Monday, January 27, 2014

Rachel's Literary Personal Essay: "Drawing Parallels with Prufrock"

[Please note:  this essay is completely in italics as a reminder that it is Rachel's work.  Rachel is seventeen years old; thus, both she and her father have given permission for her work and picture to appear here.]

For a large part of my life I’ve felt awkward and unlucky. Growing up watching perfect TV lives where everything happens for a reason and a misstep can easily become the best decision of a person’s life, I developed the expectation that everything I did, no matter how it felt in the moment, would have a positive outcome. I failed to take into account that my life was not a scripted sit-com, though the absence of a laugh-track tipped me off eventually. As I grew older and this result continued to elude me, I became less and less sure of myself and my actions, becoming more withdrawn with my decisions. I began — and continue — to second-guess my actions before performing them, much like the narrator of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Like him, I start with the idea of what I want to do, but slowly convince myself the course of action either is not for the best or will be detrimental to my mental health. Also like our dear narrator, I am scared.

          I suppose this could be seen as a cycle of sorts. Prufrock starts full of a kind of confidence, the sort one has when he/she first arrives at an idea and makes a sweeping gesture such as “Let us go, you and I,” showing his belief in himself. His initial action reminds me of me: I’ll begin with a thought such as “Okay, Rachel, it’s time to do ___! You know you should go talk to ___,” and I list all the reasons why I’m right and imagine exactly how the conversation is going to go. I’ll plan every moment, exploring every possible contingency, making sure I’m prepared for anything. As soon as the plan is formed, I begin to attempt to put it in motion.
But this is where the second part of the cycle commences. Like Prufrock, I begin a series of claims much like his “there will be time, there will be time…time for you and time for me” that allow me to procrastinate, for I will have ages to do it, it’s not the right time, or it’s much too awkward just then to commit to my action. Like Prufrock, I stall and lie to myself for the sake of my nerves.
*I don’t acknowledge the real problem until stage three of the cycle. At this point, Prufrock starts to list his worries, which are rooted in an understandable fear of rejection. He’s afraid that if he tells his companion his true feelings for her, all his planning will fall flat. “In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions and decisions to reverse,” expresses Prufrock’s fear of having everything he’s planned go astray. At this point, he imagines the humiliating position his failure would place him in. Like Prufrock, I also begin to worry about the reaction of my peers, and my resolve begins to crumble. More often than not, my plans end with the fourth stage: giving up.

            At the fourth and final stage of this cycle, Prufrock has already imagined his friend giving him a negative reply: “That is not what I meant at all/That is not it, at all.” He has scared himself into believing his chance has fled, that he was never worthy of the chance to begin with. He says to himself, “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be,” believing himself unable to be the hero of his own story. Sadly, my mind goes the way of Prufrock in similar situations. I tell myself that my plan wouldn’t have worked out anyway, that I’m not in a movie, and that’s not how life works. I let fear control my actions and rule my mind and, like Prufrock, I let the moment fade away. 
In my life I’ve gone through moments that are very Prufrock-esque, such that I allow myself to abandon a fully formed idea before it can come to fruition. I feed myself excuses to make myself feel better, but at the end of it all nothing gets done. Reading "Prufrock" was like seeing myself from the outside, and it was extremely enlightening. At first I didn’t realize how alike we were and judged him harshly, but as soon as I acknowledged the similarities I became worried. Prufrock is not who I want to be, and now that I’ve seen how damaging a lack of decision-making is, I know how to address it. The best way to combat my fear is to face it head on, not hide away from it. I can’t allow fear to rule my life, or I won’t accomplish anything in my life. I refuse to let myself become a Prufrock, old and grey and afraid of living. 
* As an initial exercise in developing our understanding of the poem, each student creates a visual representation of a line, image, or stanza from the poem that makes a strong impression on him/her.  Our class hangs these images on the wall in the order in which they occur in the poem and listens to the poem being read aloud while looking at them.

1 comment:

  1. I like your writing voice. Forceful. Good sense of direction. Unblinking. And humor. "though the absence of a laugh-track tipped me off eventually"

    Well done.

    Any lack of confidence will only be temporary, I feel sure, but to move things in the right direction a bit quicker, I recommend white water rafting.

    Take a bus to Greenville Maine in early July. By then the water will have warmed up some. The mosquitos will still be there, but you cannot wait until August if you want a good volume of water.

    Most of the organized trips out of Boston will take you to one camp or another. Probably small cabins, maybe tents. Don't think about whether those small lumpy mattresses have bed bugs. Seriously. Don't think about it.

    Early in the morning, you will be excited to be up and in a small crowd waiting for adventure. Pretty soon you will be bumping along logging roads in an ancient yellow school bus with nothing much to see but the bobbing head in the seat ahead of you. But, oddly, you will still be excited.

    Ninety minutes on a bus might calm you down, but then you will be pulling on a life vest and tugging a raft into the water. Paddle in hand, water in your face, you can enjoy the smell of pine and blur of green as you cascade down the Kennebec. (Save the Penobscot Gorge for when you are older and more jaded. Say, 20.) Out of the water in early afternoon, a greasy steak dinner in the grass near the campfire, you will have a hard time wiping the grin from your face.

    Nothing builds decisiveness like white water. See that rock, and paddle like hell.