Exigence = Urgent situation requiring one to respond (in writing)
When we sit down to write, we have to make a choice about which task to tackle first. Should we write a poem about how much we love our kid, or a letter to our future self, reminding us not to sweat the small stuff? Should we work on an article or editorial about our teaching for a magazine or newspaper, or a bit of a memoir that helps us to understand why we always react to our mom that way? When working with students, should they write an essay about learning to ride a bike, or about that Black Lives Matter rally that they went to last weekend? An essay about Hillary Clinton is very timely right now. Next year, it may not be so exigent.
When faced with this choice about what to write, we can ask ourselves which task has the most exigence, or is most exigent. Our word exigent in English is a synonym for the Greek word kairotic.
In Greek, there are two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is what the clock says. Kairos is the significance of the moment–in history or in your life. The punch line of a joke shouldn’t come at 3:03, it should come at the “right time” in the delivery. Rhetoricians (those who study public speaking and writing) say that a speech that is delivered at the right moment in history is “kairotic.” It was just what the audience needed to hear.
When a friend says that your encouragement was “just what I needed to hear right then,” they are saying that your words were kairotic.
When helping students to figure out what to write about, try to help them find something that matters RIGHT NOW to them, some decision that they need to make, some message that they need to communicate to someone significant in their lives.
As the cliche goes, tomorrow may be too late–even if it’s just because the punch line lost its kairotic moment.