Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Im Gonna be a Rockstar

This essay is what catapulted me into an A in my last writing class. It is a reflective piece on my writing and how the class helped me improve. Enjoy!
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One of my earliest childhood memories is of my grandmother's typewriter. I remember it being big, black and heavy. I remember the smell of the ink and the sound of the keys hitting the paper as I spent many hours watching my grandmother type letters to friends and family. At the time I didn’t understand what she was doing, but the rhythm of the keystrokes and the “ding” at the end of every line made me feel at peace. Sometimes, my grandmother would sit me on her lap and let me poke at the keys. I wasn’t sure what the black marks that appeared on the paper were, but I had a lot of fun making the typewriter make noise. When I first learned how to read, I remember thinking “I want to make stories too!” As a youngster, I had quite a few problems with handwriting which discouraged me. I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that big, black, noisy box with keys could make words that other people could read. At first I practiced copying books. After a while, I became comfortable with putting my own thoughts down on paper. My first writings were simple ramblings about my pets or my latest video game adventure. Eventually I started to come up with stories detailing the adventures of a dog/cat hybrid trying to live in two societies that didn’t accept him. I think my parents still have those stories in a box somewhere. While other kids in preschool were doodling stick figures, I was doodling with words.
When I first entered elementary school, I didn’t think I was abnormal. I spent every free moment, and even some moments in class, either reading or writing. I remember my kindergarten teacher often becoming upset with me because I had my nose stuck in a book while I was supposed to be paying attention. I soon began to realize that when it came to reading, I was ahead of my peers. This made me the target of bullying from my classmates and the target of scorn from my teachers. I often was assigned extra class work during reading periods so I wouldn’t have time to read the books that I brought from home. In middle school I tried to make my obsession with reading and writing a more private affair. I would often sit in my room from the time school was out until sunrise either reading the latest library find or writing down an idea. I stopped taking books from home to school entirely after a teacher had confiscated one of my books because I wasn’t paying attention to a chapter review. The fact that I got an A on the related test still didn’t convince the teacher to return my book. Despite social pressure to the contrary, I still ended up spending almost every recess period in the school library because I didn’t feel safe reading on the playground. I always did well in any course that involved reading and writing but admittedly I never really put in all that much effort. My teachers were always impressed with my work but it was nothing special to me. I had learned early on in school how to regurgitate information but at the same time I found it incredibly boring. Chasing my own ideas and reading books that weren't in the juvenile or young adult section of the library was far more interesting.
High school was, for the most part, more of the same story. I wrote mostly for myself, with little bits of academic work here and there. I became much more serious about my writing when I met my writing mentor, Mrs Block. She taught a middle-school English class that a friend of mine had been in and she also ran the local Star Trek fan club. Mrs. Block took a genuine interest in my writing after I showed her a back-story I had come up with for one of my role-playing characters. She encouraged me to develop my skills as a writer and to think critically about what I wrote, especially about the things I was reading and writing for school. She often assured me that I am a good writer and that I shouldn’t think of anything I write as “just a doodle.” She also was the first person to help me understand that writing, reading and thought are all connected. All the previous instruction in writing I had up to that point had convinced me that thought, reading, and writing were separate things. Reading is done to gain knowledge, writing is used to regurgitate that knowledge, and thought is better left to the “experts,” whoever they may be. Mrs. Block taught me and the students in her classes that thinking genuinely matters and that you don’t know exactly what you are thinking until you write it down. It was Mrs. Block’s encouragement that inspired me to tackle the more advanced English classes in high school. I was also inspired to become first the Junior ROTC assistant communications officer and then to take over as the head of communications. I wrote, edited and published several newsletters for my ROTC class and had a few press releases published in the local newspaper.
During my senior year of high school, I thought I was at the top of my writing game. Class assignments were still very easy but I tackled them with a much more critical eye. I began to truly enjoy reading assignments because even though I didn’t really discuss them with my classmates, I still could discuss them with Mrs. Block. I also felt that my creative writing endeavors had a purpose, even if I was the only person who would ever read them. I graduated in the top 10% of my class and floated off to college thinking I would be on top of the world there, too. I soon found out that college was an entirely different ball of wax. I found myself in lecture classes with over 100 other students. My professors didn’t have the time to be interested in critical thought, opinions, or observations made by students. Their job was to make sure we “mastered” the material enough to move on to the next course. I again found myself discouraged and uninspired. I managed to pass my classes but I stopped thinking of my writing as an extension of my thoughts. Writing became a means to getting the education that I thought I needed in order to make money and land my “dream job.” After three years of college-level classes, I gave up. With very few exceptions, I didn’t feel that any of my course work was appreciated. My professors were interested in what I had learned at the end of the class as opposed to having any interest in the learning process. I also didn’t feel any personal connection with my studies. I ended up working minimum-wage jobs off and on to get by. Sometimes, I worked over 40 hours a week, yet I was not able to fully support myself. My job security was dependent on the economic success of those in upper management. I slowly realised over the course of the next nine years that I was not on the path to personal success. I also realised that most of my despair stemmed from the fact that I had stopped reading and writing almost entirely. I read work-related materials, jotted a few things down in a journal, and posted quite a bit on chat forums, but I still felt that I was wasting my potential.
One day, I decided that I was going to leave my jello-brain life behind. While trying to “find myself,” I had moved away from my childhood home in Nevada, thinking that minimum-wage drudgery would somehow be different in Oregon. I soon found out that the only difference was that Oregon drudgery was a lot more damp. I decided to jump back into the academic world with both feet, hoping that my community college experience would be better than my university experience. I took Writing 121 my first term back because I knew that my writing skills were rusty and that there was always room for improvement. 121 challenged me because I was out of practice but after the first few assignments, I realized that my basic set of skills were still intact. I did well on the smaller assignments and I received an A on my first argumentative essay. I was surprised at the A, honestly. I had struggled with the first paper and when I turned in my final draft I was convinced that I had gotten maybe a C. My professor gave me hard criticism and forced me to keep thinking about my ideas. He also prodded me into becoming specific and concrete. Even though he picked apart our writing, I still felt that he genuinely enjoyed teaching the students in the class how to be better readers and writers, and was enthusiastic when any of us made a breakthrough in understanding. Writing 121 is the only writing class required for a two-year multimedia design student, but I felt that having an even stronger skills in thinking, reading, and writing would benefit my further academic work as well as my professional career.
I signed up for Writing 122 hoping to advance my writing skills and have a bit of an edge over my peers who decided to stop at 121. As I sit, contemplating what I got out of the course, I can’t help but think that I gained way more than just a new set of professional skills. The work is daunting and was a challenge throughout the entire term. As with my 121 course, 122 challenged me to think in different ways and further pushed me away from regurgitation mode. I also gained more confidence in my work because I built on the skills that I learned in my previous course. Previous college writing courses were tedious and aggravating because I would have to learn a new regurgitation style for every class. The reading assignments in this course were also interesting. In my beginning college years, my 122 level class spent the majority of the term reading from a book very similar to Keys for Writers. The information was useful insofar that it taught the technical aspects of writing, but it taught very little else. I was very glad to find out that this incarnation of 122 is very different. Even though my 121 course was extremely helpful in my development as a writer, I feel that 122 has been even more helpful. The discussions both in class and on Moodle helped me understand my own thoughts better. Having a conference with the professor was also very helpful. I felt that he was genuinely interested in what I had to say and was interested in helping me say it. His enthusiasm for the subject was evident even on the syllabus. On the first page, he encourages the class to ask questions and to keep asking questions. Alternating fonts and font sizes is also a really nice touch. Large, bold font is a pretty good indicator that the author finds something to be incredibly important. During the lecture, I found the enthusiasm of the instructor and my fellow students to be infectious. When I missed classes due to illness, the constant buzz on the Moodle forums helped me stay focused. I learned even more about grammar, although I don’t think I will ever have a total grasp on all of the rules.
Writing 121 got me back into the writing frame of mind but 122 helped me understand why I was so fascinated with the written word as a young child. I find reading, writing and thinking to be incredibly fun. For the longest time, the only other person I could have an intellectual discussion with was my husband. I was reminded this term that it is entirely possible to have an intellectual discussion with myself through writing. Remembering that fact alone makes me glad that I enrolled in 122. The work kicked me squarely in the rear end and my powers of last-minute-BS-ery were pretty much useless. I had to actually think about what I was writing and invest myself in it again, not just puke on a page. At times I thought “Why do I care? I’m going to be a big-shot producer anyway.” There are several reasons. Even though it was difficult, I did actually find the work enjoyable. Also, I have become better at editing my own work. I feel more confident as a writer and as a reader. I know that my confidence will shine in my future work in both the academic and professional arenas. My goal this term was to become a better writer. Not only did I become a better writer, I also became a better reader and thinker as well. Overall, the time and effort I put into Writing 122 yielded results that exceeded my expectations. I now am hungrier for knowledge and hungrier for honest and thoughtful discourse with myself and others. The brain is like a muscle: if it doesn’t get used it tends to atrophy. Even though I experienced brain cramping more than once, I believe pain was more than worth it.

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