have a voice. I’ve carried a notebook and a marker so that I can write things that require more than a yes, or a no, or the point of a finger.
The waiter at Chili’s thought it was funny that I wrote everything down, but he really didn’t seem to mind that I couldn’t talk to him. My doctor (the one treating the loss of my voice–if you’ve never had to have an anti-inflammatory shot for your voice box, be glad–did pretty well, he struggled a bit, because he was asking questions faster than I could write down my answers, but for the most part, he did fine.
My boss has enjoyed that I can’t speak because I can’t argue with him or speak to him at all, everything he’s gotten has been nods of the head or hand motions, and that’s fine with him. I work third shift and only deal with people for the last two hours that my store is open. Most of my co-workers have just rolled with the fact that I can’t talk. But the customers? They have no idea what to do.
They’ve reacted in a million ways, and rarely have they been positive. Some of them get angry and tell me I shouldn’t be there because I’m no good to them, even though I’m still more than able to listen to what they need and show them how to get it. Some of them been irritated, but mostly willing to deal with me. And some of them have been downright hateful, throwing their hands up and walking away from me.
My boss has gotten complaints from people all week, saying I shouldn’t be allowed to work in customer service if I can’t speak to customers, or questioning why I’m not being sent home because obviously I must be sick.
And I can’t help but wonder what it’s like for people that live this way every day.
I wrote a piece once, called ‘Building for (Dis)Ability’, about deaf people living in a world that isn’t designed for the way them communicate. I thought a lot about people that cannot see or hear, in doing my research for that piece. But, I never thought about people that can’t speak.
It’s horribly inconvenient and I have so much more empathy for people living without their voices.
I’ve never been good at small-talk. Not ever. I don’t talk about the weather or about any other surface level things. I like to talk about the hard stuff.
Politics. Death. Dying. Love. Hate. Anger.
The things that hurt. The things that make people angry. The things that make people think, that make them angry, or sad.
Death is one of my favorite things to talk about, my favorite thing to think about or write about. But that makes me strange, I think. People don’t know how to take me, or the way I talk about death.
Death and I have an understanding, of sorts. She knows that when she comes for me, I will go with her, without a word or a fight. On that day, and only then, we will go, side by side, like old friends. Until then, she taunts me, claiming those I love and popping up every time I close my eyes.
Why is death so hard for people?
It’s just the end of the story.
Today I had my first Official Capstone Meeting with A, my advisor, and did I mention that Capstone’s are terrifying? I’m already panicking, and I’m ahead of schedule, so I should be cool as a cucumber. But, I’m not. I don’t present well, I don’t like the sound of my own voice and the words never come out the way I want them to.
My advisor is incredibly intelligent and she knows this about me. So, her suggestion was that I go through old projects and read the proposals and things that the previous students submitted. So I did, and then I went searching through news stories about Capstone projects and the students that came up with them.
I found these two particularly interesting.
This first one is about a girl that took an app and completely reimagined it.
The second one is about a girl who is going to be using the inauguration as a part of her project.
I’ve been to at least two capstone presentations a semester since I’ve started college, but I had never seen projects like these–or like mine–and seeing that there really is no limit to what a capstone project can look like was comforting.
But, I’m still terrified.
In a class today, we were talking about the types of artists and the way that they view themselves and things like that, and something came up that caught my attention.
Someone said that a large part of being an artist is fear.
Someone else immediately went on to invalidate what was said on the grounds that fear isn’t something only artists feel. Which is true. But our class descended into a major debate about it anyway.
So, here’s my take. An artist is, in my mind, any person who creates something out of nothing. I specifically, am a writer. I also play music and paint, but above and before all else I am a writer. And as a writer, there is a huge part of me that is afraid.
Afraid of being vulnerable. Afraid of being too much. Afraid of not being good enough.
Our class is full of artists, and there aren’t any two of us that do the same thing, for the most part. But when it got to me, the professor (If you read my first entry, it’s the woman I decided to just call K) asked for my take.
And I felt like I was going to vomit.
Now, let’s preface this with the fact that there are only two writers in our class. I am a writer, and K is a writer. That’s almost an insult, putting her and I in the same category. She’s brilliant, I told you before that she’s one of the most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, but her brilliance is most noticeable in her writing.
And I had to explain, sitting next to this brilliant woman, that as a writer, my greatest fear is handing a piece of my soul to someone like her–someone I admire and look up to in so many ways–and having her tell me it isn’t enough.
I can handle being criticized, it’s a part of doing what I do, of being who I am. But there is something different about handing it to someone you know and love, someone you have such tremendous respect for, and letting them see you bare.
And when I write, that’s what I am. There is next to nothing that I write that doesn’t leave some part of me exposed.
Fear is a big part of being a writer, of being an artist. And I just needed to share this.
Writing about writing is kind of like talking about talking, explaining the way words are formed, the way you push air through your vocal cords to produce sounds. Could you do it? Could you say the word “speak” and then explain in absolute terms how you did it?
I don’t think I could, and I’m pretty good with words.
I write a lot, about a lot of different things. I write with short sentences and long ones. With easy words and words that make you think. I write by hand, with a pencil, or on my computer, one key at a time. I write naturally, about everything that touches my soul. But even I don’t know how to write about writing.
How do you explain to someone that you sit down on the floor, light a candle, and press the tip of your pencil to the page until the words stop coming? How do you explain to someone that you pour your soul out through your hand and bring tears to your own eyes? How do you explain to someone who doesn’t know you, or what it means to be a writer, that the urge to write–like the urge to eat–cannot be ignored? How do you explain the way it feels to ignore it? The way your mind spins and your attention wanders?
My first answer, is that you don’t. You don’t explain it, because they won’t understand.
But what kind of writer would I be if I backed down from a challenge? What kind of writer would I be if I said ‘No, I can’t write about that, it’s too hard, or too personal, or too complicated?’
I won’t be that kind of writer. Will you?
Faith means believing in something that you cannot see, cannot touch, cannot prove. When you have faith, you hear his voice in the world around you, through the moments of joy and the moments of pain. You feel him in the world around you. You feel him in the rain on your skin and the sun on your face. You see him in clouds, among the stars, and in the faces of every person you pass.
Faith isn’t concrete, it isn’t steady or perfect or constant.
Faith is hard.
When the world seems like it’s falling apart around you, when everything that you believe in is broken, and everything you thought you knew is wrong, faith will lift you up. If you let it. But you have to let it.
Faith wavers. When you’re alone, with tears in your eyes and unbearable weight on your shoulders, it’ll vanish. You’ll scream and you’ll cry and you’ll curse His name. And he won’t hold that against you. He will not respond with anger or punishment. You can sink to your knees in your front yard and scream until you lose your voice. You can curse with every word you know and send your hate to him on the wind.
But he will not respond with anger. No matter what you say, he will not punish you,or blame you. He will not think less of you for your moment of weakness. In that moment, he will find a way to touch you. A way to show you that he has not forsaken you.
He will stop the rain or change the song or send you an angel. In some way that will reach you, will resonate with you alone, he will touch you.
When you sink to your knees, broken and alone, he will kneel before you and take your hands. He will pray with you and fight for you and he will not rise until you rise with him.
Faith is hard, because it cannot be touched, or proven. It is not concrete or perfect.
But faith, can move the mountains that doubt builds.
And sometimes, it’s all we have.