I just essayed to get all involved in the essays contained in The Best American Essays of the Century Edited by Joyce Carol Oates.
Before I get to describing my motivation to essay, I just want to ask these questions: Did J.C. Oates read all of the essays written for the entire 20th century in order to choose the 55 she did? And what were the criteria? And why did Oates get to pick?
I’m thinking about writing a memoir. My life got really interesting a few years back, and I think the story of it would have some feminist impact and I have a lot of feelings. And I can be kind of raw about describing these feelings. And I’ve been working on a few essays of my own that are autobiographical, and well, it just feels right.
So I thought, I should read some essays. And choosing from the best of the 20th century seemed like as good a plan as any. I read this book that was like a collection of essays. It was called Hypocrite in a Poofy White Dress, and it was hysterical. The “best” essays of the century are, of course, brilliant and well-written, but they seem to me to be smart people riffing off about how smart they are. Or how awesome it is that they got to be woman of the year the same year they went a little barmy and lived in a deteriorating neighborhood in California. I’m talking about “The White Album” by Joan Didion.
I don’t know. The masturbatory nature of the memoir wounds me a bit. I don’t know how okay I think it is to write a book all about oneself then ask other people to read it. I don’t know if I can feel like I’m contributing to the greater good, but people do seem to love the single mom stories. And I suppose my ability to pay bills is a part of the greater good.
And I suppose, too, that inspiring other single moms, or giving them a sympathetic voice, or making the tribulations of single motherhood a little more, well, public, will go a long way to making them less taboo & therefore getting single moms the credit they deserve…
I shall essay, I shall essay.