…I learned that an Op-Ed is actually a term used to distinguish between the opinions of the editorial board (an editorial), and the opinions of other authors and staff writers—me. I learned it is also short for “opposite the editorial,” not opinion and editorial…go figure.
I also learned that the sales pitch that convinced me to apply for a position on the Op-Ed staff could not have been further from the truth. In an early meeting for wannabe writers, the Op-Ed editor assured us that writing for Op-Ed was easy. All you had to do was have an opinion.
Yeah, sure, I could do that. I had opinions about stuff, I knew I did. But damn—where were they when I needed them?
In writing for Op-Ed, I learned something about myself and how I think about the world. Writing for Op-Ed was far from easy, and many Sunday nights, with the clock ticking ever so closely to my deadline, left me pacing the halls of my dorm room and stopping in the front of the mirror: did I really believe in what I was writing?
More than anything, I learned that where I once thought of myself as clever and articulate, I turned out to be helplessly ignorant about the world and even about my own self. Publishing opinions in the newspaper is like picking pieces of myself and putting them on interrogation each week. Finding those pieces of myself is intimidating; it is often times easier to just simply forget about them; to harbor them away in some vault deep inside myself, behind locked doors. When the time came for me to call one to the page, it was like being told an unpleasant secret where my heart lodged itself in my throat. How do know how to pick the right one?
I could not just have opinions; those are too fickle. I partly disagree with men who cross their legs at the knee, rather than by placing their ankle at their knee. But I could never actually write that. It was, objectively, wrong and indefensible, a knee-jerk opinion. Perhaps it was because I found it feminine or simply because I was more comfortable sitting one way and not the other, but regardless, it was a small detail that partly shaped my life; the fact that such an opinion was so weak was some indicator that the shell of my life was weak. The shape of my identity was a chain where if one weak link were to break, it could reshape me entirely. I was revealing small parts of myself one article and one opinion at a time and I wanted them to be good. To be relatable and thought provoking and to capture a small part of the experience of Lawrence through the experiences of what it was like to simply be me. What could I choose to share? What is my identity as a writer? Where do I want to plant my flag on a weekly basis? Do I want to criticize Lawrence and call for it to be better? Or do I want to simply delight in the reasons that I have decided to stay here and not transfer? Do I want to write about national issues? Or politics? Or religion? Do I even know enough about national issues and the world around me to say something about it? What do I know at all? Perhaps it is best to simply take the easy way out. I cannot ever know anything and neither can anyone else. All of life is a series of questions whose answers lead only to more questions—to steal from some of the ideas of Freshman Studies. Thanks, Feynman. But what sort of an opinion would that be? What a constant struggle it is and has been to sift through all my opinions and ideas to prune out not only the ones I feel are most true to me, but the most objectively true as well. For even my best ideas, the ones I have deemed worthy enough for print, it is not merely enough to say that I believe that the grade-checking system at Lawrence is inadequate because I want it to be more convenient for me or that I actually enjoy the sub-zero wind chill because it makes me feel like an actual Viking, but then I have to stand by it. I need the evidence to back myself, which is equally daunting and, more than anything, has been a constant practice in self-reflection and fact-searching than it has in ever persuading any readers. To put it another way, I need to persuade myself first.
Maybe Lawrence has rubbed off on me. I am actually changing the way I approach problems and thinking about the world around me. Freshman Studies, which has constantly felt like pulling teeth, has actually indoctrinated me with this terrible sense of questioning and in my weekly, ritualistic self-interrogation on behalf of the newspaper every week, I often stop to question myself: what actually is my opinion?
For my final piece, I can say that it is this: the Op-Ed section is great and I love it. I also believe that my intuitions about Op-Ed before I started were not entirely right. Op-Ed may be a place for persuasion or a spark to open dialogue in a public sphere, but, for me, this is merely a byproduct. The Op-Ed section of a newspaper is for the author to refine ideas. There is no better place to refine an idea into the purest and strongest form of itself than under the pressure of an audience. Everybody should write. And write a lot. If you have opinion that you cannot articulate clearly enough to be written down or if you cannot come up with the necessary facts or experiences to defend your opinion well enough that you’d be confident thrusting it into the public sphere through a real publication, then that opinion is simply unwarranted. Write, because it does the important thing an Op-Ed is supposed to do: not convince or persuade others of your point of view, but try to answer at least one essential question—what is it that you believe?