Friday, January 21, 2011

What Actually Stuck

A Series of summaries from the lectures I attended at my writing residency. At my age, my neural pathways are mostly carved. So, I strive, in my graduate education, to retain just a smidgeon more. This is a record, not of what I was taught, but of what actually stuck.

Patrick Madden’s Lecture: WHERE THE ESSAYS ARE

Pat has a nuanced sense of humor that infiltrates his writing and his speaking. Even when he is unsmiling, there seems to be a smirk hiding under the surface that keeps the listener/reader on her toes, waiting for the punch line. He’s kind of adorable in an overly earnest-kind-of-way. Like the Colin Firth of the Essay World, Mr. Darcy without the scowl—though his intelligence and stature can intimidate even the stoutest of students. I highly recommend his collection of essays Quotidiana

Madden's writing allows you to sit, breath and enjoy his current of thought which generally leads to happy seas of the mundane. I guarantee you’ll want to hug him, or someone close by, after you read his stuff.

At the residency, Pat gave a practical lecture on getting your essays published. Though, you’ll have to forgive him for sneaking in lessons on the true nature of the classical essay, he cannot stop himself:

The Personal Essay…
  1. Is Not an article; Articles set out to prove something.
  2. Is Not a composition; Compositions are the cancer of the essayists mind—Beware: 5 paragraph essays may cause internal hemorrhaging! In fact, Madden might go as far as to say that the 5 paragraph-essay-structure is a blight on the face of American education.
  3. Is out to ponder something, to follow your meditative thoughts through all their wandering paths, through scenes and reflections, not knowing where they will lead. To understand the real essay, you must know its birth and history: St. Augustine wrote his Confessions, delivering a new genre of writing into the literary canon. Michel de Montaigne, the Father of the Personal Essay, nurtured the form into its maturity. Visit Madden’s website,, for a buffet of short, classical essays. You’ll be surprised by how enjoyable these quick reads are. My personal favorite: Of a Monstrous Child, about Montaigne’s experience seeing a conjoined twin (or should I say conjoined twins if he had only one head?) on the road to town. It’s actually very comforting to know what hideous thoughts others have. That is the point, in my opinion, of the personal essay: To humanize our own monsters lurking inside. Of course, Madden has fewer monstrous thoughts than I, so his tastes in essays lean toward the beauty of the world, mine toward the grotesque.

Publishing is a noble goal for the writer, and therefore, Pat gave us a few tips to take with us in our pursuits. His first advice was to read literary publications, get to know the personalities of some journals in order to know which of your pieces would be a good fit. I have found the blog Essay Daily to be a great resource for finding nonfiction journals. The blog has a fabulous list on the right sidebar called “Homes for the Essay,” which is fairly exhaustive. I’m still trying to find the journals that are just “so me.” I’ll be sure to let you know when I do. Many editors, Pat reveals to us, read only the introductions of submissions, so you need to make sure the guts and glory of your writing show up in the first few paragraphs.

Of course, Madden shared much more with us, but, alas, that is all of what actually stuck. 

1 comment:

  1. "to humanize our own monsters lurking inside." this helped me realize what i love about your writing. I guess its a combination of some shared monsters. [Although i would not dare tarnish you with having near as many, nor as despicable ones as I. But none the less, it seems there are some common traits.] Anyway, you have a gift for unashamedly voicing the "grotesque" observations, that at the same time expose and diminish the demons. It is therapy for me, so keep it up. You are cheaper than my shrink and healthier than my meds.