Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America

















My father’s side of my family is a large one, with a large history. As I’ve grown up I have heard numerous stories of the wild events of his family. Having grown up within blocks of most of my relatives on my father’s side, I have spent many hours listening to their stories of times past, many of which seem hard to believe. However, my mother’s side of the family is much smaller and I live at least an hour’s drive away from any of her close relatives. I have heard only a few stories of her family and I always value any story that I do hear.

A few weeks ago I went to a wedding on my mothers side. After a few hours, and a few drinks, a group of my great aunts and uncles were sitting around telling old stories. As I listened intently, my Great Uncle Eugene began to tell this story. In the time around World War I, my father, Jeremiah O’Sullivan, worked for the M.B.T.A. He was an Irish immigrant who lived in South Boston, and was father to a few young children, the oldest being my brother Timothy. I am told that during this time there was a crisis between the company men of the “T” and the regular employees. The regular workers were trying to form a union and the company officials were trying to do everything that they could to stop them.

Most of the workers who were trying to unionize were Irish Immigrants, many of who were believed to be associated with the I.R.A., including my father. These men were familiar with violence and the use of force to get their way. Family legend has it that one day my mother, Margaret O’Sullivan found a bag of dynamite in their apartment, it was supposedly to be used in an attack on the trolley barn at M.B.T.A. headquarters. My mother took the dynamite and put it in a baby carriage and walked it to the point at Castle Island. There she took the dynamite out and threw it into Boston Harbor. Family legend has it that my mother later convinced my father not to use violence in trying to unionize. Whatever my mother said that day obviously had some effect of their efforts to unionize. There was never a bombing at the M.B.T.A. Headquarters and they now have one of the strongest unions in the City of Boston.

On this day I learned a great deal about my family and its efforts for equality in the early Twentieth Century. I now can see past the wrinkles and gray hairs of my ancestors, and see that were also young once. My Uncle Eugene revitalized my sense that things are worth fighting for, and that anything can be accomplished with hard work. But more importantly, I learned that that negotiating and nonviolence can often be more affective than violence in getting what you desire.













Chris McCandless said: “I now walk into the wild.” He was a man who left everything behind and took up residence in the wild places of North America, in hope that he may see things more clearly.  Three weeks ago I, too, found a small wild place between an oil stained driveway and a slowly rusting fence. For two weeks I watched this wild place, which I called The Epitome, and observed how it reacted with the world, and how this place and the rest of the world changed. During this time one question never left my mind: Does the world change these small wild places? Or do these small wild places change the world?
     Three weeks ago the small maple saplings that grew in The Epitome were still full of leaves. Each tree still had a tint of summer bloom left in it. However, one day I woke up to find that no leaves remained on the trees. I suddenly found myself asking, what happened? And how could this happen so suddenly? But the fact is, this did not happen suddenly at all. The trees had been growing thinner for weeks and months. Ever since the peak of summer the process began. First they lost their color and then one by one they fell from the trees. The process was so slow and happened so gradually that I simply did not notice.
     Emerson said, “Nature is a mirror of humanity.” After observing The Epitome for two weeks I believe this statement to be true. The Epitome is a paradigm of the world. Just as the world slowly changes, The Epitome slowly changes. Everyday little things happen that will eventually change the whole way we look at the world. A few weeks ago I looked at The Epitome and admired the beauty of its colorful leaves that made the rusty chain link fence it grows between virtually unnoticeable. Then, everyday for a few weeks small changes occurred that completely changed the way I look at The Epitome. Now all I notice are the cold, bare branches, and the unsightly rusty fence.
     The fact is, people don’t notice the little changes in life, just as I did not notice the leaves slowly disappearing. An example of this process is the current resentment of the United States by some foreign peoples. One could say that Muslim resentment for the West began hundreds of years ago during the Crusades. A simple Muslim man probably woke up one day and decided that he hated the West. This man was the first leaf to lose its color and fall from the tree. However no one noticed because he was just one man. Over the next Thousand years or so, a few more leaves fell from the tree. Slowly, but surely, the resentment grew; slowly, but surely the leaves fell from the tree. And then one day, just as the leaves were suddenly gone, the World Trade Center was suddenly gone. Yet, we could have seen it happen a hundred years done the road if we could have noticed the little things. We could have seen it happen in every dictator we supported; we could have seen it in every under priced barrel of oil we bought; we could have seen it happen in every napalm we dropped on Vietnam; and we could have seen it in every Muslim joke we told. These are all little things though, and unfortunately, we don’t notice the little things.
     I hope that we can all someday go into a wild place and see things more clearly as McCandless and I did. I hope that maybe someday we can all look at a small wild place between an oil stained driveway and slowly rusting fence, and notice the changes that occur. I believe that when we can notice all of the little things in a small wild place, we can someday notice all of the little things in our lives. When we can do this we can avoid some tragedies, and be prepared for change. Because the world will change whether we like it or not.  











In 1991 an out of season Hurricane struck the New England coast with devastating fury. Countless boats and homes were destroyed and there was millions of dollars in damage. John Sullivan, a native of Boston who summered in Marshfield arrived at his waterfront home to find it all but ruined. His wooden porch had collapsed, his white picket fence was found 300 yards away in a marsh and nothing remained of his driveway and garage but a pile of asphalt and splintered wood.
John soon entered his house to find it wrecked by the wind and seawater and that his basement was filled with two feet of salt water. Mr. Sullivan then went down stairs to start his old, rusted, sump pump. After spending several minutes attaching the hose to the pump that lay submerged under the pool of dirty water, Sullivan reached for the on switch and as he pulled down on it he felt an acute burning sensation in his hand. Little did he know that the pump's wiring had been damaged and a large current of electricity was now going throughout his body. "My life flashed before my eyes, and all I could hear was an evil laughter. The next thing I knew I was lying shocked on the basement stairs." Said Sullivan.
The bewildered man then stumbled up his basement stairs looking for someone for help. He went out onto his front lawn where a photographer was taking pictures of the devastated neighborhood. "I approached the man and yelled to him for help." However, the photographer ignored Sullivan and slowly walked up the street and that was when panic set in. "Because he (the photographer) did not respond to my call, I thought I was dead and that I was merely a ghost." The feature film "Ghost" had just been released on video and it was later found that Sullivan had just viewed it. Mr. Sullivan then ran to his car in a panic where his son Jack and his nephew Michael Flynn were busy eating their Halloween Candy.  Mr. Sullivan banged on the windows of his Oldsmobile to see if he could get someone to confirm that he was alive.  However, Mr. Sullivan would receive no such thing when the two boys simply gave him a blank stare and returned to their Snickers bars. "He (Mr. Sullivan) came over to the side of the car with a red face and his hair was sticking up, He looked upset so I figured it was best to ignore him." said Jack. Now in a wild panic, Mr. Sullivan went down the street a ways looking for anyone to help. Faith Jean, a Marshfield resident who lived down the street from Sullivan, saw him coming towards her. Sullivan called to Mrs. Jean saying that he had been shocked by his sump pump. After Sullivan realized that Jean had seen him he was so relieved that he collapsed on her front lawn. "He came running up to me and I thought he said that he had been shot by some punk" Said Mrs. Jean.  She then went inside and called 911 saying that her neighbor had been shot. Four police cruisers arrived on the scene as well as two ambulances. In addition, a warning was put out to be on the lookout for punks with guns.
A private Houston based ambulance service called Emergency National Rescue Operations Network      arrived on the scene to handle the case. They approached Mr. Sullivan and he said "I'm okay, I just frightened my self, that's all." However the paramedics just said "Relax, Mr. Sullivan you're just dillusional, do you know where the entry wound is?" The paramedics then loaded Mr. Sullivan onto the stretcher, however as they were doing this one of the paramedics slipped on some wet fungus that was growing on the walkway, therefore dropping Mr. Sullivan who hit the ground with a thud. "I kept yelling at them to leave me alone, and that I was fine but they wouldn't listen." Said Sullivan. "After the accident we figured it was best to sedate Mr. Sullivan because he was doing more harm to himself, it's important to keep gun shot victims absolutely still." Said chief paramedic Kenneth A. Andersen. Finally they got Mr. Sullivan into the Ambulance and sped off towards the center of town that happened to be 2 feet underwater. The ambulance driver had to jam on his brakes so hard that Mr. Sullivan was shot forward and he hit his head so hard that he was knocked unconscience. After the ambulance turned around, the driver stepped on the gas so quickly that Mr. Sullivan was shot back the other way, bursting through the back doors. His portable stretcher then rolled down the street and into the lake in the center of town.  After the paramedics struggled to pull him back into the Ambulance they put him on a respirator, which combined with his wet clothes, shocked him again. "The cold water had woken me up, and I tried to tell them that I could breath and that I was really okay, but they wouldn't listen" said Sullivan. A few minutes later, they arrived at the hospital where Mr. Sullivan immediately went into surgery for his head injury. However, the doctor operated on the wrong side of his brain, which only caused more problems for Mr. Sullivan. In the end the rescue effort was classified as a success because Mr. Sullivan had not died and he had only experienced minimal pain. Investors in Emergency National Rescue Operations Network were satisfied because of an accounting glitch that failed to show the thousands of dollars lost in damages to the ambulance, not to mention the multi-million dollar lawsuit that was settled under terms of absolute secrecy.















In James Russell Lowell’s classic poem “The First Snowfall” we identify with the numbing pain that occurs after the loss of a loved one. The narrator shows the reader by his thoughts that even a year after the death of his daughter he can not stop thinking about her. The reader sees this in the way that Lowell describes the fallen snow. Almost every term that he uses to describe the snow could also be used to remind someone of a loss and death. We as the reader are also made aware of the way that the narrator deals with the pain that he now feels.

     In line nine of the poem “From sheds new-roofed with Carrara”, the narrator describes the fresh snow on a rooftop as looking like a white marble. On the surface this may appear to be just Lowell’s way of describing the new snow in an un- direct way. This is true, of course, but there is another way that the reader could interrupt this line. Carrara is a fine white marble that is commonly used for creating elaborate grave or head stones. This term is a reference to his daughter’s grave stone and it shows us just how much he thinks about her. His mind has become completely overwhelmed with grief to the point that even his vocabulary has changed as a result of it.

     In line four Lowell says “With a silence deep and white.” Again this just appears to be the poet describing the snow, however there is something deeper.  The silence that he describes also describes the silence in his life that has been caused by the death of his daughter. The way he describes the snow as white also refers to the posthumous white skin of his daughter. And “deep” refers to the physical state of daughter, deep below the snow, as well as the deep longing that he now feels for her. This is just another example of the way that everything in his life has become related to the loss of his daughter.

     The narrator deals with the death of his daughter in an unusual way. He is comforted by the fact that he can see resemblance of his lost daughter in his younger daughter. The younger daughter has become twice as special to him because in his mind she now has become a way that he can interact with his lost daughter. We can also note that the narrator has a devout sense of God’s existence. In line 22 when Mabel asks him who makes it snow he answers by saying that it is God that makes it snow. This is a flagrant example of the narrator’s grief. It is common for people to become more faithful after the death of a loved one, because it is comforting for them to believe that their loved one is now in a better place. The narrator reassures himself that his daughter is okay every time that he strengthens his belief and trust in God. The idea of protecting and caring for his daughter is confirmed in lines Nineteen and Twenty. The narrator describes the snow as “Folding it gently, As did robins the babes in the wood.” He is saying that God is protecting his daughter as a mother would her children.

     In this poem, Lowell provides us the insight into the mind of a father who has lost a child. He shows what a curse it truly is, and that life in the years after it can be just as awful as the days following the original event. The narrator’s infinite melancholy is most evident in the fact that even something so peaceful reminds him of something so tragic.

























     Humans by their very nature are competitive beings. Individuals have always sought glory and recognition, in competing with their peers. Over the centuries, humans have developed the interesting notion of “sport.” Sport has the potential to be a variety of things. It is usually two sides competing against each other for a prize. It may be as complex as NFL football game with a million people watching, or it can be a s simple as two teenagers playing basketball in their driveway. No matter what the circumstances, all sport has one underlying characteristic, behind all the trophies and money, all people who play sports are there to compete for their own glory and satisfaction.  

     The game of volleyball is an exciting, fast paced, team sport that is played throughout the world. It was invented in 1895 by William G. Morgan. At the time he was working at the YMCA of Holyoke Massachusetts. Even though it finds its origins in a small East Coast city, it is most popular in Europe and Asia.  More than 120 nations are members of the International Volleyball Association, which organizes tournaments each year that are played in a wide survey of countries. Volleyball was brought onto the world stage for the first time 1964 when it became an Olympic sport.
     The game is played on a court that is sixty feet long and thirty feet wide. In the middle of the court there is a net that divides the court into two sides. The net’s height depends on who is playing the game. For women the net is set at seven feet, four inches; and for men it is raised to eight feet. It is played with a leather, rubber, or plastic ball that is eight and a half inches in diameter. It is played by two teams, each consisting of six players. To a score a point one team serves the ball over the net from behind the back line, and if the ball lands in the court or it is not returned successfully it is marked a point. The opposing team may hit the ball three times before it goes back over the net.
     The sport is present in all areas of the country, from the beaches of Southern California to the gyms of the Northeast. Even though it often goes unnoticed, volleyball has an active presence in our schools and on our beaches. Amateur player, Mike Dewey says: “Most people don’t respect volleyball players, people simply cast it off as a not challenging enough sport but they don’t know that it is a lot harder than it looks. Dewey’s statement about volleyball accurately portrays the way volleyball is looked at in America. It remains a sport that is hidden from the public eye, and most people do not appreciate the work that is put into a game that is a lot more complicated than most people think.
     Over the years volleyball has been shaped into the more accessible, more popular, and simply more American sport of Beach Volleyball. People have taken the fairly tame sport out of the gym and onto the thousands of beaches in the USA. The sport has followed the American tradition of moving west into nature. Volleyball was created on the East Coast but now finds it’s most popular following along the Pacific. Associated Press writer JP Taylor had this to say about beach volleyball: “The fact that volleyball moved outdoors was essential to its survival. It brought it into the public eye and made it readily available to any beach going American.” (4 Most Americans today get their introduction to the sport through their time spent at the beach. Beach Volleyball has acted somewhat like a recruiter for Gym Volleyball, beach volleyball gives people a taste of the excitement of gym volleyball. This was especially true with Pro Beach Volleyball player, Nick Engels. “Growing up in Long Beach there was always a game going on, I saw my first action when I was about 13. I wound up playing throughout high school and college and now I make a living off it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” (45) Nick’s story is a common one in Southern California. Once people pick up the sport, and realize how fun and competitive it is, they never put it down.
     Although its popularity is still growing, Volleyball is truly an American sport. It is a team sport that demands individual achievement. America is a place where people unite when it is called for but they also go out to pursue the aspirations of the individual. Volleyball, like America grew out of a small New England town, which expanded across the continent and now sheds its influence around the world.