In this craft/inspiration anthology, I also found and loved "On Commonness," Leslie Jamison's ode to Anne Carson's "The Glass Essay." In this essay, Jamison discusses simplicity — which I must admit I've never thought about in relation to Carson's books. Jamison points out that:
"Carson's mode of self-awareness doesn't apologize for its emotion She simply acknowledges that, whenever we feel, we do so in a way that anticipates the gaze of others — as well as anticipates the empathy or lack of empathy we'll encounter there. I feel some version of this happening when she writes:
When Law left I felt so bad I thought I would die.
This is not uncommon.
"These lines feel willfully melodramatic. [. . .] Carson's language is so surprising — you already know she can take any feeling and give it to you in some crazy, stylized way. Instead, she says, 'I thought I would die.' It's so willfully plain."
I love this: you already know she can take any feeling and give it to you in some crazy, stylized way. Yes. But Jamison's extended focus on some of Carson's most direct lines is exactly what I needed to read right now. I love both of these writers, so to get them together, one writing about the other, is like a double dose of medicine.
Earlier, I wrote about Lev Grossman's essay on fantasy in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I've only seen the TV and film versions of their books, so the experience of reading Jamison's essay on Carson is entirely different. She's writing about one of my favorite writers, and showing me something new, something I hadn't considered, something that, now that I see it too, makes me shout, Yes! This!
"I really believe that there are extraordinary things to be said about deeply ordinary experiences. When I teach nonfiction, the biggest student conundrum around personal writing is: Why would anybody care about what happened to me? There's shame around just having lived an ordinary life. And it's not like they're wrong — it is going to be harder for them to get a book deal, say, for their memoir of living in the suburbs. But the paralyzing anxiety I hear students articulate, and also feel in myself, is what 'this is not uncommon' speaks to. The experience of trying to find words for an emotion that mattered so much, even while recognizing it's the most common thing in the world."