Answering an Email from Hal
    Frederick Zackel
Good morning, Hal! What a beautiful email / essay from you for my Sunday morning coffee. Thank you for saying nice things about my essays.

My time for essays? Perhaps the best time for essays ever, for everyone in the world. The Internet has spawned hundreds of literary and cultural journals. Fiction they have tons of, more than they can ever publish, but nonfiction -- ahh, the denizens of the Internet are destitute and desperate for any essays.

The world is hungry -- no, starved -- for a chance to ruminate on ideas. So as fast as an essay can be written, it can be posted on the Internet.

I did my research. Montaigne created the essays, called them "essais" or "trials" or "attempts." Freud says the individual is always striving for balance with his society, always battling with society. (In literature, we call that battle between the individual and society "the novel.") The essay is the individual's attempt to organize connections with that outer world, "the culture."

Your essay this morning wasn't an email. Nope, it was a spontaneous outburst -- otherwise known as "a first draft of an essay." Look at the special beauties you wrote about. How the poetry of Frost and Sandburg and your own "Munich" poems answer your need to express yourself in concrete, tough word choices.

You said in my essays I wrote "campfire stories." Yes, that's what I see them as, too. We all sit around the campfire and listen to the voice of this moment's Chosen One who tells us what that wind-sound is in the dark trees, and then it's time to pass the baton, and "now it's your turn to tell a ghost story."

That's all an essay ever is. Montaigne wondered, "Am I playing with the cat or is he playing with me?" You called my words "mind-strolls" and while I thank you for the lovely compliment, that's all any essay ever is.

Isn't that lovely? Mind-strolls. The flaneur ruminates.

Consider your email. Recognize you have the right to say what you just said. And now with that epiphany comes the realization that thanks to the Internet you have gained the opportunity to "voice" your opinion.

Essays are born in coffeehouses. Have a scone, some French roast or Colombian, and open up the notebook, and spit your seeds onto the world.

I was born Catholic, Democrat and poor, and reluctantly -- oh so reluctantly -- I have concluded I will die poor, Catholic and Democrat -- but without the anchoring comfort each of them once allowed me. In my life I have discovered "studia humanitatis," the study of humanities, the study of being human. Do I have an agenda? Yes, surely. But I don't know what my agenda is. I haven't finished writing. I know I have freedom of the press on the Internet until "they" -- the authorities, or "author-ities," or "author"-ities -- decide it's time to stop it. And the "author-ities" will stop that freedom because they always have.

In the meantime let's "flaneur." My favorite new word.

I am delighted hearing about your "Munich" poems. "Opening a vein" and they came out. The essay comes from that same outburst.

For me the Internet is Voltaire's garden. I have my gardening tools: my essays. I am content to cultivate online.

The grief you write about will come to us all, when we realize the apocalypse has been postponed again. Indefinitely.

Wishing you the best, old friend.


Frederick Zackel is a Contributing Editor to the literary website January magazine.


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