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Uncollected Essays by Annie Dillard - Official Site

Date of publication: 2017-07-09 04:13

There was always something inexplicably attractive about receiving attention, so throughout my childhood, the sound of laughter was my muse. I had an appetite for approbation (clearly not from teachers, but from my peers), and nothing was more satisfying than earning the missing-tooth smiles of my immature friends.

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It still feels like yesterday when my mother said to me, four months before her death, “I have cancer,” she managed to say with a shaking voice. “Don’t tell anyone, Mo.”

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Yes he was saying goodbye to us, but not to music. Neither his retirement nor aging would sever him from his love and prevent him from a pleasurable moment with his own violin. This powerful reflection came with the transformative roles of the violin and guitar in my life. They became my models of optimism—instruments of the idea that good things can evolve from tragic moments.

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My life had been significantly altered in a beneficial way. What I used to call soda was now considered “pop”, and what I used to refer to as cursing was now “cussing.” When I ate lunch with my grandparents every Sunday, I was exposed to only one culture. However, when I came to Culver, I ate dinner with people from Texas, Nigeria, Ohio, Indiana, Mexico, France, and Wisconsin, all at the same table. I still missed my Sunday lunches in Brooklyn, but I now realize that I discovered something just as significant in a new family that broadened my perception of the world.

The heist happened around the time I awakened to a new interest: film. In the Seventh Grade, I took a media literacy class, which captivated me as we studied the power of the media over the mind. We looked at commercials and explored the rigor entailed in creating 85 seconds of film that influenced such wide audiences. I was amazed to learn that such a large team of professionals invested so much intellectual capital on a commercial or a film–so much more energy than Calvin and I employed on the Christmas miracle. I did not draw this connection so neatly then. Yet looking back, I see how the two experiences shaped my coming of age. The heist demonstrated the power of my creativity while film would become the way for me to exercise that power in a constructive way.

“Are you excited to see Santa?” she asked, brushing snow off her hat. I shook my head.
“I am celebrating Hanukkah because I am Chinese,” I told her. There was a brief look of confusion before she regained her smile, “That’s sweet.”

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

My journey as a dyslexic student has granted me the luxury of assimilating knowledge in different ways. After all, a curious mind can find answers in the most unexpected places. When I couldn’t rely on letters to conform, I focused on words spoken, landscapes traversed, cultures observed, and teachers dedicated to their trade. While I have become a strong reader, I am fortunate to have retained the ability to look beyond text and written words to find meaning.

The words to describe the unfathomable emotional situation in my short story seemed unattainable because I had never experienced the circumstances. Sign guided me to go below the exterior of explaining “how sad” something could be and helped me extract the visceral aspect of grief, allowing me to connect with the character, and making him a part of reality—not just an imaginary sketch. Sign forced me to reach the core of what my character could have felt, not just the mere essence, giving the words the aesthetic animation that speech cannot provide. The captivating gestures embedded in sign language are almost as riveting as the feeling that comes with giving vocabulary a physically moving existence.

Focus on getting help, I kept telling myself, as I spent all my energy on unsuccessfully attempting to roll off the bed to attract my sister’s attention. Breathing was harder than usual. The severity of the attack was worse than ever. My doctors had promised I was seizure-free, yet I was feeling the same fear and hopelessness I remembered too well. It felt hours had passed until my sister finally rushed to my side. She stared at me with a look of fear and confusion then grabbed my phone and called our parents, who instructed her to put a cold washcloth on my forehead and to not leave my side until they got home. She held me and whispered into my ear, telling me to focus on breathing and that everything would be okay.

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