Junior Year Portfolio Introduction

This was the introduction for my AP English Language creative writing portfolio that I compiled (in print) at the end of my junior year. All pieces from that portfolio can (or will) be found here!

Dear Reader,

There are so many clichés that I can use to describe my junior year. “Emotional rollercoaster” springs readily to mind, as does Dickens’ antithesis: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Junior year was certainly an age of wisdom – English, Spanish, U.S. history, physics, and calculus stretched my mind in ways I hadn’t thought possible. It was also a year of foolishness – some poor choices I have made cost me time, sleep, and, in many cases, happiness. While the challenges that I faced have helped to strengthen my character, the fact remains that junior year was full of struggles. But as I look back on the year, I try to eradicate all roots of regret: everything happened for a reason, and I am thankful that in the end, I made it through. Junior year was a year of incredible growth and development for me as a student and an artist. I was challenged in my abilities to create, believe, and overcome. Mr. Weinstein’s class played an integral part in all of this; one year in his class has changed my writing more than multiple years combined, and I am extremely grateful for the way that this class has cultivated my writing and made it into what it really is: an art form.

I have almost never had an English teacher who did not like my writing. Essays, poems, and stories were always handed back with big, red “A’s” scrawled across the top, along with some encouraging comments and generic underlining. While I appreciated the good grades and the compliments, I never felt as though my teachers were pushing me any further. Yet whenever I read over my own writing, I found it severely lacking – but in what? I wanted more.

The first lessons we had in Mr. Weinstein’s class were on style analysis – what was the author doing to try to prove a point? How was he emphasizing his meaning or influencing his audience? Foreign words like anaphora, chiasmus, and synecdoche were thrown around oh-so-casually, and I felt a bit overwhelmed. But when we read into examples and started attempting style analysis, I realized that I was familiar with the rhetorical devices, even though I didn’t recognize their names. In fact, I had even used a few of them consistently in my writing without even realizing it (the tricolon was and is a personal favorite of mine). But once I knew that there were actual terms and proper uses for these rhetorical devices – more than just words strung together in a nice rhythm – my writing palette was instantly expanded.

For the first time, I was attentive and deliberate in my writing. In the past, I had always written carelessly, putting words down on paper as soon as they came to mind and trusting that they sounded coherent. But Mr. Weinstein’s lessons, as well as his intimidating grading rubric, made me think a lot harder about not just what I was writing, but how I was writing. I consciously carved my phrases before setting them down on paper, rearranging the words and correcting the parallelisms until they sounded perfect. It was challenging to integrate literary devices that I had never used before, such as rhetorical questions or antimetaboles, but I tried to push myself to – as Mr. Weinstein always says – “keep experimenting!”

Surprisingly, I did very well on our first in-class essay of the year, even after I stressed out for an entire week leading up to my writing conference. But unlike every other year, when I was more or less content to take the good grade from my teacher and continue turning out mediocre pieces, I was now equipped with the tools and the motivation necessary to improve my writing.

Another art form that Mr. Weinstein’s class has helped me develop has been my poetry. To me, poetry was always more of an aesthetic form of writing – creating beautiful images with profound meanings that danced in the readers’ minds in a way that expository writing simply could not. But just like with my essays, I wanted more from my poetry and from myself. For a long time, I used words to create poetry. Mr. Weinstein’s class taught me to use emotion instead. His “bleed on paper” lesson seems pretty obvious – after all, literary greats such as Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg personified the “tortured artist” stereotype with their beautiful, risky, and emotionally charged writing – but it was the hardest lesson that I had to learn. I have always been very conservative with my feelings; in fact, my lack of expression or enthusiasm has sometimes led people to think that I am aloof, mean, or condescending. In truth, I feel the entire range of human emotions just as strongly as anyone else, but I prefer not to show them on my face. Even in my poetry, I wrote about abstract concepts – being in love, feeling joy, or experiencing disappointment – without any revealing details or personal touches. There was never any mention of a person, place, or specific moment that could tie my poems to me, or me to my poems. Mr. Weinstein encouraged bleeding on paper, taking risks, and leaving pebbles – lessons that I wholeheartedly agreed with in my head, but that I wouldn’t dare to transfer onto paper.

My creative writing notebook from this year is filled with lines that I have crossed out, rewritten, crossed out, and rewritten again – not because I was editing the sentences, but because I was debating with myself whether they were too risky. Because of Mr. Weinstein’s class, I have put things down on paper that I would normally never let out of my own head. And not only do these liberated thoughts and emotions produce better poetry, but the penning of them is also fantastic therapy. Mr. Weinstein challenged me to really give everything I am into my writing, and as a result my writing reflects who I am and conveys exactly what I want to convey – it in turn gives back to me.

My portfolio is organized in basic chronological order so that you, the reader, can track my emotional and intellectual development through the year. The biggest risk of all has been creating this portfolio – for once, my poems and other pieces, already more revealing than anything I have written in the past, are out in the open, with my name attached to them, for all to read. Yet I welcome this new lack of anonymity because I am, just like you, a human being. What I feel is simultaneously unique and universal, and I am ready to share it with you. Junior year was a year of many changes and challenges, but I am grateful that I have made it out as a better person. I have grown a lot as a reader and as a writer, and I am really grateful and happy that I was able to do so much creative writing throughout the year. I am quite proud of this compilation of my works, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Sincerely,

Cristina Lai

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