In my continued search for knowledge and to practice and improve my writing skills, I enrolled this fall in a Rhetorical Composition through Coursera. Our first assignment was to right about ourselves. Me and my 200+ classmates hail from around the globe (Ukraine, Brazil, Nigeria, Chicago, and beyond) from a myriad of different backgrounds and cultures. It has been interesting reading their introductions and essays. I like to think of myself as very generous when it comes to viewing other parts of the world, taking into account their history, latitude, and environment as I form my personal opinion.
As I formulate my essay for Assignment 2, I am taken with that fact that many decent writers in the class do not perceive themselves as writers at all and actually criticize themselves into believing they can’t write. I seem to be one of a fortunate few who embraces my talent and, regardless if the subject matter appeals to the reader or not (since everyone is entitled to their own opinion) knows that my writing is sound and structured. Of course, no writer produces the perfect work straight out of the box, so to speak. It takes dedication, rereading, editing, and a bit of self-criticism to perfect the words I use to communicate. And a little assistance from a second set of eyes doesn’t hurt. Something we all need for the sake of confidence is a little positive feedback.
Following is my composition for Assignment 1: Who Am I as a Writer with a Cause: An Autobiographical Narrative.
Reuse and Repurpose
Copyright 2014- Elizabeth Love
My parents could be considered antiques. Born in 1927 and 1932, they and their families survived the Great Depression in small Kansas towns just seventeen miles from each other. My mother’s family owned a prosperous farm and was one of the first in town to own an automobile. My father was orphaned by age nine. His stepmother sold off the family farm and sent the children to live with their grandparents while she took the proceeds, leaving my father and his sister penniless.
The sixth of seven children, I was born when my mother was forty-four years old and my father was forty-nine. At school events my classmates often identified them as my grandparents rather than my parents.
Our large family spans twenty-five years from the oldest to the youngest. Supporting their children on small salaries in even smaller towns meant we regularly scraped to come up with money for anything outside the basics. We never went hungry and we always had clothes. We just didn’t have a lot of extra money for anything like a family vacation or sending anyone to college. To supplement our grocery trips, we cultivated a substantial vegetable garden and raised chickens for eggs. Mom canned the annual bounty of tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers. She was an excellent seamstress, so many clothes were handmade at a fraction of the cost of store-bought clothing. I received hand-me-downs from my older sister. In fact, I still accept her hand-me-downs in my late thirties and prefer to shop at the thrift store to pay less for my clothing.
I learned from my parents the belief that everything has a purpose and a repurpose. For example, glass jars purchased at the store containing jelly, peanut butter, or baby food can be washed and reused to hold other household items such as screws, pins, beads, and, of course, food. In my kitchen, I use jars of all sizes to store homemade broths and cut vegetables. I tend to keep all kinds of objects with ideas for how to use them later. If I come across someone else who could use some item from my collection, I gladly pass it on. Currently, the mission is finding a home for a heap of baby clothes and baby gear. My days of giving birth and raising infants are over, and I hate for any useable item to go to waste. Unfortunately, the market for baby gear and toys changes so quickly that it becomes difficult (and even illegal) to pass along such items, and many end up in a landfill. The thought makes me shudder. I am also clearing out used books, the ones we don’t expect to read again. I keep books that are meaningful or that I would like my kids to read someday, copies of those titles that are considered classics, or just my favorites.
Coming from this mindset, I look at the world often wondering why we have become so wasteful. Americans, in particular, prefer everything to be disposable and convenient. Use it and toss it. Some even apply this mentality to objects as large and expensive as automobiles, trading in for a new ride every couple of years.
Both my mother and father kept many items to use again. Mom kept boxes of fabric, yarn, buttons, thread, and lace, looking for a pattern to utilize these bits. Today, my daughter dresses her dolls in forty-plus-year-old doll clothes my mother sewed from scraps. Dad’s habit focused on buying used furniture and appliances from estate sales to cannibalize for parts or to reconstruct the originals for new use. We owned a working, black-and-white console television until 1989. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, my favorite sci-fi show at the time, in black-and-white and had to imagine the color of the uniforms and the ship. Our dining room chairs were reconstructed from various pieces of broken chairs along with newly lathed pieces you could not distinguish from the originals. These mix-and-match chairs encircled a gray 1950s Formica-and-chrome table. We even continued to use the same Maytag tub washing machines my parents owned since the early days of their marriage. My mother refused to wash clothes in a modern washer that wasted water and didn’t get the clothes nearly as clean as the 20-minute detergent bath and double-dip rinse and wring. She finally–and grudgingly–gave up these washers when her Parkinson’s reduced her ability to manually work the machines and hang the clothes out to dry.
Mom also loved books, and she would borrow them from the library or buy them by the bagful at the thrift store; romance novels, memoirs, non-fiction references, and fantasy were just a few of the genres in a wide range of literary tastes. I remember her reading Alice in Wonderland to me and my younger brother at bed time. I learned to read and write at an early age, spelling long, advanced words such as “philodendron” at the age of five. By the age of nine, I found that writing stories offered an exciting outlet for my creativity, one that didn’t require a face-to-face audience, and one that allowed for experimentation in the magical operation of words. I began building my characters and my worlds—I latched immediately onto science fiction and fantasy, making way for worlds where life was not so dingy and devalued.
I keep everything I’ve ever written (with a few really terribly written exceptions). In plastic tubs on my basement shelves, notebooks, journals, and sheaves of loose paper wait to be read again. Ideas flow faster than I can flesh them out completely, and new ideas encroach upon old ones. When the time is right, I dig up the old ideas and reuse them. When I find a fabulously scripted passage from three years ago, I repurpose those words in a more fitting story.
In my first novel, which honestly took me twenty years and six iterations to perfect (well, reasonably enough for publication), I lead my readers through a new world where humans have agreed on covenants that ensure that everyone is valued. Within that structure, they recycle everything. Everything they create is used and reused or repurposed as materials for another project. Even building materials are salvaged for new homes if a building is destroyed in a natural disaster. Food waste is composted. There are no disposables—not in the sense we think of in the here and now. While the fictional path of the story focuses on a young woman thrust into a life she wanted to avoid, the underlying idea is that they live in a social community where helping your neighbor live a full and comfortable life rewards you with the same.
While I don’t expect my first book or my continued writings to make best-seller lists or be considered classics in literature someday, I hope that my words will incite people to think about how we use and dispose of our creations (not to mention each other). On a daily basis, I aim to recycle what products I can and to avoid purchasing products considered to be disposable. However, these efforts are often thwarted by our societal norms and expectations, such as regulations designed to protect our health demand individual plastic packages. In our capitalist society, we are all rushed to meet deadlines to boost productivity and profits, including me, and this effect trickles into our basic daily needs. I find myself drawn to things that will save a few minutes’ time or a few dollars. And then I must try again tomorrow to make a difference.
Feedback from my classmates:
From Kelly Rae Urbano
What a wonderful piece you have written here. I love the recycle and reuse theme being extended from materials to words to themes in stories. I also am encouraged knowing there are others like myself born well after the 1920s who are disturbed by the amount of waste we produce. My aunt, born the same year as your dad, used to freeze lettuce when it was about to go bad, then use it a soup. And anything that broke, she fixed, even if it meant crippling her hands in the process. Details such as Star Trek being on and the washing machine give this much power. The image of your Formica table and mismatched chairs is one that will stick in my mind; I will go to it every time my sister-in-law shows me yet another brand new dining set.
Thank you, Bee, for sharing such a poignant and meaningful story. I would love to read your book.
From Marina Veselovskaya
It was a slow and pleasant reading- the difference from other texts here- you are not in a hurry and just narrate clearly to make a pedestal to your purpose- story about the modern throw-away society.
The author’s voice is confident and distinct- I can even picture a tall fair-haired woman with her hair in a low picturesque bun (not of a teacher type), energetic but calm.
Thank you for the pleasant reading and a sort of a master class of writing.