For the record: personal essay writing is not for the faint of heart. One must be willing to go to emotional extremes that are far beyond comfortable, the same way it might feel traversing to all of the extremes within our earth's atmosphere without oxygen or water, from the depths of the ocean to the heat of the Sahara to heights beyond Everest. Not only that, but, as is true with any kind of writing, one must be willing to mold and shape a piece of writing through sheer force of will and dogged determination. In other words, hard work and sustained effort. Draft after draft after draft, writing ten pages only to delete eight of them, knowing that without the stumblings of first drafts, second, third and tenth drafts are not possible.
In personal essay writing, one does not just peruse the aisles of memories that shaped one's sense of loss, joy, trauma, fear and beauty. One pulls them off the shelves, wipes the dust away, puts them under a microscope, and searches for the perfect way to express why they were meaningful, horrifying, magnificent and transformative. Anyone willing to look that closely at one's own mishaps, fumbles, triumphs and vulnerabilities needs the same kind of courage the Cowardly Lion was so desperate for in The Wizard of Oz. Times ten. It is messy work, but when that perfect string of words is brought together in a way that lets the reader know they are being given a naked glimpse into the soul of another human being, well, that - that is simply magic. Personal essay writing, at its best, is about a level of honesty with nary a layer of gloss or protective film. It is about laying bare one's beliefs, dreams and philosophies, rays of light that are filtered through stories about things like Homecoming dances, marathons, rock concerts and chocolate sodas.
I had a long conversation with a dear friend today, and one of the last things she said hit me like a rainbow-colored lightening bolt right to my core. She was speaking of her own writing, but I will present it here as a message for all of us, because I believe it is a jewel of wisdom everyone could use. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this:
"When we can trust the love we have - when we know, not just believe, that we have enough love - we are free to write honestly, even knowing that the more honestly we share, express and expose ourselves, the easier we are making it for some people to not like us. This does not mean rejection or criticism will be easy, but it means we always have the safety net of genuine love and support to fall back on. With this safety net, we are able to write as honestly as possible, and it is this kind of honesty that makes for the very best writing."
This is from the wise and magnificent Blue Poppy, who just yesterday wrote her final blog post, which is one of those brave, bittersweet pieces of writing that makes my heart sing and weep at the same time.
But I brought up the topic of personal essay writing for another reason: To say thank you. Last week I attended my last session of the Personal Essay class I have been taking since January, and as I walked out of the classroom, looking ahead to the next class I've already signed up for, I couldn't help but think, "Shit, it might just be all downhill from here, because that was pretty damn near perfect." An insightful, inspiring teacher and a group of fellow students who were willing to brave the storms, shine a light on their deepest scars and read aloud pieces of writing they knew to be far from finished. It was as if we all walked into a perfect little bubble every Wednesday night where every challenge given to us was offered on a soft velvet pillow that said "You are safe" in gold embroidery. In this sense of safety, everyone was brave, sharing their light and their dark and much in between.
It is supposed to be true that an entity such as a writing class be a space of respect, safety and encouragement, but this is not always so. It just so happens that I managed to land myself amongst a group of individuals who cared that this be true, who aimed to create a space that held each of us as gently as possible, and in that holding, brought us all a little higher, closer to our dreams as writers, closer to our very best selves.