“Here is the place; here the way unfolds.” –Eihei Dogen
From my earliest days of writing, I have loved the personal essay. I used to see a definite progression in my work: I would take up a subject in my notebook and explore it; I would feel it assume a shape and write an essay about it, sometimes right there in the notebook. Eventually—with some subjects—I would work it into a larger work or a novel. Probably all of my books began as essays of some kind, or at least attempts at them. The word itself, as Montaigne coined it, means “to attempt.”
These recent essays are from the period of my life when I was working at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. During the summer I worked on some book project or other, but during the school year, when the writing bug bit me, or when some subject came up, I had time only for an essay. Even there, on days when I didn’t have papers to grade or students to meet with, I would write in my notebook, and sometimes a subject would take form out of my writing or my life. You can trace certain biographical facts in these pieces. These were the years when my wife and I were dealing with elderly parents, with illness and death in general.
It was while sitting down to an essay that I suddenly saw the idea for The Mystery of Being. That, I suppose, is itself just a long essay, or an ongoing one. I haven’t collected all my recent pieces here, just the ones that still seemed interesting to me. I hope they are of interest to you as well.