Saturday, April 4, 2009

there are two types of people in the world: those who ____ & those who ____

I just found a college entrance essay I wrote in 2005 in response to the (stupid) prompt: "There are two types of people in the world: those who _____ & those who _____." This is what I wrote. (Remember, I was 17 years old at the time! So be nice if this is all a bit ridiculous! lol)

Rebecca O'Neal
June 2005

There are two types of people in the world, those who know language to be a tool of persuasion, to be used with accuracy and precision, and those who use language solely as a tool of communication, as a means with no particular end in mind. Those who fall into the former group would cringe upon hearing their arduous journey toward enlightenment termed as "falling"; those in the latter would not know the difference. Like those Biblically born into sin, we are all doomed, for at least a time, to be among those not aware of the power held by language and do not know the latent error of our ways. Until we are taught differently, we remain oblivious to the prospect of MORE.

It has been my experience that those who are aware of the power of language also hold an affinity for it. Conversely, those who have not yet been awakened to that power tend to either be indifferent to, or even exhibit distaste for things related to extended or elevated uses of language, such as academic reading and writing, usage of proper or heightened spoken language, and leisure literary activities ( i.e. reading or writing outside of school). Because we all, more or less, begin in the latter group, levels of extremity differing, the question "How does one progress from one group to the next?" naturally arises. The answer is definitely a complex one.

In elementary school, with the exception of unnaturally precocious children, we are all the same, being expected to learn first the alphabet, how to write and read, construct simple sentences, and later to write cohesive pieces of academic literature, with the common properties of format being universally duplicable. These pieces are called, affectionately by some, resentfully by others, Five-Paragraph-Essays.

Once this archetype has been mastered, not much else is required of the student. Though there are variations from this format, persuasive, expository, narrative, etc, the blueprint remains the same: introductory paragraph, in which a thesis is explicitly stated, three body paragraphs, which are almost unwaveringly less poignant expositions of dependant clauses contained in the thesis, and finally the hardly-necessary conclusion, an often verbatim regurgitation of the introduction.

In high school (my knowledge can only speak of public, selective enrollment primary and secondary schooling), English I, expands to lightly graze over the most rudimentary of literary devices, only requiring students to identify them or use them in vacuums and out of context. English II, American Literature, attempts to encourage Literary Criticism, but never strays away from the Five-Paragraph-Essay. English III, British Literature, rather than tackling, merely settles to engage in requiring students to memorize the names of literary movements. These are the years in which students are given the tools and the option to make the transition into the former group.

With two roads diverged before them, most students are grateful to have taken the road less traveled by; my two roads were these: English IV or Advanced Placement Language and Composition. My choice was simple and it has made all the difference.

Everything I thought I knew about writing and literature was thrown out of the window in AP LANG. My general sweeping notions were sifted for kernels of usable information and concentrated to save room for the knowledge I was about to receive. Diction and syntax, the chameleons that they are, became my best friends. Jeanette Winterson, Annie Dillard and Virginia Woolf became my mentors. I was inducted into the group of those who appreciate the power of language.

It was a challenge to readjust to the rest of the world after the shift. My new friends in my new "group" and I have not since been able to read or write arbitrarily. As Thomas Mann so pithily stated, "A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." Other people, those who have not (yet) been exposed to language as art, as persuasion, are allowed to mercilessly take pen to paper by those who know better because there is no simple way to deposit this life changing information into someone's mind; there is no switch to be flipped. The only exception to this is the unexplainably gifted Emily Dickinson, who possessed a seemingly innate membership into the group to which I now belong.

Those unaware of the power of language cannot be faulted for their ignorance. For some people, the knowledge isn't desirable, just as complex science holds no interest for me. For others, the knowledge simply hasn't presented itself conveniently enough. I was fortunate enough to attend a school where there WERE two roads; most students my age are only offered one path. Because the road less traveled has led me to this state, which I enjoy immensely, I can only hope to once again visit the place where the two roads diverged and show more inquisitive minds the way.

Once I'm a successful, famous(, critically praised?) writer, I'll consider this my seminal work lol.

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