Rich Beyond Measure
A Note to my 8 and 9th Grade Students
I've never met a man who was truly awake. I wouldn't know how to look him in the eyes.
~Henry David Thoreau
Somebody once asked Thoreau if he would give a talk on the evils of alcohol and tobacco. He declined, stating that since he had never tried alcohol or tobacco, he wasn't able to speak about the effects of either tobacco or alcohol from personal experience—and personal experience is what generates our most powerful ideas and motivates our most profound actions. Retelling our experiences inspires readers to look more closely at their own lives. An experience retold is relived through the emotional and intellectual intensity experienced by the reader. A personal narrative essay is an experience retold for a reason: to recreate the emotional and intellectual intensity of the original experience.
If nothing was gained or learned from an experience, then there is nothing to write about. Your writing will be an empty exercise—a drag on you and a drag on your readers. (If you can get anybody to read what you wrote!) but if you gained anything, if even the tiniest granule of wisdom was mined from that experience, then it is worth writing about, because through writing you can amplify that wisdom; you can cull it from the herd of extraneous clutter and present that wisdom to your readers framed within a larger revelation.
Ah, but what is wisdom? For me, wisdom is informed truth. If you don't know what wisdom is or where to ﬁnd it, then you need to wake up; otherwise, you will never ﬁnd what is truly yours, and you will live a life prescribed and preordained by others. If you always choose the easy way through; if you limit the scope of your experiences, then you will live a life hobbled by ignorance and illuminated only by your arrogance.
The next stage of your life—high school through college—is when you will have to start making real decisions that are full of real impact. You are going to have to look long and hard at the fork in the road and ask yourself the questions that are going to shape your life. Don't grow old and wistful. Grow old and mindful. The only way to do that is to start now! The only way to do it is to be brave and take that ﬁrst step. In the same way you need to take that same ﬁrst step with your writing. Write about your experiences and you will gain experience as a writer, and if in your life and in your writing you keep your eyes on the road (the craft of writing) and your mind open to the journey (experience) you will become a better writer—maybe even a great writer. Great writers create literature informed by wisdom, from which we—as readers—broaden and deepen the scope of our own lives.
Live. Read. Write. Give a damn. You will be rich beyond measure.
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