Skip to main content

Writing about people

One of the challenges I find in writing an essay a day is deciding what to write about. Some days, I have an obvious thing. Some days, nothing comes to mind. So at some point, I started making a list of things I might want to write about some day. I think I mentioned Hallie Flanagan in class, and no one knew who she was, so I decided that I should write a series of essays on Grinnellians you should know about. But I’ve been enjoying writing opinion pieces and positive pieces, so I’ve created an ever-expanding list of "When I need something else to write about, I should write about *this person."

And the list has really expanded. In addition to alums (mostly dead alums), I’ve started making a list of current Grinnellians our students should know. Some are students. Some are staff. Some are faculty. Some are also alums. And so the list is Grinnellians you should know (or know about).

I both made the list and delayed doing anything with the list because writing about people seems like a very different genre of essay than I’ve been doing. (Okay, I’m not really sure what genre of essay I’ve been doing, but it’s certainly not the same as essays about people.) I like the challenge of trying to write about different subjects. But I worry about my ability to do so well.

Tonight I was inspired to write my first such essay, about one of my favorite former students [1]. After I’d written all 1000 words, I realized that maybe that person wouldn’t really want me to post things publicly about them [2]. I’m not really a journalist, but I should have journalistic ethics.

And so, like many too many times in the past few weeks, I’m putting aside the first essay of the day I wrote. (In this case, so that I can run it by my former student.) But I do hope that I’ll get permission to post it some time.

If not, there’s always the opportunity to write about people I didn’t teach, which means that I’ll probably have fewer personal things to say. Maybe, once I get far enough into the essays, I’ll just spend a month writing about people.

In any case, since I couldn’t post that essay tonight, I had to come up with an alternative. This short essay serves that role [3].

[1] Yes, I have a large number of favorite former students.

[2] Yes, Michelle, I do look before I leap, at least once in a while.

[3] If had realized that I was on essay #57 before I started writing this essay, I probably would have written an essay on Heinz (and, maybe, the #57 MBTA bus). I guess that’s one of life’s lost opportunities. But I’m just not up to another essay tonight.

Version 1.0 of 2016-09-15.