10 Questions with Jin Mei McMahon

A paramount member of The Catalyst team since her first week as a first-year, senior Jin Mei McMahon has done everything under the sun over her four years at CC. A double major in creative writing and organismal biology and ecology (OBE), she has influenced the workings of campus from editing students’ essays and articles, to her involvement in clubs, to helping design the college’s new logo. McMahon reflects on her time in college, her plans for her coming adventures in Colorado, and what it means to be such an integral part of a campus community.

Photo by Mikaela Burns

The Catalyst: As a double major in creative writing and OBE, if you could additionally study through any other department at CC, what would it be?

Jin Mei McMahon: I would really love to take a class from every department—that’s sort of a downfall of being a double major that has such large requirements; I was sort of restricted in the classes I could take. I would love to take some history classes, some neuroscience classes, some psych classes, anywhere from the hard sciences to 3D art or something would be a lot of fun, and I wish I had gotten more of a chance to do that while I was here.

TC: What is the intersection between Creative Writing and Biology?

JM: I think there are a lot; I think it’s whatever you make it. Biology itself is… well, the world is a creative place. It’s hard to go outside and not look around and see the potential to create things, or just go outside and see the possibility for an art piece or a writing piece, or anything like that. What’s great about biology is it gives a stronger science background to what you’re seeing in the day to day, and actually that kind of knowledge can make your writing stronger because you actually have an idea of what you’re talking about, and when you have more of an idea, you can better manipulate your content and what you’re trying to say. Also, one of the best ways to present biology and to present science is in a creative way, especially to a lot of people to whom otherwise it would be inaccessible. I think sometimes you have to take some creative liberties like telling the story of an endangered tiger from the tiger’s perspective, but at the same time it’s something people will be interested in. It’s a very effective way to spread a message, if that’s your intention, or tell a story, if that’s your intention as well.

TC: A four-year member of The Catalyst layout team, what is your favorite spread you’ve done, and how have you grown creatively since your first issue?

JM: My favorite spread is actually pretty simple. There was this 10 Questions once with the delivery boys of The Catalyst, and a photo that came in was one where they were all standing together in a row and looking up in different directions. I managed to get it so that they were looking up at their names like “The Catalyst interviews person x, person y, person z,” and it was a really small thing, but I was really proud of that.

As to how I’ve grown, I think coming in I was very shy and very quiet and very intent on doing the perfect job, but I’ve gotten more comfortable as I’ve worked longer with The Catalyst. I think I’ve become a lot more creative. I’ve never really liked a set template for each of my pages. I would try to do something different with every issue, or put photographs in a different place or figure out how to arrange photographs or cut them out to make them interact more with the articles if I could: things like that. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but overall I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve been able to do. 

TC: What does a quality newspaper look like to you?

JM: I think one that has a really good balance of content and graphics—but when it comes to content, it’s excellent content. It’s top of the line reporting, it fits whatever section it’s in, the writer has taken a lot of time with it, the editor has taken a lot of time to edit it—and the copy editors—and it fits with either the section or the theme of the entire newspaper, and it’s relevant to what’s going on in the day to day and what’s happened on campus or in the world or in the city. But then it’s also very intimidating to open up a newspaper and see a huge block of text in the event that there are no photos for articles on a single page, or something along those lines. And so I think whether it’s illustrations or photographs or something along the lines of those mediums, having images to illustrate and accompany what the article is saying will enhance the article and the subject itself.

TC: Who is your favorite book character of all time?

JM: When I was younger, I read the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. The main character Bartimaeus is sort of malicious, often mocking and sarcastic. I think he’s my favorite—I don’t know if I can say of all time—but he’s the one who springs to mind and I think it’s because until then I hadn’t realize how much fun you can have with a character, how many different conventions you can break or try to break, and if you set up your character right or have this great character that you’re working with, how almost anything can become possible without breaking their personality or stepping too far from the world you’ve created.

TC:  So, who is your favorite character you’ve ever written?

JM: I grew up on a lot of science fiction so a lot of my writing tends towards that genre. I think my favorite character would be one that I created for my Beginning Fiction class, actually. It’s this sort of sightseeing alien that’s travelling around the galaxy who can help the main character reach his destination, which is ultimately to revive and bring back to life his loved ones, and the alien character is kind of dumb—really earnest and trying to do his best—but also very much “other.” I think it’s really interesting to tap into the idea of the “other,” especially in that kind of setting—in a science fiction setting—where maybe it’s not as intense or inflammatory as it can be in the real world, I suppose, or hurtful. I think I really like that character because he’s fun to write but also he’s a way I can explore different elements of the world and make sense of them.

TC: Apart from your academic involvement, through what do you spend most of your time?

JM: I do Ballroom and Latin dance, sometimes competitively, sometimes for performance, right now for practice because I haven’t had a lot of time. I really enjoy dancing in all of its forms; I really wish I had a chance to take more dance classes here. But I think being able to have that outlet has been really beneficial for me. I go to a studio off-campus, so it’s been really great to get out of the CC bubble and practice and train at this studio that’s about as Colorado Springs as you can get. But it’s a nice change of pace. I’ve sometimes thought that if academia didn’t work out for me, or even times where I’ve been too stressed out with my coursework or something, that I could just quit everything and go into dancing.

TC: What is one thing you plan to do before graduation?

JM: Well, I have to finish my Grants in Writing project, which I used to go to China to trace my adoption story. I need to finish up some pieces from that, and right now, that’s my priority. If I can manage it, I’m probably going to take Eighth Block off. I’ve been in classes pretty much the entire time I’ve been at CC, often over-working myself, and I haven’t really gotten the chance to go out and explore Colorado as much as I’d like, which is a huge disappointment because Colorado is such a beautiful state, and people will move here to experience its outdoors. I’ve always loved camping, and I’ve always loved hiking, and I think I would really enjoy the opportunity for the final block of my senior year to kind of take it easy and road trip around the state, or at least go out on a couple overnight trips with some friends and go hiking or biking, even on a day trip or something… everything I’ve been kind of missing out on.   

TC: Name one piece of advice you’d give the incoming first-year class.

JM:  I think there are probably two. I think the first one would be—it’s kind of cliché—try everything. There are so many opportunities at CC, in Colorado Springs, and in Colorado, and even in the states surrounding. You can get locked into a certain way of thinking or a certain mode, like ‘I have to finish all my requirements’ or ‘I have to make money,’ but I think it’s really important that if an opportunity comes up and you see it, go for it and try it out. Even if you’re uncomfortable, or it may be something you’d rather not do in the future, at least you’ve done it once. I have a younger sister at Willamette University in Oregon and she’s really focused on making money and being financially secure at 19. It’s a very important goal for her. And it’s been difficult to see how that’s overtaken her life in some ways, especially so because that was me when I was younger, too, and I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I was too busy working or too busy studying to really be able to take advantage of them, and I wish that hadn’t been the case because hindsight is 20/20.

And then my other piece of advice is stand up for yourself. I think that’s a really hard lesson to learn and something you learn constantly throughout your entire life, but I’ve become a lot more confident and a lot more assertive since I’ve come here, and a lot of that has meant going through a lot of really tough and really horrible dark patches. My junior year, I think I was the lowest I have ever been, and that self-loathing is not somewhere I ever want to be again. But a lot of it comes from just not saying what I wanted, or just thinking’oh well, I don’t want to rock the boat,’ or ‘I don’t want anyone to think less of me’ or ‘I don’t want to be “that” person’ with really strong opinions. It was a really good learning experience and I try not to do that anymore.

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