Revisiting Challenge Journals, Part 2/2

*See my previous post on revisiting challenge journals, published here, where I reconsidered the textual basis of my first entry*


Challenge 2: How do you handle missed opportunities?

In my second challenge journal entry (read here), I considered the question, “what happens when you are writing about one thing, specifically something assigned by a professor, but then suddenly want to write about another thing?” (of course, the second being related to the original topic, rather than completely out of left field). I wrote about an assignment for my Travel Writing class while enrolled at DIS Copenhagen, where I was instructed to write about setting. Really, just setting.

In fact, here is the prompt, in all of its minimalist glory.

“Paper 2, 3-6 pages from one of your travels this semester. Focal points, Scenes/descriptions.” 

As you can see, the prompt really was right to point. And it’s hard to stray away from a prompt when the prompt itself is less than 15 words. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, I did eventually find myself wanting to leave the prompt behind and explore a more interesting topic: that of my own loneliness. As I mentioned in my original journal entry, “I couldn’t stop my thoughts from circling another part of my experience–the fact that I was completely alone.”

Below is an excerpt from my essay on “scenes/descriptions” in which I describe my experience while on a run through Holyrood park in Edinburgh, Scotland, moments before a lingering rainstorm. I write about the landscape, the fleeting hikers, and my eventual loneliness.

As I continue walking, my eyes wander from the path before me, to the increasingly grey sky, to the valley below. As I walk, I take note of fleeting hikers in the distance, appearing as colorful dots against the lush, green scenery. I see a tall, lean woman to my right, dressed in a bright, raspberry-red windbreaker, her short mob of greying hair shining bright against the haze dipping low into the valley. She wanders off the path and towards a small stream cutting through the tall, rolling grasses, out of which emerge her two dogs—one golden and one midnight black.

Somewhat stunned by the swiftness of the woman’s quick ascent, my eyes dart back to the stream where the other woman walked with her two dogs, only to find that she, too, has disappeared. Something pulses in my mind, and my thoughts quickly fade from observations of others and draw to those of my own reality. I am alone, once again, in a valley of haze and small, ghost-like figures, walking a path toward the end of a hilltop I only hope will reveal a sense of relief and clarity, and point toward a pathway home.

I would then go on to describe the ascent up the hill only to observe a clear path home, much to my relief. But it was at this point in my essay, specifically the recognition of my own loneliness, that I wanted to leave the prompt behind and explore my own sense of self in this scene. I detailed my thoughts specifically in my initial entry, noting,

I began to think about my reaction to the scenery, and the eventual rainstorm, in the context of my own solitude. Was I scared that I was all alone in the middle of the dramatic highland landscape? Did I stop to really appreciate the scenery, given that a massive rainstorm was about to hit? What would the experience have been like had I been with another person? Was I so scared that my fear somehow evaporated and left me a wandering, soaking wet tourist in the middle of sweeping hills?

The crossroads noted above, that is, the point at which you can continue the prompt or swerve to pursue more meaningful content, is a hard one to confront. It illustrates the lingering internal conflict that questions what value there is in doing something that is less than meaningful, especially when something more meaningful lays within reach. As I concluded in my journal entry, I am glad that this capstone project has allowed time for such crossroads to be considered, and, in my case, acted upon. I have found that my topic has ebbed and flowed as the semester has progressed, resulting in content that carries maximum meaning and expression of my own interests, thoughts, and skills.

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