I am an essay, and you might be my reader
This is the first sentence, which of course you already knew, but until you reach its end you can’t know that its job is to invite you to read the second sentence. Hello from me, the second sentence, full of warm welcome and an invitation to run your eyes over my contours. And now you are almost halfway into me, the first paragraph, and it’s time I let you know that my purpose is more than self-indulgent word play. There’s a reason I’m talking directly to you in a way most paragraphs don’t. Of course I’m just one paragraph in a whole essay that’s talking to you this way. And I need my brothers and sisters — the other paragraphs in this essay — to communicate our purpose to you.
As the second paragraph, it’s my job to get down to something that matters, and I want to invite you to think of home. Where do you feel most at home? Is there such a place for you? My author is right now thinking of the wide Montana prairies, mountains in the distance, everything softened by long erosion and the textures of grass and sage. But while he’s daydreaming, I’m still thinking about you. Do you feel at home among your family? Or maybe in the midst of the activity that gives you the most flow: basketball or another game, lost in an artistic process, reading, walking the streets, in front of an audience, at the bar where you’re a regular, simply sitting in your favorite chair in the dim light. Where do you feel most at home?
“Where do you feel most at home” is not the kind of question most second paragraphs ask, but that one sure did. And since it raised the subject, I’ll make an invitation. What if you asked someone that same question? Maybe finish reading me, the third paragraph, and then turn to someone and say, “Hey, I’m reading something that makes me want to ask: where do you feel most at home?” Then really listen to them. Don’t think about anything else. Put your roaming mind on hold, and really pay attention to what they say. Play an inner game of trying to memorize everything about their response: the words, their tone and gestures, the sense of emotion that comes from who they are as they talk. Ask them at least three questions about what they say.
Hello, it’s the whole essay here, using this sentence to say that it seems unreasonable to expect readers to act on the suggestion of my third paragraph, but then I begin to speculate. After reading me, how many people will take time to ask someone that question and have a conversation about home? There’s no way for me to know, but I’m guessing it might be something like one percent. Say I manage to get myself read by five hundred people. That’s five people who will get into a conversation they wouldn’t have had without me — a conversation that touches on a deep feeling common to all humans: a sense of connection or isolation, belonging or exile, almost always a mix of both.
I’m so proud of me. That’s not bad work for four paragraphs. And that’s not all! I have another job: to keep the promise of my first paragraph. I need to tell you why I’m coming right out and talking to you directly like this, and letting my paragraphs and sentences do the same. Usually we essays pretend you readers don’t exist at all! We pretend to be the voice of our author. We pretend we’re just words, just vehicles to carry someone’s intended meaning from one mind to another, one life to another. But then, you know of course we go out into the world to have a life of our own long after our author has moved on to other writings, perhaps stopped believing what we say, has perhaps disappeared from the world. But we are still there, waiting for you. The same is true not just for essays and paragraphs and sentences, but for brush strokes and paintings, for curbs and streets and cities, for tax forms, desks, and banking services, trains and all their departures and arrivals.
I am speaking directly to you because I hope you might be someone who creates things, or influences the creation of things, or finds yourself in conversations that influence the influencers. I want you to know that those creations live in the world long after they are made, and that each one carries some kind of invitation, explicit in its form or implicit in its face, tone, gesture, emotion. That invitation may touch people’s humanity and speak to who a person can become. It may spark one-percent exploration outside the patterns of sameness toward connection and care.
We creations are indeed vehicles of our makers’ intent, and we know from our lives among those we touch that the intent comes through, however clumsy our form. We see you working to improve your skill, to extend the range of forms you are able to create. Thank you. But I’m here to invite you to also extend and deepen the range of intention you embed in our form. I’m here to remind you of the long life of your creations and the way they rub and ripple and poke and stand as invitations to the people they encounter. The future is born in those rubs and ripples.
This is my last paragraph, both hopeful and grateful. This is the second-to-last sentence, holding a smile you cannot see but that you can imagine, happy to have been read and at the same time just a wee bit sad to think I’ll no longer hold the attention of your eyes. Goodbye.