Today, Becca asked us to consider this question:
So tell me, what are the areas closest to your heart? What aspects of your life in general do you find yourself sharing in writing? Do you enjoy reading/writing personal essays? Who are some of your favorite essayists?
As a person who aspires to write personal essays that don’t bore or seem tedious, I think about this question a lot – how do I write about things that are important to me – things like my cats, the color of the sky on a clear morning like today, the wonderment over something simple like the fact that everyone in my neighbor actually carries our trash out on the same morning, the pride I feel in my students when they read publicly for the first time, as they did last night. How do I write about these things with freshness and integrity? How is what I have to say about them different than what other people say?
Here, as Becca notes, is the key – to write from my own perspective, to make these experiences and witnessed events mine, uniquely mine. Somehow, I must – and usually – do learn to trust my own voice. I have finally – here in my 30th year of writing for I have written since I could put letters down on the page – learned that what I want/need to say is worth saying, even if it’s only worth saying for myself. And sometimes, on a good day, what I say reaches out and touches someone on the arm, a light familiar touch like you give a loved one at a large party where you can’t really talk intimately, a touch that says, “I’m here, too. Don’t forget.” Sometimes that exchange happens, and for me, that’s enough.
If I had to make a list of topics that I think are close to my heart, I’d start here:
Music – especially singer/songwriters’ music.
The mundanity of everyone’s existence. Recently, I was struck by the fact even Barack Obama had to sleep after winning the election. All humans are all basic in our needs.
Alleviating suffering and bringing equity to people.
Responsible living, particularly in terms of consumption.
Life as a single woman.
These are just a few ideas I have today, on a brisk, November morning when the sky is the color that sits between blue and lavender, a color I cannot name.
Essayists that write the way I would like to write, someday, when I dream myself into their glory?
Annie Dillard, especially in “Total Eclipse”
Jo Ann Beard, especially in “The Fourth State of Matter”
E.B. White, especially in “The Geese”
Brenda Miller, especially in anything from Seasons of the Body
Ted Kooser, especially in “Small Rooms in Time”
and I could list so many more. What I love about these essays is the ferocity of their story conveyed in the softness of light and language. These are moments captured for me, a reader, in my own comfy chair, feeling the stab of the writer’s experience. That’s what I want to learn how to do.
So I keep trying, writing out each day as best I can. Hoping to lean forward, whisper, and have someone hear.
If you’re interested, another of my essays has just been published in Relief. You can find the link to the journal here. If you have the resources to get hold of it, I would highly recommend it. Thanks for reading.