I began my personal essays because, as I’ve said, I worried a little bit about actually being able to remember some of the insane shit that has befallen me over the past year or two. What ended up happening as I did so, though, was that I needed to draw in more of the crap that’s happened to me before, and that’s where we get to the true difficulty of any autobiographer: Where do you start this whole thing?
Today I had a friend over who had a look at one of my essays about leaving the newspaper business. It’s something I had written while lounging about in Colombia before the bitterness had worn off. In the superb All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, the narrator describes “The Big Sleep,” some lethargy that came over him when he left the newspaper business. I was still deep into that very phenomenon when I wrote it. Of course, after my friend had a look at it, it was clear that it needed a lot of work.
The other essay I’ve been tackling – and probably the one into which I’ve put the most work – is one on bullfights, though it is really about Colombia. Similarly, I wrote the earliest draft of that in the grip of emotion. I pounded it out almost obsessively. I was a guest in the apartment of my gay Colombian uncle Pacho plus my father and his husband at the time, and I worked so singlemindedly on it over the course of about a week that they remarked upon it.
And, like this essay about leaving the noble profession of journalism, I found that while that first head of steam got the general idea out, hunkering down and really editing, organizing, and elaborating on that original draft is how you actually make the god damn thing readable.
My eventual plan is to see if I can get a book of essays published, and I may even do it as a self-published work. As I figure out just where the hell this will all begin and end, it’s useful to remember that even inherently subjective stuff like personal essays have a craft to them.