Last week, a personal essay I wrote was published in Medium’s Human Parts collection.
I wrote the essay last summer at the Speckled Ax in Maine, sentence by sentence in the early mornings with coffee, my friend Heidi, and Jo Ann Beard’s essay collection The Boys of My Youth. Some days, the writing just came. Other days, I tweaked and re-tweaked a single sentence for an hour before giving up for the day. And on other days, I spent too much time on Twitter or gossiped with Heidi and didn’t write or edit at all.
Sometimes Heidi and I workshopped what we were working on. Her notes still live at the bottom of the original Google Doc. In one, she writes: “I wonder what about this time is causing confusion for each of you, how is leaving home different from returning home, and what about your relationship with Erin is important during this time.”
It’s good when an editor wonders and asks questions. It forces you to think about the answers, which forces you to focus. We worked on our essays all summer, then I let mine sit for a few months to marinate.
I opened up the essay again in the winter, made a few updates, and asked my friend Larissa to read it. Some of her comments are still in the Google Doc, too, gentle and spare. Her general assessment was that the whole thing seemed a bit fond—I had skimmed over opportunities to dig deeper into places of tension.
I loved this note because I knew she was right. But it also posed a challenge that I wasn’t ready to face at first, so I let the essay sit some more, and I waited.
In the spring, I returned to the story and revised much of it. The revisions came more easily now, a gift only the passage of time can give. I thought about that word--fond—and was reminded of a conversation between Leslie Jamison and Charles D’Ambrosio I’d attended at the BPL. Jamison, who was a student of D’Ambrosio’s, talked about how he had pushed her and the other writers in class to go uncomfortable places in their writing—to dig deep and be honest. The sentiment is repeated in their interview for The New Yorker where Jamison writes of D’Ambrosio:
“I’m grateful for what he’s shown me about how writing can make a mess—and how this mess can move us deeper into the quivering nerve endings of a subject. In workshop, he was hard on our stories because he believed in what they could be... He is hard on easy answers and false resolution because he believes in what lies beyond them.”
“What lies beyond” is a good goal and a difficult destination. With this essay, I hope I came somewhere close. But what’s more exciting is the idea that I get to keep trying each time I write. As I type this, I’m sitting at a cafe in Brooklyn where earlier this morning I was struggling, sentence by sentence, with a new essay. I don’t know where it’s going yet or what it will be, but, with any luck, I’ll have time, coffee, and good friends & editors to guide me.
To read my essay, click here.
To read Heidi's essay, which was also recently published, check out the latest issue of Slice Magazine.