As Forest Gump once said: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, I say life is like an onion. There’s multiple layers and dimensions to this dynamic world we live in. When we’re brave enough to step out of our comfort zone and venture out to experience each layer life exposes, that is where transformation begins.
People for instance, show us different sides of themselves. Some let all their layers hang out for all to dissect while others won’t let you get past their tough papery outer skin. Still some people let you taste just beyond that strong outer exterior just enough to experience their flavor, interesting enough to want to bite deeper, experience more.
And this is true with any endeavor. Take writing for instance, whether one is an excellent writer with natural talent or one struggles to put two words together or hates writing all together; doesn’t matter if you like writing or not, we all have to do it at one time or another whether in school, on the job, expressing ourselves in writing is a part of life. It’s when you sit down with pen and pad in hand or at the keyboard, deciding what to communicate can be a tedious process. But, drawing the reader’s attention is key to getting your message across.
I teach my students that good writing is a process. We’ve all learned the stages: pre-write, draft, edit, revise, and publish. Maybe that’s why they groan. Because it can be tedious, trying to figure out just the right word combinations to string a sentence, and how they should be organized to form a comprehensive paragraph. It’s layers, if you will, from a single word to the finished product: 500 word essay.
One way I taught students about writing an essay, I called it the hamburger method. After all, what we know as a hamburger is basically a sandwich with layers of yummy goodness: top bun, condiments, lettuce, tomato, onions, hamburger meat, and bottom bun. Without the bun holding it all together, it would be a rather messy burger to pick up and eat with your hands. Same thing applies to writing an essay. The top and bottom bun represent the opening and closing paragraphs. The lettuce, tomato, onions slices, cheese, hamburger patty all represents the body paragraphs, the layers if you will, that create that hamburger sandwich. Add the condiments: ketchup, mustard, mayo, salt, pepper, relish, special sauce etc., these represent the style, flair, literary devices — descriptiveness of your writing.
Good writers know all this, and they are the ones who play with words. It is why we call it poetry and prose. These writers encourage readers to read between the lines, dissect the layers of meaning with their metaphors and similes and use of techniques like personification, allusion, characterization, rhythm, imagery, dialogue, foreshadowing, plot, irony, just to name a few. These techniques draw the reader in and allows the reader to engage with the work on an intimate level, connecting with something or many things in the piece. These writer’s know the rules and know how to break the rules in order to make a piece remarkable. They hit a nerve or tap into the pulse of a cultural norm, or counter-cultural idea. And we either love them or hate them. After all, art is subjective, and writing is an art.
Art like life is a process whether creating it, analyzing it, or just admiring it. That saying, “art imitates life” is true, for life is the fodder that feeds the artist’s desire to create. But, life imitates art as well. Both involve processes, like peeling an onion, building a house, or writing an essay; there is a dynamic at work that is in constant flux between construction and deconstruction. As we open ourselves up to the unfolding layers of life, we open ourselves to new experiences, opportunities, or inspirations that not only add to the artist’s repertoire but also another layer to who we are, and who we may or may not become.