In high school, every English teacher drilled the repetitive and confining “keyhole” essay format into students’ heads from the very first day of classes until the dreaded final exam. Thankfully, my grade 12 english class was a safe haven that fostered class discussion, critical thinking and most importantly, creativity. However, it was also the stuffy room that betrayed me to the world of essay writing once every two weeks, and forced me to drag out long papers that felt fruitless and boring. After throwing a few paragraphs together and slapping a title on, I would hand in work that felt unfulfilling, and read nothing like the literary masterpieces we had studied all semester long. To compare, English and I were in a love-hate relationship that would’ve made early Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy look lovesick.
So, let’s take a look back to my fall term of grade 12. My writing was as messy as ever and my assignments were consistently up to par, but I felt that the essay writing process limited me. Some limits, such as word count and a specific number of paragraphs, helped me to filter down my thoughts and keep things brief. Other limits, such as the “point, proof, comment” ordering of all sentences, and the small range of topics we could explore, made my writing forced and constrained. I couldn’t choose to write in areas that interested me, and my apathetic approach to most topics took the personality out of my writing. I approached each essay with dread and distaste.
Now -while I would love to blame all of my drab essays on the confines of format and the cruelties of structure- I think the biggest limit on my writing was myself. I just couldn’t find room for expression within the borders of a typical essay. I could back up every point with proof and commentary, and I could reign my topic in from a generalized statement to a deliberate thesis. But, I couldn’t seem to make anything lively or worth a read after the bell rang. Every paper handed back had the same comment “great format, more rhetoric”. This drove me up the wall, and I struggled, trying to put some heart into the words I wrote.
The only pieces where my rhetoric and passion seemed to find their place was in persuasive essays, where we could choose a topic that was somewhat important or relevant to us. Being able to research an issue that meant something to me made all the difference. Suddenly, my essays were worthy of a second glance, and my marks reflected the work and research that I had put into my arguments. Those marks were the sweet, savoury part of my grade 12 year. Calculus was not quite as sweet, but that’s a whole other world of terrors.
In contrast to the heat and excitement of a good persuasive essay, my worst English nightmare was a comparison essay -which often went hand in hand with the final exam. There was just so much research, and we looked so deeply for similarities between texts that I could never tell if I was making adequate connections or desperate comparisons. I always got lost somewhere between the two books, wondering if they were actually comparable at all.
Anyways, high school was high school, and so far university isn’t anything like it. I’m hoping the same trend applies to English. Thus far University has been lots of late nights and free food, so maybe the academic aspect will offer something a little more useful and a little less detrimental to my health. More than anything, I just want to find my voice while I’m here. I love the freedom in works of poetry and musical lyrics, and I love writers who can create entire worlds in paper and ink. I just need to figure out how to make things sound that beautiful and intelligent while still keeping it cool; mastering that precarious balance between putting your life story on the page and putting something resemblant of an instruction manual.
It is my sincere hope that this course will put purpose back into my academic writing, and mend my relationship with the dreaded “essay format”. I love poetry, plays, books, books and above all, books; so it’s safe to say that I’ve always loved English, most ardently. Things just got rocky in high school when the structure of words became more important than the meaning behind those words. So, I’m looking forward to this step in my educational career, and I can’t wait to see what happens when the medium that I write in no longer dominates the message, giving me a strong, distinct voice.