Excuse the somewhat irrelevant lyric… I mean, C’MON it is genius. And for whatever reason it popped into my head as I began to think of a title for this blog post (hopefully my group members will kindly shut it down in revision, but until then it stays). Here is the full lyric, for your pleasure:
When a person’s personality is personable / He shouldn’t oughta sit like a lump / It’s harder than matador coercin’ a bull / To try to get you off of your rump. –“You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from COMPANY, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
And completely irrelevant.
More importantly, I will be using my experiment #3 to try my hand in writing a personal narrative essay.
The personal essay is a form of the genre that I have always been drawn to as a reader. These were the works that I read right before deciding to pursue this minor in writing- mostly essays and essay collections a la Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit and Joan Didion.
This genre is quite broad (over 400 years old) and includes many different forms: diary/journal entry, letters, newspaper columns, valedictions (aka a formal farewell), etc. They often center around different major themes: ambition, food, death, race/ethnicity, family, disability, etc. There aren’t set rules for this genre, rather conventions of the many forms.
I view the genre as a combination of personal storytelling, and a sort of amateur philosophy. The combination of conversational and lively first person point of view with the act of “formal” writing (i.e. writing, re-writing, researching, editing, synthesizing… going through all the motions) makes for a fully realized and unique piece (unlike a blog which is personal and reflective but traditionally not given as much time and weight).
Recently, I read an article in The New Yorker about how popularized the personal essay has become. Each of the titles mentioned seemed to be one-upping the last with shock factor- a cliché I hope to avoid entirely. I think the main problem for these essays is the lack of specific audience. I hope to avoid the “first person industrial complex” by answering a specific question for a specific audience.
The question at hand: When did I become so obsessed with product and material success, and how is it hindering me as an artist and person?
A bit loaded, as of now, but I think it is a universal question that pops up in many a creative individuals’ mind.
Among the overwhelming amount of possibilities, I’ve decided to roll with the idea of doing an essay that might appear in a newspaper/magazine column. My audience will be creative individuals who may be struggling with the pressures of being “successful” in a creative field.
Think a little bit of NY Times Modern Love, without the focus on external relationships and love, meets Cheryl Strayed’s advice column, “Dear Sugar” (an online advice column that was published as a collection in the novel Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar)*. With this form in mind, I’d like to approach this question using the following conventions:
– anecdotal introduction: Hence the personal in personal essay. The personal narratives I admire use an authentic personal story, or observation, as an avenue to discuss/question/analyze a more specific human experience. These authentic stories earn a writer credibility and trust whilst also serving as a great hook.
– humor: Even in the darkest of times, often more in the darkest of times, humor is a universal language. The personal stories that deal with the heavy stuff often use a humorous approach- it is human to dilute the struggle with some giggle.
– relation to a larger theme: In this case, success (and general happiness/well-being).
– not terribly long in length: Modern Love posts are fairly short, whereas Strayed’s advice columns varied in length. I am going to make it a goal to keep it between 1,500 and 2,000 words.
– conversational tone and unique voice: More formal than a blog, but as casual as you would see writing done in a print publication. Ideally, if it were actually a column someone would be able to recognize my writing style from another essayist. (Hey, this kinda ties in my irrelevant lyric… but not really).
Hopefully, this genre choice will allow me to join the conversation of the benefits of process-oriented creative work by sharing my own personal experience with “The Process Project” (my origin piece was a reflective journal entry on how my work on the project affected me as a student, performer and person, making this the least radical of my experiments, but I think it will serve it well).
*One little exception: I will not be addressing anyone specifically, as done in the “Dear Sugar” advice column.