Category Archives: Essay

Writing in Circles

[first written, July, 2003–with slight edits]

One may assume every writer to be a very articulate person. He (or she) possesses this innate ability to convey his (her) thoughts in a precise and logical manner. His arguments are always straightforward and laid out in ways that are easy to follow. Cause is followed by effect. Statement is followed by support. Example is followed by explanation.

I, on the other hand, am not usually so direct. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I don’t think in straight lines. In fact, I don’t even believe in linear time; I’m one of those wackos who like to think of time as an eternal now—the past in the present in the future. It physically hurts me to try to write logically. I just can’t do it very well.

I write in a vein that is similar to the American Indian notion of counting coup. Imagine, let’s say, a wagon train crossing the open prairie of Nebraska. A hunting band of Lakota warriors comes upon these light-skinned strangers crossing their summer hunting grounds. Not happy about this incursion into their territory, they set upon the travelers to let them know their disapproval. The pioneers see the approaching band and sound the alarms. Driving their wagons into a protective circle, they raise their rifles in defense. Now the Lakota aren’t happy about these encroaching outsiders, and they want to teach them a lesson. They want to show these others whose in control around here. They start by circling the circled wagons, getting closer and closer with each pass. Every once in a while, a solitary warrior may leap closer yet, getting near enough to strike one of the settlers on the shoulder or the back with his stone mace before he retreats back to the relative safety of the group. He’s not there to kill the other. He just wants to put the other in his place, and prove his own courage and fearless spirit. This is called counting coup.

It’s much easier for me to circle around an idea, viewing it from many angles. Getting closer and closer with each approach, and then, when I think I’m ready (The fearless spirit is strong enough), I go in for the attack. But it’s never a full-frontal attack. It’s going to be a light blow that let’s you know I’m there, but it’s up to you to understand my message. Miscommunication is easy, and the results can be deadly (As in the case of our Lakota warriors), but if understanding can be reached at some level, there is the possibility of bridging the gap between two seemingly unrelated entities: the writer and the reader: the self and the other.

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