Under 50 Words Each

Some weeks ago, my son gave me a small notebook with the handwritten title, “I Dunno… Words N’ Shit.” I’ve been carrying it around, dutifully adding words—and sometimes even sentences. Each statement was supposed to be an essay later, but none have escaped my little paper vault.

I’m teaching summer school, and yesterday we were discussing how many sentences a paragraph has to have. That made me consider how many words a whole essay must have.

It occurred to me that maybe these notebook entries don’t need expansion, maybe they are already essays. So, in the spirit of experimentation, I offer them here:


“Simplify, simplify, simplify,” Thoreau said, but so much of life is already so simple, all its complications dwindling to a single pitch, a background whistle that never needs added air.

Or—better—complications becoming light, the color in every other.


Was it Aristotle who said people are not quite beasts and not quite divines? Divines can’t die, and beasts continue because their bodies insist they do. Only we end ourselves, and that freedom says everything about the power of our confusion.


I’m not sure I should feel good when others compliment my metaphors. When you explain everything with foreign terms, the world is translation.


Maybe love, rather than happiness, is the point. Happiness is a complication of circumstance, a variable born of variables. Love glues atoms together and sticks us to this place.


I wonder what it might be like to channel someone else. And then I wonder how I’d know it was happening. Wouldn’t it feel like recalling the truth at last, like memory returning from a long journey?


As a child, I thought I’d break a world record if I believed it possible. I only needed to push doubt from my mind to run faster than reality said I should.

I don’t know when the pendulum swung the other way… or what, at this point, might reverse it.


I’ve always wanted to see mirrors made and once dreamt manufacturers backed each sheet of glass with a thin layer holding all the reflections the mirror might ever throw back.

Maybe that’s what faith feels like.


A sense of humor, people tell me, is a strategy to deal with pain, but only sometimes. You need to know the world is absurd to laugh at it, but when the world is entirely absurd, laughter seems absurd too.


We don’t hear the sounds we expect—it goes against my nature to resist being known, but I wish it didn’t.


Silence sings after noise—the dryer stops, the idling car drives away, the L clears the station. A conversation ends with loving words.

The last is really all I’m thinking about—the rest are examples.

1 Comment

Filed under Doubt, Education, Essays, Experiments, High School Teaching, Hope, Laments, life, Memory, Teaching, Thoreau, Thoughts, Writing

One response to “Under 50 Words Each

  1. Extremely poetic and full of imagery for jotted notes!
    I may use some/many of them as my email signature from time to time.
    Would you mind?
    Shall I credit you?

    Thank you! I edited these “essays” a little between the notebook and here, but not really that much.

    I don’t mind at all if you use them. It’d be nice to be credited, but they’re out in the world now. I’m just happy to have a reader.

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