The personal essayist takes a topic – virtually any topic under the big yellow sun – and holds it up to the bright light, turning it this way and that, upside and down, studying every perspective, fault, and reflection, in an artful attempt to perceive something fresh and significant. The essayist does not sit down at her desk already knowing all of the right answers, because if she did, there would be no reason to write. Dinty Moore, Crafting the Personal Essay
I’m a huge fan of the personal essay.
Love to read them. Love to write them.
Like a good short story, they examine ideas and experiences in a unique way, condensing them into one scrumptious bite like a finely detailed miniature portrait.
Though I’m no artist, it seems to me that the painter and the personal essayist have much in common. As Moore says, they take an topic (or an object) and “hold it up to the bright light, turning it this way and that, upside and down, studying every perspective…in an artful attempt to perceive something fresh and significant.”
My favorite personal essays – those that take slices of ordinary life and experience and reflect them back through the writers particular lens – offer that fresh perspective on universal situations which make them significant. Anna Quindlan, Joyce Maynard, Anne Lamott…some of writer’s I’ve counted on over the years to do that for me.
And of course, Nora Ephron (who died last night) with her wry wit and slightly edgy humor, could make me laugh out loud about things as mundane as reading glasses and double chins.
But in today’s information soaked world, does it matter what one solitary essayist has to say about life in general?
I think it does.
A well crafted personal essay opens a window into the mind of another human being, encouraging a deeper personal connection than a 140-character Tweet or three sentence Facebook status. Those are the kinds of connections that make us more empathetic people and draw us closer together in our human experience.
That always matters.