Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 1,460-Day Essay

As the new year begins and winter break continues I'll again indulge my fantasy about teaching the four-year essay. Think how interesting it'd be, in theory, to have a student work on a single personal essay over the four-year stretch that he or she's in college. In freshman year they begin working on a nascent draft—it can pursue any subject, can be autobiographical or not, though the author's personality/persona will inevitably be what the essay embraces, resists, and/or is filtered through. Then: they work. Over the course of the next four years they're at work on the essay, the only requirement being that they reflect, mull, and write steadily, that they write with intimacy and candor, and that they never fully abandon the essay at any point during their college career. The essay will change, undoubtedly, as the student moves from his/her late teens into early twenties (or whatever age they are in this pedagogical fantasy of mine). Imagine the possibilities: argument and fiercely-held convictions swaying and moving under the pressures, some faint, some explicit, of maturing, of having one's perspective challenged and broadened, of books read in classes and for kicks, of biases dropped and forged, of arguments with friends and strangers, favorite songs and shows, of falling in and out of love. Imagine how relationships among friends and family changes and how those relationships would affect the essay and the writer's stake in its subjects and arguments. The essay could get mighty-meta—I hate this thing why is Bonomo making me do it—and could move forward in a linear manner, or backtrack, amend, crisscross. Imagine what an essay would look like that you begin at the green cusp of your college career and are allowed to stoke, let grow, let evolve over the drama, melodrama, and genuine and deep metamorphosis and personality-forging that is college.

Of course, given the technical vagaries and politics of universities, of the mercurial dynamic of student commitment, of moving out of state and dropping out of school, and that stuff happens, this Montaigneian fantasy will remain just that. The logistics are too tough to pull off. But I think about it sometimes....