On Tuesday, August 23nd - the first day of English 1102 - our assigned homework was to read an article that, at the time, felt insignificant and unrelated. Entitled "Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior" the content confused, daunted, and overwhelmed me. Would the rest of the semester demand this amount of higher-level thinking, I thought to myself. Nevertheless, I read the studies and attempted to summarize the findings. My conclusion was that, one, why am I reading about awe when I signed up for Shakespeare, and two, awe can be evoked from a feeling of the "self" feeling diminished. Upon meeting for class that Thursday, Dr. Higinbotham posed the inquiry of how this dense article related to Shakespeare. Afraid to answer in front of such a group of intimidating, smart people, but also fairly confident in my answer, I crossed my fingers and raised my hand, explaining that Dr. Higinbotham's goal this semester was to see an evoked sense of awe in reading Shakespeare.
To fully grasp the narrative of my first semester at Georgia Tech, I have to rewind a few days. I was unpacked, my pencils were sharpened, and I called my mom once an hour. I had never been to sleep away camp, and never went to bed without hugging my mom goodnight. Nerves overwhelmed my body, too anxious to do what I knew I had to do to feel like myself again - eating, sleeping right, and exercising. I was a puzzle with all the pieces, but purposefully did not put them in the right places. I desperately needed schoolwork to devote myself to, however the first weekend after moving in I couldn't distract my loneliness with my studies. I recruited an old friend from high school to walk around campus with me, and I experienced this ambiguous sense of awe, however did not know that was what I was feeling at the time. At the top of Clough, we silently looked out onto Midtown's skyline, and for the first time in four days, I felt peace in knowing that I am small in the face of this vast concrete jungle.
Cutting Cloth for Folio Paper Making
The First Failure
Like many of my peers at Georgia Tech, I had not experienced true, blistering failure before entering the bubble where even if you excelled at something in high school, you would be average here. I harped on this fact for the first few weeks here, and especially worried if my best was good enough when studying for my first Chemistry midterm. It wasn't. I did not even know if my score was passing or failing, because I had never familiarized myself with the cutoff between a D and an F, because in high school I didn't have to. The night upon receiving my score, I did two things I hadn't done since stepping on campus; first, I went to Wendy's, because no one goes to Wendy's after excelling at something, and second, after realizing that kind of nutrition choice was poor, I ran to Tech Square and did stairs in the Tech Square parking deck. I kept running up until I made it to the top. The view was incredible, and I knew what I was feeling this time: awe. And, heartburn because of the Wendy's. Even though the article Dr. Higinbotham had us read explained that awe is felt greater in nature than in cities, I would have to argue that what I felt that night made me feel grateful, small, and uplifted to try even harder for the next midterm.
Visiting the First Folio at Emory University
The North Star
I do my best thinking not too far from the comfort of my dorm room; the quad that connects my dorm and three others offers the best view of my favorite building on campus, the "pencil building," better known as the Bank of America Plaza. The architecture, height, and illumination at night evoke the same sense of awe I look for when I am overwhelmed. If I happen to be on West Campus, I look toward the sky and know that my dorm resides almost directly under the skyscraper, leading me back to East, acting as a "North Star." I thought the admiration I had for this building would subside after my first few weeks here, however it still has not; when I'm overwhelmed, stressed, or need some inspiration for a research essay on Shakespeare's role in feminism, I know I can look out to the Atlanta skyline and feel awe.
Making Paper at the Paper Museum
Finding a Rhythm
This cadence I found when creating my essay aligned with the rhythm I had found for my routine in my daily life; I did not allow myself to go back to where I was the first week of school. Instead, I wrapped my stress up and ran with it - literally. I found myself running further and further each day, and my favorite part was finding new sights to see. Even if it was only within a 2 mile radius of my dorm, I found interesting spots. One evening, the football stadium happened to be open. I ran up the stadium stairs to the top flight and found a breathtaking view before me, which was the perfect thing to see before a rough week of exams. Exercising helps calm me down before exams and especially presentations, where I have trouble orally communicating; rather than spending the night before stressing about how I'll present myself to a group of semi-strangers, I would run.
The Final Product
All three artifacts are complete - now what? Finding my way around Mahara was daunting at first, like most other things I've encountered at this school. Instead of behaving the way I would have the first few weeks of school here - trying hard enough to say I tried and giving up - I utilized friends in my class and even emailed for help embedding certain electronic links. Throughout this course, I gained insight on how to format online layouts, analyze century-old literature, and craft a individualized, persuasive argument. While I was learning these things, I was simultaneously finding out a lot about myself. For one, no matter how poorly I do on an assignment or test, I can find solace in knowing how small I am compared to this magnificent city. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to take Dr. Higinbotham's English 1102 class for it taught me far more than what the syllabus outlined. Above all, I learned how to experience awe when I needed it most; "By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forego strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others." While I did not know it at the time, the first assignment given on the first day of class shaped how I responded to the peaks and troughs this semester at Georgia Tech offered me.
Working on the Portfolio
View from 5th Floor of Clough
I read Hamlet in high school, so hearing that it would be our first work relieved me. This confidence was my first fault. In high school, we focused on a single interpretation of characters' actions and traits. In English 1102, I was able to read one of Hamlet's many soliloquies and interpret them any way I saw fit and then discuss it with an increasingly bonded, close-knit class. I experienced awe in a different way than I did the fourth night on campus; it was gradual, and did not shock me in one instance, but rather was felt after putting Hamlet down while brainstorming topics to data mine. I found myself fascinated by the way in which the supernatural affects Hamlet, and the intertwined, convoluted relationships between characters. Becoming proficient in using Voyant and an online data analyzer also provoked me to also wonder how else I could utilize these tools that take a massive amount of information to create clear parallels and the author's purpose. It was not jaw-dropping or chill-causing, but it did evoke a sense of wonder within me, and excited me to read King Lear.
View from Tech Square Parking Deck
I was apprehensive to start King Lear, given I had no background to the storyline or characters like I had with Hamlet. I was surprised to find that the plot's violent, brutal tendencies were fast-paced and did not lend itself to the long soliloquies and "art" that was present in Hamlet. I found myself looking for symbols to try and create a book cover that did not give away too much of the plot, but also would leave prospective readers intrigued. I have always been proficient with Prezi, but had slight problems with creating the book cover itself. When it came time to present, I was definitely more confident speaking than I expected, and I was very fluent verbally. I lacked on the nonverbal part of the presentation, as I looked at the screen rather than the audience and moved around frequently. This can easily be improved, however, and it was not overly noticeable. Rather than experiencing awe when reading the play itself, I was more in admiration for everyone else's presentations; never have I been so engaged throughout every single book cover, as each individual design offered a unique perspective I hadn't considered before.
My favorite building, the Bank of America Plaza
Much like making folio-style paper at the Paper Museum, where learning the procedure was the most difficult part of the process, writing a seven page research essay demanded the same type of learning curve. I was not familiar with how to find solid sources and how to craft those sources into a sound argument. Using the Georgia Tech library and JSTOR for journals and articles, I found 7 sources that related to my thesis, and I began to write. Writing has always been a fairly strong point for me, especially when it comes to conventions and style. While it was difficult to start, once I found my rhythm, I felt very capable I could craft a concise essay that was persuasive and informative.