Emma Beveridge

Train Trumping Trajectory

By Emma Beveridge

Writing 212: The Art of the Essay

 

~the train~

“To love is to recognize yourself in another.”

-Eckhart Tolle

I feel the crispness of the cold wind fondly pinching at my skin as I guide this train faster, awakening with speed. I feel my cheeks combatting the chilled air, with warm doll-like hues of rosiness. I am reminded that I am alive.

I think of the evergreens, weeds, leaves, and wheats. They all sway with the same wind that circles around me. The ferns wave as I pass. Their lives are left in the distance as mine continues onward with the speed of this train. I stare and I feel as the trees and their leaves swirl and say goodbye. We are alive.

~ the tracks~

Sofia is walking and talking along the vacated railway. She is as bright and as lovely as her golden hair, matching the wheat that she is passing. She is young and she is brilliant. She is planning to do strong-willed good in the world—and she will. She listens and speaks intently with the friend accompanying her—watching, understanding, committing, hearing, truly seeing.

Sofia thinks of her mother, alone back home, who has invested so much into her future—this is a common thought. She remembers her mother’s nighttime kisses accompanied with a, “remember to give it your all tomorrow, Sofia. Te amo.” These words spark Sofia with life and jolt her awake—but all with some cost.

She is determined and curious and full of readiness for the future, but she sometimes feels this curiosity weighing down upon her slight shoulders. She wants to understand the way the world works— why people do what they do and feel what they feel. What truly does it mean to live life to the fullest? She has always pressured herself to understand, do better, be better, and sometimes she wouldn’t mind if all the pressure ended. Sofia’s dainty, slight feet tiptoe down the rusty, old railway. Yet she is not hesitant. She is certain that this is the path to follow no matter where it takes her.

~the train~ 

Forward, I go with the pace of the train I am conducting: onward, onward, onward. I am in charge of its security on this linear path as it is sweeping me along. I know that we must stop at some point. But here and now, I feel the energy of the temperature and an awakened sense that I am, indeed, alive. I feel that I can be affected by the chill of air or the warmth of people. I can tell that the evergreens I am passing can feel this temperature too. In the distance, I can see fields of golden wheat. They are bristling in eagerness for me to join them. All the life I am passing is soaking in the cool air, preparing for a new season and the next portion of the cycle—making way for a new round of life. These are the feelings and the fuelings— the reminders that there is something to experience. Reminders of a life worth living. A life within which I am affected and I can do some of the affecting.

~the bridge~

 Asher is on a tall bridge overlooking, on his right, a crispy blue pool of water. He watches as the frigid air is caught up and enveloped into the swirls of the water. The evergreens are far in the distance. Instead, here on his left is the community of wheat swaying back and forth, singing with the whistles of the wind. Asher looks down at his brown, muddy shoelaces. Those shoes have lived to see the day. He takes them off and watches as they fall, fall, fall downward until plop; they fall directly onto the center of the railway beneath him. He himself has thought of jumping and landing like his worn shoes. It would be so easy, so simple just to take one little step since I’m not straight enough to belong in this world anyway, he thinks yet again. But never has he done the deed, because the wheat and the water and the swiftness of the passing trains remind him that he still has some whistling, swaying, rippling left to do in this world. He still has a life worth living.

~the train~

As this train and I move onward, my stomach feels as though it would like to be left behind. My insides twinge with discomfort—there is writhing and churning, like a snake has taken ahold of my upset organs. Oddly, I don’t really mind. It is a stomach ache from indulging just a bit too much. It is an ache of pain that can be compared to my usual comfort. It is similar to the occasional sadness that is an ode to my usual happiness. A balance of life and all it implies.

~the tracks~

Maria is the one accompanying Sofia as they traverse this beaten railroad. She listens quietly as Sofia speaks passionately of her latest wonders, “…and so the ethical question pretty much comes down to: Do you pull the lever to change the trolley’s path and kill one person or let the trolley continue on the path it is already going and kill the five people who are tied up? I just can’t stop thinking about what I would do.”

Faced with yet another tough decision, Maria feels a rush of unexpected angry passion and kicks her foot, causing a slight loss of balance. She trips to the side and finds her foot suddenly deeply imbedded on a dangerously situated plank of wood swathed in rusty barbed wire. A sudden gust of warmth, then throbbing pain consumes Maria’s foot. Her pure, white shoe has become consumed by fiery, red blood. The two girls freeze with fear as the red liquid continues to flow and stain its surroundings. Maria is entranced by the flow of blood, a sight she hasn’t seen in a while. Here is the liquid life seeping out of her veins, its brightness dulled by the brown rust of the tracks it is mixing with. She makes an effort to dislodge her foot from its embedment within the track, but the stubborn wood and the searing pain creates an impossible task- she is stuck. What a metaphor, I’m stuck yet again, Maria thinks ironically. The pain she feels now mixes with the fear she has been internalizing since she first found out about …the pregnancy…two months ago. Does she keep it, allowing it to grow and develop a future, purpose and identity? Or does she choose her own path, continuing her own search for a future, purpose, and identity? She cannot make a decision for she is frozen from the fear of a baby’s life growing inside of her.

~the bridge~

 

Asher is still there overlooking the life surrounding him from the top of the bridge. He has been watching as two girls much younger than himself have been traveling down the railroad tracks, closer and closer to his position high up above them. They are both now close enough that he can make out the features of their faces. The girl with the dark hair has become painfully snagged by the wooden track, as the light-haired girl seems stuck in her mind. They never bother to look up and meet Asher’s eyes. He can see in their expressions that they may be together, but they are both deeply separated by the distractions of their independent lives.

Asher suddenly shifts his line of vision as he hears something swift, powerful, and lively that is approaching. He sees the powerful machinery come around the bend of the evergreens as it begins to pass the brilliant field of wheat. The train quickly approaches with a speed of so many lives compiled into one trajectory. He watches as the head of the train approaches him, but he deems himself safe as he is directly high above the tracks. Much more dangerously below are the two girls, somehow still consumed by the blood and the wire—entrapping a foot as well as their attention. They are blind and deaf to the danger that is swiftly approaching.

~the train~ 

I feel powerful as the narrator of my life, this passage, and the direction of this train. I am high with the speed. Onward and upward, I feel myself going. So very alive and blissfully unaware.

From the helm, I steer the train around a bend and leave the evergreens behind; I am now surrounded by the gold and beige swaying of wheat. Suddenly I am pulled far from the bliss as my eyes focus on three human figures that I am quickly approaching. One is high above—a man on a bridge, safe, but two others—females— are lower and kneeling down, consumed with something red and distracting. Why don’t they feel the vibrations? Why don’t they know I am hurtling toward them?

I am alive with fear. The girls’ eyes finally turn in my direction, and I watch as they widen with terror. They freeze as I am a fraction of a second away. It is now that time slows. I can see my options before me:

A.) I can pull the emergency-off- track-lever that would bring me off the railroad, but my momentum is still hurtling toward the girls. I could direct the train toward the large bridge that is right before I would reach them, which would block the train from going further. This would certainly cause the bridge to crumble, though, and there is another figure atop, secured by its structure, who would surely die if I hit the bridge. I will certainly die as well. One death…two deaths.

B.) I can let fate take its course.

The lives of these girls, the child within, that man up high and my own are all on a certain weaving path, with directions and crossings, but all with a definite end. Who am I to decide that any life is more worthy of continuing over another? This option leads to one, two…three deaths.

In the face of very possible death, Sofia, Asher, Maria with child, and myself are joined in a communal feeling of quickened breathing and heavy, beating hearts. Each of us knows that the life within us could end here and now. We are all more alive than ever.

What connects us is the same as the unity among the creaking oaks, the brimming lakes, and the waving crops. We are all one of the same intersecting community. We all breathe, we take in and release, and we move as the Earth turns. We are united together in the fight for a purpose and to feel that upward mobility of life.

I have to make a decision.

My life does not flash in front of my eyes. Instead, the reminders of the life around me do. The trees, the falling leaves, the squeaky chairs, the messy hairs, the continuity and the fluidity…all the things that define what is felt and sensed while being truly alive.

And then there is the inevitability of death before me. Option A or option B.

~reality~

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

-Donald Trump

I cannot label the Mexican people as solely criminals or rapists who do not contribute to society. I cannot mold women into an objectified, sexual role with no rights to their own bodies. I cannot dictate a gay person’s right to marriage in a country that deems itself “great.” I certainly cannot limit the lives at risk in face of this rushing train into an easy question of whose life matters more. What has Donald Trump chosen and what will he continue to choose? Sofia, Asher, and Maria are theoretical characters in this scenario, yet the realities of a young, pregnant girl, a sad, beaten man, and a driven, pressured teenager are very much real in the lives of those around us. What gives one person the right to limit the life in another? We are all on the track. We are all on the bridge. We are all in the train. We are all at the helm. …


Works Cited

Tolle, Eckhart. “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Penguin Books, 2008.

Trump, Donald. “Donald Trump’s Announcement of Presidential Bid.” Announcement of Presidential Bid. New York, New York. 16 June 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2017.


A Word from Emma

Headshot of Emma BeveridgeThis essay brings forth some major societal dilemmas of how to value life that was a challenge to write about and grapple with. Does the quantitative amount of 3 lives over 1 life deem a difference of importance? Can the quality of one person’s life and potential overpower the life of another? Can one human be justified in even stepping in and applying more or less meaning to one sector of lives or another? These are some questions I let guide me through the conception and further creation of this essay and which I still do not have definite answers to. Professor Whitehead taught her Writing 212 course by strongly encouraging us to pursue our own educated opinions about the world’s social and ethical issues. This led me into greater clarity of my position and impact upon these issues.
This essay was further challenging in the aspect that I attempted to piece together an ethical thought experiment of the Trolley Problem (first introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967) while bringing it to life with descriptions of the individuals whose lives are endangered in interaction with the lively nature surrounding them and what it means to be alive, as well as touching a bit on the current political climate and the numerous social issues America is facing today. Needless to say, all these moving parts were difficult to piece together in a cohesive manner without overwhelming myself and the reader in the process. Yet with the help of Professor Whitehead and my peers, I was able to clarify things bit by bit through numerous revisions.
While the complicated, dynamic quality of this essay is one of the most challenging qualities of this piece, it is also one of my favorite features because it keeps the reader suspended and allows for openness for the readers to relate wherever they so please.


From Professor Elisabeth Whitehead

Assignment

Lyric Essay

“The lyric essay allows for the moments of pause, the gaps, the silence. The fragmentation feels correct to the piece: it allows for the moments of “not knowing,” the unspoken words that seem truer than anything I could ever say aloud.”

–Brenda Miller

For your third project, write a lyric essay. It might be helpful to consider the lyric essay as a hybrid form that doesn’t follow a traditional narrative approach. Though difficult to define, we might think of the lyric essay as a joining of the essay, that perhaps leans more toward argument or story, and the lyric (coming from the word lyre) perhaps concerned more with the music of language, with tone, and with imagery. Or perhaps we can think of the lyric essay as interaction between poetry and prose; a form that is not quite poetry and not quite prose. According to Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, the lyric essay favors “fragmentation and imagery; they use white space and juxtaposition as structural elements. They are as attuned to silences as they are to utterance.” The lyric essay’s resistance to definition is part of its great beauty and strength.

This project will require your willingness to experiment and to take risks in your writing. Here are some options that might be helpful to consider: 1. Use any of our authors as models for your essay. 2. Write a Collage, Hermit Crab, Braided, or Prose Poem essay.  3. See the end of “The Lyric Essay” by Miller and Paola for exercise ideas. 4. Create your own form. Form or structure will be an important part of your “argument” or rhetorical choice in this essay.

Although the lyric essay may seem to differ significantly from the other forms we have worked with this semester, it has similar considerations: to reach and connect with an audience, to move beyond an intimate telling to connect with others on a more universal level, to explore the uniqueness of your own voice, to use form in an engaging way, to practice skills of observation, analysis, and precision of language. Bernard Cooper says of the lyric essay, “To write short nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.” Keep this in mind as you begin your work!

Professor Commentary

Although there is so much to admire here, what I respect most in Emma’s writing is her bravery, and her willingness to take risks as an author. I remember vividly my initial response when I read an early draft of this lyric essay. Within the first few pages, I felt a sense of uncertainty and unknowing, as a reader. Because the assignment was creative nonfiction, not fiction, I felt myself questioning: Where am I? Who is speaking? How does the author know the minds and perspectives of these multiple characters so intimately? But soon, I found myself letting go of these questions and trusting that I was in the hands of a skilled, unique, and intelligent writer. By letting go of any preconceived notions and expectations for the essay, I was able to be surprised and moved as a reader.

Even though most of the writing is a created scenario, with created characters, including the author’s role as the conductor, I would categorize this as a work of nonfiction. Presenting a thought experiment, the author asks: What would you do? Would you let fate take its course? Would you pull the emergency lever? Would you aim at the bridge? Each decision would result in a different consequence, but each choice would require the author/ conductor to decide whose life she would save, and therefore, decide whose life is more valuable.  It is significant, that in the end, she doesn’t answer her own question; she never makes that final choice. Instead she asks herself: “Who am I to decide that any life is more worthy of continuing over another?” By breathing life into the thought experiment, animating it, she has allowed herself to explore and understand what she was witnessing and experiencing in the current political/social arena. She concludes: “We are all one of the same intersecting community. We all breathe, we take in and release, and we move as the Earth turns.” That we landed where we did in the essay was unexpected, and in the hands of such a skilled writer, it also feels inevitable.

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