Recently, I read Robert Atwan's article, The Top 10 Essays Since 1950. It is a formidable list with links to many of the essays. It struck me, ten essays spread out over a sixty year period; on the average, there should be a new top essay every six years or so.
The most recent essay on the list is David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" from 2004. Seems like we're about due for another great essay. It made me wonder, what makes for a great essay? Are they like wine, something that needs to age? Perhaps an essay written a few years ago will eventually make it to the list.
Or, are there societal changes affecting the essay? I'm not thinking about the latest is post-modern, post-structural, neo-retro-whatever. I'm wondering, has the change in the printing industry affected the essay? Has the hit that print journalism has taken left us with few people to write great essays? What has blogging done to the essay?
It also caused me to stop and think a little bit about my writing. When I was younger I wanted to be a poet. At other times I dreamed of writing great short stories or perhaps the next great American novel. Now, mostly I write blog posts. Should I work on my essays? Are there great essays, besides the ten that Atwan listed that I should read? Mostly, I've been read transcendentalist essays of late.
Last month, I wrote a blog post about Living the Great American Novel. I wrote it mostly about the aspirations of grandeur that I, and many of my friends had in our youth. Yet there is another side to this, the political ramifications. I thought about this as I spoke with a friend at a party last night. She’s a writer who has been doing political work, and is trying to find a balance between the two. To me, it all seems intertwined.
I guess a good starting place to look at this is my work blog post, What if Leopold Bloom worked at a Community Health Center?. There, I made a reference to James Agee’s book, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”. You see, while the mass of men may lead lives of quiet desperation, there are also fascinating stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things that make this world a better place. Some of this was reflected in an email from the clinical director at work about 30 years of HIV. I posted it on the company blog because it tells important stories of people at the health center over the past three decades in a way that makes me think of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the sake of praiseworthy famous men.
There have been a few different stories in the news recently that have caught my attention that also reflects a little bit of this. The first story is of a Utah gunman who updated his Facebook status during a standoff. I’m not sure that I would list Jason Valdez as a role model, but he provides a fascinating look into a life that is so remote from the upper class white folks I’ve lived amongst.
Another story is of a man who robbed a bank of one dollar so that he could be taken to jail and get health care. It is an incredible story that illustrates some of what is wrong with health care in America. Then today, I read the article My Life as an Undocumented [Pulitzer Prize winning] Immigrant. It is an incredible story that puts the whole immigration debate in a new light. I encourage to read not only that story, but also the story behind the publishing of the story.
These are the stories of people living the Great American Novel. To all my political friends, especially the bloggers and the woman I spoke with at the party last night, if you want to bring about real change, step away from preaching policy to the choir, move beyond being ‘in’. Tell the stories of the people you meet, the people for whom all the political posturing isn’t just a topic to argue about, but makes a difference in the daily lives.
With some self-satisfaction, we pat ourselves on the back and recognize the important role that MyLeftNutmeg played in Ned Lamont’s campaign and in shaping the national discussions about Iraq in the 2006 election cycle. Those of us interested in the history of great writers from Connecticut may look back to great writers like Mark Twain or to the present day with writers like Wally Lamb, and several others that participated in Poets and Writers for Avery this past Sunday. Some of us, however, may want to look towards the future.
Nation Magazine recently had its second annual Nation Student Writing Contest. Two of the five finalists came form our fine state. Ned Resinkoff’s essay, Corporations Versus Democracy was one of the finalists. Last year, Ned was a senior at Middletown High School, and also did yeoman’s work helping with Ned Lamont’s campaign.
Jason Kaye wrote A Different Sort of War on Terror, which was also a finalist. Jason is a junior at Weston High School. Let us all congratulate Ned and Jason for their great essays.
(Cross posted at MyLeftNutmeg)
(Originally published as a book review on Amazon)
The other day I received my copy of The Power of Many by Christian Crumlish. I don’t recall exactly when I first met Christian online. The earliest emails that I can find have from him are from December 2003. During this time, I was working as a volunteer for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign.
In particular, I was working with DeanSpace, an effort to help many small groups easily set up powerful interconnected websites. A lot has happened since then. DeanSpace has evolved into CivicSpace. Kerry is now the Democratic nominee. My wife is now a candidate for State Representative in Connecticut. Many of us have been using our experiences from the Dean campaign to help other campaigns, and many people are fishing around for a good book to try and understand how the internet is changing politics and all aspects of our lives.
The Power of Many is the book you should read if you want to get a real, on the ground, grassroots perspective of what happened during the Dean campaign and what it means for our country today. Christian has done a great job of speaking with many bloggers and grassroots activists. He explains the actions and technology in a way that many can understand and appreciate.
For people who want to understand what my involvement was like, and the involvement of many others, start with The Power of Many.
When my wife decided to run for State Representative, we talked a lot about using this as a means to get more people involved in the political process.
Joel Roger's article in The Nation, only served to reinforce my desire to work towards increasing political involvement of progressives.
One idea on increasing involvement is to write the story of Kim's campaign, perhaps ultimately as a book, that people would find an enjoyable and inspiring read.