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Drop cap for Middlesex

Day 1: Research

The first time I ever read Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides was for a high school book project. I can't tell you what that project was but I do know that I fell in love with the captivating and interwoven nature of Eugenides plot development. His writing style was quite impressive as well. Even at 17, I understood that Middlesex was a phenomenal book.

Cut to a few years later and I have somehow found myself at the University of Michigan re-reading Middlesex (which was based in Detroit) for a senior English seminar. Now having lived in Michigan for four years, I was excited to re-read the book with a new lens. And boy was I right. In combination with the rest of the syllabus and our thoughtful discussions, I discovered new things about myself, about how the world works, about how we as a human species work simply by reading this book. This was really exciting for me. This is why I'm choosing Middlesex for this project.

Day 2: ideation/sketching

Common themes in Middlesex revolve around gender identity, history, family, secrecy, sexuality, and the nature v. nuture debate. It is more or less split into two parts: the first half of the novel is the story of how Cal's grandparents met and how they moved from Greece to Detroit. This is where we learn of the roots of Cal's genetic mutation. The second half of this novel is the story of Cal's upbringing, and how he came to terms with his gender identity. Set in Detroit, it is much more of a first-person narrative of his childhood and the events that led to his present life as a male.

In the initial note-taking phase, I jotted down a lot of different things and places and people and ideas that were important to the novel.

Visually representing these themes turned out to be a lot harder than I imagined. My first idea was to use the looping structure of a capital E to represent a looping history. Starting with a scenic description of the village in Greece where his grandparents met, it would loop around into the Golden Gate bridge, which is where Cal comes to terms with his male gender. But this felt too narrow, like it lacked aesthetic compure and relied too heavily on literal interpretations. I wanted something a bit more abstract and unified. I also spent a lot of time exploring structural versions of the letter E in case a different way of drawing would spark an idea. 

To narrow down my thought process a bit more, I thought about how Jessica approached her sketches. She thought about important scenes in the novel and how she would draw those. Taking this approach, I came up with the idea of the rear lights and trunk of a Cadillac and the Ambassador Bridge, which are two important visuals in the novel. In the book, Cal says his childhood is remembered not in years or life events but in the type of Cadillac his father was driving at the time. The second idea comes from the climatic end scene of the book when his father is in a car chase with his uncle and drives the El Dorado Cadillac off the Ambassador Bridge.

When I was looking online at pictures of this type of car, I noticed that the back end of the car could be flipped to look like an "E" which is how I came up with the second sketch. 

When I was looking at images of the Ambassador Bridge a similar process occured where I imagined the letter E in the bridge, particularly as one of the structural frames of the bridge.

Again, these are my favorite sketches but I feel they are more scenic than thematic. In many ways, I fear that if a reader saw either one of these, they may mistake the book to be about Cadillacs or the bridge rather than an individual's gender crisis.

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