Blog Post 11: The Grand Finale

Self-Direction:

I’ve always been an independent learner, so this skill has more or less remained the same for me.  I put the same effort into the project now, staying up late to edit the film after working or completing other school assignments, as I did in the beginning stages of researching the issues surrounding foster care and interviewing those closest to them.  The only difference between then and now, it seems, is that there are real consequences to not finishing the work on time. Before, if I forgot to submit a blogpost or complete a research task on time, it was fine to remember it a day or two later and quickly catch up.  However, if I learned anything from losing my entire edited section of my group’s film the day before an overnight, it is that editing is a time-consuming process. Doing it all over again was absolutely no fun, and having to rush through it in order to have something to show to the other groups was even less enjoyable.  So, while I’ve maintained much the same attitude towards motivating myself to finish each task, it has been made painfully aware to me that it is of vital importance to be able to manage my own learning. I hope to always have this work ethic, and to continue to develop the stamina and perseverance that go with it, because sometimes, the unimaginable happens.  And when it does, you have to be able to deal with it.

Responsible & Involved Citizenship:

The most important aspect of this life-long skill is teamwork, because I didn’t see myself as a teamplayer at the beginning of the year.  I’d always been an independent worker, and I’d never had to rely on a peer to get something done. And even if I had, at some point, needed to take a step back and let someone else handle something for a change, it had never been something of more consequence than a powerpoint.  So when my team and I found ourselves needing to travel to Randolph in order to secure an important interview, I realized that, though there were many aspects of this project that I could manage the weight of alone, this was not one of them. I didn’t have a camera, microphone, or the confidence to conduct an interview on my own eighty-five miles away.  For what may be the first time – or at least the most memorable one – I had to take a backseat and let my team come through for me. I had to stop being the slightly controlling, nervous planner that I was prone to being in order to focus, not on how I could solve this problem, but on how I could help my team solve it with me. We were able to secure transportation for all three of us to go to the interview only because we worked as a team to overcome that obstacle.  While that was an important experience for all of us, as we got one of the main interviews of our documentary, it was an especially important experience for me because I learned that there is truth to the Walter Payton quote: “We are stronger together than we are alone.” It is important for me to remember that, while it is in my nature to take on more to make things easier for my team, there is only so much I can do alone. I need to continue to expand on this skill, particularly in the “involved” aspect of “responsible and involved citizenship,” and remind myself that being a good leader and teammate is about more than just taking on the most work.  It’s about communication, and trusting your team to be there for you the same way you’ve been there for them.

Informed & Integrative Thinking:

While I’ve never considered myself to be a “logical” person – or at least would never have used that word to describe myself – I have always had, to some extent, the ability to recognize patterns and think systematically.  This mindset is essential to historical and literary writing, and I happen to enjoy both. However, due to my experience creating my group’s documentary, I’ve had the opportunity to learn even more about connecting the dots between related or similar events.  The more interviews I conducted, the easier it became to see how each account of neglect or substance abuse could be interwoven into a narrative; certain statements would strike me, and I became more and more confident that my team and I had stumbled upon a story that needed to be told.  However, these moments of inspiration paled in comparison to what I learned from sitting down with my mentor as a group and watching each recorded interview. Together, the four of us took note of each particularly compelling comment and narrative that could possibly be used in our documentary.  It is from hearing my mentor make comments like, “When she talks about the importance of a stable home life, it leads in perfectly to our main characters talking about how unstable theirs were,” that I started to grasp how truly interconnected everything was. This is an important skill to have, especially because I hope to study medicine or psychology – both of which are very much based in cause and effect and often require lines to be drawn between any number of experiences.  Because systems thinking is a process that only slightly varies between situations, applying the on-the-job experience I’ve gained from making this documentary to future situations will help me continue to think in the same sophisticated manner.

Clear & Effective Communication:

Just like I’ve always been independent, I’ve always been a good listener.  Whether it be during socratic discussions in my English classes, where I’d rather evaluate the opinions of others than share my own, or whilst conducting an interview, where I understood the importance of allowing the other person’s story to be the sole focus of my attention, I am more than capable of keeping quiet and letting someone speak.  However, the other aspects are where my abilities become less expert and more average. Storytelling and purpose go hand in hand, as you have to know what you are trying to do in order to be compelling and persuasive. And I believe that I’ve grown significantly in these areas within a short period of time. Only a few weeks ago, my group’s focus was on throwing together our clips to form a cohesive storyline.  Though at that time we were desperately trying to repair our edit after a massive glitch took out two-thirds of our documentary, I can’t say for certainty that I was thinking of tone and purpose beyond putting the sad parts together and letting the stories themselves persuade people to become involved in the lives of foster children. However, after not only spending more time with the edit, but after receiving powerful feedback from my peers at the last overnight, I am thinking more and more in terms of narration, music, and visual appeal in order to tell an emotionally compelling feature.  While this particular line of thought is specific to film making, the process of evaluating what story you want to tell and then the best ways to tell it is a valuable commodity in other aspects of life. I will continue to utilize this skill in any instance wherein I have to form a persuasive argument, whether it be to continue making documentary films or simply to destroy my sister in a debate. And as I use this skill more and more, just like anything else in life, I will become better at it.

Unexpected Learning:

For me, it’s hard to narrow down my What’s the Story? experience to only a few paragraphs because it has been a long journey and I’ve come a long way from where I began.  And while there are a number of skills I have acquired that have been explicitly taught, like the proper way to mic the interviewee or how to upload media to WeVideo, I would argue that I have learned more skills that were unintended byproducts of being a part of this program.  I would also argue that they are, to a certain extent, more valuable skills for me to have gained because I was not told that they were important. I got to decide that for myself.

One thing that I learned outside of the intended curriculum is that, more often than not, you have to be the one to do what nobody else wants to.  I learned the importance of stepping up to the plate, of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, of doing what it takes to get the job done. Someone has to do the less appealing, more stressful jobs, and sometimes that someone has to be you.  I remember the early stages of finding characters to interview as being a crazy, busy time. We had so many people to talk to that we weren’t sure how we were going to fit them all in. I had to take on the responsibility of reaching out to… I want to say seven potential candidates and conducting an over-the-phone pre-interview with each one.  To say the least, I was extremely nervous. I’m a relatively shy person by nature, so even though none of the men and women I spoke to could see me, my hands were shaking as I held the phone up to my ear and my handwriting was atrocious because of the tremors that jolted the pencil around. But I made it through each phone call, every one better than the last.  My hands stopped shaking, my voice stopped trembling, and my handwriting returned to its usual legibility. Though I had to do somethings that pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and those things were more often than not the things that my group mates would prefer not to have to do themselves, they got done because I made myself do them. I have no doubt that that courage and willingness to do what needs to be done will translate into every single aspect of my life.

I also learned that it’s important to be able to let some things go.  I’m the type of person to get wrapped up in the little details. This is important, especially now in the final stages of perfecting the edit, yet it does not always lead to the greatest mindsets when something goes wrong.  When my group lost over half of our edited film the night before the last overnight, where we were supposed to share all of the work we’d accomplished in the past month, my initial reaction was to flip out. And I don’t mean flip out as in throw a chair, punch a wall, and smash a computer.  I mean that my first thought was to say, “Screw it,” and give up. I had spent hours upon hours perfecting my section of the edit, cutting everything together, placing b-roll, even inserting music where appropriate. All of that hard work had gone down the drain in the span of about ten seconds.  Or however long it takes for half a documentary to become a blank slate. But the thought immediately following was to calm down. I smothered the irrational, freaking-out half of myself and focused on finding a solution to this new obstacle my team and I were faced with. There ended up being nothing to do about it but to sit down, roll my sleeves up, and get back to work.  The only way out was to build our documentary again, from the ground up. And these things happen. Things get messed up, deleted, erased. But that doesn’t mean that we can throw our hands in the air and quit. You have to keep pushing, or you’re just going to get torn down. So I let it go. I let go of my frustration, anger, and despondency and did the only thing I could do.  I started again. In the classroom, instructors teach a set curriculum with the intention of endowing certain skills upon their students.  However, more often than not, those students leave the classroom with very different ideas of what they were supposed to learn.  And while I know that we all got many of the same ideas from being a part of What’s the Story? this year, like learning how to set up the tripod for our cameras and adjusting the sound levels for our microphones, not everyone learned the other things that I did this year.  And that’s okay. Because we all learned the lessons that were most important for us, and those lessons will be different for everyone. The important thing is that we all learned something, and that that something is something that we’ll never forget.

Kaitlin Emerson

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