A useful life implies purpose or calling, an ability to do something useful to someone else or a group of people. A meaningful life may or may not be useful to someone else, but is definitely self-fulfilling. A meaningful life is meaningful to oneself. Nearly all meaningful aspects of my life occur when I make uncomfortable decisions, not unsafe, but uncomfortable.
Quarrel & quandary : essays
An essay identifies with itself, with the essayist, and with some readers. Some readers will identify, and some will not. Any given essay has its limits, but the essayist as an essayist is rather limitless so long as the writing is in such a tone that is not pompous or somehow off-putting for the reader. There is very little consistency from human to human. In an essay, the essayist explores the grey area and ponders her own conceptions of what may or may not be black-and-white. Deconstructing binaries is fuel for an essayist.
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In the literal meaning of the word, an essay does something that life does. Each day life persists is a day of making attempts: to breathe, to awake, to move, to produce, sometimes to reproduce; all of these are attempts to live and to continue to be alive. Granted, an essay cannot literally breathe, but it can grow and expand. An essay can move from a state nearly as calm as sleep into excitement and liveliness.
I believe Carson has a strong point. Space does have power. Arguably, there is no wasted space, just efficiently or inefficiently used space. Space has as much power as we give it. The point on the spectrum of each of these spaces at which one resides is infinitely diverse and subjective to each individual. This returns me to choices. The more efficiently we occupy a space on paper, for example, determines the accessibility, the circulation, and demographic of the reception of that space.
The space an essay occupies is highly vitalized with the help an essayist who understands the power a space can have, and this power is infinite as well. The space an essayist occupies is no different than any of these personal spaces. An essayist must occupy all of the personal spaces, or at least make an attempt to do so. If this happens, readers will desire more and keep reading. An essayist who can seep into the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual space of her readers does her job as an essayist successfully.
I pulled this quote out of the context Fisher establishes in regards to a child craving diversity in the taste of food. Arguably, certain aspects of monotony are appreciated, such as waking up from sleep on a daily basis or the ability to use the restroom when necessary. Beyond biological necessity, the desire to make life meaningful to oneself persists.
Thus, monotony becomes overrated quickly for one who desires to imagine something greater for oneself than what currently exists. Humans have the capacity for great goodness and great evil. Most people land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum; no one is pure good or pure evil. Imagination leads to desire, which leads to imagination.
Without imagination, the essayist, the reader, or anyone else cannot acquire that which is desired. When the essayist lands in metaphor, this is the mark of the active imagination at work, the desire to intrigue the reader to understand the world through the eyes of the essayist. I do this in my own writing when there is no other way to express the particular thought I have in mind. Metaphor is a persistent, stubborn, malleable tool.
Earlier I said the essay attempts to breathe, which is highly metaphorical. Metaphor is necessary as a literary tool, but also in everyday speech.
People exaggerate all the time in everyday speech for dramatic effect or to lighten a subject that becomes too heavy during a conversation with unfamiliar acquaintances. Metaphor as an act of arrest suggests that metaphor is a trap, containment, a temporary restraint, and I would argue that it is indeed just that. A spoken metaphor forces listeners to stop speaking in order to process the metaphor they just heard, possibly connecting the comparison in their heads, and begin to understand what the literal meaning behind the metaphor suggests.
Metaphor as an act of interception reminds me of a conversation moving along like a bouncing ball, and someone takes the ball in her hands and rubs oil on it. The ball is still usable; it just changed in a way that makes it more challenging to maneuver, which stimulates the physical and the intellectual. Like so, metaphor does this with conversation; it intercepts the convolution of a potentially complex subject matter and makes the subject more understandable using an illustrious method: metaphor. Interception may seem intrusive and even interruptive, but is sometimes necessary to explain things to multiple types of learners, readers, speakers, or whoever is on the receiving end of the metaphor.
Carson brings this point further, just as I am about to: subtext is a big part of metaphor. An essay as an entity functions like a metaphor. For example, in this essay, I have made a point to speak experientially, metaphorically, theoretically, and critically about only female essayists. Nothing I have written is overtly feminist, but as a female, pansexual essayist in the 21st century, I thought a subtle expression of solidarity would suffice. Over time, I have acquired the belief that discussions of religion and ideology or political affiliation are volatile and thus, difficult to discuss unless I know for absolute certain that I can speak freely.
I can count the people with whom I discuss these topics on one hand. Metaphor triggers digression. Metaphor is multifunctional and almost essential for any essay.
For example, each time I smell a book at a resale store, I automatically return to my friend April, who loves books more than any other material thing in the world. These are common scents that others may not associate with any personal memory whatsoever. But, the same concept applies to the scent of cherry pie. I have no memory association with cherry pie, but someone else might have a significant memory to accompany that scent.
In this sense, an essay functions quite like memory association; the essay appeals to some readers and not to others. However, the essay is a form flexible enough to allow the essayist enough freedom to cater it to many kinds of readers.
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There is no singular type of human; there is no singular type of essay. The essayist and her style of writing develop and change over time. There is something habitual that returns the essayist to the essay form. Why do we describe time in metaphors of passing? Is it human nature to impose passage onto time as if to simplify time as an entity that merely happens around us? Is it to say that we are not obligated to use time as efficiently as we use space? In a way, using time is using space. Our temporary stay on the planet and inevitable departure from it, our limited impact on the course of infinite time is beyond our logical capacity and understanding.
Reading List: Essays that Define the Essay – Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies
We can only ever speculate purpose or calling, which is why I speculated earlier that there is a difference between a useful life and a meaningful life. Talking about time and life to a random passerby on the sidewalk on the way to work could appear quite strange. The essay form allows the flexibility to discuss such things without restraint. The essay allows the freedom to speculate, debate, question, and admit not knowing anything with complete certainty. The essay is an attempt. To what end does the essay attempt to reach?
For me, there is no clear end an essay must reach. Unlike a short story in fiction or a short memoir piece, the essay does not require resolution, only acceptance that an attempt was made. Arguably, this attempt just needs to be exploratory enough to have exhausted a particular subject and compel readers to follow along. Do not be mistaken. The reader does not need to agree with everything the essayist says, or anything the essayist says, but the reader should be able to at least follow along with the essayist.
The essay should move like a magnifying glass moves over an ancient fossil: slowly, stopping for observation, and moving on at a reasonable pace.
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