I have been fighting the personal essay for years. Despite much evidence contradicting any compunction of self-indulgence—listening to moody crooners, writing constantly about personal drama, a predilection for questionable selfies, multiple gigs as emcee and model for local organizations and projects—I am fighting, specifically, The Personal Essay. I fight an impulse to negate the personal essay, too. I fight an impulse to drown ego-centered artifacts with ego-obliterating art (concepts with no subjects, esoteric writing, absolute silence).
What I fight is the theater of confessional. The point is the fight. I can’t beat it. With every instance of a confessional exposition, a personal touch, a disguised diary entry, I beat myself up for vanity, for presumption, for self-regard, even if it is self-aware, because even self-awareness is just looking in the mirror.
I learned from a radio show that as a national unit, Americans are spectacularly over-indexed on the spectrum of individualism. As a simple case in point, ours is a culture that can’t agree to eat or drink the same thing, and if you don’t believe me, try ordering coffee in one word.
I see on Twitter that many of us are ashamed of our individualistic culture. We’re calling out individualism, and advocating for collectivism. I wonder if we’ll get there in a generation. There is so much shame around this that appears as castigation (mostly young folks calling out the olds), but I believe this much angst can only come from internal guilt.
The culture of shame accounts partly for my fighting the personal essay. But I can negotiate shame. A touch of it is necessary, for me personally (personally, yes), not to overheat with lime lights.
I use un-subtle allegory as a character witness in my self-imposed tribunals of crimes against modesty. Look at this post about song writing: it is evidence that I can hide my purpose behind a situation. When I tell you about rehearsing music, maybe what I’m really saying is that the room is just big enough for you and me. I should write more book reviews again, to deflect what is going on in my heart by talking about what my eyes see.
I’m fascinated by people who are able to hide completely in themselves. The person who is able only to lurk in social media but perform their egos in a vacuum.
You see, me? I would find a way to make room in spaces without air.