Before The Red Tent, before Good Harbor, before and during six books on contemporary Jewish life, I was a colunist,” writes Anita Diamant, in her introduction to Pitching My Tent. “I wrote essays about friendship and fashion, about marriage and electoral politics, about abortion, lingerie, situation comedies, birth, death, God, country, and my dog. I covered the waterfront and the supermarket, my synagogue, the waiting room outside the intensive care unit, and my own kitchen table. My job was to report on the events of the day and the changes under my own roof. The challenge was to pay closer-than-average attention and then shape my experiences and reactions into entertaining prose that rose above the level of my own navel. It was more than a great job – it was a meaningful job.
Life in General – that’s the subtitle of my other blog, Becca’s Byline. But it’s also the underlying theme of most things I write about. Certainly my life isn’t exciting or unique by modern standards. Mostly it’s consumed with family and friendships, work and hobbies, worries and fears about the world around me. These are the subjects all humans confront every day, the experiences of life in general.
The uniqueness is in what we make of those experiences, how we process the ordinary (and extraordinary!) events of our lives, the individual filter through which we view everything from our most cherished relationships to the process of picking fresh fruit at the market. That vision becomes the basis of our artistic expression, whether it’s with words and music or paint, clay and fabric.
I love reading personal essays, because they provide me with another viewpoint on Life In General, this thing we’re all immersed in every day. Anna Quindlen and Carolyn Knapp are two of my favorite contemporary essayists. Joyce Carol Oates writes a pretty mean essay, and Anne Fadiman produces some wonderful personal writing about literature and life. Yes, these are women whose lives might seem richer and more fulfilled than yours and mine. But it’s their witty and insightful reflections on those normal everyday events – walking the dog, making coffee, reading books- which truly help me put my own world into perspective. See, I tell myself, they have the same problems and needs as I.
It’s this intimate way of expressing our relationship with Life In General that makes blogging such an exciting format. We have access to sharing life experiences with hundreds of people, and the opportunity to fine tune our self expression in the process.
When it comes to our writing, individual experiences are extremely valuable. It’s not narcissism to value our lives and what we’ve done with them – it’s a way of paying witness to ourselves and to the things which matter. Becoming attuned to the special value of each passing moment allows us to transmit the details into words and images which in turn become valued by our readers.
“Writing is an act of self-cherishing,” writes Julia Cameron. “We often write most deeply and happily on those areas closest to our heart.”
So tell me, what are the areas closest to your heart? What aspects of your life in general do you find yourself sharing in writing? Do you enjoy reading/writing personal essays? Who are some of your favorite essayists?
Extra Credit (from The Right to Write): In your journal, list 50 things you’re proud of about yourself…what does this list tell you about the things you value most?