I just read an essay by G.K. Chesterton and it delighted me. It made me think about the genre of essays and how they are like and unlike blogs.
I know there are readers who wish I had more pictures, but I can’t help thinking that all I have is lambs – they are all cute, but you know, they are all lambs and since my flock is fairly genetically landlocked for the moment – they all pretty much look alike – either black with a white spot on the head, or Barbados-y white with brown and black points. Is it Hawaii that you want more pictures of? Glenwood is hardly your typical Hawaii. It rains. It rains a lot. The sky is gray, the grass is shaggy and overgrown, and the trees are green and gray and brown. There’s a sea of mud where the animals walk the most, and there is chicken shit everywhere – which is one reason I am grateful for rain – and, umm, mean dogs who don’t allow chickens on my porch. (I am less grateful for them when they are not tied up and decide chasing sheep is so much more fun than snapping at wandering hens).
I have to admit, in the main part, writing a blog is more like taking an essay test than writing a really good essay, at least most of the times. Sometimes, I will spend the time walking around and thinking and polishing, but mostly, I just sit down and write. Like any essay test, there is some time spent working on rethinking a word or testing an idea (I love watching kids write essay tests – they stop and squint at the ceiling, move their hands and lips and eyes, bend their heads to their papers or key board and jump back into the world of ideas), but it is a single burst of time.
I like both kinds of writing – in an essay test, when you have a prompt, and it is like a puzzle, what is it that this person who assessing me is asking for – how can I get them to join in this conversation with me? I like that sustained burst of energy when you are focused on the word, and the idea, and how to put the two together.
I also like how it feels to craft a longer piece. In college and graduate school, that meant getting out and walking or riding a bike and thinking. My feet were moving, but my mind was moving more. I plan my curriculum like that, too. Walking around, feeding sheep and watering plants in the greenhouse and thinking about what’s next, who got it and who didn’t – and how do I help them get it and what if, what if? I talk to myself while stirring the pasta or taking a shower. My family thinks I am nuts, I am sure. Sometimes, I am so deep in thought, I wonder whether I was talking outloud - and if so, did it make the slightest bit of sense?
It’s the same and not the same as extended writing, though – writing as a student where the writing is the learning. When I blog, I have an audience and I guess I mean to be entertaining (sometimes succeeding more than others). When I teach, I have an audience, but I also have a focus, and end goal. When I wrote an essay in school, I had an audience in the teacher, but I mostly had the audience of myself and my own learning, and the subtle, quiet conversation you have with authors who may be living or dead, but in either case, you will never get to know them and really know – but you have this glimpse of someone else’s world.
So, I guess it’s not the writing that I miss so much, it’s the way writing slows down your thinking so you can find all the layers you are flying by when you are talking. It’s the ideas that I miss. There is nothing like that excitement of a new idea, like a hunt, finding it in a lecture or a poem, essay, or novel, tracking it down, making your own sense of it. There is nothing like that. I am in tears that I can only get my struggling readers to glimpse that feeling – if I could unlock that for them, how much more open their lives would be.