Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why E.B. White would have Blogged

 I have an item to write on my blank Christmas Wish list.  I know it's a little early to start thinking about that list, but usually I'm so full of anxiety about the holiday that when December arrives and someone asks me what I'd like to receive, my mind goes completely numb.  This year, I'm being proactive.  This year, I intend to remember that there is one thing that I would enjoy opening and consuming during the holidays.  I'm imagining a vision of me sitting next to the fire while heaps of snow are falling outside (a girl can dream, can't she?)  In my hand is a copy of Essays of E.B. White or Letters of E.B. White.

 I was a kid who walked around in the scenery of White's books.  Now that I am grown, I find an oasis in his stories.  While I am grounded in the present with it's heady forward motion, White's stories remind me to  step back into the memories of when I sat on the bank of a creek watching and listening with rapt attention as red wing blackbirds sang their clear, sharp calls among the cattails.  I was a child close to the earth, as James Taylor would say.  I smelled the soil and the grass and felt the moisture of summer mornings.  I was allowed plenty of solitary time to observe the natural world and to enjoy it.  While I also did my share of chores, much of my early life was spent outdoors, embracing the change and beauty of every season.

In addition to being a storyteller of the highest order, if White had lived today, I think he may have blogged--despite the fact that he was a very private person and did not want public attention.  There are many of us who use this medium but who also shy away from crowds and big scenes.  Of course my argument here is open for debate, but my claim is based on the issues he attends to in the introduction of Essays.  If you mentally replace the word "essayist" with "blogger" in the following paragraphs, you'll understand what I mean.

He writes:

"The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.  He is a fellow who thoroughly enjoys his work, just as people who take bird walks enjoy theirs.  Each new excursion of the essayist, each new "attempt," differs from the last and takes him into new country.  This delights him.  Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays."

He continues:

"There are as many kinds of essays as their are human attributes or poses, as many essay flavors as their are Howard Johnson ice creams.  The essayist arises in the morning and if he has work to do, selects his garb from an unusually extensive wardrobe: he can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person according to his mood or subject matter---philosopher, scold, jester, raconteur, confidant, pundit, devil's advocate, enthusiast.  I like the essay, have always liked it..."

But then,

"The essayist, unlike the novelist, the poet, and the playwright must be content in his self-imposed role of second-class citizen.  A writer who has his sights trained on the Nobel Prize, or other earthly triumphs had best write a novel, a poem or a play and leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence."

While the following statement seems to disprove my argument, even bloggers who write under pseudonyms usually follow the unwritten code that blogging is about at the very least, emotional truth, even when we don't feel at liberty to reveal all.

"There is one thing the essayist cannot do though---he cannot indulge himself in deceit or concealment, for he will be found out in no time."

He states that "natural candor" is the basic ingredient to any essay.  I believe that natural candor exists in the blogs that I love, whether or not the writer has fully revealed their legal identity or whether it is even possible to reveal the whole truth about a person in writing.

White continues by addressing the issue of the ego's role in writing essays. By acknowledging it's existence, he takes a light-hearted poke at himself thereby deflating the pompous balloon of self importance.

"I think some people find the essay the last resort of the egoist, a much too self-conscience and self-serving form for their taste; they feel that it is presumptuous of a writer to assume that his little excursions or his small observations will interest the reader.  There is some justice in their complaint.  I have always been aware that I am by nature self-absorbed and egotistical; to write of myself to the extent I have done indicates a too great attention to my own life, not enough to the lives of others."

And while this may have been a difficult inner conflict to resolve,  I am so very thankful to E.B. White that he paid "too great attention to (his) own life."









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