I really enjoyed Didion’s essay. I connected with her story; as a college student with a love for writing, I could relate. However, I think there are some aspects of her essay on which we can agree to disagree.
I loved the part of the essay where Didion describes traveling during college to discuss Milton’s Paradise Lost and what she learned, not from the book, but from living in the moment: the buses, trains, travel, what she did and saw, when ironically in pursuit of this higher literary knowledge one can theoretically only get from reading. This resonated with me because my ideal learning style is learning by doing. I do not remember the specific words I read for my Memoir and Social Crisis class with Ralph Williams, but I remember his words, I remember the classroom, him shaking my hand every morning and complimenting my headband or scarf, listening to my peers cry because his mere words on the topic were so compelling and moving. It was the unique experience of the class that stuck with me, not as much the texts I read.
When I think about images that, as Didion puts it, “shimmer,” I think of writing about the things I am passionate about and how telling a story about those interests seems so much easier than anything else. This ranges from telling the story of my local city owned ski area to save it to writing essays for my education classes to writing letters to my best friends. However, I hope to get to the point where, like Didion, I can put down words when I think of images that sparkle. “The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind” (Didion 270). I want to become a better writer so the arrangement of the words I want on paper, or the words that make up the image that shimmers in my head, are the ones that come to mind. But even as I write this, I am continuously backspacing and rearranging my words because they do not come out as I picture them. I hope to get to the point of expression, through practice, where I can say what I want and revise to the point where I feel the words really showcase that image.
While there was a lot I took from Didion’s piece that I was able to apply to my writing and way of thinking, her argument about thinking and reflection on her college experience “trying to think” confused me. She writes, “…when I was an undergraduate…I tried…to buy a temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forget for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract” (Didion 270). How do I know if I am failing at trying to think? In some ways I think that trying to think is actually thinking itself and is a process in which one cannot fail, or even succeed. I’ve taken classes at Michigan that have been so difficult for me that I spent every day “trying to think” about the material and ideas, but I would never consider it failing. Through the process of this endless effort to grasp concepts, I learned about myself. I learned about my strengths, my weaknesses, my learning style and what inspires me and bores me. Maybe that thinking led me in a different direction than actually understanding the motives of characters in Greek classics or knowing how to analyze a financial statement at first glance, but these struggles are what actually allow me experiences like Didion had on the bus to learn Milton.