Lighting Themselves On Fire For Our Enjoyment

The New York Times Magazine on Cat Marnell’s flameout at XO Jane, which is somewhat inside baseball but speaks to certain universal truths, I find. To me, it feels like right now is a time when “confessional girls,” for lack of a better word, my peers in age and experience, are getting a certain amount of attention for writing stuff about their lives, tightly, inwardly focused. (Often, of course, called “narcissistic” by detractors.)

It can be exhilarating when it’s done with skill and vigor, and some of it is; I definitely can envy it - confessional girls younger than me make me feel like James Murphy sometimes - but mostly because because I am not so much a confessional girl. There’s a part of me that worries, motherly-ish, about what will your parents think and are you sure you can be taken seriously if you do this? I’m from New England, I was raised to think of that sort of writing as unseemly. You’re supposed to hide your emotions, aren’t you? Isn’t it better to find transcendence through metaphors?

Part of the reason I think Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? works is because it’s a confessional girl novel written by a woman who can step away, look at it, add some irony and humor to it. I also find Edith Zimmerman’s writing to be fascinating since she’s jokey and working in a milleu that thrives on … flameouts, confessions, and cults of personality, but she’s really building a career as a writer, and still retains an air of mystery as a person. She’s going to end up being Sloane Crosley-ish, isn’t she?

I took a personal essay class and the results were sort of hilarious - the essays were fine enough, the spine of them, but I managed, somehow, to write without exposing any guts, blood, or viscera to the class, in certain cases. For example: a whole essay about anxiety without delving into why I deal with anxiety, any of my issues. I’d like to revisit that essay at some point - sadly, anxiety has been a bit of a constant battle but I know how to function with it - but I’m not ready for it.

[Edit: Now that I think about it, I wonder if that’s why a goodly amount of well-received fiction by young authors tends to revel in a sort of magical realist corner, where fantastic flights of fancy can take the place of having to write realistically about your life because you’re a baby and nothing’s happened yet. I’m thinking a little of people like Karen Russell and Shane Jones.]