Why I Write Essays
An essay, states Wikipedia, is generally, a piece of writing that gives the author’s own argument. It has no definitive definition, but it is usually personal, even autobiographical; it is more often objective, factual; and, also, tries to reach the abstract-universal. I am still very, very far from meeting these goals.
In fact, unbeknownst to me –but not from my wife Emiko- I am possibly trying to emulate 随筆 Zuihitsu a Japanese genre ‘consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author’s surroundings’.
Doctor Timur Kouliev, MD is an Emergency Physician who, at barely 40 years of age, has worked in too many countries to keep track of –including many missions in Antarctica and the Arctic. He speaks a good dozen of languages fluently; he is, with the support of NBC News, the ER physician for the Olympics since the Beijing Games in 2008, and of most major international/regional sports competitions. Close to be (very soon) a Master of Wine, he is also a remarkable cook, a living and charming encyclopedia and the medical practitioner I personally trust and bug too often. My wife Emiko and I love him and Medina, who shares his life –and is a successful author of erotica.
After regularly reading and commenting (some of) my essays, Timur travailed to get me published on paper and online. But there are no philanthropists amongst publishers: they’re in for the profit, and if they know their job, they will dictate many drastic changes that we discussed -and ultimately rejected. THANK YOU TIMUR for trying!
I authored dozens of books, and I am not proud of any; they paid for my daughters’ tuition, at UCSC and UCLA respectively, but they were obsolete even before being printed. I feel ashamed for the slaughter of trees that provided the paper.
Books can now be read online –and discarded. I do keep a number that I reread occasionally, but I gave most to our nearby Public Library. And I do not aspire to be one of these celebrities who will sell their body and their soul –if they exist- for an interview on TV or a few laudative paragraphs by a scribbler in a 200% commercial rag.
The last decade I spent in Paris, I worked 6 days each week from dawn to late in the evening seeing patients. But I was also the Docteur Inter on the radio, and for 2 years the medical anchor during the evening news on the French TV Antenne 2. As a member of the ABC (José Artur, Pierre Bouteiller, Jacques Chancel) team, and with Jean-Pierre Elkabbach (Antenne 2), I was joining a selected group of remarkable journalists with multiple talents, and a creaky humor. They were the stars of the media, the seeked out fashion referees, highly educated and expert in whatever they touched. My horizon widened, and my own opinions were accepted. I was in the happy few universe. And –in retrospect- it was a superb experience spanning the last 2 decades of the 1970s. But this also exposed me to the celebrity world. I despised it and looked amused or disgusted at the fauna of lackeys and ass-lickers who were obsessed by getting a sliver of exposure to a medium –anyone, anyhow, anytime. This kept reminding me of the other obsession of these morons: obtain a décoration –e.g. the Légion d’Honneur (red) or the (second-class, Gaullian) Ordre National du Mérite (blue).
Sir Winston Churchill supposedly said “Decorations? You do not ask for one. If awarded, you do not accept it. And you do not wear it”. To what Jules Renard famously added “and you do not DESERVE it!”
The distribution of Légions d’Honneur was (in)famously connected to getting elected. Some of the most effective votes’ providers were brothels’ owners and they always made the top of the annual list between 1875 and 1945. Other beneficiaries were the slaughterers of indigenous populations in the French Empire & Colonies. Or the providers of plonk to the French military to alcoholize forever the draftees.
I was thinking of all that (and more/worse) when I refused three times the Légion d’Honneur, once from François Mitterrand, twice from Jacques Chirac. But others I know –some very well- behaved differently and did every baseness to obtain the red ribbon, and kept working on their sordidness and servility until they got the cravate of Commandeur. This was –and remains existentially true- in the small swamp of edition (publishing), which is populated by monkeys essentially playing you scratch my back/I’ll scratch yours.
My own essays are not often easy to grasp, or digest. The mentioned references are arcane, by authors that are ignored by the masses. True, and truer as time goes by. I am not done; the more I read –or arduously learn- the more I know that Socrates was right: […] ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.
There is still time, patience, energy, to accept our growing ignorance; there is also hope (or menace) with the growing daily availability of Artificial Intelligence; after all I live between Stanford University and the giants of Silicon Valley: Google, Facebook, and a slew of ever emerging new ones. We may be living the most exciting opportunities, with –so far- no end in sight.
In the Quartzy online publication of October 28th, 2018, Ephrat Livni has a remarkable essay: The Fix is in. His advice is full of images, citations, quotes and suggestions, and I urge you to read it (see reference); but I have excerpted a few paragraphs (the very first ones and the very last) that make the point:
“What’s a person to do when bad news abounds? Taking to the streets or signing up for a campaign isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re not the activist type but still want to find a way to help humanity, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has a satisfying answer.
“Speaking at a New Yorker magazine event in New York on Oct. 6, 2018, Murakami explained that, in 2011, he was struggling with the question of what to do about others’ suffering, from the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, to people hit by natural disasters in Japan. He concluded that the best he could do was continue to write stories that move people.
“I was wondering what could I do for the people who have suffered. But I thought, ‘What I can do is to write good fiction.’ After all, when I write a good story, good fiction, we can understand each other if you are a reader and I’m a writer,” Murakami said. “There is a special secret passage between us, and we can send a message to each other. So, I think (writing good stories) is a way I can contribute to society or people in the world.”
“In other words, you find a way to help people that’s in keeping with the kind of person you already are. That might involve making art, writing novels (or essays!), pursuing knowledge, or teaching. You pour yourself into those endeavors, knowing that one way to heal the world is to be in it and offer your gifts.
“In the Jewish tradition, the concept of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world” is very simple. Any activity that leads to a more harmonious state is valid and valuable. The Chabad organization website, which illuminates Jewish mysticism, explains, “All human activities are opportunities to fulfill this mission, and every human being can be involved in tikkun olam, child or adult, student or entrepreneur, industrialist or artist, caregiver or salesperson,
political activist or environmentalist, or just another one of us struggling to keep afloat.”
Each act of repair fine-tunes the instrument that is the universe, and you don’t have to be religious or artistic or political to participate. You just must be a human. As Chabad puts it, “With each [fix], we are creating meaning out of confusion, harmony from noise, revealing the unique part each creation plays in a universal symphony.”