Before taking this class, I would not have been able to discern the difference between “real essays,” and the things we write in school. As this semester progresses, I started to realize that the essay has become this all encompassing term that represents a number of different types of writing. On one hand, I am so excited to have discovered (even if it is much later in my academic career than I would have liked) a style of writing that is reflective, and exploratory, rather than persuasive; a style of writing that doesn’t necessarily have an end game, other than to notice things that you didn’t know before you sat down to write; a style of writing that, in my opinion, upholds what writing should be about. Learning about the essay has helped frame my pedagogy and my future classroom by reminding me that we write, mostly, to help us figure things out. We write to learn, and the essay is one of the only styles of writing that doesn’t force the writer to compromise that goal.
That being said, this style of writing was, and still is, so hard for me! The essay reminds me of why I started writing in the first place. It resembles my old journals, and the diaries from my youth, but the problem is that I haven’t written in this manner since then. The essay exists in this unique little place between personal and public; a style that students aren’t really encouraged to write in. When I sat down to write the first textual essay, I had such a difficult time making it personal, without writing a narrative. It was hard to place myself in the center of my essay, and every time I tried to weave in my personal experience, it ended up sounding cliché, or trite. I know this is something almost everyone experiences, which is probably why so many high school and college students have difficulty writing with authority. The way we’re taught to write in high school essentially devalues the voice of the writer in favor for reason-based arguments and logical proofs. As I was writing my textual essay, I had a difficult time letting myself just write, without thinking too much about where it was going. Once I was finally able to write, without over thinking it, I started to come to these realizations and was able to express them in a way that I had never been able to before. The original textual essay still “needs work” from a scholarly standpoint, but I don’t care. It helped me organize complicated things that have been going back and forth in my head for a while now, and in this instance, I would rather have that clarity than a perfectly polished paper.
The audio essay and video essay were difficult for mostly the same reasons. I really struggled with the audio essay, because my textual one was so abstract. This medium forced me to be more concrete, which helped me to think about my topics from different perspectives. The video essay gave me a little more space to be abstract, because it could be complimented by concrete images, however, I had difficulty adding these personalized accounts, and still addressing these concepts in a universal manner. I started to get sick of my topic, but I was grateful that we were able to explore it in other formats, so that I wasn’t just over thinking my textual essay, but instead adding new insights to my original ones.
My radical revision turned out to be a lot more radical than I thought it would be. Originally, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to revise this essay anymore than I already had for the video and audio essays. As I was working on my video essay, I started to think about times where I have overreacted, and this one instance that I discuss in my revision kept coming to mind. Whenever I think about this night, I think mostly about the shame that I felt before and after I threw the roll. Whenever I overreact, I feel that shame like I’m ten years old again, and being forced to go straight to my room after dinner. I wanted to explore why I feel this way, and if it has anything to do with my childhood. As I was writing, I kept thinking “well doesn’t everyone feel this way at certain times?” I think one of the reasons I was having such difficulty with the original essay, and making it personal, is because I wasn’t able to write from the personal to the universal. I was starting with the universal, and then had difficulty adding my own experience, rather than starting with my experience, and relating it to the way we all feel. Yes, we all have probably felt the way I did when I threw that roll at my mother, but we learn about these feelings, and what they mean, by reading about instances in which others have experienced similar feelings. My revised essay is really like a second draft to my first, and like the first draft, still needs a lot of work. I still have lingering questions about the way we overreact, and what these reactions can teach us about human nature, but after this semester, I have a much bigger insight into my own overreactions, and where they stem from. I never would have thought that the essay that I wrote about an angry office email would have turned into an essay in which I reflect on moments from my childhood and the relationship I have with my mother and sister. But from what I have learned, that’s what the essay is all about: making connections to things that don’t seem associated in any way at first.
Overall, I am so glad I took this course, and it actually inspired my final project, in which I hope to create a curriculum for high school seniors that focuses on “re-writing the essay.” Since I started at UMB a few years ago, one of the lingering questions that I’ve read about in composition studies and one of the main issues that I’ve struggled with in my own writing is how to build authority in student writers, and I have a feeling that essay writing can help accomplish this. My project will not only examine the ways that essay writing can help build authority in students, but how it can also can lead to greater understandings of complex issues, and maybe more importantly, a greater understanding of themselves.