I esSAY THERE –The ring of it sounds more like stuff from a previous era than what Goggle is wont to take you to.
Quite so. For I esSAY THRE is a pun built from P.G. Wodehouse. He was a writer popular in the first part of the 20th century, who wrote of 19th century Edwardian Jeevesian England, as unlikely as, but less tedious than, Harry Potterian England. Even into the 1940s Wodehouse was often featured in the long-gone “Saturday Evening Post,” which, as a kid, I read as eagerly as anything, with Jeeves and Bertie Wooster saying things like “I say there, old boy (man, chap).”
So a pun on Wodehouse gave me my site’s name, but the tone and style, certainly the autocratic mood, are from O. W. Holmes, especially from his book, The Autocrat of The Breakfast Table, written before I was born. The Autocrat is still in my library whose shelves take up more space than our entertainment center.
My outlook and perspective and philosophy are also 19th century, but rooted more in E.G. White than O.W. Holmes, and immune to the other late 19th century trendsetters, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud, although, as comes through loud and clear in these essays and certainly in this introduction, my style is pure Freudean “free association.” Make of that what you will. But the flippancy and jerkiness of style, which would leave Holmes and White panting, that’s pure 21st century. I tend to admire the combination, achieved only by virtuosos, of evenness and even handedness and wit, nowadays, thanks to postmodernism's vocabulary, called whimsy, although the latter in the habds of almost everybody almost always gets out of hand and careens far way from evenhandedness.
That’s no doubt because I was born and raised in North Hollywood, just a mile or so down the road from Universal Studios, then a real movie studio, not a theme park. From our house we would see, just over the Hollywood Hills, the mighty carbon-arc floodlights splitting the night sky to herald another Premier featuring Clark Gable or Greta Garbo. Curly haired blond toddlers cuter than Jackie Coogan at the time, I and my brother even took a screen test, for parts in, surely, The Little Rascals. We flunked. Romans 8:28. Amen
Now dragooned into the 21st century, which has updated and spun the 20th and given the finger to the 19th, I feel stretched over 3 centuries in time and a millennium in culture, quite a stretch. And thanks to computer technology I never dreamed of when, at age 14, I took a class in typing to learn to use a keyboard, and banged hard at an old Royal Standard upright, it all comes together right here at www.iessaythere.com.
But by the very same token and technology, I’ve aced myself out of much of a readership. That’s what I get for offering only…essays. No market for it nowadays. Even Holmes at his Breakfast Table brooked a token comment or two. So if I’m going techy, why don’t I set up a blog like 300,000,000 other people, and interact, not just expound? Blogs are what sells nowadays, not free-standing essays. But if it's bloggishly toned quickies you want, check my Short Shrifts.
But I also offer art -- paintings and drawings, that I did. But of course essays are attached, got to have essays. At this point a curious dichotomy emerges: as an artist, I eschew surrealism and allegory. I'm as literal a portraitist as they get, barring a hint of Sargentoid subliminal impressionism. But in writing, the opposite. Surrealism is about all I can come up with, surrealism and hyperbole and no end of synecdoche.
Anyway, I’m now halfway through my crotchety Octogenariancy, in it over my ratchety knees. Old age has affected my essays as much as it has my joints and hearing, in analogous ways. And just as an 8-year-old always highlights her age in every letter to Santa Clause or the NYT editor (“I’m 8 years old and dying of terminal cancer, and homophobia and hemophilia and intolerance and economic and marriage inequality make me sick and if I don't save the planet who will?”), I seize unhesitatingly the opportunity, the second to be offered a person in a lifetime, to flaunt, yea exploit, my age -- old age and hearing aids, crotchetiness and dated perspective, if not (yet) terminal cancer. While other octogenarians are out traveling the world, erecting Habitats, or writing their memoirs (or saying they will), I’m essaying. All is vanity.
Existing on the planet for so long has provided lots of time to enjoy and be influenced by other writers and essayists (not novelists, sorry), necessarily of a certain style and orientation, whom I now duly acknowledge, starting with SDA authors, notably E.G. White. A 19th century author, her style is hardly pop, and anyway is rather more devotional than analytic, but somehow to me charming, subtly but relentlessly. I could never write like her, nor do I have the urge -- or inspiration. But I never tire of reading her (as I never tire of Isaiah), always finding startling -- simple sentences, not lurid but still staggering -- ways of proclaiming a truth I'd never caught before, crucial truths. But one thing she isn't is a philosopher. To that species I'm immune, certainly to Derrida if not quite to Plato, but at the mercy of one of the 20th century's greatest if least recognized, Charles Schulz (speaking through Charlie Brown and Snoopy as Samuel Beckett spoke through Vladimir and Estragon.)
Now then, for style per se and sometimes even content I admire certain essayists: E.B. White and E.G. White (what a difference one initial makes! -- besides being a prophet E.G. wrote devotionals with a style that grows on me), J. Updike (better known as a novelist, his essays are what I admire), Clive James, and of course C. S. Lewis. One of those polymaths, Clive James's essays is what I focus on and presumptuously identify with, having turned out to be sort of quasi-polymath myself (medicine, teacher, artist, essayist, wannabe cabinet maker, heavy on the poly- no way on the math. Does that disqualify me as a polymath?). The older I get the more I admire C.S. Lewis’s essays, for both subject and style, especially those honed to the bone (as near as essayists dared 60 years ago). Buckley, wasn't he the one with the flammivomous vocabulary? Benchley was my humor hero of yore, the golden age of humor with the likes of Perlman, Thurber, Dorothy Parker. I’ve outgrown them. Anyway pencil-line mustaches (which Benchley made famous, aped by Clark Gable and Walt Disney) are out of style, and so are glasses (Dorothy Parker’s “Men seldom make passes/at girls who wear glasses.”) Nowadays girls wear contacts, for eye contact?
Being a physician, I feel a fanciful kinship with physician-essayists, which is one reason I cherish O.W. Holmes, MD, Dean of Harvard Medical School, and Lewis Thomas, MD, Dean of Yale Medical School and resident essayist for the New England Journal of Medicine, to which I subscribed for maybe 50 years and read as avidly as the New Yorker. Charles Krauthammer is another word-processing MD, a psychiatrist. He was, as the world now knows thanks to Foxnews, a Chief Resident at Mass General, to medicine what West Point is to the military, endowing prestige automatically alpine. Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and the American Board of Columnists (why not?), Krauthammer is a practicing columnist subspecializing in politics. Essays and columns are different but widely overlapping things; psychiatry and politics are essentially congruent.
My current or recently admired essayists, or more accurately columnists, whom I can’t manage to recognizably emulate, include George Will whom I've been reading the longest and who writes with inimitable scholarly suavity, Peggy Noonan and her aristocratic ladylike smoothness, and subliminally witty Charles Krauthammer. Of fairly recent witty bookwriters, very early Dave Barry (but hardly his columns or email newsletters). But I don't come close to Barry, not very. To my surprise, and not a little chagrin, and only after I had written a few year's worth of my own stuff (say "Write Stuff") and after re-readying his, I have begun to realize that my writing is probably closest to Tom Wolfe, of all people. Comparable in our social and political concerns and prejudices (I have more interest in religion than he does), almost identical in disconnected zeal for our subjects, and like him not infrequently drifting into unintelligible babble. To flatter me just say I'm a second Wolfe only maybe just a tad less spastic and unintelligible, just a tad. I confess some of my stuff has a certain resemblance to P. J. O'Rourke. All in all, I'm afraid I'm more like T. Wolfe and P. J. O'Rourke than C.S. Lewis, alas. Alas and alack, my essays come out somewhere between rant and romp. I cross my fingers and hope my non sequiturs will be at least cohesive.
Enough about them. An “about me” (jobs, education, profession, certifications, honors, philosophy, biases) is due. But you can read all that in my obit, soon to be playing in my Alumni Journal or a church bulletin near you. Right now suffice it to say that, of the list (jobs, education, profession, honors, etc.,…biases), all apply (I’m a retired MD, pathologist, professor prone to ramble but granted a couple of “Best Teacher” plaques anyway, and so forth), especially the biases, unabashedly old ones.
Educated, sure, but one thing I’m not, not hardly, not being a child of this era or this century, is computer expert. The keyboard I know like I know my fingers, but that’s all. What's HTML? CSS? (Does medical mumbo sound as jumbled as nerd jargon? If so, I do apologize.) But I managed to set this web site up myself (using new Adobe Muse, set up for graphic designers with good eyes but ignorant of code), limping on crutches, on life and tech support, some actually not out of New Delhi. I’m my own webmaster, slave to none, master of both content and graphics, a unique coupling even more curious than Krauthammer's psychiatry, politics, and columns, though hardly as productive of familiarity much less fame. Now to get down to business.
Only I’m not selling anything you’d need Paypal for. What I’m selling are essays (my wife calls them "Wessays.") But they aren’t for selling my concepts or opinions or logic or politics or religion, just to ventilate them, whimsically and wheezily.
A crabby curmudgeon, yes. A cursing curmudgeon, never. Four-letter words are too short for me to bother with. I like long words. But excoriations are too messy. Crotchety I may be but not venomous. Crankier I may have grown in old age, but mellower. I sing the Song of the Long-of-tooth, not the screech of the saber tooth. I’m not quite edentulous but quite toothless.
I write from my spleen, sometimes even brain, mostly from funny bone with tongue in cheek (I’m anatomically oriented, being an old doc). I write from my heart, my soul, my bowels, my kidneys (being KJV-Biblically and age-oriented).
I’m hellbent on perfecting a sentence, a trope, a pun, not a concept or, as a PhD would say, conceit, although I don’t mind toying with one or two now and again. I’m more interested in having the sentence fall trippingly from the tongue than tripping you up; in turning a phrase, not opinions.
And sometimes a kind of rhythm and rhyme sets in, alliteration takes over, and the sentences sprout phrases upon clauses, piggy-back and marsupialized, mutated and ramified, trailing off into the fog, all it took to qualify as poetry in the 19th century, as I learned in Miss Speh’s English Lit class 70 years ago.
Being whimsical if not nerdy, I’ve adopted README -- nerd-talk meaning you’d better read this or your computer will crash -- to preface my prefaces. Which, as of 2016, dates me. Now we have the cloud, no more readmes.
2013; revised 2016