My high school English teacher told me that there are never any finished writing, only deadlines. Looking back through my old essays from freshman year, I thought that I would cringe about the naivety of what I had written–and I did. But more surprisingly, in creating the portfolio, I found connected pieces of myself through the years of college writing. The first three lines of my Directed-Self Placement essay could have been taken from the opening paragraphs of my honors thesis. I wrote about the importance of family and friends to a flourishing life as a freshman and as I senior, I expanded on that idea in a honors thesis. But it wasn’t an intentional choice—the itch to keep writing about a topic wasn’t satisfied.
It was also amazing to see how my tone hasn’t fundamentally changed. There is the same eager passion to raise a point or ask a question. The only difference now is that I learned that I often cannot makes big claims as I’d like. Phrases like, “fundamental truth” have tapered into “compelling theory”.
I thought looking back at my old writing would be embarrassing. I thought would have to hide in my room for hours at the shame of all the things I once sounded smart. I was really skeptical that going back through old writing and buffing the rough edges was worthwhile. I was surprised by the things I learned. I wish that I had trusted the process a bit more, instead of kicking and screaming.
In the past few days, I’ve finished my thesis, project and portfolio and completed my final class of undergrad. It have come to many “ends”, and for the next little bit of my life, the most substantial writing projects I will have will be cover letters (boo). I have a hope that my English teacher was right, that your writing is never really finished. And perhaps that’s why I’ve found such delight in looking back at my old essays and stories—it gives me hope that I can continue to grow as a writer.
So maybe this isn’t really The End, but rather just a place along the way.
Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.
Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmetcrests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.
Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles — anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.
The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around in it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs, and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest mammal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.
Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.
So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end — not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in a thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.
I am interested in exploring vulnerability. Right now, I am particularly interested in stories that have vulnerability as a central element. But if you have anything else you’ve read or listen to or seen, feel free to post that too. I’m just looking for some where to get started.
Projects of this sort are intimidating because rarely in classes do you have this much freedom to invest time in whatever you are interested in. I keep thinking to myself: pick something awesome, don’t screw-up, is this a good idea. Yeah it’s good–I’m not so sure it is. Will I still be interested in this later in the semester?
After wading through a bit of intellectual anxiety, these are my ideas for my project.
1. An extended exploration in vulnerability.
After watching this video this summer watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o the concept of vulnerability became very interesting to me. It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. Here a few central questions I’d like to consider in my writing.
What is vulnerabilty?
What purpose does it serve in our life?
How ought we approach vulnerability?
Are there different types of vulnerability?
Is it good or bad?
What myths surround vulnerability
With this topic I thought I could use different types of media to get at these different questions. I could interview people about what they thought vulnerability meant, and make a short video. I could blog about my research.
2. Letters to my sister
It has been hard to connect in a meaningful way with my little sister when I am at school. We gain a lot of ground when I come home for breaks, but she’s one of those people that it is hard to maintain just a texting relationship with. She is also through a tough time right now, and I think it would be neat if I could use writing to connect and reach out to her.
I read somewhere that the best writing is for one person. While I don’t know the truth of this claim, I think there is definitely something to the idea of consistently writing with only worry about how one person will perceive it. It seems like that would preserve the integrity of the writing.
I was imaging a blog, where I could write about some of the things I’ve learned that I want her to know—maybe some in fiction (because with my little sister, sometimes you have to be pretty sly if you’re trying to get a message across). Also with this project, I could use different media for this project as well.
3. Philosophy for the common man
I am a philosophy major and I love it as much, if not more than pancheros burritos—which is saying a lot. The big criticism of philosophy is that it is it too far away in its lofty ivory academic towers to make an impact on people’s lives. My project would be someway to engage philosophy in a way that more people feel like they have the tools to approach it and relate to it. I’m not entirely sure at this point what that would entail.
This is the most vague of my ideas. I don’t know what form it would take, or what features I would use to achieve my goals. Would I try to distill some important arguments or not use any sort of academic writing in my project?
Bring two ideas together:
I can easily see the connection between creating some sort of sharing-insight-with-my-sister project and exploring vulnerability. The results of my exploration could be a central thing I wrote about and shared with her. The project of writing to her could be a piece of my experiment in vulnerability.
Earlier in the semester, when we had to read the e-portfolios of the previous class, I remember reading their blog posts, thinking: wow, why do they all sound so exhausted? And now that I am done with my e-portfolio I GET IT. Whoo! Its feels really reallly really really really really really really really good to be done.
Throughout this entire class, I feel I have really grown as a writer, thanks mostly in part to my professor’s and classmates feedbacks. The only way for a writer to grow is to be able to receive criticism, and integrate as many outside sources/inspiration as possible. I feel that through this class I have refocused my writing–I’m excited for the trajectory of my writing career.
My favorite part of this class has been exploring the writing process further, and really understanding how to address my specific audience. However, I also know that I probably have a lot of work to do; being a young, female writer, I mostly connect to young females through my writing. Hopefully, as I grow and diverge, I will be able to better address other audiences.
I read a really, really good book this past week called The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It is the kind of book that makes you believe that writing is good and powerful and important because as soon as you’ve finished the book you feel the need to clutch it to your chest. Reading it was like a punch to the gut that knocks your wind out. It reminds you why we need stories. It reminds you of the role they have in this world.
My post takes life in a few questions: What is your favorite book? Why is it your favorite book? Did it change you? How did it shape you? What do you think the role of stories are?
My favorite book for a long time (before I read Fault in Our Stars) was Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips. I read it junior year of high school and it sparked a love that has carried me to where I am today–a philosophy major. It was the first book devoted to philosophy that I read. I found myself identifying with what I read, feeling at home in the author’s discussions. It gave me a name for what I’d always liked to do–think too much. Because I read it, I decided to take Introduction to Philosophy at MSU my senior year. I loved the class. Which prompted me to take more philosophy classes, which prompted me to major in it, and thus changing the course of my life forever. (although, one might ask if I was fated to end up as a philosophy major, it might have happened anyways, with a different thing than this book moving me towards it).
Anyways, what is your experience with powerful writing?
As an avid lover of Pride and Prejudice I’ve wondered what’s happened to the art of letter writing. They always sounded so eloquent. Some of the most eloquent and powerful writers of the likes Thomas Jefferson of Jane Austin were also letter writers.
Not that they had a choice. But we do. We could write a letter, send a text, video chat, facebook chat, email, blog, word process. Which one of these is not like the others? Letter writing.
Writing by hand is laborious. If you’re writing on stationary, or a card with a pen, you have to take care not to mess up. If you do, you have to have either an unattractive smudge or start over on a blank card–which could get expensive. So you have to think about what you’re going to say. To have to be deliberate, not too hasty, because there is no going back. Typing on the other hand, has no deliberation, I could write a really crappy rambling run-on sentence about ponies and butterflies just to amuse myself and delete it faster than I wrote it. Or I could copy and past it and use it somewhere else. If I were writing this by hand, I would have erase, or re-write or start on a new sheet of paper.
If I change my mind and want to move this paragraph I can drop and drag it to its new home. If I was writing by hand, I would have to start over or cut it out. It would be messy.
The phrase: “How long does it take me to write this by hand?” took me 15 seconds to write by hand and 6 seconds to type. Multiple that by paragraphs and the difference is dramatic. My question is, has writing become cheap? Because it is so easy, so quick, so relatively painless to write and delete and to move.
How would our writing style and writing process change if we didn’t have word processors? If so much of the writing we did wasn’t on the computer? No doubt that the internet, key board, and microsoft word make my life easier, and if this was written on a sheet of paper as opposed to the web I couldn’t share it as easily with all of you, and you couldn’t “interact” with it as easily by making comments. Do you think the strength of writing has decreased with the ease and lack of deliberation?
Coach is infamous for urging us to be “a part of the process.” Your commitments to training do not end when practice does, but rather, all aspects of your life: emotional, health, academic, interpersonal, should be directed towards successful training. The athletes needs to show up, put in the training, and have faith in “the process”.
I’ve recently come to conclude that all aspects of life require some sort of process in order to arrive at success.(which, is kind of exhausting to think about). Reflection, is no different than training. You have to put in the work and struggle through the uncertainty and unpleasant feelings to end up with any kind of insight. There are goals or things you can achieve through your reflection, like finding the strengths or weakness of a paper.
Reflection, comes with a particular uncomfortable feeling when you’ve passed the stage of realizing there is a problem, and gone into the stage of uncertainty. For me, this is a stage I find particularly troubling. I sit in this low-grade anxiety of not knowing and fixate on the question at hand, until I find some sort of solution. My Dad calls this sort of experience “thinkers-angst.”
One of my favorite authors, Scott Peck, discusses the process of community-building and one of the stages a community goes through is particularly important to achieving community and that is the stage of emptiness. In this stage, member of the group must let go of their preconceived notions, prejudices,the need to control, expectations for the group, etc. and become open to the input of others. It is the process of emptying out all barriers so you can learn from another human being.
The stage of emptiness is perhaps what I struggle with when I reflect on my writing. I have to empty myself of any sort of ideas about what my paper is and how well I believe it to be written to be able to learn or think about my writing in a new way. Editing is a stage in the writing process that I need to put more effort into, because it is as important as the actual writing to the overall product. Just as in distance running, if you don’t ice and take care of your body, as training wears on, a lack of effort in even seemingly less-signifcant areas prevent you from achieving the end result.
The blogging process, for know, has come has reached a stopping point. Comment to continue the process.
In your response do not use the words: audience, author, depends, or subjective
One thing I’ve been wondering about lately in conjunction to life and to writing is, how do you know when you think you know? In decision-making , what evidence and reasons do you turn to in order to make your conclusions? How do you know those reasons are sound ones to go by? What leads you to collect certain reasons over others?
To provide an example, if I’m deciding between two comparable grad schools, when I’ve made my decision to go to school one, what sort of things tell me that I’ve made the right choice, other than living out the outcomes?
Similarly to writing, how do you know when your writing is _________(riveting, earth-shattering, great)? Do we as writers have well toned guts from years of writing, reading, and education? Is our sense enough? Is the fact that it pleases you fulfill the requirements of ________? I wonder to myself if I rely on my own tastes too much, and my unwillingness to show other people most things I’ve written also makes me echo this question.
What if it’s like that moment in 7th when that someone you know in your heart of hearts is an awful profoundly terrible singer, but after the talent show, everyone goes up to her and is like, ohhhh my gaaaawd, you are such a GOOD singer! You need to join choir. And inside you’re burning inside with angst at the insult to truth that is occurring right in front of you. But what makes you more right than her friends?