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Portfolio Project

This project serves as the final exam for this course.  You must complete this project in order to pass the class.

Project Rationale:

  • Creating a portfolio of the work you've done in this class allows you to have a tangible and meaningful product that you will be able to return to in the future to read, enjoy, add to, and possibly continue to revise.

  • The portfolio project requires that you view and process your work as a whole, allowing you to better understand where your strengths lie in creative nonfiction, which pieces may require more work, and which piece you find the most value in.
Project Requirements:
  • You will revisit and revise your first three formal essays before and during the last class meeting.

  • You will write a 2-3 page essay (approximately 500-750 words) in which you briefly discuss each of your essays,  describe yourself as a writer (style, habits, likes, dislikes), and explore how that has possibly changed since the beginning of the course.  This essay will serve as the introduction to your portfolio and can be informal in tone.   However, you should quote from at least one of your essays as in your portfolio essay.  I recommend including small excerpts from more than one.

  • You will hand in your portfolio at the end of the last class meeting.  If you provide me with a self addressed stamped envelope, I will mail your portfolio to you after reading and grading it.

 The following is an example of an introductory essay to a student's end of the term portfolio project.  While your essay will be shorter and your thoughts unique, I encourage you to consider this essay's reflective tone and casual voice as models to follow while drafting your own "Author's Preface".

Author's Preface

It seems that one element of human nature is to have a critical sense. We can't help but see, interpret, and judge the things around us.  I think this is why people write.  Each of my essays is a critical reaction to something I have experienced; each was written with it's own purpose; each purpose dictate's its own style.  I suppose the process is similar to the rule in architecture where form must follow function.  In both cases, a solid construction is the ideal product.

In all aspects of my life--including writing--I try to avoid essentially boring things.  The first essay in this collection, "Watch Your Step, Annie," is a reaction to the writing style of the essayist Annie Dillard.  This was my first stab at satire.  I found my own initial criticisms of Dillard to be falling apart as I reread her essays.  Her style is deeply layered with ideas.  Depending upon which layer strikes you, your opinion of her may change. The essay is in letter form, addressed to Dillard herself.  As I began writing the essay, I found a new theme seeping into it on a separate layer.  The criticism of Dillard became secondary to the discovery of a new theme.  I find this discovery to be the most drawing and entertaining element of the piece.

Satire seems to come quite naturally to meˇlikely a testament of by innate ability to be a jerk.  Satire's arrival to a piece is interesting.  Sitting down and saying, "I'm going to write a satirical essay" doesn't work for me.  It seems that certain topics or issues call for satire.  "The Importance of Being Nice" is a second attempt at satire.  It is an angry essay.  My audience would not be attracted to another angry voice claiming to be above all that is corrupt in the world.  The anger is layered and softened by satire.  It is made more approachable to its audienceˇa specific college campus.   Granted, my ironic voice is sometimes obvious and biting, but I think satire also adds an element of entertainment that a straight criticism so often lacks.  The topic needed satire and called out for it.

I also find myself drawn to simple issues.  I'm attracted to small, sometime unnoticeable, aspects of life.  We are generally not very self aware in our daily lives; we have become numb to our daily actions.  "Silence" is a reflection on a numbness I grew to have for something very beautiful; I only noticed this numbness when the beauty was far away from me.  Again, Dillard is influential here in choosing purpose and style.  She writes about small things in nature and applies them to greater universal concepts of the human condition.

Dillard can dazzle the reader with imagery.  I tried to incorporate a temperate usage of imagery in "Silent Awakening." Although somewhat successful in doing so, I consequently fell into wordiness; I paid close attention to this when revising this essay for the portfolio.  I softened, but did not remove, one large metaphor that a reader had suggested I omit.  I also completely cut the original paragraph #8, replacing it with a section break.  Wordiness and unnecessary explanation can cripple a writer's voice.

Another important aspect of Dillard's style that I've attempted to incorporate into my own is her attention to sentence structure.  She is masterful in sentence constructionˇmanipulating length and rhythm to complement her ideas.   This excerpt form "Silent Awakening" is evident of Dillard's influence in my writing:

I close my eyes on long straight stretches and listen to my body; lungs pull in and push out air; leg muscles find and keep rhythm to the sound of gravel crunching underneath each stride.  Rhythm.  Pace.  A natural metronome eases me into thought, creating an extreme sense of self awareness.
Eyelids are closed in the dark.
I am not afraid to use long sentences.  The two one word sentences speak loudly relative to those around them.  I tried to duplicate the rhythm I described in the sentence by them rhythm of the sentence.

Attention to a subject's layered simplicity and attention to the language within the essay were both large influences with "Talking" as well.  I also really wanted to allow my essay to speak for itself.  I desired subtlety when writing "Talking," to entertain with examples and elaborate as little as possible.  I also concentrated on the thinness in word and sentence style; this was intended to support the essay's purpose.

Although I really enjoyed writing "Talking," my workshop group and others did not share my fondness for the final product.  They raised questions about it being too vague, too thin, too incoherent.  I disregarded their comments initially, but I've grown to see the value in them.  To be honest, I see now that the essay needs a good deal of additional work.  I include it here as a work in progress, something in dire need of revision.

I believe that revision is the most fun and most important element of my writing process; I've mentioned my distaste for wordy sentences and paragraphs.  In the movie A River Runs Through It, a father teaches his young son how to write an essay.  It begins being four pages long.  The man tells his son to "cut it in half."  He brings back two pages a few hours later and again is told to "cut it in half."  This continues until it appears that he has revised his essay into one good paragraph.  All drama aside, the message is clear.

The recent Lower Stumpf Lake Review interview with J.F.  Powers kept coming into my mind.  He says that "through writing you can find the truth in many things, in an apple, a squirrel, anything you might pick up and dissect can lead you back to the maker" (18).  Powers says that while a discovery process is present, the over-ruling purpose of a good writer is "to entertain" (18).  I've included essays that have helped me discover a thing or two while writing, reading, and revising them.  I hope to continue experiencing these discoveries through writing.  And I hope my writing is entertaining.

1100 words

Jeremy Corey-Gruenes
Riverland Community College
Last Update 09/04/03