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August 31, 2008


Merci bien, Beth. (Ca)c'est vrais. J'essaye aussi.

A wonderful, well thought out essay, Beth! And you have always encouraged dialogue in how you write. It's no surprise that your blog was one of Mr. Blume's examples. I wrote the usual essays in my student days and none since, but I have admiration for those who do it well, especially in the blog format. A lengthier post to accommodate an essay works alright if it captivates the reader, as this one has done (or is this too short to be called an essay?).

Kia ora Beth
"My own motivations for writing essays on my blog (and commenting on others) are simple: to spur other people, and myself,to think more deeply and leave open room for anyone, especially people coming from a different place or different backgrounds to enter the conversation".
Thank you for those above words Beth, and for creating a place where I can feel free and safe to read and re-read, to be challenged to think, and to comment, even if I feel out of my depth at times. Reading yours, and others, blogs has not only helped me to expand my own self, but to find the courage to write my own thoughts as well.

Merci, Scott. I'm glad you've started your own blog!

Thanks, Marja-Leena. I think a lot of people haven't written an essay since their school days. By the time I'm done with this subject, in two more posts, probably, it will be a more classic "essay length" but I don't think there's any set number of words that makes an essay. 800 is probably the minimum; if I'm talking about one topic and not going into depth, I've found I tend to write around 1200 words. I generally try to keep blog posts under that - however, this one is about 1800 and the series could be 3500-4000 words by the time I'm done. We'll see how patient the readers are - it's an experiment!

Robb, thank you -- what better reward could there be for writing than that? We all feel out of our depth at times, in different places - I remember how nervous I was the first time I left a comment on Language Hat, because I know so little about linguistics and everyone there seemed so erudite. But everybody has something to say, something to add - we're so much poorer when we don't make a big space and don't encourage one another to speak.

Since my school days I have loved the essay. It is my preferred reading, no matter what the format. As far as blogs go, I'm probably in the minority, but I generally prefer a lengthier, "chewier" piece to a brief post, because unless the writer is as pithy as Seth Godin, most brief blog posts contain far too little information to stimulate my brainwaves.

I, too, "love those sentences that would probably never come into existence if not for the process of writing." So I am grateful to you, Beth, for ignoring convention to publish your essays online, and for offering these thoughts on the state of this chewiest of arts. I look forward to the next installment.

Can a modern blogged essay - a postmodern essay - be an open door

If I were a dove, this blog would be a columbary. Many, many open doors.

Funny, I picked up Philip Lopate’s personal essay anthology when I had some time before dinner tonight (I couldn't find the newspaper) and read two essays by Lu Hsun. At first glance, they were amost stream of consciousness, but then I started to see some things that held each of them together. His essays were more open-ended than mine normally are. Maybe I’ll try to emulate him.

Then I read your post here suggesting just this same kind of breathable writing. I raged against academic essay writing in a post about a year ago as I was working through how to teach my county’s required essays without getting the plastic writing I was used to getting with the structured, academic model you accurately describe here.

You and Lu Hsun have made me want to experiment more with essays, and you’ve reminded me (just in time; the kids come back tomorrow) of my goal of teaching essays with less artificial structure.

Well, this is very interesting. I think you're on to something here.

It's also very challenging to those of us who began blogging at least partly because we felt ourselves to be unfulfilled writers, but haven't quite managed to write enough, or substantively enough, on our blogs to become more fulfilled as writers. (Although, to speak for myself, I've got a huge amount out of blogging: creative stimulation, new friendships, community)

I have more to say and more thinking to do about this. I'll be following the discussion, and contributing at greater length on my own blog.

Re-reading your essay this morning I felt a strong re-visitation of my take on the current presidential contest in the US and the shape it is taking, that is, that I am in danger of being swamped between a war of passivity...being a spectator who sometimes enjoys, sometimes moans and grumbles and gnashes teeth at the performance while sitting safely in the stands or on the sofa or, yes, on the internet before breakfast...or the harder task of being a participant, whether this in politics means leaving the house to discuss an idea or a choice, or in words, here for instance, to figure out how to transcend the performer/spectator thing and become community. In this context, Beth, your conversations with Mounir are e/captured the quantum difference between the noises spectators make and the responses humans make to each other. The former deadens, it turns the "object of attention" into something that can't really respond or change, even if it was once alive; the latter gives life. This said, action involves risk of allsorts. Must keep reminding self that inaction is also a decision with moral consequences. (Talking to self now, will desist). Vivian

Absolutely true. But for me, it no longer stops there. I want my opinion to be challenged, enlarged, and changed. This calls me to a specific approach as a writer: the use of clear language that tries not to divide or exclude people on the basis of education, culture, or experience; a greater desire to share than to impress; a sincere openness to differing opinions; the creation of a sense of hospitality and invitation; and finally, perhaps, a sense of optimism that what we're talking about together really does matter.

Yes. I have trouble with that "sense of optimism" sometimes, but with the rest, I agree whole-heartedly.

This piece is lovely, strong, thought provoking. But I've found it more so of all three than I can fully explain. Thanks for it.

Beth, thanks for stopping by at mine, and for your good wishes. I feel I've rather neglected you here too!

I think I can identify with Jean's words on this, about starting blogging to fulfill a dormant or supressed desire to write, finding it initially satisfying, but then that I'm unable to fulfill that obligation to myself. I don't particularly feel I'm challenging myself or anyone else on the blog at the moment, and the very best writing on others(and I'd entirely endorse Mr Blume's opinions on where that's to be found...) is at once inspiring and disheartening.

I'm sorry, I seem to be somewhat negative here, and in the absence of anything more intelligent to say, should perhaps say nothing, only this was such a fine, engaging essay, I did want to chip in...

I am quite good at telling other people that blogging is for pleasure, and should not foster guilt and a sense of inadequacy, but am perhaps not so good at taking my own advice! But I suppose there is a place for the sporadic and dilettantish as well as the others! And of course there's more to this than writing excellence and challenge, community and friendship also matter.

Ahem, is that the Lucy whose photographs, poetry and longer writing fill me with awe and envy of all the different directions in which her creativity has flowered since she started blogging? I guess this frustration with ourselves is an essential part of the creative impulse. Good to be reminded of what we might do and haven't yet - as Beth does here, but not good to beat ourselves up about it (which I do too, of course).

An excellent example, Beth, of that which Bob Harris claims to be unable to locate. He should give the staffer who did his research for him a good kicking!

(And I'm with Jean re Lucy!)

A wonderful piece. You've expressed something here that really matters to me; for, while my own blog is of quite a different stripe, the wish to create "a sense of hospitality and invitation; and finally, perhaps, a sense of optimism that what we're talking about together really does matter" drives it as well. And I believe this is what drives most of the blogs I return to time and again. Thank you for putting it so well. ~sadie

wow, excellent essay! I really love it. I think blogging is an "essay" in many ways, following the idea given by the french verb.
I think the experiences change from country to country, and it also changes depending in what kind of "circles" you move.
Many of the writers that blogs in Argentina wrote them and wrote essays not "willing to descend from the marble pedestals" beacuse they said they have never been there :) BUT the fact is that in some cases the commenters, i.e., the readers make for them a new pedestal.

Anyway, the way to do conceive an essay for a blog is, I think, what is really new. Or how a simple post on literature, art, music could (if you put all together post and comments) become an essay.

I'm really enjoying your blog! Woohoo!

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.