Monday, July 1, 2013

Me, myself, and I--some thoughts on writing the personal essay

Yesterday Terry Orme ran an editorial in the Trib announcing a few changes in the paper's lineup, including the fact that my column will now run on Wednesdays in The Mix section.  I was interested in reader response to the changes and thus discovered a comment that said Ann Cannon's "me, myself, and I" column never did belong in the Utah section anyway because the column is so juvenile.

I know.  I shouldn't read the comments.

Only I'm glad I did because it made me articulate a few things that have been rattling around in my head for awhile.  And now I'm going to share those newly minted thoughts with you.  Win!

1.  I don't mind being called juvenile.  To paraphrase something Dave Barry once said when people called him sophomoric, I had a lot of fun when I was a juvenile.

2.  I actually agree my column is better suited to a lifestyle section like The Mix.  I never felt entirely comfortable with its location in the Utah section.

3.  BUT.

And here's the main thing I want to say.  In the past I struggled with the idea that I basically write about my life.  Such self-conceit!  Such effrontery!  Why should anyone want to read about (for example) all the shoes Ken Cannon takes on vacations?

But the truth is some people like to.  And I like to read about other people's husbands taking insane amounts of shoes on their vacations, too.  Because it's amusing.  And I can relate.  Which is the point.  The personal essayist isn't really writing about himself or herself.  The essayist is writing about experiences we all share using the specifics of his or her own life.  The personal essay as a literary form may or may not be a person's cup of tea.  But it's viable and valuable, and I realized as I read the afore-mentioned comment that after all these years, I'm okay with what I do.  I'd like to do it better, of course. 

But I'm happy to own the personal.


James said...

Life, family, personal experience and growth, gardening, satire, and FOOD! All things you have written about, and all things that we love to read about. If that is juvenile, bring me more youth. Whether its in Utah, The Mix, or here, its good writing and its good reading. Thanks for the heads up on where we can read the column.

Megan said...

People like me have loved your column for years because it's funny and real and refreshing.

Bonnie White said...

From someone who is trying to master the personal essay, I have learned much from you. It is an art form which you make look easier. Juvenile? You make me laugh. You make me think. I like what I read here too. Bah humbug to the pseudo intellect who thinks life should be rocket science.

cfarr said...

Ann, I love your column and blog and they validate my crazy, funny, sometimes challenging life when I read about yours. Keep on doing what you're doing! You're awesome!

Melody said...

It's interesting - some people do it better than others. Mostly - good writers do it well. They seem to understand the concept of shared experience and know how to express it in a way that speaks to the universal "me." You do that. So you must be a good writer.

I mean, look at Anne Lamott, who is more self-focused than she is? yet she has a generous soul, so her writing comes across as a gift for the reader. She doesn't "take" fromt the reader. She "gives" of herself. Anyway, I think you have a similar ability. It's all good.

Anne said...

You'll keep the unicorns won't you?