Page Requirements in Essays: The Struggle of Creativity within Boundaries

Encountering word minimums or restraints when assigned to write a creative papers is not an uncommon occurrence. Within the academic sphere, writing papers with certain page requirements is a way to not only offer clarity for the student to know the extent of which they should elaborate on their topic, but to offer a means of keeping the different essays produced among a variety of students at similar lengths. Word maximums/minimums are a necessity in order to offer clarity for not only students, but the teachers that have to evaluate the quality of the work and if it met the standards for the assignment.

 

In other ways, word limits/minimums can be viewed as a necessary evil. When an individual engages in the process of writing a paper, there are various components that they will need to consider. One of the most stressful parts of writing a paper for some students is often the page requirement. From my personal experience, I know that there is a very different type of anxiety that is provoked from a 10 page paper compared to a 4-5 page paper. The very nature of page requirements when writing a creative piece can cause students to feel like they either need to hold back on their ideas or add “fluff” to their points in order to satisfy these arbitrary requirements. In my academic career, I have struggled with formatting my essays in a particular way to be able to efficiently meet page requirements. Some teachers have advised that there should be certain ratios for the number of words in introductions and body paragraphs when taking to account the length of a paper. As a student, these boundaries often inhibit my ability to be creative when I write. There has always been a certain pressure that I cannot keep out of my mind when writing a paper because I am unable to forget that I must say what I need to say within the boundaries of word requirements.

 

Word requirements are indeed needed when assigning papers to multiple individuals, as seen most commonly in classroom settings. Some people would write about a topic for 2 pages while others would interpret the assignment to need 10 pages or more. In order to keep the amount of work each individual puts into the same assignment fair, the word count must come into play. As much as it can be a burden to write within limits, at the end of the day it is necessary when writing academic papers. Recently when I was assigned to write a paper that had the requirement of being 2 pages single spaced, I was genuinely thrown off. I had not previously come across this type of structure for an analytical paper before in college. I began to feel quite anxious that I would not properly get my point across within these new boundaries and might not meet the expectations of my professor. This nervous feeling provoked me to question the very nature of word requirements in writing essays. I questioned how my behaviors as a writer would change if I never had to work within the parameters of a page limit/minimum. Would I be a stronger writer? Would I be a lazier or more ambitious writer ? Would I be a less anxious writer? As I pondered these possibilities, I asked some of my other English major friends how they felt about constantly dealing with word limits in their classes.

 

We discussed how when we are given a word maximum that it can inhibit our flow of ideas and the ability to make a clear and coherent thought. For example, if a response paper is assigned to be about 500 words, but the response needs all of the components necessary for clarity in 700 words, how does one properly condense these ideas without sacrificing quality? Contrastingly, if the response could be completed succinctly and thoroughly in 300 words, then why elaborate further when the point has already been made? In this discipline as well as in countless other subject areas, we will frequently encounter page requirements. They are a part of what is necessary for creating assignments that are given to large amounts of students. As a writer, you will encounter many obstacles that make being creative feel quite challenging. It would be odd to go through our academic careers without page requirements for papers being a key component to our writing assignments. Part of what can make writing a strenuous task is the limits that are placed on us and the limits we place on ourselves. Word minimums/maximums are simply another obstacle we will encounter and must conquer as writers.  

“Free Will”

Is there such a thing as free will? Octavia Butler’s Fledgling has made me rethink this philosophical debate. Within this work, as those who’ve read it know, the saliva of an Ina bite addicts humans to the Ina’s saliva. This gives the Ina control over the human; however, still allowing the human to make independent decisions. Even without being bitten however, Ina still can influence humans through speech and action. This is no special skill as anyone can do the same regardless of how effective they are in doing so. People persuade, manipulate, and encourage others into doing various actions both intentionally and unintentionally. This mental effect people have on one another is called influence. Read more

The White-Savior Industrial Complex and Voluntourism

Today in class, we examined two articles titled “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” by Teju Cole and “The white tourist’s burden” by Rafia Zakaria which both focus on the negative consequences of voluntourism. This term refers to privileged, first world citizens gallivanting around the globe “helping” poor people in variously afflicted parts of the globe in various ways. The motivations of these helpers vary across every individual participant in every individual voluntourism program and range from altruistic to self-seeking. In Evelyn Mendez’s blog post titled “Volunteer?”, she references another article, “The Trouble with Medical “Voluntourism”” which sheds light on the damaging effects of institutions like “Doctors without Borders Alternative.” Groups like this are tasked with performing clinical surgeries such as delivering babies and pulling teeth without the proper experience and oftentimes, sanitation or equipment (Sullivan, 2017). These risky practices by incompetent students acting as unqualified practitioners of medicine often lead to more harm for patients than good (Sullivan, 2017). Mendez explains that these students are often going on these trips only to make themselves appear better on a resume to get into a better medical school for their own personal gain. However, the students themselves do not stay in the area abroad long enough to see the damage they potentially cause, but rather only long enough to feel good about the short term relief they provide. This, both the moral and selfish motivation to help people whose culture and problems the helper are not privy to, embodies the “White Savior Industrial Complex” Cole and Zakaria refer to in their articles.

What makes any institutional problem an “Industrial Complex”, whether it be the “Prison Industrial Complex” or the “Military Industrial Complex” is that the system in question is profitable as well as self-sustaining and justifiable through rhetoric. In the case of the WSIC, Americans are given a challenge or palatable enemy, like Joseph Kony or “hungry mouths, child soldiers or raped civilians” (Cole, 2012). Next, they take the moral high ground as people who are “going to ride in on a white horse and resolve it.” (Cole, 2012) So when someone like Kony is stopped or any amount of children are fed by privileged white people, they gain satisfaction not out of the resultant happiness their help lead to but by the implication that they are better people because of it.

Cole’s sequential tweets are spot on in describing how privileged whites do good deeds that have no real lasting impact not to achieve “justice” but to simply satisfy “sentimental needs” and have “a big emotional experience” (Cole, 2012). Not only are the roots of the problems often ignored, but other problems are created as a result. Cole later explains in the article that Nigerians who were protesting their corrupt government were noticeably not aided by the US government because of oil interest Yet the US government released a statement “supporting” the protesters right to protest in order to give off the image of preserving democracy and individual rights without making an actual change (Cole, 2012). A way to make actual change would be to import more expensive oil from non corrupt regimes to bolster them instead of empowering corrupt regimes simply because they produce a cheaper product. When money is on the line for privileged folks, morality is almost always tossed aside.

Meanwhile, Zakaria explains that there is a specific voluntourism program in South Africa that actually creates orphans. Because the American workers have economic backing, they resultantly “crowd out local workers” which leads parents to send their kids away to these orphan centers where they can actually afford to go to school (Zakaria, 2014). The question of whether it is better to be an educated orphan or non educated child living with their parents in poverty is irrelevant. The point that it is unjust for foreigners to be dictating the lives of native inhabitants at their own convenience for reasons independent of their plight is relevant, however. In class, Frank raised the solid point that most people participating in these programs are students on vacations which means a lot of the “help” might come seasonally. While I must be careful not to generalize all voluntourists as being unwanted and ignorant to the causes they are supposedly fighting, Zakaria explains that the participants should pay their “due diligence” by attempting to assimilate themselves with the culture as well as gain a real understanding of the native peoples’ and their plight (Zakaria, 2014). Both writers articulate the problem that many voluntourists simply go on these trips to feel good about themselves and bolster resumes as well as gain “good party stories” and “Facebook profile pictures” instead of for a more altruistic reason such as a desire to help people in need (Zakaria, 2014). These intrinsic motivations for white people to help non white people are more often than not self-serving and epitomize the WSIC.

The Oppression of Women’s Bodies

Humankind has a history of oppressing women’s bodies. Foot binding, the restrictions of gender roles, and unreasonable societal expectations of age and beauty are all timeless examples of this oppression. However, a relevant issue in the United States is reproductive rights. While there are few efforts made to encourage the development of new forms of male contraception, hundreds of provisions have been made in 2017 alone to restrict abortion access at the state level. Percival Everett’s Zulus contains many examples of injustice at the sake of the female body, with Alice Achitophel as our victim of it.

Alice Achitophel lives in a post-thermonuclear war society, where each woman is expected to be sterilized. Due to Alice’s weight (300 pounds) she believes she has no reason to have the procedure done because she probably won’t have sex. “She had thought to herself then that the people at the hospital had seen her and knew she was fat and ugly and could see from her file that she was an old maid, probably knew that she had never kept company with a man” (12). First, the readers see that this sterilization is forced and therefore not the women’s choice, which is just another example of this oppression. Secondly, Alice Achitophel believes she is unworthy of love and intimacy because of her weight, which is clearly an idea that’s been instilled by society. Her unattractiveness is not a fact, but a matter of opinion. Alice is referred to as the “fat woman” multiple times throughout the novel, suggesting that this objective description may be the only way see her.

A coworker of mine told me over the summer that she lost her health care because she made more money than usual the prior month, and that she was no longer able to pay for her birth control or many other health services. While birth control technically isn’t considered necessary, so many people want to use it that its price and accessibility are a prominent issue in modern America. While the women in Zulus aren’t given the option of contraceptives, this situation still connects to the novel in the sense that the government makes it difficult to make choices regarding one’s own body.

“…the opening body yielding the complete woman, full of the brain and emotions of her fat mother, earth mother, Alice Achitophel” (109). When Alice gives birth, she gives birth to a more attractive version of herself–a rebirth, in a sense. This new Alice is more determined and confident. This situation in nature is a contradiction to obsolete ideas of how women should behave and the expectations placed upon them. While the end of the novel is morbid because Kevin Peters and Alice pull the lever and end the world, it’s also empowering. The end reminds us that even those who are oppressed can always resist.

Inherent Societal Non-Consent and Identity

The social contract we, as humans born into a Lockean society, live through is inherently non-consensual. Before birth, society has already established this social contract that we do not agree to until we become cognizant of said social contract—for some, this may be in high school and for others college. The assumption I just made was also made through a privileged power structure—there are many people living in our society today that have not attended high school or have had a formal secondary where they would have come in contact with the social contract—and they may not be educated on theories by Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, or other “Enlightenment” thinkers. I put “Enlightenment” in quotes because many of those authors may not explicitly outline the non-consent in their theories—what are they actually enlightening for us? Regardless of this, we are not consenting to live under this social contract until we are old enough to understand it, and by then I think for many of us (at least for me, when I first encountered this in high school) the social contract is taught as a fact/founding principle of this country that we just accept. There is a compulsory agreeance in the non-consensual social contract. Personally, this comes across to me as propaganda—we are led to blindly elevate the social contract as the ultimate form of democracy—and have even fought wars and instilled political figures to further our own “democratic” political agenda.

In the handout from class today (October 16th) the section on Rousseau reads “[s]ome human beings come to dominate others, denying them the equality they enjoyed in the state of nature” (Mills) (emphasis is mine). This brought questions to my mind of language and power structures. Are we separated from animals (and the state of nature) by our ability to use complex language? In our current state, we cannot exist in a system outside of language, and even in theoretical arguments about such we still use language to construct them. Language and power structures/inequalities play on each other and are deeply intertwined—by nature itself, the power structures we spout everyday would then be nonconsensual as well, because we use coded language without explicitly being cognizant or agreeing to these power structures.

My point in saying this is that all of the things we are born into, socialized to believe/perform, etc.—all are non-consensual. There is compulsory masculinity and femininity, compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory ethnic and race identity, compulsory gender identity, compulsory class, etc. This is not to say that we can’t push back against this, and this is perhaps what Butler is getting at. Maybe Butler is trying to show us the inevitability of non-consent in the society we live in today, but in a more idealized society, we might not have to be born into all of this non-consent. That being said, being born in and of itself is inherently non-consensual, and language itself, the tool we use for communication, is rife with inequalities. Maybe the point is that we can’t completely free ourselves from non-consent, but we can do our best to mitigate it.

Volunteer?

Recently during class we went over the topic of medical volunteerism, which has to do with visiting certain areas in other countries that may not have the same medical resources that there are in the United States and assisting those in need of medical help. We read an article that had to do with medical volunteerism being an issue, due to several ethical and antiseptic reasons. The program allows inexperienced high school students assist people who are in need of medical health and sometimes, that means life or death.

In the blog post, “The Trouble with Medical “Voluntourism””, we learned that there is a program called “Projects Abroad” that allows people whom are at least 16 years of age, “lack prior medical experience and don’t speak the language” to travel and receive experience that people usually get two to five years after medical school. They travel to counties of lower income and developing countries such as, Tanzania, Ghana, Cambodia, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras. This program “touts itself as a “Doctors without Borders Alternative.”” The purpose of high school students taking advantage of this opportunity is so that they can begin gathering experience to put on to their resume, so that by the time they apply to medical school they can have a higher chance of getting in.

These students are way more focused on themselves rather than what the opportunity entitles them to do. They take this opportunity as a chance to make themselves look better and prepare for medical school to serve as doctor in the United States. It seems like many students say that they’re doing it for a good cause but in reality it’s to get the experience that they need in order be a top choice for their desired medical school.

There are also ethical and antiseptic issues that take a role when it comes to partaking in this event. According to the blog post, The Trouble with Medical “Voluntourism, the same program, “Projects Abroad” allows students to deliver babies, remove teeth, and even do “unnecessary episiotomies and pulling breech babies”. These all can be dangerous because if you aren’t using the right equipment, cleaning the area of that person’s body with the right items or doing things correctly, that situation can become life or death.

I personally believe that these people shouldn’t allow high school students to take this “opportunity”. No matter how good it looks on their resume for medical school, they are dealing with fragile conditions that others are going through and using it to make themselves look better.

Feeling vs Seeing Race

Bringing it back to our conversation regarding race and its origins, we talked about how exactly the idea of race came to be. After a detailed discussion and the viewing of a film in class (in which the name of it I am unsure of), it became clear that the idea of racism is just that- an idea. This idea could not have started with just one person, because if only one person believed in it then it never would have become as prominent in our society as it did. Therefore, racism is a collective idea that is fueled by those who continue to feed into it.  Read more

Yelling for Help

While reading Chapter A of Zulus by Percival Everett, I questioned why Alice Achitophel didn’t yell for help when the dirty man was violating her, yet did yell for help in Chapter N when the hungry man was attacking her. I was curious to why Alice allows the first man to act on her, when she knows the ramifications of being pregnant. After my initial reading of Chapter A, I believed that Alice was too weak to yell for help and feared that if she did yell for help and was found, all the blame would be placed on her for not becoming sterilized. However, after reading Chapter N, my initial thoughts on why Alice Achitophel did not call for help changed. Read more

Killing with Kindness, a response to Integrating Medical Cultures

Recently, fellow student and long-time friend of mine, Sunita Singh, wrote a beautiful blog post on the need for communication between the medical establishment and those utilizing traditional recipes as a cure for ailments. As with most of her work, the blog was stunning and I highly recommend you read it before continuing with my post. Reading Sunita’s post, I find myself wondering to what extent is respecting one’s own cultural tradition a priority in the context of medical care. In particular, I am drawn to one claim she makes: “Medical techniques differ around the world based on the cultures they originate from. No technique is superior to another.” (Integrating Medical Cultures, Singh) Understand, of course, that I would never condone discrimination, bigotry, or hostility towards a patient for having cultural beliefs different from my own. Such actions are abhorrent and should be punished accordingly. However, not all traditional medicine was created equally and I feel it is important to distinguish the possible beneficial from the deadly. Read more