Thoughts on Amherst essay -- COME SEE!

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: November 2003 Archive: Thoughts on Amherst essay -- COME SEE!
By Tunan_Fish (Tunan_Fish) on Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 02:46 am: Edit

Hey, I was just writing a rough draft of an Amherst supplementary essay tonight. First off, I am not sure if this is how they intend for one to respond to the quotations, but here goes:


"'I read,' I say. 'I study and read. I bet I've read everything you've read. Don't think I haven't. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, 'The library, and step on it.' . . . I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talk and talk . . . "

-- Respond to this quotation in some way.

So I wrote the following essay:


Apples and Oranges

Whatever happened to curmudgeons? I never hear about them anymore. If someone’s a curmudgeon today, they’re never a curmudgeon: they’re a grouch, they’re a lout, but they’re never a curmudgeon. It’s as if people carry with them some bred-in fear of long (and beautiful) words.

I never understood why. As a reader and writer, I’ve always loved to stumble across – or use – great long words, so long as they fit what they’re describing. While short words do have their place in the language, there those times when a miniature isn’t petite – it’s miniature. There are times when “big” or even “largesse” doesn’t cover the size of what you’re describing; no, it’s gargantuan. It’s titanic.

As one might surmise, this gets me in trouble with my English teachers – and classmates – occasionally. Last year, with a Hemingway-esque Mr. Ramos at the helm of my class, there were times when he along with the class would peer quizzically at me after I had let loose something on the order of “ephemeral” or “ostensible.” Nevertheless, all three of us – Mr. Ramos, the class, and I – persevered throughout the year, learning new words (or when not to say such words) daily.

But inside I yearned for someone with the same feeling for long words as I. My English teacher for twelfth grade, a Mr. Parkman, was less stringent than Ramos on word lengths, but even he restrained his use of those great long words – words that in their labyrinthine spellings yet precise meanings reward you when you find them as a reader (or use them as a writer). But my hopes were sparked when I found out that our class would have a visiting author, Ethan Canin, a coming day. We had read his books the previous summer, and I had quickly found that he was not one to hesitate to use long words. I awaited our class’ meeting with him anxiously as the day approached.

“So . . . if anyone has any questions, I’d be pleased to answer them,” said Canin as we finished hearing a short history of his life. I was first with my hand up.

“Well, Mr. Canin,” I said, “we had read some of your short stories in Emperor of the Air, and I was just going to say, first off, that I really enjoyed—“

“Wait, which ones did you read?” said Canin.

“Uh, well, we read ‘Pieces’ and “Star Food.’” Canin laughed.

“Heh, man, I think both of those stories are terrible. I wrote those when I was in med school, and sometimes, looking back on them, I wonder if I could have chosen some of those words any more poorly!” Canin’s comments shocked me. “But you had something to ask?” I feigned memory loss and sat back in my chair, jilted at Canin’s surprising comments. But the worst was yet to come. Mr. Parkman raised his hand.

“Mr. Canin, you were just talking about word choice . . . what do you do when writing and picking how to describe something.”

“Well, I guess the best way to describe it is that I look for words that mean something. Now, you may wonder, ‘Well, what does that mean?’ and I guess the best way to describe it is that if I say, ‘apple,’ or ‘orange,’ you know what that means – it means something. But if I use some huge long word – oh, I don’t know, let’s say. ‘manifestation,’ now who honestly knows what that means?” The rest of the talk with Canin went smoothly, but I had had my beliefs rattled by Canin. Maybe long and short words never were destined to be at odds with each other; maybe they were. But either way, perhaps some discretion was warranted. After meeting Canin and hearing him describe how long words were just a phase for him – a successful author –
I talked with my English teachers more and asked them if my use of long words did, at times, seem arrogant or condescending. The responses varied: some said yes, others said no. But after some long talks with other readers, we decided that some of my long words had to go.

That’s not to say I’m giving up on them entirely. I’m still a reader, and I still have to draw the line at some spots. Deleterious will never succumb to evil; righteous never to good. Sometimes I prefer not to compare the two, to deign one better than the other. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon for not completely following my teachers’ and Canin’s advice. Maybe I’m a lout. Who knows? But for however long I continue struggling to define myself, long and short words will, for me, always remain – in Canin’s words – a matter of apples and oranges.

By Welshie (Welshie) on Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 03:55 am: Edit

I really liked it. I personally hate long words, and avoid using them at all costs, or so it seems. One comment I will make is on this line..

"The rest of the talk with Canin went smoothly, but I had had my beliefs rattled by Canin."

The repetition of Canin seems a bit, well, repetitious. Throw in some pronouns. Sure, neither "he" nor "him" have the same length of "Canin" but I think you can manage. You are cutting back, after all, right? Lastly, I was curious what other stats you have, I am applying to Amherst as well (FAR stretch but I'm curious and you only live once). Good luck.


By Rashmi (Rashmi) on Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 06:47 am: Edit

I liked it. You seem to be like this chap I know(loves big words) and I feel like showing him this essay.

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