On Finding and / or Breaking Patterns and Writing Essays

One day during a creative nonfiction workshop in my MFA, we discovered that several of us were wearing knit sweaters with horizontal stripes on them. I don’t think the knit, striped sweater was particularly more fashionable that year (but maybe it was – I’m not usually in the know as far as current fashion trends go), so much as it was purely coincidental that so many of us were wearing them that day.

My professor asked for anyone wearing one to stand up and, in turn, see if the sweater was manufactured in such a way so that the stripes on the torso matched up with the ones on the sleeves when the arms hung down naturally. Some matched, others did not.

At first, it struck me as a funny thing to do — to interrupt a graduate class to observe this trivial thing that was outside the scope of our important course readings and workshop essays. But I found, to my surprise, in this seemingly small observation of a pattern, that I had a curious response to it.

Oddly, I felt gratified to see a sweater match up with its sleeves. But towards the sweaters that didn’t line up, but were offset by an inch, I was bothered like an itch. It’s not the matched-up sweaters I remember, but one particular offset one that I can recall most vividly now — there was orange in it, and blue I think. I wanted to fix it, bunch the sleeves up to properly align the colours with the other stripes. At least, I wanted to do so in my mind (I didn’t actually want to do the physical work of unravelling and re-knitting the sleeves).

I believe that it’s common to our humanity to seek for patterns, and to be pleased and delighted when we find them. It allows us to put order to seeming randomness.

But what about when patterns are broken?

As I’ve thought back to the knit striped sweater episode, I’ve been reminded that personal essays are often about disparate things brought together, and written about in some sort of make-sense-edness way, which is like finding a pattern or even a series of patterns, and then presenting these in a way so that the reader can observe it, too.

But it has also occurred to me that essays are also about considering the brokenness of patterns: the two stripes that don’t quite line up, the ones that you wish they would.

It’s the broken pattern, after all, that catches our attention.

If you see books lined up on a shelf, pleasingly color-coordinated and arranged by height, and stacked to fit perfectly snug in the space provided, you are probably not going to notice all the details of the intricate patterns that go into making a shelf of perfectly lined books. At least, not at first.

Rather, your eyes are likely going to be drawn to the two books that are at an odd angle. They break the pattern. This is the point of interest: the two books slightly leaning on their side. Maybe you even want to fix them, the image calling for an action. But if you did try, you’d soon realize that they don’t quite fit perfectly in the space provided. But it’s close though – less than an inch off.

Life does not usually line up perfectly. And when it doesn’t, it catches our attention: often we don’t see the pattern until it is interrupted. It makes life interesting. And it gives us something to write about.

Readers who have been following the blog for awhile have probably observed that there are a few patterns across my blog posts. Some of these I intentionally created for purposes of consistency. Others were embedded simply for my own personal delight. And some I pleasantly discovered after the fact, and when I found them, thought it would be fun to see how long I could continue with them.

As I’ve continued my blog, any time I’ve come to a point in which I’ve broken a pattern, I feel some pang of regret and remorse for having done so. So this post is a reminder to me of both the importance of patterns, and also the necessity in sometimes breaking them (even if I may be bothered by it). But who knows – it may be in the break that the pattern is discovered.


Question: What patterns have you observed lately?


Bonus Question:  What patterns and / or breaks in patterns can you find across my blog?

Gift: For a bit of added fun and incentive, to the person who finds the most patterns / breaks and comments first about them on this post, I will send you my second copy of The Art of the Personal Essay.

Guidelines: The patterns / breaks in patterns don’t need to be ones that I’ve intentionally created or have even seen myself. Rather, they only have to be observable. When you find one, make a comment on this post. You can comment multiple times: one for each pattern / break you find. Or you can write several observations in a single post. But remember, it’s a first-observed-and-commented-on, first-pointed, basis. You have from now until I publish my next post.

Where to Look: To find my previously published posts, you can go to 1) the “All-Things Bookish” [now “Archives” on banner] page (organized by category) 2) the Menu at the top left (archived by month) 3) the home page (backwards chronological, with the oldest ones at the bottom), or 4) the “Blog Library” on the top centre (listed by category, though this is incomplete).

Have fun!!!