I just read James Thurber’s funny essay about collecting generalizations, instead of tangible objects. Following that, I reread the beginning of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language, which argued that clear thinking leads to clear writing and vice versa. I’m searching for an essay to talk about in my writing seminar with the distinguished professor, Scott Russell Sanders, and trying hard to find something other than Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant to offer up as my favorite essay. (because it’s so famous. It’s featured in Vivien Gornick’s book on the personal essay, The Situation and the Story). For me, that essay does everything and does it so perfectly. It takes a specific personal experience and tells it so that it interests every reader. It touches on huge global issues of racism, of class, of one country’s domination, and yet stirs the universal emotions of the individual. It addresses the adolescent inside us all with the chronic need to save face, to not look foolish. And the essay is a journey, something I particularly value in an essay.
Scott Russell Sanders’ book Earthworks collects many of his most famous essays. The first is about writing the first person singular essay, such as Shooting an Elephant. In it, he refers to the pablum that we all offer up in our speech, in our writing. This mush describes our thinking as well.
I confess to a lot of mushy thoughts and hope that in writing and revising endlessly, both my thinking and writing become more focused.
All of these essays have me concentrating on phrases in our discourse that are so common to become meaningless or are meaningless even if they are rare. Here are some that come quickly to my mind:
“You know what I mean?”
“Misuse of “like,” as in “I was, like, so excited.”
“In any event…”
Can you supply others to my collection?