My writing instructor, the talented and nurturing Marcelle Soviero, Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child Magazine, often gathers her students at her comfortable shabby-chic home for evenings filled with food, drink, and writing-related crafts. And, of course, writing-related conversation.
We talk about our works-in-progress, or lack thereof, about feeling blocked and getting unstuck, about sh*tty first drafts and exasperating revisions. And we talk about our children, our partners, and our lives. Inevitably, I find myself exclaiming “Wow, that’s so funny-sad-incredible-amazing! You have to write it! That’s an essay!”
The storyteller often demurs. “No one wants to read about how I kill every plant that crosses my threshold! It’s so boring, so self-focused.”
I disagree. Vehemently. All art is self-centered to a certain extent. It expresses, whether in words, with music, or on canvas, our feelings, fears, and frustrations. Someone, or more likely –ones, somewhere at some point has lost a plant, a pet, or a parent. And perhaps sharing our experience will make that reader, listener, or viewer laugh or cry. Nod their head in recognition. Acknowledge something they were loath to see in themselves before. Drive them indignant with disagreement. After all, every good essay is about something other than what it’s about. If Marcelle has taught me one thing, it’s the hot spot, not killing the philodendron, that matters.
Great literature makes me marvel at how people I did not know who lived in times and places completely foreign to mine get me so completely.
What, I think, if Shakespeare had thought to himself, “no one wants to read about a confused prince in Denmark,” and put his pen down? Not that reading about killing houseplants regularly will rise to Hamlet’s level of greatness, but what ever will? If that were the goal, we would all just put our pens down.
It seems to me that the humble goal of every writer is, syllable by syllable, to combine words that craft essays (or poems, or novels…) that take everything from life’s most quotidian moments to its most outrageous events in a unique way that is at once specific and personal to the author and relevant and evocative to the reader. So, I assert again, Everything is an Essay. Have a seat. Pick up that pen. Write away.