It would be impossible to estimate how much time and energy we invest in trying to fix, change and deny our emotions – especially the ones that shake us at our very core, like hurt, jealousy, loneliness, shame, rage and grief — Debbie Ford
Last week I tried writing an 800-word personal essay as an assignment for a writing group I am a member of. Quite honestly, I thought I did a half-decent job at it. That was until one of my peers gave me his opinion on the piece.
At our most recent get-together, this peer commented that the essay wasn’t compelling enough. There wasn’t any blood on the page. No ‘oh, fuck’ moment. My peer (and friend) is a good guy. He’s also good at pushing my buttons because I’ll push back.
Quite honestly, I wanted to ask him whose blood he wanted on the page. But, I figured it was my blood, so I didn’t bother asking. Then I realized part of the purpose of a personal essay to not only talk about yourself but to reveal something about yourself. I missed the last meeting due to a prior commitment so I guess that was what the group had discussed.
Here’s an explanation of what a personal essay is by Richard Nordquist from Thought Co.:
A personal essay is a short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner. Also called a personal statement.
And here’s an addition to what’s already been said from a blog about the personal essay from grammarly.com:
Personal essays relate the author’s intimate thoughts and experiences to universal truths. They’re aren’t simply a retelling of events, though — that falls more in the realm of memoir or autobiography. They conclude with the author having learned, changed or grown in some way and often present some truth or insight that challenges the reader to draw their own conclusions.
So during the discussion regarding my attempt to write a personal essay, I realized I had a fundamental problem. Here’s my problem: I FUCKIN’ HATE talking about myself in any sort of revelatory fashion. I’ll talk about the writing process. I’ll talk about politics if I feel compelled to do so. I’ll talk about films, music, the art of storytelling. I’ll even talk about gardening. I can count on one hand, the number of times I’ve talked about myself outside of those parameters. I’ve blogged about the disintegration of a friendship that I’m grateful not to be a part of anymore. I touched on the topic of the breast cancer fight I had 10 years ago. Let’s see… I may have touched on past relationships, too.
What they have in common (aside from me) is I never offered specifics. I spoke in broad brush strokes. That was intentional. Why? Who the fuck wants to know that much about me? There are folks who have no idea that too much information is more often than not, a bad thing. They insist on knowing things like who was your first love, what’s your greatest regret and what’s your great vulnerability. What is the value of knowing this? I’m sure one of the responses would be “Well, I’d like to get to know you better.” Here’s my reaction: Fuck you. I don’t know you nor am I interested in getting to know you.
Yeah, I sound like a cranky bitch, but I couldn’t give a shit.
And who are these fucking idiots? If they’re not counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists, they don’t need to know my shit.
Here’s something that needs to be pointed out. We have three lives — the public, the private and the secret. For me, the secret influences the public and the private. So yes, I hate talking about myself in specifics. I’ll give you broad brush strokes but no details.
Another reason for speaking in broad brush strokes: if I named the subjects in these blogs, one of two things would happened. One — I would be frothing at the mouth over the figurative six-foot deep graves I just prepared for my gagged and bound subjects to be unceremoniously shoved into. I don’t think anyone is prepared for my vitriolic sentiments and actions. Two — if any of the subjects got word that I’ve painted them in less than shining light than what most people are familiar with, they’ll be demanding (publicly or privately) I take back my words. I don’t think they like dealing with collateral damage whereas I’m quite familiar with being collateral damage. They’ll paint me as a vindictive, crazy woman (if they want me to own it, I’ll own it. No worries there.) while they cry over their delusional versions of themselves being besmirched.
I believe that 99 per cent of the so-called civilized society would prefer I not name names or not hear about the people, places and things that would put my figurative blood on the page. For a civilized society, the illusion of decorum, propriety and prudence is necessary. The longer I breathe, the more I find myself raging against this illusion. Deny the hurt, deny the jealousy, deny the loneliness, deny the shame, deny the rage and deny the grief because they are ugly, raw emotions that no one is comfortable in dealing with.
And yet, I’m supposed to bleed for a personal essay?
No one is prepared for blood I can spill.
So, I will leave that for my fictional characters. They will bleed for me.