Reflection Essay: Improvement

When trying to find a place to start for this essay, I was at a loss. I was assigned an essay in which I must reflect on my freshman English class and how I improved through the semester. I am not one that usually reflects on my classes looking for instances of proof that I learned. I feel that if I truly have learned the class will just follow me through life. The way I usually notice my improvement is either when I am able to make connections or can talk knowledgably about a subject. In that moment of clarity, applying concepts to mundane situations. Then I can look at shadows thinking about trigonometry or think of how an important historical event can relate to my current situation. Moments such as those are what prove to me that my education is in fact transforming me and the way I think. For English classes, on the other hand, the evidence learning is more discrete. It takes a long time for skills to actually develop and I seldom write academically. I also believe the skills are less easily seen because they tie in so closely to the way we think. Words fill my mind constantly but it is a steady stream and it is not formed in the same way academic writing is. If every essay I wrote reflected what my stream of consciousness, they would be a mess.

So although, over time even the way I think has been transformed by my education, this process took a very long time and is hard to notice. So for me, this task was especially tedious. I use the word tedious because it demands attention be focused on the many miniscule improvements a single class has had and then requires putting those concepts into an essay that displays those same properties. And even then, it is difficult to locate which class truly helped me improve.

I am not an English major so it is hard for me to put into words what I wish to communicate. During the course of this semester I have taken a deeper look at my own writing: my process, my grammar, and my style. This wasn’t a primary focus for previous courses. Now my process is more concrete and functional. I write in a stream of consciousness when initially conjuring up a draft, then revise it so the reader can hopefully understand what I am trying to say. Reconstructing my work is my first priority. Then, I look deeper into sentence structure and add any important details that I might have missed. I usually find that in my writing I assume the reader has the same knowledge as I have, which is a mistake I try to pull out during my first revision as well. The aspect of writing in which I can never see my problems is the grammar; editing grammar is a job I must outsource to either a peer or a professor. In the past, I have been told to focus on my sentence structure because I often write in run-on sentences. Although I am aware of this issue, I can never seem to find the problems. This semester was no different in that regard. The problem was pointed out to me, but I found myself not improving. Another issue I have in writing is making my ideas work together to create a clear, continuous essay. The ideas are often separate and do not advance my argument. They often have some connection with the thesis but do not connect to one another, forming one big mess of an essay. My biggest improvement made over the course of the past few years is making my essays flow better. In that way, allowing me to have better organization and structure. A large contributor to this improvement was the process of writing this semester.

‘Intertextuality’ seemed to be the word most discussed in class lectures. According to Harris and Boyd, all texts have intertextuality since all texts use previous texts in some way to be a successful text. If I had a dollar for every time the word ‘text’ was said this semester, maybe I could afford Washington College. But, despite how tired I am about talking about intertextuality, I did learn a great deal about properly including other texts into my own writing. Before taking this class, I often used references to other texts the same boring way. Now, I carry around a whole arsenal of different techniques to blend other people’s texts and ideas with my own. This is a useful skill in any field of study: math, theatre, or whatever my heart desires. As a girl who has yet to decide her major, I appreciate how important and versatile the skill of writing well is.

Writing is a necessary skill to have and my writing skills could definitely use some improvement, so I need all the improvement I can get. The problem is those improvements are far less noticeable to me than the knowledge I gain from other classes. Since I like to see the results, I assume failure with everything I write. This is the reason I lose patience with my writing and find it bothersome to write long drawn out assignments such as this essay. But I have accepted it as a part of my academic career and can now tolerate the process. My next goal is to try and take it one step further and find a way to enjoy writing assignments. If I am able to turn this dream into reality, I figure my writing could improve even more. Although changing the entire way I think is perhaps an unrealistic goal. So for the most part, I’m just glad to be done with the first English class of my college career. It has been very time consuming, but a necessary evil to fulfill my distribution requirements and to graduate.

Blue

When writing The Bluest Eye, Morrison was never interested in telling an empowering story about a girl who overcame a horrible situation. She wanted to tell the untold story of a person who crumbled and broke. Morrison later stated that she viewed her novel a failure because “many readers remained touched but not moved.” She attributes that failure to the way she wrote about her character Pecola. Written to be as venerable as possible, she is hard to relate to. Her character is representing such a small minority that her situation is unable to move the large majority of readers. “I chose a unique situation, not a representative one.” Morrison admits.

Pecola is also a poorly developed and dimensionless character. She is seen as nothing but a victim throughout the novel, which causes the reader to see her as only a victim and nothing more. While the novel is not only about Pecola it is strange that she is left without further development. Claudia, the narrator, is very well developed. The reader understands her and understands her struggles, yet she is not the focus of the novel. Pecola is the main character one of the people “who collapse, silently, anonymously, with no voice to express or acknowledge it.” She is the character who Morrison is trying to make a statement about. Keeping her as a flat character limited what Morrison could effectively say about other people who collapse to the self loathing brought on by society.

Morrison said she invited other characters to the story, they while also struggling with their own battles tried to help Pecola but failed. She breaks. The readers reaction to the destruction of an innocent girl was supposed to evoke the reader into self reflection but ended up falling short. Instead most readers took pity on Pecola but never really changed because they never connected with her, they just couldn’t relate. They just were not moved.

Shirley Temple

She was the face of a nation. She was the perfect little American. She was beautiful, sweet, beloved, and white. Shirley Temple Black is viewed as an ideal to American society. At a young age, Shirley became a star. She made 14 short films, 43 feature films, and more than 25 storybook movies. Her acting career lasted for decades and was admired by the world. But, she was no one-trick-pony she also was a politician and diplomat. The American beauty became an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and a Chief of Protocol. Every little girl wanted to be Shirley. Her legacy still is much present in the American society. The majority of Americans are still drawn to her adorable childhood cinematic roles.

In the novel, The Bluest Eye, Pecola and Claudia have opposing views on Shirley Temple. This is because Pecola desirers to be beautiful and white like Shirley Temple; she believes it would improve her life if she looked more like Shirley and less like an ugly Breedlove. Meanwhile, Claudia despises little white girls because they get treated differently; they get treated better. For her, the white girls are the enemy because they have the privileges she desires. Both girls understand, that being black is a disadvantage in society but they have completely different responses to the situation. Tori Morrison used the girls’ opinions on Shirley Temple to help show the girls’ opinions on their own identity. Shirley Temple is a contrast to Claudia and Pecola, because she is an ideal to society and they are two young black girls in broken families.

Grey

To take a stand on an argument that is not black and white was the assignment. It seemed simple enough but I still struggled to write my essay. I started by brainstorming topics that would fit the assignment. The only topic that came to mind was transgender athletes and which team they should play on, male or female. So, I began my research reading every article I could find on transgender athletes. I was intrigued by the conflict but, could only find limited sources that actually brought up the issue I was looking for. The NCAA recently revised their regulations to include a section for transgender athletes at the college level. After reading this policy and discussing it with a few friends, I came to the conclusion that the solution has already been found. This new information made my opinion on the gray area transform into black and white.

I found myself back at the beginning of the brainstorming process. The assignment seemed to be laughing at me, mocking my lack of ideas. I had nothing. No ideas came to me that I did not strongly believe one idea or another. Luckily, my professor generously gave some example topics on our assignment sheet. I’ll admit, I defaulted to his example because I was simply not creative or well enough informed to come up with my own. The argument of truth and fiction in memoirs. For my first draft I talked all about how narratives included both fiction and nonfiction and why that mattered. Turns out it doesn’t matter whether narratives are fiction or nonfiction at all. I was using the wrong term. What I had meant was that personal narratives and memoirs includes a mix of both fiction and nonfiction. By my second draft, my essay was starting to make sense at least.

In class we discussed our essay with two of our peers. My partners gave me some good advise, even adding some examples that would help move my essay along. The idea of false memory syndrome, in particular really helped me make a better developed essay. After class, I added some new ideas and rewrote some rough patches in my work. Currently I am still working at polishing off this monstrosity of an essay hoping it might get better.  All in all this essay has taken up far too much time and I still have to put more time into it. Hopefully my blood, sweat, and abundance of tears will not be for nothing, although the essay is still a disaster.

Writing Booths

Today, I found myself surrounded by booths full of writing enthusiast trying to make my way up to the dining hall. Lunch can wait, I thought as I stopped and embraced the enthusiasm of the writers around me. I looked at every booth trying to find something I took personal interest in. Without any success I turned to Hannah. Luckily, she was on top of things and dragged me over to a booth she was involved in. It was a booth where students were writing thank you notes to the people who donated to the school. I picked up a pen and began writing to a particular woman who had opened he pocket book and donated to the Washington fund. This fund was the reason anyone at Washington College got an academic scholarship. Having a big reason to thank this woman for her generous gift, I wanted to write something special to show her what it meant to me. Sadly, I might be the worst thank you note writer in the entire world. The paper ended up having two poorly formed sentences that did not convey the gratitude at all. It basically just said thanks. But, it is not likely she will even be able to read it because it is written in chicken scratch and nearly illegible. It made me think, maybe I should get more interested in writing so I could improve my communication skills and be able to complete simple tasks such as writing thank you notes. I sat there and thought about this idea of self improvement for a second then realized Hannah was already heading past the booths and up to the dining hall. “Wait up,” I called to her racing past the writing enthusiast and leaving my trace of thought completely. “At least I can write about this experience for extra credit; I could use some extra credit.” I snickered to Hannah as we walked into the cafeteria and away from the event.

A very rough draft: Assignment 2

 

While reading Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried, I began to wonder about the nature of truth within narratives. O’Brien plays with idea of truth and fiction in his stories, calling them true war stories then saying they never happened and even if they did they didn’t happen the way he told it. The idea made me take a second look at what narratives are classified as, fiction or nonfiction. The dictionary definition of non-fiction is “the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history, and the essay”. This definition implies that narratives would be considered nonfiction but, it also says it has to deal with facts and reality. This is where it gets confusing because narratives while based on fact and reality they often consists of embellishments and fiction. Narratives can stray away from what truly happened for many reasons two of which being the authors intentions and the changing nature of memories.IMG_0346

Authors use narratives to fulfill a purpose whether it is to entertain or to display a certain truth or moral. No matter what an author wants to create a desired effect on the reader. In order to get that effect sometimes the truth has to be stretched. Certain details have to be exaggerated or even created to make the reader understand what is going on. O’Brien mentions that his stories about Lemon were exaggerated and molded in a way that to the reader who is displaced and the story if told based on fact alone would not have the same effect on the reader as it did to the people involved. The facts had to be changed in order to show the true nature of Lemon. Similar manipulation of facts happen every time someone tells a story. I amIMG_0423 very guilty of exaggerating some parts of stories and excluding others to create the desired effect. I do it all the time, for example if I were to fall down the stairs I might exaggerate the pain to make it seem more dramatic, or exclude that my shoes were untied if I wanted to show how much of a klutz I had been. Neither of those changes would affect the basic truth of the story but it is not what truly happened.

Memories themselves also violate the definition of nonfiction because they do not show reality as it happened due to their moldable nature. When people look back on the past they bring in all of their experiences since the event and they pull in the new knowledge they have learned. Tim O’Brien describes the phenomenon as being “partially a witness and partially a participant” in the memories. Understanding that you cannot change the past but you can change the way you view the past. Some things you invent in your own head and it becomes part of the memory. A good example of inventing memories occurs in The Things They Carried, when Tim describes Lemon’s death. He says the flames of the landmine engulfed him making a halo around his face and flying him up into the tree. O’Brien later disclaims that the whole ordeal was a fragment of his imagination since it all happened so fast and when land mines go off people just look away. But, in order to help deal with the death of his friend the scene in the memory was created even though it does not align with the reality of the event. It is often very hard to determine what is true in a memory and what is derived from outside influence. Another example of distorted memories is John Boyd’s recollection of his late brother who died when John was very young. He often struggles to split what he remembers of his brother from what people have told him about his brother. The memories have molded into one and it is hard to disconnect the reality from the knowledge he has gained since then. In this way memories do not align with reality and therefore could the recounting of a memory truly count as nonfiction?

If we come to the conclusion that narratives are indeed not works of nonfiction, what are they? Would it be fair to categorize narratives as works of fiction? The dictionary definition of fiction is “the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration”. Writing narratives does take some imagination since they are not just recounting reality as discussed before. The truth is embellished and molded to be something completely new. One could say the story would be something that took imagination to create. But, most narratives are formed mostly from experience and they display truths that are very real. I would not want to jump into the conclusion that narratives are fiction. This makes narratives a category of their own; they are neither nonfiction nor fiction.

Nonfiction and fiction are counterparts of each other, by some it is believed that all forms of prose fit into one or the other. Something is either fiction or nonfiction. They are the two branches of prose but, I am suggesting that narratives are a branch of their own. Narratives cannot truly fit into either definition of fiction or nonfiction even though they embody certain qualities of each. A narrative is supposed to display an experience. But, whether or not the story is genuine to reality and fact or imaginative, it doesn’t matter as long as the author feels it has created the desired effect on the reader. As long as the effect on the reader aligns with the truth displayed in the narrative it does not matter if it was fiction, nonfiction, or a category of its own.

 

What’s The Deal with Narratives?

When you tell a story to your friends is every detail accurate? Probably not. It is hard to tell the truth about what happened because you may not remember clearly and the story might not come across with the same emotion that the event had. This makes fiction necessary to relay the truth within the story. The question is would a narrative then be considered truth or fiction. Tim O’Brien says that when looking back on memories you become “partly a witness and partly a participant”. So, when you are looking at the past you pull into the memory all the knowledge and experience you have had since then. In that way the memory is moldable as well as the power of suggestion. It is likely that is you ask ten participants of an event for a recount of what happened, you will get ten different versions of the same story. All of which could be considered true.

Tim O’Brien often changed the stories he wrote in order to create a desired effect on the reader. The truth alone might not have been enough but with some manipulation the story can be what you want it to be. A narrative isn’t always about displaying an event but instead an emotion and perhaps a lesson. In The Things They Carried Tim plays with the idea of truth and fiction. He never lets the reader know what really happened, if the stories were true or if they were fiction. It is a big mystery throughout the novel. But, does it really matter? If a story displays a certain effect and displays a truth, why should it matter if it wasn’t true? Maybe you feel lied to but you still became “partly a witness and partly a participant” in the story. Narratives are there for a gray area in writing because they don’t really fit within either category of truth or fiction.

The Things We Carried

O’Brien wrote The Things They Carried with the intention of making the reader “partially a witness and partially a participant” in the stories told. Within the novel there is a struggle to distinguish truth from fiction that is rooted in O’Brien’s memory and purpose with each story he tells. O’Brien wants his stories to have a certain effect on the reader so he can display a certain truth. But, in order for the reader to get that desired effect the story must be morphed into something entirely new. O’Brien says, “By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others.”

Another source of the ambiguity of truth in the novel is found within O’Brien’s own memory of the stories he is telling. When looking back and remembering the past people once again become “partially a witness and partially a participant” in what is happening. Memories are not set in stone; they change as we do. So, when remembering the past we include things we learned later, some parts are forgotten altogether, and the underlying truth involved with the story can often change. Much like when Lemon died and O’Brien described how the fire from the mine engulfed his face and made him look as if he was wearing a halo. But, in reality O’Brien admits the landmine went off far too quickly to see such detail and when a mine goes off people look away. Memories are moldable. Are the memories truthful even though they often do not display the events of the past accurately?

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the stories are true or not as long as they displayed certain truths about O’Brien’s experience in Vietnam. I feel as though I am now both a witness and a participant in some war stories even though I have never experienced anything like war. Now I can picture the boredom and the fear that ruled the men’s lives as well as the grief they faced. The Things They Carried was an extremely affective novel because the literature, characters, and reader came together to experience the stories and their underlying truths.

All Done: Reflecting on Assignment 1

I have always found that writing about myself can be one of the most difficult things to do. You want to stay true to yourself but do it in a way that others will understand. This is one of the main things I struggled on while trying to complete the first assignment. I knew what I was trying to say but there was really no meaning behind it, no resolution, no epiphany at the end where everything clicked. It was just a story about me. It had nothing to do with reading the specific books, none of the books “effected my life”. My essay was a story about me that followed from the time I was in grade school to the present and how I viewed reading at different moments in my life. This made it difficult to pull in other texts since what the text was saying never effected the story I was trying to tell. No part of Call of the Wild had to do with a girl struggling to keep up in class and no part of Of Mice and Men had to do with enjoying reading.

I ended up including a couple quotes from Of Mice and Men that I found to enhance my summarization of the most dramatic parts of the plot. The process of finding those quotes was actually my favorite part of writing the essay. I had to ask three different people for help locating the book in the library and spent about a houthr searching around all the books until I finally found it. I felt like Nicolas Cage on a quest; I was running around a lot of old books just having a great time. When I finally found the book, I decided I might as well just read it a second time. It was a wonderful way to procrastinate actually finishing my essay which was due that day.

After turning in my essay I was nervous because there was nothing else I could do to improve the work had done. This was my least favorite part of writing the essay, waiting on a grade. But, at that point I was very tired so I just took a nap and dreamt of getting a good grade on the assignment.