Posted By: Rachel Revelle
Project 1 Filling-a-Bookshelf
Eddie, Ryann, and Team Kenan:
I would like to submit the attached piece, Filling a Bookshelf, to Encompass in hopes of it being published in your Spring 2011 issue. I am in a creative nonfiction writing class with Professor Joe Harris, and he has encouraged us to seek publication for our work. Encompass Magazine is familiar to me as an Ethics Certificate student, as well as a writer for the Spring 2010 issue. My essay relates a way in which people represent themselves, a visible sign of a personal ethic, if you will, through the way in which they fill a bookshelf. It also makes a case for the value of the written word, which is certainly a big topic in today’s technological society. It is very much a personal narrative, but also, I think, an affirmation of a concept that is applicable to all. I would love to publish another piece in Encompass as a culmination for this class and my time with the Kenan Institute. I will look forward to hearing from you, and am certainly willing to discuss any revisions or suggestions you may have.
Project 2 The Christmas Party
My name is Rachel Revelle and I am a senior at Duke University from Murfreesboro—my parents are Chuck and Bonnie Revelle if that helps place me. As an English major I have taken a creative nonfiction writing class this semester in which we have produced at least two pieces we feel are ready for publication. My second piece, The Christmas Party, emerged from an interview with Mrs. Nancy Copeland of Murfreesboro about her Christmas Eve party. My intent was to give tribute to a town institution and a holiday tradition, as well as the poignant figure behind it all. I would be thrilled, therefore, to have the piece read by a local audience, and wondered if it might run as a special feature in the News-Herald this holiday season. Mrs. Copeland has given me permission to do so. I realize it is lengthy for the paper, so if cuts or revisions are necessary I am certainly willing to work with you on those. I will look forward to hearing what you think, and Happy Holidays!
News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant’s response:
Christmas traditions provide us all with so many warm memories; ones, such as this, that live within our hearts and souls forever. I, like you, could write a book on the ones I fondly recall from my past. Your piece on Mrs. Copeland was well written. I was consumed by it…to the point where I felt I was in her home on Christmas Eve. If possible, please re-submit the article in Micro Soft Word. Additionally, do you have any photos to compliment the article? I would like to use the article, and any photos, in our Christmas edition, which will publish on Dec. 24.
Thanks so much for your encouraging feedback. I will look forward to the Dec. 24 publishing! Attached is the piece in Microsoft Word. I do not have pictures with me here at school, but could probably get a few from my family or Mrs. Copeland when I get home next Thursday, Dec. 16. I will send a few then.
Posted by: Rachel Revelle
As I sit here in review of this semester, I find myself turning back to our first responses, on the process of writing. We may have come from varying levels of experience—I myself am an English major—but most of us showed appropriate hesitancy at the coming task. A true writing class—it was my first and I, too, was nervous. I still am, but am encouraged by the progress I have seen in my classmates and myself. So, I highlight an initial thought by Eriks, giving my support for the way he approached the class and my thanks for the inspiration it now gives to me:
Writing, when I first thought of myself as a “writer,” was more-or-less about sounding like a cool Kerouac who could change the face of entire generations with amazing sentences, inspiration, and energy. After a while though, I came to terms with never becoming that writer. (Lamott recently reassured me of that.) Thus, in the mean time, I have learned to write for writing’s sake, and my own.
If you enjoy reading, then you probably face the overwhelming sense that Eriks expresses as following in the wake of Kerouac and others. After acknowledging that sense, though he openly dismisses it, and turns towards his own motive of writing “for writing’s sake, and [his] own.” His sentiments embody my own evolution. This class has allowed me to avow that I am a writer! And all of us can join with Eriks in saying, “We write because we are writers, a self-proclaiming, chosen few.”
As a member of Lawson’s writing group, I have had the privilege of reading his work throughout the semester, and I have been continuously impressed. I am so pleased with his final piece, Blackout, as a culmination of his studies in both writing and pharmacology. He takes a completely relevant issue and explores it in the context of science and society, all in a witty and compelling manner. Here is a great example of his choice use of words and phrasing:
The cost- and time- efficiency of the techniques utilized by students to get drunk would make an economist smile. Shot-gunning, shooting, funneling, keg stands, quarters, beer pong, flip cup, Jager bombs, icing, case races… the list goes on. If money is a problem, students find it cheap. If fullness is a problem, they find it potent. If motivation is a problem, they make it competitive. Instead of alcohol functioning as a social lubricant to enhance the social experience of the party, alcohol becomes the party, and attendees become consumed by the culture of consumption.
The parallel structure works seamlessly, and the inversions of the meanings of party and consumption succeed both in their literary cleverness and their ability to make the reader think differently from the norm. The language in this passage and the piece just rolls and takes the reader with it. Great job, Lawson, and I will look forward to seeing Blackout published!
Posted by: Rachel Revelle
I have possible routes for publishing both of my projects. First, I will try to submit my Project One piece, “Filling a Bookshelf,” to Encompass Ethics Magazine. Encompass is a Duke undergraduate publication sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics. It presents ethics in enlightening and approachable ways, and from a variety of viewpoints, including students and faculty. It has put out two issues so far, and is distributed around Duke’s campus to hopefully broaden interest in ethical issues and how they apply to everyday life. The pieces tend to be 1,000 to 2,000 words, in a format similar to what we have been learning this semester, presenting real knowledge in a compelling way. They are interesting pieces either about personal experience or a topic relevant to the author. As one of Kenan’s Ethics Certificate Program students, I was asked to write a piece for their first issue last year on the ethics of being Greek, and enjoyed the process. I also know this year’s editor through my work with Kenan, so I will send him my piece via email and see if he thinks it fits with the next issue’s theme. If so, the Encompass team will review my piece, possibly ask for revisions, and then format it to fit next semester’s publication. I think that my bookshelf essay relates a way in which people represent themselves, a visible sign of a personal ethic, if you will. It also makes a case for the value of the written word, which is a big topic in today’s technological society. I would love to publish another piece in Encompass as a culmination for this class and my work with Kenan.
My second project, The Christmas Party, is very much oriented towards an audience of my hometown, Murfreesboro, North Carolina. I will therefore try to submit it to my local paper, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. The News-Herald is a daily publication that serves an area of four counties in northeastern North Carolina. They provide daily news, including sports, business, society, and opinion sections. Pieces can be short announcements to articles of several hundred words, to longer pieces of 1000 or more words. My essay may be longer than they would like and also does not fit into a clear news section, but I can envision it as a special holiday publication, since they run other things like “Letters to Santa.” My intent was to give tribute to a town institution and a holiday tradition, which I think the community would enjoy reading. The News-Herald staff is not large, and I have contacts there. I will first email my piece to the Advertising Director, simply because he is a good family friend from church. After asking for his feedback I will hopefully send it on to the main editor. I am excited to see what happens!
Posted by: Rachel Revelle
This piece came out of our interview assignment in which I decided to speak with Mrs. Nancy Copeland, a good friend of my grandmother’s and a major presence in my town. Her Christmas party is a special memory for me, but the work of writing this piece has been more fulfilling than I expected. I feel as if it is an embodiment of the sentiments I have for home, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the reactions of the class towards such a way of life! I originally had a long phone conversation with Mrs. Copeland and crafted an essay about her party, but highlighting the interview aspect foremost. I was trying to show the history and evolution of the party through Mrs. Copeland’s words, but through several revisions I realized that I should focus more on the party itself. So, I hope this finished product is a glimpse into a Christmas Eve in Murfreesboro, through the eyes of both the elegant hostess and my own.
Posted by: Rachel Revelle
If I am going to write the truth about myself in a compelling way I should probably not talk extensively about the time I spend asleep. But I could. Haven’t you ever wanted to film yourself for an entire night and see what movements or babbles you make unconsciously? A description of this tape would be more realistic information, and perhaps humorous revelation—the contorted position of a European model on the beach, or the ghastly open-mouthed snore, whichever it may be—than merely relating for the appropriate time periods: “I am sleeping.” Still not particularly compelling though. What I would want to include is the considerable material I collect about myself during my time asleep.
I am a vivid dreamer, and I believe they represent some form of truth. They at least become a part of my near-daily discourse, when I relate my dreams to friends and family. But should I or anyone else rely on them? The uncanny fact is that they are so constantly relevant.
They certainly remind me of characteristics both about myself, and the world in which I live. My grandmother is always a good cook, and my dreams often propel me towards a family dinner table. The prevalence of small children must cater to my maternal instinct that friends say is already in overdrive. The pregnancy dreams, however, seem a little too ambitious. I will be more cautious in how to prepare both my parents and my boyfriend for meeting each other after a quite amusing trial run in a recent dream.
Sometimes I think I take care of certain potential realities in my dreams, and then do not have to concern myself with them in the conscious world. Just last week I had the equivalent of what I imagine to be the most intense drug-induced euphoria through the experience of transforming into a swimming dolphin in my dream. Glad I got that covered, thanks.
Now I will go to sleep thinking of the meaning of truth, the deception of dreams, and how closely they can align. I hope I will have something salient to relate in the morning…
It is morning. I dreamt as usual and am scrambling to put the vanishing thoughts to paper. I wondered how last night’s writing session would affect my few precious hours of sleep, and I did, in fact, dream about this experience of writing. I related my topic to several classmates (sorry, none of you reading my R9 post specifically visualized), and they commented that that must be in the spirit of Monson. It was nice to have that reassurance that I know what the heck I’m doing. Sometimes, though, I dream that I have finished that paper I am supposed to get up early to write—seriously, sit there typing vague sentences in my subconscious—and hence oversleep. I guess I should not rely on those seeming realities.
Oh yeah, I also had a repeat encounter with the International President of my sorority, who I happened to meet yesterday at a presentation. In some sort of after the fact apprehension about meeting this dignitary, I came up with the scenario that she was going to be visiting my chapter on April 20, and I was frantically warning sisters not to be high when they met her. This, I certainly hope, does not become reality…
Well this has been introspectively fun, but if I keep on narrating my dreams, in what crazy reality will I find myself?
Posted by Rachel Revelle
When I was considering an object of interest on which to write, I looked over at the bookshelf in my room and struck on my subject. The physicality of bookshelves has increasingly enthralled me. Friends have commented on my book collection, which has made me think more on their meaning to me. This project, then, has been a gratifying way to flesh out my views. ‘
I originally just outlined the process of filling my bookshelves, using the influence and tradition of many family bookshelves. Useful commentary from my writing group then led me to add more personal anecdotes as a way to illustrate my practices and motivations. The final draft now progresses more clearly from the power of the written word, through my process of collecting and arranging bookshelves, to the conclusion that they display who I am as a person. I also added text-based documentation and, of course, formatted more carefully and creatively. I hope that I have added some variance to my style while still presenting a clear and poignant expression of my beliefs.
Posted By: Rachel Revelle
Sarah Vowell captures my attention more than I ever thought would be possible in a meticulously detailed historical account of presidential assassins! I was able to identify a multitude of writing techniques that come through, and when you are aware of them, should not be very difficult employ. Sarcasm, irony, and self-deprecation are good places to start, as these are constantly evident in Vowell’s work. Personal side notes are usually easy to write, as we enjoy talking about ourselves, and they also keep the reader engaged amidst a heavier topic.
She also constantly and seamlessly incorporates text and person based documentation. The result is an account of history from so many different voices that it is hard to imagine the story becoming boring. One particular usage I found fascinating was that of personal letters and journal entries. These are certainly texts that can be examined, but particularly from a past age when the people can no longer speak for themselves, these texts also have the affect of person-based research. In describing the “Bleeding Kansas” incident, it is the letter of Edward Fitch’s widow that makes the situation familiar and intimate, instead of distanced by the passage of time. She says, in a voice we can all imagine:
My dear father and mother, I have been trying to summon strength to write to all the particulars of this sad, sad day… which has wrecked all my happiness. Never before did I feel the meaning of the word crushed” (63-64).
This hardened voice attempting to cope with tragedy is then amplified brought home to us by one of Vowell’s skilled insertions of modern-day counterparts to the historical events. Using the same language, she relates that the men bombing the World Trade Center “taught [her] the meaning of the word crushed” (64). She recalls in the reader the emotions felt in a crisis we remember, which propels us back to a more conscious view of the past.
I am not sure whether I consider a letter or journal entry text or person based documentation, or whether a clear distinction is necessary. These resources add facts in a poignant voice. They are personal experience, as laid out in a written text, which can then be used by a writer to hopefully add another layer or angle of truth.
Posted by: Rachel Revelle
The criterion for what an essay can and cannot be seems fairly limitless. We have been reading and experimenting with different approaches, and certainly got an interesting cross-section through this group of Best American Essays. I was particularly intrigued by Chris Arthur’s (En)trance because of its discussion of what an essay can do. He continuously compares his writing, both overall and right here on this page, to the narrative of a great descriptive novel. First of all, this was effective in that it made me realize that the novel form is one that I also really enjoy, and I would have gained from the story if it had been written by “a writer of the sort [he] is not.” Effective delivery can come through a variety of forms, but one must consider the message being delivered.
For Arthur, a descriptive novel “would have been constrained by the boundaries of what happened” (12). He leads us into an alternate world in which every detail or moment can be considered in a new light. It is acceptable, in fact enlightening, to run with a certain thought till it has come to life in a new way. He says he, “[takes] single pieces of life’s puzzle and [leans] the weight of reflection upon them till they’re pulverized, then [ponders] the dust particles” (4). The dust particles of the pillars of Shannon bring us to a consideration of time, memory, and the numinous. Instead of simply narrating the history of this particular setting, he gets us to consider what might have happened in this setting, and how it did happen for him in memory, which is also a different matter.
I hope I am able to use Arthur’s advice as I further develop my writing. The essay gives us the amazing freedom to consider the truth in all forms and levels of complexity. The essay, Arthur says, has “mongrel toughness,” allowing us to “resist the closures and conclusions of composition and feel the deluge of the real push against the fabric of the mind until it is engulfed and intoxicated” (15). I will try to push the fabric of my mind and consequently that of the reader’s.
Posted by Rachel Revelle
“There is ecstasy in paying attention” (100). In paying attention to Anne Lamott’s stories and advice, I found myself paying attention to more and more around me. She says in the chapter “Looking Around” that, “in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent,” and to “think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world” (99). First of all these thoughts struck me as beautiful. What a noble task to look around you, be immersed by the world, and then partake in the task of communicating what you find. I would like to think that paying attention and being in awe are a part of my everyday conscience. Do I not see, hear, and respond to the things around me? Do I not have moments when I feel so blessed with my friends or my school that I am startled with the sensation? Perhaps these moments are not as frequent as I imagine.
Poised with the task of writing, however, I feel I must be inspired to say something of worth. Throughout this week that task opened my eyes in a way I was not expecting. Right after finishing Lamott’s book I went for a run and felt like the child she describes going, “Wow, wow! Look at that…” (100). Even as I sit here I am more aware of how I might describe the dust on my computer screen or the hallowed feeling of being surrounded by the portraits of legendary Duke figures in the Gothic Reading Room. Writing is a way to examine, refine, and express more fully the very thoughts running through our heads.
I hope to be able to portray the world meaningfully and with a sense of awe, and am thankful to Lamott for the lesson on paying attention. In order succeed, however, I will have to follow her other advice, repeated continuously, to sit down stubbornly and write. Filling my head with snippets from what I imagine to be a writer’s standpoint, while exhilarating, does nothing to communicate. Lamott tells us to “Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul” (99). I can satisfyingly identify with this sensation and I do so appreciate authors for this gift that they give. Such insights must have come from reverently paying attention. The real gift, though, is that they wrote it down for us.