I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to figure myself out. Just when I think I’ve captured my essence, it eludes me, like a dandelion in the wind. My essence becomes ephemeral. I can’t bottle it, put it on a shelf, and declare for perpetuity: “Aha, that is how I am. This is my core: I’m a good person, a fun person, an honest person.” And then I go and do something that makes me think I’m not such a good person, and sometimes a pill, and not always unflinchingly truthful.
Whatever I aspire to be, for some pathological reason I suppose, I want others to view me that certain way. If folks don’t recognize me as the self-sacrificing martyr, the delightful bon vivant, or the eternal truth seeker and truth teller, I feel I’ve failed. Somehow.
Why isn’t it enough to be something for yourself without having to receive a virtual trophy for it? Isn’t it just as real, if only you alone know what you’ve accomplished? If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if no eardrum registers it? What is it about me or maybe about much of mankind that we, like falling trees, need some sort of recognition, some acknowledgement of being heard. We crave that “Atta boy” or a genuine pat on the back. And if someone does sing my praises, why do I tilt my head and regard that person suspiciously and feel I’m in the presence of a sycophant full of unabashed, insincere flattery.
Is the study of literature a way to find out who we are? If we not only read but also write to discover who we are, can we change our quintessence from day to day or year to year?
In a lifetime, a person wears many hats and in one personal essay she shows how she looks that day in that hat, but tomorrow she may reveal a different pose and sport different headgear and yet she is the same writer, just showing a different side. How does that poem by Saxe go—the one about the blind men and the elephant where they feel various parts of the animal and all come up with a different idea of what kind of object they are touching?
Maybe it’s not until a person has read the body of a writer’s work that he can grasp who that writer is and what were the many influences in her life that caused her to view the world the way she did when composing a certain piece.
“To Thine Own Self be True” is considered invaluable advice, and yet Shakespeare had that piece of counsel delivered by the fool Polonius in Hamlet. It seems a psychologically sound command, but there’s a caveat: Who you are today may not be exactly who you are tomorrow, and sometimes your opinions on policies, people, history, and even the great classics shift as you learn and therefore change. So, know thyself but be like Blaise Pascal’s “thinking reed” in the wind—bend some. In everything, bend. Never be too rigid in declaring yourself one thing or another.
In writing, you can display different parts of yourself in different stories. And if a story is roundly criticized or rejected, that story is not you. It’s only one slice of life at a certain period in your life. You are complex. The magic of writing is the act of getting a grasp on what you see and also what you want your reader to see through your eyes. Part of a story’s success is due to the skill of you, the writer, and part is due to the acuity of the reader---what life experiences he brings to his interpretation of what he reads.
So, yes, it’s important to be authentic and vulnerable when you pen personal essays but know that your way of viewing the world today might not be the way you observe it tomorrow. Your writing will reflect the evolving you.
Unlike many folks, I make time to send Christmas cards! I realize I don’t participate in a lot of other time-gobbling holiday activities, like gingerbread man baking, extravagant Pinterest decorating, and excessive glittery present- wrapping with gargantuan bows and ribbons to match.
To me, mailing physical cards takes priority because it connects us with long ago far away friends, seldom seen kin, and sometimes shut-ins whose only present may be the holiday greeting you send.
Not only do I compose a photo card, which Shutterfly makes exceedingly easy, but I also pen a page reporting on the highs and not the lows of the previous year. I’m no Pollyanna, but I don’t want to spread angst during the Christmas season. In my letter, I never touch on politics, either!
Nowadays, some resort to email Christmas epistles. True, it’s better than nothing at all. Yet, I feel most people appreciate it when you spend money on a physical card, buy a stamp, and trouble yourself to mail the greetings in a timely fashion.
Email is too easy, too cheap, and too self-absorbed. It comforts a soul to sit in an armchair on Christmas Eve regarding the bounty of holiday cards assembled on the foyer’s table or taped to the staircase or fastened to the fridge’s door. It’s a daily reminder during Advent that you have friends. Someone thought about you during this hectic time. Zipping through an inbox searching for a personal greeting--- not one from your insurance company or favorite business--- misses the mark.
Although not everyone enjoys journaling, perfecting the pithy phrase, or opening up about one’s life in an annual dispatch, is there anyone who can’t compose a sentence, a sentiment, a message from the heart, and sign the card “Wishing you a Happy Holiday?”
Is that too much to do for those people in our own worlds who have made life worth living?
Erika Hoffman’s humorous, non-fiction stories often appear in magazines like Sasee of Myrtle Beach or in nationally known anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Not Your Mother’s Book, but what she enjoys penning are mysteries; some have been published in Deadly Ink Anthologies, 2009 and 2010 and in Tough Lit Mag (II, IV, V).