This, “What the essayist spills” by Maria Tumarkin in the Sydney Review of Books is a truly wonderful essay.. and gave me much peace with the time a top publisher pursued me with fascination and then started “wrapping up the meeting the minute” I pitched “a single-authored, adult length essay collection – they reckon it will tank”.
What are essays for? They are for thinking about things that need to be thought about yet don’t get thought about much, or at all, or interestingly, or for long enough. They are for picking up ideas, feelings, forces in the air, still unnamed and amorphous, and giving them a foothold in language. Whatever is in the air and whatever is disappearing – unnoticed, unmourned. They are for resisting choices offered to us that are not true, yet made to seem inescapable. Are you for this or for that? Do you treasure this or that? Identify with this or that? Will be undone by that or this? And they are for picking sides of barricades when it is morally imperative to do so. In an essay, you can take something that happened to you, or to the girl / cat / tree over there, and make a larger space for this experience, so that it may connect up with the experiences of others, but also with the flows of history, politics, culture, science. Essays of this kind are usually not written backwards from a generally agreed-on conclusion (poverty is debilitating, refugees are 100% human), or from some unassailable personal truth (my head hurts from smashing it on an invisible glass ceiling). They are written forwards, into the dusky, marshy lands, into outer space.
Which reminds me…
The longer I live the more I mistrust
theatricality, the false glamour cast
by performance, the more I know its poverty beside
the truths we are salvaging from
the splitting-open of our lives.
From ‘Transcendental Etude’ by Adrienne Rich.