A Shiny Pebble In An Empty Fanta Bottle, Or The Essayist On His Method Of Writing Essays

As someone who has written essays from my youth [1], I have from time to time mused on the essay as a form and on the sort of thought process that goes into mind as a writer.  There are some people, perhaps many people, who view this sort of task as being egotistical and self-absorbed, and for a long time it has bothered me that what I view as an essentially harmless tendency to blather on at length about subjects of personal interest to me was viewed with such fierce criticism at times.  After all, I have never sought to force people to read what I write.  Those who come here (or anywhere else I have written) have done so on their own free will, and though I appreciate the conversation that can result when words fitly chosen reach those who are willing and able to respond to them thoughtfully, more often my writing is like a child at a seashore tossing pebbles into the sea and enjoying the splash they make and the pattern of ripples that comes off of them as they sink into the pond.

In that light, it is perhaps surprising that I have not until very recently took it upon myself to read about what other essayists have thought about the essay.  I am far from alone in being a prolific essayist, nor have I shied away from reading the essays of others, some of which have been of comfort and encouragement and inspiration to me, at least with the recognition that I am not alone in the universe by writing in this form that combines structure with the apparent naturalness of a lack of method, with writing that combines an apparent openness of the inner workings of my tormented mind with the artful selection of (usually) intelligent and well-organized thoughts that are hopefully more like shiny pearls of wisdom than they are like the jagged pebbles that one walks over on a gravel driveway or that at least one mischievous boy growing up in rural central Florida found upon tearing up the road outside of the home where he grew up to use as ammunition for his slingshot.

I have found, much to my pleasure and delight, that many other people who have written essays have thought about their own writings of the essays in similar ways that I have, in ways that suggest that at least some sort of poetics of the essay may be found for those of us who engage in the task, and that we have independently, by virtue of trying out the essay and assaying as unsystematic writers of short nonfiction out of the scraps of experience that we have had, in quests for gout medicine or tasty Thai food that have proven to be much more epic than we had in mind, or in our travels or readings or insomniatic ruminations about conversations with others that have gone disastrously awry or any number of things, come to similar conclusions about this jagged pebble of an art that we call the essay.  After all, it takes a certain amount of egotism to think that someone else cares about our opinion about what we have to say about life and experiences and about the subjects that roll around in our heads.  It is one thing to bore people about such material at dinner, where we may drone on and not notice people nodding off or desperately searching for their walking stick and coat to brave the Portland rain rather than to brave another half an hour of bloviation on one topic or another, but it is another to spend hours every day writing material in the expectation that anyone will be interested in reading it.  It is not surprising that my own personal essays are the least read of my writings, for in order to seek out such works one has to care about the writer as a person, and that is not really a common thing.

Ultimately, the jagged pebble of essays, especially personal essays, can be a charming thing.  Once upon a time as a young man I went to the Feast of Tabernacles on the coast of Chile.  During that feast I helped translate messages from Spanish to English, unsuccessfully asked out four daughters in the same family, and spent the better part of an evening searching for a young lady who had decided to vanish for a few hours without telling anyone where she was going or who she was with.  I bought a samurai sword and some books in Spanish to read, and spent hours describing the art deco architecture of Valpariso and Viña del Mar for a blind person who was traveling with us, as well as searching for penguins on an area not too far from the estate where former Chilean dictator Augustin Pinochet hid in retirement from attempts to extradite him to justice in Europe for his crimes against the leftists of his nation.  And one other thing I did during that trip as well that I remember among the other odd experiences of watching direct-to-video Disney sequels to the Little Mermaid in Spanish was taking an empty Fanta bottle and filling it with shiny and jagged pebbles that I thought looked nice.  In many ways, being an essayist is like doing that, and sometimes you are the only person pleased with the art that you have made about of the effluvia of one’s existence.  But it’s better when someone else looks at the bottle full of rocks and asks where you got those rocks as if they find it at lest a little bit beautiful themselves.

[1] See, for example:






About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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