Posted by Lauren Kahn
Margrette Kuhrt’s “The Pink House on the Sidewalk or How I Learned to Dream Again” is a piece that many Duke students would be nodding their heads to (as I did) when reading about the process of self-discovery and independence that comes with college. She takes us through her growing need to break free from the life she was “supposed to live” and rediscover her imagination. I particularly enjoyed her writing about the sidewalk chalk drawings and how they mean something to her:
“You see, whenever I draw a rectangle, it is around the number I wish to distinguish as the final answer to the math problem I have been working on. And I don’t ever have the occasion to draw triangles. But the longer I look out to the sidewalk, the more I’m captivated by the unmistakable four right angles of a lucky rectangle that gets to be a house, drawn in sure pink lines” (3).
I love the way she focuses on the shapes as a way to show the difference between her life (dictated by math classes) and the lives of these children (driven by their creativity). Throughout the piece she does a great job inspecting the different dimensions of her discoveries, starting with her frustration and stress and then ending with the realization that she needs these children—and the imaginative mindset they represent—to balance out her life. I admire Margrette’s self-reflection and the way she works through her thoughts in her writing, taking the reader through her discoveries. I will forever think of this piece whenever I see sidewalk chalk and will remember to take the time to appreciate the details of the children’s uninhibited imagination.
I also truly appreciated Alexandra McKnight’s raw and honest writing in “Tags for A Moment” about her devastating break-up and strong recovery. My favorite section reads,
“True love was simple. It was not filled with hidden secrets, insomnia filled nights, or broken promises. Love was a simple equation: what you put in, you get back in return. My situation was also simple: I deserved better than Brandon. Carefully and with a new perspective I touched the lavender tipped paintbrush to our canvas: Love = Love. I left the Center a bit happier, a bit more complete; like a single shard of glass had been properly places back into the frame.”
Xan’s last sentence is particularly beautiful and poetic. She is able to find beauty after heartbreak. Though “Love=Love” was originally intended as a sign of LGBT, Xan is able to adopt the symbol to make meaning for her own situation. Thank you for sharing such a powerful and personal piece.
Posted by Lauren Kahn
Initially, I thought about posting “Climbing Kili,” my essay about my trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, to Duke’s Passport Magazine, but then discovered that my piece was nearly double the maximum word count that the publication accepts. In trying to come up for ideas of where else to submit my writing, I browsed the book The Best Travel Writing 2010 to compile a list of publications that feature travel writing. From there, I found Brevity and Travelers’ Tales. The former specializes in writing pieces that are less than 750 words. I decided that my Project 1 piece, “Concrete Jungle Gym” would be a good fit since it is such a short piece (made even shorter to accommodate the word limit!). I also submitted that piece to Travelers’ Tales, which publishes funny travel stories or misadventures for web posting and future humor books. My concern with this piece is that, though the narrative does not take place in my hometown, New York City is not particularly exotic when compared to the remote and international locations featured in the samples I read online. Hopefully, the company will see past the location and enjoy the story of my misadventure. …I’ll see what happens…what do I have to lose?
Posted by Lauren Kahn
For a long time, I have wanted to write about my experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as a way to commemorate the long and arduous journey that I took with my dad and brother. Thanks to my peers and Professor Harris for helping me through the writing process. Initially, I did not know where to start. I tried to approach the subject in a roundabout way, but found that I was getting too caught up in the beginning part—the section that was supposed to be a quick bridge into the core subject matter, Kilimanjaro. In my second draft, I took out the most of the beginning and expanded the rest. In my third and fourth drafts, I decided to use a different opening. I also worked on connections, making sure that each paragraph flowed smoothly and fit in with the others. Finally, I added stylistic touches and a picture. I am very pleased with the finished piece and hope that you all are too.
November 8, 2010
Reader, the author would like to offer her condolences for the boredom you might endure through reading this material. Plausibly, you brought this boredom—or any other negative feeling—onto yourself through electing to read this piece of writing. Purportedly, you choose where you look your eyes and to what you avert them. However, there is always the possibility that someone else is subjecting you to the misery of reading this text, say, for example, a teacher or parent or overly pushy friend who you may not recall how they attained “friendship status” in the first place and may want to demote to mere “acquaintance status” after you realize what they are making you read. As for the teacher subjecting you to this dreadful reading, you may want to consider dropping the course, if it is not too late. If you have a particularly strong aversion to boredom, then you may need to take more drastic measures and actually consider withdrawing from the class. If your mother is making you read this book out of some mistaken idea that these words will enlighten you and catapult you into the highest academic institutions, then tell her that the author is flattered. Again, I apologize for subjecting you to any boredom you might experience in reading this and would like to warn you that this material may or may not help your chances of academic success, but this reading surely will not prevent your entrance into aforementioned academic institutions.
On the other hand, you may cherish the text that you are about to read. You might find that the work brings you peace, health, and happiness. You may find the words and rhythm of the sentences likeable, and maybe even enjoyable—or even beautiful! The themes discussed in the work might strike a chord with you. The text might give you chills down your arms and make the hair on your head stand up straight. You might sleep better after reading this text. But, I can’t promise that. Angels might come down from the sky and take you to heaven. Again, I can’t promise that either. In the case that you do enjoy this piece, I take back my apology. Forget about it. You can thank yourself (if it was indeed your idea to read this!). Or you could thank the teacher, friend, or parent who gave you this text by telling him or her how much you enjoyed it and maybe recommending something in return. You will all come out better people (feeling both valued and valuable) and the world will be a beautiful place.
…of, course, it all depends on whether or not you like the text.
 Reader, beware of the ignominious “W” that would appear on your transcript should you withdraw from your class. Though, arguably, not having to read this piece might be worth the punishment. The choice is yours. Or is it?
Over the course of the last month, I have written multiple drafts of my X1. In my first draft, I focused on responding to the prompt. I recalled an odd and funny experience this summer. I was fortunate to have the class’s input on my initial draft. Professor Harris drew attention to the way I shift between paratactic and hypotactic language, and how I use these shifts to convey my story. In my second draft, I tried to optimize my paratactic language in order to better capture the “in-the-moment” moments. In thinking about how to highlight these parts, I started to experiment not only with the sentence structure and word choice—adding short, staccato sentences and simple words—but I also played around with the physical design of the words on the page to create a sense of movement. My piece, after all, is action-based. With feedback from my peers, I decided to cut down my piece in my third draft. I scraped the introduction and cut down the reflection in order to focus on the action. However, for my fourth draft, I decided that I had cut out too much of the setup and description. The reader was getting lost in the paratactic language and needed an anchor. I added transitions and an opening to help guide the reader. I also cut out certain paratactic and design features when I thought they were excessive.
Posted by Lauren Kahn
R5: The History Teacher I Wish I’d Had
When I learned that I was assigned to read a book detailing presidential assassinations, I was less than excited. This is an understatement. I was dreading the read. Yet, with wit and personal anecdotes, Sarah Vowell managed to capture my interest. Before I knew it, I found myself recounting Lincoln trivia to my friends and staying up on Sunday night watching clips of her from NPR and the Daily Show and reading her Op-Ed pieces in The New York Times. She writes with personality that imbues life into these historic events. I certainly learned about the assassinations in American history, but we used to read from a dry and musty textbook in class. Sarah Vowell is the American history teacher I wish I’d had. She helps make moments memorable by pointing out connections to other historic events and also by discussing what I will call “the human element,” the emotion-filled gossip that keeps shows like E! and websites like “Perez Hilton” in business. Yet, Vowell incorporates this human element in a much more intellectual and sophisticated way than these shows, making her all the more fun to read:
“I e-mailed Bennett the next morning that the Court of Claims Building, where the Seward plaque is hung, was designed by John Carl Warnecke, the architect who helped Jacqueline Kennedy with her historic preservation crusade to save Lafayette Square. After JFK was killed, Mrs. Kennedy hired Warnecke…In the process (I guess there is nothing more romantic than poring over graveyard designs), she and Warnecke fell in love. She was having an affair with the man in charge of her slain husband’s tomb” (35). From learning about why Seward’s totem pole has red paint on his face to the drama surrounding John Wilkes Booth’s girlfriend, Vowell captured the human element in a way that drew my attention. Additionally, I admired the way Vowell uses imaginative liberty in describing historic events. “When the bullet dropped in such a quiet room, it must have been almost as jarring as the original gunshot” (51). I can imagine being in that room when the doctors extracted the bullet. Vowell also incorporates her imagination in writing her “grandfather paradox” theory, which I found particularly entertaining and insightful. Though I look up to Vowell’s writing style, I am not sure how easy it will be to mimic in my own writing. She smoothly incorporates historical facts, personal anecdotes, and current affairs into her writing, all while maintaining a sense of humor and wit. I can focus on one or a few of these qualities, but am not sure how I will pull off such a smooth combination. Nonetheless, Vowell gives me inspiration for my creative nonfiction pursuits.