Dinah, first year Shimer student, joins us to show what she did with her writing week - a week which at Shimer is similar to exam week at other institutions. During this week, students either take comprehensive exams or do semester projects, which require 40 hours of work on some approved topic. Semester projects are always at least partially essays, but many have a creative component--as Dinah's does. On page 21 of our catalog, you can read more about comprehensive exams and semester projects. We hope you enjoy Dinah's reflections on how she got to Shimer and how it's changing her, and how she used writing week to reflect on it all.
This is the written portion of my writing week final, along with pictures of my final project. I wanted to show how education re-ignited and connected my passions.
I left Indiana as a beginning graffiti artist and activist. I moved to New Jersey for a day, then realized I did not want to live in New Jersey. I got rid of 2/3 of my possessions. I came to Chicago with 3 bags of laundry, 4 milkcrates of books, a mattress, a job, a couple boxes of odds and ends, and a rented room. My craft supplies and spraypaint were lost to my mother's attic, and my creativity was lost to my confusion. The first four months or so moved like a blur; wake up, bike to work, bike home, sit in room alone and read, go to bed, repeat. I read over 20 books that fall. I read more about labor movement and organization. I read a lot of Hesse. I still had no idea what I was doing, or wanted to do; I just knew that this was not it. I had spent the previous year working with community organization, activism, and radical politics. There wasn't a shortage of information to stop me from doing anything, just an inability to use it properly.
I have always had trouble formulating ideas and thoughts into coherent sentences or art forms. This was not helped by a year of instability and confusion. The creativity block I experienced was possibly the most painful experience I've encountered. I realized I did not have the ability to express myself, because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to say. Ideas were constantly swirling around my head: statistics and figures, radical theories, beautiful and horrifying historical documents. They all hung over me. I could not decipher this. The year I had spent trying to learn, and the following year spent trying to effectively apply it, were fruitless. These were ideas I did not fully grasp. I couldn't bend them to fit, I couldn't shape them and view them from every angle, I lacked the true understanding to really make anything out of my own thoughts. Philosophers and historians dangled over my head, intangible. I became more uninspired; I hid my paints under my bed, and the dogs eventually chewed up all of my art pencils. I drank more tea and picked up a third job.
The decision to go back to school had more intense consequences than quitting a job or two and racking up more student loans; I was engulfed with creative energy. As this year pushed on, it has only become stronger. I have introverted greatly. I have found that I am in my head 80% of the time. As I bike to work I try to wrap my mind around the previous day's Sociology reading. I laugh at the similarity of drivers throwing temper tantrums to the tantrums of chimpanzees. My people-watching skills are now verging on creepy. I do math problems in my head for fun; this is the most surprising, really. I am astounding myself daily.
This mobile took me an obscene amount of time to make. I started working on it early, and sacrificed a lot of sleep. I gathered all of my focus statements, written papers, handouts, homework, notes, and more than a few journal entries. I attempted to cut them all into perfect squares. I drew a scaled design of a mobile, calculated how many paper birds I would need to really make this happen, and tried to figure out the paper crane size in relation to how big I wanted the mobile to be. . I hand-cut then hand-painted each piece of paper with water colors, ironed, and folded each bird. The folding and stringing process are what took the longest; the most intricate steps are rarely seen. I skimmed each paper as I painted and folded it, and it was mind-blowing to see just how much I came across this semester, even in the course I dropped after four weeks.
This mobile represents a lot to me. On the most superficial level, it is a reminder to all the first year students as to just how much we have accumulated thus far. This project, for me, is the manifestation of my last year. I have taken the things that I wanted so badly to know and have conceived my own ideas from them. I can take ideas apart, I can reshape them, I can combine and reduce them to my liking. They are no longer foreign, unreachable ideas floating above me. I have found a new creative medium through understanding. In Natural Science we discussed the opposition to science due to the idea that knowledge takes away from the “magic” of nature and the beauty in the unknown. This concept has never made sense to me, especially now. The only thing ignorance does is keep one in the passive position. I've found more than empowerment in knowledge though, I have found comfort, and I have found immense beauty.