Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America


















I asked my mother to try to remember an old story she knows about our family. At first, she felt that she would not be able to remember anything interesting, but about twenty minutes later she came to me with a story of my great grandfather on her mind. It was a story she was told by her mother years ago. Many years ago in Indiana, my grandmother lived with my great grandparents in a very small town. My great grandfather was a member of a workers union, and at that particular time, the union was on strike. At that time, unions had very little power and strikes were illegal. As the strike went on for a while, the law was forced to step in.

My great grandfather, along with a few other members was thrown in the local prison. This was a very small town and the sheriff knew these men well. He knew they were very good and honest people and he respected them. After a while, the sheriff felt it was ridiculous to watch such decent men sit in cells all day long, so he made a deal with them. He would allow the men to go home everyday for a few hours, as long as the men returned by 7 pm. This made my grandmother happy because she was unable to see her father. One time she did visit him, but he told her to leave, telling her, “It is not suitable for a young lady to be in a county jail.” I am not able to get all the details of this story from my mother because she does not know all the details by heart. Also my grandmother is deceased so the full story may never be known.

I do know that I find the story kind of funny and regard my great grandfather as a very proud and good man. From this story about my great grandfather, I feel that a lesson can be learned. If a person believes in something enough then he/she will do things that display how much character the person has. For a hardworking father to go to jail for his beliefs, it shows us that he was very strong and devoted to his union, a loyalty rarely spotted today.











On an urban street in the town of Jamaica Plain, it is often hard to find a patch of grass on the sidewalk that is not used for the planting of flowers or much of anything.  Near my house on Custer Street in Jamaica Plain, amidst the cars and frequent people on route to the Arboretum, is a big, empty green patch of grass on the sidewalk.  For two weeks I observed the changes that this spot went through, whether by the hands of Mother Nature or the by hands of a human being.  Thoreau said, "Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be expert in home-cosmography.”  After living in my home for ten years, I never discovered this place until recently.
     One day I observed twelve dogs pass by this patch of grass.  Of the twelve, two of the dogs chose to poop right on this patch.  The owner of the first dog was prepared and happy to clean up after her dog.  The second owner did not clean up after his dog, even though he had a plastic bag in his hand.  After his dog did its thing, the guy walked away.  The funny thing is that the same man cleaned up after his dog the day before when his dog pooped across the street.  I feel that many people are very considerate in my neighborhood and thought for a minute about this.  When I watched the man I realized that he felt that the patch of grass is an ignored spot that no one cares about.  After this observation I am sure that I chose a correct spot for this topic.
     On one occasion I looked very closely into the patch of grass.  All over were these nasty little bugs.  At first I thought about how dirty that the spot was and that it was very gross.  Then I began to think that this spot was more than just a patch of barren grass.  It was also a home to all of these little creepy crawlers.  In a way this is kind of a stupid point, but I think of this spot as an American one because it provides a home for these creatures.  The tall grass provides protection for them and they are able to live in peace. If they were in a spot in Afghanistan, I can assure you that the bugs would not be as safe and as healthy.
One Saturday morning I sat on my porch and observed the patch of grass.  It became pretty boring so I began to drift a bit off.  Then I noticed across the street, my neighbor was clipping a similar patch of grass on her side of the street.  When she was finished, it did look much more attractive and nice.  I wondered for a minute why this lady was messing with the sidewalk anyway?  Isn’t that the job of the city?  Then I looked at the patch of grass on my side of the street that I have been observing, it was getting long and there was some trash in it, very ugly in comparison.  Then I thought, Maybe this spot is ignored mainly because of me?  Maybe I should be the one to care for this spot because it is near my home.
     I found that observing this spot in nature was not too fun.  I think Thoreau was a very strong-minded man for him to spend such a long time in the woods.  I found that I did enjoy having an excuse to sit outside in the fresh air.  Now when I look at this spot I will feel like it is mine, and that I should start to take care of it so that it can shine along with other beautiful things in nature. Emerson said, "The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult between man and the vegetable."  I have come to realize that this spot is not just a piece of property near my house, but has now become part of me.



















Bobby was always a bit of a trouble maker in school. He was not a bad kid, but one who enjoyed having fun.

One day he and his friend James walked down the hallway of Boston Latin School looking for something to do. "We can either go to gym and play ball or wait for class to end in the bathroom," James said to Bobby. Then from around the corner walked a student named Miles. Miles is an annoying kid who is the class clown. "Hey what's up Bobby? Hey James what's up James Dog?"  Then Bobby and James pick up Miles and put him in a big trash dumpster sitting in the hallway. "What are you guys doing?" yells Miles.  Bobby and James then run to the gym laughing.

Meanwhile, Miles is stuck in the dumpster and is screaming hysterically. When Mr. Myers finds him, Miles tells him who did this and they go straight to Principle Kelly's office. When Ms. Kelley hears the story it is a bit exxagerated and she becomes furious. When Bobby gets home, his parents are waiting for him. "What is wrong with you?" asks his mother. The practical joke is almost cleared from his mind by this time because it is almost a regular occurence, so Bobby looks puzzled, angering his parents further. "You have an expulsion hearing tommorow!" screams his father.

Within a few days, Bobby is expelled from Boston Latin School and in search of a new school to accept him. He applies to Catholic Memorial. He writes on his application that he, "Is in search of a Catholic environment where he can prosper." He promises a certain Dean of Discipline that he plans to change his behavior for the better. Bobby is accepted to CM and is happy to be in school again.

Immediately Bobby is the new troublemaker at CM. He racks up countless jugs, a few suspensions, and many times he is kicked out of class. One day Bobby decides to get drunk before school. He drinks ten Natural Ice beers and walks to school. He stinks of alchohol and is stumbling everywhere. " I don't think you should go to school today," I warn him at the Shell gas station. He ignores me and walks right in and gets caught.

Within a couple days he is expelled from CM and in search of a new school. On all of his applications he sends out to schools, the same phrase: "I am in search of a new environment where I can prosper."  



























Emily Dickinson was a woman who kept to herself and was quite reluctant to share her work with others.  She only published seven of her one thousand seven hundred and seventy five poems she wrote during her lifetime.  She also preferred to seclude herself alone in her home for the last many years of her life.  This loneliness may have prompted Dickinson to write about tragic things such as death.  In the poem, “I Heard a Fly Buzz—When I Died—,“ Dickinson gives the reader new way to think about the end of life.

     In this poem, the speaker is very much prepared for death. It is not something that has suddenly hit the speaker without warning. Dickinson writes:

      I willed my Keepsakes—Signed away
              What portion of me be

Dickinson makes death appear to be acceptable to the speaker, who does not at all seem to fear that her life is soon over.  Dickinson does this by writing about such a sad topic, but not writing about it in a sad tone.  The speaker has done what she needed to do and is now ready and waiting for what is going to happen to her.  This is a unique way to think about death because death seems like something that would be extremely difficult to prepare for.

      Dickinson’s writing leaves me with many questions.  Some are, “What point is Dickinson trying to make?” and “ How does Dickinson feel that she knows what death is like?”  To answer my first question, I feel that Dickinson is trying to show the reader the thought process of a person who is dying and try to capture the final moments of human life.  She writes:  “And then the Windows failed—and then/ I could not see--.”  To answer my second question, I feel that because of Dickinson’s secluded lifestyle, she truly believes that she knows the feeling of death.  She lived a peculiar last years of her life and may have felt that due to her loneliness, she was already dead in a way.  I get this feeling even more vividly when she writes, “I could not see--” to end the poem.  

             The poem contrasts life and death.  Dickinson does this by writing about a living creature buzzing, the fly, and a person who is about to die.  She writes that everything is slowing down to the person and that he/she feels that everything is very still and calm, except for a fly buzzing.  She writes:

             I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—
                The stillness in the Room
             Was like the Stillness in the Air—
             Between the Heaves of Storm—

This makes me feel that death is a stage of life, one that can be full of calmness and tranquility.  Dickinson makes death seem peaceful amidst the annoying buzzing of the fly.  The fly represent that life still remain when one person’s life comes to a close.

     Dickinson’s poem, “I Heard a Fly Buzz—When I Died—,“ is one that makes the mind of the reader take extra steps to try and understand death.  One cannot simply read the words and get a true grasp of the meaning.  She does not write about how death affects the dead person’s family and friends, something many of us have already experienced. Instead, she takes the reader through the mind of a dying person, something that can only be discovered once.  This sensation is something no one can live to tell about, which makes it such a complex idea.  This poem is a good example of Dickinson’s work because it is simply put, while it has a deep concept.  




























     A sport is defined as an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.  Some sports are more popular than others in the United States.  The game of table tennis is a sport primarily played by two opponents, called singles, and sometimes four, with two on each team, referred to as doubles.  One may find a table tennis table in a local recreation room or even at a pool hall.  The sport is played on a rectangular table with a net in the center.  Opponents stand on opposite ends of the table and hit a small ball back and forth over the net with small wooden paddles.  The object is to hit the ball at the opposition’s side of the table in a way that he cannot return the ball back to the other side.  This sport is not as popular in the United States as it is in Europe and in Asia.  I feel that Americans do not adopt the sport very well because it is not a team sport and the togetherness aspect we see so much in American sports is not involved.   Another aspect that may draw Americans from it is that it lacks physical exertion and excitement because the players are standing at a table and not moving around much at all.
         Professional table tennis player Tahl Leibovitzis is twenty-six years old and plays in competitions around the world.  He started playing the sport when he was fifteen years old at the South Queens Boys Club in New York City.  He did so in order to get off the streets and keep himself out of trouble. “ I saw few people playing the sport.  I thought I could play OK”  (Hodges).  Leibovitzis was drawn to the sport because he is physically disabled, but is able to play at a very high level.  His main disability is benign tumors in most areas of his body.  When asked about how often he plays, he responds, “I would like to say that I train six days a week five hours a day, but the truth is that I hardly play.  Not because I don’t want to but because there aren’t many people to play.  In our table tennis club a lot of times the club is empty. I try and play at least two times a week.”  He has a reputation as being one of the “Bad Boys” in table tennis for some of his actions. “I think table tennis sometimes needs things to pump it up. To make the game more exciting.  I think certain conflicts help entice the game. I do feel, however, that I am good person. I don’t do things to upset people, I think I do them more to create conflict and have a bit of fun.”  This type of attitude could bring many more fans to the sport, such as people of this exciting nature have excited Americans in getting interested in other sports.
         Harry Pappas is a junior in high school.  His parents bought him a table tennis set when he was in the fifth grade.  He says “ I really enjoy playing the game because it is not physically draining and anyone can learn it with practice”  (Pappas).  Pappas and his twin brother practiced for years in the basement of their home.  Soon Bobby brought his skills to the Brighton YMCA and later to some competitions in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill.  “ I am not a gifted athlete when it comes to many sports, but table tennis allows me to show people something I perform well in.”   When I asked him why he thinks the sport is not very popular in the United States he replied, “ Americans don’t cling to sports that do not have long past times in or country.  Table tennis is, however, in a sense an American idea because with hard work and dedication almost anyone can succeed in the sport.  It does not require great physical athleticism, to me it is ninety-five percent mental.”  What Harry loves so much about the sport is that he can decide how often he wants to play or how far he wants to pursue the game.  The only complaint he has about the game is “ I can hardly ever find anyone to play with if there are not any local tournaments.”
         Table tennis is a sport that can be found on a stage as huge as the Olympic games and also in the comfort of many homes.  One can also find table tennis tables in recreation rooms and in pool halls.  It is a game of strategy and skill, and a sport that all those who I either spoke to or read about, feel is on the rise in popularity.  One does not see the sport shown on ESPN or in the paper, but it is a very interesting and fun game.  In order for Americans to grasp the sport, they must play it for themselves.