One of the arts I have been practicing over the past three years has been ‘the art of everyday eloquence.’ I believe I am chiefly alone in this, but I also believe that it is one of the most important arts to learn for individuals who seek to lead good and decent lives outside of the institutions that either are not working or are slowly passing out of existence.
This ‘art of everyday eloquence’ is to be distinguished from other genres of writing. It is not ‘critical thinking,’ the nonsense stuff taught in elementary college courses; nor is it creative writing, the nonsense stuff taught in liberal arts colleges and breeding an oversupply of professional MFAs (I don’t recall Joyce enrolling at Iowa Writers’ Workshop); nor it is technical writing, the sort of thing one does when one writes manuals and instruction guides for large corporations; nor business writing, the crafting of memos, queries, executive summaries, and proposals; nor letters of applications; nor the private letter, the kind that Rilke excelled in; nor even the writer’s pitch, the academic proposal, or the non-profit grant.
Strange to say, the art of everyday eloquence, especially when it is practiced in the space of the email, is public but with a touch of personableness; may involve business but not in the knock-about, pleading, or needling way. It is neither too short and curt nor too long and windy. Not lukewarm, it is also not fiery and passionate. Beautiful, of course, but not florid or purply or embellished. No allusions required, no roundabouts taken, no evasions permitted.
In everyday eloquence, one gets to the point without running the other over and without making the other into a means for some agenda rather than an end in himself. To be sure, one is direct, quite so, but with a directness that does not strike the other as aggressive or pushy or backhandedly coercive. Between soft and hard in style, between friendliness and professionalism in tone, a certain neighborliness perhaps, everyday eloquence may be–I’m searching for a single word–charisma, a sort of ordinary charisma.
It bothers me that no one teaches this art and few practice it. (Yet many recognize it and appreciate it, respond to it favorably.) I am chagrined because I believe this art can make all the difference when it comes to making a decent living while leading an honorable life. I don’t want people to hustle or to grub about and be servile or to become hardhearted lords. I want those of us who live by our own lights to be lighthearted. Try to do that , try to be lighthearted while keeping your shirt on in the context of late capitalism and I’ll smile your way with fellow feeling.