Of late, I find that I truly do not know what exactly I would bring to an op-ed. Yes, I know what the topic is that I want to write about, but beyond that ... I end up surprised to some degree at how I wove together the ideas, and I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment. I marvel at the process, which seems mysterious.
While I am only a wannabe essayist, I am excited to want to belong to that group. I always wonder how the accomplished and celebrated essayists do it. Are their practices vastly different from mine? Is there something that I can pick up from them?
In this vocation of mine, it is not as if I can hire coaches, unlike how Tiger Woods or Novak Djokovic have their own personal coaches. Other writers then become my unpaid consultants.
One of those consultants made my day! Charles D’Ambrosio says:
The essay isn’t a form for know-it-alls, though it’s often used that way, which is probably a leftover expository habit we all pick up in grade school. Mostly I try to write about what I don’t know, which is so vast, so very much the larger part of my existence, and I guess as a result my threshold for surprise is set pretty low. Every one of these pieces surprised the shit out of me. Sometimes I’m just surprised to learn that I think what I think. It’s kind of an article of faith for me that if you aren’t taken by surprise in the process of putting words on paper then you’re only writing about what you already know, you’re trucking in conclusions. I need a crisis, I’m courting failure, the possibility of silence, because it’s only at that moment that I actually need to find words, new words hopefully. This is a writing thing, a method, however harebrained, but it’s also personal, a way of being—and they’re related, I think. A pundit like Anne Coulter’s prose suffers not because she can’t write a decent sentence but because she can’t complicate the speaker. Her ideological certainties are already baked into her sentences, so right or wrong, she’s a tiresome read. There’s no crisis, therefore no surprise. The solution for me is to dramatize the problem of thinking about the problem, presenting that spectacle, and some of the narrative umph, I guess, comes from the cliffhanger: is this going to makes sense or not? The outcome of any given essay is truly uncertain, right up to the deadline –and in some cases even past that.Indeed!
As I have often noted, quite a few of the posts at this blog are on topics in which I am far from fluent. I shouldn't even be opining about those, yet that's what excites me, though that might be the very reason that I am in the twilight of a mediocre career. I increasingly find it to be boring to write only on topics that are too familiar to me. Now, after reading that unpaid consultant's thoughts, I am all the happier that I am doing alright.
Anything else, oh consultant?
I feel like we live in this fucked up surplus economy where you can get cheap answers just about everywhere but real questions are in desperately short supply. It makes me feel lonely because I’m spending my life over in the other economy, an economy of need, with a ton of questions that, in all likelihood, will never get answered. I’d like to say bad answers isolate and good questions create community but I doubt I could defend that, not this late at night. Like a lot of people, I’m searching, not for answers, but for the questions that make answers necessary; meanwhile, we’ve got such a glut of answers that it’s kind of like, who cares? And why? The streets are fucking paved with answers! Just like the road to hell.
I’m very tired –and stoned on Fanta (orange).
To come down out of the clouds, in these essays my only real answer is in the act, the doing, so in the end I know I’ve said something where before there was only silence and I’ve made something where before there was nothing. That may seem like a pitifully small victory but sometimes it gets me by just to answer that emptiness.
Hey, at least one unpaid coach seems to be green-lighting my thinking and writing.