I went with a Mad Libs style title for this post, because I’m not entirely sure what exactly to call the piece of writing I’m attempting to create. I felt restricted when writing my origin piece as a rhetorical analysis and even more so when experimenting with Blackout. Now, I want the freedom to reflect on my political engagement by exploring my personal journey through different experiences relating to protests and politics. I know that I want to write a first person, non-fiction essay in which I describe and analyze my experiences, thoughts, and feelings. But when it came time to name the genre of said essay I couldn’t pick just one of my proposed adjectives (remember when I said I’m indecisive?). While most of them could describe the genre I’m interested in, I have issues with each of them.
Reflective – Okay, if I absolutely had to pick just one adjective, I would describe what I’m doing as a reflective essay. The main point of a reflective essay is to analyze a past event from the present and reflect on how you have changed as a result. Essentially, this is what I’m doing, but I intend to reflect on a series of past events rather than just one. Furthermore, the reflective essay (like many other things) has been ruined by school assignments trying to make students “think more deeply about what they’re learning.”
Personal – A close second to “reflective,” personal essays have elements of narration and reflection that are appealing. Again though, I feel that the label of “Personal Essay” has been too marred by the CommonApp to truly encapsulate what I’m going for here.
Exploratory – I love the idea of writing an essay about something that I still haven’t quite figured out myself. I want to reflect in a way that insights come throughout the piece rather than in a clearly defined thesis. Where I got caught up on the label of “exploratory essay” is that the explanations of this genre that I found in my research were all lacking the personal aspect that I found so appealing in the first two adjectives.
Belletristic – In all honesty I’d never heard this word before my research, but it’s really cool so now it’s here. I’m too unsure of the actual implications of this adjective to use it as a label for my genre, but after googling it’s meaning I knew I had to include it. I found the Merriam-Webster definition, “literature that is an end in itself and not merely informative; specifically light, entertaining, and often sophisticated literature” to be the most intriguing and fitting.
As I move forward in trying to write an essay that is personal, reflective, exploratory, and belletristic, my clearest guide is to look at examples of those who have already accomplished such a work. Primarily I am drawn to Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams” and Scott Russel Sanders’ “Under the Influence” as models for my essay. Where I believe these essays transcend the standard academic sense of the word “essay” is in their vivid narration, references to outside sources, interwoven reflection, relatable insights, and artistic personal writing styles. These are all elements that I hope to be able to include in my own essay.