So, my relatively brief tenure on Earth alongside the general sense of blissful entitlement that’s animated all my academic work don’t really endow me with any right to give advice. That being said, I flatter myself that I can write fairly effectively. So effectively, in fact, that people routinely laud my assorted papers, rants, and diatribes (usually after the third or fourth beer) with a sort of callow reverence.
I’ve never quite understood this. Writing well is no great mystery. Rather, it is a function of practice and habit. I am not articulating the mathematical contours of time-space relativity. I am not painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While we’re about it, I’m not composing the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, either. Those are feats of poetic genius that truly deserve reverence.
I simply read. Continuously. When I’m done reading, I think. If I get around to it, I may compose a few idle scribblings of my own. This is the literary progression that culminates in all my screeds. Any literate human being can do the same. It requires no preternatural reservoir of intelligence. It merely requires a temperament that stands at odds with our social milieu: the capacity to pursue a single train of thought without the constant invasion of technological stimuli, a prudent appreciation for the evocative power of the English language, and the ability to be comfortably alone for long periods of time.
If I have ever hit upon an idea or an observation which you find novel or astute, you must remember that it derives not from my innate stock of reason but, much more broadly, from the first twenty years of my life, which were to one degree or another spent in cultivating these habits. I say this because I have thus far found the journey worthwhile, and wish others to partake in it rather than to sit gobstopped on the platform as the train departs for its next destination.
The English language is a noble thing. The intellectual heritage of Western civilization is even nobler. If you wish to behoove yourself of its riches, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Don’t assume that those conversant in its legacy possess some insight which you do not. Immerse yourself in the niches you find most interesting. When you’ve read enough to contribute some thoughts of your own-and this should take some time-drive your point home with a tremendous blow. Then deliver another, and a third, one valedictory thwack, until you’ve inflicted your thoughts thoroughly and unmistakably upon your audience.
When we are gone our words will remain. This is a liberating thought.