So much to say! So much to do! So little time!
The end of the semester always seems to be a mad rush to finish papers and projects and wrap everything up before graduation and the start of the semester. This April is proving to be no different! The spring weather here has been pretty typical for Indiana — beautiful some days and cold and rainy others. The good days seem to make it even harder to focus on the mountain of work I have to do. There are only 23 days until graduation (21 until my capstone presentation)!
I don’t have time to give a full update on everything, and I have an entire list and several outlines of posts I am meaning to make. It might be difficult to get to before the end of the semester but here is a quick run down on things that have happened or that I want to write in depth about in the future:
- Have I *officially* announced that I am joining IU’s PhD program for HCI? I don’t think I have…well, I am and I couldn’t be happier!
- I attended the CRA-W Graduate Cohort in Boston. I have so so so much to say about this event and about Boston. I tend to have some pretty strong, and sometimes controversial, opinions about women in computing groups. This came up a bit while at the event but I truly enjoyed it. I learned a ton and was able to meet some incredible women. I’ll write an extended post on this (hopefully) soon.
- Lots of capstone progress but lots more work to be done! Expect to start seeing more on this as well. If you are in Bloomington, my presentation is scheduled for May 4th at 7pm in Informatics.
- Decided that trying to set up meetings with researchers you admire is a bit like dating. I sent out some emails to a professor and some graduate students doing work related to mine that I would like to meet with at CHI; I’ve never met any of them before but I figured reaching out couldn’t hurt. After sending out emails to these people, I sat at my inbox just staring, waiting, and hoping for a reply. I felt like I was waiting by the phone for my crush to call and ask me to prom or something. Hitting refresh on the page every few minutes could be compared to picking up the phone receiver to be sure there was a dial tone. I’m beyond excited that I am meeting with some of these researchers; I won’t lie, I was pretty giddy throughout the whole process.
- Still coming down from Cloud 9. The reality of receiving an NSF Fellowship still doesn’t seem quite real.
- You should probably read this: Don’t be a Chicken. Samantha has it right. Not being a chicken is something I’ve been trying to work on in all aspects of my life lately.
- I’m trying to figure out my summer plans. I know I’ll be spending some time back in Cincinnati taking care of some family stuff but other than that I am not sure. I know I’ll be continuing to look at divorce/HCI — the question is where? Bloomington? Cincinnati? Florida? Bay Area? All seem to be options right now; all are lovely choices to have.
- I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook chat. Longer post on this later. (maybe).
- I’ve ordered some really great products off of Etsy recently; I’ve been on a total lavender kick lately. I hope to review them here at some point. In the mean time check out Urban Kitchen and Oak Street Candles
- Lots of other projects going on as well. I was thinking about typing something up on each of them but then I realized that I should get back to work instead of just talking about them and what I have to do.
- Speaking of to-do…I usually dislike electronic to-do lists. I prefer paper based lists and I tend to have list of lists. Yes, I am that sort of list-maker. However, I LOVE Droplist. It is fantastic and it can sync with my Dropbox. If you aren’t using either/both of these services, you should be!
Well, there you have it. I successfully was able to procrastinate for a good 20 minutes by writing this post! I am still trying to get about one post in a week but with all the other writing due at the end of this month I might just have to make up for it later.
This morning I received an email from the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarding me a Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Fellowship.
The fellowship will be used to further my exploration of domestic technologies and family communication with in post-divorce families. It will build on the work I have done with my capstone and include cross-cultural studies. The fellowship will begin this summer and include 3 years of funding, totaling approximately $90,000.
I am so excited and grateful for this opportunity. A big thanks to my wonderful advisor, Dr. Shaowen Bardzell, for all of her help and support . Also thanks to Dr. Jeffery Bardzell, Dr. Eli Blevis, Dr. Erik Stolterman, Dr. Marty Siegel, my family, and my friends (especially CJ Page) who gave me coffee and moral support while writing the application.
When I started my capstone project on divorce I knew it would be a difficult space in which to work. Divorce it self has so many subtopics, and even in narrowing my project scope to scheduling the topic can still be viewed as a “Wicked Problem.” This is also the first large and independent research project for me; I am still inexperienced and only beginning my journey as a researcher.
Although I assumed recruiting participants would be difficult, I underestimated the challenge. I have reached out to over 400 families in hopes of willing participants without much luck at all. I also expanded my target group to reach similar demographics as my initial participant group was unreasonably narrow for this project. I also limited the methods I would be using for my study to a more reasonable and manageable plan. Despite this, my recruiting attempts have, for the most part, been frustrating and felt like failures. Having been working on this project for some time now, I’ve come across a number of difficult issues, but from them I have learned a lot about recruiting and research in general that will help me move forward in this, and other, research projects:
- Never take participants for granted: As an undergraduate and throughout the first year of the master program here, I was grateful for anyone who would spare some time to help with a research or usability test. However, having struggled to find participants I see each person willing to take the time to help a researcher, particularly a graduate student without the means to give many incentives, as a gift. It really is wonderful that there are people, especially those who have no obligation to you, to help with research. I am so grateful for each person who is generous enough to help with my study and will continue to treat each one as a gift.
- Reach out to advisors: As I mentioned earlier, I am still relatively inexperienced in terms of being a researcher, particularly on an independent project. I am so fortunate to have Dr. Shaowen Bardzell as my advisor for this project. She has been invaluable to me as I’ve been working on this project. Keeping open lines of communication with her has helped me overcome many of these issues. Additionally, Dr. Erik Stolterman and Dr. Marty Siegel, as the professors in charge of the masters capstone course, have given me great advice. I feel extremely fortunate to be in a program that has such supportive, knowledgeable, and available faculty members. The other faculty members, Dr. Jeff Bardzell and Dr. Eli Belvis have also been extremely supportive. I think some of the issues I faced could have been lessened had I reached out to them a bit sooner than I did. This is a good lesson moving forward: be sure to keep communication with those more experienced than you open, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- Always be planning ahead: As with most any project, there will be roadblocks, unforeseen issues, and difficulties. I did not anticipate the amount of time it would take to get my research plan approved through the Institutional Review Board or the recruiting roadblocks I have faced. In the future, I’ll try and consider these difficulties in advance and plan for them. Having a “plan B” and now having gone through the process will help me in the future.
- Don’t underestimate the resources needed to recruit: Recruit early, recruit often, and recruit constantly. It is unreasonable to think that sending an email to a listserv is all you need to do. I’ve learned that recruiting takes a lot of resources: time, effort, materials, and networking. Although I knew I would have to be proactive and work to recruit, I underestimated how much it would take. In the future, I’ll be sure have my “30-second research commercial” ready to go at the drop of a hat, I will plan for the amount of resources needed to be proactively recruiting. I will be sure to reach out to my network, as you never know who has connections and resources to assist you.
I now have a new plan for recruiting and some modified methods. I am quite happy with my recent progress, despite some set backs. Some of my initial goals have been revisited and made a bit more…realistic. I have had some recent luck in finding participants and with my new plan I am confident that I can get back on track and finish this year (and degree!) with a strong, successful project that will help lay the ground work as I pursue a Ph.D.
Fail Early, Fail Often!
At many points, I have felt frustrated, defeated, and like a failure. However, although these feelings might be valid at certain points, I’ve learned an incredible amount. I am grateful for those who have supported me and helped me along the way. I know that moving forward I now have some great experience under my belt and I feel more confident as a direct result of my “failures.” I’m excited to continue on this journey.
In high school, I kept and updated a blog daily for over 3 years. As other things crept into my life, I no longer wrote about the drama and events of my teenage days. The habit died and so did my angst-filled livejournal account.
Towards the end of my undergraduate career, I thought about starting a blog again. I wanted a blog that touched on both personal and more professional topics; I wanted it to be part of my online identity. However, I never really got back into regular writing like I had in high school. I tried multiple times on multiple platforms. In some classes it was a requirement to blog for coursework. However, it’s always seemed like a requirement or chore.
I took some time to reflect on why writing in a blog is so difficult for me want to do. Once I write a post, and it is published, I feel good! I like reading blogs, especially blogs that are updated regularly. I am at no shortage of ideas for blog posts, and sometimes I star class notes that spark an and I’ll write outlines on post-it notes. Although writing might not be my strongest skill, I don’t necessarily struggle with it. I just struggle to sit down and actually do it. Blogging regularly has been a goal for me at multiple points in my college and graduate school career. Honestly, it is something I really do want to do. So why? Why does it seem to still be a challenge for me?
I was brainstorming a few roadblocks, but they all just seemed like lame excuses:
- “I don’t have time” – Sure, as a graduate student I am busy. I have a habit of saying “Yes” to most opportunities that come my way and am actively working to prioritize and not overextend myself. That being said…I could stand to spend a bit less time on social networks, or watching hulu, or looking at cute kitten videos on youtube. Writing and reflection is important, especially due to my recent decision to pursue a Ph.D.I also used this excuse to get out of working out on a regular basis. However, when I started training for a triathlon and had a goal I was really excited about working towards, I was able to make the time. All it takes is making a goal a higher priority. Lame excuse, Katie.
- “No one cares what you write” – This one might be true; there are probably a very limited number of people who are honestly interested in the same topics I am. There are probably a handful who are curious or interested. Either way, so what?Writing should be for me.
Even if writing is meant primarily for me, I think putting it in the public domain is helpful as well. By blogging about my research or about other things that interest me, I’ve been able to connect to people who are interested in similar topics. I’ve been able to share projects with others quickly, been introduced to related resources and topics, and some posts have been catalysis for some great conversations.
I doubt many people really care about what I post as my Twitter and Facebook statuses, but goodness knows I update those multiple times a day!
- “You’ll embarrass yourself” – Probably, but I do that in real life everyday anyway! I am sure I do (and will) have posts with awful spelling and grammar errors. I am sure I’ll say something where I am completely wrong, ill-informed, or misinformed.
A few years out of high school I went back and looked at my high school blog. Now that was embarrassing. I was full of angst and sharing details about dramatic breakups, friend fights, struggles getting along with my parents, and confessing my love about high school boyfriends (because, you know, I was definitely going to get married to each and every one of them). As an undergrad, I shared my desire to get back into blogging with my (now ex) boyfriend who responded, “Only lonely, friendless, unhappy, and pathetic girls blog. No one cares and they dont see how badly they are embarrassing themselves. I just laugh at them.” Unfortunately, this (completely erroneous) perception of bloggers kept me from wanting to blog for quite sometime.
My response to this now is the same as above: who cares, so what, and there are some great benefits I get from blogging.
So, really, there is no good reason I am not blogging on a more regular basis. I’ve decided to get a goal for myself to update at least weekly.
I have a bunch of projects going on right now and can talk for hours on each of them. There is no shortage of content for me to ramble on about for paragraphs at a time. I’ve also made some big decisions in the last several months that are quite exciting.
I give you full permission to harass me if I don’t keep up with my goal.
For the last few days, I have been escaping the unpleasant Midwest winter by traveling to Orlando for Blur. In this post, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned and realized over the last two days and share my insights. Blur, an HCI conference focusing on technological innovation and hands-on interactions, was an amazing experience. Topics addressed at Blur were quite diverse including, but not limited to robotics, neuroergonimics, biometric inputs, affective and emotional computing, Kinect hacks, whole-body interaction, augmented reality, interactive museum design, geolocation, natural user interfaces (NUI), and commercialization of HCI projects. Attendees were a mix of industry and academia, startups and corporations. This allowed for diverse experiences and great conversation; I was exposed to many ideas, technologies, and people I otherwise would not have.
I definitely want to thank The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for the generous scholarship they awarded me and several other students to attend. Without them, I would’ve have had the opportunity to experience Blur. Additionally, the organizers of the event did a fantastic job. It ran so smoothly for being the first Blur Conference!
A new perspective on HCI
Really, this section could be about 20 pages long but I’ll try to keep it short!
Having been involved in HCI at Indiana University for the last 6 years as a student, I took for granted my understanding of HCI. Being in a university setting students and faculty often share a common understanding of the general principles of HCI. Since being introduced to the field, I’ve always tightly paired user centered design (UCD) and human computer interaction. However, in attending this conference, I’ve discovered that the community here has very different ideas about HCI. Seeing these different perspectives was really interesting and make me step back; defamiliarization anyone? I had a lot of questions about how other members of the community defined HCI. It was a question I wish I had asked other attendees. So, if you are reading this I’d really like to know how do you define HCI? What does HCI mean to you? Comments, please!?
There were some very interesting technologies and demos at this conference. I had a good number of conversations with those demoing these technologies about their design process and how their projects evolved. However, there was also a lot of products and demos that seemed to be technology rather than user driven. One of my favorite quotes from the conference was “Sometimes it feels like we’ve created a solution and are looking for a problem when we should take a problem and from there find a solution.” This struck a cord with me. I will evangelize user centered design any day and I find it to be extremely important. What role does technology-centered innovation or even hacking (such as Kinect hacks) play in HCI, specifically UCD? At IU, we talk a lot about the 3 paradigms (waves) of HCI [pdf]. I remember learning about this in class and wondering how much of these jumps stem from primary user research and how much stems from technological advancements, innovation, and capabilities? How can we leverage both of these approaches for the best possible products, research, and overall outcomes? I’d love to get a discussion going on this topic.
Number of female speakers
Many of the keynote speakers were very inspiring women. I was particularly drawn to the work done by the women at MIT due to the connections I could make with my own research interests. Speakers I personally saw were:
- Dr. Kay Stanney from Design Interactive
- Dr. Cynthia Breazeal from the Personal Robotics Group at MIT
- Dr. Rosalind Picard from Affective Computing at MIT
In addition to speakers, there were some other amazing women that I met working in both industry and academia. It’s always good to see a good representation of both genders in technology and science fields! I hope this is a trend we continue to see in this field.
IU is awesome
I love IU, this is not a secret. I really feel so privileged and lucky to be a part of the School of Informatics and Computing and even more so the Human Computer Interaction Design program. I’m not going to go on about this but being at Blur gave me a renewed sense of pride about our school and program.
Some possible suggestions for future conferences
Again, I’d like to stress what a great program Blur had this year. Here are a few suggestions that I might like to see at a conference like Blur in the future:
- A discussion or panel on defining and understanding HCI: What are different perspectives of the field? Where is it going? How do we define it? We don’t need to come to an agreement, but it would be interesting to discuss different perspectives and ideas about the field.
- A discussion or panel on considering the ethical and social implications of technology: This actually comes about from a discussion had after the first day of the conference, so I can’t take credit for it although I think it is extremely important. Any technology or design is likely to be used for unintended purposes. How can we consider these? Can we design to help control or minimize abuse and negative consequences of technology? Who is responsible for these uses? Investors? Designers? Engineers? Users? All of the above? What does that mean for each of these roles?
- User Centered Design and Design process: I’d love to see more on this! Some of the speakers and panels definitely talk about it this year. What if there were some keynotes or breakout sessions on the 3 waves of HCI, user centered design process, etc?
Quotes to note
“Our business model is that we sell things to customers and they pay us money”
“Any tool can be used for good or evil, but we shouldn’t stop trying to make the tools for good”
“location is currency”
“What if your computer could apologize?
if (user.frustrated == true>)
I had a great time at Blur. Thanks to everyone who made it such a great experience!
I went out in downtown Indianapolis to celebrate New Years with friends. It was a great time. One of my favorite things about holidays and special occasions is seeing what other people wear. While out, I fell in love with a ring that a woman out with us was wearing. It was simple, silver, and unique. It was a cube.
I’ve always loved unique silver rings. One of my favorite accessories is a square band ring from Tiffany and Co. I absolutely adore it and it fits better than most of my normal round band rings. I’m also a huge fan of the torque rings from the Frank Gehry collection.
I was curious to see what other square band rings I could find so I turned to my dear friend, Etsy. Here are a few of my favorite finds:
If you’re thinking about buying a square ring, be sure to consider the size carefully. Usually with uniquely shaped bands I tend to go up 1/2 to a full a ring size.
Also, if you are looking for more on fashion and/or Etsy finds, check out The Buescher Project. Hannah’s great at finding unique pieces and trends.
Our class has been presenting their capstone presentations for the last 2 weeks. Each student is required to create a 5 minute presentation about their project, their progress, and their future directions. Who knew it would be so hard to fit an entire semester worth of work into 5 minutes!
While each person presents, the rest of the class has small slips of paper to write down comments and questions for the presenter. I gave my presentation last night and have gone over the feedback my peers presented me. It was really helpful and allowed me to pinpoint areas of weakness in my project and note things I did not articulate very well in my presentation.
I’ll upload a video of my presentation soon!
Q & A
There were some comments and questions I want to revisit. Here’s a list of a few select pieces of the more critical feedback I received and my responses. I’ve grouped them into rough categories and combined some of the questions that were similar.
Opportunity Space & scope
I would have liked to have seen see a deeper reason for HCI/d in this space more than the fact that “there’s not much HCI literature on this”
HCI/d is centered around designing for users. For the most part, this population has not been addressed from an HCI/Interaction design/User Experience design perspective. Considering the large number of families who are directly affected by divorce, and that in the United States divorce is somewhat of a cultural norm, it’s surprising that this demographic has been, in a sense, marginalized by HCI.
I think that HCI can offer a user centered approach to the struggles, both emotionally and logistically, that dynamic family structures might encounter. There are many different types of digital calendar systems, online, in the homes, and in a mobile domain. Applying design method and thinking to the issues at hand for this group, as well as technological solutions to scheduling, can assist families.
Are you focusing more on efficiency, effectiveness, or emotions?
In an ideal world, this research would focus equally on efficiency, effectiveness, and emotion. However, that is a fairly ambitious scope. For this capstone project, I’ll be focusing primarily on the efficiency and effectiveness of a system. Emotions will be a secondary focus. This isn’t because I feel it is less important, but rather because it is directly affected by the efficient and effectiveness of the system. By working to ease the logistical strain of co-parenting, custody, and scheduling, stress and tension between parents can be reduced. This directly affects the amount of emotional tension, stress, and conflict families might encounter. Emotional needs will be taken into consideration for the guidelines, research methods, and design; it just might not be a primary focus for this project. I hope to continue working on this in the future and give equal weight to all of these.
I think you have a very large project scope. Perhaps you should focus either on design methods or principles for this project.
This is somewhat related to the previous question. I do have a fairly large scope for this project, so in order to accomplish my goals, I have tried to prioritize different aspects of it. I mentioned wanting to have 3 outcomes: 1) a set of guidelines, 2) explore research methods for sensitive topics 3) design a system, or aspects of a system , to support the problem space.The set of guidelines and design implications is my primary focus. The research methods and the design are directly related to the guidelines and support them. The research methods will support gathering data from the users in order to build insight, empathy, and understanding. It is from this data that I will build the guidelines. The guidelines will directly inform my design.The guidelines are also primary because I’d like to publish this work and encourage others to think about this demographic. In a sense, it’s a call to action for HCI designers and researchers.
What significance does divorce in the first 3 years play over those that have been divorced longer but still have the same issue?
Narrowing my target group has been a bit of a struggle and this question lead me to do a lot of thinking and reflection about my target group. My initial thought on keeping this fairly narrow was that I was hoping to focus on more recently divorced families in order to ease the transition from one household to multiple households.After thinking about this a bit more, I’ve opened my target group. The participants and target group of my study won’t be limited by the number of years since a seperation. Instead, my focus will be just families with children, joint custody arrangements, and having the households within driving distance of each other.
Some divorced couples refuse to contact each other because of various reasons (but they are all interested in their children’s lives). How can your design work for them?
Right now, I am not focusing on parents who do not contact each other. It would be a possible future direction, but for this project I’m focusing on more amicable relationships. Psychologist Constance Ahrons has done work on post-divorce relationship types and grouped couples into 4 different categories: Perfect Pals, Cooperative Colleagues, Angry Associates, Fiery Foes. The group decibed in this question would fall under Fiery Foes. I’ll be looking more at the Cooperative Colleagues and Angry Associates. These two groups still maintain contact and can successfully co-parents. However, there are emotional tensions between the two parents. The difference between the two groups is how they express their anger; Cooperative Colleagues tend to be more productive in how they express anger and can do it in a way that does not interfere too much with parenting responsibilities where as Angry Associates express their anger in a way which impacts all of the relationships in a family. 
Are you focusing on helping the parents to live easier with a better calendar, or helping children to live better?
For this project, parents will be my primary focus and children will be secondary. Much of the rationale for this is the same my focus and project scope.
Won’t the worst case design scenario evoke similar problems to asking deep questions about divorce? You are worried about offending or upsetting the users but then want them to think about the worst possible situation?
It could, but I hope that won’t be the case. The purpose of doing a participatory design session that focuses on creating an awful solution is more to make personal issues more abstract. The session will be designed to be more playful in nature than serious. I plan on making a posted dedicated to just this method and the rationale behind it soon.
Have you looked at exemplars that do not involve a web app?
Yes! I’ve looked at a variety of calendar types that range from children’s magnetic calendars to iCal, paper planners to whiteboard calendars. I’ve tried to explore digital, analog, domestic, enterprise, shared, private, mobile, stationary, and a variety of other scheduling tool characteristics. The calendars shown in this presentation all fell under the category of online, shared, web-based calendars made for scheduling custody arrangements. This was mostly because of time constraints on the presentation.
Design & outcomes
How do you manage who gets master control of the calendar?
My initial thoughts on this are that the parents would have equal control in managing the calendar. This will be something I will be addressing in my primary research.
Do children need input in the calendars? How/why would children be involved in time/calendar management?
Yes! This is something I’ll be exploring in my primary & secondary research. I am very interested to see the processes families are using to keep track of children’s activities — particularly as they get older and manage their own schedules a bit more (perhaps starting in junior high and high school). From the secondary research I’ve been doing, I’ve found that children tend to become more responsible and accountable for their schedule after divorce compared to before divorce .
How do you see this calendar being accessed? Is it a software that you purchase and upload into different devices? Internet & phones with data plans?
I think the design will be some sort of interactive, digital system. Since the calendar will be shared, it will be something requiring internet connectivity. The details will emerge as I continue with my research. Perhaps accessibility types will be one of my guidelines?
Have you considered incorporating emergency action plans into these calendars? ie if someone didn’t show up or if an earthquake happened?
I hadn’t thought of this. It’s something to think about in the future. For now, this is outside my scope and won’t be addressed for this project.
What are you thinking the final design approach will be? Do you see this being a digital system? Do you want to design a calendar? Does a scheduling system need to be a calendar? What alternative types of systems might you consider?
These make fantastic golden questions. The final design approach will be some sort of digital system that is shared. I think a calendar will be a part of the design, if not the focus. Other systems, or parts of a system, could be considered too. Examples might include having a mediator or 3rd party person handle scheduling, reminders/notification of events, a place to share common scheduling artifacts (such as lunch menus from a school, soccer game details, etc) communication methods for when plans change, or a robot who takes care of the children – who knows!
What separates your design from what is already out there? Can you defeat Google Calendar? What are the benefits over Google Calendar?
Google Calendar and other existing solutions out there can be great and may work well for a lot of families. One weakness of using Google Calendar in this problem space include privacy (what if one parent is going on a date and the other one or children find out?). Google Calendar is great for logistics but does not provide any sort of support for the emotional issues accompanying divorce. It’s been a fantastic exemplar, as well as a saving grace for scheduling my own life. Moving forward the design for this project will take some of the positive aspects and insights from Google Calendar but adjust them to meet the needs of dynamic family structures more so than it does currently. We’ll see what the research data says!
How can you motivate families that don’t really use calendars to start using your design?
This system might not work for every family. I’d like to explore this topic more through my primary research by seeing what types of systems families are currently using. I’ll keep you posted!
Have you considered working with a law firm on this project?
Yes, I’ve also thought about looking to support groups, family counselors. If you know anyone in any of these fields, perhaps you could introduce us?
Have you thought about cost issues for your design, especially with separated incomes?
I think this is a very important question to ask. Research has shown that generally speaking, financial resources decrease after a divorce. This particularly affects women post-divorce . Many of the exemplars I have explored do cost families to use, where as options like Google Calendar are free. In my research and design, I hope to keep costs at a minimum so this system can be easily accessed by families who need it.
Just a funny comment or two
Looking forward to using this with all my ex-wives.
This comment made me laugh. Best of luck to you and your love-life, sir!
<3 the contrarian model. I’m going to marry it and have babies
The Contrarian Model is pretty fantastic. I’ll write a post on that soon, too. You know, in my free time! If you and the Contrarian Model don’t work out I’ll be sure to recruit you to do some user tests for this project…
Thanks to everyone who provided me with feedback on my presentation. Going through these questions was extremely helpful!
I thought English class was a joke in high school. I resented the readings and the assignments we had to do and didn’t understand the point of going through exercises of finding the symbolism in every novel we read. I thought that disecting metaphors was a waste of time and made it impossible to enjoy anything that was assigned to us.
In the last 2 years, I’ve had to make a lot of life changing decsions and so many times I’ve felt lost. Each time I go through a transition or have to make a big decision, I come back to sitting in my sophomore class, second to last row, 3 desks in from the right. We were reading from chapter 7 of Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
I feel like Ester Greenwood sitting in her fig tree quite often. When I start to get anxious about my decisions this image always pops into my head and for some reason or another, I find it comforting and I don’t feel so alone in my liminal state.
Mr. O’Keefe, I’m sorry for taking your American Literature class for granted. Who knew The Bell Jar would end up being one of my favorite books.