By Michael Ernst
My first major non-fiction essay that I ever had to write was a real pain in the ass. I can remember the great amounts of stress it brought me, and frankly, I hated every single moment of my existence while constructing this poor excuse of a paper.
Let’s rewind. It was my senior year and my English class was coming down the homestretch. Then, all of a sudden out jumps a big scary final paper that needs to be completed before the end of the year. You may be thinking that doesn’t sound too bad, but believe me, it gets worse. This final paper assignment is to write an essay on a poet. At this point, I am thinking that this still won’t be too terrible since there are some great poets out there. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of choosing William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, or even Shel Silverstein, but then the big bad wolf blew down my house of straw.
“I will be assigning you each a poet to write about,” my teacher announced.
Groans escaped the mouths of everyone around me as my husky teacher grumbled the command in his deep voice. The bald and gray bearded man then made his way to the front of the classroom where he started the selection process.
One by one the famous poets fell.
“Dickinson, Shakespeare, Frost, and Poe,” he droned as he walked down the aisle.
At last, it was finally my turn.
“Walt Whitman,” he said, staring straight at me.
This selection wasn’t the worst, yet it was definitely not the best by any means. I had never read anything by Walt Whitman so I was not quite sure what I should expect, and it turned out to be hell.
The main problem that I had with writing about Walt Whitman is that his poetry just didn’t speak to me like other poets had and his life story was just so damn depressing. So as I began my miniature biography on Whitman, the stress of writing about him grew until I was ready to just say screw this essay. At one point, I think that I even said “Who cares about this greyed old man anyways!?” Writing had become a chore that I had to complete in order to receive good grades. My main problem here was that I didn’t have a choice in the selection of what I was writing about.
The Whitman essay was such a pain because I was looking up facts about a guy that I had never heard of. Day after day I entered the library and got on a computer to look up more facts about Whitman. After a while, I got to the point where there just wasn’t anything left to look up (there are only so many facts a man can have for Christ’s sake).
After exhausting my search for details on Whitman’s life, I actually began writing my essay. I started off real nice and was about two pages in when I realized I had exhausted all of the facts that I had found. This was a really big problem since the essay had to be at least ten pages. So I dragged my feet through the rest of the terrible essay, bullshitting my way through pages of unneeded and unhelpful information until I reached my ten page mark.
When all was said and done, I thought that this was going to be a failure for sure so I turned it in expecting the worst. Turns out, I ended up getting a B- so I was actually pretty excited about that, yet a B- wasn’t up to my normal grade standard.
After high school, and my bad biography of Whitman, I knew that more writing was to come. During my first two semesters at Pitt-Bradford, I had to take English Composition 1 and English Composition 2. During these classes, we had a little more freedom to write on topics that we actually wanted to write about. These classes reinvented the way that I thought about writing and showed me that maybe there was more to writing than being forced to do so.
In Comp. 1 and 2 the professors just seemed way more interested in hearing what I, the student, wanted to write about. I wrote about my favorite TV show, “Supernatural,” the super power I would most like to have, and an analysis of an ad. With the choice being in my hands, I actually began to enjoy writing more and more, and even started to improve my grades with each essay.
So, at the end of last semester I decided to give writing an honest-to-god second chance. With that I decided to enroll in Creative Nonfiction. Since joining this class I have grown to actually enjoy putting pen to paper, or finger to keystroke, as I write nonfiction.
To all you kids out there struggling with writing, have no fear, we have all been there, and who knows…
Maybe someday you’ll come to enjoy it.