Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Personal Essay Class, Week Two

Class last night was interesting. On the one hand it was more focused so there wasn't the blabbing free-for-all of introductions and everyone trying to sound impressive (like the guy who said that five different pyschics told him he would write something significant). On the other hand I felt like I had been psychoanalyzed. We were supposed to write a story of a launching moment, a story, not an essay, which we could use to launch into something more universal than our own personal memoir. Most people had less than one page that turned out to be more description than story. I had a full three pages of story which included stuff about my family. I had in mind three or four ways I could take it into an essay. But the the class had other, very different ideas. They wanted family psycho-drama. The lesson for me is to be, not more careful, but more precise. Which goes along with one of the essays we read and discussed, Virginia Woolf's "The Death of the Moth." I've read this essay so many times I was bored by it. But I never read it as a study of method. And sitting in class listening to the discussion, the essay suddenly became one of the most amazing things I've read. The precision and beauty of the language, the compactness of the essay itself, and how it takes something so very specific and particular and shows it to be so much more. My goal now is to strive for the same thing in my own essays. Unfortunately, this conflicts with the joy in the language I felt in the Chesterton essay, "A Piece of Chalk." Chesteron layers language like a cake, he circles round and round, adding detail upon detail, until suddenly, with a flourish, he swirls the last bit of frosting on top. Can one be compact and precise while layering? Or instead of a rich, decadent cake would I find a miserly and dry oatmeal cookie with a raisin on top? I guess I'll get a chance to try it out in the next assignment where we get to write a "story" about an aspect of life where we feel vulnerable and not totally in charge. That will be ripe with possibility for my psychoanalyzing classmates.