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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Sunday, February 11, 2007

you know, for kids

Sometimes I wonder if I've run out of interesting things to say. Hell, sometimes I wonder if there was ever an original thought in my head.

It's February in California. It's raining. Where I live that means it feels like spring.

Inquisitive robins greet me on the way to the coffee shop. The flowering vines on my neighbor's trellis are blooming. Tender shoots are popping up in the planters, and the grass on the East Bay hills is green and getting greener...


I became a photographer because I was good at writing. Yeah, that sounds funny, but it's true.

Professors used to ask me if they could keep my essays. Once I was even asked to read one aloud to class. If you're shy, as I am, that can make you a bit sheepish about the process...especially since I wrote most of my essays longhand drinking coffee in the back booth at a now defunct 24hour restaurant on Broadway called the College Inn. I rarely gave the actual wording of the essays more than an outline's effort in advance of the night before they were due. That showed, of course.

But what also showed was this. I was always obsessed with the topic at hand. And I always wrote as if a demon was chasing me.

Writing is like leaping. At the beginning of the process you are on one side of a chasm. At the end of the process you are on the other. In between, you are in the air. High on caffeine. Pushed by a deadline. Stretching your legs like long jumpers do...to gain more distance...to hit your mark.

Writing an essay is simple. First you write a sentence. Then you write a paragraph. Then you reread the sentence. Then you reread the paragraph. As long as everything connects and makes sense, you're golden.

You see, the hardest part of writing an essay aren't the words themselves, it's the ideas behind them. No ideas. No focus. No essay.

The words follow the thoughts. The thoughts follow the subject matter.

Proust. the Koran. the Symposium. A Schubert liede. Politics. Life. Whatever it takes to make you focus. To make you obsess. To boil down the essence of your thoughts and observations. To preserve them. To archive their value. To share.

An essay isn't what you think it is. That's something I learned early on.

An essay is a little rip in the space time continuum. It's a pause. It's a meeting place.

You think one way. I think another. We meet here, on a page. Through sentences and words strung together to reflect thoughts.

I write sentences for me and I write sentences for you. Both considerations are necessary. The words have to reflect what I think. They also have to communicate. You are as much a part of the process as I am. I've always known that was true. It's inherent in the form.

An essay. A themed sequence of paragraphs committed to telling some small, succinct tale. A point of view. A gambit. An expression. A collaboration between reader and writer and the other way around.

That's the beauty of the blogs. The fact that they create these crossroads. The way they open up so many of these encapsulated, almost-sure-to-have-been-lost thought processes.

How can you write so many pieces? Folks ask me.

It's really not that hard.

In fact, once you get used to the habit of writing you realize that you are just doing something that we all do all the time. You are communicating.

Take a walk. Take a stroll. Think about something you read in the newspaper. Think about someone you once knew. Reflect on the faces you meet. Let your life tell you what to do.

And then boil those thoughts down in to words. Share those words in a way that communicates, that invites your readers to experience what you just went through.

I love that experience. I love that process. Writing is like dancing. It's like leaping. It's like jazz.

What's funny is that I make photographs of what I can't put in to words.

Leaping. Dancing. Faces. Landscapes. Something specific and ineluctable that I can't quite put my finger on.

That makes a photograph: a mystery frozen at 1/250th of a second. A puzzle preserved. A riddle on ice.

Photographs, like writing, happen. They are made, yes. They are conceived, yes.

But, then, they occur.

They happen all at once. They are born.

The work, the hard part, isn't ever what you think it will be.

In fact, as I get older I realize that the hardest part of the process...and there's plenty that's hard...is this: writing, photography, art all involve turning to face the demon that's been chasing you. Involve holding up a mirror.

Honesty looking outward is easy.

Looking in that mirror isn't.

The demon is always looking back at you.

{Cross-posted and discussed at dailykos.com.}


  • Great essay K/O keep it up.

    By Anonymous chris65203, at 9:40 AM  

  • The short phrase 'inquisitive robins...' was worth the price of admission on this one!

    And yeah, I'm serious. I recognize good writing when I reads it...

    By Blogger A. Citizen, at 9:08 PM  

  • Photographs, like writing, happen. They are made, yes. They are conceived, yes.

    But, then, they occur.

    They happen all at once. They are born.

    Wow. That's, like, really deep, dude.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:29 PM  

  • i liked it's a pause in the space time continuum...

    By Blogger skippy, at 8:38 PM  

  • The College Inn is gone!? (I presume you meant the one between 112th and 113th.) Man, I ate there every third of fourth night for four years.

    Is Tom's still there? It must be... the Seinfeld magic can't have died yet.

    Remember Mama Joy's?

    By Anonymous Irfo, at 12:04 PM  

  • Nice essay, KO ~ always love your writing on dk ~ writing is a like a dance, especially when it's between two people, even, maybe even more so, when they disagree.

    It can also be like a boxing match. I like the dance image better and blogs are the best place to dance ~

    Keep on writing ~ you do it so well.

    By Anonymous catrina, at 3:29 PM  

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    By Anonymous soccer, at 5:51 AM  

  • Do you ever find yourself tailoring a piece of writing to fit the audience? For example, does the intention of posting something on dKos or another political blog enter into your choice of words or topics? Or does the essay determine the placement?

    By Anonymous Teach313, at 10:51 AM  

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