Essay writing consists largely of people’s observations as they discover what others have known all along.
That doesn’t invalidate the craft. I can, for example, now place my daughter’s take on parenthood next to mine — written when she was a baby, leading us for the first time through experiences she is now having. I’m delighted to read hers, as are, no doubt, the thousand or so who follow her blog.
Observing and sharing are the soul of essay writing, whatever its form. And wherever we find ourselves on life’s journey, our observations are at least valid, almost always a launching pad for a reader’s own memories, and at best fresh and unique.
This process does not stop, by the way, until the journey stops. We are, all of us, constantly winding our way into places we’ve never been.
My wife and I have, for example, only in the last few years discovered what it’s like to take care of elderly parents. To liquidate the homes we grew up in, to sell, keep, throw away or otherwise disburse the accoutrements of our young lives. It’s hard, and even though it’s universal, that does not make our thoughts as we go through it any less valid. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see something others missed.
I recently traversed the Cascades for the first time, gasping at the beauty of the sheer, snow-laden cliffs and the gushing rivers. Is this, I wondered, why they call them the “cascades”? Am I the first to wonder that?
I also learned how quickly the climate can change. One minute you’re watching Bavarian dancers around a maypole in sunny Leavenworth, and scarcely an hour later you’re in a blizzard at Stevens Pass. A sign says the Pacific Crest Trail is just ahead, and snowplows have piled up the winter’s precipitation alongside a highway that was clear just a few miles back.
It’s nothing the Donner Party didn’t already know, but it was news to me.
I am, at 61, just now developing a taste for coffee — thanks, probably, to having a son-in-law from Costa Rica and two children who did tours of duty as baristas. We visited a coffee plantation in Costa Rica two summers ago and all I could enjoy was the aroma. If we went back now I would be sampling and savoring — albeit still with cream and sugar.
It’s common among people my age to drink coffee, but for me it’s new and kind of exciting. When coffee gets old I may have to investigate beer…
Also, I only recently learned that the word “peninsula” comes from the same linguistic root as a certain part of the male anatomy. Perhaps most of you knew that all along — but it was somewhat of a shock to me. Now there’s an entire geographic feature that I will never be able to look upon quite the same way again.
Florida! Please! Show some modesty!
On a tamer note, I and my bride (who knew about the geographical thing all along and took it in stride) are just two years into the grandparent experience, in which many of our contemporaries have been immersed for years. We are constantly sharing what we believe to be unique, awesome, wonderful observations with them — and as they politely smile and nod we realize they’ve been there, done that, and have a whole closet full of t-shirts.
Never mind. We’re going to keep on marveling at the wonderfulness. It’s fresh for somebody.