Writing on Writing on Writing

I like to think of a chord as three notes, although I suppose in most sophisticated musical pieces a chord consists of at least three notes, but let’s not kill the metaphor before it’s even begun, deal? When the chord is played, each note compliments and provides both structure and context for its companions. These notes don’t even have to be played at the same time, but can overlap and blend with the lingering tones of their predecessors to form the chord, in the baroque style. While they are not companions in the most literal sense of the word, George Orwell, Joan Didion, and Andrew Sullivan are all members of the writing community who have written about writing. As such, I’ll consider them companions in the metawriting sense of the word. Their companionship in subject matter allows each piece to give context to the other two pieces and allows for each theme to build on those present elsewhere. Each of these three pieces strikes chords of varying strength and resonance with me as I read them, and in order to continue my metaphor I’ll make note of the strongest and most resonant parts of each piece.

I really appreciate Orwell’s strong sense of self-awareness. His assertion that four influences (“sheer egoism, …aesthetic enthusiasm, …historical impulse,” and “political purpose”) balance to motivate every writer, combined with his straightforward assessment of his ego’s disproportionate weight in this balance, give Orwell’s writing a frank honesty that I enjoy. I found Orwell’s melodramatic description of his childhood frustrating, although using the term melodramatic feels a little condescending. Part of me is unwilling to admit the extent to which I identify with Orwell’s description of a lonely childhood and uses the term to distance myself from this identification. I am no stranger to long afternoons spent with imaginary friends (usually dogs, preferably Dalmatians, inspired by none other than Dodie Smith), but that time of life was extremely unsatisfying and I do not remember most of it fondly. (Nor do I enjoy being reminded of the discomfort of that period.) However, I do appreciate Orwell’s reminder that our entire lives, both the exciting and uncomfortable parts, affect the balance between each of these purposes in our motivation to write.

Having read Didion’s piece before, I know what to look for and enjoy once more her descriptions of traveling through California while studying at UC Berkeley. No matter what a piece may be about, if it involves my home state (specifically, the San Francisco Bay Area) it will elicit an emotional response that overwhelms anything other emotions I may have regarding the subject matter or author’s style. Although I am not normally a fan of Didion’s style, I consider it somewhat distracted, I grasp hungrily at each detail of her memories in California. Even though the “rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light” are rather dark, they represent a piece of the place I call home. To a homesick college student, any news of home is always welcome. On a less emotional note, I also appreciated Didion’s willingness to prioritize what she finds important in the world around her. Rather than learning what is expected of her (Milton’s “Paradise Lost”) it is comforting how she takes note of the physical details of the world around her (the butter on the train, the lights of the bevatron).

I find each of the previous notes struck by Orwell and Didion resolve into a chord with the addition of Sullivan’s defense of blogging. Once again, the emotional appeal of the piece intrigues me and prompts internal reflection. I am encouraged by Sullivan’s defense of the importance of emotion’s influence on a blogger’s attitude: “You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts.” I am not used to including my emotional inclinations in my writing, and appreciate the encouragement to do so here. The “richness of personality” present in a blog builds a writing community unique to the technological era. I am looking forward to becoming a member of such an online community over the course of this semester, and am excited about taking the first step to do so. I find Sullivan’s analogy between jazz’s relationship to classical music and blogging’s relationship to traditional writing encouraging. In the same way that jazz tips its hat to classical while finding a new way to express an old idea, I am encouraged to see blogging as a way to develop my skills as a writer. In the same way that jazz augments the musical community, blogging enhances the writing community; although it is sometimes more difficult than pulling eyeteeth, this is what I am inspired to do.

2 thoughts to “Writing on Writing on Writing”

  1. Hey Rachel
    I really love the analogy you’ve made by comparing the three pieces of writing to a chord in music. It really serves not only to tell the reader exactly how you feel about each of the pieces, but also shows a bit about who you are as a person. Obviously you have a connection to music. This resonated with me because I share that love.

    I, too, was prompted into personal reflection by Sullivan’s article, but I’m always one to put my emotions into my writing when I can. I find it much easier to write things when I am emotionally attached. It’s interesting to me that your writing style is so different from mine.

    As a fellow newbie blogger, I’m also excited to see where this leads.

  2. Rachel,

    Your main points of self-awareness with Orwell and use of emotions with Didion to overwhelm a were represented concretely here. As well, the overall structure of your post lends itself to following an awesome outline that’s peasant to follow, especially when your relate your chords to Sullivan’s method of explaining classical music with traditional writing and jazz music and blogging. I did not think to represent my understand of the three pieces in this way, but I’m excited you did and wrote about it.

    I think the fact that you’re not used to putting emotion into your writing and that you’re starting the minor will be super beneficial to your writing because when it’s your emotion and thoughts, you really can’t get things wrong. I love writing through my emotions and thoughts because it allows me to put my voice on paper and to have my voice recognized by others. It’s a very uplifiting feeling, and blogging this semester will allow you and I to experience that.

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