A Work in Progress…The Melding of An Obituary and a Cause

I knew I was taking on quite a challenge when I decided to repurpose my paper from my Politics of Education course.  I was extremely proud of my paper and feel like I have very solid ground to work from.  I was passionate about my subject and feel that there is a lot left to be said.  I thought it was the perfect choice of a work to repurpose and spend another few months exploring.  I still think that.  I just also realize that this is going to be a lot more challenging than I originally thought.

My new paper will serve as a feature story for my newspaper about my friend A.J. Marion, a big-hearted, charming and well-mannered football superstar: in essence a golden boy.  After losing all of his college offers after a football injury, he drifted around our hometown until he was shot and killed in a police chase following what they said was an attempted robbery.  A.J. had plans to still go to college and was scheduled to meet with a college counselor to enroll in classes the day after he died.

I knew that this story was heavy and that it was one I wanted to do justice to, just as I said in my last blog post.  But since then, I’ve been struggling with the best way to do this piece.  I’m struggling with two issues.  First, a lot of media coverage has been done of A.J. A lot has been said about his athletic ability, high school career and the circumstances surrounding his death.  How do I say something that hasn’t already been said?  Second of all, as a classmate said, I want to be cautious of coming across the wrong way, of using a tragic death as a springboard for a cause.  My worst fear is that it will come across as preachy or opportunistic.  We discussed both of these possible issues in class and I found everyone’s comments very helpful.

However, I want to share what I’ve found most helpful in tackling these two issues.  It’s an obituary/memorial type piece that Shelley recommended to me, one for the great Philip Seymour Hoffman written by Aaron Sorkin.  It talks about Hoffman’s legacy, obviously highly publicized in a different light.  Sorkin shared personal stories and the chilling quote from Hoffman, ““If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won’t.”   Sorkin beautifully weaved together a testament of Hoffman’s life as his friend and a larger issue and cause without seeming preachy or contrived.  This, I’ve decided, is what I want to do on a larger scale.

I decided to go back and read A.J.’s obituary and was heartbroken by how incomplete it was.  There was little about who he was, the impact he had had on others and the legacy he left behind.  How did he touch the lives of others?  How is he changing our community?  To answer these questions, I’ve decided on an open letter to A.J., telling him what I remember about him, how our community has been affected by him and how he’s made me rethink things: life, education, inequality, joy…the list goes on and on.  This is not an easy task, but reading Sorkin’s work and seeing how he beautifully documented the death of Hoffman gives me confidence and inspiration that it can, and should, be done.

To read the memorial piece inspiring my project, click here: Aaron Sorkin: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Drug Addiction | TIME.com http://entertainment.time.com/2014/02/05/aaron-sorkin-philip-seymour-hoffmans-death-saved-10-lives/#ixzz2uHxuTP4y 

One thought to “A Work in Progress…The Melding of An Obituary and a Cause”

  1. Hey Christina,

    I was drawn to this post by your use of “obituary” in your title. That probably sounds creepy, but I mean it. I think there’s just something about the mystery of death, loss, and how people go about processing these things that just really peaks my curiosity (yes, I’m creepy, we’ve established this!), and so when I saw that you were planning to work on a project that involved an obituary, I just had to learn more.

    I’m actually in a similar position to you with my own work. I’m currently working on a piece which is (in part) inspired by the death of two of my close friends, and I worry all the time about what right I have to the story, or if I’m not doing them justice in my work. I’m sure you know that these questions aren’t easily answered, but, for what it’s worth, it looks to me like you’re really approaching this project the right way.

    Also, I think that people sometimes we use things like art as a means of processing loss (shout-out to Aaron Sorkin) and that we have to just trust our own judgment in deciding what’s appropriate. There’s always a chance that someone won’t like it, or won’t think it’s “appropriate” by their standards, but we run that risk with everything we write, and we owe it to the ones who’ve passed to be nothing but honest.

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