Putting the Personal in Personal Essay

My lovely and uber-talented friend had, as she puts it, a *very* personal essay published this week.  I couldn’t be prouder of her.  Her piece is about feeling confident with her choices to be single and not be a mother.  These are difficult topics to discuss, and they are also why the personal essay is so critical.  Not only are people looking for voices to connect with and to feel less alone, but it gives others a chance to see difficult topics from another person’s point of view. 

She didn’t write her essay to convince you or me of anything; that’s the beauty of it.  She was sharing her feelings and experience and little about her life.  The essay reminded me of the anthology Selfish, Shallow, And Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On The Decision Not To Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum.  The pieces in that collection range in reasons as to why the writers made that choice.  As Meghan says in the Introduction, “Some of these essays will no doubt enrage certain readers. Some enraged me in places, which I took as all the more reason they should be included.”  She went on to say, “But all of them, without exception, left me feeling a little bit in love with their authors.”

My husband spotted the anthology while we were in a bookstore in Maine.  He pointed to it, then (because I was trying to not look at it since I was already buying books and at my limit) he went over, picked it up, and put it in my hands.  I bought it.  I have never regretted making that purchase.  I agree with Meghan that I find some of it harder to read or relate to, even as a couple who is “childfree” as Time Magazine has coined us or “D.I.N.K.s” as others refer to us, I still can’t say I’m on the same page as others about why they choose their paths.  However, I respect and appreciate their stories as much as I hope other people would respect and appreciate mine.

Last week I was in the carpool back from a training with a van full of my co-workers.  Some of us had no kids but were in healthy, committed relationships, and some had kids, one of whom was in a tenuous relationship.  It was an interesting conversation about being around family over the holidays with all of these choices we make in our lives and how often they get inspected under a microscope.  I had two thoughts on this, one welcome to what it feels like to write.  Also, I was happy to recommend Selfish, Shallow, And Self-Absorbed to the ones who felt alone in this world.  I was thrilled when the essay came out for the same reason. Choosing to create is vulnerable in any genre.  You are left open to rejections, negative comments, anger, or no one caring at all.  When you add the element of sharing the personal on a page, there is an intimacy and nakedness that is terrifying.  It’s why I know so many people who write beautifully yet never attempt to be published.  Maybe someday they’ll change their minds. Perhaps they won’t.  It’s their choice.  Anyway, I’m super proud of my friend Emma Burcart and her piece How A Woman Artist Allowed Me To Embrace My Choice To Be Unmarried and Childfree published with Catapult.  Way to go, Emma!!

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