Response to Brainard, Codrescu, and Wolff

Brainard, Codrescu, and Wolff all evoke strong emotions in their personal essays. Joe Brainard uses syntax in order to create a flow of prose similar to stream of consciousness, however a more structured version. The structure of Brainard’s piece is a continuous stream of short sentences which evoke emotion in its random and quirky nature. For example, the sentences are ordered as links to a chain, which connect the different memories together: “I remember (from lake life) mosquitoes” and “I remember mosquito spray” (110) portray two related ideas, while the following sentences capture summer vacations, swimming, and other related ideas. Stylistically, Brainard’s writing reminds me of the stream of consciousness style of writing in essence, which is when the author writes the first thoughts which come to mind, unusually in an unstructured form, which can also lack punctuation (such examples are “Catcher in the Rye” and “On the Road”). Brainard’s writing, however, is extremely structured, sorting similar ideas in chunks of text, separated by clean spaces, short sentences, and punctuation.

Andrei Codrescu’s “Nostalgia For Everything” draws on the theme of memory through describing his travels throughout different countries, attaching signature imagery to specific places. For example, “San Fransisco” and “Golden Gate Park”, “Rome” and “Santa Maria Magoire Cathedral”, “Spanish” and “bitter, hot espresso”. Codrescu also treats the essay as a timeline, tacking on dates as early as 1958 to 1992. This gives the story a sense of age and progression as Codrescu notes his travels. Codrescu uses the present tense throughout the essay, by stating “I remember” before each memory, concluding the essay with “I’m writing now at the Deja Vu in New Orleans at the end of 1992, and I miss this place already” (199).  This sudden change in tense and the mention of “Deja Vu” further reinforces the feeling of nostalgia and memory.

Tobias Wolff’s “Last Shot” incorporates paying tribute to a deceased friend through “remembering” him in the correct way. Wolff begins the essay by disagreeing with Orwell, who states “It is a great thing to die in your own bed, yet it is better still to die in your boots” (57). Wolff disagrees with the context of Orwell’s statement, which was written before World War II. Wolff pays homage to a friend who died in combat in Vietnam. He believes that rather than remembering a person for all of they things they were not able to achieve due to their untimely death, it is better to remember the deceased by the accomplishments they were able to achieve.

These ideas of memory can be approached in a variety of ways. For example, in this Ted Talks video Daniel Kahneman describes the link between happiness, memory, and experience. Kahneman gives the example of listening to a “glorious” 20 minute symphony, where at the end, a loud screeching sound appeared. Although the experience of the music was pleasurable, the entire symphony was ruined by the screeching sound at the end, because the memory of the screeching overpowered the experience itself.

Posted in week 3 | Leave a comment

Response to Mairs’ “On Being a Cripple”

Nancy Mairs uses vivid imagery in order to paint a stark portrait of the challenges faced with being disabled. Mairs describes her condition as “crippled”, parts of her body incapacitated due to degeneration from multiple sclerosis. A disease that affects the autoimmune system, MS erodes away at the myelin sheath  on the axons of neurons, scarring motor tissue. As a result, loss of mobility, eyesight, and control over bodily functions are some of the challenges faced by MS patients. Mairs delves into deep underlying issues of the disease. Not only does Mairs feels she is a prisoner in her weakening body, her mind is also under extreme duress. She resents the idea of being a burden to those around her, and as a result strives to remain an active individual, despite her condition. Mairs preoccupies herself through studying, teaching, and freelance editing; all while tackling the challenges of motherhood. Mairs details her experiences with MS through using a humorous tone, in order to inject light into such a dark topic: “I lead, on the whole, an ordinary life, probably like the one I would have led had I not had MS. I am lucky my predilections were already solitary, sedentary, and bookish” (48). Here, Mairs pokes fun at her condition by stating her life has not changed much, since she already preferred cerebral activities over physical ones. Mairs uses quirky anecdotes in order to portray that her life is not as grim as people assume.

Nancy Mairs’ story of the trials and tribulations of MS reminds my of my friend’s mother. All throughout Middle School, I had one good friend, who I spent weekends and holidays with. Her mother also had MS, and as a result certain activities such as blow drying her hair proved to be stressful on her hands/joints. As a result of MS, she suffered from a constant throbbing pain throughout her limbs. Despite this, she did not let MS control her life. My friend’s mother was always upbeat, active, and positive. Every year we would go to the annual MS walk on Jones Beach in support. Her zeal for life made me appreciate the small things that we often take for granted.

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Response to Gerard and Norris

Philip Gerard’s “What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes” details the intimate struggles that victims of hurricanes must combat as a result of natural disaster. Gerard’s tone is caustic, tinged with a mocking disdain for the objectivity of how the news media reports on natural disaster. The first half of the essay reads as a news report, incorporating statistics and figures such as “34 degrees 12 minutes north latitude” (223), “eighty-five knot winds and a tidal surge of six feet” (225), and “15 hours” (225). These empirical figures are juxtaposed with Gerard’s later intimate stories of struggles, such as the “times when you have to dodge out into the maelstrom of wind and flying debris and back across the lawns to check outside of your house” (226). Gerard tries to convey his dissatisfaction with the media coverage associated with the actual storm, rather than with the people who are left in shambles as a result of the storm. This is demonstrated by Gerard’s mention of his boat, the Savoire-Fair, which “lay impaled on a piling, sunk by the bows, only her mast and transom rising above the dirty water” (229). Ironically, “savoire-faire” is a French termed coined as the ability to act accordingly regardless of the situation. In this situation, the boat is able to rise above the debris, which symbolizes the resilience that these victims display in the face of sudden disaster.

Similarly, Kathleen Norris’ “Rain” displays the unpredictable patterns of nature. Norris describes rain as being both a blessing and a curse; its presence vital, its absence and abundance harmful. Norris and Gerard both view the rain as an unpredictable force, its aftermath both beautiful and disastrous. Stylistically, both authors employ the use of  syntax in order to mimic the effect of rain. Both authors use an abundance of commas, which can be attributed to literary rain drops: “I did not know about rain, that it could come too hard, too soft, too hot, too cold, too early, too late” (221).

Both essays are reminiscent of Hurricane Sandy, its aftermath still sending ripples throughout the community:

This New York Times article demonstrates the “forgotten” ones, who have lost homes as a result of Sandy. The article captures similar ideas congruent with Norris’ view of news coverage. Television stations had a media blitz covering the devastation of Sandy, but the aftermath of the storm is granted little attention: “in the areas in and around New York City that were hit hardest by the storm, almost half of the people who received assistance from FEMA got less than $5,000.” This information is startling, as those who have lost homes are only compensated at a fraction of the original price of their home, and are given little money towards reparation.

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An overall reflection on my digital story.

I will admit–I absolutely hated how my video came out. My voice, the changing volumes, and that awful music I chose for the background. I felt very out-of-place and didn’t really know how to use iMovie. I wanted to do so much more, add in little clips and slow motion romantic moments from Bollywood movies, but I couldn’t do it. It was too annoying and so my video ended up being a slideshow with my voice in the background.

For the most part, I really do enjoy my script. My only issue with it is the fact that there’s just SO much to explain about arranged marriage, it was getting to be kind of long-winded. I had to do a lot of cutting to get it under 7 minutes. I skipped explaining the wedding ceremonies during my video simply because it wasn’t relevant enough to keep in the story, I didn’t want to lose my classmates’ attention.

Even though a lot of the criticism I received on my project was constructive and helpful, I was a little hurt that some people gave me 3’s without explaining why. I saw a couple of 3’s on the Audio/Video/Sound section but mostly they were in my oral presentation. I really wanted to know what I did wrong but I couldn’t find much. Maybe I didn’t put in a thorough enough explanation of my project? I was very nervous, I don’t remember a single thing I said. It would help so much if I was told what I did wrong. I tried to include a lot of feedback, criticism, and praises in my evaluations, so I kind of expected the same treatment. It was also a little annoying that some people gave all 5’s and had no comments, I felt like they didn’t even pay attention to my piece. It’s understandable though–the class takes place early and they had already seen a bunch of stories before mine. Overall this was an interesting project.

Posted in week 12, week 13 | Leave a comment

Response to Andre Dubus’ “Digging”

Andre Dubus portrays the importance of familial values in his essay, “Digging”. The essay delves into the intricacies of a father-son relationship. The essay beings with the author, a 16 year old boy living in Louisiana, who is described as a typical adolescent: carefree, rebellious, and naive. These characteristics soon change when his father, a civil engineer, forces his son to work the summer in a construction zone, digging in the blistering heat of the South, on equal footing with the other African Americans who did the same manual labor. Before the job, the boy did not know the fundamentals of hard work. The relationship of father and son is depicted as quiet, solemn, and respectful. The author describes his upbringing as soft compared to other boys: “my father sired a sensitive boy, easily hurt or frightened” (73). Throughout the essay the boy is depicted as soft hearted, being pampered by the love of his mother and sister. After the job, however, the boy undergoes grueling conditions as he is forced to handle a pickaxe in the sweltering summer, digging amongst the other African American workers. The true lesson comes when the author thanks his father for buying him a helmet, rather than bringing him home and allowing to quit his first day: “It is time to thank by father for wanting me to work and […] buying me a lunch and a pith helmet instead of taking me home to my mother and sister” (80).

Dubus’ essay is filled with symbolism and theme of a father-son relationship. In the essay, the father wants his son to grow into a man. This growth comes in the form of mental, physical, and emotional endurance. Mentally, the son must overcome the hardships of leaving the comfort of his home, and enduring the physical strains in order to make his father proud. Physically, the son must combat the heat and muscular strain symbolized by the pickaxe, in order to grow in to a man (which comes with physically developing muscles). Emotionally, the son must learn to appreciate hard work, while developing a sense of camaraderie with African American men, who were seen as lowly in society, yet shared were equal with him in the trench.

The theme of father-son relationship can be compared to the bond between my father and brother within my own household. Much like the author’s father, my father is a disciplined man who has raised my brother to be kind and soft. My brother is currently 17, but when he was approaching adolescence my father feared that my brother would become a soft spoken introvert. My father wanted to transform my brother into a “man”, and every weekend he would drag my brother to our family business and force him to work. Our family owns two gas stations, and in forcing my brother to work he had to interact with customers on a daily basis, which built his social confidence. In addition to this, my father forced my brother to go to the gym with him and exercise, and even enrolled him in swimming classes. As a result, my brother underwent the same transformation as the son in the essay, he blossomed into adulthood as a man.

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Response to Miah Arnold’s “You Owe Me”

Miah Arnold’s piece “You Owe Me” demonstrates the profound impact a child with terminal illness has on those around them. In Arnold’s piece, she details her experiences with teaching English/Poetry at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Arnold’s daily encounters with these children who are surrounded by pain, sickness, and death impact her deeply because through their struggles, they are able to persevere and smile. Despite being surrounded by death, Arnold’s classroom serves as a safe haven for the children to interact and express themselves.

Arnold uses a series of anecdotes to convey the enduring relationship she has with certain students. Throughout the essay she mentions a particular student who has touched her heart, Kahlil. Khalil’s enduring spirit and positive spunky outlet demonstrates the resilience she admires in these children. Arnold mentions that Khalil “is too full of life” (32), and that the untimely death of these children shows how precious the gift of life is. Arnold heavily employs the use of pathos in order to connect with her audience. She uses vivid imagery in describing a young boy, Michael, whose bones were like “dried-out honeycombs” (40). She details how he climbed on her lap, as if he needed that physical comfort in order to sustain his life. By injecting pathos into her imagery, Arnold conveys the emotional trials the children must endure daily.

Similar to Arnold, Maria Kefalas describes her experiences as the mother of a terminally in child in her article “Mothering Cal”:

In the article, Kefalas urges parents to cherish each day they have with their children. Kefalas’ daughter suffers from a rare genetic disorder, and was told she would not live past 5. Kefalas views her daughter’s limited time as stolen, and compares it to the mothers and fathers of the Sandy Hook incident, where the untimely passing of their children have left them with a void. I found it poignant that Kefalas advises parents to “Please stop playing with your smart phones and your iPads when you take your children out for ice cream or to the park or for their swimming lesson” (10). It is a cautionary message in today’s digital world, where we might become so enraptured in our technology that we forget to appreciate the simplistic moments in life.

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Personal Statement Example

In business school, personal essays are more often comprised of a series of several essays in which the applicant responds to questions posed by the graduate program. In this particular essay, the author wants to pursue the IT division of business, and uses her experiences of her father’s business as a corner stone for her interests. I like this essay because it combines a demonstration of her skill set with a background of her family’s involvement in business. I also really enjoy the author’s second essay, in which she details her struggles with dermatitis. As she puts it, the pain of having dermatitis was nowhere near comparable to the emotional scars she suffered as a result of it. The author describes her social isolation from her classmates, and the unrelenting support her parents gave her. In the end, she overcame her emotional/physical scars and gained confidence in taking over leadership positions in school. These two essays are especially impactful because it combines the author’s personal struggles with her resilience to rise above and achieve her goals.

Posted in week 10 | Leave a comment