Dear Encompass Editors,
I would like to submit the attached essay for potential publication in an upcoming issue of Encompass. The essay, entitled “Blackout”, addresses an ethically-important social issue that has recently been rearing its ugly head around campus. As a student of neuroscience and pharmacology, I have attempted to explore the issues of excessive drinking with a more scientific and objective perspective that I feel makes the piece accessible to almost everybody. I would love to see this published in Encompass if you think it would be a good fit. Let me know if you would like to work with me to edit it (for length or otherwise). I look forward to hearing from you.
PS: I’ve attached both a formatted PDF version and a plain text copy of the piece.
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
Rachel Revelle, “Filling a Bookshelf”
At the beginning of this school year, I made a pledge to attempt to be a paper-free human being. My goal was to live digitally. Books and paper handouts, in my opinion, were archaic remnants of an inferior, and less environmentally friendly way of schooling. How could a book be considered valuable in the face of a Kindle—a portal to a world of infinite information?
Rachel showed me how through her piece, “Filling a Bookshelf”. I thought it would take a lot to change my opinions about books, and it did. Rachel’s piece was incredibly powerful, well designed, and seamless. Physical books, unlike their digital peers, tell a vivid and important story of our lives, and bookshelves are more than simple storage devices; they are a confirmation of one’s past and a powerful assertion of one’s values.
“It is important to fill this shelf honestly, though, knowing that in this little way I am being brave enough to stand up for my beliefs. The books encased there in fact hold the knowledge with which I can defend those beliefs. My bookshelf will always stand and hold whatever part of me I am willing to share.”
Throughout the piece, as evidenced by the above passage, Rachel’s writing just seems to flow, delicately describing her personal experience with her bookshelves, while always relating to broader, more universal truths. If you think you have your mind made up on books and bookshelves, you simply must read this piece.
Eriks Reks, “Bookworm’s Manifesto”
Coincidentally—or not—my other favorite piece tackles the same issue as “Filling a Bookshelf”. The pieces are similar in their theme and in their excellence, however other than that, they couldn’t be more different. “Bookworm’s Manifesto” has a unique and refreshing conversational style exemplified by the passage below:
Ultimately though, I don’t want to diss technology. I think its great. The iPad—awesome. Xbox—bad to the bone. Blackberries—killer. They do so much for the world and the society. But call me old-fashioned—
You: You are old-fashioned.
—I’d rather read a book any day of the week.
This piece is more than an essay. It’s a funny, witty and persuasive conversation, and an unabashed declaration of the value of books even in the face of advanced technology. The combination of a fresh style, insightful commentary and a valuable message culminated in a piece that didn’t have to demand my full attention in order to receive it; not once did I feel compelled to check my email as I read it on my iPad. Now that’s a good piece.
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
I am planning to submit “BLACKOUT” for publication in Encompass magazine. Encompass is a publication of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke. Like the name might suggest, Encompass includes a wide variety of work spanning numerous different academic disciplines. The goal of Encompass is not simply to say what is or is not ethical, but raise issues and start discussions about important ethical issues at Duke and in the world in general. The length of the pieces in Encompass varies, but pieces are generally confined to a two page spread (~1500 to 2000 words). Encompass readily accepts submissions via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and will consider articles for further editing/publication upon receipt. I think my piece about alcohol would be a good fit for this publication because it perfectly fulfills the mission of the magazine. It takes an extremely important and relevant issue, explores it from some less-conventional angles, and generally discusses its broad ethical ramifications.
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
This piece began as a meandering, unfocused exploration of the societal ramifications of alcohol for Revision 3. As I was beginning the process of drafting my Revision 4 late on a weekend night—yes, this is what I do on the weekends now—a belligerently drunk acquaintance stopped by my residence on his way back from Shooters II. Upon letting him into my house, he immediately began watering all of my house plants with a grape-flavored can of Four Loko while repeatedly shouting “Blackout! Blackout!” I shook my head in disapproval and annoyance and wondered to myself, “How is behavior like this okay? Why do we do this to ourselves?” Before I could scold him for distracting me from serious work, however, I realized that he had just cured my inability to focus in on a single, specific alcohol-related topic. I ran upstairs to my computer and before long, had written this piece.
by Lawson Kurtz
Stop. Scroll down, browse back, shut down your computer, or just get up and walk away. Don’t read this essay. I’m not just issuing this advice as a reverse psychological tactic to lure you in. I actually mean stop.
If you’re stubborn enough to continue on to this next paragraph, you are not only wasting your precious time, but you’re also subjecting yourself to plain old bad writing. This essay is simply isn’t meant for human consumption. It lacks any semblance of meaning or purpose. It exists only to satisfy the minimum requirements for this week’s English 117AS writing assignment.
Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against you. I don’t not want to tell you anything. I have no objections to flowing prose and deep insights. On another occasion, I’d be happy to share with you meaningful ideas and well-constructed arguments, but right now, at this moment, I’m too busy. I’m riding the caffeine wave to this assignment’s completion: the 500 word mark. Let’s face it; we both have busy lives. Do you really have time to read the insignificant ramblings of college student who lacks any significant life experience? (If your answer is yes, I would gladly entertain the possibility of swapping places with you.)
There is a possibility—if you are still reading this—that you are thirsty for knowledge, but lacking the discriminatory faculties necessary to distinguish truly valuable works from ones such as this. In an altruistic attempt to help you find greener pastures, as it were, and/or in a somewhat selfish attempt to dispose of the entirety of this piece’s readership before the as yet unwritten—but unavoidably terrible—ending, I’ll suggest some better alternatives. Furthermore, as you are on a computer, and are therefore only one click away from an endless bounty of quality publications, I will provide you with hyperlinks to my suggestions to facilitate the ease of your departure.
You might, for instance, consider spending your time reading one of the most important pieces of literature ever written: Ulysses by James Joyce.
Not the literary type? How about exploring the archives of one of the world’s most prestigious academic journals, Nature. If you’re looking for knowledge, this is where it is born.
Or maybe you are more in the mood for lighter reading.
I bet you’re hungry. Do you know what you’re making for dinner tonight?
Is your home in imminent danger?
Is reading this post making you go BLIND!?
Listen, I’m trying everything here. You know what? At this point maybe you should just stay and finish this. You’re committed. You can’t get those two minutes back. Is it better to cut your losses now, or to continue on to read the final 33 words? The answer, like this essay, doesn’t matter.
For the record, any spelling or grammar mistakes that you may find were intentionally inserted for there stylistic effect.
This sentence makes 499 words.
On September 13th, with iPad in hand, I boarded a C1 bus, and this essay was born. It began as an attempt to describe the unique environment as vividly and accurately as possible. I typed out everything that was happening around me at the moment it happened. As I spent more time on the bus, however, I became more interested in my own emotional response to my surroundings. A strange feeling of resentment toward the freshman passengers was developing within me, and this feeling became the focus of the essay’s first rendition. The subsequent revision added an exploration of my college experience in an attempt to explain why I had experienced this negative feeling. The midsection was reworked a bit for the final edit in order to allow for a more rapid progression through the piece. The piece reflects an accurate depiction of my thought processes at the time of the completion of the first rendition, however the very process of thinking and writing about the topics contained within have sparked a gradual change of perspective.
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
My experience reading the first portion of Vowell’s Assassination Vacation can be summed up as education convincingly disguised as adventure. It’s obvious when reading that Vowell probably knows everything that there is to know about the topic of dead presidents. With this much knowledge, it would be easy to overwhelm the reader with dry, uninteresting facts. Vowell escapes this threat by writing a book that isn’t actually about assassinations. She writes instead about her adventure. Historical research is not the foundation of the book, rather it is used to adds to and explain the motivations for her travels.
Like any good adventure, Vowell’s travels include interesting people, and interesting places, and she expertly uses both as tools to inject historical heft to the piece without the unwanted side-effect of boredom. Her use of places is so obvious that it’s elegance could easily be overlooked. Describing the experience of visiting the physical locations correlating to important historical events relates historical information in a novel and interesting way, and establishes a framework to support her historical contemplation.
Vowell’s use of people is in my opinion more interesting. The most obvious example of this use is her dialogue with knowledgeable individuals such as the ranger at Dry Tortugas, however I most appreciate her use of people that know very little:
Bennett looks at the plaque, then back to me, wondering, ‘This is my surprise? A plaque about Seward?’
He doesn’t say anything for a while, just stands there reading the plaque, shaking his head. (401/3166… sorry, the Kindle version doesn’t have page numbers!)
In this passage, and throughout the book, Vowell approaches certain people with a sort of humorous disbelief that they aren’t just as in love with history as she. She’s certain to correct their ignorance with an impassioned, brief and very interesting summary about the important event they neglect to find interesting. In addition to serving as a natural point of inclusion for large historical summaries, these interactions also serve to solidify the reader’s interest in the story by promoting meta-cognitive comparisons with those silly individuals who fail to see the glory of history.
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
My initial reading of Sue Allison’s essay, “Taking a Reading”, was slightly off-putting. Superficially, the piece is a rhythmic presentation of useless facts. The tone was familiar; while reading, I could not help but to hear the words as if they were being spoken by Andy Rooney, the sardonic old man that makes an appearance at the end of each episode of 60 Minutes.
When I read the essay again, however, I discovered that, unlike Rooney’s commentary, this piece is grounded not in disdain, but in passion. Underlying this passion is a remarkable and unusual tone. The piece serves as a brilliant example of how a writer can tell a story not with sentences, but with tone.
While the sentences of “Taking a Reading” describe a bizarre fascination with measurement, the tone reveals an immeasurable and realistic love for a husband. Allison writes, “If my husband’s foot was 660 times what it is, it would be a perfect furlong, but fathom is my favorite. It’s how tall my husband is.” The spontaneous, sometimes rushed nature of the piece mimics a lover’s description of their mate. Even when there is nothing interesting or relevant to be said, the dialogue continues because she is completely infatuated with that which she describes.
The dissonance between the words written and the message conveyed is particularly striking. Allison writes, “A chain is precisely 66 feet divided into precisely 100 links. It is also what is around my neck holding a small diamond heart which I’ve kept clasped since receiving it some anniversaries ago. It cannot hold a ship to shore, but holds a great deal more.” Concrete definitions and equivalencies are constantly juxtaposed with the amorphous notion of the bond between partners. Speaking of measurements becomes the only way by which love can be measured.
Using little more than a page, Allison conveys a compelling description of love. This description is not achieved through descriptive adjectives (there aren’t many at all). In fact, the description is not achieved through any conventional form of description at all. The tone itself tells the tale.
Allison has allowed me to recognize that tone is more than just a supplementary tool to enhance an essay. Moving forward, I hope to experiment with different, maybe unusual tones, and allow them to play a more prominent role in my work.
Posted by Lawson Kurtz
I thought that I had been taught how to write. I’ve learned grammatical structures. I’ve studied the styles of famous authors. I’ve read great examples of what my writing should be. I’ve practiced drafting essays, and stories, and poems. For years I learned, yet in all that time, not once did I realize that all my lessons had neglected a fundamental element of writing: observation.
In the chapter titled “Looking Around” Lamott writes, “Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.” It’s a painfully obvious statement. In order to write, one must have some understanding of the world. The only way to develop such understanding is through observation. What was not obvious, to me at least, was that I needed practice paying attention. There are very few things in life that can be done perfectly without practice. How then was I so arrogant to assume that I held the innate ability to see the world in its true entirety?
Reading the chapter served only to confirm my fears that I am indeed a naïve observer. I was the rational mind Lamott referred to when she wrote, “To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass–seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.” In contrast, Lamott describes her observation as a spiritual experience where “you see in everything the essence of holiness.” I cannot say that I have ever had such an experience, nor can I say definitively that I ever will. What I can do, however, is join Lamott in her practice of compassionate detachment, and hope to one day see the world that lies outside my bowels.