Welcome to My Web Site!

How is Ziplining like Writing College Essays?
[ Friday, May 29, 2015 8:00 PM | Any Comments?]
A picture of me standing on the platform before I zipline down.

   "Writing Essays and Ziplining?"  C'mon,
   you might be thinking.  But after going ziplining
   for the first time, I can tell you that are a few
   similarities between learning to zipline and
   writing college essays. 
          My first ziplining experience occurred on
   May 22, 2015, when I talked my wife into going
   ziplining at the Historical Mills Creek Discovery
   Park outside of Mackinaw City, Michigan.  We
   went up there to the Mackinac area, as well as
   to Mackinac Island,  as a second honeymoon
   since we really didn't get much of a honeymoon
   when we were first married 33 years ago (her
   job wouldn't give her the time off and we were pretty poor at the time).
           After we arrived in the park, we were told where to find the guide who would lead us in this new experience.  We were both leary about it, particularly when we first saw the line we were to zip down, but I encouraged my wife that it would be fun.  After we met our guide, she helped us into our gear, and then took us down some trails, occasionally stopping and giving us a lesson about the surrounding nature along the way.  Somehow we ended up in the front of this small group, and before we knew it, we were the first ones in the group to walk over the Forest Canopy Bridge, a rope bridge 50' feet up in the tree tops (thank goodness for the cable gear that attached us to the line that ran across the bridge above us), and then on to the platform where we would zipline down the 425-foot Eagle's Flight Zip Line, over the creek (actually it looked more like a small lake) to the platform across the way. 
           Our guide was very nice and explained exactly what we were to do, including testing the line's ability to hold us, before giving us the sign to step off the platform, zipping down a line that really didn't look thick enough to hold my weight.  However, it held me just fine, and I landed safely on the other side.  My wife likewise made it down shortly afterwards.
        Receiving instruction on what to do and attaching the harness to the line was a heart-beating experience since this was our first time ziplining, and for many students comingA picture of me ziplining over the creek. into college, writing a college-level essay for the first time can be just as scary.  They may not be familiar with the equipment that we are using (the computer, internet, or even MLA) or just the idea of writing, of putting their ideas and feelings out there for people to read may seem intimidating, or even scary.  Actually, it has been awhile since I've done anything this intimidating to me (I don't like heights normally), so now when students tell me they're feeling intimidated about an assignment or writing in general, I can now better relate with that feeling.
        Learning to write well also takes instruction and courage.  It, like ziplining, takes someone guiding students through the process, explaining each of the steps, and making sure that students feel safe and secure with the equipment that's been provided, testing the use of that equipment, and then encouraging them to "step off the platform" and fly.  A contemporary Jewish-American short story writer, novelist, and essayist, Cynthia Ozick, describes writing as "an act of courage."  Why?  Because it takes courage to expose your inner thoughts, views, beliefs, and feelings on the page where people can not only read them, but critique them as well.  And as a result, I know many people who find writing intimidating for this reason.  They are afraid of what people will say or how they will respond to them, so they hold back and won't take that "leap off of the platform."
       It's been quite a while since I've felt that level of intimidation, and it was a good reminder to me of what my students feel when I am likewise encouraging them to take that "leap" and "fly" in their writing, but let me assure you that the experience is worth it.  Yes, it is scary, and yes, you are exposing yourself on the page, and yes, there may be a few people who will view your work critically.  But you know what?  There will also
be those who will enjoy the experience and the knowledge that you will share with them within your essay.  And when you realize that you can share your views in writing in a way that engages others, then that's when you really begin to experience "the thrill of the ride."  And as my wife and I enjoyed ziplining for the first time at Historic Mills Creek, you will enjoy learning to write college essays as well. 
        So as we spend the course working on practicing your writing skills and learning "to fly," there are five important points I would like you to remember:

1.  Never Demean Your Own Opinions.
One of the things that I've noticed lately are students demeaning or "downplaying" their own thoughts,
     feelings, or beliefs as if they are in some way insufficient. They'll say, "but it's only my opinion."  My
     response is, "And what's wrong with that?"  Always remember that one person's opinion can change the
     world, and who is to say whether the opinion you express in class may be the beginning ripple of that
     change by changing the life of another student or even mine? 

2. Share Yourself in Your Writing
     As I alluded above, don't try and hide your feelings and thoughts from the reader, but see each writing
     activity as an opportunity for you to share some aspect or part of your life with someone else, whether it's
     a thought, a feeling, or an experience you've had.  One of the blessings of life is being able to share your
     life with others, so make the most you can of each writing opportunity and allow each of us within the
     classroom the privilege and joy of getting to know the "real" you.

3.  Put a "Face" on Your Ideas.
     When supporting your ideas and thoughts, don't just state them and leave them at that, but share a
     specific experience that you (or someone else) has had that illustrates that point. In other words, don't
     write in generic terms, but bring it down to the human experience, to the individual level (or as I say, "Put
     a face on your discussion").  Why?  Because if you really want to touch the heart and soul of your reader,
     they need another person to connect with in your discussion, not just an assortment of ideas.

4.  Move beyond the Surface.
     Also, when dealing with different issues or topics, don't just discuss the "surface" content that everyone
     knows, but dig into it, and try and pull out things that people are not likely to know or to think about
     regarding that topic or issue.

5.  Use the Writing Process Effectively.
     Finally, don't try and "short change" or "short cut" the process because then you'll only end up with a
     paper (and probably a grade) that you will not enjoy.  But once you've learned how to make the process
     work for you, then writing becomes a much more enjoyable activity.

By the way, if you are in the Mackinaw City area, I would recommend visiting Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, it was a fun and enjoyable experience.   Also, thanks again for visiting my website, and if you are attending or planning on attending OCCC, I hope to see you either around campus or in class.


 Return to top