The Self and the Changing World

Analytical Essay:

Of the billions of people on the planet, all of them have different experiences. Eventually, unfortunate things happen to them. Something as simple as a new, inconvenient class schedule at school, or something as serious as the death of a loved one. When these things happen, some sort of lifestyle change occurs. Maybe, as a result of the schedule change, a student has to wake up earlier. Or maybe, as a result of a spouse’s death, a man has to live without a wife. People can change, but change isn’t easy. All people have and need a coping mechanism in order to survive their changing world.

In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Jimmy Cross is a platoon leader in charge of O’Brien and a group of American soldiers in Vietnam during the war. Cross is still infatuated with a his teenage crush, Martha, from years ago. This quote on page 1 shows his obsession: “he [Cross] would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there.” Cross is still attached to Martha not just because he can’t help it, but because it’s his way of coping with being a soldier in Vietnam. Each day, their troop wakes up at dawn, walks practically the whole day, then sleeps for a few hours. Day in and day out. It’s understandable that Cross needs to remember Martha to remember what home was like and to remember that if all goes well, he can get back to her.

On page 239, O’Brien explains the importance of storytelling during wartime to the reader: “We kept the dead alive with stories. When Ted Lavender was shot in the head, the men talked about how they'd never seen him so mellow, how tranquil he was, how it wasn't the bullet but the tranquilizers that blew his mind. He wasn't dead, just laid-back.” By telling each other stores, O’Brien and his comrades can, for a little while, escape the war, socialize, and have fun. A good story engages the listener and takes him or her into a different world. Without them, it would be much harder for the soldiers to deal with the gruelling daily routine. Storytelling is another coping mechanism that O’Brien and company utilize to survive the ever-changing war.

On page 33, O’Brien describes the character of Ted Lavender, a fellow soldier: “Like when Ted Lavender went too heavy on the tranquilizers. ‘How's the war today?’ somebody would say, and Ted Lavender would give a soft, spacey smile and say, ‘Mellow, man. We got ourselves a nice mellow war today.’” The tranquilizers make him sleepy and happy but still able to walk, so they’re the perfect mechanism to make the world a little more tolerable. Soldiers in Vietnam, particularly O’Brien’s crew, had to walk miles and miles every day. Without a coping mechanism like tranquilizers, they wouldn’t be able to deal with the drudging routine of war.

Here’s a quote from O’Brien in an interview published in the New York Times: “Storytelling is the essential human activity. The harder the situation, the more essential it is. In Vietnam men were constantly telling one another stories about the war. Our unit lost a lot of guys around My Lai, but the stories they told stay around after them. I would be mad not to tell the stories I know.” Again, the soldiers tell stories to other soldiers so that they can briefly escape the war they’re in. “The harder the situation, the more essential it is,” implies that O’Brien has been in plenty of difficult situations and probably has experience where storytelling was necessary at varying degrees to tolerate and get through the situation. His account confirms that having a coping mechanism, such as storytelling, is necessary to survive a changing world.

Tranquilizers, stories, and even dreaming, are all coping mechanisms. When people go through tough times, such mechanisms are essential to carrying on with their lives. Coping is simply a part of human survival. Change arrives in some form, and something has to be done to adjust to that change. That’s what coping is, and it’s how change happens in a person.

Works Cited for Analytical Essay:

  • Bruckner, D.J. "A Storyteller For the War That Won't End." New York Times Online. The New York Times. April 3, 1990. Web. October 20, 2009.

  • O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.

Narrative Essay:

One morning, two and a half years ago, my dad gave me an ultimatum. He told me that I had to take up some sort of physical activity. The options he recommended were sports and crossfit. I wasn’t a fan of the competitiveness of most sports and I had never heard of crossfit, so I asked him about crossfit. He explained that it was a fitness regimen for all ages designed to increase cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, speed and strength. I thought that sounded interesting, so I acquiesced.

At the time, I was really skinny for my age and height: 78 pounds. For some reason that I still don’t really understand, I wasn’t hungry often. Even when I was, I usually found whatever I was doing more interesting than food. Though I was told by parents that my weight was unhealthy, I had a bad tendency to ignore them. It didn’t seem unhealthy to me - I was never in pain, and except for occasional pangs of hunger, there weren’t any repercussions.

I started crossfit at the Sweat gym on Main Street, just a few blocks away from my house. I went two days a week to get personal training from Jim, who has been awesome throughout the whole session. I was an awkward kid and I remember saying very little for the first session we had because it was new and scary to me.

Over the next few weeks, I learned a lot of techniques and forms. Deadlifts, presses, front and back squats, cleans, jerks, snatches, and so on, became like second nature to me. Still today they’re embedded in my muscle memory. Knowing form sped up the training process - now I was really doing crossfit. Jim started assigning me actual crossfit workouts. They included a strength and a WOD (“workout of the day”) portion. The strength portion was dedicated to getting PRs (personal records) and the WOD portion was dedicated to completing an amount of exercises as fast as possible or completing as many exercises as possible in a given time.

After a month or so, I was gaining weight. Slowly, but surely - as a kid, I was always growing, but it was happening faster now. My dad had to tell me before I noticed, but when I did, that got me excited. I noticed that I was enjoying crossfit more than I used to. Two months after I started, I went to see the doctor for a checkup. I was now above the eighth percentile in body weight. This is about the time when my trainer opened up his own gym on Ridge Avenue, which is where I worked out from then on.

That’s my favorite part about crossfit, or any sort of exercise regimen. The more you do it, the more accustomed you are to doing it, and the better you get at it, and it’s uphill from there.

Soon, summer ended, and I went back to school - my first year at SLA. Things got complicated pretty quickly. When school ended, I had to take the train to the gym, which made my schedule hectic, given that I get out of school at very different times each weekday. I would walk up the hill on Ridge to the gym, then get driven home by parents. Fortunately, I settled into the not-so-routine routine well enough, and eventually, I went to the gym three times a week.

I did this for about a year and a half. I was gaining weight and increasing in body weight percentile, and the doctor told me during a checkup that my resting heart rate was lower than average (which is a good thing). When 2014 came, Jim bought a new gym. It was this huge, spacious building with a high ceiling just a few blocks away from the previous, and much smaller, location. It was also closer to the train station I got off at, so it was perfect. I went a solid three days a week for months.

Unfortunately, in the recent months in junior year, school caught up with me. I’m still doing crossfit, just at a slower pace - two days a week instead of three. But, crossfit has been immensely helpful in my weight gain process. Two and a half years ago, I was 78 pounds and around the eighth percentile for my weight. Now I’m 128 pounds and nearing the 40th percentile. Crossfit has been the perfect mechanism for me to change myself.