Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America
















Whenever I think of my family's background, I am often faced with the question: how and why did my grandmother come to America? I first posed this inquiry to my mother when I was young, and since then, I have heard the story many times. By now, I can recite it from memory, because it has become a part of me that is inseparable, for it is very important to my heritage, and more importantly, it defines who I am.

In 1935, my grandmother, Winifred Greene, was seventeen years old. She lived in Ireland, where conditions were very bleak. Children often had to work to help support their families. My grandmother was one of these children, working to put food on the table for her younger brothers and sisters. She dreamed of coming to America, but, however, her family came first. Later that year, her father died, so she had to work longer hours to help her family. This meant that she had to drop out of school to get a second job. She was only in the fifth grade. Nevertheless, she was able to begin saving a small amount each year. Eventually, in 1939, she had earned enough to be able to secure passage to America, the land of her dreams. She was now twenty-one years old.

The boat to America departed from the city of Dublin. When she arrived at the emigration office, she had a physical examination. Unfortunately, she failed the eye exam, and was sent away. If she didn't have glasses by the time the passengers boarded, she would not be allowed to get on the ship. Therefore, she wandered the streets, searching blindly for an optometrist. Fortunately, a kind stranger pointed her in the right direction, and she was able to get a pair of glasses.

She returned to the office, and passed the exam. Then, she was given her ticket, and assigned to the steerage section of the boat. She was extremely nervous, for this was the first time she had seen the ocean. The Trans-Atlantic trip lasted two grueling weeks. Since no one there had been on a boat before, the entire group was seasick. After the period of agony, her anxious eyes were rewarded, for she could make out the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty; they had reached Ellis Island.

When she got off the boat, she realized why so many of her people had wanted to make the trip over. Everyone had the opportunity to start a new life, and hopefully, improve his or her status. After reflecting on this insight, she found her way to the train station, and left for Boston. There, she met her unknown aunt, and moved into her small house. The next day, she got a job as a cook in a wealthy home in Brookline. She worked several hours a day, and made herself a living. A countless number of Americans have made the same emigration from Ireland that my grandmother did. Each hoped for the opportunity to achieve financial security by getting a job, which would allow them to provide sufficient food and housing for themselves.

In retrospect, Irish-Americans are one of many ethnic groups that make our country what it is today. Immigrants, in general, have enhanced our nation in both the past and present. The fact that they all can unite and work together under common goals, without fear of persecution, is what makes America 'the land of opportunity.' It is this opportunity that millions of immigrants have dreamed about, and the lifestyle that we have the fortune to experience every day.












During my lifetime, I have discovered a gap of nature that is greatly unappreciated: the abandoned parking area of a former flower shop, just a stone's throw from my house. When I was young, my mother and I often visited the spot . Once there, we toured the disheveled nursery, gazed at the plants, and played with the kitten. However, the most significant part of the shop was not to be found within its four thin, crumbling walls. Rather, I believed the keystone of the nursery was the small grove of oak trees growing next to the lot. When I first saw them as a child, they were still in pots, and were two or three feet tall. These scrawny trees looked in very poor health, yet, ironically, they seemed to personify the condition of the store, because they too were not in the best condition. Since they would never be purchased, the owners decided to plant them next to the dirt parking lot. It wasn't until this recent autumn that I paid another visit to the grove, and what a surprise awaited me! The sickly little trees had blossomed into gorgeous works of nature. They had nearly quadrupled in size, and their leaves were breathtakingly beautiful. In the words of Thoreau, "No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly." Gazing intently, it appeared that the trees were trying to reveal a message to me. It seemed they were saying that they may have been scrawny in the past, but now, they are giants. Thus, Nature was urging me to not take anything for granted, because, over time, anything can happen. Through the decorative foliage, nature was revealing a part of her plan to me.
     When I arrived at the gap one day, I recalled a quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The greatest delight the woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable…. Nature always wears the colors of the spirit." That day, above all others, I felt that I had somehow related with nature. Despite sounding cliché, I had become one with nature, because, for that special period, I could understand how she was expressing herself to me. She was empathizing with the way that I felt that day. Since I was somewhat down in the dumps, the leaves at first appeared brown and decayed. They ominously warned that the gloomy winter was creeping upon us, thereby seeming to match my mood. However, a few moments later, I looked up again, as several of the sun's rays penetrated through the taller branches of the surrounding trees, thus illuminating the oak's leaves for what they truly were. I beheld a spectacle of colors, ranging from a brilliant red to a fiery orange to pallid yellow. At this time, my mood became lighter, as the leaves became brighter. The tree somehow knew that I needed cheering up, so it reached out and gave me support. Although Nature's instructions to conquer my obstacles in life weren't clear, the incident gave me the confidence I needed to continue on with the week. From that day on, I knew that I could count on Nature to support me in my endeavors.
     During my lifetime, I have become a transparent eyeball; and in the process of doing so, noticed how American a place this gap is. The history of the grove of trees can be traced back to the original owners of the floral shop. The husband and wife were two immigrants who came to our nation in order to achieve a better lifestyle. They were attempting to live out the American dream, by providing themselves with a successful workplace. Much like the originally frail trees, these people started from the bottom and worked their way up. In the process of doing so, they, too, faced several roadblocks, for the financial security wasn't put in their hands; instead, they had to work hard to overcome.
           Years after establishing a successful business, the special oak trees came into the picture. Rather than disposing of the seemingly ill fated trees, the family decided to plant them next to the parking lot. It seemed there was little chance they would survive through the winter. Nevertheless, the determined trees persisted, and developed into strong, hearty bodies. In a way, these trees also lived out the American dream. They were originally poor and miserable in a world where only the strong survive. Against the odds, they established themselves as durable works of Nature, and then persisted in order to stay alive. To this day, I am left with the question: did God look down upon these trees with grace, and give them will to persevere in spite of difficulties faced? I may never learn the answer, yet I will forever associate the natural with the spirituality of divine preservation.
















I know you've heard that twins customarily look the same, but they're often more alike than you think. Take for example my twin cousins, John and Joe. When growing up, the two were inseparable, and their likeness and habits were so exact that you couldn't tell one from the other. For example, each had the same exact lunch every day from kindergarten until college: a bologna sandwich and a bag of cookies. Their personalities were very much the same too, for like most American kids growing up, they just wanted to have fun and live life to the fullest. They carried this type of attitude their entire lives. However, they let nothing get in the way of their schoolwork, for they can still remember how their nagging mother used to remind them:
     "School before sports…. Now hit the books!"
Although linked by a common work and play ethic, they started to grow apart, as each developed a unique character at adulthood.
     A few weeks before Christmas, Joe brought a bracelet home to his mother to wrap for his girlfriend, Jen. She put it in a box, and hid it in a drawer. A week later, John showed up with a gift for his girlfriend, too. She asked:
     "So who's the special girl?"
     John responded with, "Forget about it, you'll meet her at the Christmas party. Oh, by the way, I changed my mind about my gift for her. A sweater's kinda lame, so I got her this instead."
He whipped open the box, so she could giver her opinion. When she saw what was inside, her heart skipped: it was the same exact bracelet his twin brother had purchased at the store.
She said, "John, why'd you get the same gift as your brother? I thought you would get her something original."
John responded to her by saying, "Whataya mean that Joe got the same gift as me?! I had no idea that he was gettin' her a bracelet too."
To satisfy son number two, she showed him his brother's gift. John was shocked beyond belief. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only eerie coincidence.
     When Christmas came around, the twins brought their girlfriends over to meet the family. What happened next was very confusing. Joe arrived first, with his girlfriend close behind, carrying all of the gifts. He was habitually laid back, and, well, lazy. He entered the living room and announced,
    "Everyone, this is my girlfriend Jen."
She then sat down and told us a little about herself. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. It was John. John lugged the gifts up the walkway, and held the door for his girlfriend--at times he was more thoughtful than his brother. He walked up the stairs, and with a sweeping motion, gestured towards his girlfriend, and said,
    "Everybody, this is Jen."
You can imagine our shock after hearing this. I actually think we offended her, because our only response was to stare at her blankly. Not only did she have the same name as Joe's girlfriend, but also the two looked exactly the same. They were both blondes with similar facial features.
     Joe's short-tempered Jen saw the other girl and said:
    "Jenny, what're you doin' here, I thought you were goin' over to meet your fiancée's family. What are you, some kind of creepy stalker?"
     After this, a dazed John remarked: "Fiancée?! I wasn’t gonna propose to you until New Year's!"
However, no one paid any attention to him during the heat of the argument.
     Jenny retorted: "Jennifer, I am here with my fiancée. This is his family, and his family's party, NOT yours. So why the heck are you here?"
     Jennifer said, "I'm here with my new boyfriend, Joe."
At that point, Joe came in from the kitchen, and Jenny shrieked,
     "Oh my god, there are two of you!"
At this, Joe dropped his plate of chocolate cake all over the rug, as Jenny hysterically glanced back and forth, from John to Joe, Joe to John, and back again. At the height of the confusion, my calm and collected aunt said,
     "I think the four of you need to sit down."
They all headed for the couch, and sat. John and Joe started at the same time, and one said what resembled,
     "I thought I told you I had a twin brother." At which point, twins Jenny and Jennifer said,
     "No, we're positive you didn't."
John said, "Whoops, it must've slipped my mind."
Then Joe, "Sorry about that.... Now, who wants cake?"
And so, amidst the confusion, the rest of the party was a blast. We had plenty to talk about, and there were plenty of people to talk to; my mother's seven brothers and sisters were there, including all of their children--none of whom were twins. All in all, this turned into a Christmas that we would never forget. As for John and Joe, Jen and Jen loved their matching bracelets. Both couples got engaged, and they arranged for a double wedding next fall. Even today we still cannot distinguish between which twin is marrying which twin.











       The life of Emily Dickinson was frequently plagued with the specter of death. At a rather young age, she lost several loved ones, and as a result, her perception of the afterlife greatly differed from traditional interpretation. In her works, Dickinson often hinted at a modernistic view of death. Moreover, in some poems, she defiantly opposed what was considered to be the standard view of the afterlife. This original outlook was best portrayed in one of her more distinguished poems, "Because I Could Not Stop For Death--." This composition was a thought-provoking analysis of the end of life, incorporating a modernist style of thought that none of her predecessors had ever dreamed possible. Through the use of vivid imagery, she presented life's final stages in very appropriate ways. Also, Dickinson left the poem open to interpretation, as she allowed the reader to translate her message in unique ways.

       In the poem, Dickinson attempted to explain the unexplainable and comprehend the incomprehensible by using both literal and figurative symbols of life and death. By recalling specific stages of vitality on earth, the speaker reminisced about her ephemeral life, viewing these events from a higher awareness, both literally and figuratively. Literally, the carriage picked her up and carried her towards heaven. Figuratively, the poem symbolized the three stages of life: school and childhood, maturity, and old age. By viewing the progression of the stages of life to death to eternity, Dickinson gave these incomprehensible events some meaning. This denotation was upheld by illustrative details of the death process. Since it is our destiny to expire at a certain time unknown to us, death comes unexpectedly. The line "He kindly stopped for me" reflects upon the fact that we will continue living our lives to the fullest, even when death is lurking nearby. Once death's carriage takes us, our life's stages flash before our eyes while we travel towards eternity.

       Dickinson had a unique breed of stanza and form in "Because I Could Not Stop For Death--." She wrote in perfect quatrains, where each stanza contained lines of 8-6-8-6 syllables. In addition to her unorthodox use of dashes, she made her poem unparalleled in other ways. She knowingly inverted the fourth stanza, as the syllabic lines were altered to sound 6-8-8-6. This verse, which began the second half of the poem, was a transition from the beginning of the poem to the end. When describing her nighttime attire, Dickinson indirectly informed the reader that she was not prepared for the weather she met along the journey. In retrospect, she implied that people are never prepared for what they will meet at death. It is a common association that death always comes as a shock to the party. This transitional thought carried the reader across the threshold into the second half of the poem.

       The poem represented a revolutionary way of looking at death. When she said, "Or rather-He passed us-," it signified that death is always present and moving with us in our lives. However, when life stops, death keeps moving. Caught up in the crosswinds, the soul is whisked away, causing the body to fall dead. Rushing alongside death, the soul is carried towards eternity. On the way there, your life flashes before your eyes, and then vanishes, all at once. Additionally, "Because I Could Not Stop For Death--" was written in Dickinson's original concept of slant rhyme, where the words at the ends of lines sound similar, but do not actually rhyme. An example of this is "And I had put away…//…For His Civility." This is a modernistic style that shocked the world of poetry, for no renowned poet ever considered writing a quatrain that didn't rhyme perfectly.

       "Because I Could Not Stop For Death--" was a revolutionary work of poetry that used personification to lead the reader to various interpretations. It appeared that Dickinson was writing this poem from the afterlife, presenting a completely new way of thinking at this time period. The entire poem seemed to be ironic, because people generally viewed death as something terrible and hideous, which should be feared. Dickinson, however, portrayed death as kind, and also personified it as a patient carriage driver who was very polite and civil. The poet interpreted eternity as a state of being instead of a fictional time period. She believed in an eternity after death, and creatively presented her feelings of immortality in this poem. Thus, eternity was the last stage of mere existence, immediately following death. Dickinson described her death process using many symbols, which caused the reader to infer what actually occurred. When she said, "I had put away my labor and my leisure too…" it meant that those were the only earthly characteristics and possessions that she could take with her to heaven. All worldly possessions would be meaningless, except for these two conflicting aspects.

       Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death--" was a descriptive poem, which, through the use of imagery, presented the stages of death in suitable ways. She used remembered images of the past in order to clarify infinite conceptions of a relationship between life and death, the known and the unknown. In addition, the images and ideas made a statement about dying that appealed to our emotions and feelings, convincing us to make a response. These were the explicit qualities that made her pensive poem a masterpiece with eerie haunting powers.





















    When I think of the word "sport," I immediately think of a fun game with rules.  The sport of cricket is ideal for my explanation, because it's really entertaining to watch, and even more interesting to play, since there are hundreds and hundreds of rules.  Modern cricket was formalized during the 1780s in England, and the first cricket clubs in the United States were established shortly thereafter.  Originally played by British Army officers with American locals, cricket became a major recreation of American gentlemen.  Many of the founding fathers of the United States were known to be avid cricket players, including John Adams.  Before progressing into the existence of modern day cricket, it seems necessary to explain the basic rules of the sport.
      In a regular cricket match there are two teams with eleven players on each side. Each squad is up twice, and whoever scores the most runs wins. Contrary to common belief, two batsmen of a team are up at a time, not one. They stand a distance away from each other, and continue to bat until one gets out. The opposing pitcher, called a bowler, rolls the ball to the batsmen, who try to protect the wicket behind them. The wicket is a wooden pole about three feet high. If this gets hit, the batter is out, and is replaced by a teammate. If he hits the ball with the flat edge of the bat, he and the other batter run and change places. Every time they do so, a run is scored. Batting and fielding are much more involved than in baseball, so matches can range anywhere from ten hours to five days.  
      In recent years, a movement has been growing to bring one of the dominantly English sports into the American mainstream.  This progress for American cricket might just succeed.  However, most Americans ultimately view cricket as an English amusement -- less a sport than an erratic kind of picnic, and as puzzling as wallpaper on the ceiling.  To comprehend this sport, it is only natural for Americans to compare it with its domestic rival, baseball.  What most Americans don't realize is that baseball evolved from the game of cricket.  Just think of the similarities between them.  Since the sports are so alike, it is logical for local cricketers to practice on a field adjoining a baseball diamond.  However, even though they are right next door, cricketers and baseball players exist in two different worlds, separated by a very distinguishable barrier.  When night descends, cricket players gaze enviously at the baseball players' expensive floodlights, batting cages, and the perfectly level green.  Looking with disgust at their cramped and distorted playing surface, they hope that display will be theirs someday.
      Surprisingly, cricket has been played in Seattle for over a hundred years, and in places like Boston and Philadelphia for far longer than that.  It grew so fast that in the 1850s, cricket was the most popular team sport in America.  At Bloomingdale Park in New York, ten thousand spectators would spend a hundred and fifty thousand dollars - a fortune back then - gambling on the outcome of a cricket match. But as cricket turned professional in England and Australia in the 1880s, it remained on amateur footing in America.  By the 1920s, it was eclipsed by the secessionist sport of baseball.  Deb K. Das, a cricket sportswriter and promoter, said, "This is a global age, and cricket has gone global."  Indeed, the populations of all the cricket-obsessed countries add up to more than 1.5 billion people, roughly six times the population of the United States.  In some countries, you breathe cricket, but she and many others have noticed that this isn't so in America.
      Many wonder why cricket hasn't caught on with Americans.  The main reason is that the sport doesn't get the attention it deserves.  It is ignored by both the media and the masses.  Bill McKibben, author of several books and a part-time columnist, said:
      Like the sport of soccer in the early eighties,
      cricket is viewed as alien.  However, today
      there are 18 million US soccer players, and
      the presence of a professional soccer league
      in the nation.  (McKibben 1)

These statistics provide some hope, but cricket supporters are still few and far between.  The sport of cricket hopes to emulate the success of soccer, but even in the Northwest, where it was established in America, the modest fan base is extremely low.  Despite Microsoft's support for cricketing leagues for its engineers and employees in the Seattle area, Microsoft Word's spellchecker still underlines 'cricketer' in red as a nonexistent word.  Sadly, the word cricket, in addition to the sport itself, is hardly ever in circulation nowadays.
      A person who would support this fact is Allan Wise, an amateur cricketer from Melbourne, Australia.  He stated that,
      After playing a few seasons, I've noticed
      how much cricket is growing in traditional
      non-European nations, but the quality is
      just not the same in the United States….  
      (Wise 1)

Wise plays in a casual league, and plans to play in Europe or the United States soon.  He hopes to compose a documentary and write a book on the rise of cricket in Western Europe, also mentioning its demise in the United States.  He too wonders how and why cricket is not making a big impact in America.  Considering the circumstances, Wise made several proposals on how to improve the popularity of cricket. His most prominent suggestion is in agreement with another cricketer, Manish Prahbu.
      They both resolved that the best way to make a difference for cricket in America would be to increase exposure to it. Manish Prabhu, a professional cricket player, recalled his boyhood journeying from Bombay to his grandmother's village, a place without electricity.  
      Years ago, I would try to play cricket with
      the village children, but they weren't
      interested. When I returned to that village
      recently, electricity and TV had made a
      difference. The kids were playing the game
      every minute, everywhere. (Prahbu 1)

By broadcasting it on general TV, not just pay-per-view, Americans would get to know the game and start to develop an appreciation for it.  As a result, people would undergo a complete change for the better. This scenario could be repeated thousands of times here in the US with a little media attention.  Cricket is already at the nadir of its popularity.  It has nowhere to go but up…. So just think of the possibilities.