The present column marks my final post for The American Scholar. After two-plus years, 115 pieces, and more than 60,000 words, I’ve decided that the time has come to call it quits.
It’s like this: I’ve hit a wall. I’m not completely empty of ideas, but they’re no longer coming fast enough to sustain a column. Imagine a pair of lines on a graph. The one that’s falling is the pleasure that I get from being able to express my thoughts each week in public. The rising one’s the pain that comes from having to. The two lines crossed a few months back, and the prospect ahead is bleak. I’ve never wanted to become a person who repeats himself.
I also don’t believe in writer’s block. Or at least, I don’t believe that I’m the kind of writer who deserves to have it. Creative work is one thing, as you wait for inspiration. For an essayist, being stuck is really thinker’s block. You have nothing to write because you have nothing to say. Put the pen down slowly and step away from the page. Keep your hands where I can see them.
All Points has concerned itself with culture in the wider sense of our collective self-awareness, and at its best (at least for me), the material for this column has arisen naturally from the daily drift of my attention as I go about my business: reading the paper, listening to NPR, talking to a friend—or more often, free associating about it all later while I make a salad or zone out at the gym. Something gets caught in the net—a way we have of saying things, an assumption that we take for granted. Something shifts enough for me to see a corner of it catch the light. I’ve been staring at it all along, but now I finally notice it. Writing is the act of dragging experience across the threshold of consciousness.
I’ve become habituated, over the last couple of years, to thinking in blog-sized units. That could make a post, I’ll say to myself, the way that fiction writers filter the world for possible stories. It was a useful mindset, for a while: it focused my imagination, and composing the pieces—which took anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day—was the writerly equivalent of doing wind sprints. Lately, though, it’s started to feel confining. Between the blog and the book that I’ve been working on for pretty much the whole time I’ve been writing the blog (and that is almost finished now, as well), I’ve had little opportunity for full-length essays and reviews, the kind of writing I enjoy the most. I’m eager to return to them, but also to turn the page on this entire chapter and discover what the next one has in store.
Which doesn’t mean the ideas have stopped arriving. There’s the post I wanted to write about our fetish for “innovation,” and another on my doubts about the religion of art, and a third about the invention of the American woman …
But enough. It’s time to make a graceful exit.
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