Monday, May 17, 2010


Back in high school, my senior year, there was a standard project in AP English (Honors English may have done this too). It was huge. A 20 page paper, minimum number of words that I forget now, handwritten to specfic instructions (computers weren't as much in use at that point - I didn't type my first paper until college. Hell, I didn't have an email address until my second semester of college!) - it was a big deal, accounting for nearly our full grade of one entire grading period.

I remember it very well. Looking back, it was a fairly standard sort of thing. Pick a book from a list (mostly Brit lit), read it, research it, write on it. Minimum of three outside sources. Some kind of argument. I chose Pride and Prejudice, mainly because I'd already read it a million times, which I figured would save me some time. I remember researching it, spending time in the library. I remember writing it for days, and rewriting it hastily so that there were no errors on any page in my French class while my kind teacher pretended not to notice. English was directly after, it was due that day, and I kept screwing up spelling or leaving out conjunctions, meaning I probably rewrote sections eight or nine times.

I remember turning it quite nervously; because you see, I had no fucking clue what I was doing. No idea what I was writing about. I totally made it up. I read those outside sources and I used quotes and I wrote 20+ pages on P&P without a single fucking idea of what it was supposed to be about. I knew the story backwards and forwards. I'd seen the play, owned the BBC movie version, and I guess that was evident, because I had no thesis that I found comprehensible. I just wrote and wrote and prayed it would get a passing grade.

I got a 98. One point deducted for a bibliography citation error and one point deducted for having more than two spelling errors in the paper. I got a comment that it was lovely, flowed beautifully and supported the arguments well. To this day, I have no idea how that happened.

Much of my college career was like that too. I floated through, rarely understanding the assignments without help, but somehow pulling enough out of my ass that people often assumed I could write and that I understood the material. Perhaps that was why I was drawn to History - there were facts I could grasp there and interpretations were for fun. RML was perhaps the one professor who saw through the facade and pulled me out of it. I was and am quite intelligent, and he insisted I live up to it, and use my brain. He was often considered a bit mad; his assignments often took the form of "In what manner and to what extent was Thomas Jefferson influenced by John Locke in the writing of the Declaration of Independence?" or "Who is 'the Prince' of Machiavelli's The Prince?" Ridiculously difficult questions pondered by scholars for centuries - and we were expected to distill that into a maximum paper of 3 pages (but as many endnotes as you like) and cogent arguments supported by the text.

I'll tell you this much - if there was any time in my life I learned to be brief, that was it. As you see, the lessons rarely carried through. Crystallization of thought processes, careful language choices, and really worthwhile textual analysis - that is what you needed. RML often said, and it was true enough for me, that the essence of the paper was the introduction. If the introduction laid out your argument, the rest was merely window-dressing. I learned how to break down the questions to see what he was really asking, and the day I got an A on a paper remains one of the proudest in my life. It was one of the few times I felt as if I knew how to write and what I was doing. Ross often told me in my early papers that I overthought things and made them far more complicated than they were; he was right, as he most often was.

I often sit down here to write, and that still plagues me. I don't know what to say. I have not determined who my audience is, and who I am writing for many times. Am I just sharing bits of my life? Am I skimming off the excess thoughts to relieve myself of their burden? Am I trying to enlighten or entertain? Am I seeking to clarify my thoughts for myself or help others understand what it is like to live in this unique situation? I think the answer is Yes, to all.

I think that I do best, that I give most, and get most when I stop overthinking it here. When I just let it go and write. I may not know what I'm doing, but something else comes through. Perhaps an instinctual understanding of a goal my conscious mind is still trying to work out, perhaps it's merely the truth of me unadorned and therefore more easy to relate to (even for me). I don't know.

I don't know why I am writing this even as I type. I think perhaps I am realizing how little control I exert over my own life, and how often the attempts to exert control leave me feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. Perhaps I simply need to let go and let life flow, as the words are flowing right now, as love flows. Without conscious thought, without dissection, without overthinking.

I have so little idea what I'm doing in this life, and I find myself constantly seeking answers, trying to understand. Maybe there isn't anything to understand, maybe it's all just doing it, living it, and seeing how it comes out in the end. I don't know.

1 comment:

velocibadgergirl said...

You really are a wonderful writer, even if you don't know how you do it. And I remember that how-the-hell feeling well..I still wonder where all those A-level college papers I wrote came from when I re-read them occasionally!