Knocking on Subconscious Door

“There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.” — Frederich Nietzsche

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always struggled with the ability to be confident in my word, never wanting to be confined to some self-principle or hindered by some type of moral dogma. When it came to matters of faith, I never felt truly cemented in one way of worship over another. Being born into a middle class white family in New England, I have always been offered the choice to expand into whichever direction I so choose. For the most part it was pretty straight forward: I was told that there was a God, not to use his name in vain, and not to misbehave or I would go to Hell; that was about it. For most children, that would be enough; but I am not, and have never been, like most children. I remember being as young as seven or eight and having thoughts so existential that it actually astonishes me looking back on them now. I would contemplate all different forms of metaphysical concepts such as death, the afterlife, the origin of the universe, and would quite literally do this for hours on end. Back then, and even today, I feel that if you stare into someone’s pupils for long enough you can see into their very soul. Now I wasn’t one of those weird kids who didn’t have any friends and sat alone at recess killing ants; I was fairly social. Even thinking about death now scares the living shit out of me; it was just what interested me. I remember thinking about what it would have felt like when the big bang had occurred and visualizing an explosion in a dark void only comparable to videos of nuclear bombs during World War II. The thing that always got me about reincarnation was how painful it was to realize that you could live an entire other life at any point in time and not be with someone you love; be it a parent, a sibling, a best friend, an animal companion, or really anyone else that you couldn’t imagine your life without. Eventually these thoughts were replaced with worries about missing that week’s Cartoon countdown, or if I had forgotten to do another homework assignment, or some other irrelevant distraction.

My senior year of high school was definitely one for the books. During a transitional time when I had begun to isolate myself from my social sphere, I took a comparative religions course that focused on everything from conventional Western religions such as Judaism and Islamism, to non-conventional systems of belief such as Native American tribal culture, to Eastern belief systems such as Taoism and Zoroastrianism. As someone who never had a true religious affinity, each new way of thinking fascinated me as I attempted to rewire my brain to match whatever it was I was learning that week. What I realized was that, although these different theologies all had differing beliefs and customs, they all shared many of the same key stories and principles. By looking at a timeline of historical events throughout a specific culture and analyzing different myths and legends, it became apparent who had obtained which stories from who. Unfortunately the more I studied each different theological system, the more I found reasons that I did not agree with their way of thinking. I did not think that a God would punish his people for living a life of indulgence as long as it was free of harm to others, or that he would wish for one to sacrifice himself for the good of the many. Although I have never found myself to be a true believer in what we know as God today, I have always felt that there was something deeper within each of us that felt more pure and natural than what modern religion tells us to believe. While so many are looking outside of themselves for the answers they seek, I looked within. Yes I did meditate, but I did not pull a Buddha and meditate for forty-nine days. Though over time my mind began to recall the thoughts that were once so present in my youth, it now possessed new experiences to help better assess them.

What always got to me about organized religion was the fact that there are so many recorded stories of recognized contradictions that individuals blindly follow even when it has shown to go against their better judgement. Emerson couldn’t have said it better when he said that “Consistent thinking is the hobgoblin of little minds.” It’s almost as if people are afraid to admit that there is one thing wrong, and if they do, the whole system of worship is thrown out of wack. Were Adam & Eve the first two humans? Highly unlikely unless we are all the product of incest. Did Jesus really turn water to wine? If he did, someone needs to tell me how he did it. In all seriousness, this has always caused me to feel like an ally to each theological system but never more than a guest. It wasn’t until someone described Buddhism to me as a “philosophy” rather than another type of religion that I felt that I was on the right path. I began to let go, to focus more on the now rather than the when. For the next few months I would hike as often as I could, sometimes being in the woods from morning to night as I allowed my mind to explore freely through it’s own depths. Over this time I became more acquainted with myself, learning what things I held of value and what things were little more than shimmering mirages.

“Dreams are the seedlings of reality.” — James Allen

One day as I embarked on yet another hike I decided to meditate in an attempt to record what I imagined onto paper so I could try to inspire my friends to pursue their own introspective journey. Now when I meditate, I almost feel as if I am dreaming. It’s as if you are knocking on the door of your subconscious and are only allowed a brief visit; but only if you’re willing to answer the door for yourself. You know what you know and you know what you don’t, so I believe that by looking at symbolism and cultural meaning of certain things one sees, you can better understand their authentic views. As I sat there with my eyes fluttering behind their lids, I witnessed a variety of images ranging from white tigers to snakes, from a conversation between two medieval court barons (one tall and thin and one small and bulbous), to the discovery of a cathedral encased in vines. As I entered the cathedral, I heard a voice not different from my own but not entirely the same. It told me to be confident in my word, to focus more on my time in this world as much as I could. It was not my friends who saw what I saw, but me, so what was the importance of sharing something they could never understand. I didn’t think anything of it until later that day when I was given a pack of dream symbolism cards from my mom, one of which stating that the discovery of a religious building in a dream is the discovery of, “The temple of your higher self”, while one covered in vines or some other vegetation “indicates a lack of a religious affinity.”

From that point I faced the world with the upmost optimism and idealism, believing that anything thought could be achieved. It was a positive perspective, but not a realistic one. Over the last few years I have still maintained some extent of my optimism, but the tides of life have definitely dampened it. My idealism still lingers but has been highly tainted by realism. I have delved more into philosophy as I have found it to be a comforting meeting ground between logic and spirituality as I have finally begun to realize why faith is so important to so many people. Faith is what we have when we have nothing left; what we turn to when all other options seem depleted. It gives us comfort when the future we face is the unknown with no one around to catch us. But God was not there for me when I fell; he did not lift my spirits when I needed aid. So if there is no God, what is there to take his place? To quote Frederich Nietzsche, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” It was not a quick death. It was slow, meticulous, and more than likely premeditated. As much as we do not like to admit it, man is self-destructive. He finds that which aids him the most and he rips it out by the roots and burns it. There is no God to give our faith to, no one to save us when the world goes to shit. We can not rely solely on the aid of others, but must place our faith in ourselves. Look within for answers, and you will find them. If you do not hear them, it is because you have not yet learned how to listen.

 

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The Waking Point

“Let us affirm what seems to be the truth, that, whether one is or is not, one and the others in relation to themselves and one another, all of them, in every way, are and are not, and appear to be and appear not to be.”

Imagine this: You wake up in a dark room, a dim light illuminating from somewhere just out of view. Feeling around you find yourself in a bed, your arms strapped to the side for some unknown reason. No matter how much you struggle to break free, the bands confining your wrists do not break. As your eyes adjust to the light you notice the shape of an unknown figure standing at the foot of the bed.

Despite your best attempts to get a look at their face, the room is still too dark to make out any defining features. Again you struggle to break free, but alas, the bands still hold. Suddenly you notice an array of tubes and IV’s wrapped around your arms, pumping unknown fluids and substances into your veins. “You need our help,” they begin, “You’re going to hurt yourself.” The figure moves closer, now hovering at the side of the bed. They look to be a doctor, but their shadowy face is still shrouded behind a mask. Despite feeling fine, they begin to make adjustments to the machine in front of them. You try to speak but nothing comes out.

“It’s alright, we’ll take care of it,” they say. Your body growing heavier by the second, suddenly the urge to fight is no longer present in your mind.

“Go back to sleep.”

Against your better judgement, you do as they say.

You awake again some time later, the length of which irrelevant to the situation. This time the light in the room is on, the tubing is now missing, and the bands discarded. A quick look around reveals that the figure is gone as well, the coast clear to make your escape. As you get to your feet you feel that your legs are a bit shaky, similar to the way one feels when on a boat for far too long. Making your way down the hall you discover that it is lined with dark rooms similar to your own, each designated to a different prisoner.

Here you are offered a choice: You can take the time to attempt to save another individual before the mysterious figure returns, or you can find the exit and escape.

If you opt to save the individual within the room you will discover that, despite your best efforts, there is little to nothing you can do to help them. Those who you are able to wake up will be irritated that a stranger has interrupted their sleep with incomprehensible babble, while those who remain asleep will be unaware that you even visited them in the first place. Even if you want to help the other sleeping captives, unless you’re a trained medical personnel you cannot without any serious risk of hurting them.

If you opt to escape and find the exit, what do you do upon finding the entrance to the real world?  Right now you are probably confused, and that’s okay. There is no wrong answer in this scenario. 

Similar to our own situation, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes a group of prisoners chained to a cave wall as they are forced to watch a blank wall parallel to their own. As they gaze upon it, they are exposed to a variety of images cast by a group of puppet masters on a platform above them. Due to the fact that the individuals chained to the wall are constrained, they are forced to view the mirages from a fixed perspective. The puppet masters hold a range of images in front of a fire, warping them in a way that they may convince the prisoners below that what they see is true and real. Eventually, Plato speaks of a philosopher who is able to break free of the constrains of the puppet masters and who escapes the cave, going forth to see the world for what it truly is. So, going back to the scenario from earlier, are you someone who chooses to focus on the well being of those around you, or are you someone who focuses on the securing of your own well being?

Now, whereas Plato believes that the one who breaks free of their chains will be a philosopher, I do not think this is always the case. Although those who may have been the wise thinkers in ancient Greece were the few, the world is much more different in today’s day and age. I believe that if anyone takes the time to just open their eyes to the world around them they will realize what a strange and foreign place this can be. Now, not just anyone can do this. Many people will go blissfully unaware their entire life of the real workings of the world around them; pawns to the hidden players behind the scenes. These are the people in the hospital who were unable to wake up, not even aware that they were sleeping in the first place. Even if they were aware, knowing about something and understanding it are two very different things. For example, the individuals in the hospital who awoke in an irritable state can be better seen as anyone who is aware of the real workings of the world, but is unable to understand it or does not know how to act in response. When man is confused he becomes angry, facing his lack of understanding with fury. Honestly, one of the best examples I can think of to explain this would be 9/11.

If you’re like me, when someone mentions the phrase 9/11, one of two things immediately come to mind: they are either talking about a national tragedy and the tone is about to get much more serious, or someone is about to unload another of countless conspiracy theories. One thing is for sure that, no matter what you may think caused 9/11, it was a day that caused many of America to look in the mirror and go, “We need to wake up.” Those who did wake up were angry at the world around them, not sure how to make light of such a catastrophic event. Many were scared and confused as they now found themselves placed in a world they no longer recognized, while other looked for the first figure to point their finger at and place blame. No one knew what was true and what was false; that much is clear. Unfortunately, what the public perceives to be true, and what is actually true is often never the same thing.

I often read historical articles and wonder just how accurate they truly are. For example, lets say there are two individuals playing with a gun. If person A suddenly takes the gun and shoots person B, he will certainly go to jail. However if a third person, person C, comes forth and says it was out of self-defense and that person B was going to harm person A, suddenly history records the lie as the truth. Even if people know that person C is lying and that person A is the murderer, the an accurate depiction of the truth will most likely not be settled upon. Now, I understand that many more factors would go into the above situation, but it should be simple enough to get the point across. The true truth is often muddied and clouded by human intervention driven by our own emotions and self-interest, becoming what I’ll call the subjective truth. Going back to the hospital scenario, you could easily wake up, find the exit, and forget that you were ever there to begin with. You could say you woke up and were the only one there, or that you even tried to save someone but to no avail. Or you could get up, find the exit, figure out exactly what needs to be done, and return to help when the time is right.

So tell me, what will you do when you wake up?

 

 

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Walking With Emerson

“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The road to success is no longer the dirt path seen by likes of Plato and Socrates, but has since been paved so that each individual may progress just one step further than those who came before them. Many hope to one day leave their mark along this path in hopes that another may look upon it with admiration and use it as inspiration to fuel their own self-journey. One obstacle that many seem to have trouble overcoming is figuring out how to leave a mark durable enough to last for generations to come. Take finger prints for example. As something that can be recovered years after a hand has come into contact with an object, it is no wonder why forensic scientists use them as a form of identification. Although it’s popular belief that each print is unique, psychometrician Sir Francis Galton claimed the there is about a one in sixty-four billion chance that another person has the same print as you. At first this doesn’t seem like a very high probability, especially when the world population has only just surpassed seven billion. However it’s actually much more likely that there may be up to one hundred people in the world who just might possess the same fingerprint as you. This isn’t to say that each person isn’t unique in their own way, they just simply aren’t original.

There are few men who understood this concept as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who himself once wrote, “The originals are not original. There is imitation, model, and suggestion…Read Tasso, and you think of Virgil; read Virgil, and you think of Homer…” Well my friend, while you read this piece, I ask you to think of Emerson. For a writer, our identity is not located on the tip of a finger but rather found within the contents of the page. Although many writers still strive to be different from their peers, it often can not be achieved before first exposing oneself  to the works of others. It should be noted that there is nary a writer who is consistent in their work. Emerson himself was weary of those who did not challenge their own beliefs, calling consistency “the hobgoblin of little minds”. In his essay titled Self-Reliance, he states that, “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.” When looking at this passage through a philosophical lens, Emerson is more than likely alluding to Plato’s Cave Allegory with his mentioning of a shadow. Plato believed An individual should avoid conformity and false-conformity, instead following their own ideas and urges. For one to succeed in life they must be willing to trust themselves and shed their rose-tinted glasses so they may perceive the world for what it truly is separate from the false truths constructed by society.

As a writer I always found it humorous when classmates would ask for my aid in writing their academic papers; and by aid, I mean asking me to write their paper for them. Yes, I did possess an adept literary ability in comparison to many of my peers; Unfortunately for my colleagues, they did not possess enough forethought to realize that many of their professors were already familiar with their literary voice. Similar to how our life experiences shape us as a person, our literary voice is often influenced  by writers whose work we have previously read or a work that we have felt a personal connection to. It may take some time, but a writer’s voice is always there if one only looks hard enough. Ironically, not many readers really like to think; they seek to read for entertainment rather to inform. For example, when reading Emerson it may take one quite some time to distinguish the true meaning behind his words. As someone riddled with so many contradictions and inconsistencies at every turn, he can come off as pretty damn confusing. What makes Emerson so defining in American literature is his focus on properly identifying what is “new” as well as what influence carried on from English culture. In this scenario, the new is not discovered or introduced as something completely unheard of, but an evolution of the old.

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” — Self-Reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson

Similar to how the dirt road of success is no longer present to our society, nor is the age of the tragic hero. Man had entered an age where he speaks with the words of the champions before him, living lives lead by words he has never heard. Although Emerson’s teachings can be interpreted as a type of “American philosophy”, he did not wish for his word to be followed to a tee. To paraphrase him, man should find that which is true to himself and act upon it, to “…watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.” Trust your gut; follow your intuition. This message can even be found imprinted upon his contemporaries, such as Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau met Emerson in 1837 during one of the latter’s lectures at Harvard. The two became good enough friends for Emerson to invite him to join the Transcendental Club, a group of intellectuals who would meet at his home to trade and discuss ideas. Similar to Emerson, Thoreau believed that everyone should trust in themselves and follow their own path, whether that be following in his footsteps or walking along their own stride. Although many followers of Thoreau attempt self-isolation similar to his stay at Walden, he states during the end of Economy, “I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account….I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way…” In short, do what it is that helps you achieve whatever it is you wish to achieve, but do it in the way that accommodates you. What works for one man will not always work for another; there is consistency in inconsistency.

When exposed to a new writer, I often find myself subconsciously rewiring my way of thinking to match their own as I familiarize myself with their style of writing. Whether it be a new school of study, a foreign belief system, or even an opposing view on an argument, I have found that by constantly altering my belief system I have been able to identify what values I agreed with and which I did not. For example, during the time I was enrolled in a Comparative Religions class in high school, I would adopt the system of faith that we studied for the duration of the unit as my own. When we studied Taoism I followed the way of the Tao Te Ching; when we studied the system of beliefs practiced by Native American tribes, I too would look towards the Great Spirit for guidance. Eventually I was able to feel out what customs I found true to my own life path, while also able to weed out that which I disagreed with. It was never about one singular form of faith, but rather the greater message shared amongst them.

During my time in college it I have been exposed to an array of writers, ranging from the most pessimistic to the most idealistic of thinkers. Of all of them, I must admit that there is none that have inspired me as much as Emerson. One of the most important lessons I have learned from him is that what is important about a piece of writing is not the writer themselves, but the greater underlying message hidden behind the text. Having been influenced by so many of their contemporaries, it’s almost as if each and every writer I have come across had a direct hand in each other’s work; almost to the point that their own voices have become nearly indistinguishable from one another. To reiterate Emerson, when one reads Virgil, they think of Homer; when they read Plato, they think of Socrates; when they think of Thoreau, they think of Emerson himself. It is okay if one’s work isn’t original, as long as credit is given where credit is due. If a writer could only so much as spark a change in a single reader; to cause them to act in a way they would have not if they had never come across their literary footprint; if they could do jus that, they have succeeded.

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Poking Holes

My mother once recounted that, when I was younger, I walked up to her and told her that I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t care so much about being rich or famous; my only desire was to draw so that I could make a living “drawing pictures for her.” From that moment on I would always be found with a pencil or crayon in hand, drawing whenever the opportunity would arise. Every birthday, family and friends alike could expect a personalized birthday card filled to the brim with a wide variety of zany doodles and whacky characters. So when Mrs. Johnson, my kindergarten teacher, told us on the first day of class to draw a picture in our notebooks, you can probably guess that it was a walk in the park for me. Well you would be extremely mistaken.

I remember sitting there for what seemed like hours, my clammy fingers wrapped tightly around the pencil as I tried to think of what it was I could draw that would allow me to stand out from the rest of my peers. Looking around, I assessed that my competition was no more than mediocre attempts at drawing “pretty flowers” or beloved family pets. For some reason I had the impression that if I made a mistake and drew the wrong thing there would be some type of consequence; that my drawing needed to be of the upmost quality otherwise I would be cast out as a social pariah. I can only attribute this acute irrationality to the negative depiction of education in children’s cartoons growing up. As I sat there, I watched the stack of looseleaf paper grow higher and higher, eventually realizing I was one of the only students who had not yet finished. In a fit of desperation I grabbed my pencil and drew the first thing that came to mind; a box (although looking back I admit it was really just a square). It was at that moment that I felt my first sense of self-doubt.

It would be an understatement to say that I possess a bit of a competitive streak; in-fact, it would not be a stretch to refer to myself as a bit of an extremist. In my mind it was all or nothing; if I wasn’t the best at what I was doing then it didn’t matter. As I grew older and my social sphere expanded, I came to the realization that no matter how much I practiced there would always be that one person who was unquestionably more talented than I was. It was not until I came across the cartoon, Invader Zim, that my view on drawing changed. Seeing how much success the show had achieved despite the crude illustrative style helped me realize that I did not need to be the best at drawing but simply had to find my own individual style. I no longer desired to have my art hung from museum walls, but rather come to life on television screens around the globe. Despite choosing the pencil for a different reason entirely, it was this very tool that would eventually allow my true calling as a writer to reveal itself.

I wish I could say that I spent my time productively in high school, but that would be lying. As many of us do, I had gotten caught up in my social life and had lost track of that which was important to me. In recent years my academic performance had deteriorated to less than satisfactory, with the only real class that I excelled in being English. Whenever I wrote it was as if I spoke with a voice that seemed to belong to someone else but was still my own. Despite the constant encouragement of my teachers to pursue a career in the field, I just didn’t feel that it was necessary; I already knew how to read and write, what else could they teach me? It wasn’t that I didn’t find them knowledgable or didn’t value their input; in fact at points I would go forth and seek it. I simply didn’t believe that they knew exactly what path was the best one for me. Still, some innate part of me felt that if writing was something I was good at, maybe I should pursue it. However up until this point in my life I did not have much literary experience beyond five paragraph essays and book reports. I had been taught to articulate my own thoughts to paper but rather than present my own, to reiterate those of others. I was being handed kindling but never taught how to start a fire.

By the time senior year had come around, I had grown weary of high school and felt that there was little more that the institution had to offer me. I was trapped in a box that I was desperately trying to escape from, haphazardly stabbing holes in an attempt to see the light. When I was presented with the chance to graduate a semester early, it was as if I had finally found a hole in the structure that was large enough to escape through. I spent the following months attempting to rediscover what kind of person I had become before I embarked on the next chapter of my life. Following in the steps of the likes of Emerson and Thoreau, I would spend many hours a day submerged in nature in an attempt to disconnect myself from the false truths of society. It was during this time that I discovered that I was not the only one who shared my beliefs, finding solace in the works of other great minds such as the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Frederich Nietzsche. For the first time in a long while, I felt that I was finalizing beginning to see life clearly. There was a fire burning within me, and it was finally beginning to flourish.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung

I have always been a firm believer that some of life’s most valuable lessons are not learned in a classroom, but rather out traveling the world. There always seemed to be something more; something that I felt that my educators had, for some reason, never felt the need to teach me. Ironically, I discovered that what drove me to write wasn’t so much the physical world, but the metaphysical. I wanted to know the answer to life’s larger questions; What happens when we die? Where did we come from? Why do we as humans act the way that we do? What is death? What is truth? There was a period of time where every day for over a year, I would start each morning by writing two-to-three pages on whatever it is I had dreamt about the night before. I would then research what each and every symbol represented and see how it correlated with my waking life. Unfortunately my family and friends did not share my curiosity, often finding topics such as death and the concept of “the afterlife” to be uncomfortable. With no one else to turn to, I took up meditating and began to look within myself for the answers I sought. As a friend of mine once told me, “You know what you know and you know what you don’t.”

I mean if you really think about it, our society is bullshit to begin with. From an early age we’re coerced into believing that in order to live a fulfilling life, all we need to do is work hard, get good grades, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, etc., then maybe, JUST MAYBE, you’ll have a chance to spend the last few years of your life doing whatever it is that you wish to do. I mean, that’s only if you’re lucky enough to have a body that isn’t decrepit and failing; Not to mention a lifetime of debt as you try and pay off that secondary education that everyone told you was “so extremely necessary” to make it big in the world. You spend life being constantly told what it is you should do, never being taught what exactly it is you could do. So I raise the question, what’s the point of living a life if you never truly have the chance to live it?

As a writer, one of my primary goals is to be a best-selling author — original, I know. However, unlike my competitive nature present in my youth, I no longer feel the need to be the best at everything that I do or to stand out whenever the opportunity may arise. Instead I reflect off the ideas of those who have come before me and learn from them to better improve my own potential. Being an individual is not about being original, but simply following the path that best suits you. Of course everyone should perform to the best of their ability, and a bit of competition is always healthy, but that does not in any way mean that one needs to be perfect. Without mistakes it would be impossible for us to learn and grow as individuals; impossible for us to find that which sets us apart from the rest of society. It is these individual distinctions that we must focus on if we may ever hope to find and strengthen our own inner voice.

In the world of writing — story-telling especially — being original can be extremely difficult. With a trade older than recorded language itself, it can be nearly impossible to think of that which has not been thought of before. I believe it was American film-director Stanley Kubrick who once said, “Everything has already been done. Every story has been told every scene has been shot. It’s our job to do it one better.” With that being said, how can one ever hope to improve their own work when they can not even identify that which sets them apart from the crowd. Find the passion that ignites your flame, let it burn, and let it burn free.

As Emerson once said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Reflection:

For this piece I had spent a majority of the writing process reflecting on my own life in order to assess what it is that has driven me to become the writer I am today. Starting with the memory from Kindergarten, I attempted to highlight experiences and characteristics throughout my life that I feel have helped influence my individual style. Unfortunately, due to how broad of a topic “originality” can be, I feel that I stretched myself too thin at points as I found myself going on numerous rants and tantrums that I felt may not be particularly important enough to include in this essay.

Where as my last post much more loosely followed my stream of consciousness, I am hoping that this one will be much more idea centered and will have a steady narrative so that the reader does not lose sight of the topic. At points I also found it beneficial to go back and completely rewrite entire paragraphs that, although powerful in the beginning draft, became much less necessary as other ideas began to take hold of the page.

I feel that my own inner voice was also much more apparent in this post in comparison to the last essay due to the versatility of the assignment. During the next draft I hope to cut out some of the self-reflecting in order to add more supporting evidence from historical figures who have influenced my way of thinking. Also, unlike the last piece, I feel that my ideas here were much more my own rather than reiterating the thoughts and ideas of others.

Second Draft:

In the second draft of this essay I focused more on individuality rather than originality. I felt that this topic allowed my train of thought throughout the piece to better aid in conveying the overall message, as well as strengthening the use of personal experiences.

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A Conscious Breeze

At some point in each writer’s life, they will ask themselves the question, “Why am I writing this? Who exactly is my intended audience?” In terms of writing an essay, this “audience” is often a teacher or professor; possibly a classmate in situations requiring peer review. In reality, when a student is asking the question they quite simply wish to know “What do you want me to write?” A student rarely puts in much thought beyond what will achieve them a passing grade in the eyes of their instructor. Film critic and writer Phillip Lopate once wrote “Essays are usually taught all wrong, they are harnessed to rhetoric and composition, in a two-birds-with-one-stone approach designed to sharpen freshman students’ skills at argumentation. While it is true that historically the essay is related to rhetoric, it in fact seeks to persuade more by the delights of literary style than anything else.”

Starting in grade school, students are taught that an average essay ranges about five paragraphs, consisting of an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, followed by a conclusion. However, if one were to look at the definition of an “essay” in the dictionary, they would find that it is only defined as “a short piece of writing on a particular subject.” Something that had previously appeared as so precisely structured becomes nearly free of form.

An essay is rarely ever referred to as “just an essay.” In my opinion, it serves as more of a template or foundation of which a modifier is then attached. In the end it really comes down to what the goal of the writer is. Where a formal informative essay often refrains from utilizing pronouns such as “I” or “me” to refrain from the writer inputing their opinion, an argumentative essay may ask for the very opposite, sometimes becoming more clear and easy to read when the writer separates their view from that of others they had previously mentioned. Although being opinionated can sometimes weaken a paper, it is that very passion a writer holds that can also drive that essay to succeed. I feel it is this very versatility of the craft that causes so much confusion during the writing process.

Contrary to popular belief, there really is no one definitive way of writing an essay. The genre of the essay is a living entity; changing and adapting as time goes on just as any other living thing must do to stay alive in this world. The genre itself is no different from that of the novel, who’s romantic period gave birth to that of Realism; and from that, Modernism. When looking at essays written by the likes of Plato, Immanuel Kant, or John Locke, one will find a much more formal style of writing than, say, Carl Klaus. Writing should never be about the end result but rather the journey in which one takes to arrive at their current location. For each of us, that journey will rarely look the same.

“What I write here is not my teaching, but my study; it is not a lesson for others, but for me.” – Michel Eyquem De Montaigne

It can be a bit nerve wracking to write an essay as, for some, it will be the first time their thoughts are out in the world displayed truly as their own. Individualism has never been welcomed in society, in fact I believe it was Emerson who said “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” Dare to be different, dare to step outside the line and be seen separate from the rest of the crowd. It’s okay to follow in another’s footsteps, but never let their steps overshadow your own. We are always growing as writers and must never forget that what works for one person will not always work for another.

Often in school, papers are written with the intent to argue or elaborate upon an idea with the mindset that the reader has no prior knowledge on the topic. More times than not this is done by utilizing the thoughts and ideas of others to help strengthen the writer’s own view on said topic. By using quotes from established writers like Montaigne or Emerson, a novice writer may attempt to appear more credible in their work. However, by doing so, a writer can often get caught up in this supporting data and potentially lose track of their own theory. This is where the essay can be used for reflective purposes in terms of looking back upon a writer’s “stream of consciousness.” Not only can an essay be beneficial in terms of informing a writer of what their own strengths and weaknesses are, but also an opportunity to look upon how their own train of thought processes certain material.

As members of mankind our minds are like leaves in the wind, flowing wherever it is the breeze may take them. The trunk of the tree is all that we have learned thus far and the wind is our stream of consciousness. Although two leaves of the same tree may glide in similar directions, it is not probable that ultimately they will find the same resting place. Only by looking back upon where it is we have already been are we able to determine what direction we are headed in. It’s very unlikely that two individuals, even if granted the same resources and opportunities to education, will choose to write the same thing as one another when presented the chance. It is our cognitive filter that allows us to absorb and learn from our individual experiences so that we may better shape our own lives. It is that very pool of information we acquire that is reflected in our work when we bring the pen to paper.

Everything considered, I feel the beauty of an essay is that it allows a writer to showcase what it is they have learned and accumulated through their studies over the years. This in no way must be academic, as an essay will not always reflect what one learned in a classroom or from a textbook. Any artist, from a musician to a painter, will tell you that the greatest lessons they had learned were not witnessed in a classroom or from behind a desk but out in the world experiencing what it is to be alive. I have always asserted that it is a good thing to trust one’s own self when it comes to writing as no other being will ever truly be able to tell you how well you know about a certain topic besides yourself. On that note, one must still possess a wholesome sense of self-criticism. Confidence is key but hubris can be one’s own downfall. Although freedom of expression is important, a writer should always be aware of the influence of their work. The world is ever changing and tomorrow will never be the same as yesterday. As I stated above, society does not always support individualism; In fact I would even go as far as claiming that they condemn it more times than not. Still, dare to be different. No two things need to be alike, so be damned sure that you are the first.

Reflection

Honestly, I had never really put much thought into what it meant to write an “essay” until this semester. Going into this I honestly was unsure of what it was I was supposed to write in the first place. In the past I had always just assumed an essay was a body of writing, longer than a paragraph but shorter than a novel, although the definition of it had never seemed clear.  When writing the above piece I had initially tried to define what I thought it meant to write an essay. However, the more I began to write and the longer I sat behind the keyboard, the quicker I began to realize that I had little to no clue about where I would even begin. What had other great minds already said that I could avoid repeating? What had thy said that I could use to strengthen my own point and build upon? What haven’t they said that I could build upon, but also, why haven’t they said it?

Eventually I allowed my stream-of-consciousness to run amok and flow freely in an attempt to follow my own train of thought. When I found myself with little to work with to support my point, I attempted to utilize quotes that may be related to what it is I was trying to convey. Often I find that quotes that stick out to me while writing an essay tend to be related to what it is I am trying to say, even though I may not realize it upon initially reading them. While doing this I also tried to avoid sounding like I was just recycling the thoughts of other writers, despite specifically highlighting that during one paragraph. The writing process for this essay could best be described as a conversation with a new acquaintance; the essay and I know each other well enough to have a simple conversation here or there but we never really progress passed small talk. At some points I felt I was more focused on myself rather than the essay, while at other points I felt that I had not attempted total about her in depth enough. I hope that by my last post we will know each other as intimately as two lovers.

My overall goal was to focus on the aspect of individualism that can be reflected in an essay by the writer, as well as the versatility found in the form itself. I felt that the Emerson quote helped as it emphasizes the severity in which society may punish the individual.  I wanted whoever read this to forget all understanding they may possess involving the essay and enter with a clean slate, unafraid to show their own unique perspective on any given situation or topic without any fear or persecution.

The overall point of this draft was to help me figure out what exactly about the essay interested me so that in the future I may focus on whatever aspects become apparent. I would like to focus more on the individualism that can be found by writers, perhaps emphasizing more of the philosophical aspect of an essay.

Second Draft:
I began by rereading my post and discovering what it was each paragraph was generally about. I then reorganized them to a more chronological order that allowed my words to flow better before rewriting paragraphs that may have been sloppy. I then expanded upon the importance of individuality in the essay while attempting to add more emotion to the text.

(Photo by Mariam Soliman on Unsplash)