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In this culture, essays are often written for the sake of writing the essay. Someone finds a quibble of potential interest and quibbles about it. This doesn’t mean the writer isn’t capable of doing something of greater interest, but we generate a lot of prose that’s not vital. The best essays come from the moment in which people really need to work something out.
Marilynne Robinson, The Art of Reading
As harsh as it sounds, that was not why I wrote it. I wrote it because, as I said, I was dealing with all these questions of memory and democracy, and what does that mean. I feel better because I know now. Like, I know. Now, I feel like I’ve solved a problem, I understand something about the world that I didn’t understand before. And that’s why I wrote it. … My role is to answer questions. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have opinions.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, relaying a crucial difference between writing about policy and being an activist — which also happens to be the one everyone forgets. From the Longform podcast, which you should listen to. 

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

Louis C.K.

I love this description of “The American Man, Age 10.”

In 1992, Susan Orlean profiled 10-year-old Colin Duffy for Esquire magazine. Her story, “The American Man, Age 10,” is the product of a great deal of trust and collaboration between reporter and subject. Orlean doesn’t waste words describing her conversations with Colin. Rather, her sentences are richly layered with the products of those conversations. “If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks,” writes Orlean. She continues:

“We would eat pizza and candy for all of our meals. We wouldn’t have sex, but we would have crushes on each other and, magically, babies would appear in our home. We would win the lottery and then buy land in Wyoming, where we would have one of every kind of cute animal.”

In 1930, Oklahoma City had a half-million cars on its streets and seemingly no place to park them. Automobiles were choking commerce: Drivers who worked downtown were monopolizing the parking, keeping away others who wished to conduct business there. Someone needed to invent a machine that could regulate street parking. Carlton Magee was an editor of the Albuquerque Morning Journal when in 1920 he helped uncover what would become the Teapot Dome Scandal. A few years later, in a hotel lobby, a judge whom Magee once accused of corruption walked up and knocked him to the floor. The editor drew his pistol and shot wide, killing a bystander. Acquitted of manslaughter, Magee moved to Oklahoma City to run the Oklahoma News, where parking, not vindictive judges, was the big story. Magee invented the Dual Park-O-Meter, filed for its patent, and on July 16, 1935, 174 parking meters were slotted into Oklahoma City.

For businessmen and courts around the country, the invention of the parking meter was on par with shooting at a judge. 

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