In ‘Cross Section,’ I found my voice

Zoe Cheng | Daily Trojan

Here it is, my last “Cross Section” column (of the semester, at least). This column will not continue into the spring semester, and the future after that is somewhat uncertain. Certainly there are a number of Daily Trojan website commenters who will be happy; maybe even the part of me that wants to focus now on building my screenwriting portfolio as I move through my final years at the cinema school is also happy. But after almost a year of publishing piece after piece, week after week, it feels right to conclude with a reflection of where this column took me, and where I began.

I started writing “Cross Section” the semester after the November 2016 election, when I was feeling angry and powerful and nervous and sad, all at the same time. At first, I felt like I was surely giving someone more insight into how the world operates and how I see change happening in our society, for better or for worse — though I wasn’t sure whom. Who I was impacting, what impression I was leaving, if I was even making a dent in people’s consciences at all, I didn’t know. But almost immediately, I began to realize that I was. There was feedback, constructive and destructive, but both helpful. There were people who shared my articles, people who liked them and hated them, and that meant something to me. I was being read.

As I continued to write for the Daily Trojan, a curious phenomenon arose: an anxiety that grew large and ran concurrent to the deterioration of this country’s democratic principles. Working through them via “Cross Section,” a weekly routine, became almost therapeutic. But it was also hard: Part of me was telling myself that no one wanted to read another column with the same themes as the one before it, and the one before that. Still, I do believe that there are some things in this current political climate that deserve to be stated more than once. The fact that there are still people who do not matter to those in charge is an issue that will never diminish in urgency, even in the face of being considered repetitive.

Art by Sara Lev | Daily Trojan

Everything I’ve written has been a response to some news story (usually political, usually bad), and the very negative and sometimes almost passive tone these pieces can take on is not lost on me. Sometimes it felt like lamenting more than analyzing, my columns littered with the same set of buzzwords: privilege, systematic, patriarchy. And as time went on the columns got harder to write, indubitably because everything began bleeding together and I — like much of America — felt tired. Just as I felt defeated and worn down by politics, I also began to feel similarly about my columns: They were hard to write, sometimes emotionally so.

But there was one particular way that “Cross Section” helped me: through it, I pinpointed my voice. I defined it, and wore it proudly. There was no questioning that writing every week about a different political topic, sometimes controversial (although it still baffles me how calling for effective gun control legislation, or the simple idea that all people are created equal, is controversial) was both a creative and personal risk.

From a very microcosmic perspective of the craft, I never truly know what I’ll be writing until I start writing it. That goes with all my work, creative or not. Outlining, preparing, research aside — it is the draw of creating characters and building story and the beauty of language that makes me love what I do. Writing “Cross Section” was a different type of writing than I have been used to, but I saw that I came to love it almost as much as I do my screenwriting. Over time, I told different stories with varying language. But the main character was always me — my voice, developing, changing. Though it may be hard to name, I leave this column with something I didn’t have when it began.

Zoe Cheng is a junior majoring in writing for screen and television. Her column, “Cross Section,” ran Tuesdays.