Reflective Essay

One Last Mark to End the Year:

Senior English has encouraged me to push myself as a writer and reader, observer and participator. I have set high but reasonable goals for myself, and I am proud in my efforts to reach them, both in the process and the products. As a writer, I have worked with many genres, both creative and academic, and have expressed myself with precision and honesty. As a reader, I have challenged myself with deep and meaningful literature and have mined texts for both authorial intentions and personally relevant ideas. As an observant participant in my community, I have stepped outside of my comfort zone to learn what Lincoln has to offer and learn what I can offer in return.

In writing, I explored many creative genres, such as poetry, memoir, personal essay, short story and flash fiction. Upon entering Senior English, I was comfortable with poetry and memoirs, but I had very little experience with fiction. I vaguely remember attempting a horror plot once in middle school, but ever since, joking tangents have been the extent of my storytelling. I certainly had never heard of flash fiction before. I firmly made it my goal to master these new genres.

I completed two short stories and the imaginative process satisfied me. This year’s most satisfying product in fiction, however, was my flash fiction piece, Lost at Sea. I chose to “probe” the mystery genre with a poetic style, which was already familiar to me. The resulting form of prose-poetry was condensed to four paragraphs and densely populated with biblical allegory and emotionally tranquilizing imagery. The piece contains merely 250 words, but in that small window I have painted Christian philosophy on the human condition, with a great many subtleties. This focused brevity satisfies both Goal No. 2 – “Become more efficient” and “precise” – as well as the genre’s length limitation.

In addition to flash fiction, I also discovered the personal essay, which bears many similarities to the familiar memoir. The personal essay provided me with unique tools to objectively self-reflect, and it adequately fit my needs for many college applications this year. I was working on my UChicago application when I began writing Story of a Path, determined to construct a comprehensive and accurate self-portrait for the university’s Admissions Office.

From the very first draft, I tried to cram as many unique personal details as would fit within the 500-word limit. Then, planning to further saturate my writing, I expanded my thoughts to a much larger 1800-word essay. On my last revision, I refined this massive essay back down to its essential phrases and ideas. Through a painstakingly tedious and time-consuming writing process, I constructed a deeply refined and intricately multilayered model of my past, and it fit within the manageable bounds of a story. Certainly, this may help my reader begin to understand my personality. Not surprisingly, the process also heightened my own honest self-awareness, which was one primary writing goal this year.

With regard to these creative pieces, I have measured my success in writing primarily by the economy of my word choice. I would argue that, by this rule, my most poetic writing is also naturally my highest-level writing. Take, for example, this poetry collection. Wording is highly purposeful to make potent contrasts, though my subject precision was intentionally blurred – broadened, I should say – to allow for reader interpretation and application. This very reader contribution was fittingly one major theme in the collection.

In four couplets, This Face Has Breath artistically proposes complexities in the relationship between the individual and the community. The River then builds on these ideas and shows the individual importance of community involvement and participation. It shows the unavoidable death of the isolated individual, but contrasts the ever-living movement of a community that blends individual contributions. This creative piece never explicitly states my thesis, but depends on the individual contribution of the reader’s own viewpoint.

In more academic pieces, I could not build my economy of words on multiple, simultaneously applicable definitions. Instead, I worked to streamline my theses with focused and unambiguous arguments. This is especially the case with my Social Action research paper. My thesis addresses the large, menacing issue of juvenile delinquency, then breaks the problem back into its manageable roots – specifically education and the need for classroom reinforcement. I present multiple solutions such as extrinsic motivation, modeling processes, and relationship building, comparing, contrasting, and even blending solutions for consideration.

This same detailed academic approach was necessary in my reading analysis – though to a less rigorous extent. In my critical analysis of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I explained themes of hope, survival, and human relationships with text support and evidence from the book. I worked especially to integrate quotes and transition paragraphs with a smooth, logical progression of ideas, cyclically building upon themes with cross-validation.

In my analysis, I also had to consider the structure of McCarthy’s novel; his themes were not made blatant in the surface storyline, but in the details. The Road was aesthetically unique in its extreme minimalism and bleak descriptions, lacking chapters, accents, apostrophes, quotations, and even names. In an earlier review, I noted how the stripped down narrative lends to a “stark, raw, vulnerable tone, which compliments the human character’s blunt resilience.” I also noted recurring symbols such as fire and ash, which I took for contrasts between hope and utter despair.

I have enjoyed reading philosophically challenging books like The Road. They heighten my awareness to the vast array of authorial intentions that exist beneath a seemingly simple plot. In pacing exercises, I learned that I could read faster than a minute and a half per page, but speed would cause me to miss much of the underlying themes. I retain and appreciate a good deal more when I slow down. I began using a small notecard bookmark to briefly outline important quotations. This way, I have been able to return and contemplate them in the context of later readings.

Taking the time to notice, ponder, remember, and return to ideas is rewarding in literature, and it has proven equally rewarding in my community involvements. The writing process has encouraged each of these steps, from note taking to the recall of drafting to the polishing analysis of a final piece. In my time exploring Vietnamese culture at Phò Factory and the local Tet celebration, much of the lasting impact came not only from absorbing new experiences and describing them, but also in actively engaging with them. This was especially true at Jacob’s Well, where I assisted and interacted with locals in a bread line.

My experience was highly personal, and I found that a memoir best described the relations I had with two very unique individuals. Though I refrain from using large generalizations in the piece itself, my memoir reflects one general finding: that which I can offer my community is, once developed, the most valuable thing my community can offer me. It reaches me through shared experiences and the relationships built, and I would not be far-off to call it the human experience.

Sharing perspectives, bridging isolated minds and people, collaborating towards common goals, these are some of the universal objectives humans have in communicating and interacting with one another. These are the lofty goals of English class. In writing I have shared my perspectives and have worked to understand the world through the eyes of another. In reading, I have truly worn that foreign lens of thought, making one-way contact with an author writing across miles and decades. And in the here and now of my community, I have enjoyed two-way interactions with living and breathing people, leaving lasting marks.