My first semester as a senior in high school just finished. Today. Although 2009 is not yet over, I would like to take the time to reflect over all, or rather, some of the various events of this hectic year.
Overall, I can say that 2009 was most certainly the most influential on my life. That has to do with, of course, the fact that it was (and is) the most recent year, but regardless, there have been many changes in the ways I view and interact with the world.
Something early this year, around January or February, still in the midst of my junior year, totally changed my outlook on learning, or more specifically, my academic interests. Before this year, I would have considered myself to be a math/science person, and to some extent, I still am. But even so, my collection of academic interests has immensely broadened, to the point where I enjoy subjects such as literature and history, rather than be indifferent or hostile to them. I am still searching for answers. How did this shift happen, and why?
I think it started with a play we read in English class, even slightly earlier, in late 2008. It was Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. Before reading this, I had more or less detested English classes in general. Whenever we were assigned a book to read, I would always wonder, What’s the point? Especially of a book such as Great Expectations (by Charles Dickens), in ninth grade. It was by far the most boring book I had (attempted to) read. It killed my interest in reading for a while. Before that, I used to be an somewhat avid reader, but after being assigned that work, whatever fascination for literature I had was obliterated. I still made A’s and A+’s in the class, but the real problem was, I no longer had any respect for it.
How did Waiting for Godot resurrect my literary interest? For one thing, it was vastly different in both content and style from anything we had previously seen in English. It was certainly witty, but even more, it made me think. Great Expectations seemed to be a long, drawn-out piece of writing with no point. On the other hand, Waiting for Godot was minimal in plot, but extraordinarily thought-provoking in content. It asked some fundamental philosophical questions. It was clear. It was intriguing.
Okay, I know I haven’t painted the clearest picture of this play’s influence on me, but somehow, my interest in English, both the subject and the class, became reignited by the kindles of this play. While I’m on this topic, I would have to acknowledge my teacher, Ms. Dowdle, for making that class interesting last year. I always felt that I learned something every class, something I cannot say for my ninth and tenth grade years.
Admittedly, I was also not enthused by history. That is, until I had an epiphany about January of this year, in the middle of AP/IB European History.
For this subject, I think I know the epiphany’s cause. It was the understanding of how different eras blend into each other, each providing the context for the next era. Paradigm shifts, if you will. Our teacher, Ms. Saenz, showed us how the events we learned in the previous semester, namely the Renaissance, the Reformation (and Counter-Reformation), the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment tied into one another by drawing large, abstract, intersecting arcs spanning across the board. These arcs clearly showed how the eras led to what we were presently studying, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era. History suddenly made sense.
It wasn’t so much the content, i.e. the personalities, the dates, the numbers, that caused me to suddenly see history for what it is, but the method of analysis, i.e. the way of looking at the big picture. I had previously thought of history as a vast, disjointed collection of facts to memorize. But the big-picture method of looking at the situation changed my views on it entirely.
I used to be indifferent about writing. This had to do with my writing style. It used to be very formulaic, and every sentence had to follow the laws of English grammar. For example, I never started sentences with conjunctions.
But, in the middle of May, ironically just after a sea of AP exams, I suddenly found myself writing. A lot. If you want proof, take a look at the “Essays” section of this website, a tab on the top. You’ll find among the collection three essays, all in the range of approximately 2000 words, all freelance (not for any class), all dated May 2009. Heck, even the existence of this website/blog is evidence. For me, a more law-breaking, or rather, “creative” writing style makes writing significantly more fun, therefore causing me to write a lot more.
I ran, however, into the natural follow-up question: What caused this change in style? This question was very tough. I could not think of anything writing-wise in May that would cause me to take up writing as a hobby. If anything, the AP exams should have caused me to detest writing. Then it hit me. It had nothing to do with the AP exams. It was actually, in fact, something not related to writing at all, or at least not directly.
Waking Life. A movie directed by Richard Linklater. We watched it in IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an intriguing class taught by Dr. Schaack. So, how did this movie change my writing style? Indirectly. I think what happened was that TOK changed my thinking style. I became more open minded. And creative. Yes, I just implied that creativity can, to some degree, be taught. What Waking Life did for me was to literally wake my mind (though this sense of “waking” is not the one used in the movie). Just as Waiting for Godot was a creative play, Waking Life was an extraordinarily creative movie. It exuded creativity.
With this newfound creativity, I perhaps found the mechanistic writing style to be too inadequate to express my thoughts. I’m looking back right now at various saved writing assignments over the years. In ninth and tenth grades, my writing was appallingly lacking. Sentences were always medium in length, rhetorical questions were never asked, and the word “you” never appeared, just a few examples among other things. Which is yet another example, as I used to avoid the word “thing” at all costs, just because English teachers told us not to use it. The list goes on and on.
Of course, I always have enjoyed humor, but only this year did I realize that it can sometimes mean serious business.
Luckily, my new style of writing came in time to help with college application essays! Plus, from the other two subjects listed, I think I became a more well-rounded student. Of course, my main points on the applications were mostly math and science-related, but in several essays, I did not hesitate to mention academic interest in the humanities. My academic broadening also helped put some schools such as the University of Chicago on my list. For my status so far, see this post.
This website was made in November, just last month. Technically, there are two items under the October category, but those were imported from my other blog, now replaced by this one. Of course, my recent interest in writing is related to the creation of this site.
Perhaps, as the end of the year draws closer, I will post an addendum to this, as a final goodbye to 2009.