Meet the Gaymer

lil game bot

When I first came out to one of my friends I remember thinking that gays don’t play video games. I was actually so afraid to tell him because we were currently in the middle of playing a video game. He was across town in his room and I was on my side of town in my room, connected by the internet and an online gaming service. The landscape ahead of us was a veritable battlefield. The pixelated battle had us running, occasionally dodging bullets and plasma bolts. But there I was, on my couch wondering if I could say “hey, I’m gay by the way. I don’t know if you knew that.” All the while, I was honing my Spartan battle skills, ruthlessly killing the enemy team. I felt at odds with my cyborg warrior persona on-screen and my suddenly anxious 20 year old fully human self in real life.

This isn’t a coming out story, however. Although I was afraid of coming out, I realized that leading up to that conversation, another idea had occurred to me. All of my life I have just accepted the idea that I was a gamer. My father played video games, my older brother played video games, my mother played video games (don’t challenge her in Tetris), my sister played video games… and I did too. For me, it was as natural as breathing. As I got older and started discovering other aspects of my identity, I realized my orientation and came out. But the thought that had preoccupied my mind was: do gay people play video games?

I thought, “well obviously, just look at me.” But being one gay who had’nt really met many others I wasn’t quite sure I could trust my individual experience. It would take a few more years before I really found other communities wherein people identified both as gay and as gamers. Gaymers, even! And then of course I found it was more than just gay gaymers, but also lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and so on were all playing video games. I realized that at some point in my life I had internalized a belief that LGBTQ+ people just did not play video games. This doesn’t seem altogether too different from the idea that cis/straight women also don’t play video games. The demographics might be different, but people still do play video games despite whatever their identity is or the stereotypes around them.

 

 

One might be wondering why this is even a salient dilemma in my life. I guess my opinion is that I don’t ever want to feel like I have to find some way to justify being a gay gamer. Or that anyone else should ever have to do the same or similar. These identities we hold are our prerogative. I claim the identity of a gamer, and I do not need to explain that or have someone say, “I didn’t know gay people played video games.” Or as countless women have experienced in many hobbies and interests, where incredulous men balk at women enjoying gaming or whatever other “masculine” hobby.

A long time ago I discovered that saying I was a gamer and owning that identity was important to me. Even before I knew I was attracted to men, I knew that I would get along infinitely better with someone else who also enjoyed video games. And later when I came out, I realized that I needed to be with someone who was queer like me. Even though these are such different identities, one is innate and the other is extrinsic. What unites these identities is simultaneously the individual who possesses these identities, but also the society that deems those combinations acceptable or not. On one side we have the internal, and everything that we have discovered about ourselves and the way we interact with the world. On the other, the world of the external wanting to reach in and either confine our select identities, or progressively — uplift them.

For many marginalized communities, much of what is being fought for is the right, or really — the dignity — to be seen as equally human in the eyes of others. It isn’t strange then that down the road from earning the essential respect of others, we’d also be seeking to smash the relics of long-held stereotyping and slandering. And although the idea I held of gay gamers not existing is not as serious or dire a stereotype as say, gay men being portrayed as pedophiles, it still occupies our attention. Every stereotype must be challenged, even down to the most “innocuous” (if such a stereotype exists) because not to do so essentially gives some credence to bigoted thought. The expression, “if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile” comes to mind. Of course, the Terry Pratchett saying also comes to mind: “a lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

 

 

Although the world now sees more and more people of different identities participating in these hobbies, much work still has to be done to make them truly inclusive to all people. Gamers often flock to streaming websites to watch their favorite players or teams competing now in e-sports. But a shameful facet of gaming has been an uncomfortable closeness with casual homophobia and misogyny. At times when gaming, people can become quite intense as their adrenaline and other biological, it shouldn’t excuse the times when gamers cry out vulgar and offensive language that by the very nature of the words target and demean gay people, and LGBTQ+ people at large.

In recent memory, in one of my favorite online multiplayer games a somewhat popular streamer (XQC) who plays the game told another player, Muma, to go “suck a fat cock” and that he might actually like that. (https://clips.twitch.tv/EasyTrappedOxDansGame) Obviously, this unacceptable behavior for a pro-player, but also of anyone. Some may call it trash talking, but we often end up excusing poor sportsmanship and outright bigotry when we just throw our hands up like that. And what really happens then is that the community suffers when someone who is not quite sure of their place in the gaming community sees that hatred occur. If I was a recently out gamer, I’d probably never want to touch Overwatch again or any other game where that happened. Luckily, the game and league took punitive action for XQC’s words. But in personal discussions I had online in the aftermath of this video being spread, I debated with people who were adamant that he had done nothing wrong. Even more egregious, many were happy to say that it’s good for gay people to be insulted and mocked like that.

The marriage of two identities like gaming and being gay carries this sort of baggage. The issue is that we often don’t see how far down the rabbit hole bigotry has gone. As we explore these extrinsic identities, the hobbies that we choose and fall in love with, they often have a community of their own. And just like any community, they can be rife with issues large and small. As a student, I experienced this as well. I came to my college feeling as though I should not be actively proclaiming my orientation, and simply fade into the student body. But I found that there were causes on campus that were worth championing. There were so many reasons to raise my voice and push for change in that environment. It is the same with the gaming community. Even just writing this essay reminds me that I may be one voice, but sometimes those single voices add up, and become a chorus.

 

 

A few years ago, the gaming community was rocked by a so-called scandal dubbed “Gamergate” as are all scandals because “thing + gate” equals a glib title. But what was purported to be a campaign to purge the community of dishonest journalists and review-rigging, turned into a series of disgusting attacks on so many people of marginalized identities. If the community was preoccupied with questions of journalistic integrity, how did these concerns so quickly become reasons to transition into attacking minority members of the gaming community? Regardless of the answer, the set-back suffered by what can only be equated to a sudden and unstoppable need to void one’s bowels. The gaming community today is making great strides in becoming ever more inclusive. Accountability, it seems, is a good way to make sure the rising stars of the professional gaming scene stay respectful. It is often difficult to teach someone how to have empathy, but if that proves too difficult a task, at least they can show that bigotry and hate are not tolerated in an inclusive gaming community.

All in all, I am mostly happy with where the gaming community is now. I am not afraid or worried about proclaiming my identity as a gamer. And similarly, I am out and proud about my identity as a gay man. It is true that both can suffer setbacks and frustrations, but with time and effort I can only hope that I do my part to make the gaming community more accepting, and maybe the world as a whole a bit more accepting of LGBTQ+ people in general. Even if we don’t all play video games, we all possess the identity of human being, and in most cases, that should transcend our misgivings or ignorance when dealing with others. The virtual worlds I enter may have their own problems, many of which involve collecting 20 crab shells or stopping an evil villain. But the real world still has its own demons to grapple with, and I can’t remain AFK (away from keyboard) when confronting those problems myself.

The Cathedral of Sound

Oftentimes the most profound elements of our lives come to be through the most unsuspecting means. Small decisions we make in the moment can ripple through our lives forevermore. Even in times of darkness and doubt we can find some form of solace that transforms life into something beautiful, or maybe even just a bit more bearable. And so my story begins, about six or seven years ago now, alone and and wracked with illness.

Between 2011 and 2012 I had experienced a great deal of change in my life. I had graduated high school, and instead of going straight into college I decided to apply for Americorps, and more specifically, City Year. To my surprise I was accepted, and fast-forward to my arrival, I found myself in San Antonio. A world away from home, I was thrust into a new paradigm of self-reliance. I was no longer under the purview of my parents, and a safety net was nowhere to be found. I was to succeed or fail as an individual.

At 17, I was quite naive — as most people are — and also quite unhealthy. I was not adept at cooking for myself, and I was apt to consume junk food and stay up very late. I soon found this would snowball into other issues when I discovered just how early I would need to wake up to make it to work every day. Though we were lucky to receive free bus passes, it was still a pain to make it to work when I learned that my 5:30AM bus would require me to awaken at 4:30 to take a shower and fully prepare for the long day. The bus would then take about an hour to cross the city, drop us off at around 6:35 and we (my roommate and I) would then catch the next bus to finally arrive at our destination.

All of this was quite draining on someone who was already not good at taking care of himself. I was prone to sickness and constantly exhausted. It did not help that depression also takes its toll. Finally, in January, it came to a head. Laying in bed (simply a mattress on the floor) I was burning up and somewhat delirious from sickness. Thankfully I was heading into the weekend — which would mean I could sleep some of this illness off. But I was also often struggling to sleep. I would toss and turn most nights. In the past, I had taken to listening to tracks of white noise or the sounds of rain to help me fall asleep. That night though, it did not seem to be enough. Turning to my Pandora account, I turned it to a station that I had tried a few times, the name of which eludes me now. Suffice it to say that it was some sort of soothing/relaxing station.

 

And that is when I heard her. Years later I would hear her music described, in the words of Karen Moline, as a cathedral of sound. And it was so. Her ethereal voice immediately worked its way into my illness-ridden form, and for a moment alleviated a degree of anxiety I had not even known I was feeling. This was probably the first time I had ever really listened to Enya, though I imagine I had heard her music before that time. It occurs to me though, that this was a difference. I may have heard her music or name, but in this moment when I truly needed it, I listened.

I had never been a person who struggled to associate with music, or any other media, that called to me. I have never been ashamed of my love of Enya. Every time I mention my love for her music, people usually give me one of two different reactions: 1. Who is that? or 2. Enya? Why? Oftentimes, the second option is met with someone mocking her song, Only Time. I don’t let it bother me, though. I have come to the realization that with something as therapeutic for me as her music, I will always be confident and sure in my appreciation.

It has been many nights since I had first heard her, and I am still listening to her at night. I listen to her when I have a headache, or when I am feeling sad. I often listen to her when I am doing my homework, and even now as I write this I am listening to her music. I have listened to other musicians and bands and been quite enthused by their music. Yet, when it comes to Enya she has captured my heart and soul like no other truly has. At night when I lay alone, I can turn to her music as a way to fill the empty space around me. I am not suggesting that for lack of a lover I turn to her music, but rather that in moments of loneliness and isolation, I can experience a sense of love and joy.

 

It may seem gratuitously saccharine, but it seems to me that most people have some entity in their lives, whether it be a person or belief… anything, really, that performs a similar function as Enya’s music does to me. This is something that doesn’t quite compare to a religious belief, I do not worship her music nor do I see her as any particular hero. I however do find that she was successful in creating a sense of wonder and pleasure in at least one listener. The pitch of my life has not been defined by her music, but it has been a welcome companion. We don’t necessarily get to choose who or what makes us feel a certain way, but we do get to choose if we let them occupy our lives evermore. Just like with sorrow and woe, we sometimes make an unconscious choice to let certain things fall away from our lives, even things we consider positive elements. From my initial exposure and onward, I decided to keep Enya’s music close to my heart. Her music represented my own desire in the overwhelmingly positive forces of the world, even in the moments when I could not muster the force of will to believe in them.

My love for Enya reminds me sometimes of my reticence to speak about my own identity. At times when I want to listen to her or talk about her music, I’m worried what people will say or think. I know that in a lot of ways, it really doesn’t matter what they believe. The tough thing about holding an identity at times is mustering the courage to share that. Although being a fan of Enya’s music doesn’t quite carry the same societal baggage as other identities, it is something like a microcosm of the experiences I’ve had with my identity of being a gay man. I’ve had similar times where I just can’t quite say a certain phrase because I’m afraid of the backlash.

 

And why should I suffer any shame for enjoying Enya? I know in my heart that I nor anyone else should be ashamed for enjoying our innocuous and innocent passions. But still there remains a scar of shame, a wound that I feel anytime I wish to share it. I know that people are often likely to joke about the music in one way or another. The solace I find, however, is back in the music. Music can drown out the sounds of others but it also can occupy the forefront of one’s mind.

When I grow stressed from nearly anything, I know that I can turn to Enya’s music and let it take me completely. I simply close my eyes and let the music fill my mind. I float on her vocals and glide with her instrumentals. In the song “On Your Shore” I am drowned in the mournful clarinet. When her music is solemn or joyful, I still find a connection, within myself, to some sort of greater universal patience. And that is what I find her music does for me. In moments alone or drawn in to myself, I can listen to her music and find some connection, some relationship with a sense, or mentality wider than my own self. I am but one part of the larger experience that is reality. Enya let’s me feel comfortable in that role.

The Mosaic That is Me: Identity and Self

Gazing into a mirror too long is a uniquely disturbing experience. After looking too long, our faces stop being recognizable. We keep looking until the very idea of our own form becomes unrecognizable. However, maybe what is happening is that we recognize on some level what we see is merely a reflection. And that reflection is only an image of the skin, muscle, sinew and bone that comprises our physical body, and that behind that lies yet another world of depth. We look out from a seat of identity and self that perceives the world, and when we stare at “ourself” long enough, we almost become trapped in a feedback loop of perception and reflection. Reflection in this case, being not the image in the glass, but in the consideration of ourself and the importance and value we place upon that concept.

For many, their identity is not something they need to look at for too long before they feel unrecognizable and perhaps even disturbing. Despite how gregarious of a species humans supposedly are, we are remarkably adept at establishing in-groups and out-groups. This is a timeless issue, it seems. Entire religions are based on their history of ostracism, for example. Even now it seems our society is still keen on denying people rights based off identities that they hold.

Identity remains important, however, despite attempts to crush or quash them. If one subscribes to the notion that adversity promotes growth and develops strength, then holding onto the identity markers that historically, or in their own lives, have caused duress, then one can know generally what they have survived. This is not to say anyone deserves to be oppressed. Rather, we comprehend the realities of the world we live in and reject the idea that we should run and hide for simply being who we are. And there is a strength in that. We did not ask for this adversity, but we endure it yet still. We know that the fight will never really be over because every step of the way we will be criticized for our actions.

As a gay man I think of the colorful and loud Pride parades held yearly throughout the world. So often a common refrain I hear criticizing those parades is: “why do they need to dress this way?” or “why are they so loud and sexual?” And the answer honestly should be that we do not need to answer these questions. Those questions typically come from some sort of gatekeeper who would seemingly offer acceptance so long as we act in some sort of “acceptable” manner. The meaning of our clothing, or lack thereof, and the noise and sexual nature is to be seen and to be heard. It is to be seen as being unashamed and unafraid. It is so many peoples experience that they are shunned or ostracized for just being who they are, that marching down a major boulevard and singing their pride to the crowds and anyone else who might hear it is empowering.

When one embraces their identity, they become more comfortable with their own life. Embracing one’s identity is far easier when they live in a world where those around them do not judge them negatively for their identity. Unfortunately, society often acts as a sieve in which all of the negative beliefs about an identity is poured. What an individual receives then are the negative perceptions of their own identity which often leads to despair and isolation. If the message one is hearing is that the world around them thinks they are repugnant, then it is not necessarily hard to believe why one might cut themselves off from others. But society is not always rational, and ignorant beliefs often spread like an infection. To fight this and to lift up the marginalized identity groups, there must be an active effort by people of all groups to be informed and educated.

Ignorance is quite often the driving force behind hatred and bigotry. As I said before, we are a gregarious species, but when we get it into our minds that some group is icky, then people will be more than happy to push the group out or ostracize them in some other way. Through education however, we can show people that though there might be some differences, they are not irreconcilable. When faced with the prospect of opening our minds a bit to let new ideas and understandings of the world in, we should consider that a much better option than the oppressive notion that is attempting to silence those who cannot change an immutable aspect of their humanity.

Consider that conversion therapy is still a method many parents turn to in hopes of “fixing” their child. Though it is now being recognized more widely as a grotesque and cruel form of treatment, there are still places where it remains legal. Until it is outlawed and seen as a criminally harmful act, we must understand that on some level we (as a society) are still suggesting that this form of bigotry is acceptable. Identity is a fundamental part of each individuals life, and this “therapy” suggests that things like sexuality can be molded or altered to a desired outcome. It seems that those who would rebuke certain identities are not just satisfied with marginalizing them. They would also like to try and make a business out of torturing them into being “normal.” Normal being a standard applied by those who perceive homosexuality as abhorrent.

For many youth, coming out and finding their identity is associated with a degree of uncertainty. It is not uncommon for people even into their twenties to “try on” different labels to feel out the various different definitions and how they fit. It took me until I was 23 to finally decide on exactly how I identify. What shouldn’t be confused, though, when talking about this compared to conversion therapy, is the element of choice. Truly, one could choose not to use any sort of language that could identify them as one way or another. Yet, being able to choose one label and discard it when one realizes it does not quite fit them is important to the discovery of their identity. Conversion therapy on the other hand is the idea that one can force, or compel, a change in identity. A youth that believed themselves to be bisexual and then decide they are actually a lesbian is not going through a conversion. They just found a more apt descriptor for themself. A youth going through conversion therapy is being forced to accept a sexuality they entirely do not embrace. They did not “discover” that they were straight, they were abused into saying they were to stop their suffering.

Identity is integral to our lives. A lot of us embrace the idea of talking about and priding our identities. Most of the time, due to necessity in combating shame and bigotry we have experienced. But talking about identity is important to those who believe themselves part of the majority as well. It makes sense that many of the pioneers of these conversations will be the marginalized, the ones whose minds are already quite preoccupied with these thoughts and ideas. But value can be found in talking about these things with straight and cisgender individuals. A straight cis male still has a valuable role in these conversations because whether they like it or not, they do have a sexuality and a gender identity. And it is important to include them because for some the belief is that they are the “default” and that there really is no conversation to be had. Instead, they may be somewhat common, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about their roles and expectations just as we might talk about a transwoman or a non-binary persons.

When we deprive ourselves of these conversations, we lose something that often feels quite intangible. Perspective is lost when some feel they do not need to introspect. I wonder who among the readers will have gotten to this paragraph and think that this has no bearing on their life as of yet? You have a sexuality, no? And yes, even Asexuality is “a sexuality,” no pun intended. The point being, I’m certain that a few straight, cis individuals will peruse this essay and believe that they shouldn’t be involved in a conversation about identity. I say to that: perish the thought. You have an identity, and you should be able to talk about it. I talk about mine, why not talk about yours? Just make sure you’re also ready to listen and hear others.

In Defense of the Distraction

This entire past week has been rife with distraction. My school has been on spring break this past, which means that students are incentivized to find alternative ways to entertain themselves. Many students found themselves abroad or at major spring break party loci. Others committed to work full-time for that week, or found alternative break options that typically include service and other volunteer work. There of course is another group, one that I particularly hope expands beyond past just myself of course. Those who elected to “focus on homework” and stayed behind for the week. The reality of that choice, however, has seen me complete an entire season of a television series, watch a two-hour finale event for another show, play video games, watch endless youtube clips, and indulge in playing one of my favorite card games. I have done so much “nothing” that I reached the conclusion to do actual work otherwise I would have become bored to tears. On the other hand, I find that hobbies and avocations and other such distractions are quite necessary to the maintenance of my own psychic health.

I struggled a bit with deciding on what exactly to call these flights of fancy. Hobby seems almost too whimsical, but then I admit: many of our hobbies are quite whimsical. Avocation sounds too official, and stiff, yet it lends itself to a certain degree of composure and authority. When one uses a word such as avocation, they must know what they are talking about, right? Flights of fancy is probably pushing it too far, but I am a whimsical person so I personally have no problem with expressions like that. The best word, that I will attempt to use sparingly, is distraction. I feel it fits the bill best for what exactly we are attempting to do when we engage in these sorts of activities. When we fall into our hobbies, we actively reject reality for some time.

 

Distractions come in many different packages, but ultimately they intend to divorce our minds from things that might actually make an impact in the moment. For instance, I know that if I commit myself to working on my essay, it will advance my coursework and better ascertain a good grade and the goal of completing the course and receiving credit. On the other hand, when I choose to play a video game, I advance no discernible skills, I do not receive any sort of compensation or achieve anything beyond in-game novelties. Ultimately, having spent an hour of video games or not might not necessarily mean that I get “anything” done, but the not choice most certainly does afford more opportunities to do so. I know that when I choose to play a game and not study I have lost that time forever. So why would I make such a choice? Especially considering that one is full control of their actions and understanding of the implications of not studying if, say, they have an important exam looming. The answer, invariably, is distraction.

Distraction, however, is chosen for many more complex reasons than one might expect. As so often is the case, suggesting the simplest solution is often wrong. It is a component of the larger choice, but it is not by any means the end of the question: why? Boredom of course is something that can contribute to a pattern of avoidance and preference for the distraction. We should strive to understand other reasons though. For instance, I know of many people who play video games or read books when they are feeling anxious as coping mechanisms. Something about those activities inspires something in them to feel more comfortable. For myself, playing video games affords me a sense of control that I often don’t feel I have in real life. Dissatisfaction with how life itself is working out is a valid and understandable reason to play games or read novels. Looking for ways to forget or convince ourselves of hope for a time is a powerful thing.

 

Distractions aren’t always about escaping challenging situations in reality, though. They can be for other reasons, such as connecting with others. Since video games remains one of my particular favorite hobbies, I will continue to center my arguments around them. Many modern video games have multiplayer capabilities. I have friends from the town that I moved away from that I can and do still keep in contact with because we play video games together. These avocations provide a chance for human connection in places that don’t carry certain pressures and expectations. At work, for instance, I used to not be able to talk to my friend at length and we often had to avoid certain topics of discussion for the benefit of the customers and our coworkers. It absolutely makes sense, but we also may not be able to have certain conversations even just walking down the street or at a restaurant. Our interests are incredibly specific and oftentimes (shockingly) the best time to talk about our interests is in the middle of partaking in that interest. We often have lengthy, in-depth discussions about video games while playing a video game. This sort of meta-discourse is something that helps maintain my specific friendships with others who share my interest, but also can sometimes only happen when around or doing whatever that hobby might be. Sometimes the distractions beget more distraction, but it makes some sense when one tries to talk about strategies of killing Emperor Calus in a supermarket and realizing that out of context, it’s quite difficult. The talk of violence is of course all simulated and fantastical, but out of context it does sound a lot more grotesque than is probably appropriate for so many venues. Allowing ourselves to enjoy our distractions can often lead to friendships, but also the release of being able to talk about our interests without seeming — frankly — like madmen.

Our hobbies also often define us in ways that bleed into our surrounding lives. For some, being particularly invested in certain hobbies means that we can drop hints and clues into our speech and actions that might be interpreted by others and received by fellow fans. A famous and quite obvious gesture would be something like the vulcan salute, which other avid Star Trek fans would recognize, and might even be able to respond accurately to. Aside from offering refugees and places to communicate deeply, our hobbies allow us to reach out to others during the course of the day and impart some information about ourselves. In a way, hobbies become a frame around our lives, informing certain actions and words we choose. We adopt those quirks because we find value in them for whatever reason, perhaps because we believe them humorous or admirable. It is not even unlikely that we could look to our hobbies as sources from which to draw our morals from. Many novels subject matter deals with morality and heroism, and it really is not that hard to imagine enthusiasts of those stories to attempt to emulate them in some way.

 

Another facet of these distractions is one of a far more spiritual nature. In fact, deeming something a hobby or distraction can potentially be quite callous and short-sighted. Many hobbies are in fact endeavors to create something, though not always for practical reasons or immediate financial or otherwise tangible compensation for time and resources spent. Paradoxically, it is the creation of practical materials for impractical reasons, but despite video games leaving no lasting trace of their effort and ceramics leaving a nigh-immortal object, they both serve no purpose other than what the practitioner determines. Many hobbies seek to connect the individual with something that perhaps can only be described as a higher power, or deeper force. Whether they believe it is God, or the immutable and ethereal notion of creativity as a whole that they are tapping into, it is nonetheless a wholly spiritual and emotional endeavor. Only the practitioner can evaluate the worth of what they are doing. And even though art can often be sold to others for currency or other recompense, there is still a fulfillment of that invisible divine act. Whether one decides to share it with others in exchange for something is their own choice, but it can still be defined as a hobby.

The hobby ultimately is what we define it as. Someone who creates sculptures full-time might call that work, and still others may call it a hobby despite it consuming much of their time. A writer might only write once or twice a week, but make their entire livelihood based off what they make from the work they can sell. We cannot judge a hobby or work by the amount of time it takes up in our lives, only by what each individual decides they would call it. Previously I said I quite enjoy video games, but there are professional video gamers who have turned their hobbies into their livelihoods. Even more perplexing, yet amusing in a way, is that the same thing we might call our job can also be our hobby. Some writers will create technical documents for a living, but on their spare time write poetry. Both are forms of writing, but they have the power to decide what it means to them.

We can decide to name something a hobby, or a distraction, but what are we saying when we use words like that? Inherently, distraction sounds negative, something that diverts attention away from something. Presumably, things that “actually” matter. But we know that hobbies can matter quite a deal to individuals for so many different reasons. Codifying something as irrelevant and obstructive when for some it may be quite necessary to keeping them sane or happy is perhaps a cold and heartless way of looking at hobbies. They often frame identities and inform moral character, or inspire deep conversation and connection. A hobby is more than just a distraction: it’s often a reason to go through all those things that “actually” matter.

Every One of These Was a World

In Leslie Jamison’s essays, The Empathy Exams, which call to task the uniquely human questions surrounding truth and empathy in a world where facetiousness and obfuscation is so common, the reader is asked to immerse themselves in her own experiences, ultimately to decrypt their own perspectives on this notion, this human experience, of empathy.

 

“I’ve worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. Every one of these was a world; they’re still in me.” – Leslie Jamison

I carry them with me

 

Leslie Jamison is an essayist I discovered through a class I took my fall semester of my senior year in college. The class was a 200 level writing course centered around creative non-fiction as a genre. The notion of non-fiction may elicit different reactions from those who would encounter it, whether those be of subtle elation or substantive repugnation, it is a growing genre. Growth in this case being not only of participation, but of possibility. What we see now of this genre is more than just technical documents and dreary textbooks. Instead, we can allow intimate, personal accounts of private lives as important or worthwhile literature to consume. Of course, this is speaking perhaps specifically of the personal essay which is merely a subset of the larger body that entails the essay as a whole. Nonetheless, this is a genre that Leslie Jamison readily wields, and with great ability.

The primary text that I focused on when considering her works was a text that I became familiar with due to my non-fiction class. The Empathy Exams is a collection of essays written by Leslie about a variety of different subjects, but all are lovingly crafted and eloquently delivered. The premise of the book, and sort of the namesake of it as well, are based off her time as a medical actor. In summary, a medical actor pretends to have some illness that they present to medical students who must use the information the actors provide as a means to diagnose said illness. What follows are Leslie’s accounts of her time in that occupation. The essays involving the medical acting are a testament to her ability in that they capture her voice… her soul, if one might allow. In truth, I would argue that we all have had a job that we consider to be a bit “out there” or unique in some way. When one considers the range of variables in each and every job (mostly the people, but often the circumstances) then it is no surprise, but still we must contend that some would argue most jobs are quite boring. However, Leslie Jamison has had jobs that might be considered more typical (tutoring doesn’t exactly sound like an illustrious job), but do not let that convince you she couldn’t write something compelling about those experiences. Partially, perspective is important in these matters because one must see the story in their experiences, or else they’ll have nothing meaningful to say. A degree of skill with writing doesn’t hurt, though.

In the course of working as a medical actor, Leslie Jamison comes to grapple with an essential question, as the books summary posits: “How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed?” And the reader must confront this same question. What did she see as a medical actor? What transpired in her mind and soul that conjured up these questions? Was it a realization of her own self-participation in a greater latticework of empathy and simple human connectivity? Or was she perplexed by the thought of deception in relation to something considered wholly real and honest? The questions roll in because I am too gripped by her experience. It is this kind of writing that I find so fascinating. I see my own lust for a connection not to just some physical thing or scientific concept. Instead I yearn for a sense of universality, a belief in the ethereal and the ephemeral… that we have these experiences that transcend the constraints of reality.

The Empathy Exams piqued my interest in the genre. The genesis of my desire to write and to be heard had previously seemed confined. I had no idea how to be heard. But I had all this noise inside me pushing on the insides of my skin trying to break free. Jamison’s essays showed me that the personal essay was a vector in which I could vent these thoughts. A thousand screaming voices and one meet paper (or Google Docs, what have you) and now there is a bit more solace within my skin. I believe we all want to be heard and seen in some regard, at some point in our lives. For some, they will play beautiful music or excel in their chosen sports. For those like me, language is where I see beauty. It is with these meager words that I can step through into my own mind. And sharing my writing is like inviting people in. In my opinion, The Empathy Exams is itself a test in which to find empathy. Reading someone else’s intimate thoughts is an exquisite thing. I have given away a shred of my soul, but I know that the reader will lend me some of theirs in return. The personal essay is a project in experiencing empathy. To read others thoughts and memories, even knowing that parts may have been embellished or edited out, is to commit wholly to believing in their experience. It’s the ability to occupy their world for but a moment and not need to know exactly how it happened or why, but to tap into the arcane phenomena that is genuine human connection.

 

The quote at the beginning of this essay is taken from Leslie Jamison’s website. It is a comment she made about her essays and her inspiration. “I’ve worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. Every one of these was a world; they’re still in me.” (Leslie Jamison) The magic of her quote is not in the stupendous quality of any of those jobs (except for maybe the medical actor gig). Instead, it lies in her belief that each of those occupations was a world that she lived in or visited. She did not leave them, she took them with her. This I would surmise is common to many people. The jaded among us might not agree, and instead wish to purge themselves of the experiences they may had had. But the wise among us recognize that we are seldom just “so and so.” Leslie is never just Leslie, and I am never just Sam. What we are comprised of is a tapestry of experience. We are a weave of one moment to the next.

Some of Leslie’s essays involve minutiae. The small things, the little conversations, the infinitesimal happenings that surround the colossal moments of our lives. We think about things like graduations and marriages and births as these amazing and life-changing events — and they are. However, what of the rest? Sitting at a coffee shop and watching people walk by, steam from the vents below billowing around them like a milky veil and their eyes set not on a concrete destination but on — what? Or when you hold the door open for the person right behind you. Did that change their opinion of the day? Maybe it was the first act of kindness, nevermind how small, they experienced all day or week? Or what if you were in a rush and you let it go, not holding it. What ripples do we stir? We aren’t moving through this world as phantoms. We have impact, presence and weight. We break the wind on our faces and cast shadows. We matter to others that the person sitting next to you on the train may never know exist. All of these microscopic events are negligible to most people. But the personal essayist, Leslie and I, and many others, hold on tight. Those conversations that you forget in a week leave something lasting. It might not be a memorable discussion, but for a brief moment everything else stopped mattering a bit less. It was just you and another, making time to meet in a world where nothing ever really stops. Jamison takes us to those places. We all try to go to those places in our writing.

 

We must arm ourselves with circumstance as writers. We must believe in the importance of our lives to adequately tap into the ethereal as I spoke of before. Sometimes we write of others circumstances, and it is very much the same. No man is an island, as the saying goes, and for writers this is just as true. We must think of our pain and perhaps the pain of others because it is moving. Pain is universal though it may take different form. In this regard we are alchemists. We transmute the raw pangs of unadulterated pain and suffering and turn it into words that demonstrate universality. And the end goal is to connect. I understand, or at least attempt to empathize with your pain because I know a little something of pain myself. And we all do.

Circumstance is the couching of our sufferings. And not always is our suffering visceral and debilitating. On occasion it is actually quite a bit more psychic than we might imagine. Starving and living in squalor is a condition that we might find ample inspiration to write about. On the other hand, mortification and embarrassment is another font of inspiration to drink from. In Fog Count, an essay in the The Empathy Exams, we encounter one Charlie Engel. This man is a person that Jamison had met before at a marathon. In the months after, in her research, she discovered just what bizarre series of circumstances led this marathoner to — of all places — jail. In the course of this essay we learn a lot about not just her visitation with Charlie in the jail, but also of the surrounding white noise. The stuff that in novels might seem trivial, but in a personal essay give us all the more insight into the mind of the writer. She confides in us about these details because there is always more than just the story. There is the story of her finding quarters and the story of her meeting Charlie and the story of her researching about him and so on and so forth ad infinitum. The point is, it’s a fabrication that we really ever read just one story. What we may be missing is the series of surrounding plots that contribute nothing to what the story purports to be, but all that give body and character to the piece as a whole.

Fog Count establishes a different sort of feeling from something like The Empathy Exams (note, the book is named after the essay of the same title) wherein Jamison talks more about her time as a medical actor. Although we always get the sense that she is being extremely honest about her experiences, we also see different angles of her. Like light come in from a window, where one stands might affect your relation to the light. In this case, we see a more investigative side, but also nervous and conscientous. I strive for the fluidity of mastery to be able to achieve this myself. I desire to be able to tell one story in a specific manner, but to also shift gears and tell another in a different way. I do believe that there is a “flavor” or sorts that can be detected with a particular writer no matter what their current endeavor is, but just as salt can go in soup so can it go in a pie. We judiciously apply ourselves and our voice into everything we do, but just as when speak we can modulate to affect certain distinctions. We do not need to write monotone. We can sing in our writing, or we can yell. The essay can be a polemic or it could be an appeal. The constraints are merely in our own heads.

Reading Jamison’s essays rekindled my desire to write about myself. Previously I had kept a “diary” which I imagine being said with much chagrin. The journal, as I prefer to call it, collected my thoughts and froze them in time. They were for me to return to and to recall what I had been going through at the time. It was usually only maintained when I was experiencing my most harrowing of times in life. Expanses of time where I was very much vulnerable and alone. I was having trouble working out how to process internal pain. In a way I feel that personal essays are a more advanced version of what I wrote in my journals. I don’t articulating my thoughts for these essays because it becomes a project of sorts. I embrace my circumstances and direct the energy I need to expel the problems into writing, but combining that with an effort to produce something meaningful is the other half of the equation. I want to create something beauteous out of my pain or frustration or sadness because in a way it means I weathered the storm. And it can often be quite cathartic, even if the subject of the essay isn’t even me. I imagine it must have been so for Jamison when she wrote about Charlie Engel. What he suffered wasn’t exactly wonderful, but she was able to extricate something of substance from his experience. And she coupled that with her own experiences. So maybe I am writing about Leslie Jamison in this essay… but I really am talking about myself as well, aren’t I?

 

When we come to the essay we question honesty because we want to know if these stories and experiences are real. We ponder the meaning of what the writer is saying and maybe fear the implications. What if Jamison is onto something in regards to empathy? It’s a painful yet intoxicating question. It’s the dark room that we can look into and yet not discern the contents therein. But more than just the questions, we confront the very essence of truth. We accept that the writer is being honest because why else would they write these things? If we had wanted to read a fantasy, we would have turned to fiction. However, here we are firmly in the realm of the non-fiction and we must hope — no, believe that the writer is wholly truthful.

It is a compact that we enter into when we read and when we write. We may engage in some embellishment here and there, mostly to tidy up and reach for concision. But the truth is always there, in two parts. One is in the details, though as I said these often get stretched depending on the needs of the writer. The other, and far more important in most regards, are our conclusions. Our realizations must be absolutely devoted to the truth of our condition. We must not betray this or else we risk losing ourselves to the fiction or fantasy we concoct. And this is what Jamison achieves in The Empathy Exams. We could check her facts about whether or not he actually was a medical actor, and it would be ridiculous of her or anyone to fabricate details like that. But no, what know is true more than anything is in her insights. We reach these conclusions, hopefully very similar ones to what she intended, from her writing. And then we see: there is not but one singular truth. There are many. It is a multitudinous revelation. We often seek to share one of our most cathartic of moments, and the spirit of them as well. But sometimes what is gleaned isn’t what we set out to do. Rather, it is just as often that people stumble upon another meaning altogether and it is every bit as beautiful as their own revelation. For myself, it was not necessarily learning and confronting empathy… it was about allowing myself to be empathized with. I had to bare my own soul instead of searching for others. Well, a good helping of that never hurts, but still.

Leslie Jamison is an essayist who, like so many essayists, is responsible for opening eyes. She may not have set out to achieve that goal but it nonetheless is a goal that was achieved. And all writers, myself included and the rest of the class, will encounter this. Just as a parent can only prepare their child for the world, we can only put our words out there to be read and interpreted. We are not chroniclers of fact or archivists of material happenings. We are the scribes of the immutable and the ethereal. We are the essayists: and what does that mean? It means we take the empathy exam, or we study the ethics of freedom. It means we say “to hell with clarity” or have some thoughts on mercy. It means… well, whatever we want it to mean. And whatever you want it to mean, it is that too. I read Jamison’s essays and it breathed some life back into my writing. Not all essays are going to do that, but it can’t hurt to try.

To Hell With Clarity

The other day I was taking a shower, attempting to wash away the sleep from my body when I reached my hands up to wipe my eyes vigorously. Through the steam, and the faint bathroom lights, I felt as though there was a film over my eyes yet still. I scoured my eyes, scrubbing them raw. I don’t think I was actually trying to affect any physical change, my eyes were quite clear after the first of my attempts. It was then that I realized that I was fighting through a fog not of my vision, but of my mind. I was tired, to be certain, but physical exhaustion can only account for so much. In my mind my thoughts were racing. I was having a small blast of anxiety as thoughts of all my impending responsibilities bubbled up, gasping for my attention.

In moments such as those, I call for the strength to move with purpose and focus. I call for the energy to make it through whatever the ordeal. I call for the patience to take the unexpected bumps in the road in stride. And I call this clarity. To see what I need with clarity. To know how to achieve what I need with clarity. To know how to deal with all of my problems with clarity. Even to break down at the end of the week and confide in my friend with perfect, articulate, clarity.

It is a daily occurrence that I rub the sleep from my eyes and yet more constant still that I try purging my mind of the fog of doubt and confusion. When I feel beset by woes within and without — if I can get a grip on clarity — I can catch my freefall. When I see with purpose how to succeed, I am filled with a sort of tangible certainty. Sometimes it just takes looking for hope to find it… and across a void of obscurity, I can finally see.

 

Recently, I have started taking medication for my — cap-i-tal D — Depression. The name of the drug is Wellbutrin and — my goodness — has it had quite the impact on my life. It makes feels uplifted and, more importantly, energized. I feel a new buoyancy to my soul. I want to be positive, and I stay positive. Tugging away from that feeling is very difficult. If I do indulge in darker emotions for a moment, I feel a strong resistance. I feel like I’m pushing against a forcefield that will not allow me through. These feelings which I felt so strongly before feel so far away now.  

At odds with my own emotions, I wonder what I have lost. Perspective, perhaps, may have been a victim of this drug. Though I am no longer able to look up out of the well of Depression, I now can only look down into it. In this new dichotomy, I ask myself if clarity is being able to at once occupy both points of view. I want to believe that straddling the line — between this spiritual darkness and lightness — is the truest representation of myself and my experiences.

And yet I am still dragged inevitably to this elated, intoxicating — even cloying, state of mind. Is this clarity? Am I in the right state of mind? Or am I Nada from They Live suddenly seeing that this is not my truest perspective. I’m rubbing my eyes again just writing about this. What are these pills doing to me? My most misanthropic of thoughts emerges: am I a slave to a common convention? We all must be happy because happiness means success and stability?

Further down the rabbit hole, I realize that when I was at the height of my Depression I had come to believe that I was the savvy one, a spectator of at once living and observing life. The best trick that Depression pulled was convincing me that I was right about my feelings. That disassociating myself from the love and joy of society was just me embracing the realest of realities. I was convinced that it was others who were drunk on lies, sedated by the propaganda of a world where happiness is more than just an emotion, but a way of life that offered the answers to all of our problems. I was convinced I was seeing things clearly, but in truth I was as lost in obscurity as ever.

 

The side effects of Wellbutrin are myriad. A small side effect is the occasional blurring of vision. Having suffered this side effect on a few occasions (never to a degree where I was hopelessly without sight) I came to a new level of gratefulness for my normal vision. With the power of sight I have seen beautiful art, and beheld emotion in other peoples faces. I can look out into the distance and see the hills and mountains of beautiful, rough, New Hampshire. I have the good fortune to see these things with 20/20 vision, no less.

Yet, stricken as I was with reduced vision, everything lost clarity. The edges of all the shapes I had taken for granted now melded into each other. Colors bled and the corners and edges of things were nearly meaningless. I had to come so much closer to words to read them, and people’s faces to give their features any sort of definition. And over all of that, the very light around me seemed to become a foggy thing — vaporous — in a way.

I was thrust into a world where clarity of vision was no longer a given. And yes, I did try rubbing my eyes clear! With time, my full vision returned, though this phenomena still happens occasionally. But with the sudden dimming of my physical faculties, I realized that clarity is a fleeting thing. A state of being that is neither permanent nor certain. In fact, I wager that if I existed in a world without glasses, and was born with near or far-sightedness, I would not have the knowledge that I was disadvantaged in my sight. Clarity then, is not something that means anything without context. It is an appreciation of circumstances. I have lived all my life with perfect vision, and in a moment I was struck with reduced vision. A strange paradox, that having lost sight, gave me a new perspective. But perspective is fluid, it changes from one context to the next. I realize my own fragility of perception now.

 

In a conversation that took place between bell hooks and John Perry Barlow, the topic of clarity emerged almost immediately as a point of discussion. Quoting Marcel Proust, Barlow recalls the words, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” They go on to discuss what clarity means to them, and how to awaken from this “American stupor” as Barlow puts it. bell hooks suggests that practicing mindfulness, practicing being aware, helps her.

I dare not ask the question of what is sedating us. Why do we wander in the fog? I have come to the opinion that perfect clarity is a lie. I desperately want to be awake, as I think we all want to be. We value this notion of clarity, but we do not know what that actually entails. People say all sorts of things, anecdotally, that will grant one clarity. Go outside, drink some tea, get some exercise, cut out carbs, pray to this god… these all seem like answers to the problem of mental or spiritual obfuscation. These methods may work for some, but oftentimes we seek these methods under the advice of others. And even more often, we don’t ponder what we actually want.

Clarity is the illusion of control. In the shower, I believed that if I rubbed the sleep and fog and confusion out of my eyes, I would take control. On this new medecine, I thought I was finally gaining control. And with the loss of my sight, I thought I was losing control. And every single time I was afflicted with this nagging feeling of obscuration, I believed that with clarity I could fix all of my problems. I felt that answers were lurking behind this haze of indecision and anxiety. But behind these wisps of doubt, there is nothing. Only the will to walk through that fog is what I can rely on. And this thought rushes forth all of the times I did not have clarity of mind, and yet triumphed still. In all of the times of my greatest struggles and sorrow, I pushed on, blind and beleaguered.

I think what clarity really is, is looking back. It is that rumination on my own actions, the words I chose, even the attitude I chose. Every time I obsess over whether I have clarity when doing something, only ends up getting in my way. Sometimes, in the chaos of choice, we don’t have the ability to press pause and meditate on what to do, or even if we’re in the right state of mind. We must act, and then look back. I own my decisions and accept my failures.

Years ago, in therapy, I learned of a psychological technique called “radical acceptance.” The act of radical acceptance means, in a nutshell, not lying to oneself about what happened. It also means accepting life wholly, and without deceit. I acknowledge my failures and celebrate them. In some ways, I am quite proud of my failures because they have taken me here, where I am now. And even of the mistakes, and events beyond my control that occurred, I accept them. I look them boldly in the face and I don’t turn away. Lying to myself, shrouding my own background, would contribute to a dissolution of clarity. If I am a portrait of all of my accomplishments, the pain and love I have endured, then lying would be smearing the paint across the canvas. I cannot abide by that, and I realize now more than ever that clarity is honesty.

In the mornings where I cannot shake the sleep from body, I must accept this temporary condition for what it is. Just as my eyesight comes and goes, so too does the exhaustion, and also the joy and positivity. I do not want to settle for the easy answers because they obscure something greater than my own mental clarity. My character, my life, is as clear as ever when I commit to honesty and truthfulness. I do not mean to dissuade anyone from finding their own way to clarity, but I have come to know that the closest thing to true clarity is knowing oneself. Even now, I sometimes want to fight my own perception of myself, and it causes me to stumble back for a moment. However, the times I accept myself wholly, are the times when I see best how to move forward with purpose. To hell with clarity, for I only need myself.

*****

The purpose of this essay was to extricate a recent revelation from my mind, and put it into words. I have been struggling with this notion for quite some time, and the essay offers a unique space in which to explore these ideas. In writing it, I could feel the untamed reaches of my arguments take form. I was feeling closer than ever to the very fabric of my own psyche.  achieved something close to the “clarity” that I believe is merely an illusion. However, it does feel cathartic to have gotten it off of my chest once and for all.

Sometimes I get this idea that essays should be empowering. Not necessarily to those who read it, but to myself as the author. I often feel as though the works that don’t seem like a success are the ones that don’t, or barely, scrape against what I could only call my soul. I need the sensation that I’ve freed from my mortal body something that transcends the mutable, and aspires to the incorporeal. The emotions, the psychic energy of my creativity and misery, need to be present in the writing or else it feels like a useless, trivial endeavor.

Life is full of confusion, we must walk through it nonetheless.

On Owning Our Doubts, On Creativity, On Breaking Boundaries

Thankfully, like the essay, writing has drifted away from archaic tools such as the quill and inkwell.

By Sam Whitaker

 

The essay occupies an awkward, sometimes precarious, position among the many genres of writing. Incidentally, I would wager that many self-proclaimed writers of their respective genres would argue that their genre occupies a similarly awkward position. It occurs to me then, to ponder the notion of peculiarity in writing. Is there truly a genre that is truly “awkward?” If not, why do writers suggest so? I cannot hope to give a concrete answer, merely I can offer my own opinions on such matter. Muddling our understanding of the essay as a form, for instance, is a rather dedicated body of education in traditional high school settings that can lead the young writer astray.

As youths in a modern America, as my perspective as a young American writer, we are taught that the essay serves as the literary foundation for the reaction, analysis, and criticism of literature consumed in the courses we take. The essay serves as a finish line of sorts, where our writing abilities are showcased, along with our ability to argue and research. Yet, the essay is more than just researching assigned novels. The essay can be polemic, filled with fire and passion, a document of damnation in some cases, deriding and criticizing some facet of our society that we find lacking. It can also be soul-baring, or humorous. The essay as a form is perhaps as fertile and rich a genre as that of poetry, or fiction. Youths are ill-informed then, they are taught that they are the vehicles of analysis or research. The worlds of opportunity they miss, then, is a failure of instruction.

Like many genres, the essay suffers under the stiff, guiding hand of public education. Though it means well, scope and perspective is lost in the classroom, as specific goals are set by higher authorities. Curiously, the access to modern resources such as computers and smart phones means that the average youth has ever more ability to write and read. Vast quantities of information is created everyday, as now more than ever, people have the ability to speak and communicate. The essay retains a legacy of privilege, however. In the past, the essay was born from Montaigne and promulgated only by people with similar circumstances and means. The aristocrat of society past was the arbiter of the essay, and only recently has the form been made available to those of lesser circumstance. The essay then, can be said to occupy this awkward space. Between past and present, between aristocratic hegemony and a rising tide of “common” writers. There is nothing common about their writing, however, for the marketplace of ideas is thirsty for voices and insight.

The essay, now having moved beyond a guarded, class-based status, has the chance to flourish now. Unbounded by decrepit standards of yesteryear, modern writers have the opportunity to wield the essay for themselves. With this newfound opportunity, writers have the chance to shape and mold their interpretation of the form. The personal essay, for example, is a more recent iteration of the larger genre. The personal essay eschews the archaic formality for a more introspective and heartfelt piece. Then there arises the segmented essay, another form that gives more weight to the individual behind the words. The essay is given life by experimentation and adaptation. Similar to poetry, modern writers reject the strict formatting of yore. Rather, they prefer, and I do too, the freer forms.

Aside from form, the essay is an excellent vehicle for a variety of topics and areas of focus. Writers both secular and religious could find the essay quite useful for their cause, as well as those who would write about their hobbies. The essay is a well of opportunity for such causes. The need of the writer shapes the essay more than the essay format shapes the message. It is this flexibility that services writers best. Poetry will always occupy a more artistic role, and fiction writing must too rely on symbolism and imagery to convey their ideas. The essay demands only that the writing be non-fictional. As I stated before, the form has been meddled with, and altered for dramatic effect, but the message maintains. The writer retains their creative ability, and the essay can lend credibility to their voice. That is not to say that poems are less valid, for instance, as acts of protest. Moreso that essays carry a level of prestige that better suits long-form writings that seek to present, and argue, a case. On the other hand, prospective essayists should not be afraid to contradict, doubt, or disagree with themselves.

“Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself;

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The above quote, from Walt Whitman indicates the concessions we must make with ourselves, as writers. To be of a singular mind about a subject is a wonderful thing, yet we should not fret when we encounter a solubility of our own beliefs. Sometimes I am struck paralyzed in moments of debate when I can see both sides all too well. There may be merit in deciding definitively to select one side or the other, but also we must allow room for the indecisive writer.

The writer is in charge of their fate, and if that means we fall back on ourselves, we must embrace those moments of doubt. We all too often grasp onto moments of clarity and catharsis as the most profound and useful of times for a writer. Yet, what of the fog? The cloud of indecision and confusion we suffer from time to time in deciding how we feel about one thing or another is another chance to learn. Growth is not comfortable, and so is writing. We stretch our limbs and push against the confines of common convention. The essay is akin to us as writers then, we need to wrack it with our self-doubts, our insecurities — and conversely, our most stubborn of beliefs. The essays I wrote in high school are a far cry from the kind of essays I produce these days. and though I am sure maturity has something to do with my more developed skills, I too see the wiggle room I gave myself helping as well. Projects in exploring the personal and segmented essays were crucial in my development as an essayist. Even jaunts into memoir have shown me the great range of possibility the essay can offer me personally, and to others I am sure.

Another great strength of the essay is that of a didactic form. Again, more than poetry and fiction the essay can instruct and inform much more easily. The original purpose of our youthful training in essay writing was to try and present a case of which we’d argue. The purpose is wrapped in an effort to teach the reader, and ultimately convince them of something. Though many essays abandon this purpose, we cannot deny that this is yet another bountiful font of use for the essay. To incorporate a more updated impression of essays into lessons in classrooms all around would further create a much more rich crop of essayists in the future. Students would be taught that they do not need to constrict themselves to research papers or literary analyses. They can create confessionals, declare their love, or wax lyrical about their passions.

Going forward, we should endeavor to embrace the essay as a capable vehicle for a wide variety of writing. Just as when poets started experimenting with free verse, we must allow ourselves the room to explore these possibilities.  There is nothing to be gained by restricting our own creative flow to a narrow view of essay writing, and so much to gain by opening our understandings. It is my hope to share essays I have created in the past display the more creative side of essay writing. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that essays can, and should be, a vessel of greater imagination and possibility.

 

**********

 

The goal of my essay was to push for creativity. I often introspect about this idea of creative confinement. I am sure there is an actual term for this, and that others have explored this concept, but I enjoy the challenge of defeating the constraints I am given. I often hear my classmates fret about restrictions of their creativity, but in the right setting, sometimes these restraints are but another way to hone creativity. It is similar to making the best out of a bad situation, though it doesn’t mean it is a negative predicament. It is more like a puzzle, and with the resources of our mind and imagination, we have the tools necessary to overcome the shortcomings of any problem. In this case: the essay. My argument looks toward the forms I explored last semester in the personal and segmented essay. These essays revealed to me a different side to the essay which I feel deserves attention. I struggle at times with the metacognitive nature of this course, and the subject matter within. What I hope I have achieved was the attempt to push the boundaries, not only for myself, but of others.

The means in which I explore my beliefs in the essay is by bringing the essay back to me. I use I statements in the essay, and refer to my own experiences. I know no other truth than the one I have lived, and this is what I shared. I can only hope that by sharing my own personal triumphs in personal and segmented essay writing that I can show the accessibility of those forms. The manner in which I write is didactic yet also exploratory. I express the sentiments I wish for others to learn and adapt, but also use that very form as the means of delivery. The efficacy of which, I am not sure. Hopefully, readers will learn a bit of something about my style.