The Occasional Essay: Redefining Value
As a writer sits and processes, they hold the strongest thing in their hand which is a pencil. A pencil allows a writer to express their true feelings towards a subject and struggle through a topic together. This pencil is our friend in this process. Contemplating where are we going in this journey or even in this broad topic? A pencil is our aid in the chaos of our mind, and helps us decide which path to take.
The whole point of writing is to provide our point of view, and this can prove to be difficult in our society today. There are two types of writing that are quite varying nonfiction and fiction writing. No matter what type of writing one chooses to partake in, a pencil is necessary to convey our ideas. This pencil will aid us in choosing which road we will choose, fiction or nonfiction. Society pressures the pencil to be in one form because this is what is easy. Fiction is a means of an escape into another world. The pencil paints this beautiful journey in which the readers are jumping amidst the chaos and in a sense continue to struggle until this magical conclusion in which everything is perfect in the end. Fiction is the place in which the pencil’s creativity is forced into a box to have certain qualities and be a certain way. While the choice of non-fiction allows the pencil the time and creativity to be whatever it needs to be. An essay plays a large role in the process of non-fiction writing. The essay is an undiscovered secret that the pencil is willing to let you in on, if you will try this. The essay is the place in which you can struggle and write about anything. An essay can’t be defined into a box and made to be something it’s not. An essay allows the writer and the pencil to go on a journey to struggle and show the processing of their minds. An essay can be about something as mundane as taking a walk and lead to something so spectacular that your mind presents.
In this grand journey the pencil can take you on, there is a huge issue. Phillip Lopate presents this issue within his essay Curiouser and Curiouser. Writing has been forced into a box in where everything must contain flowery language which is beautiful within itself, but does every piece of writing need to have cinematic appeal? Lopate discusses how non-fiction writing has been forced into a direction to read like a short story. “Creative nonfiction allows nonfiction writers to use literary techniques usually used only by fiction writers, such as scene-setting, description, dialogue, action, suspense, plot. All those things that make terrific short stories and novels allow the nonfiction writer to tell true stories in the most cinematic and dramatic way possible. That’s creative nonfiction” (Lopate 3). Fiction is covered with sensory language and flowery appeal if you could call it that.
The important issue that I see in this essay is that our society no longer wishes to analyze and think while they are reading. It is a rare thing for someone to even read nonfiction, none the less try to write it. Lopate is trying to illustrate through his essay the power that creativity of an essay holds. An essay shows the thought processes of the writer, and there is true strength in this. “In the best nonfiction, it seems to me you’re always made aware that you are reflecting, by being engaged with a mind at work, not falling into a dream” (Lopate 3). Furthermore, I find it difficult to accept that we no longer try to reflect on how the mind processes and entangles itself in figuring out an answer. Lopate presents the true creativity and potential that this occasional essay writing can possess. Now what even is an essay? I will try to define what writing the occasional essay is in the hopes that writers will long to struggle in thought and fall in love with the essay again.
An essay is such a broad term, that it proved difficult for me to define what the occasional means to me. As I began to process what an essay meant, I thought of the process of thought. While I was trying to scramble through my mind I realized this is exactly what an essay is. Writing the occasional essay truly means just the thought process and reflecting on a given topic. An essay is a map of the writer’s mind, the struggle that is present. The writer shows a piece of themselves to their readers, it shows the best thing you can give which is your reflection. While the writer struggles trying to flow from sentence to sentence trying to convey their desired message, the reader get’s a vision into this mind map. The writing of an occasional essay is a term I would call the mind map. It presents a map showing the strategies and the flow of a mind at work. Lopate states “what makes me want to keep reading a nonfiction text is the encounter with a surprising, well-stocked mind as it takes on the challenge of the next sentence, paragraph, thematic problem it sets itself” (Lopate 3). What is an essay but a “well-stocked mind” at work, and at reflection? The beauty within essay writing is the freedom to struggle and think about anything.
Furthermore, the work of David Foster Wallace exemplifies this idea of struggling in thought with the readers. Wallace takes something as mundane and simple as let’s say a lobster festival to relate to something so grandeur and larger than this small gathering. Within Wallace’s essay Consider the Lobster, there is a mind at work. Wallace begins discussing a festival where lobsters are the main attraction of sorts. Lobsters are covering every inch of this party lobster cakes, fried lobster, basically anything you can imagine. The writer conveys a very positive and festive tone to draw his readers in. Wallace is going through a thought process trying to decide where do I turn next? He strategizes to link his curiosity about lobsters in general. As this mind map of the essay is presented, Wallace completely goes to the focus of the festival. The lobster in general is discussed and even their make and anatomy. As Wallace battles with his thoughts, he steers towards the focus of the essay. Sentence by sentence Wallace realizes the focus of the essay and suddenly switches tone rapidly.
Finally, the tone switches from fun and entertaining to heavy and confronting. Finally, Wallace presents this huge issue that is being presented into his mind “so here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the US: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure” (Wallace 246). As a reader, I felt a battle within myself as I could see Wallace was doing himself through the essay. It was like we both were struggling together to figure this concept out. For instance, Wallace even brings his own voice into this essay by admitting exactly what I was reflecting on. How I can deal with this issue of cruelty now that I see how ethically wrong it is? Wallace chimes in with “As far as I can tell, my own way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing” (Lopate 246.) Wallace is reflecting on this issue just as I was. This essay is flooded with reflection and presenting a mind at work. This exemplifies exactly what an essay is.
While reading and studying Wallace’s essay, I truly felt empowered and curious. I feel that Wallace’s essay form allows for his readers and him to be curious together. Where does this issue go and what will occur next? Curiosity is what drives an essay, and I appreciate that Wallace revealed this to me. Since I began this course, I have discovered how powerful nonfiction is, and appreciate this genre so much more. I can see how fiction has its place in society, but as long as there is curiosity in our world essay writing will continue. The question this presents about our culture is do people still long to struggle in thought? Since fiction writing is so popular and prevalent, it makes me wonder if we have lost our curiosity about our world. I never thought that fiction writing could be seen as a dream to escape into. I hope that I am wrong about this. Will curiosity continue and essay writing remain strong?
Lopate, Phillip. “Curiouser and Curiouser: The Practice of Nonfiction Today.” Speech.
Wallace, David Foster. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. Print.