What follows is a scholarship essay I wrote as a freshman in college. I found it on an old thumb drive and it stirred up fond memories of my infatuation with alliteration (“With bloody blameful blade he bravely broached his bloody boiling breast,” A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare), my dependence on overly Latinate words to sound erudite (I still haven’t kicked the habit), my reckless disregard for my audience, and my self-doubt masquerading as Zen-like assuredness (under the special skills section of the application I essentially wrote that I have no self-specific, unique skills because the potential of humanity is democratic). Although I am embarrassed by this quaint mental excretion, I remember I had fun writing it and I don’t have anything to lose by sharing it here. The essay prompt asked something like, “If you could change the world with a blank piece of paper, how big would it need to be?” I could have responded one of two ways: By sending a single blank piece of paper along with my application as a Dadaist expression inviting the reader to transform into the author of her or his own vision of global reformation. Or by producing the stream-of-consciousness essay below. In the end I never did send my application and it’s probably for the best.
If only a blank sheet of paper could change the world… How big would such a page need to be? “Blank” suggests illimitable dimensions of meaning. In its ambiguity, the clarity of the writer’s most ineluctably ambivalent obstacle, the blank page, is open to the creative resolve of its architect, or designer, and the determinability of the subsequent people with whom the page is shared — its observers and interpreters. Limitless potentialities encoded within this blank slate—like the human tabula rasa in an original condition, unassuming and open-ended, yet still confined to the properties of paper; what fruit can a dead tree bear? At first approach, the expressionless face on the page is as pernicious as it is beneficent to the mentally knotted creative agent. Attempts at untying the tangled thoughts are as frustrating as the initial introduction into tying shoelaces is for the preferably-barefoot child hurried off to preschool as the bus driver impatiently honks for his arrival.
If history is any indicator of what I would probably do with a blank sheet of paper—8X10 inches, college ruled or computer-printer paper—then within minutes that hapless page would be tattooed, header to footer, in twisting images, gazing doodles, and sporadic ramblings and metaphors—quick smatterings of poetry spattered and splayed (I only ever make it to the sixth stanza in iambic pentameter)—and various other bleedings from my personal pen, which never does seem to write quite as I’d wish.
Let’s take a ludic trip upon the hypothesized notion of a noteworthy piece of paper. In a rather erroneous fashion, one might suggest that such “thought-experiments” are, in fact, child’s play, merely games for the charlatan intelligentsia; appropriated, disguisedly, as philosophically intriguing inquiries, to ascertain inane “what ifs” about superficial subjects that would invoke no noticeable response from the evident analytical philosopher. To this specious claim, I would say: consider the idea of the freedom implicit in the arrangement of “blank paper.” A rather common, if not everyday, occurrence—to have a blank paper before us, though in this day and nation we have replaced the page with the homepage—nonetheless, to what extent can the average, or even above-average, person express him or herself, i.e. their private mental configurations, personal thoughts, ideas, experiences, and so on? As we try to convey meaning using relatively limited tools (i.e., gestures, speech, pictorial representations, and the written word) the reality of communication becomes quite stark due to how nearly impossible it is to ascribe a singular, correct meaning to the acts we perform. Hence, the freedom of the blank page is one aspect of this vexing dualism; tout court, the absolute freedom to do as we wish with the blank page, on the one hand, and the impalpability of intrapersonal compositions on the other. We shouldn’t be too quick to find this an apprehensive circumstance of our existence. Instead, we have the option of welcoming the multiplicity of meanings, the diversity of interpretations, the enlarged purview that allows for our inherently constraining language to be received with abounding possibilities by a general audience.
By writing this arguably prolix explanation I will irritate evermore the semantic nerve. Again addressing the question, “what would I do with a blank sheet of paper?” I feel inclined to raise our attentions to the intricacies of the word “paper” itself. Although I’ve gone on ad nauseam about the apparent value versus disvalue, or undervalue, extractable from the anterior portion of the coupling—blank—I’d like to now direct an impertinent finger towards the forest of trees—paper. Would it be ironic of me to want to use my blank sheet to write to my congressperson upbraiding the system’s unsympathetic, cavalier exploitation of the fragile balance of nature? Would my whited sepulcher paper over the certainty of my contribution to the delinquency of a country, or would I be disputed as a dissembler? Either way, in order to explicate the inconsiderateness of our industrial progression it would be necessary for me to abase myself by adding to the veritable paper jam in the photocopier that our culture’s splayed-out, bare-ass is pressed flush against. Funny, I didn’t realize this before, but the word “paper” has become synonymous with “throwaway.” I suppose it can’t be too big a shock, considering what landfill-inclined derivatives the ad-libber would expectedly arrive at given such word games as “paper ______,” or how about, “paper ______.” Even flippantly these still connote the paper-product’s doomed, short life-span, being almost immediately disposed of once taken-off-the-shelf.
Paper nautilus. Paper chase. Paper wasps. ALONG. Paper trail. UP. Paperbark. WHILE. Paper-pusher. ORGANIZES. Paperweight. BESIDE. Paperclips. IN THE AGE OF THE. Paperless. OFFICE. Paperwork. ASIDE. Paperhangers. Papered. AND. Paper-pusher. CRACKED. Papershells. WITH. Paperknife. Paper profit. BANKED AS. Paper money. IS BATHED IN BY. Paper tigers. SUCH AS IT IS A. Paper economy. INJUSTICE. Paperbound. LOW-PRICED IN. Paperback. A. Paper-based. SOCIETY RUNNING ON. Paper-thin. ETHICS. Paper route. UNDERCUT BY COMPETITION AND THE. Paper cutters. ABSENT OF ANY. Paperboard. EVENTUALLY. Paper-trained. CHILDREN RELIEVE THEMSELVES IN THE PRESENCE OF ANY. Papery. PRODUCT. COLLECT YOUR THINGS IN THE—papeterie—AND BE ON YOUR WAY.
However, if this empty leaf of papyrus was to be taken as a special case, if from this pallid thin quadrangle folio I sought to make significant and great something I would otherwise use as alleviatory—i.e. for mental discharges—my response to the invitingly intimidating abysmal page would be an aberrant intention to dispense my finalized work to the masses in an effort to effect change and make pregnant the minds of my audience with my printed seed. It would be necessary to utilize every square-inch of plane-surface to textualize all thoughts, visualize all images, and, hence, conceptualize all mind, indeed an abstract zone where heeding the direction of The Wise Sage is principal. Here, my purpose is to extricate my theories, formulated and incomplete; my desires, acceptable and deplorable; my fears, rational and senseless; my questions, scholarly and inane…to generalize, all aspects of my humanity. Certainly, in the process particularities of which I am currently unaware will be brought to light by reflection after having since been concealed in the oblivion of contented unconsciousness.
With this single parchment—copied, printed, and propagated via the appropriate means of dissemination—I will point to all who lay eye on this microcosm of life-events and ask them to explain what they see. The interrogated philologist might discover to my avail that the proffered text is palimpsest, and inform me of true meaning; whereas, what I’ve coincidentally created is merely old news. I would never, though, take ownership of ideas that I recognize as continual, pervasive, and really attributable to us all under the umbrella of that curiously invasive sheath over every child, woman, and man’s cognizance—the collective unconscious. For me, passive resistance of encroaching catalepsy is the best method conducive to propinquity with the Apollonian warmth of knowledge.
More than likely, and if history’s any indication, the proffered page will end up looking mimetic of those hapless pages of yester-sentence; now creased, wrinkled, oblong orbs by the wayside of my wastebin, serving best now as studies of light and shadow. Now, that isn’t to say that, if this be the case, the singular blank sheet of paper hypothesized, which I ventured to encapsulate the universe, would have been for not. Undoubtedly, this exercise would have served a pivotal purpose as the start of something significant and great.