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.
I always love it when writers make connections I don’t expect. Almost everyone did that at some point this semester, but here are a few I especially remember.
Grace Kohut centers “(Still) Not Dead” on a piece of writing that she did when she was eleven and for which her parents held what seemed to her an odd affection. It was the “bio” to a creative writing assignment:
“Grace Kohut was born in New York City and lived there all her life. She went to the Hewitt School and has a dog named Shadow. She is not dead.”
Kids say the darnedest things. But Grace actually figures out how she ended up writing that odd bio:
“She is not dead.” All of a sudden—
—I’m eleven now. I’m being asked to write a quick biography about myself. I am given examples through our readings of the famous poets. I find three things in common with all of them: they are always written in third person, always written in past tense and…
Robert Frost died on the 29th of January 1963 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Emily Dickinson died on 15 May 1886, at the age of fifty-six.
Robert Louis Stevenson died at home of a stroke on 3 December 1894.
A. A. Milne died in 1956 at Hartfield, Sussex, England.
… they always end in death! I’m not dead. Why am I writing a bio if I am not dead?! Will I die after I write this poem book? I have to write in past tense so how do I ensure I will not die after my pen leaves the paper???
After defining this subgenre of the “dead poets bio,” Grace moves on to write a moving reflection on families and separation and memory—suggesting that one of things writing can do is make us “not dead.”
In ways that were (at least to me) similarly unexpected, Zeewan Lee uses her essay, “The Grotesque Is Beautiful: Alexander McQueen’s World of Fashion,” not only to argue for the genius of an avant-garde fashion designer, but to draw some striking parallels between his work and that several painters. Here is an example of how she does it:
As time elapsed, however, the demonic dimensions of the grotesque were gradually attenuated in McQueen’s designs. McQueen began to associate with grotesque not only the ugly but also a kind of beauty. The grotesque in McQueen’s later works was more complete in its duality as McQueen incorporated both repulsive and more serene and sublime qualities to his designs. The ugliness once so visible in his designs that it outshined everything else became subtler and more nuanced. McQueen’s grotesque in its evolved form emulated less the horrific grotesque of Goya and more the fantastic grotesque of Kris Kuksi, an American sculptor and an artist. Kuksi’s art spoke of a timelessness-potentiality and motion attempting to reach on forever, and yet pessimistically delayed; forced into the stillness of death and eternal sleep2. This beautiful and accurate definition of Kuksi’s work (below) depicts exactly what McQueen’s later designs encapsulated. Just as in Kuksi’s arts, the notion of the grotesque was less apparent in themes and issues McQueen addressed in his designs. Instead, what made viewers uncomfortable were the outrageous combinations of colors (the first two pictures shown below) and incomprehensible, out-of-place shapes (all four below).
In drawing such unexpected but striking comparisons, Zeewan convinces me that McQueen was a serious artist as well a Lady-Gaga-like provocateur.
In “My Life in the Words I Remember and the Ones I Don’t,” Margrette Kurhtz write a deeply personal memoir that centers on her relationship to language and reading. In this essay, Margrette discusses a poem that I’ve taught many times, William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say,” but draws a connection between the poem her own childhood experiences that has deepened my understanding of it. She says:
When I was in third grade all I wanted was for my parents to stay together. Maybe in this poem I saw the love that I never saw between the two people who should have been setting that example. So when I thought about love, true love, I didn’t imagine anything physical, no kissing, no touching, just some simple show of affection. I wanted to see “like” before I could see “love.”
I didn’t want extravagance: I thought of love as the note my mom sometimes put in my lunchbox, the heartfelt words on the inside of a birthday card, basically anything someone took the time to write out. Or any apology. When it came to my parents, they never apologized and they didn’t love, so apologies came to mean love in my young logic.
So this is just to say that maybe the things I wanted to be important to me: the books of my childhood, then the lofty books that came later, extended metaphors, spiritual passages, and carefully-crafted touching prose in novels, aren’t. Forgive me.
If you know Williams’ poem, you’ll hear Margrette’s echoing of it her third paragraph—an echoing that is both smart and deeply felt. In taking on Williams’ phrasings, she shows me how a poem can literally become part of a person.
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: Brea Davenport
I just finished writing this nonsense. But wait – this is the beginning.
Who am I? Not important. What is important is that You are reading this. Stop reading this. Why? This is not a memoir! And you’re on a computer. And your computer is probably like mine. It hates me. Why does my computer hate me? Why does technology hate me? I dropped my phone and it broke and now I’m trying to click on the stupid box in WordPress and it won’t let me type! I blame my computer. There is no blinky or solid line that signifies “You can type.” Oh wait…it works if I type. Great. I can do it! And now you can read. You have the ability to read the brilliance that is about to pour from my noggin – until you get the blue screen of death or Facebook rips you away with a new friend request.
Still here? You are so dumb. You are really dumb, for real. I bet you got through the first half of the first paragraph and ended up on Youtube and then came back out of obligation to read another classmate’s work. Well fine. Fact: The next few sentences are the steps I typically make before I actually make something go from my brain to paper…or computer. Before I get to typing I make an effort to relax my mind to properly think of a good topic. But then I can’t. Before I get to relaxing my mind properly to think of a good topic I’m make the effort to relax my body. Normally I think too hard about relaxing my body which does not allow me to relax my mind. Then I decide to make the not-so-smart decision of getting on my bed to lie down…for five minutes. This typically has me waking up 5 hours later and cursing myself for falling asleep.
Fact: I bet that’s what you just did. You fell asleep during my essay. I told you to stop reading. This is nowhere near as much fun to look at as random Wikipedia articles or online shoe shopping sites. Why are you still here? Don’t you know, the more you read this, the faster you are to reaching your eminent doom of being blind as a bat?!
Fact: Bats don’t use their eyes, but they can “see” better than humans by using sound. Neat, huh?
Wow. Over 400 words now. Looks like you’ve made it to
Posted by Grace Kohut
I started writing this piece for the X4 assignment (writing a text). I was very excited when we were assigned this because words have always been important to me and this was my opportunity to write about my quote book. I got some great feedback and encouragement from the class and so I decided to put my other revision on hold and continue with this work.
My first draft was essentially all about e.e. cummings so professor Harris suggested I should use the actual quote book as my text while using cummings as a sort of guide. I loved that idea… but, let me tell you, it was hard. My second draft, to borrow from the words of Professor Harris, was more of a 1+1=2 rather than a 1×1=1. I knew exactly what he meant (see the piece to understand). So then I set forth to create my world of multiplication. This is what I’ve come up with. I hope you like it!
Posted by Andrew Brown
This piece began as my X2, when we were instructed to write about an object. I then developed it further for both my Rev 1 and my Rev 2. Although this piece started off focusing only on the Harkness table, I knew immediately that it would be bigger than that. My writing group loved the part of my X2 where I railed against desks. For my Rev 1 I focused on adding more history about the origins of the Harkness Table, and how it is associated with Exeter, my high school. Although some of the information I added was necessary, it was apparent from my writing group that I had veered off course a bit. For Rev 2 I cut out about half of the history on the Harkness table, and instead focused on adding information about education furniture in general. I wrote a whole section on the origin of the basic classroom desk, and tracked how that invention helped spur the creation of the Harkness table. For the final draft I focused on better integrating the various sections of my piece. There seemed to be gaps in my logic at times, so I tried to mend those. I also added images of both the original classroom desk and the Harkness table; I think these will help bring the objects to life for the reader. On the whole I think I’ve written an interesting piece about American education that is both informative and thought provoking.
Posted by Tim Xue
The main point regarding research that I took away from Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation is that it never needs to be just a “dull,” factual component of an essay; research can actually enrich a piece depending on how it is used. Throughout the first chapter, I never felt like I was reading anything close to a typical research report. Vowell turns a series of events centered around a seemingly boring topic into an enrapturing story using humor, a distinct tone, and by making her research not sound like research.
Whenever I wrote research papers of any sort in high school, I would use research to function primarily as evidence to support my overall argument. Research, in my mind, consisted of poring over books, magazine and online articles, or digital media in search of that elusive clip or quotation that I would insert in my paper and draw a conclusion from. Research equals facts – solid, important facts that develop the narrative. Vowell, on the other hand, uses research very differently. She doesn’t just search for the “meat” of the story, but delights in exploring the vegetables and even snuffing out the dessert. Vowell includes research whose purpose the reader may initially question, as I did. She ties it all together and makes it so interesting that I found myself following along, nonetheless, however. For example, she writes an entire paragraph on the relationship between Dr. Samuel A. Mudd’s surname and the cliché “his name is mud.” She clarifies,
“Steers’s title alludes to the cliché ‘his name is mud,’ erroneously believed to derive from the shame the Lincoln assassination brought to the Mudd family name. But it was simply a coincidence, the derogatory slang ‘mud’ having been in usage for well over a hundred years at the time of the assassination, especially applying to British members of Parliament who had besmirched their family names by losing elections and such. This quirk of freak linguistic happenstance damned the Mudd family to a level of shame unknown to, say, subsequent generations of Family Atzerodt.”
Vowell includes such details to keep the narrative engaging for her readers. She links her historical research to contemporary issues, customs, and phrases so we can find common ground and see why her research is important. She uses this technique so well, in fact, that I often don’t realize I’ve gone off with her on one of these tangents until she brings me back to the original narrative. These “distractions” are a nice break from the main story, and are interspersed craftily throughout the book.
In my own future writing, I hope to adopt Vowell’s strategy of magnifying the details and integrating them into the entire story. Her unique use of research made for an engaging, humorous, and informative read.
Posted By: Brea Davenport
Taking a Reading was probably the shortest of the essays to read, however it stood out the most to me. I am not a fan of math and cringe at measurements that are not the American kind (I don’t know the metric system! Oops). Yet I thought it was endearing of Sue Allison so use words for measuring things so easily in her essay. She starts off her essay with “A yard, a pace, a foot, a fathom. How beautiful the language of measurement is…” and her essay actually has me believing that now.
She describes how the different measurements are composed of other smaller measurements or how they help compose bigger measurements. It is like she is telling us that everything counts (literally). She even questions what the measurements actually mean. Why is a cranberry bushel bigger than a bushel? What is a bushel when the cranberries are on the bush? I would like to think that these ponderings on measurements are her approach to reflect on life. She even gives us a glimpse into hers as she tells us that her favorite measurement is the height of her husband and she has a chain (which also has a specific length measurement – who knew?) which “cannot hold a ship to shore but holds so much more”. I loved how she expressed her sentiment and feelings by using something as mundane and precise as measurements. It was a very effective and unique approach.
Posted by Carol Shih
Brian Doyle sounds like he’s thinking out loud on paper, but he’s not. See, it’s tricky. It’s an allusion; what he doesn’t want you to see is that he is crafting a symphony of melodies with a two-page essay. While I was reading “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever,” I felt like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, a childhood favorite of mine. Doyle takes us on his travels from paragraph to paragraph, and no two lands are the same. Take this one, for example:
“Then an odd paragraph, this is a most unusual and peculiar essay, for right here where you would normally expect those alpine Conclusions, some Advice, some Stern Instructions & Directions, there’s only the quiet murmur of the writer tiptoeing back to the story he or she was telling you in the second and third paragraphs. The story slips back into view gently, a little shy, holding its hat, nothing melodramatic, in fact it offers a few gnomic questions without answers…”
He brings characters out of nothing! He personifies certain words and gives them sounds, feelings, texture. Each sentence is perfectly placed, and he is so very aware of his sentence’s effects. Some are chunky long-winded sentences when he’s talking about being mesmerized by a nature essay, and some are shorter, like “probably the sentences get shorter, more staccato. terser. blunter. shards of sentences.”
This week, when I was sitting down to write my X3, I knew that I wanted to emulate some of Doyle’s writing. I wanted to speak to my reader the way that his essay spoke to me, like a friend who knows you pretty well and who you would entrust with your silly secrets. I’m not sure if I succeeded, but it was fun to try a different style of writing and to use italics like Doyle. Did I have the same effect? I have no clue, but it was definitely a refreshing experience.
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.