Virtual start, round 2!

Happy New Year, RMJ community! I apologize (should I say apologise, now that I’m a UK student?) for not posting much last Fall. I’m excited to share now what a fantastic online experience I’ve been having. The semester was a wonderful whirlwind interrupted by a positive Covid-19 test, and I’m looking forward to doing it all over again this semester, minus the frustrating post-viral fatigue.

About halfway through last semester, I realized, wow, this is what I want to be doing. For years, I’ve been mentally bargaining with myself, trying to figure out ways to combine my engineering and writing backgrounds; but having this chance to just lean into the writing, no strings attached, has been liberating. I came into the semester with a heavy dose of impostor syndrome, but now I feel right at home with my classmates. This program just feels – right!

What I love is the combination of creative and critical writing. I’ve never been much of a fantasy or fiction writer (though I did experiment with autofiction this November, and I kind of liked it). I also enjoy pushing the constraints of more traditional critical essay-writing. In college, I found myself drawn to narrative journalism and creative nonfiction, and I’ve been leaning into those genres heavily throughout the MA program (programme, ha). I’ve been practicing the smooth combination of creative and critical; fragmentation; and connecting critical sources that might not seem obviously related. I love this challenge – I think it appeals to my logical side – and I know I want to pursue it more after the MA ends.

And the reading! I probably spent more time during the first semester reading than writing, and I think that was a good thing. My frame of reference is expanding exponentially. I’m just gaining more language, and I’m finding it easier to start articulating things that have always felt problematic, but that I maybe haven’t had the critical background to dig into.

More generally, I think being in this writing MA is a relief because I no longer feel emotionally or philosophically at odds with what I’m doing. I loved studying BME in that I got to explore a range of disciplines (and it was challenging, so I’m proud of that degree). But because I am someone who likes to think very big-picture, aka what is the meaning of this, I struggle with engineering. In other words, I’d rather be thinking about cultural attitudes towards technology that about the minutae of a blueprint or design plan (not that these things aren’t both valuable – I think it takes all types). I also have some issues with engineering culture. There’s an aggressive apoliticism – through I realize that’s changing – as if being immersed in such difficult work excuses willful blindness, even though engineering is inevitably implicated in every system demanding critique. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know I’ve been gaining so much clarity looking in at engineering from the outside. I think I want to stay here.

I look forward to continuing this next semester. I’ll be all online, again, but hopefully in the summer there will be some in-person events so I’ll get to travel for a short while. I don’t feel super comfortable traveling until there’s something non-virtual to go to; and of course, I’d like to wait until more people are vaccinated. In the meantime, I’m loving my Ann Arbor apartment with my roommate and our two cats. Things could be a lot worse.

I feel so lucky to be having this experience, even if it looks different than RMJ fellowships of years past. I’m brainstorming ways to continue my writing post-graduation. Looking forward to making another post once the semester has gotten off the ground …

Alice