It’s Personal

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Dec 18th, 2011
Mel
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Of late, I have grown fascinated by the “Personal Essay.” In case you are unfamiliar with this writing form, it is simply writing about who you are and what you think about, without care of embarrassment. It’s an opportunity to reveal one’s inner self or opinions/observations, and not have to stand behind any mask of objectivity.
This form of writing transcends the ages, from Seneca (A.D. 3-65), who once wrote about “Noise”, to one of my favorites, Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), who’s “In Praise of Shadows” takes the banal topic of the interior of his Japanese house, and transports the reader into a sensual blend of space, shadow, culture, theater, and food. (Yes, food.)  By the end of his twenty-six page essay, I found myself dreaming of a life without bright lights, and a new appreciation of the No theatre and the life of the geisha.

As I started reading more personal essays from various periods of history, I wondered if I would ever have the capacity to write something as powerful as one of these celebrated writers. I am not a playwright or a poet, and cannot fathom possessing the spiritual depth of imprisoned Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, who wrote on the tenth day of one of his many fasts:

I anoint my flesh

Thought is hallowed in the lean

Oil of solitude

I call you forth, all, upon

Terraces of light. Let the dark

Withdraw.

                                                                                                                                                                

Where does this genius come from, and how dare I think that I could write anything even remotely as eloquent as this Nobel Prize winning author?  In fact, why was I writing at all? Several people had asked me that same question, and implied that I was stepping out of my “musician’s box”, and perhaps I had misplaced my mind somewhere between Chicago and New Jersey. Who had the correct answers?

Of course, I did. Who better to decide what is right for me? Why would anyone think that their evaluation of me was correct? How could one know what was percolating away in the deep recesses of my mind, where secret gems were not ready to burst into my creative consciousness? I was pondering this dilemma when I ran across this quote by Franz Kafka:

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

While it is a well known fact that Kafka suffered from many issues, both physical and mental, and that he grew up with an overbearing father, his writing is legendary. Society didn’t recognize him as a literary genius until well after he was dead. This one quote, however, rang a bell in my head, and made me decide to take a stand in defense of my decision to write.

Except for a short while of wanting to look and dress like Wednesday Adams, I do not remember ever wanting to be like anyone else. I was content with who I was, and “marched to the beat of my own drum.” I believe that my mother knew that I was different from my siblings when I started to climb out of my playpen and crib and ended up playing with pots and pans on the kitchen floor, or got into some other mischief.

She was a worrier, so rather than run the risk of me falling and splitting my head open, she put the playpen away, and moved me out of the crib and into my own bed. Of course, she was not pleased when she discovered that my brother, who attended the local community college, had been the master mind behind my newly acquired climbing skills. He thought it was funny, while she did not. What is strange, is that I remember him showing me how to get out of the playpen when I was about a year old, and can picture myself climbing out of my crib and sliding down the side so I would not fall.

Okay, so maybe I am a bit odd. I tend to remember more details about growing up than most of my friends and family. This even amazes me at times, as I have never been one to store trivia, or specific dates in history. I gave myself migraines when I was in college and had to prepare for  Music History exams. Cramming all of those dates into my head made my brain throb. It was torture.

Because my mother had four older children, she was very active every day, and I spent many hours with her running errands. Post office, bank, grocery store, school meetings, and even doctor’s appointments. I was there as her personal shadow, very shy, attached to her leg, and content to just smile, watch, and listen. In the world of my days as a toddler, everyone was larger and louder than me, and as anyone who has grown up in a large family can tell you, the youngest rarely gets to speak.

I don’t want anyone to think that I was overly timid, but in truth, I was full of stress. I didn’t realize it then, but looking back on it now,  must confess that I was absorbing other’s pain, fears, anger, and occasional love or joy. I learned years later that it is called empathy, and that yes, I am very sensitive and intuitive about people and situations.

I am not clairvoyant. I do not see dead people or the future. What I do is feel other people’s emotions, good and bad, and if I have any sort of bond with a person, can sense when something is not right with them, even from a distance. I like to think of it as a maternal instinct “gone wild”, and often have to stop myself from getting involved in places that I should not go.

Very young children and animals seem to gravitate to me. I like to think that is is because they know that I have a pure heart, and that my sense of compassion is in tune with their innocence. Babies smile at me and everyone’s dogs end up sitting on my feet. I adore them all, for they emit that “occasional” love or joy that I mentioned earlier. The tiny moments in time that I spend smiling back at a baby, or saying, “Hey buddy,” to a dog or cat, bring balance to the emotional baggage that I sense from most teens and adults.

I have had to train myself to take charge of what emotions I absorb, and know that my need for “alone” time is vital to my emotional and physical well being. I do not like crowds or excessively loud environments, and prefer to meet in quiet places. I recently discovered that being in a depressed city for a couple of hours started to weigh me down emotionally, and I had to go to my quiet room and sit alone for a while to recover my inner peace.

The upside to this is my capacity to be a great friend and comforter, and I suppose that is why I have habitually acquired an eclectic, often eccentric, and seemingly endless array of oddball friends. My mother had a similar “Lady Liberty” complex. “Give me your tired, your poor…” She always seemed to bring home a stray soul every so often. I suppose that is why she became a nurse, and why so many people adored her.

I must admit that I do not have the fan club that my mother possessed, and that I am not the smiling, charismatic type that she was. I am an acquired taste.  Those who take the time to get to know me, quickly learn that I am not as serious as I appear at first glance, have a great capacity to joke around, and still love getting into mischief.

My attraction to reading the personal essays of various authors has provided me with a new way to grow as a writer. When I read about their lives and feel their emotions, I can quickly analyze what influenced their writing, and how their emotional states shaped their creative processes. It’s a new hobby for me, and my hope is that reading them will guide me through my own issues, and result in my refined voice one day captivating a loyal audience of readers.

Some have asked, “Why do you reveal yourself in your My Ink Project pieces? Do you think that is safe? I mean, really…it’s so…personal.”

I once answered, “How are you so sure I’m revealing me?” (Sarcastic, I know.)

But today, as I think about that same question, I will answer, “Exactly!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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