February 24, 2012
This essay isn’t about anything tragic.
I won’t be writing about the economy, about being single and lonely, about a family member I’ve recently lost. I won’t be complaining about the ridiculous Republican primaries or how President Obama has decided the U.S. government can assassinate its own citizens without due process.
If you’re looking for something depressing and dreary, an essay that explores the deep and meaningless pain of being human, don’t bother reading any further.
When considering non-fiction essays, does personal tragedy somehow enhance the depth and beauty of a writer’s prose? If you suffer from a debilitating disease, if you’ve experienced the loss of a child, if you have survived some great natural disaster, does describing those terrible circumstances lend gravity to your art in a way that a happy, well-adjusted person cannot hope to match?
If I wrote about my mother’s thirty-year fight with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, my poor relationship with her as a child, if I wrote about my painfully shy childhood personality, or my failed adult relationships, would that make for a more literary essay than if I were to describe my current, fantastically happy life?
Conflict drives storytelling, of course, in both fiction and non-. But if the very best stories are those that describe the saddest circumstances, I suppose I ought to give up any chance to win awards for my work.
Back in September, I wrote this essay about a new woman in my life. I wrote it, in part, because of a series of arguments I’d had with her that were mostly my fault. In fact, these arguments were so irrational and without merit and that I almost lost her over them. Most of the feedback I received about that essay, whether on the site or privately, considered it the best piece I’d ever written for TNB…which is interesting when you consider the thing exceeded 3,000 words and I wrote it in less than four hours. In that instance, conflict definitely drove the storytelling, and in fact pushed me to write with a sincerity, an openness that has often eluded me during my writing career.
So how to artfully render the delightful months that have followed winning her heart? How does one convey happiness that matters only to the people enjoying it? I could describe the peace I feel when looking into her eyes, or the protectiveness that comes over me when she encounters challenges. I could share the joy of buying her Christmas gifts, of treating her to a recent magical birthday weekend, of inviting her permanently into my home. I could tell you about her lovely 3-year-old daughter, whose friendliness is outshined only by her fierce intelligence. I might even be proud enough to share how the little girl is now able to freely quote dialogue from the original Star Wars trilogy and can also sing (a cappella) most of the songs on Def Leppard’s Hysteria. I might conveniently forget that I’d never really been interested in having children before meeting these two wonderful young ladies.
But you probably don’t care to read about those things. Happiness is cloying unless you’re the one experiencing it, and I can’t think of a good way to write about my new life in a way that doesn’t sound earnest.
Actually, that isn’t true. I could totally do that. I just don’t feel like being ironic and disaffected about something so beautiful.