Visual images are of course common for weblogs and in today’s culture. However, I use visuals only infrequently for a reason: I am a writer and I believe that words should, as a general rule, stand on their own. I don’t do sites like Pinterest or Instagram . . . these things have their place, but not in my world. (I encourage my lit students to find images of that which they have never encountered – say, a kingfisher when they are reading Hopkins’ “As kingfishers catch fire” – but this is to gain the necessary knowledge to envision the words, not because the picture is essential to the work itself.) I’m not very visually oriented myself, but I find that there really are others, even in my students’ generation, who also are not enamored of visuals; I also don’t do Twitter and find the same: many others are not enamored of messages that say next to nothing because they are undeveloped and unsupported. Again, such media has its place, but not in my world, and especially not in the genre I am trying to learn and practice here.
The familiar essay is meant to take its time, to develop a theme or themes by indirection and reflection. Its message can’t be stated in 140 characters; like a poem, its whole is far more than the sum of its parts. A paraphrase or summary will never capture the essay’s meaning as it might for an academic article or a business report; the artifact itself is the meaning. Like poetry, the essay describes in words, expecting the reader to use his imagination to see; like fiction, the essay offers narrative, expecting the reader to envision the story in his mind. The essayist takes a line out for a walk and invites the reader to come along, to enjoy the journey without impatience for the conclusion. This requires words, words that slow us down, help us to think, to reflect, to wonder, not to rush in search of the gist of things; it cannot be achieved by images or sound-bytes that bypass that process.