A Toast to Toast

Thank God for writers like Joan Didion.

 

I cannot think of a single piece of writing in recent memory in which the author was as honest about his or her process as Didion in her piece, “Why I Write.” She confesses that she was never a “thinker,” but instead a “writer”; it is so comforting to know that someone else out there thinks that those two titles can be separate entities. I’ve always seen writing as a journey to thought; 99.9% of the papers I write start out as complete mumbo jumbo without a clue how it will end up until it’s completely written. When faced with a topic, theme, or question to write about, I am distracted (like Didion) by all of the possible unknowns and “pictures” before I can come to a core conclusion. By identifying these pictures first, I can then understand where the writing was supposed to go all along. There is something really comforting in the fact that successful writers share the same writing process as you, and that your own process is actually legitimate.

 

I think, in a way, the three writers we’ve discussed and I share a certain level of obsession with writing: we do it because we love it, because it’s something we’re good at, and perhaps most importantly, because it’s something that we know we’re supposed to be doing.

 

Yet, aren’t these reasons a little selfish? Writers like Andrew Sullivan write to start conversation (“the conversation is the point”) and to connect with readers, a seemingly much less egocentric enterprise. To be sure, any good writer has an impact on readers, yet not all of them set out to write with the purpose of inviting reader’s thought into the equation. I suppose this is where Sullivan and I are quite different. My writing has always fallen under two purposes one would find on a visa application: for business or for pleasure. Unlike Sullivan, I’ve never truly found a happy medium between the two; school assignments and personal writing have always remained forever exclusive and innately different, yet Sullivan’s position in the blogosphere has allowed him to connect academic/political/social themes with personal commentary and connect to his readership. With the exception of written letters, I think this is a success that has become only recently possible with the creation of the Internet, and says something about how we can expect our roles as writers and the effects of what we write to change in the years to come.

 

The example of writing that I chose to bring to class tomorrow is called “On Toast” by Michael Procopio (and, since I really loved this piece, I actually wrote about it on this very blog a few weeks ago). Procopio actually has a blog called Food for the Thoughtless, on which he writes, “I have always regarded my toast as a platform upon which to place other, more interesting things. And, though I sometimes take my toast with jam, I almost always take it for granted.” His essay, which can be found on the blog (www.foodforthethoughtless.com), explores the writer’s relationship with the simplest of foods, yet it takes a shocking turn and explores how something so simple can mean so much to someone who is likely to die very soon. On a happier note, what I love about this essay is that it appears on a food blog! This means it is complete with pictures of – you guessed it – food, and who doesn’t love looking at some tasty pictures while reading an essay? Interestingly, Procopio gives his reasons for the essay’s theme in the body of the essay itself, which made me think of the manifesto-esque style of Orwell’s piece. It does not appear as though Procopio has any particular political or historical impulses in his piece, yet it is possible to perceive a hint of the “egoism” Orwell mentions: it seems like Procopio is trying to prove to himself that he can make something as simple as toast interesting, something worthy of reading about. Perhaps egoism fits in here somewhere with respect to the writer’s desire to prove or realize his or her own abilities (response to a “challenge” as a sub-motive). Yet, I see more of a connection between Procopio and Didion: he is trying to make sense of human connection to something, something that many of us take for granted (a piece of browned bread) and to understand a greater picture from an amalgam of smaller pictures (akin to Didion’s writing process). This intent to create something powerful from really nothing in particular – and, in my opinion, Procopio’s great success in such an endeavor – really speaks to the power of writing and what we can do with it when we feel passionately about it. I would love to try to emulate Procopio’s balance of simplicity and complexity in my own writing.

 

I think the most compelling part of this essay is its last lines: “…I will certainly never take my toast for granted again. Or you, for that matter.”

 

Woah.

 

– Allie

2 thoughts to “A Toast to Toast”

  1. One of my favorite lines from your post is “I’ve never truly found a happy medium between the two; school assignments and personal writing have always remained forever exclusive and innately different.” I can definitely relate to this. I personally enjoy creative non-fiction, but the genre isn’t always applicable in school assignments.

    I agree with what you mentioned about the Internet making such a big difference in writer-reader interactivity. I cannot imagine so much interaction going on between a writer and a reader if not for the speed at which we can write, edit, comment, and communicate in just a single blog post.

    However, I do wonder if, in the long run, full-time bloggers may end up feeling a greater gap between what they write for pleasure and what they write for work. As Sullivan notes in his essay, he often feels a pressing need to blog mainly because he knows that his audience is waiting to read what he has to say. Over time, it seems possible that full-time blogging may end up being a product of a blogger feeling a great need to respond to a readership than it is a product of a blogger writing based on a personal desire to record and work through his or her thoughts. What are your thoughts on this?

    I loved the article you had chosen. It was very enjoyable and so beautifully written. And you were right, the author seemed to have made something out of nothing much. I certainly wasn’t expecting such an insightful piece to stem from an appreciation for toast. Thank you for the link! (I may just get hooked to that site.)

  2. Allie,

    Super great ideas. It’s been fun reading everyone’s posts and seeing how the same pieces of work have had disparate impacts.

    The first thing I want to talk about is when you said, “She confesses that she was never a “thinker,” but instead a “writer”; it is so comforting to know that someone else out there thinks that those two titles can be separate entities.” This got me thinking and what I came up with is this: I’d like believe that your “true” thoughts are always in your mind, but writing allows you to uncover them or figure them out. In this sense, writing is a thinking process and through writing you can think through your thoughts. It allows you to uncover the “pictures” that are there. But I understand what you mean. Being a “writer” is a whole title/persona of its own…

    I also really like when you said, “My writing has always fallen under two purposes one would find on a visa application: for business or for pleasure.” I wholeheartedly agree. And I have felt that way up until this semester. Writing in this blog format is conducive to a conversational tone and this is something I think not many students are used to. It’s really great.

    Lastly, I too enjoy reading works about the simple things in life. It’s insane to think someone is able to write so much about so little (like a piece of toast). It makes one appreciate life and the small pleasures that are everywhere.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    -Andrew

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