Author's Introduction to "Cool"

Katherine Gorman '07, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

The word essay is derived from the French verb essayer, which means "to try." Wisdom speaker Michel de Montaigne coined the term by labeling his rambling, honest, probing, and elegant prose "tries." He strove to put what he thought down on paper, letting each "try," or essay, take go where it may. I endeavored to let my personal essay do something of the same. Though I found inspiration in writers such as Sara Suleri, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, Annie Dillard, and John Ruskin and sought to imitate their many writing styles and tenents, every work of personal non-fiction ultimately involves a quirky, individual touch-and my piece presents a unique persona.

My essay, like Suleri's Meatless Days, has an nonlinear structure and follows the associational logic of memory. I, with a similar unhesitant voice, jump from one anecdote to another. I begin with a statement that essentially sets up a transition into a story. Before I tell the anecdote from third grade, I, in Sulerian style, jump to the memories I have of third grade; linking the changing of my name and a confrontation with a boy on the school bus to the story my mom tells about the third grade parent-teacher conference. This sets the stage for the rest of my essay which skips around in time. That is, after the anecdote from third grade I transition into a story about an episode in eighth grade, to an afternoon my senior year in high school, to the last day of seventh grade, back to the afternoon late in my senior year, and finally to the present, all the while interjecting random burst of thought and memory. Also like Suleri, my writing style is multi-modal. I employ humor, thoughts, narrative, description, exposition, and wisdom statements.

I modeled much of the prose itself after Didion. Like Didion's The White Album, in my piece I confess the embarrassing (I included the letter I wrote to myself in seventh grade, I own up to lying, and make allusions to sexual activity) in order to create ethos and I suppose my admissions create pathos as well. I explain that I have lost the narrative line on which I grew up, and I have cut and spliced (as Didion does with her "cutting-room experience") my essay into sections in order to emphasize my central point: I am no longer the different people I used to be, I am struggling with the idea that I must find my truest self and the chaotic notion that I haven't a clue where my self will end up, or if the self even exists. Similar to Didion's book, I use descriptive scenes and events from my life as support for a kind of argument. I depart from my storytelling, as Didion does, to think on the meaning of the story told and to teach myself lessons.

Throughout my essay I strove to, like Wolfe in "The Pump House Gang," speak in specifics rather than generalities and imbue an informal, auditory tone in my writing. I also integrated many of Wolfe's writing tenants: the dash, ellipses, italics, rhetorical questions, exclamation points, use of colloquialisms, and defining terms, to break the tone of the narrative and further my disjointed theme-I am no longer who I once was. I also attempted to incorporate the calm, matter-of-fact tone Dillard uses in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and her practice of quoting other writers. I incorporated a quotation from Robert Penn Warren's All the Kings Men to support my statement about looking backward and also one from Robert Murphy's The Body Silent to give credibility to my analysis and complicate the issue of the self. And like Ruskin I include a piece of childhood writing, which has a distancing effect and serves as a concrete point on which I can look at how my life and my self have changed.

It has been said that we are the sum of all the moments of our lives, and working with this principle, I endeavored to look at some of the moments of my life and see if I could link who I was in those moments, to who I am now, and to where I want my self to go. When I began to write, I did not know exactly where my essay would end up, but in the end I think it reflects a little of my honest, true, innate self.

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Last modified 16 May 2005