By Amanda Espinal
It’s ironic for me to want to be an English major when I don’t even know how to write well. I can read. Barely. I don’t know all the rules of grammar. I don’t know how to read a piece of literature and come up with a meaningful interpretation of it from my thoughts. I don’t know how to write an essay about a book without revising my thesis a couple hundred times because it’s “too vague.” Hell, I’m having trouble writing this very sentence. See? Not English major material at all, although I want to be. It’s funny because I actually loved English at one point. It was my favorite subject. The keyword in that sentence is “was”. Well, I still like English. I guess you can say that English and I have a love/hate relationship.
English was the one subject I could count on. Reading all those books in the fourth and fifth grade seemed so easy. I remember when how well you read was measured by the letters A through Z. I always felt proud of myself when I would go up a letter. It made me feel accomplished, like a scientist whose lab experiment had just produced the cure for cancer. I think I felt the best when I upgraded to chapter books. That was the greatest feeling, or so I thought. The print on the page got smaller and the vocabulary got more complex. Still, I didn’t mind it too much. As long as the books remained interesting, I was fine. But as I moved up the grade ladder, I quickly learned that every book you read won’t be as interesting as you want it to be. A prime example is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I had no idea what was going on in that book. All I knew was that a guy was in a plane crash and he was only able to survive in the wilderness because of his hatchet, hence the book title. I think he ends up becoming a cannibal, I don’t know. Anyway, that wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Though reading Hatchet was cruel, it wasn’t nearly as cruel as reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad in my senior year of high school. That was like trying to crack the Da Vinci code. The book was extremely confusing and it left you wondering if you were ever going to find the meaning of the book. It’s a miracle I got through it.
I used to like writing. I mean, I still like writing but I used to write much more in my middle school years. The “it” thing for me was poetry. I adored poetry. I loved how I was able to rearrange words to make them rhyme. That was my thing. Do you know how writers have a signature? That was my signature. If the poem didn’t rhyme, then it wasn’t a poem. My teacher always told me that it didn’t have to rhyme, but I never believed her. You can tell that I was an open minded child (sarcasm).
Writing was fun until I entered the sixth grade. I was expected to write essays. The components of writing an essay were drilled into me. An essay had to be composed of five paragraphs with at least five sentences in each paragraph. The essay also had to have a main idea with three supporting details that would make up your three body paragraphs. The most important components of an essay were the introductory paragraph and the conclusion. My teacher failed to mention that the introduction and the conclusion were also the hardest to write. I was told that the conclusion was just a summarization of the entire essay. So that’s what I did. I summed it all up. But according to my teacher, I kept repeating myself so I had to come up with a different way of writing a conclusion. Eventually, I got it down. I used the most important points of the essay to write the conclusion. I thought this was going to be the hardest it would get. Boy, was I wrong.
I noticed just how much I needed to work on my writing when I got to be a senior in high school. I was in AP Literature (I have no idea why). I was expected to write complex paragraphs about what we were reading in class. A complex paragraph? I can’t even write a complex sentence, let alone a complex paragraph. What was this teacher thinking? I struggled so much in that class. I didn’t know how to rearrange words to make myself sound clear and concise. I couldn’t make myself sound like that even if I tried. As I read over several prompts, the words would get jumbled in my head and I wouldn’t be able to form a proper sentence. I would probably read the same sentence about five times before moving on to the next sentence. It was that bad.
I felt I needed someone to help me, so I decided to speak to my AP Literature teacher, Mr. Falciani. He was an arrogant but brilliantly funny man. He always talked about how he was so intelligent and that we always had to follow his advice because he was just that brilliant. He was joking, of course. I think. Anyway, I walked into his office to speak to him about an assignment. He had given us another prompt for still another essay. I didn’t know how to approach the assignment. Like I said, I sucked at writing at complex paragraphs. So, I asked him for some advice. He handed me a rubric that outlined how the essays were graded. “I want you to look over the rubric and then underline what you think is important. After, I want you to write your essay with the rubric in mind.” That’s it? No mystifying wisdom? “I’ll try but you know that I’m a horrible writer, so don’t expect my essay to be great.” Before I stepped out of that room, he said “Amanda, you’re not a bad writer. To be honest, you’re one of the top writers in your class. You can write this essay. We’ll work on your writing together.” I left his office with my chin up that day. I worked on my writing in preparation for the exam. Once I took the exam, I put everything that had to do with AP literature out of my head. I knew I hadn’t done well. I expected to get a one out of five or at the very least, a two out of five. That’s why I was surprised when I learned that I had gotten a three out of five. Sure, it’s not the best score, but it’s not the worst either. It shows that I have potential, which is what Mr. Falciani was trying to get through my head.
So, this essay is coming to a close and I feel like I’m running out of things to say. I don’t even know if I did a decent job of explaining my history with English. It’s been a rocky relationship, I can tell you that. I guess writing gets better over time. It also takes practice. I can’t sit on my behind and expect to become a better writer. No, writing is a skill. A skill I have yet to perfect. I’m not even close to perfecting it. Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I’m only a freshman, after all. I’ll be worried if I’m a senior and I still can’t write a complex paragraph. That would definitely be a “Yikes!” moment.