Art of Comp (Mr. Coon, w/ many thanks to Ms. Decker for ideas and wording)
Essay 1: Identity
Your first full essay of the semester will be your essay on Identity. Essentially, you are writing about yourself. However, you need to write about yourself in such a way that I (the reader) learn something about myself.
Consider: What is it about you that teaches me something about me?
So far, we have plumbed identity by exploring the following:
· your name and its history and/or significance; your feelings about your name; others’ reactions to your name
· the food you eat—your idiosyncrasies and obsessions, your rituals and indulgences, your history and your habits, your likes and dislikes
· An activity you did for the first time and how its success or failure affected you.
· A description of a place that has some meaning or significance to you
· An early childhood memory and why it stays in your mind
My hope is that by now, you’re seeing some recurring words, themes, ideas, or questions “swimming under your boat.” We’re trying to circle in on those. The next task is to identify one central idea—an assertion or a question that is crucial to your identity and then write about it.
Of course, this central idea might be big, looming, fuzzy, or abstract. It might be difficult or painful to approach, much less write about, like:
• love, or the want of it
• belonging or not belonging to a group or a place
Of course, these “central ideas” don’t all have to be sob stories. Yours might be:
• pride—in yourself, or where you come from
• optimism—about where you’re headed
The point is, these are abstractions. It’s hard to sit down and just write about love or optimism or pride or belonging. Also, if you go too abstract and just write about the nature of love or optimism or pride or belonging—or whatever—the result is frequently so broad as to be boring to the reader.
That’s where you come in. What have you lived that tells us something new or unusual or unexpected about these universal experiences that we all share? We’ve all loved, for example, but what in your personal story tells us something new about love we may never have considered before?
If you’ve ever had a teacher tell you that you need a better conclusion, that your writing needs to pass the “so what?” test, this might be what he or she was talking about. We can’t have writing about lofty abstractions without something to ground it, to make it tactile and personal and real. And we don’t want writing about yourself that’s all about you—that’s called “navel gazing.” It’s inaccessible and boring at best and self-indulgent and offensive at worst.
So how do we figure out what you’ve really been writing about—writing at, writing around, writing toward—when you thought you were simply writing about your name and your food and your hobbies?
Step 1: Arrange your four pieces of writing in front of you. Have a highlighter or pen in hand. You’re going to go on a hunt for words or phrases that are common to all (or most) of your pieces. Hint: you’re not looking for “the,” “and,” or “I.” But you might be looking for:
• proper nouns that pop up with frequency—for example, names of certain people or places. Make a list on a separate sheet of paper.
• particularly powerful or evocative adjectives. For this one, I might suggest that you simply highlight any adjective that seems loaded and non-neutral and make a list. Then try grouping them into categories to find the running threads.
Step 2: Now look at your list or lists. Does anything emerge? If we wanted to get all psychoanalytic, for example, we might find meaning in a list like this:
Mom (6 occurrences)
OK, that’s a bad example of a good thing. But we can use it, at least for an example. Maybe this poor person really needs to write about her relationship with her mom. If she stops there, it’s therapy and it belongs in her diary. But if she says to herself, “what does my relationship with my mom tell me about mothering, about the place of maternal love in the world?” then she’s on to something.
Freewrite for 10-15 minutes about what you see in your lists and which central ideas seem to have potential. Try not to eliminate or even evaluate any ideas at this point, just point out what seems to be present in the Daily Writings you did and where you could go with it if you wanted to.
We’re going to start this today (in the lab) and it constitutes your homework. For next class, I want you to have steps 1 and 2 done and present in hard copy. This means you’ll also have printouts (highlighted, etc.) of your four Daily Writings, whether you started them in your journal or in electronic format.
Here are the specific, nuts-and-bolts details about this first essay.
Art of Comp Essay #1: Identity
• Double-spaced, single-sided, typed on 8.5x11 white paper
• Stapled in upper left corner
• Header (name, date, class, instructor name) in upper left corner
• Page numbers in upper right as follows: Last name, 1
• Title centered on line below header
• Traditional paragraph style (first line indented; start first paragraph on line below title)
• Traditional serif font (Times New Roman, Courier, Cambria) in black ink
• No specific length requirements but generally between 1,500 and 3,000 words is “fighting weight” for a personal essay like this.
• No magical “five paragraph essay” rule. Paragraphs are free: Use as many as you need and no more.
• First person is fine (and, probably, necessary). Yes, you can use “I.”
• Contractions, slang, etc.—all fine. Consider only audience, effect and effectiveness.
• This is not academic writing; you will not be using MLA style to cite from textbooks or academic journals. However, you must connect your experience to the experiences of others and/or culture at large, frequently depicted in media (which includes books, movies, television, etc.). So you will quote and/or paraphrase the work of others. Please use MLA endnote style to do this.
• Mandatory rough draft: January 22 & 23, whichever day you have class. Bring a clean, complete rough draft.
• Final due date: January 26 & 27, whichever day your section meets.
Your essay grade will go down one “notch” (A to A-minus, etc.) for each day that your paper is late after the due date.
• Spend some more time trolling through the “Modern Love” or “Lives” sections of nyt.com (The New York Times website). Like the ones we looked at in class, these pieces are similar in content, purpose, and tone to what I'm asking you to do with this assignment.