Only If You Write Essays About Him
I've spent three years trying to squeeze out a goddamn memoir that circles these topics, and I feel like you just nailed certain ideas with one clean sentence. Damn you, Meghan Daum, you make it look so easy. But love to you, Meghan Daum, you keep me going.
Thanks for all these thoughts. For the record: I didn't say I wasn't going to write about myself. As you know, I've been doing that right here. I'm just not writing about boyfriends!
This essay makes me think of when I did my bfa in photography - everyone’s first instincts is to photograph the cliches: for women was their friends and families, nude self portraits. For men it was nyc graffiti, train tracks, pretty female friends. Everyone photographed an abandoned building and the woods at some point.
Our professors would tell us to get it out of system before we found our more original ~ authentic ~ subjects. They had a point. Sometimes there are phases that are not uncommon but I guess still something to explore that’s just typical, but not necessarily invaluable parts of learning and growing up. Collecting reference points maybe. When you’re young your reference points are just much smaller and inward bc of a lack of world experience. I agree that eventually it’s the type of thing one should outgrow. Ironically when an artist reaches success and maturity is usually when the more personal pieces become more interesting, whereas a younger unknown artists it’s like, why should I care about you? What’s so special about you?
On a side note-- not to throw shade towards artists but it’s also why I stopped dating artists after age 21. & also stopped pursuing the art life myself. I admire the work and talent but so often it can be a very self involved pursuit. After graduation I tried, but after a few years realized that I just did not have it in me to play that game and am often exhausted by those that do. I think a couple where both are artists is often too much ego to balance !
Wonderful essay. That said, I hope your current instinct flips and you do write about the people in your world as you age. Those are stories I would really like to read.
Excellent piece. The idea of reading Norah Ephron before writing reminded me of a character in a Garrison Keillor novel, a young man with literary ambitions. He writes poetry all day but always starts the day by reading some Walt Whitman 'to prime the pump'.
What a thought provoking piece. Reading about the evolution of your relationship to your own material is a subject I would read more about.
Not wanting to be the literary version of the Cookie Monster, gobbling up the foibles of those around you, I understand. But are there other less compulsive ways to relate to one’s “material”? I hope so. What could be better than reading the thoughts of a mature, dare I say, seasoned writer, Meghan Daum?
This is such a fantastic piece and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it makes me feel seen. For years, I also chose boyfriends -- and perhaps friends, jobs, and a plethora of other things -- based on story. I have a work-in-progress sitting in my desk, half-written and for-the-moment abandoned, about all of my exes, who all just happen to be French. As I get older, I find myself distancing myself from the material. I've told myself this is partly because I'm simply not living it anymore: I'm back in the States now, and happily coupled up with an all-American beau. And yet. I resonate with that idea that overly confessional writing is maybe a younger woman's game. It's only in recent years that I've started to actually value my own privacy at all.
On a semi-related note, have you been following the Leah McLaren debacle? Brings up lots of related and relevant questions re: mining one's own life, what stories belong to us, fact-checking etc etc.
Great piece, as always. As Robin said, I also hope you get back at it. You can evolve in your way of choosing what to say, but you have this way around words that makes it great.
I laughed multiple times reading this. This is wonderful -- feels like the perfect complement to the essay you're writing about.
What the hell's brunch?
"Vegan scrambles?" I am never going to Brooklyn. Ever.
And, for some strange reason, I had Gary Moore's "Cold Day in Hell" playing in my head as I read this.
"Everything is copy?" Huh? None of my ex-girlfriends even know how I like my coffee.
Clearly, I am your target audience.
Loved it! Great reframing of "material." But what I really came here to say was that just as I convinced myself that you, Meghan, were *not* inside my brain, you go and say that you could write about gum on the sidewalk. Maybe this is a cliche about which I am unaware, but I remember saying this to a hippy dippy career counselor back in the early 1990s, that I could write about anything, like, say, gum on the sidewalk. He leapt out of his earth-toned chair and shouted, "Be a writer!" So, unsolicited career advice once removed and retroactive, you made a good choice, Meghan ;)
The articulation of the instinct to make choices with an eye toward the story they’ll eventually be part of is so, so perfect.
Brilliant, Meghan. And freaking hilarious to boot! I can’t even explain how deeply I relate to this. Yes: as a writer of fiction, personal essays, etc: Everyone is material. Especially girlfriends. I recently got myself into a bit of hot water by writing about an ex. You nailed that embarrassing truth also of being a writer in your twenties and partially choosing certain partners for material. That’s where the creative juice is!! Your essays always make me feel *seen.* It’s easy as a writer to feel like you’re alone, like no one else thinks the way you do. But then that’s why we read! I tend to write mostly autobiographical fiction and I change certain details but people always know. Some get angry; most are fine with it. It’s tricky. We’re artists. We observe. We tell. We unpack. Deconstruct. Analyze. It’s our job. But seeing it from the other person’s POV (the ones being written about): it’s easy to see how that would be hard. I empathize. Yet I won’t stop! (Maybe one day, like you have.)
Pardon my ignorance as I know nothing about this personal essay genre:. Are there men who've written about real-life girlfriends in the same manner?
I imagine a man would get roasted as being misogynist, sexist and a tool of the patriarchy. And having the consent of the ex-wife/girlfriend would be immaterial to his critics. Having the female in question listed as a co-author would be the only way to avoid the accusations.
Very thoughtful essay as usual.
Hey Meghan, just wanted to let you know that I just became a paid subscriber. We are of the same generation and I lived in NYC through the 90s. I worked in a bike shop in midtown Manhattan. I really enjoy your writing and I love your podcast. Just wanted to say I appreciate what you do and I’m happy to support you!
I didn't think of this earlier but I believe there have been attempts to subject Philip Roth to posthumous cancellation due to him writing thinly veiled accounts of his real-life romantic relationships.