It’s one of those ‘ah ha’ moments when you find yourself banging on the table and looking around for someone – anyone - to share your revelation with. But the house is empty, the kids are at daycare, the husband at work. I have to be content with nodding my head and using so much orange highlighter that the pages are beginning to get soggy.
I have just finished reading ‘Letters to an Unknown Friend’ by Robert Dessaix (one of my uni readings) on the personal essay and my first instinct was to jump on my blog and tell the world. Finally I had found an art-form that was for me. Intimacy, conversation, unknown friends, small topics, admissions of uncertainties and self-doubts, incoherence: these are words that describe my life at the moment, my life as a new writer.
The only problem I have is when people ask me what type of writer I am (and that more awkward question ‘have you written anything I would have read?’). I do not have a succinct answer for them.
I knew I did not want to be a novelist. Not yet anyway. I didn’t want to be a hard-nosed journalist chasing down leads and working to ridiculous deadlines. I already knew I hated academic writing: you are so dependent upon other people – as sources, references, experts – and you were not allowed to feature in your own writing. I like to take front stage in my own words. In my own life I prefer to take a back-seat and let others take the stage, but in my writing I need to be present. A script-writer? No, I have a tendency to ramble on. A poet? Unlikely.
At heart I am a storyteller. However I feel most comfortable when I deal with reality and life. I like to write about my life – my children, my renovations, my desire to be a writer. And upon reading Dessaix’s commentary on the personal essay, I finally felt things falling into place.
I can be a personal essayist.
I do not see a lucrative career ahead of me, but that is not why I want to be a writer. It is a far less tangible and more visionary approach to life I am taking. It helps that my husband has a good job and we are not on the breadline. If my family were dependent on my literary outputs to put dinner on the table we would be knocking on my parents’ door within a week.
Dessaix describes the essayist as ‘the leisured aristocrat’ with an ‘underlying air of incoherence’ – how could this literary lifestyle not appeal to a harried mother of two under four with mad plans for another?
Yet as I mentioned, my instinct was to jump on my blog and share this discovery with my own known and unknown friends. Dessaix would not approve. He lost a relationship over his refusal to read a friend’s blog so I doubt he would ever deign to share his ramblings via this medium. He sees personal essayists as having an intimate conversation via the essay, and modern day communication via tweets, blogs and Facebook as simply ‘living out life’s banality.’
I disagree because I find the generalisation a little unfair. There are many writers out there in cyberspace who use blogging as a valid platform to practice their craft and hone their skills. Just like we are encouraged to ‘Find 30 every day’ to improve our physical fitness, I use blogging as a way to improve my writing fitness.
I loved this article because of its inherent smallness. It is not about civil unrest in Libya or the plight of refugees or the nuclear threat in Japan. It is a small piece about a small topic. I love that within the personal essay we are given permission to just write – uninhibited by the need to present cold facts or the Big Important Topics. Permission to ruminate on the small things in life, to ask questions both of ourselves and others without expectation of actually needing to provide answers.
Some people may hate this, and believe the very concept of personal essay to be the ultimate in self-indulgence. However I find it to be the perfect solution to what Dessaix rightly points out is the unfortunate affliction of twenty-first century Australia: we are always busy, we are not allowed to be idle. The personal essay: short, succinct, humorous and relatable might be the ideal medium to share our musings in a world where we only have five minutes before our next rendezvous.