On personal essays



I’m a fiction writer. I prefer to clothe my deepest thoughts and concerns by inventing a character and giving him/her my views and problems. Cowardly I know, but I cringe at people who can write about their innermost being, even if it makes them look bad. I cringe on their behalf, but also on my own. I would never wash my thoughts in public, I think, while admiring their honesty and foolhardiness.

But then I start thinking, what would it take for me to do that?  Rinse my thoughts in public, that is.

I’m a private person, schooled on the idea ‘we don’t talk about that.’ I remember when I was about fifteen asking my grandmother about the sound in her hip when she walks. Every step would be accompanied by a loud click. In my young mind I had visions of her removing her underwear to show me the affected hip. Did it have a dent, what on earth caused that noise? It never affected her walk though, just accompanied it like drum sticks conjured up by her body. Click-clack-click.

Needless to say she told my mother and I got a hiding. I learned you don’t talk about grandmother’s click. I also acquired the reputation for being too curious, a bad thing. A child like that could stumble on family secrets.

I need the protection of anonymity. Then you’ll get the most honest feelings and deepest insights I can muster. But talk to me one on one, ask me to speak in front of a crowd, and I go dumb. That is why we are writers, I suppose. We can put on a coat of many colours and try to wow with our words.

But there’s always the possibility of growth: growing side-ways because of too many puddings, and growing intellectually and emotionally. I tried both. I joined this workshop on ‘what is a mind’. For the first time in my existence my brain actually grew painful with thinking.

People don’t tell you that, that thinking can be painful. That is why all those clever people start becoming weird. Their brains ache and they have to do something wack to find relief. (I’m trying to think if I know any clever people who are weird and I don’t. Eish. A personal essay is supposed to have facts so scratch that.)

While flirting with the idea of writing a ‘personal essay’ (just the name gives me the shivers) I stumbled on the quote: ‘At some point, all writers should attempt this form. It is at once a challenge of your talent but also a bearing of soul that is much more difficult to get right than novels or scripts or poems. I would challenge any writer to try it at least once.’ (http://litreactor.com/columns/up-close-and-personal-a-personality-expose-of-the-personal-essay)

Uh-huh. Now who can resist such a challenge? This woman, Taylor Houston – oh dear it may very well be a man – this man or woman, issues a direct challenge and I’m stepping up to the plate, or is it stepping off, because I’m out of my depth here.

People (this is me on my soap box) generally interpret themselves. Their honesty may therefore display who they think they are. And isn’t that fiction too? Everyone has a face that they present to the world. I haven’t discovered mine yet, so as soon as I know I’ll jump in and write my inner ear.