What do you find appealing about the personal essay?
It can be really overwhelming to try to sift through all the potential material inside of my head sometimes. It’s hard to not want to write about everything. But you don’t have the ability to go in depth when you do that. An essay really forces me to slow down, to sit and grapple with one idea, character, or event and consider it deeply—to look at whatever I’m writing about from multiple perspectives. Plus, essays feel more manageable for me. I’m working on a book-length project right now, and I keep coming back to essays because when I finish one, it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. It helps keep the momentum going.
What influenced this piece?
I was taking a craft class on the concept of time, and we had just read Joseph Brodsky’s “In a Room and a Half.” I was thinking a lot about the way that time, place, and character all influence one another, and his essay really served as a model for how those elements can work together. I had been wanting to write about my childhood home for a while, but wasn’t sure how to structure the piece. Using the house as the central character of the essay and writing about the memories associated with each room, rather than using it as just the setting and writing a chronological narrative of living there, really opened up the possibilities for me.
Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you?
I’m a big fan of Jo Ann Beard and Abigail Thomas. Both women have taught me about writing from a raw and vulnerable place. The Boys of My Youth taught me how to write scene and really challenged my perspective about what creative nonfiction is or isn’t. A Three Dog Life and Safekeeping are the books I keep coming back to again and again for crafting a narrator that is honest with herself and embraces her flaws. Because who wants to read about a narrator that is perfect?