This is the reflective essay from my writing portfolio:
I wrote a paper for Thabiti Willis’s Medieval West Africa course that was a fabricated folktale from eleventh-century Mali. It was an absolutely ridiculous assignment that I more or less boiled down to “try to be Chinua Achebe” and worked outwards from there. By the end, it featured a fabricated abstract and a solid page and a half of single-spaced ten-point endnotes. I guarantee this is the best paper I’ve written at Carleton. I don’t know if it got me an A; I think it did, but that’s not really the point.
I have a folder on my desktop called “Best Writing” where I file pieces I’ve written that I consider my favorites, compared objectively to the rest of my writing. It includes a few short stories, a short play, three Carletonian articles, and three CLAP articles. One of the CLAP articles includes the sentence “First and most important, this cream cheese is the best fucking cream cheese in the solar system.” There isn’t a single academic paper in the folder.
The best papers I wrote in high school English classes were for a teacher whose pedagogical strategy was to compare the paragraphs of a paper to hamburgers. I’ve been thinking about him a lot recently, and while I understand that it’s important to be taken seriously at the college level, I wonder sometimes if the lack of hamburger talk on the Bald Spot doesn’t have more to do with laziness. It’s hard to find a good metaphor. It’s hard to find a good burger joint, too, but we have Google Maps for that now.
But those papers were never as good as the creative writing I did. Even in literature classes the best writing always emerged when I was writing stories or poetry; even when I was working under extremely narrow constraints in creative writing classes, the worst 150-word one-sentence short story I wrote was invariably better than the Hamlet paper I’d slaved over for my fourth block English class. I wrote a story once that used a lock as a metaphor for “otherness” in women as viewed by men; it was a stale metaphor, but it was more nuanced and careful than anything I’ve ever actually written about “otherness,” especially in college.
Google Metaphor would be a nice thing to have. Imagine a search engine that would cross-index everything that had ever been rhetorically related to anything else, with an advanced search feature that let you specify the type of association—simile, metonymy, symbol. If you were in a creative writing class, you could use this to find a useful, exact, interesting metaphor to illustrate a concept in a piece you were working on. If you were feeling sophisticated you could choose one that John Donne or Robert Lowell had already used to draw connections between your piece and the wider body of literature. If you were in a regular humanities class you would probably not be allowed to use it.
There’s a concept among certain circles of neckbearded retro gamers called “Nintendo Hard,” which refers to video games that aren’t genuinely hard, but exploit certain features of the game to manufacture cheap difficulty—like bats that attack you on ledges and platforms that disappear when you jump on them. Consensus is that this type of game design is rooted in substituting frustration, stress and confusion for real, engaging difficulty.
For my “observation” requirement I’m attaching a script for a comic I wrote about two bored teenagers who try to get past their skittishness, masked by cocky speech acts and disfluencies, so that they can make out on the edge of a rotting pier. I went to a lot of trouble to mimic the way midwestern teenagers talk and I think that comes across in text. It’s certainly better than most of the visual analysis I’ve done in art history classes.
For my “interpretation” requirement I’m attaching a post I wrote for a blog about how Steve McQueen’s movie “Shame” is an artistic failure because it doesn’t let us access characters’ psyches. It’s longwinded and incredibly pretentious, but at least it includes contractions.
For my “analysis” requirement I’m attaching an email I wrote to my high school girlfriend about slam poetry. Not about the poetry itself, but about how many of her friends I predicted would make it onto a competitive slam team, based on how their styles fit the judges’. I can attach the final scores if you feel that that would illuminate anything. My analysis was very close to exactly correct.
I’ve attached a paper for the Standard American English requirement that uses “colour” instead of “color” at one point. I meant to take it to the Write Place, but a bat dive-bombed me into a pit and I lost a life. I’m submitting it to you with that intact; in the meantime I’ll be looking for a one-up. You might find that lazy, but hell, it’s just a paper.