Ends and Means, On Ways to End the Personal Essay
This is how I structured the first meeting of a class on the end of a personal essay kind of classes I would teach in teaching mémoire.
Quote a lyric from a song you like or that you once liked.
Explain, describe and name your first car.
Desert island TV show and why?
Who taught you how to tie your shoes?
The End, My Friend
1) The end depends on the beginning and middle, so we must look at these to sift how the writer gets to his or her end. If you have been in the two previous classes you will feel like you know about these.
2) How many ‘ends’ are there? Let’s see:
“Anyway, that was 1954 for me.”
The Changed Subject:
After four years in a tough high school in Philly, with its meat-locker complications and its multiple storylines, I was prepared for a tumbling (if not rough) urban life that I haven’t yet lived. Instead I went to college in Montana, where I’ve stayed since, married, had four kids and spent a lot of time getting to know snow and the strange stretch of western skies and the thought, here, about staying inside weather. Montana would be my life. It taught me the high principle of law and fate and quiet, and it scraped the acne of high school from me forever.
So that first image, of my cat’s tail wrapping its front paws in a sort of watercolor question mark, comes back to me: when Delta popped out of the night ten years ago and nearly ran under my bicycle it was a prod from another world, telling me to find a home.
It was good to be in that house and on that beach that summer. In fact, I always knew it, I just needed the gun to show me how glad I was for it all.
The Big Epiphany:
“We call contrary to nature what happens contrary to custom; nothing is anything but according to nature, whatever it may be. Let this universal and natural reason drive out of us the error and astonishment that novelty brings us.” (from Montaigne, Essais)
The More Modest Epiphany:
“A life’s moment, everything mad with significance as in poetry and dreams and music, usually, though, a bleak significance, fills a story that seems to be about the reader and his or her will to some degree. It is as if the reader writes the story – or his or her misapprehension of the story. How delicious.” (Brodkey)
Discussion of Harold Brodkey piece on fiction: selected passages.
EXERCISE: write about disguise, identity, clothing, costume you once wore. This might be a kind-of costume, like when you were a “punk” or when you were “sophisticated.” Or it could be when you were at a costume party. But the piece should involve clothing or eyewear or, if you want (and are ambitious) the face as a mask.
Hand it in. Take a break. After the break write it again.