Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America



Wake up, Mr. Quinn!












The oldest story I know about my family involves my grandfather on my Dad’s side. My father told the story to me, as my grandfather had already passed away.

His father shared this piece of family history with him when he was a young boy and my father did likewise with me. The story was very real to me, as I was able to read actual newspaper accounts that my grandmother had kept. As so many others of his generation, my grandfather immediately enlisted in the armed forces as soon as war was declared. During World War II, he was in the U. S. Army and fought at the D-Day invasion in France. He was a tank commander. He was also known locally as a war hero for saving a group of soldiers.

The men were all in a foxhole, when a grenade was thrown in. To stop all of the men from being injured or killed, he put his helmet over the grenade and then jumped on the helmet. This action contained the explosion to a minimum. However, by doing this my grandfather incurred many serious injuries, including a temporary loss of his hearing. By the end of the war he had won three Purple Hearts, the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and the Silver Cross.

My grandmother has a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings, which document many of his wartime experiences. The end of the war was not the end of my grandfather’s military service; he stayed in the Army for twenty years. My grandfather heeded the call of his country, as did so many others of his time. He fulfilled a dream of being a hero that most servicemen aspire to. The freedom that we all enjoy in this country today is due in part to the contribution that he made.













You don’t see many rotaries around, do you?  Rotaries are a rarity in this country being limited mostly to only the New England states.  Even around here though, some people don’t come across them very much.  There is a rotary across from a police station, an elementary school, and a church.  It is in the middle of Centre Street and the West Roxbury Parkway in West Roxbury.  It is filled with trees, bushes, and grass.  It regulates the heavy traffic that passes by and is very much unappreciated. Hundreds of cars swerve by fellow drivers and dodge occasional pedestrians, without even taking a second look and noticing what the rotary really is.  For twelve days I decided to take that second look.  Emerson said “To be great is to be misunderstood….”  I believe Emerson’s words can be applied to the rotary because people do not understand it, and it truly is great.
Although it may create some traffic jams,  the rotary  prevents many more.  Historically, the rotary served as a landmark for planes flying overhead on their way to Logan Airport.  Many people from this area do not know this fact, or any other fact concerning the rotary.  It represents the American way of getting something as quickly as possible.  The rotary is in existence so that drivers can get where they want, quicker and safer.
When I used to go by the rotary I saw what everyone else sees now.  Nothing.  I just saw some trees and bushes that didn’t interest me, and my mind would drift away to something more important.  Now, I see much more.  I see the individual trees and bushes, that someone dug holes for and watered until they could live on their own.  I see grass that someone once planted all over the bare ground.  They are not just regular trees anymore that have shed their leaves, but trees that in the spring will have buds and berries on them.  I saw nature at its best in a place where I once saw nothing.  It suddenly became an oasis in the middle of the pavement, a welcome glimpse of greenery.  
Everyday going to school I seem to get held up waiting to get on the rotary, so I can make the circle around and go down Centre Street.  I am held up because so many people are driving along the rotary.  There is even a huge sign indicating when leaves will be picked up during the Fall season because the city knows that most people around here will see it because of their frequent trips around the circular island.  During political elections, the rotary is a choice spot for campaigners to promote their candidates.  The circle is thick with campaign signs every morning and evening  during rush hour, taking advantage of the prime location that it is.  I can honestly say that in my sixteen years of living near the Parkway I have never been near the rotary when there has not been a car going into it or coming out of it.  It is a center point in the Parkway area, constantly being used.  
In my twelve days of observing the rotary I noticed some things that really caught my attention.  The trees which were once heavy with foliage are bare now, and the fallen leaves are gone.  Some perhaps taken by the wind; others scooped up by city workers.  It is a stark contrast to the dense greenery of summer days, and much more open to the elements.  There are two circular walkways that wind around the interior of the rotary.  I have never seen these paths used.  Sidewalks are for walking, yet I see no one walking inside the rotary.  It is a small area, and probably not worth the leap of faith it takes to cross the busy intersection, but don’t you think that people would explore the one piece of nature that they go by almost every day?  If it wasn’t meant to look good, to be appreciated, and to be used, then why is there a sidewalk, why are there bushes, why are there trees, and why is there grass?  
Observing the rotary for twelve days showed me something that I hadn’t seen in sixteen years.  This rotary is a real place.  I really got caught up in it.  I think Thoreau summarizes my thoughts when he says,  “It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.”  The rotary I expect, is taken for granted everyday by most people that use it without taking a second glance and admiring the scenery.  Now, obviously if everyone took time out of their day to look at the vegetation that grows in the rotary, and to take a short stroll through its small sidewalks, there would be enormous traffic jams and car accidents, and it would defeat the whole purpose of the rotary.  So, I am not asking people to do this, but rather suggesting that when you do go by the rotary, don’t take it for granted, see the beauty that inhabits it.  Watch for the quarterly seasonal changes that occur, and be happy that someone thought enough of it to put it there for all of us to appreciate.











"Wake up Mr. Quinn!"

  Up until I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, I played CYO basketball for Holy Name School in West Roxbury.  For about three years straight, our practices were held in the Holy Name school gym at 8:00 AM on Saturday mornings.  Practices were very laid back for this team, so we could pretty much do what we wanted to do.
  During the early years of my stint on this team I also attended Holy Name.  There was a gym teacher there who was well liked, but believed to be a little eccentric.  There were also many rumors about this teacher living out of his office in the gym.  We always liked to joke around about this, but no one was really sure whether or not there was any truth to the rumor.  Usually, as a joke, we would go up to his office door and bang on it saying, "Mr. Quinn, wake up!!,"but nothing would ever happen.  One day after banging on the door, we went back to the gym to practice.  About five minutes later Mr. Quinn walked out.  He had pajama pants on, no shoes, "bed-head,"and he was very groggy.
  "Guys, I know there are a lot of rumors about Mr. Quinn sleeping in the gym, but that's not true and I know you guys know that, right?"said Mr. Quinn.
  "Yeah,yeah we know Mr. Quinn,"we all mumbled back, stunned at what we were actually seeing.
  "I was just doing some work here early this morning,"he said.
  "Oh,"we all replied trying to hold back the laughs being caused by the thought of an elementary school gym teacher having to do extra work on a Saturday morning at 8:00 AM.  
  "Don't be banging on the door,I'll see you guys later."
  "Alright, see you later Mr. Quinn."
  After he left, probably to go back to bed, we couldn't hold back our laughter anymore.  We had woken him up, and he still denied living there!














Emily Dickinson wrote 1,775 poems in her lifetime.  Some of these poems are the greatest ever written.  However, out of all 1,775, one best represents her innovation in style and subject.  It is a short poem, and it gets right to the point.  Emily Dickinson’s “The Brain-is Wider than the Sky-.” is very unique in that it explores the broadness of the human imagination.

One unique approach that Dickinson takes is literally talking of the human brain, not in a technical sense but a figurative sense.  She uses lines like,
The Brain-is Wider than the Sky-, The Brain is Deeper than the Sea-, and The Brain is just the weight of God-,

to describe how the human imagination, and human thinking have no boundaries.  She uses examples like how deep the sea is, how wide the sky is, and the weight of God because those are things that cannot be measured, and Dickinson feels that the depths of the human imagination too, cannot be measured.

Another innovation Dickinson uses is imagery.  Dickinson uses images like sponges and buckets, and these help to create a picture in the reader’s mind.  “The one the other will absorb-As Sponges-Buckets-do-.”  When a reader can visualize what a writer is expressing on the written page they can better understand the poet’s message. Dickinson uses simple words to produce a vivid description of the subject she speaks of. She conveys her point to the reader using basic images and pictures.
This poem is unique because it has a more profound message than one might think at first glance, given the brevity of it.  Like all poets Emily Dickinson had to use her brain, to write her poem to the best of her ability.  What makes it unique, though, is that Dickinson was able to communicate her thoughts on the human imagination by writing a poem using her own.  This is something that I have never seen before in a poem and it sets it apart from all others.  

“The Brain-is Wider than the Sky-’’ is a great work in poetry.  Interpreting it was easy because of the images that Dickinson used.  Although it is shallow in length, its message has depth.  The message is in the title and in every beginning line in each of the three stanzas.  The message being that the power of the brain has endless possibilities.  It makes the reader use their own imagination to interpret the poem just as Dickinson did while writing it.