Saturday, January 24, 2015

Impactful Because it is Written

Photo by Jason Devaun
The personal essay is always an experience. Writing style, writing ability, topic, authenticity, and image are always shifting depending on the person whose life you peek into. In reading some of the previous student's personal essays, I found many of them to be common stories of friends or loved ones passing away, mission stories, or best friends. Though this commonality made the stories less engaging or unique to me as a reader, I found that the actual experience and its impact was no less diminished. This difference was easy to see in the different formats through which the essay was presented.

In the video format, I found myself feeling an instant palpable insight into the life and person who was asking me to read the essay. I preferred essay intros that included a little about the essay, but were shorter and humble in the realization that the personal essay can be a very real vulnerability. Asking someone to read of your life and find it valuable is difficult, and I enjoyed those whose videos were real and less rehearsed. Within the blog format, I was much quicker to notice when the story became typical or explanatory, losing my interest because I couldn't see anyone in the story. As an artistic medium, I found that most of the stories didn't really move me or even impress me. But, importantly, they all still remained as proof of human emotion, human experience, and human truth.

One idea I enjoyed was the story of abuse. It was impactful because it took a circumstance that is traumatic and difficult to explain and filtered its rawness through an expressive medium. It leads me to believe that the best personal essay are not just impactful stories, but stories that are impactful because they were written. The best personal essays show emotion through color, images, sounds, tastes, sights, and smells, not by simply telling of events. Words can be powerful when we take an emotion and describe it in unique, often contrasting or even jarring terms and images that capture what we felt, not what we are supposed to feel. As I begin contemplating my own personal essay, I will have to look for experiences I have never tried to explain, or even understand; thus striving for truth and illumination through self discovery and not just meaningful occurrence.


  1. I like your approach to writing a personal essay, specifically that we have to look for experiences that we don't necessarily understand ourselves. I also like that you mentioned all the senses we have to use to connect to the emotion of an essay. (It took me a minute though to realize how you could capture smell in an essay haha.) Thanks for your insight!

  2. I agree that "impressive" wouldn't be the word to describe many, if any, of these essays. But I was (and it sounds like you were) nevertheless drawn to them. Does self-disclosure (or, as you say, self-discovery) make up, at least in part, for a lack of literary greatness?

  3. I also appreciate your insight about describing emotions through the senses.
    And the same as you, I also want to "strive for truth and illumination through self discovery and not just meaningful occurrences" because that is what I think a personal essay should be, so thank you for putting that out there.