Essay Obsession

There’s a thing in me that wants in writing essays to make every possible connection and to trace things to their deepest roots. It rarely ends well. The standard result is that I take a whole morning tracking leads on library databases and newspaper archives only to discover some old, repeated truth: There Is No Single Truth Of The Matter.

I’m working on an essay called “Some Daisies”. I neither care about daisies nor know much about them. My approach, then, is to suck up like a Dyson anything Daisy-related I can. Then I filter by interest. (Sorry, Daisys Duck and Fuentes.) Then I process the thing until I find something interesting to write about.

What’s helped recently is that the U.S.’s first and thus most famous campaign attack ad is called “The Daisy Ad”. In talking about this a friend mentioned the iconic image of a hippie placing flowers in the barrel of guns at the March on the Pentagon in October 1967. I checked and those aren’t daisies. But there’s that above photo of a woman holding a daisy up like a talisman to a line of bayonets. Perfect.

The Internet these days is such that it took no hard Binging to find this woman’s name, email address, and phone number. I can interview her about the daisy in her hands! I realized a few weeks ago, and did. Yesterday, she replied to my email.

It was a chrysanthemum. Some girl somewhere had handed her a chrysanthemum.

Reading this effected in me the same feeling as getting an editor’s rejection email forwarded to me from my agent with a note from her: “Don’t get discouraged!”

It was only discouraging. An enormous setback.

Here’s my point: I continue to have this notion that if only I in my looking and thinking can tie heretofore unconnected things to each other some mystery of the universe will make itself known to me, and that in the subsequent written revelation my essay will become good.

I understand that the above is part of the essay’s bailiwick, that I’m able to bring in to the essay quite word-for-wordly everything I’ve written here so far, that the process of working toward answers or understanding is often the meat of an essay, of the essay, of the attempt. But I won’t do it. I’m becoming less interested in the essay as attempt. I want essays as completion. I want to exercise the courage to be wrong. But amid this thirst for certainty, I’m also continually relearning that set truths are too elusive to pin down adequately in writing.

My solution: I’m writing univocal essays with someone else, destroying the essayistic I. Hopefully for good.

One thought on “Essay Obsession”

  1. Couldn’t you maybe include the chrysanthemum disappointment anecdote (nice band name) in the essay, but refrain from meta-delecting all over it? Just let it be there as an example of one form of connection — i.e., a missed one — without needing to pontificate about What That Tells Us About the Nature of Truth?

    Anyway, nice post.

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