I was in elementary school, junior and senior high school, and even college during the 1960’s. And so my exams back then contained a mixture of four types of questions: True or False, Fill In The Blank, Multiple Choice, and Essay. Most students preferred True or False — heck, why not, with the cushy 50% odds of guessing right?
Not me. I could too easily outwit myself by over-thinking the stupid statement, seeing tricks where there were none, dissecting the ambiguous sentence until I was sure it was probably True but then again just possibly False. I knew I was in trouble when I confidently strode up to my teacher’s desk in seventh grade during the middle of an exam and asked her if I could write in “Maybe” for Question #8. Her theatrical eye-roll made me slink back to my seat.
I was that rare essay-loving kid. It didn’t matter what the essay question was; I had five paragraphs worth of strong opinions on any topic: Beowulf or Virginia Woolf, Physics or Phys Ed, The Adverbial Clause or Santa Claus. Though I was not an athlete, I was an Olympic Gold Medalist in the category of what we used to call “Slinging The Bull.”
I occasionally utilized slinging those same bull droppings during my graduate career, which included more essay exams, term papers, and finally the ultimate slung bull, my doctoral thesis. And so I finally was allowed to call myself a “PhD”—which, as we all know, is the abbreviation for “Piled High & Deep.”
And now here I am in the 2020’s, still essay-writing up a storm. Two years ago, I initiated these twice-monthly little essays to keep in touch with you during the pandemic. Having written sixty-six of them since Covid struck in April of 2020, I understand now, as I did not then, how wondrous the writing of them has become for me. With all my challenges of being my partner’s caregiver as he nobly struggles with Alzheimer’s, it has been the writing of these essays that has anchored me, bringing me such comfort and escape, perhaps even saving my sanity.
Our word “essay” is from the French word for “attempt” or “try.” When I sit down and begin writing my essays, I can assure you that they begin as a mere optimistic attempt to educate and entertain you. Success is hardly assured. I sometimes feel like a figure skater trying to land a quadruple axel. And when my wordplay and the puns that I so love go awry, I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m skating on very thin ice indeed.
I think one of the biggest challenges in writing a successful personal essay is its almost contradictory mission: on the one hand, in order for you to identify with my writing, I must choose experiences which we all have in common; on the other hand, it is essential that I have my own unique take on the subject, or why would you even bother to read me? So my goal is to be exactly like you — only different. Yikes.
And your email responses have made me feel so supported, even embraced. I read each one with gratitude. Those of you write to me are now my companions whom I no longer can invite in nor travel out to enjoy. Many of you have kindly complimented me on my “essays”; others have complimented me on my “blogs”.
Darian and I both feel that neither term is quite accurate. I’d like to think that my writings attempt — or essay (yep, it’s a verb too, pronounced “ess-A”) — to demonstrate a literary skill that the less formal blog does not. And my writings are not quite essays. Mercifully, they are shorter than the usual published essay, and I hope that my intimate conversational tone takes the stuffing out of the standard more stuffy essay. In the past we have called my writings “In Plain Engel-ish,” but now we are now looking for something new.
And so we would like to give you a challenge. Could you possibly come up with a better name for what I’ve been writing to you? Let us know if inspiration strikes you. The winner will be awarded a fawning, personally autographed copy of one of my books that has been long out of print (due to Unpopular demand). There’s no deadline (“dead” is such a final word), so let’s just say the winning entry will be announced in my December 19 essay-blog-column-article-piece-feature. Help, please.
You have now been given your “Stimulating Assignment” or…wait for it…your “S.A.”
Elliot says: “Even if you have no name to suggest for my writings, I’d be eager to hear from you about just any ol’ thing. I do love feedback.”
Email Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.