Essay vs. Essay: Round 1
Women are weird. They relate by exchanging silly stories in a battle for emotional supremacy.
Woman 1: “Last week my dog was hit by a car!”
Woman 2: “That’s so sad! It reminds me of when my husband put the cat in the dryer.”
Woman 1: “Goodness! That’s nearly as sad as the time we went on vacation for a month, leaving BooBoo at home. We had arranged for a sitter, but she never showed up! Poor BooBoo! She was starving when we got back! I felt terrible!”
Comparing experiences is a strange ritual that is considered a normal feminine pastime, like needlework or some other cliché craft of old. Little girls are taught the art of comparing and contrasting each other’s lives when they are young. They retain the story-telling skills the rest of their lives. Comparing and contrasting everything is the traditional female-to-female mode of operation. They compare lipsticks, men, bottled water, tank tops, manicurists, and fluffy bed-slippers. Listen in to any woman’s conversation and more than likely long lists of notes and opinions are being compared, settled on, argued about, and re-formulated in story form. Every woman does it. I know I do.
Since I am a woman, I am pretty good at comparing and contrasting things, so I should be able to write a quick, snappy comparison essay as smooth as butter on warm muffins. And yet I often find myself sitting in front of my keyboard, completely clueless. Writing a compare and contrast essay is so much harder to write than any other essay.
When I write any other type of essay, I draw from personal opinions and cold, hard facts. I am the attacker in my writing. My opinion is either a rebuttal or just a big, bold announcement of what my mind thinks of a single, specific subject. If I think grape Kool-Aid is the best Kool-Aid in the world, I can say so, unchallenged. If I hate school, have a terrible boyfriend, want to re-arrange the living room, or have an insane dog, I can just type it out. I’m an expert on that one subject and I don’t have to worry about something else challenging it too much. Any comparisons are short, or else assumed as common knowledge and remain unwritten. I can just claim, “My dog is crazy” and begin telling why instead of stating, “My dog is crazy compared to other dogs of that species.” In that case, I have to now address and clarify all the common traits for Canis lupus familiaris and counter each normal trait with each unusual attribute of my insane dog. To me, this is overkill and my creative instincts rebel.
In a comparison essay, I have to be defensive. I can’t just plop my answers on the table and make the reader swallow it. I have to defend every claim and examine the opposing issues. I must become an expert on two topics now, and I have to make a case for both. It’s like being a mother trying to satisfy two screaming children, one of whom wants pizza and Beauty and the Beast, and one who wants macaroni and The Jungle Book. It’s impossible! Everyone ends up feeling unsatisfied in the end, like their side was watered-down and not treated fairly.
I read an essay comparing cow’s milk and soymilk once. It was a good essay, well thought out and well researched, with enough opinion on the advantages of soymilk thrown it to give it flavor, but at the end, I felt unfulfilled. The writer’s preference for soymilk was obvious enough, but it wasn’t complete somehow. Was it too preachy? Was there just not enough va-voom in word choice? Was the sheer multitude of information to much to take in? Or were there too few facts on the opposing idea? Sometimes comparing things actually detracts from both subjects, losing the argument in a methodical boxing match until both sides end up battered, bruised, and bleeding. Not even the winner escapes uninjured.
It takes fancy footwork and great skill to write a plucky compare and contrast essay, expertise I can’t grasp. In single-topic essays, I have trouble because I write too much. My sentences get longer and longer, and my words become an ever more fantastical banquet with multitudes of bizarre idiom concoctions. The opposite is true for my compare and contrast essays. They end up floating in a bland puddle of academic expectations. I compose “chopping block” comparisons that don’t flow well together. I state a point. I compare the subjects. I cut off the paragraph. I move on to the next. I just can’t get a well-tailored word rhythm.
Another snag in my river of thought is the details. I love details. When I write an essay, I like to use buckets and piles and tons of joyous little adjectives. However, in a rotten, stinky compare and contrast essay, I need to compare the important components first and foremost. But, as usual, I get distracted by details. Is my word choice too heavy? Are my sentences varied enough? Is this phrase necessary? Is this getting boring? Will my children be ashamed that their mother wrote terrible essays that are used as “bad examples” in text books? What would Mark Twain do?
As I near the end of regular essays, I begin to get desperate to leave some lasting impression. I feel huge pressure to write masterpieces that will be passed down from generation to generation and picked apart by high-school English classes. I have a bad habit of thinking that I need to emotionally devastate, paralyze with laughter, or impress readers with ironic, witty word plays in order to achieve fame. Compare and contrast essays receive the heaviest damage of all the essay styles I attempt because I not only attempt to make my bland writing fresher by using stuffier language, but I also want to bring the essay to an enlightening, earth shattering conclusion that will make my readers want to go out and change their lives.
Every compare and contrast essay I write leaves me drained, disgusted, and depressed. Keyboards are ruined, walls receive new fist-shaped tattoos, and my hair takes on a decidedly punkesque style. While comparing and contrasting everything under heaven may be a natural pattern for my everyday conversations, the technique just doesn’t work well in my writing. It’s kind of like the disastrous story about the two love-struck toasters I wrote back in second grade…