This column is about nothing
Ellie Konfrst | Tuesday, February 15, 2022
I have to be honest for a second. I have no idea what to write this column about.
Normally, my discernment process for column topics is pretty easy: I think about whatever I’ve seen or read or heard that made me feel something in the past two weeks (that something is usually anger) and decide whether I have 800-1,000 words to say about it. If I do, I spend some time, usually either in the shower or while I’m falling asleep at night, and think about how to frame my idea in an interesting way. If I decide I don’t have 800-1,000 words in me to express something like “I hate being cold,” I move on and wait until something else comes to me.
Reading that over now, it sounds like kind of a passive process, doesn’t it? I let ideas come to me. I don’t go out searching for them. But for the past year and a half that I’ve been a columnist, it’s worked. When I originally applied to be a columnist, I did so because I felt like I was overflowing with ideas that couldn’t be contained in a tweet or dining hall conversation with a friend worried about her next midterm. It was incredibly humbling to find out that my friends at The Observer thought I had enough thoughts to sustain a biweekly column, and as soon as I started writing, it felt natural. Things would happen, I would have some reaction, and I would try to articulate my thoughts by 5 p.m. on Sundays.
At this point, it’s probably clear that for whatever reason nothing has really happened to elicit a column-worthy reaction from me these past two weeks. So here I am, doing something it seems most writers feel the inescapable urge to do at some point: I am writing about writing.
It’s strange to me that I feel the need to write about writing columns at all, considering I’ve always thought it was some of the easiest writing I do. In contrast to academic writing, I can write entirely in my voice and I can write about whatever I want. In contrast to fiction writing, I don’t have to do difficult character or plot work and I don’t struggle with making my writing sound authentic.
In a way, though, the freedom I have in my columns makes it the most daunting writing I’ve ever done. As long as I cite things that need to be cited, keep it within a general word limit, and turn it in on time, The Observer has given me an incredible amount of leeway to write about whatever I want. The words, the ideas, and the arguments on this page are plucked exclusively from my own brain.
These columns are really the most vulnerable I’ve ever been in a public setting, and I think that makes me feel like each one needs to have something to say. Even if you read some of my lighter columns, I have a tendency to try to conclude with something profound to give the reader the sense that they read something that matters. That probably has something to do with the imposter syndrome I feel in everything I do, the very capitalistic idea that time is money so we need to spend ours well and a deep-seated feeling I have that all writing must have something grand and poignant to say. Even my columns that take a longer and more winding path to “the point” have one: A point that I came up with in the shower before I even opened my Google Doc.
But writing is an art, is it not? And art does sometimes, maybe often, has something to say about humanity. But sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t mean that in a the-curtains-are-just-blue, anti-critical-engagement kind of way, but more in an art-is-intensely-personal, not-everything-is-about-socio-political-issues kind of way. Great art can be about one person’s experience in particular or one feeling in particular. It doesn’t need to be about everyone to have value. That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn when it comes to my own writing, though.
I’m not an artist by any means. I liked the art classes I took in high school, but always approached them from an analytical perspective. I wanted to succeed at art, get an A in the class, and make something free of mistakes. Expressing myself through visual art is something I always wanted to feel natural but it never did.
Writing, though, is a different story. Even in my academic writing, I have always found it easy to make my voice shine through. I love the process of untangling the mangled spider web of thoughts in my head and filtering them into something expressive and coherent. It may be obvious, considering I voluntarily write an essay for fun every two weeks, but I really like writing. And if I’m being honest, I think my writing takes a hit when I feel a need to twist it and shape it into something important. It becomes less real, less interesting and less authentic to me as a writer.
I’m at 862 words right now and am actively fighting the urge to write a paragraph explaining why this should matter to you, the person reading this. This column isn’t about what it means to be human or the writer’s experience or even the Viewpoint columnist’s experience. It is about my experience, in particular. Maybe that isn’t profound or interesting in any way. Maybe it is. Either way, I had fun writing it.
Ellie Konfrst is a senior studying political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program for Public Service. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she’s excited people will once again be forced to listen to her extremely good takes. You can find her off campus trying to decide whether or not she’ll go to law school or bragging that Taylor Swift follows her on Tumblr. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elliekonfrst13 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.