The Universality and Intimacy of Writing and English Studies

My love affair with English language and the written word germinated humbly in elementary school before blossoming into a full-blown obsession in high school, wilting somewhat during my early twenties, and returning to full bloom in my final year of college. Immediate plans for post-graduate studies remain murky for now, but they will assuredly contain graduate-level studies in creative writing at some to-be-determined university. When asked why I would choose English as my choice of study, I can only look to what others have said before me for guidance.

Perhaps Thoreau stated it best when he declared, “a written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself.” Indeed, the catholic nature and intimacy of writing and literature studies are what drove me toward the discipline.

To understand why I chose English as my major, it helps to trace my experience with the written language from its origins. I learned to read in between naptimes and popsicle-stick projects in my first year of elementary school. Each week, we would learn about a new letter of the alphabet, and the teacher would underscore the lesson with one of the aforementioned popsicle-stick projects or some type of construction-paper creation, which had to show items beginning with the letter of the week. This proved to be an effective teaching method because I had no problems learning to read and excelled among my peers.

I thus spent much of my elementary school years wrapped up in Hardy Boys mysteries, the surrealist settings of Roald Dahl, and Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, a wonderful comic strip in which a precocious and imaginative six-year-old chews on ideas as big and varied as environmentalism, politics, and religion. While I enjoyed the Hardy Boys mysteries at the time, Calvin & Hobbes deeply impressed me in many ways that Frank and Joe never could. The strips taught me to challenge authority, to play by own rules, and above all else, to dream.

In second grade, the curriculum required that all students keep a journal or log in which they were to record our responses to teacher-given prompts. Although most of my responses were accurate and directly addressed the teacher’s prompt, I occasionally wrote replies more fanciful than truthful. One such story involved the family sightseeing the country: we started our journey in Georgia; headed northward to Rhode Island; then shot west to Wyoming before stopping off in California. Fortunately, we got home in time for school on Monday, having crisscrossed the continent in a matter of three days. In writing such fiction, I could turn myself into a hero, a superstar, or anyone other than a second-grader stuck inside in May. Thus, my love for writing was born.

During the summers between school years, my parents often shipped me down the river to Fairhope, Alabama, a suburb of Mobile, to spend time with my grandparents. When the highlights of one’s day become trips to Wal-Mart, saying the rosary, and attending daily Mass, passing the hours of the day as a youngster can be quite difficult. Fortunately, my grandparents also enjoyed a rousing game of Scrabble, which, along with the mastery of new and unusual (and many times unusable) words, imbues many of my memories of those summertime sojourns. I do not play as often as I have in the past, but I still love Scrabble and owe at least some portion of the breadth of my vocabulary to the game.

When I entered high school, I was unsure of what I would want to study after I left it. By the end of my eleventh grade year, however, I was certain that I would pursue a degree in English once I reached college. My ninth-grade English instructor was tough on her students, but I benefited from her strictness. I attained a perfect score on my first semester exam, which dealt exclusively with the rules of grammar. The teacher had not accounted for such an occurrence, so she had to pull me aside during class one day to inform me that although the grade sheet would show 99, in reality I had scored a 100. Having such a keen eye for the technical aspects of writing makes editing and proofreading my work easier, and is inarguably my greatest strength in English studies.

During my junior year of high school, I wrote an essay concerning the death of an aunt which my teacher stated was the “best piece of writing [he] had ever read from a student” at my high school. Hearing my abilities so extolled heightened my interest in writing, and so I started writing poems, short stories, and autobiographical prose all the time, neglecting other frivolities like homework, girlfriends, and extracurricular activities. During this time, I wrote roughly thirty-five poems, twenty prose pieces, and ten short stories. While I am proud to have put forth so much effort, I am not necessarily proud of the output of that effort. The prose of my teenage years is slapdash and rambling; the poetry is fragmentary, needlessly grandiose, and too romantic; and my short stories were feeble attempts at humor the comedy of which has not withstood the test of time.

Having declared English studies as my major from the start, I struggled to stay focused on my studies when I first entered college, a condition that I largely attribute to my need to work full-time in order to keep a roof over my head and food on my plate. As a result, my efforts at writing creatively waned, and I eventually settled into a rut of drafting support email messages to customers and little else. After a few years of trying my hand at concurrently attending college and working full-time, I decided to take a break from school, and I stopped writing and reading literature completely. Once a couple years had gone by, I returned to school this past summer with an invigorated sense of purpose. I started reading for pleasure again, and after a great while, I have started writing creatively again, focusing mainly on poetry at first before delving back into prose.

I have finally realized that in order to become a better writer, I must read. Previously, I read only when necessary from the required texts, conjuring the images and allusions in my own writing solely from my experiences and those required texts. I know now that like any other artist, I must look to all those individuals who have come before me in order to gain a better understanding of what makes technically sound writing creatively brilliant. I must read the greats along with what the critics of their time said about them. I must absorb everything I can before I will be able to wring something beautiful out of my own head. I must grasp the universality of the human condition before I can write intimately about it. To be sure, this is a difficult, daunting, and unending task, but it will be well worth the effort. Not only will I gain greater insight, I will leave my own mark on the literary world and thus become a part of the process for future writers.

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