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Four: A Happy Update

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

I finished my second round of comps (comprehensive exams), and I passed, which means something very cool and fun: my last semester isn't going to be four straight months of stress and anxiety that leaves me with a constant stomach ache.

Today was the first time since last spring that I've gone to class and not felt like I was going to throw up or pass out in the middle of it. I have this little emotional support fidget toy that I keep in my backpack for whenever I start to feel bad, and I didn't have to reach for it once. I guess I didn't realize how astoundingly negatively my last two required courses for my International Relations degree were affecting my physical body (in addition to my mental health). Yet when I opened ECWeb to find an A grade for my comps it was like an instant release of my muscles; a release I haven't felt in a while. I feel really light today.

And this feeling of lightness is complimented by another feeling, one of excitement for my Introduction to Graphic Design class, which is the main reason I'm writing this post. But before I elaborate on that I want to rewind real quick.

From May to October of 2020 I did an internship with an organization called Girl Reports, which gives "underserved girls a platform for self-expression, leadership, and skill development through the framework of journalism." I discovered Girl Reports through a service-oriented, Winter Term study abroad course called "Buddhism, Activism, and the Environment." That trip was led by Professor Langenberg (the faculty mentor for the Eastman Program). And I think it's probably at least 50% of the reason why I'm in the Eastman Program today. But it also introduced me to Vanessa Martinez, Girl Reports' founder. That meant my experience in Nepal helping the young women in the journalism club at Karuna Girls’ School in Lumbini publish the seventh edition of Girl Reports opened a door for me to continue work with Girl Reports through an internship when I returned home. My official title was Publication and Media Intern, and my main tasks were to reformat old editions of Girl Reports to fit their new and improved theme and to aid in the creation of social media posts. Over the six months that I worked with Vanessa, graphic design went from something I’d never considered to one of my favorite pursuits, particularly for this organization which allowed me to use graphic design to empower women. And then the internship ended, and so did my ability to explore digital media (but only for a little while).

The following spring, through the Eastman Program, my cohort made a website. And in the fall we made a better version of that website; most know it as the "Your Whiteness is Showing" site. And then I made this website that you're currently looking at. And then I made the actual Eastman Program site. And all of these have influenced and been influenced by my discovery plan, which has cumulated in me enrolling in, and using the remaining of my funding for, Introduction to Graphic Design.

I was incredibly apprehensive for this course, and in some ways I still am. I haven't taken an art class since high school, and the literal only B I have ever gotten was in ceramics, because as fun as wheel throwing was for me I am apparently not very good at it (though my mom disagrees and has my pottery displayed all over our kitchen). So you can imagine it's a bit scary for me to enroll in a course that could make or break my GPA in the same way that senior seminar could've. And what if I'm not actually good at it? Designing a google site is very different from using professional design software? Well, it turns out it's really not when you're a digital native, I realized this about 20 minutes into my first class. And by this weekend almost all of my concerns dissipated.

Our first assignment was to make three differently styled business cards. I went into the studio on Saturday around 3:30pm to start messing around with design ideas, and suddenly it was 5:30pm. I do not think I've ever done any type of homework for two hours straight without taking substantial breaks, ever. Not even Gender Studies, and definitely not International Relations. I didn't even get up to pee and I literally have to pee every 30 minutes. I was genuinely having so much fun. I really didn't want to leave, but I needed to eat dinner so I went back to my dorm, only to return for another hour or so later that night. And then two more hours Sunday afternoon (just a note for clarity: I have to go to the design studio in order to use the software that is required for this course because it's expensive and I don't have access to it on my laptop). I, perhaps, went a bit overboard and spent way more time than I needed to on this assignment, but I think the cards I made are so pretty and they were so fun to make and I want to share them on here because I've already texted them to all my friends and they're probably tired of seeing every single update I make on them. The pdf below has the final version of all three.
Download PDF • 79KB

A little bit of context for my business choice, my full name is Leah Bess Totman. My middle initial is B. When I was younger my family used to call me Leah Bee (my grandma even painted me a highchair covered in bumblebees when I was a tiny human). That nickname regained some traction recently after my boyfriend read a book about beekeeping and subsequently become infatuated with the idea of raising bees. See the photo below of our Halloween costumes. So this choice of business card seemed both fitting because of my name and practical in case Josh ever decides to start selling honey bee products. And actually, as I'm looking back through my first three posts I'm realizing that I was signing off of them as "Leah B." I guess I just forgot to in the last one because I was a little angry about the world, but there's more proof that I even call myself that.

I think that this is a very long-winded way of saying that stress doesn't last forever and maybe you won't really realize you're passionate about something until the second semester of your senior year of college and that's okay. But also maybe if your major is giving you an inordinate amount of stress to the point where your body feels like it's deteriorating it is possible you picked the wrong one. And that's also okay, albeit a little frustrating. I'm just happy that part of undergrad is over. But I wish people would stop asking me what I'm doing after I graduate because I literally don't know and I'm not really in a rush to figure it out. I am just going to keep spending way too much time on my graphic design class because I enjoy it very much and see where that takes me.

Happy trails,

Leah B.

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