For people involved in the TV business, I imagine watching The Wire — David Simon’s novelistic depiction of big-city dysfunction on HBO — generates mixed feelings. On one hand: Damn that’s good. On the other: Damn. That’s really good. It makes what once seemed excellent appear merely adequate; what was once adequate now worthless. It has transcended its medium and made those still laboring within its received limitations seem … diminished.

That’s how I feel when I read essays by Michael Pollan. Take his cover piece in New York Times Magazine‘s current green issue: "Why Bother?" It is profound, but written with zen-like simplicity. It presents a moral challenge without a hint of hectoring or self-righteousness. It is what it is: I can’t imagine a single word added or subtracted.

Is it easy for him to produce this stuff, or does he labor over it for hours, relentlessly pruning and digging down to the essence? I wish I knew. There are many, many things I despise about my own writing, but foremost is my tendency to excess: too many words; too many baroque sentence structures; too much melodrama, narcissism, and judgment. Pollan seems to be playing a completely different game. Makes me wonder why I bother laboring down here in the minor leagues.

Obviously this says nothing about the subject of the piece itself, which is, suffice to say, considerably more interesting than my neurotic reaction to it. I trust you are wise enough to go read it for yourself.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!