My favorite thing about reading and writing is the moment of near-euphoria when you realize someone has done the same things, felt the same feelings, or thought the same thoughts as you. After feeling isolated in a long term relationship during which I rarely honestly shared with anyone what was going on in my life, nothing compared to the validation I felt after hearing the stories of women who have had similar experiences to my own. When I read The Crane Wife, an essay about trying to act “low maintenance” to the point of misery, I was moved to read such a beautiful articulation of so many of the complicated experiences I shared. Similarly, when my roommate ended her long distance relationship last year and opened up to me about the difficulties of her relationship and the relief she felt upon ending it, I felt even less alone.
I want to further explore the idea of women who engage in unhealthy dynamics in relationships and explore the way traditional gender roles influence these patterns. The genre in which I want to tackle these issues is a reported essay — a genre somewhere between a journalism article and a personal essay. Aria actually recommended that I consider a reported essay last week when I explained I was torn between writing a personal essay and conducting a series of interviews. Because of my interest in journalism and my curiosity about how many others share similar experiences to mine, the idea of interviewing others and collecting their stories greatly appealed to me. However, I still wanted to do some actual writing. The reported essay genre allows me to do both.
The reported essay, while not a clearly defined genre, is generally understood to be a mix of first person narrative and reporting. According to author Diana Burrell, reported essays are structured like magazine articles, but include traditional essay elements such as personal anecdotes. Burrell gives an example of one of her own reported essays entitled “Is One Child Enough?”. The article opens with a reflection on her own decision to have only one child, but the remainder is more structured as she analyzes the different pros and cons of such a decision and how to come to terms with it. The piece successfully combines research, interviews, and personal experiences to provide a well rounded answer to the question its title poses.
Michelle Nijhuis states that all reported essays must start with a question. Comparing essay-writing to a traditional protagonist/antagonist story arc, she explains that the antagonist is an existing story or assumption — by the end of the essay, a new story or new perspective should triumph as the protagonist. I’m excited to explore the different questions I have about the fear of asking too much in relationships and its detrimental consequences to the self. I’m especially looking forward to this genre because it is not strictly defined, unlike my previous choice of satire, and will allow me more creative freedom to explore my subject.