Thoughts on the Essay Format
This morning the essay format came to my mind as a subject we often overlook. We’re after the next best seller – the mystery, or a book so funny we read it and laugh out loud, or books in a series by our favorite writers. For me I’ll check out fiction best-sellers by Dan Brown, David Frazier, Mary Alice Monroe, Paula Watkins, or Susanna Kearsley. Or a collection of Rosamunde Pilcher short stories. But who among us settles down on a weekend anymore with a good drink and a fine book of essays?
At some point in our educations, most writers have been introduced to essays from E.B. White, May Sarton or Annie Dillard, and more. For me, missing any of these authors would be like never having read a poem by Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. I can’t imagine it any more than I could imagine never having tasted a potato chip.
An essayist has the knack of catching a moment ‘on the wing’ like a bird in flight, and giving it a whole realm of experiences, a destination, an arrival point. An essayist can discover a moment ~ prying apart space to observe a happening, or a brilliant flower. Come. Quick. Look at that. Here’s what I see. It reminds me of eternity.
Essayists think in terms of big thoughts. Like seeing something so wonderful you have to bend down to observe it with a magnifying glass so you will not miss a single moment of it. It could be a rock in the shape of a heart, with a tiny frog perched there, throat pulsating, probably in fear that we will reach down to scoop it up. What a frightening trip for a tiny frog, moments before sunning on a heart-shaped rock, perhaps thinking big thoughts for a frog.
An essayist might ponder a southern magnolia tree with a swing underneath, cloistered and dusty, hidden from view, wondering whose feet might have dangled from this swing and dragged naked toes in the dirt underneath. An essayist will take this moment, enlarge it, and leave us with words to live by, thoughts to think, and ideas to be born. An essayist, without even knowing it, can change the direction of lives.
Yes, an essayist can do this ~ capture a moment with a few essential words and cause a torrent of memories to cascade across our hearts. Such a writer can care more for a single moment than many people care for anything else in their whole lives. The essayist might watch the way a bee buzzes around on a lazy summer day, like a tiny drunken airplane with a bad attitude; remember stroking the soft underbelly of a family pet with an eager wet nose; or long to smell the first ripe peach of a season.
A few words here and there. Well chosen. Always with a purpose. Remember. Think about it. Turn off the TV. Put down your cell phone or tablet. Close the lap top. Read a good book this weekend. If it’s a book of essays, all the better. You’ll have a lot more to think about.
A friend once picked up my book of May Sarton essays from the coffee table and asked, “Are you reading May Sarton?” I paused and finally answered, “I am always reading May Sarton. Every day. She never disappoints.”
If by some chance you become wrapped up in thought with a book of essays and become too philosophical for your family, friends or co-workers, they might remark that you have too much thinking time.
A co-worker once said exactly that about me, in jest: “Ruth has too much thinking time on her way to work.” I took it as a compliment, and had been reading an essay by E.B. White that morning, before leaving for work. The essay was called “Farmer White’s Brown Eggs.” I vowed from that moment on to always buy brown eggs. If anyone opens my refrigerator today looking or eggs, they’ll find only brown eggs.
If any of you are looking for a small gift for a friend for any reason, by all means consider a good book of essays. It’s a winner every time!