We carry within us the wonders we seek without us. — Sir Thomas Browne
This past weekend I found myself at the bar with an old friend. He was not old but older, and in between sips of ale, the f-word came up and a topic was struck. “You should leave Facebook,” I proclaimed. To which he replied, “No.” Seeing the pointlessness of this attempt at persuasion, I endeavored to change the topic. “I told my students,” said I to my friend, “that the three worst inventions of mankind were the car, the television, and the computer.” This being true, but my friend being disagreeable at the time, he concluded I should become Amish. In which I responded that the whole point of the matter for my disdain for technology (or we should specify and say electronics) was not so much that I abandon the world but that the world abandon itself and join me. And this, I have decided is the heart of a good essay and is what this post will furthermore discuss.
I have probably written many a bad essay on this blog post (99 some may say). Many have been too long, others too boring, most simply unintelligent or completely false. But none of this determines a good essay. A good essay can be lengthy or short, exciting or boring, intelligent and true or fabricated and impossible to follow. A good essay, however, should seek to posit as much truth as it can in a humility that does not take itself too seriously, even if the subject area is altogether very serious.
An essayist wishes the world to adopt his views of the world not because he knows them to be true but because he believes them to be true. Humility asks for faith. Pride demands knowledge. The scientists and politicians of our blessed country take themselves too seriously. Poets and essayists do not. A good scientist can write a treatise that no one will read, and a bad poet can persuade one to believe in God. While it very well may be true that any given scientist can live in wonder, the poet is required to do so. For no one ever persuaded anyone without humility. The know-it-alls and fact-checkers are so busy with their data, while the essayist is concerned about saying the very same thing in a far-wittier manner. One sees nothing but numbers. The other sees possibilities.
The humble essayist will seek truth not so that he can claim to know truth but because he knows what truth will give him. It is one thing to ask a fair maiden on a date to say that you asked her on a date. It is another thing entirely to ask her out in hopes of thinking about nothing else. But our country has bought into the false notion that asking pretty girls out is a game, and likewise truth-seeking a game as well. We seek to gain knowledge to say we know something is true. We do not believe in the possibility that anything can actually be true. We simply want to be praised and get the girl.
We are told now that it is better to pump our head with facts to be more efficient, and we become so efficient that we forget to sit and enjoy our efficiency. Friendship and companionship is a mathematical equation: a means to an end of feeling like you are a part of something bigger when nothing bigger exists. But the essayist knows that friendship is the unspoken union of two souls reveling in something apart from each other. They stand side by side and stare off into whatever vast ocean of commonality they have discovered together. Friendship does not release us from ourselves in order to remind us that there is something bigger. Friendship releases us from ourselves to remind us that there is someone bigger.
So as I sipped my beer and searched for a way to make my point which never came and never does in such moments. I decided that the whole thing was quite trivial in any case, and I would probably be just as joyful with the Amish. But then it is the trivial matters which matter. One writes about the existence of God until he is blue in the face. Another writes about how his breakfast proves there is a God. And so I leave off this trifling little essay with that final word. Essayists have the right to write on the ordinary and hopelessly futile aspects of life because the essayist can find wonder and joy in them. If these ingredients are missing from your life, I suggest you leave the world and join me on the other side and write a bad essay or two.*
*This being my 100th post, I would like to give a a special thanks to my faithful followers. I don’t know half of you as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. But I do appreciate you deep down, for what is a blog without followers? Though it would be very post-modern of me to say that I would be nothing without you, this simply is not true. But in the end, I do thank you from the depths of my soul and hope and trust you will stay with me for the next 100.