Thursday, February 27, 2014

Writing Is Not My Passion: 'Cross My Heart & Hope to Die'

Normalcy, as I've mentioned one too many times before, really depends on the majority. For instance, to wear high heels on the daily is usual if you are middle-class woman (20s-50s), who peruses the mall or the office, or any place that are relatively flat and smooth, hence easy to walk on. Therefore, for this group of ladies it is normal to wear rather high heeled shoes. English would be a normal first language or mother tongue, if you were grew up in the U.S., but it would not be as common if you grew up in Indonesia (think of Indonesia as that giant archipelago and not its capital city).

Caution! Dangerous, controversial, undeniably honest territory!
Writing, I think, could be both normal and abnormal, depending on the context and setting. As enters its eleventh month, many people have left me messages about how well I write and how productive I am. However, what's more compelling is that many assume that I love writing. Even my bestfriends have gone to extremes to say that it is my passion. Yes, I enjoy writing, but I don't know if it is my passion. Some people are great at sports, others are great in math, and I'm good at writing. More importantly, context matters. After studying at Sarah Lawrence College, one of the most writing intensive schools in the U.S., I have learned and practiced to write numerous times.

Let me paint a picture of how the semesters that I have had thus far. At the beginning of the semester, the professor and I meet in conference to talk about the subject for the final paper, which varies in length from fifteen pages to infinity. In the next two months, I scour books and papers, as well as other forms of material, including film, music, and visual arts, to enrich my knowledge of the subject.

For instance, the first conference paper that I ever wrote was on the role of White individuals during the Nanking Massacre. In an attempt to analyze their actions and its impact on the victims, as well as themselves, I read several books and a few papers. Then, I started by creating an outline, before moving on to filling those sections out with arguments and examples and supporting material. Quotes and photos were used to further illustrate my point.

However, writing twenty pages is less daunting once you have done your research. In one semester, a student can write a maximum of three conference pages. Although it is possible, it is unheard of for a student to write zero or four papers in four months. Through the years, students at Sarah Lawrence develop a strategy to tackle their papers in time for break, by choosing certain classes, ensuring a healthy combination of seminars, lectures, independent studies, and thirds, as well as designing a suitable conference paper.

In addition to these lengthy papers, students are also required to write class papers, reaction journals, and even take exams. Several classes require its participants to do an oral presentation or create a portfolio. Although the possibilities are endless, writing is hard to avoid.

Some students write in their spare time, whether it is for artistic reasons, an internship, a publication, or just for fun. Many keep blogs of their experiences, while others are contributors to magazines and newspapers. Despite it's reputation as a writing intensive school, I have observed that no one really talks about writing all that much. We talk about it as work or a project, or a creative endeavor. Sometimes we moan about the amount of words we'd have to reach, but as I climbed up the different levels of classes (usually classes are specified as 'Open', 'Intermediate', 'Advanced', or 'Sophomores above' to reflect the standards of students that the professors are looking for), I realize that a ten-page literature review due in a month is deemed manageable by many students.

Seemingly, with time, SLC students train themselves to effectively produce quality writing effectively. So, is writing a passion? I'm not quite certain that it is. Yet, I do know that it is my preferred way of explaining myself to faceless figures. Maintaining a blog, for instance, provides me with the opportunity to spread my thoughts and present my arguments to a sea of people who have choices and preferences. In return, many family members and friends have been spared from listening to occasional rants or superfluous babbles about society or that weird thing I heard during lunch. Furthermore, it has given me the chance to meet new people and hear their thoughts on these subjects.

Uh-oh! Did I surprise you?

Think of it this way, if you were trained in statistics, you'd become fluent in running statistical models and conducting statistical analysis that it simply becomes second nature. You may not use it to express your emotions like I do, but you are more likely to use your skills when reading an article in the newspaper. At the very least you'll be able to whip up an analysis faster than someone who has not invested as much time and focus into statistics. Same goes with painting or film making or research. Repetition helps one acquire new skills that will become second nature to them in a matter of time.

Writing is more of a channel than it is a passion.

After being at Sarah Lawrence for quite some time and enduring several conference weeks (when most schools have finals week, we have conference week, which is one to two weeks long where many students type, type, and type their conference papers before the due date), writing has become a reliable method for me to think, develop ideas, analyze, express myself, make comments, as well as vent. People know what we know, and based on my education, I know how to write adequately, so not to make readers cringe or vomit. And for me that is a good enough explanation for me to continue writing.

Just because I write quite frequently doesn't mean that it is my passion. Of course, this warrants a longer discussion on the meaning and value of 'passion'. Whether or not writing had previously been a passion requires an entirely separate conversation. However, for now, please believe me when I say that writing is an extension of my identity that allows me to practice my passion(s).

Note: Fingers crossed, you don't feel that I lead you on. If I had previously implied that writing is my passion, do note that it was probably due to the fact that oftentimes I can't be bothered to explain at great lengths about this condition that I have and regularly resort to simple means of communication. Between me and you, I was way too lazy to spell this entire essay all out to you during said conversation.

*Author owns rights to the photos above

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