Joslin 1 Elizabeth V. Joslin English 101.002 Ms.

Angela Kennedy December 11th, 2010 A Brief History of My Experiences Writing Flip off the switch to the outside world, close your eyes and dig down. Really dig down. Weighted with a million thoughts you’re lowered into dark cavernous cracks, to go looking for something rare and far, far away. You’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, but you have a general sense of direction and a flashlight. That’s what it feels like when I sit down to write an expository piece, or for something I have a personally vested interest in. It can be for work, school or self—so long as I care about the results of the writing, it is bound to sometimes be a hard, disorienting and frustrating process. But, when I do finally stumble upon the great “Eureka!” moments of writing, the journey is always worth it. The origins of my travels into, and love with writing begin in childhood. With many books and bedtime stories, with song, patience, questions and many words my mother and grandmother bathed me. I emerged from this able to read and write and began elementary school where we students practiced math and writing in phonics workbooks and on beige, wide-ruled sheets of paper. In second grade I relished the challenge of learning to spell the “bonus words” economics and environment, and I have faint, but fond, memories of the colorful children’s book catalogs the school would send home with students in fall. And though I thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing as a child, I was unaware of what I was doing. Writing was something I did because my teachers and family asked me to, or because it helped my friends and me play a game. It was not a thoughtful act.

Joslin 2 In 5th grade writing graduated to having broader communicative purposes and students would pass notes in class and we were also encouraged by our teachers to have pen pals. The notes usually consisted of bad jokes, who we considered cute or dumb, or pleas for gum; and our letters usually revealed such interesting facts such as: what our favorite food, color, singer, school subject or game was. My reasons to write, and topics for writing, remained fairly unchanged for the rest of my middle school years— writing for school, writing in games, and writing to socialize. Of course, this all changed around my freshman year in high school. Flush with hormones and self-consciousness, trying to figure out the world and myself, it had to have been an unrequited love or a bad day at school, which first sent me to the page for reasons personal. Now, in addition to passing notes, writing for school or by happenstance, I was also privately writing bad (albeit, sincere) poetry. There were no ambitions of becoming a published writer or goals of receiving a good grade. There was only writing as a way to see, and possibly sort out, the mess of emotions and thoughts I had. I was searching for any remedy or understanding I could gain about this malady called “being a teenager,” and I began combing the vast canyons of bookshelves of friends, family and libraries. Books on mythology, psychology, philosophy and language—non-fiction, fiction, poetry, plays and prose. I peered back occasionally into history books as well, but vivid stories of the human condition and conversations on language were where it was at for me. Though I dropped out of the official academic world in 1998, and didn’t receive my GED until 2009, I made a concerted effort to not “waste” the intermittent years. I continued seeking out reading suggestions and writing advice from friends and those whose work I admired. I devoured books, filled notebooks and wrote many, many letters. Writing was a stroll through a garden or, sometimes, dark alley. It was something I did for enjoyment, catharsis or out of curiosity.

Joslin 3 There were no pressures to produce work by a certain time, no headers, no footers or form to which I must adhere. If I saw a green crayon in the parking lot of a breakfast joint in Las Vegas, I may snap a picture of it for no reason and come back to it later, to see what ideas I can dig up. It was during these years, from my mid-teens to my mid-twenties, I began to really fall in love with writing and words. Writing became something I would consciously pursue and I could putter about with a piece of writing for months or years before I felt it was done or called uncle, and scrapped it altogether. I would write when the next shiny thought occurred or upheaval happened, leaving behind a trail of complete and incomplete poems and ideas. Of course, this all changed when I reached a university setting, where deadlines are required. Besides the new pressures of having deadlines, when I began college I had no clue how rusty my writing was in regards to writing actual “papers,” (though the insight did come to me through time). In the beginning of English, I reckoned I had done a pretty good job at figuring out my literary voice, and was bored and frustrated by how often we were given “writing” as a topic for assignments. Writing about writing, writing about writing style and writing development and writing voice. I really just wanted to move on to a topic that was not writing. A foolish mistake, wanting to jump ahead—what I had forgotten was there were plans and a map. My Instructor had guided many others through these canyons before, and if I didn’t freak out and wander off, I’d get out of the class in one piece and able to tell a decent story. When I did, finally, settle into the notion of having to figure out my writing and writing style, I discovered several things. The first discovery was that my writing style could be best described as gypsy-like. It’s a style displaying a love for metaphor and imagery, a style of a young woman who has wandered and talked and read, who enjoys weaving ideas and playing with words. It is a

Joslin 4 faint representation of all of the places and thoughts I have visited, but still vaguely different and new. I also recognized it as patchy style, and definitely in need of refinement. It was a style of one who had very few dealings with headers, footers, citations, outlines and theses. There were no transitions, no form and no finding a better way to say what was intended to say without always using the words “that” and “which.” There were too many commas, too many parenthetical statements and too many other things in need of improvement to list here. There was a style and ideas to be worked with, but they needed work. In English, we would stroll along and lightly stretch with class discussions and journal entries, warming up to the ideas we were to inevitably write about. But no matter how much we warmed up, every time the assignment came it felt sudden and pressing—kicked our way out of left field, sending me over a canyon’s edge. Down in the cracks, climbing (and sometimes digging) my way out, my head would hurt and I’d get sick of thinking about the topic. I delete more than I end up with and don't know where I want to end up, much less how to get there and in time. I’ve learned in these pressing moments it’s important for me to take a step back, breath, and assess my situation and tools. I have directions. I should reference those and make sure I am on course. I have the internet and, with a well worded query, I can find information and examples to help me with my formatting. But sometimes there is too much information, too many choices, and it’s hard to figure out what the correct format is for a particular circumstance. The feelings of disorientation increase. The deadline was looming over my head for an earlier assignment and I couldn’t figure out how to cite a specific report. Overwhelmed and confused by my examples, I searched the

Joslin 5 internet using the keywords: grammar help. Dredging through the search results I stumbled upon something called the “grammar hotline,” and as I pressed the buttons of my phone, dialing the number, I thought to myself, ‘Is this what it has come to? A hotline? Really?’ and as I hit the send button, ‘Yes. Yes it is.’ I spoke with a kind woman in Houston, Texas, who worked at in a college English department. I told her my predicament and she was able to talk me through it. I laugh when I think about how I fretted over this minor detail, to the point of calling a hotline, but I realized I was in a situation where having the right citation was as important as having the right word to capture an idea. Cognisant of my writing, on yet a different level, I realize I am walking a fine line—learning to balance my style, used to having total freedom of form and expression, with now having little room or time to roam. The Gypsy in me wants to explore every nook and cranny in the canyon, consider every nuance. But as I write now, nearing my page limit and nearing the deadline, I am reminding myself, ‘Decisions must be made. Hurry up, and tell the reader exactly what I mean.’ I see the light at the end of the tunnel and want to run as fast as I can to get out of this paper. Go back out into the light of day, with this, this.....thing I have created. Covered in dust, my paper clenched in my hand and with a smile on my face, I collapse in victorious exhaustion. Then I remind myself I need to snap out of it and “slow my roll,” as they say. After finding my way through five pages of an essay, tripping in a mad dash for the finish would be a horrible way to go out. So why do I do it? Why do I care about introductions, theses, transitions, metaphors and endings? I don’t really consider myself a writer. Throughout the course of my first semester of English, our class was prompted to consider who is a writer, and what makes a writer. While I understood the notion behind having us students realize we all have the potential to be writers, or

Joslin 6 are writers, I was a little flabbergasted by the number of my peers who, upon realizing how often they wrote, declared themselves writers. Sure, by technical standards I write and, therefore, am a writer and author of things. Going by those standards I could also extrapolate I’m a chef, a walker and stylist because I frequently cook, walk and get dressed. I’m uncomfortable with jumping to those types of self-declaration so quickly, partly because I feel it’s an insult to those who’ve dedicated enormous amounts of time to defining their style and skill in those endeavors. When I do, sometimes, think of myself as a writer, it’s because I’m pursuing and engaging in the writing process and I care about being good. It can be poetic observations or being nudged over a cliff into a paper for school. If it’s grueling or sometimes frustrating, I can count on coming out of it a better writer, or at least better able to navigate my thoughts. Because one of the main purposes of writing is to communicate, I feel it’s inevitably up to others to decide if I’m a writer. I can think I’ve done well, and communicated effectively, but it’s easy to get turned around in the midst of writing, and fool’s gold can look like the real deal. When I think I’ve struck on something decent, I go out for a little evaluation and appraisal. A former English teacher and an avid reader, my grandmother has always been a great consultant for all things literary. One might think a grandmother’s love or familial relation would pad their comments to soften criticisms, but not her. She’s not mean about it. She’s just knowledgeable, opinionated and honest. She also knows when I’m faking it or trying to cut corners—all in all, a good critic to have. If what I’ve written makes it past her, I know I am writing writing. Throughout this term, my grandmother and I have had long discussions about types of writing—poetic, expository, research, everyday. We have discussed literacy and the various topics assigned. We debated the question: “Am I a Writer?” She thinks I am. Me, not so much. I

Joslin 7 consider what my answer would be if someone asked me about myself at a dinner. I would tell them I am a student and I work with a non-profit arts center in the city of Winnsboro. I may also tell them where I live, or have lived, and share a bit of information about my partner. Nowhere in the conversation would the word “writer” come up. She says that is a ridiculous qualifying standard and we have agreed to disagree. Less concerned with the answer to the question “Am I a writer?” I want to know if what I’ve produced is a good writing. I read to understand, I write to be understood. When I was young and not self-aware, I read much more than I wrote. When my perception of world and self became a little more complex, around the age of 12, I started having ideas of my own, and I wanted to share them with friends. The ideas I shared were not profound or complex. I was developing my understanding of the social world. There was no such thing as a writing process and writing certainly was not done for the sake of it. I didn’t regard writing as something one would love or hate, if I regarded writing at all. Having been read to, having learned how to read and write; becoming self aware and becoming socially aware—all of these things merged around the age of 14, both academically and personally. In school, teachers were asking more complex questions. We were expected to have ideas and opinions about things outside of ourselves. Personally, I was at an age of a hyperself-awareness that made me uncomfortable. I felt the best way to be “less uncomfortable” was to understand what I was thinking and feeling. Thus began, what have been, my personal journeys and relationship with writing. I did not receive my high school diploma, but I carried on with writing and reading on my own because I found it personally rewarding. Though I had done a decent job at maintaining a foot in the literary world during the intermittent years between high school and college, when I finally

Joslin 8 reached a university setting I learned my free-wheelin,’ metaphor-loving writing needed improvement. Lost in the middle of an English paper, without a clue as to where to go next, my gypsy style had not equip me with all the tools I needed to navigate through a paper. With research and help from my professor, and those with more experience than myself, I have learned how to find my way through expository papers with more ease and less fear. Writing these papers still doesn’t come easy to me—at all. A part of me is uncertain if it ever will, and I am okay with that. The gypsy in me knows the moment of understanding and being understood, more than makes for the moments of frustration.

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