On December 6, 2014 I wrote myself a letter as a closing exercise for the Global Poverty and Practice capstone course. I remember our discussion on the day we received the assignment: very few of the students in the class knew what they would be doing upon graduation, and among those that did, all were applying to grad school. I remember the professor passing out the sheets of blue paper, the black and yellow sketch of a tree I’d included with my letter and the smugness I felt at my idea to enclose a twenty dollar bill as a reminder from my past to present self that we have cause to celebrate.
In December of last year I did not know that come fall, I would be embarking on the John Gardner Fellowship, I did not know where I would be or what I would be doing and my biggest fear was that I would be “tired and stuck in a lease I can’t afford.” But beyond the evidence of chaos and confusion that was my life at the time, I asked myself some crucial questions, shared some personal insights and posed some exciting challenges. I dared myself to do things that scare me, shared the hope that I would be making art and writing for the sake of it, reminded myself to read and exercise my mind, wrote that “creative processes are opportunities for [us] to listen to [ourselves]” and incited a call to action telling myself to cultivate insatiability, never stop seeking inspiration, listening, learning and experimenting.
As I finished reading this letter, I thought to myself if only I could receive one of these letters every year. Charged from my own plight, I immediately turned this thought around on myself—one of the greatest goals and gifts of the John Gardner Fellowship is the emphasis on practicing reflection and intentional learning. So instead of lamenting the irregularity of this letter, I went back to my ‘Learning Plan’, a requirement of the fellowship and way for me to keep myself accountable to this notion of intentional learning.
We’re about a third of the way through the fellowship, so although this is the third time I’m revisiting my learning plan, I think it’s still far from finished (and I look forward to sharing its progress!). While I hold in high esteem the idea of intentional learning, in practice, it still doesn’t come easily. I do have a predisposition towards reflection, but without the tide of the fellowship, I’m not sure how readily or at what frequency I would be revisiting my goals. My learning plan is built around a path of projects I want to work on and skills I aim to attain, but I think I succumbed a bit too much to vagueness. Admittedly, ‘Reflect weekly’ lacks tangibility. Intrinsic motivation is a beautiful yet fleeting thing, so I asked myself what I can do to be more accountable to myself and these ambitions. I know the answer lies in relationships and making that accountability extend beyond myself, so I talked about my plan with people in my life whom I admire, including my fellow Gardner Fellows. One of my points in my Day to Day goals, to continually journal and reflect received some apt criticism. My vagueness must have come from some sort of fear of commitment, but after being encouraged to keep it recursive I adjusted the point—to commit to the goal one way, and if it doesn’t work, readjust. It now reads:
Journal & Reflect
What did I learn?
What did I learn within theater?
What did I learn without theater?
What haven’t I had exposure to?
What did I learn about myself?
I worked the UC Berkeley departmental graduations every year as a part of my job with Cal Performances. Many of the graduation speeches included moments of students reminiscing about nights spent with peers discussing hopes and dreams. I know well the power of those spaces among friends, filled with the sharing of vulnerability and encouragement. I feel very lucky to have gotten so close to the fellows in my cohort, and to have friendships in my life where we challenge, support, and push one another to be accountable for the work we do and who we want to be. So now that I’ve grounded myself in a place specificity, I hope to be able to savor the insights as they find me.
Danielle Puretz is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving her BA in both Theater and Performance Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Poetic Theater Productions.