Here is an excerpt from my personal essay(s):
I was told the five senses, if described enthusiastically and in great detail, are directly tied to emotion in the reader. For example, if I write a full paragraph on the magnificence of a book, it’s texture, smell, sound and sight that my reader will relate to my words, my story, and emote in proper fashion. I know, as a reader myself, it is hard to relate to and truly understand descriptions of intangible things. When one writes, “the show was amazing,” where is the measure of what amazing is? Such generic words have thousands of meanings to thousands of people. We are unique, and therefore have unique experiences. One person’s amazing show could be a drab event for another. Now if the writer states, “the air was touched with electricity, a tension vibrated above the heads of the spectators until the bass line began, and a lightening bolt effect left the sounds sizzling in the ears of the young crowd,” you can almost feel that tension, you can almost smell the burnt atmosphere. It doesn’t document the “amazing-ness” of the experience, but paints a picture that the reader can determine to be amazing, or not.
As a writer, however, I have also been told that my essays contain too many words. That my constant descriptions oftentimes are word vomit that smell too strongly of cheesiness and drama. Despite several writing classes, I cannot seem to reconcile this dichotomy in me. If I try to trim my essays of superfluous words, they are devoid of any true imagery. I may have description, but they only hit on one of the five senses: the brown chair looked like melted chocolate. Or they have no senses at all, but an over abundance of intangible and existential ramblings: What is love? How did we come to exist? WHY ARE WE HERE? When I try to add tangible images to these essays, the dramatic overflow of words leave my readers rolling their eyes. Where is the in-between?
When I was younger, my father told me that good writing had description. Without it, there would be nothing to relate to, no meaning, and no point. He held up a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and told me to read it. I would understand from this master of words, artist of imagery, the importance of detail. He claimed that when he was younger, he had read Steinbeck and was able to visualize the vast expanse of Californian land mentioned in the book. He witnessed the sunrise and felt the holy occurrence of the setting sun over rolling hills of green. He had never been to California, but Steinbeck had allowed him to partake in this religious experience. Think of what you can accomplish. What you will give to people.
The thought now almost brings me to tears. And on completely hormonal days, it does. Lately, though, it seems that every day I keep asking the same questions. How did I get here? Where is here? Who am I? And most importantly, what am I going to do with my life? There are simple answers to these questions. I got here because of choices I made. Here is Iowa City, epicenter of creative writing. It is home to the illustrious Writer’s Workshop, one of the most sought out MFA programs on the continent. I am a 23-year-old college graduate. I have a BA in English and Religious Studies. And no options in post undergraduate life. I am in the middle.
On a literal level, the middle is where I reside, Iowa being one of the states that is in the center of North America. Lawfully, I am in the middle. I live independently of my parents, paying my own bills, working at a job that provides me with medical and dental insurances. However, my parents still cover certain finances, like car insurance and payments. They treat me to meals and clothes whenever a visit happens, and even though I wish I were wealthy enough to pay for everything, I gratefully take the handouts they offer, realizing if it weren’t for them, I would be wearing the same four shirts and two pairs of jeans from four years ago. Emotionally, I am in the middle. I have matured from the sullen, angst-ridden teenager I was in high school, but have not stepped out of the insecurities of being well liked or friendless. I have realized that certain things are out of my hands and that despite my best efforts I cannot control everything. This middle ground, though, it oftentimes feels like sinking sand. The middle, literally, emotionally, and lawfully, pulling me towards an adult life I do not want.
This brings me back to my questions. The questions that cause physiological reactions in me, like pounding headaches, knotted muscles, and salty tears: How did I get here? Where is here? Who am I? What am I going to do with my life? When I was younger, I imagined myself as an artist. My creations would not have brushes, canvases and oil paints, but periods, paper and a collection of colorful words. These words would come together smearing the lines of reality and fiction. She is me and I am her, and you are me and we are all together an entity with unique qualities and varying shades of personality. This collage of faces and places and experiences would be my stomping ground. It would be my responsibility, one that I would gladly take, to bring vibrancy to the mundane. What are words if not tools to communicate an underlying truth; to paint the religiosity of each human understanding; to stand as testament to the world that we live in. Just don’t forget description. Don’t forget Steinbeck. A great writer hits the five senses.