Missed Opportunity

Abstract topic, minimal experience, and a 4-page-max-assignment:

Freshman year I wrote a paper for English 125 that was supposed to answer the question “when did you learn to write?” This question in itself is almost comical because looking back I realize that as a first semester freshman in English 125, I did not know how to write. I thought I did. But for me to reflect on when I learned to write, and I mean actually write, it infers that I actually knew how. Regardless, I went on with the assignment because I really didn’t have a choice and looked back toward an 8th grade language arts teacher as my mentor and inspiration for learning how to write. This story isn’t false, this is when I began to love writing and words and was going through a particularly angsty part of my life that offered a volcanic eruption of emotion every time I took pen to paper. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I was 13 years old, full of a confusing combination of resentment for the world, childlike innocence, and well, hormones. For me to have known how to do anything except for attempt to put all of those feelings onto paper was silly.

Fast forward to freshman year and as old and mature that I may have felt, I was a child. I had lived on my own for at most 3 months when this assignment was given to me and “on my own” meant in a dorm, with a roommate, a security guard, and three of my best friends. Learning to write was, again, not in my realm of ability. Not to mention the fact that this reflective, personal narrative was one of five assignments we had in English 125. It was impossible to produce a paper that actually answered the question.

If I was offered instead a semester’s length and the maturity of having lived 22 years of life (yes that is sarcasm) then I would’ve approached the question in a much different way. I would acknowledged that I am constantly learning to write, I have not “learned.” And yes, that 8th grade language arts teacher who offered a positive outlet for my teenage angst, he would’ve gotten his shoutout. But the entire paper would not have been about him, it would have been about me. This is where I think the opportunity was lost on me. 

Here is an excerpt, as embarrassing as it may be to post, from this “when I learned to write” paper that shows just how little I talked about myself: “That is when I realized how much Mr. Honeyman taught me and how much writing had altered me. Among my stories about my mom and the man on the plane, I realized that I also wrote about him. Mr. Mark Honeyman was suffering from a disease similar to Parkinson’s disease called essential tremor. It caused chronic tremors that hindered his ability to do the simplest tasks. He would arrive in the morning to class with milk all over his shirt from not being able to steady his hand as he ate cereal for breakfast earlier that day. On some occasions it would even take a few tries just for him to put his glasses on to begin class. The lesson that he taught us in all of this was to be open.”

2 thoughts to “Missed Opportunity”

  1. Hey Maddy,
    I relate to the phenomenon of realizing how little I actually knew about something in the recent past that I thought I understood. Knowing that our knowledge of any given topic is pretty much always lacking is a vulnerable position to be in, especially if we’re writing about that topic for others to read. That’s why I try to think of writing as a process that never has a clear end. Of course, this isn’t really helpful when trying to produce something to be published and locked in that form forever, but it does help when thinking about writing as a tool to facilitate personal growth.

    Funny enough, I think that what you’re writing about here can be applied to your capstone project too. As you elucidate, there are a lot of people who think they understand the Israeli-Palestine conflict and have developed a confident opinion, when in reality their support for their opinion lacks a lot of information and context. I think a good question is if whether there really is enough knowledge on a given issue that can be obtained to solidify an opinion that never changes, or if our ideas about an issue will constantly change as we become more informed and reflective.

  2. Hey Maddy,

    I can relate to being embarrassed about how much you thought you knew when you look back at your own writing. There are definitely things that I thought were super deep or revelatory when I wrote about them but looking back are just… not. But I think that’s a lot of what can be interesting about writing: the way that you can look back from a new place and see all of the things you didn’t know and the gaps in your thinking. But it’s still valuable to see the way you used to think, and not just to understand your own growth. Even if it feels like a missed opportunity, I definitely think that this reflection proves you still learned something from it.

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