When I have to describe the kind of writer that I am, I most often say I’m an essayist. Before I claimed the mantle of essayist, I read other writer’s bios and lingered over those who proclaimed to be essayists. What a bold claim. What a sense of knowing what you do and who you are. I envied that bold certainty. It took me quite awhile to admit that I was a writer, but less time to realize that essays were what I wanted to write. In Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio notes that “engine of the essay” is “doubt and the unknown.” He curates a vision of the essay as an attempt to capture ordinary life in motion with all its entanglements and contradictions.
As soon as I read D’Ambrosio’s discussion of the essay, I knew I was hooked. Certainty makes me a bit queasy, but doubt is my constant companion. It never leaves me. It makes me ask hard (and harder) questions. Doubt fuels my curiosity (and wonder) of the world. It motivates me.
The essay is my jam.
Unsurprisingly, I have a deep and abiding love of essays. I work my way through collection after collection. I read them online. I print them and mark them up. I consume them: personal, critical, and the lovely hybrids of the two. I’ve meant to start a weekly feature featuring essays that I love. These could be essays that I’ve read months, or even years, ago, essays I’ve read during the week, or the essays that I return to because they made me into the writer that I am now.
This is the inaugural post of an ongoing series, and I’m starting with two essays I read this week that I can’t quit thinking about.
1. At Guernica, Lidia Yuknavitch’s Woven is meditation on the intimacy of violence and its particular consequences in the lives of women. She tells stories that showcase the effects of violence on her life. They start and stop and continue. I have a hard time describing what she does, except that I am in awe. The essay is beautifully crafted, but the subject is so harrowing. I read and reread. Here’s a small glimpse of her essay:
When my infant daughter died, spilling out with our shared waters, the story breached. Every story I have ever told has a kind of breach to it, I think. You could say that my writing isn’t quite right. That all the beginnings have endings in them.
I picked up her memoir, The Chronology of Water. The first line of her acknowledgments makes me want to put away everything and start reading now.
2. I found Alice Driver’s essays at Vela, a magazine that publishes non-fiction from women writers. This week I read her “I Use My Body Like Money,” though I highly recommend her other essays on the site too. She writes of money, art, and family and of the particular pressures that money and “success” place on us in the creative fields. Here’s a sample of her reflections:
Whenever I think about the ephemerality of life, the only thing I worry about is whether I will have enough time to write and birth meaningful work into the world. When I think of death, I am not afraid of being penniless or alone—I am afraid of not having had the freedom to create.