Upon formulating the necessary ingredients for an essay we should, before kickoff, satisfy the following criteria.
Firstly one must be sitting comfortably; I find a partially inflated car tyre inner tube to be ideal padding. Placed on the seat of my portable commode it gives one a feeling of aggrandisement plus, of course, alleviating of any possibility of exploding haemorrhoids taking one’s mind off the job in hand. It is said essayist Charles Lamb started the trend by sitting on a pig’s bladder, which assuaged the pain caused by an exquisitely painful carbuncle on the fundament. What it did for the pig isn’t recorded. This, in turn, led to a number of hostelries to be named after the renowned writer’s posture.
The visual aspect, the background and the lighting should be in absolute harmony. I sit next to a window overlooking a valley and just within sight of our own Pig and Bladder pub, which gives me the added incentive to finish the bloody essay before closing time. Pin-ups of Betty Grable, Winston Churchill and Mae West adorn the walls together with a photograph of mother-in-law, used as a dart board, with darts affixing scraps of paper as reminder notes to feed oneself and the dogs occasionally. Well-stocked shelves of supportive tinctures of an alcoholic nature and various versions of the hemp family are essential for boosting failing creative juices.
The need for absolute silence from any human sources around the home is crucial. I send the memsahib away for the duration to a home for the bewildered usually for a couple or so weeks, or until the need for washing dirty plates, cutlery, socks etc., mounts up to an insurmountable level and call her back for a couple of hours. Vomity Evans, a very friendly barmaid, will function in this capacity if the Memsahib desists.
This need for silence does not, of course, preclude the need for music. Samuel Johnson, before the invention of the gramophone, used to employ a bagpipe quartet to play popular tunes of the day in near proximity for inspiration. In this enlightened age, we have a massive choice. I personally employ Mr Johnston’s method, what was good enough for him etc etc.
The mode of dress, or undress, matters considerably. I believe Marcel Proust was wont to work completely naked, apart from a strategically placed pickelhaube. I prefer a silk smoking jacket, cravat, cavalry twills, plus fours, and deerstalker. Clothing gives one a feeling of poetic rhythm, or in my case warmth.
It is not a good idea to leave the workplace for food whilst engaged in composing. Leaving the room, even for a second or two, throws one’s concentration, disperses any ideas that are forming and leaves one open to abuse from spouses. So a couple of platefuls of fodder should also be at hand to ease any hunger pangs. Victor Hugo, who knew a thing or two about essays, was a trencherman of the first water, he had platefuls of frog’s legs and snails at his fingertips. While not advocating such delicious trifles, for me a dish of pickled beetroot and a slice or two of spotted dick pudding is adequate sufficiency.
At this stage of the proceedings, all the basic accoutrements for writing a rip-snorting essay are now within ones grasp. One can now vigorously attack the qwerty with the knowledge that once a subject is decided upon there is no excuse for lassitude. I find two or three games of solitaire and free cell are undertaken to free up the joints before embarking on the actual essay. What the essay is about now depends on one’s mood. If no preconceived ideas are held, I suggest a long stare out of the window. Ralph Waldo Emerson was known to stare out of the window for days at a time. What he was staring at is not recorded but rumour has it that his next door neighbour, a lady of ample proportions, was prone to sunbathe in her garden au naturel in all weathers, which may account for his habit. I stare at grazing sheep, a habit which has brought some comment from the village inhabitants and even a visit from the police but after explaining that I gained inspiration from their svelte locomotion, it seemed to satisfy their unwarranted assertions.
Pour yourself a heart starter and try to recall the ideas that flooded into your conscious last night just before Morpheus played his part. You promise to remember them, but can you, I’m buggered if I can. Try as you might the most wonderful scenarios you could possibly imagine refuse to surface. The promises to always take a notepad to bed every night in case of such eventualities never materialise. I took a biro to bed once and managed a few scribblings of magnificent concepts on the pillow, but woke up in the morning with a face resembling an over ripe aubergine and a scream from a hysterical memsahib. T. S. Eliot was lucky. He used to talk in his sleep and employed a shorthand typist to sit by his bedside and record every utterance. Apparently, she made a fortune in later years by publishing his other thoughts, those totally unconnected with essaying.
For the serious essayist, there are probably a number of thoughts nestling in the hard drive or flash stick. The trouble is in choosing one that suits one’s present state of mind or sobriety. The choice is sometimes taken out of your hands by a pre-ordained subject requisite. This can be tricky but the accomplished essayist can manoeuvre any subject, even those that bear no relation to the proposed subject to one of insurable interest so long as the subject is mentioned occasionally. George Orwell, for instance, wrote many an essay, one, his 1946 essay ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ was adapted from a former essay entitled ‘A Horrid Cup of Coffee’ and ‘Riding Down from Bangor’, modified from another piece entitled ‘Cavorting with Dawn from Cardiff,’ and got away with it. With the expertise apparent in Literary Endeavourists, this should be a piece of cake, which is possibly a good title for an essay in itself.
Whatever title one decides on, there are one or two hints that may be considered before deciding. It is advisable for the title to have some connection with the content. Virginia Wolfe, for instance once submitted an essay entitled ‘What every woman really wants’. The content describes how to assemble flat-pack furniture; but that’s Virginia for you. Thomas Carlyle submitted an essay entitled ‘A Treatise on Quadratic Equations’ which had very little to do with the content by telling the reader, in graphic detail, the mating habits of wandering Bedouins. So be very careful; it is very easy to wander off into realms of fantasy. I have wandered off into paroxysms of psychotic hypnosis, usually after half a bottle of gin, on more than one occasion when an idea forms that has no relevance to the subject at hand, but the fingers twitch, the qwerty is fondled and before you know what has happened a thousand words appear on how to erect a chicken coop titled ‘The Life and Times of Thomas a Becket.’
So good luck my dear friends and pleasant qwerty stroking.