Rhian was working on something interesting recently--a personal essay. This is an unusual activity at W6HQ--we've always been pretty hardcore fiction writers. Back in grad school, we would roll our eyes when another personal essay came down the pike; we used to joke that the Montana license plate should read THE MEMOIR STATE, and the last line of our friend Gerri's bio, when she published her poems in magazines, was "She is not writing a memoir."
At least a little of this anti-essay sentiment was jealousy, I think--I can't speak for Rhian (especially now that she's a traitor!), but in my case, I just don't think I've had the life experience to make it interesting. Oh, my life has been plenty interesting to me. But, as I might have suggested in the comments of the last thread, it's been a life of sitting around making stuff up in my head.
I have tried my hand at a few. I wrote a couple for a Prominent Magazine, but each time the work disintegrated into a series of arguments with the editor, who wanted the essays to end differently. The editor would say something like, "Maybe when it was all over, you thought something like this." I: "But I didn't." Editor: "But maybe you did." In the end, I gave up--if it wasn't going to be true, I didn't want to write it. Period. Those pieces remain unpublished.
Maybe, however, I was wrong. Earlier this year I posted about an argument I had--a flame war, really--on a photography forum about a particular picture I dislike. My argument boiled down to the pedantic idea that a photograph is always a manipulation--that photography is not, in fact, a documentary form. The matrix of artistic choices involved in taking, developing, and printing a picture is so thick that little truth can ever be glimpsed through it. Now, if the photo were overtly fictional (as in the work of Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Sandy Skoglund, etc.), we could relax and take what truth from it we liked. But the deceptive prospect of objective truth prevents us from actually seeing any truth.
I guess I felt the same way about essays and novels--an essay is never going to be true, so why not just write fiction? But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I oughta loosen up and embrace the winking nontruth of the personal essay. Perhaps readers are grown up enough to have absorbed the impossibility of objective truth in an essay, and in fact consider it a part of what makes reading one pleasurable.
Something tells me I've posted about this before, but it keeps gnawing at me. Whaddya say, should I give in and write some essays?