Although I enjoyed, highlighted, and internally responded to a lot of what we read this week, I will try to narrow the focus of this post to a few of the notions mentioned by A.C. Benson in “The Art of the Essayists.” As I was reading Benson’s essay, I felt myself nodding along and growing increasingly excited with his perspective on how the essayists must “be interested rather than displeased by the differences in human beings and their varied theories.” One could argue that this outlook can benefit all writers, (or potentially all people) but his emphasis on the need for essayists to appreciate experiences, and the “inconsistencies of humanity” is exemplified in the essays that we read in class this week, and is helping to shape my new understanding of what an essay is. Since Tuesday, I have been racking my brain trying to figure out if I’m just missing a huge chunk of my academia by not being able to recall much essay writing. Yes, I’ve written pieces that are essay-ish, and surely I’ve done work that resembles the composition of an essay, but I can’t help feeling a pang of disappointment that I am just now discovering, at least on a larger scale, how beneficial this type of writing can be. Why didn’t I do more of this kind of writing in high school and undergrad? Before this week, would I have been able to really explain the difference “between real essays and the things one has to write in school?” I can’t help but feel that this style of writing could help offset some of the stress students feel at writing thesis statements, and having conviction in their writing. That more essay writing could help students to understand the point of writing lies not in the product, but in the process. I’m simplifying here (and maybe coming off a little idealistic) but if students were given more space and time to work with these “little problems,” “soggy patches” and “floating ideas” and were given a chance for “exploration rather than persuasion,” they might come to appreciate the process of writing, and the way writing is meant to help us all think. They might start to understand that writing is essentially a way of thinking, and understanding our thoughts, rather than a rigid tool we use to prove points and persuade.
I can’t, in 400 words (or maybe at all) presume to answer my own questions, but after reading Didion and Benson, my first thoughts turn not only to my academic experience, but to my future classroom and how this sort of self-absorption and reflection can lead to larger understandings of complex issues, or at the very least, teach our students that it’s good to be confused by these complex matters. That everything can’t be reduced to a final summary, or conclusive paragraphs. Of course it’s importance to help students find structure in their writing, and the 5 paragraph essay format can help students to do that, but I think we should balance these formulas with notebooks, creative writing, composition of essays in their true form, and exploration of little “sublime moments” that so often breed inspiration from daily life and teach us about ourselves.