I don’t like weasels. Nearly everything about weasels gives me the creeps, including the nursery rhyme, “Pop! Goes the Weasel.” Think about it. Honestly. Yuck.
It is always hard for me to read the Annie Dillard essay, “Living Like Weasels.” And it’s not just because weasels give me the willies; I also associate the actual weasel with being a “weasel” (a liar, a cheat, full of treachery) and “weasel words” (duplicitous and/or deceitful terms). Even the way we refer to groups of weasels is frightening: confusion, pack, sneak, and gang of weasels. (And even though Arthur Weasley’s patronus is a weasel, I can’t get past the general nature of what I have perceives as the weasel.) When I first saw Gita Dasbender’s chapter in Writing Spaces on this Dillard essay, I thought: “I can’t do it; I can’t read this.”
(By the by, if you ever thought you might want a mink fur coat, you might reconsider: minks are weasels, and that’s not the least of the reasons you might re-think your decision.)
But I had to read Dasbender’s chapter for my work. Period. I don’t always get to pick what I want to do… and I accept that. But weasels. Holy mother of pearl.
However, I did get a lot from Dasbender’s take on how Dillard writes and how I can read her essay for writing advice and to think about critical thinking. That helped me get over my revulsion. I’m not into living like weasels–and the description is downright bloody–but I do find the following statement compelling and intriguing: “I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive.”
I am typically “into” mindfulness, mindful living–awareness, kindness, breathing deeply, weaving ideas, letting it all wash over me, I’m the water, not that rock–but I understand the desire to lose desire that is motivated by desire rather than purity–just filling one’s belly because of hunger, just sleeping because one is tired could be the purity Dillard is referring to–and if so, then I get it. I just really don’t want that all the time, or this is more likely: I cannot get over the weaselness of Dillard’s work. And that’s it.
If I had only read Dillard’s essay and not Dasbender’s tips on reading to learn about thinking/writing, then I might have just wandered past my above thinking and put the weasel essay in tray #13 (the trash), but instead, Dasbender’s thoughtful questions about thinking as I was reading moved me to a better analysis of what I was doing.
Now I want to write a personal response to the weasel essay–a sixth-paragraph-like essay that explores my fears about rodent-like creatures and my reaction to weasels and fur coats.
Now I feel more prepared to take something that might begin as a personal narrative (about my fur and beast fears) and turn that into an essay about the fear of writing that I work with all the time with students (fear is fear is fear–understanding and overcoming fear is a writing teacher’s job… always). I could unpack my thinking about my personal fears and search for information on why people fear writing, figuring out examples of what writing-fear looks like, tips on how to get rid of it–or at least, cut it off at the pass.
Now I want to write more. I want to be a reader of other essays that, as Dasbender describes, are “clear, compelling writing”; I want to be “riveted by critical thinking that produces a movement of ideas.” Though the weasel essay does not leave me comfortable (in fact, even writing about it irritates me), I am aware of how much I love to write, am driven to write, how my personal writing leads to academic writing, how critically thinking about what a writer does can move me to being a better writer myself.
…at least that’s my hope, because there better be a good payoff for having had to read about weasels one more time.