Where do I begin? As a writer, my biggest struggle may be knowing where to start. I want to pull you in, invite you inside my mind so you can perceptually understand the world I live in. I’ll craft spectacle through sensational images, and if given pandemonium, I’d sell you poetry from the tip of my tongue. That’s just my problem, however. I communicate my existence rather poetically, creating metaphors out of memories, and this does not work well in traditional academia. From a young age, I felt interconnected with writing; it’s always been my calling. But once I step inside a structured setting, all I’ve ever known about writing is challenged. I am asked to strip down my creative Discourse: discard unnecessary details and forget figurative analysis. Teachers want research and concrete investigation; there is little room for imagination, and this did not sit well with me.
I started writing to record and remember my dreams so that in the midst of a mundane reality, I could escape in language. I want to be enticed, engaged, transported. Instead, I’m often caged in a system that must eliminate creativity and identity as means to communicate effectively. Always advised: Don’t write “I” in your papers, stay on topic and foremost state your thesis, I contemplated if there was a way around this structure. Experience taught me that my best writing surfaces organically. Picture this: I am a tree, rooted in opinions and beliefs, and when I undress my mind, I scatter leaves all behind, planting seeds on fresh paper. Writing is a growing process, and academia was always trimming my hedges, limiting the lengths I could reach when exploring an idea creatively or conceptually.
I am a firm believer in showing instead of telling, but I practice this differently than one might expect. I use all forms of writing to my advantage, and I’d be a fool to use only one medium at a time. Hybridity in writing is rarely encouraged, still, I witness hybrid texts challenging boundaries and gradually pushing forward into the professional realm of written works. Consider the text Citizen: An American Lyric written by poet Claudia Rankine. Rankine is not your average writer. She pushes conventional limits, she acts as a powerful voice of reason, and she consoles not only myself but others through literature. When reading Citizen, I quite often feel as though her words are about ready to fly off the page, aimed at my brain‒a transcendent ricochet of emotive thought firing out at me.
The book, in its entirety, is a visual journey. Stylistically, Citizen is composed of prose, poetry, and photographs‒a combination of some of the most effective mediums for communication. In consideration of content, we read short memoirs to get a glimpse of some of Rankine’s deep introspective notions on colored identity in American society. Politicians have discussed the topic of racial inequality with successes here and there, yet our society makes little progress. Perhaps it is a matter of reception. People listen to what resonates with them, and Rankine tackles the very same topic, but with a different Discourse that speaks volumes to a larger demographic. She does not limit her content by selecting one form, and likewise, her form does not downplay the importance of her topic‒it heightens it.
In retrospect, traditional academic teaches you to do the opposite. They want us to work within one Discourse: formal, standardized English (despite having no official standard actually set in place). With that, there is no room for poetic devices, storytelling, or visual content. It’s a choice between my integrity to write authentically or give in to academic discipline, and all at the cost of a letter grade that determines our success and placement in society. With this, where do I fit in? Surely I’m not the only student who struggles with this regimen. We are scientifically aware that no two brains are alike, still, we are treated all the same in an academic setting. Look at the technological advancements we’ve made in the past century, yet the image of education is more or less the same: sit still, raise your hand, write formally.
The Discourse we witness with traditional academia is not shaped to the individual, in fact, it denies individuality and personalized expression. This Discourse does not prepare our students for the future because we are taught to be carbon copies of one another, and this does not train us to think innovatively. With all that being said, my criticisms against the Discourse of traditional academia are not against the entirety of the education system. There are teachers and mentors that bring their progressive influence into the classroom, encouraging each individual to excel without compromising Discourse; thus these teachers alone are transforming my world lens of academia as I know it. For instance, I had the pleasure of working with one professor that allowed me to approach a research paper with creative writing. Not only was the experience life changing, but the outcome was ultimately gratifying. For the first time in my academic career, I was encouraged to think outside traditional convention.
I was asked to research how immigration influences one’s interactions within their environment. Similar to Claudia Rankine, my topic was broad and controversial in nature; it is discussed by influential leaders and politicians regularly. How was I to effectively communicate the immigrant experience to an audience, I perceived, had no understanding on the issue beyond negative stigmas and stereotypes upheld by the media? The solution: break convention and include my own creative Discourse. I wanted my readers to step into the shoes of an immigrant and momentarily experience immigration first hand before diving into the facts. It’s too easy to dismiss information if one is not invested, and with that in mind, I implemented creative writing to my advantage. Consider the following excerpt:
“It’s noon and the neighbors are shuffling in and out your door. The clouds are chasing one another and you wander with them for a minute before Aunt Theresa presses her rosary against your chest and blesses you with um beijo. She reminds you that your grandmother was a gypsy and that your grandfather was a bottle of grappa, but together they made heritage from words preserved in the stone caves of Sagres. And with that being said, you take a final swig of your Sagres beer and walk forward. You hear Maria humming in your footsteps. It’s the song your mother used to sing when the sailors would go out to sea. The memory of her voice chanting Saudade holds you for a moment. You hear the sight of longing and you taste the spread of fear. It’s time and the world has never been so alive.”
In order to develop a connection between the audience and the text, I introduced my research paper with a short story in which my protagonists were a Portuguese family saying goodbye to their country before immigrating to the United States. I implemented code-meshing, including Portuguese within the text and providing cultural images one might not be familiar with. By visually representing an immigrant Discourse within my paper, I endeavored to help my audience better understand immigrant identity and the differences between each Discourse community. Likewise, I was able to embed my own writing techniques within a Discourse community that had not welcomed such creativity prior.
This research paper was the first of many hybrid approaches I took with writing. On behalf of the unique quality of the paper, I was met with success and overall positive reception. This exciting experience ignited a flame in me, further encouraging myself to challenge convention and continuously do the unexpected, despite traditional academia teaching me otherwise. I write to show readers the way I view this world: colorful, loving, and at times, surprisingly metaphysical. Language is erotic. I mold sound and syntax to create a rhythmic sensation; creativity grabs hold of me, twisting the gears in the lock box known as my mind. I work with words‒that is my Discourse‒and it is my personal obligation to better my talent and persistently use it to my advantage. On behalf of the support of past professors and mentors, I’ve encountered many influential people who have helped me further my self-discovery because when given the opportunity to embrace language to the fullest, there are no limitations in what you can explore, especially in the diverse and ever-expanding world of Discourse.