The Beauty of Paige Arrington’s Class and Learning to Write What Nobody Else Can

 

Before this class, I had never been told to write something that nobody else can write. For once I felt like my writing was supposed to be my voice. It represented me and nobody could pass it off as their own. I learned that language cannot exist without perception. Every word portrays a bias meaning language is inherently subjective, sure there are degrees of objectivity but it can never be purely objective. Therefore everything I write is unique to me and my perception. Anne E. Berthoff tells us that our environment and experiences shape our understanding of language. Our experiences and the connections we draw is how we give meaning to words and because we all have unique lives and experiences we all give words unique meanings. Like how I kept using the word “framed” in my thick description. If I were a detective, I would probably use the words “bordered by” or “has on either side,” because the meaning I would give the word “framed” has nothing to do with the description of a panel.

I learned that we create these meanings and draw these connections so that our brains can interpret, analyze, and understand the chaos that surrounds us. I was encouraged to draw these connections in my writing as a way of making it mine. And upon analysis, I realized how beautiful these connections are. An example of one of these connections is when I related the HIV/AIDS orphans to a specific quote from The Book Thief, a book about WWII Germany, in my “Ethos of Lisa Brown’s Panel” post. Who else would have made this connection? Who would have seen these children and thought of “the leftover humans. The survivors… the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprises”(Zusak, 4)? And who would have understood and interpreted their suffering with the loss of my grandmother and the struggle I had as a child to cope?

When I was in third grade I drew a connection between Lady Lollipop, a book we were reading as a class about an eight-year-old princess who wants a pet pig, and a conversation I had with my mother about a relative whose father disowned him. I remember this incident because the teacher thought I was brilliant, she even told my mom about it at a parent-teacher conference. Personally, I never understood what the big deal was- surely if anyone else had had that conversation with their mother they would have drawn the connection too? It just made sense. But for the first time, I understand that it was my brain’s unique way of drawing connections that helped me understand the characters of the book. Nobody else could have drawn that connection because everyone draws different connections and create different meanings with those connections. Nobody else had that conversation with their mother and even if they had, their brain may not have created such a connection, therefore altering their understanding of the book and its characters.

During the Notebook project, I was allowed to analyze my own writing, my own perception and I saw a web of connections that I make on a daily basis that have gone unnoticed and unutilized. My personal experiences often influence the way I write through anecdotes such as “my mother once told me…(entry 10),” where I was afraid to ask for strength as a result of the quoted memory. These entries also heavily rely on similes, “clammy like the cheek of a hospice patient (entry 14),” “like a dead leaf,” and  “like a silent tear (entry 16).” This notebook has definitely changed the way I look at writing. Before I was always taught there was a correct way to write- good grammar, clear points, etc. Now I understand writing isn’t a formula. My writing may have incomplete sentences when I speak to my organic object, but that’s ok because in my own way I am assigning meaning, I am creating an analysis. I learned that my brain relies heavily on drawing connections, creating relationships, and comparing ideas to provide meaning.  My favorite way to display these connections was through an activity called “creating a chaos.” This meant writing down a word and then drawing out the web of connections I made with that word, and then those words branched off into more words, which branched off into even more words. So you might start with a word like “monarchy” and somehow end up with the word “casinos.” It was crazy and chaotic and to the rest of the word it may even seem a little nonsensical- but to me every connection makes sense, every connection is uniquely beautiful.

A sample of “chaoses” from my notebook

These connections are what makes my definition essay of perfection so different because no one else could create these connections. I loved writing my definition essay. I’ll admit it was difficult and definitely different from anything I have ever written before, but I think that is partly why I enjoyed it, it was not your boring, cookie-cutter essay. I not only had to do research (which I loved doing) but I also had to analyze that research and draw connections that no one else had drawn before. I felt like a pioneer venturing into to a new world of defining, of course, I stumbled and there were many times where I had no idea where I was going, but once I found my way, it was MY way. No one else could have written this essay.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt project truly exemplifies how I interpret the world around me and how I understand how others make meaning because I was allowed to pick any panel from the AIDS quilt and interpret it. My AMQ project addresses what the panel teaches us about HIV/AIDS and the child survivors. I drew connections between my personal experiences, the panel, and my research in the essay, like “The main struggle these children face is psychological. Most studies find “a high degree of internalizing disorders such as depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety and especially post-traumatic stress” in this group (Smart, 2009). It was also found in a study on kids whose parent was diagnosed with cancer that parents commonly “underestimate the emotional difficulties that their children are experiencing …Because young people frequently hide their feelings to protect their families” (Maynard, A., Patterson, P., McDonald, F.E.J., & Stevens, G., 2013).  This is the only action the children can take to try and alleviate the parent’s pain. They want to spare their parents as much as possible, so they put on a mask and internalize their pain to ease the parent’s pain. When I was young…” I decided to focus on speaking to the caretakers of these children. I felt it was imperative that these caretakers not only know what the child is struggling with but to also encourage them to be advocates for these children so these children would no longer be overlooked in research. This project was definitely difficult because I am so used to writing about what I know. It was so strange writing about a group that I was not a part of- how could I possibly understand their suffering? But when I started writing and researching it became so rewarding. I loved that I was able to give a voice not just to Robert, but to all these child survivors while using my own experiences as a way understanding their struggles. In this project, I really went out of my comfort zone and made my experiences and my perception explicit. I spoke of the loss of my grandmother and I used the word “I” more than I was ever encouraged to before.   

This class is so different from your standard English class, and that is why I loved it. For once I wasn’t taught to make the writing perfect, I was taught to make it mine. And I think I definitely accomplished that. For that reason, I think both the class and I deserve an A.

 

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Print.