In Crafting the Personal Essay, Dinty W. Moore discusses the masters of essay writing from long ago and how we can use their works to inspire new works. He discusses the power of voice and the importance of finding our unique way of writing that fits perfectly within the time that we live.
For some of us, that means that we sound just like our neighbors when we talk or write. For others of us, it means that we sound distinctly different. Both are vital.
As an example, Moore discusses Montaigne, a master essayist from a long time ago. His works are universal, but his voice is a tad outdated.
In this exercise, prompted by Moore, I rewrote a passage from Montaigne in my modern voice. This required me not only to read the passage several times, but to attempt to discern the universality of what Montaigne meant. I enjoyed this exercise.
I found it exciting and challenging. Exciting because I realized how much the process of writing helps me dig deeper into the meaning of what I’ve read. Challenging because I am an imitator, which makes it difficult for me to resist the urge to mimic the beauty of whatever prose I’m reading.
In this case, Moore explicitly instructed me to write in a modern voice, to make it read as if I were saying it to a friend. That was a fun challenge.
To encourage you to pick up Moore’s book for yourself, I will share only my writing here and not the passage that inspired this piece:
There is always only one me, and that one me is subject to everything I’ve ever seen, heard, done, and believed. And what I’ve seen and heard changes as I age. We’ve all gone back to the house we grew up in, the grade school we attended, or the neighborhood we played in, only to remark, “It seems so much smaller than I remember.”
No one can pin me down, because even as they approach me, I shift. I’m suddenly out of their reach. This scares me, but I don’t resist it anymore.
I’ve come to cherish the this freedom. It’s a freedom to be all that I am today, knowing that I can’t really count on “myself” tomorrow. In this way, I am off the hook while still holding staunchly to everything I deeply cherish – my people, my morals, my doctrines, and my values.
Slowly they erode, as the Grand Tetons lose an ounce of dirt each day. And one day I look back and see that where there once was a mountain, there is now only a mole hill.
It is refreshing now to be me. I can write all that I am thinking today, and tomorrow I can argue that the opposite is true. And yet I remain true to myself in every single moment. That is true freedom, a freedom worth fighting for.
Now you try:
Take my words here and put them into your own words, as if you were speaking to your best friend about this topic.
Written by: Angela Magnotti Andrews