Resisting a trickster in a suit of lights

2 am word vomit

One of the biggest problems that keeps occurring in my writing process is an anxiety towards vulnerable content. This is ironic because it’s one of the central themes of my capstone project. I’ve written things that were deeply personal to me in prior classes, but none have been so ‘about me.’ I’ve written about politics and the Paris Climate Agreement, about familial trauma, about Islam. But this topic explores my tattoos and the stories surrounding the tattoos, and it’s all so…microscopic.

I’m not so much worried about sharing things – I’m pretty open. What worries me is that it feels too ‘confessional’ as opposed to ‘creative nonfiction.’ Classmates and I explored this dilemma in my ENG325 last spring. We talked about the ways in which a story that is too concerned with itself walks the line of being confessional writing. This becomes a problem because confessional writing does not really speak to any bigger ideas or themes about life, and so people find themselves asking “Why should we care?”

Aside from this, I recently read an essay by Michael Chabon entitled, “Trickster in a Suit of Lights.” (ChabonTrickster) Chabon weighs in on the modern day short story and basically argues that a writer’s job is to entertain. He does assert that entertainment has been distorted in negative ways: its definition changed from something intellectual and interactive (i.e. dance between entertainer and the entertained), to a sort of passive, debased thing. Yet, his premises stick with me. I want to give the reader a pleasurable experience. As any other writer, I want readers to keep turning the page willingly.

How do I reconcile this urge to entertain with the desire to write liberally, for myself. When does a personal essay become too personal that it becomes a mirror in which only the author herself can see a reflection? How do I pull myself out of this?

I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t want to write something that sucks, and I’ve been too in my head to tell. I’m tackling this problem by playing with verbs, points of view, and structure. But this could go on for infinity. What helps me is referring to models. Retracing essays or other works I’ve read, I search for how I felt after reading the essays, and how they worked their magic to make me feel that way. Essentially, reverse engineering some works I’ve enjoyed, like Leslie Jamison’s “Empathy Exams,” Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and Eula Bliss’ “Notes from No Man’s Land” helps me see these authors construct stories that are not only important to topics of race, feminism, love, etc., but also pleasurable as hell to read.

When I think about what excites me about these essays – their originality, dialogue, seamless embedding of research, heavy content – I’m a little bit reassured that it’s not an all or nothing, singular formula type of solution, and that I should just write.


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