Ross School - Senior Projects 2011
Mentor: Mark Foard
Title: The Feeling of the Train Leaving the Station
For my Senior Project, I wrote a series of essays – some more personal, some less so, but all personal to some degree – exploring from various angles the idea of living on the East End of Long Island. Last year, I moved from Los Angeles, CA, to Shelter Island, NY, on three weeks’ notice, and ever since then, the crazy runaway train ride of my life out here hasn’t stopped for one minute. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect back on the ideas that had been rattling around in my brain recently. Incorporating first-person interviews, primary sources, deeply personal introspection, and literary techniques I picked up from writers like David Foster Wallace, John D’Agata, and Matsuo Basho, I wrote a collection of five interconnected essays relating my own experience to the experience of others to create a portrait of life out here.
When I moved to Shelter Island full-time in October of 2009, I saw the place I had “summered” as a child in a totally different light, and I wanted my senior project to incorporate my impressions of the East End as well as the thoughts and feelings about place and identity I had amassed as a result of my disparate childhood spent in and around New York and Southern California. Thanks to what I had read of David Foster Wallace, I had (relatively) recently become interested in the genres of personal and journalistic essay, and so I decided to write a series of interconnected essays relating my own experiences to those of others. I was hoping, ideally, to create the kind of portrait of place and time that James Joyce painted with Dubliners and Arcade Fire captured with The Suburbs.
Over the summer of 2010, I started reading any personal essay material I could get my hands on, as well as traveling up and down Long Island and jotting down my loose thoughts, looking for patterns, hubs that would later emerge into themes or essay subjects.
I began drafting my first essay, “Whose Woods These Are”, in the first week of October. The “butt in chair/get lost in your own head” technique I employed in writing this essay (which deals with my arrival at Ross and also touches on mental health issues) was most similar to the way I’d been working prior to Senior Project. My second essay, “The Feeling of the Train Leaving the Station” – an investigation into teen drug culture on the East End – required considerably more legwork, and necessitated the development of a style of interviewing that I would come back to in my later essays. My third piece, “Basho Haiku Dating Service”, was less of an essay and more of a collection of humorous haikus about the people I encountered while bumming around the East End. In “Wainwright & I”, I explored local history to find out about my own family and interviewed my dad, looking for connections between the past and the present. In the final essay of the collection, “Where You Done Ended Up”, I once again asked the question that had given rise to the project in the first place – how do people come to live somewhere, and what is the significance of place?
I edited my essays all throughout the process, in order to maintain a sense of contemporaneity among all five. Along the way, I encountered such adversaries as Lyme Disease, writer’s block, time management issues, and crippling self-editing. It was a huge personal victory for me to be able to write five complete essays in the given period of time, and to be able to share them with the public and even read one aloud at Reading Night. The audience reactions were overwhelmingly positive, and that was kind of intense in its own right, but it was certainly an important experience to have under my belt if I want to continue writing.
From this project, I learned so much about the culture of the East End and about myself – as a local, and as a writer. In addition to greatly advancing my technique and bolstering my writing ability, I learned the importance of circumspection when writing so personally – what they say is true, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more exhilarating experience to have as a young aspiring writer.
Arcade Fire. The Suburbs. Merge, 2010. CD.
Bengtsson, Gunnar. “Matsuo Basho.” poetryconnection.com. 2010. 2 Dec. 2010. < http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/Matsuo_Basho>
Bon Iver. “Wisconsin.” For Emma, Forever Ago. Jagjaguwar, 2008. MP3.
Channing, Sylvia. “Off the Grid, On the Map.” Senior Projects 09-10. East Hampton: Ross School, 2010. 2. Print.
D’Agata, John. About a Mountain. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
Drossel, Greg. Personal Interview. 25 Oct. 2010.
Gaines, Audrey. Personal Interview. 14 Nov. 2010.
Garrett, Juliet. Personal Interview. 11 Dec. 2010.
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Lehner, Charles. Personal Interview. 16 Dec. 2010.
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Wainwright, Loudon. Personal Interview. 29 Dec. 2010.
Wainwright, Rufus. “Grey Gardens.” Poses. DreamWorks Records, 2001. MP3.
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Beth Rosenberg: English Teacher, Writer, Travel Expert, Photojournalist