The class I am taking is on essays and fulfills a promise I made to myself earlier this year to deepen my skills. Years ago I took a writing class and was much too intimidated to read anything I wrote aloud. After five years of blog posts, almost 300 essays, I am hoping I'll be a bit braver.
Now I decided to take a class in essays because that seems to be the format that best fits me; observational, thoughtful in nature and based in reality. I figured I better go with my strengths. Years ago an old boyfriend who was partial to women who were flirty and light said to me that while not flirty and light I was "intelligent and thoughtful". It seemed a bit like a consolation prize at the time. I was never going to be this frothy confection he sought. The boyfriend became history years ago and I have since learned to appreciate who I am.
In the first class the teacher gave us an exercise that reminded me of this exchange. To introduce ourselves we were to say what we were not. We each presented a paragraph or list of traits identifying what we were not. So my version, slightly reworked into a more playful form, goes something like this...
I am not passive, wishy-washy,
Nor frothy, flirty, light.
Not lacking in opinions
Nor the words to give them flight.
I'm not a slow reactor,
Not slow to act, to move, to speak
Not murky, unclear, hazy.
Nothing is oblique.
Most certainly I'm not lazy.
Not good at kicking back,
I'm not of one-dimension
That's definitely a fact,
I'm not unfocused, nor blasé,
Bored with life I'll never be,
Those are just a few things
That certainly are not me
It actually is an interesting exercise in defining oneself. In a sense it uses negative space just as one does with artwork, identifying what one isn't to identify what one is.
The class has an intriguing approach. It uses an article by Timothy Bascom that examines six story arcs for essays. Each week we examine a different arc through both reading and then writing an essay that uses that structure. The reading that exemplifies the first style was published in the New Yorker, The Fourth State of Matter by Jo Anne Beard.
Unlike a blog which I try to keep under 1000 words, an essay can be quite a bit longer. That greater length allows an opportunity to interweave different threads. My first attempt of 4000 words allowed me to experiment with a more complex approach.
I'm both slightly intimidated and intrigued by where this class will take me. The others in the class seem much more adept at producing clever responses at a moment's notice whereas I need the time to marinate in thought, letting things bubble up in their own time. And so I shall marinate, not trying to be something I'm not, yet pushing myself beyond comfort. It occurs to me that when we take on new things we need to be in a state of readiness, to feel that growth is possible, but it is the actual discomfort of something new that pushes us forward.