Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterbacking III

Yes, yes, I know it’s Tuesday. So sue me.

The first thing I want to point out about this week’s ML column is that it is by a man. Again. Three of the last four ML columns have been written by men. Nothing against men. I’m just saying. I wonder if in the early years, ML was so female dominated that they are now trying to swing the other way to demonstrate their attention to equality. Political correctness is a powerful force in the media.

“A Time to Put Aside Armor” by Ariel Sabar is a rather gentle tale of fathers and sons through the generations. It’s kind of an evergreen-- an adult learns to see a parent through the new eyes of a child It’s not really all that unusual for men to be strict with their children but putty with their grandchildren. I was 12 before I learned that my sweet and devoted Grandpa was actually quite the tyrant to his own kids. But the writer of this essay brings nice original detail to his own telling of this familiar saga: the Iraqi background of his father, for example, the generation gap that often exists between new immigrants and their American-born children over things like clothes, language, freedom and responsibility.

Ultimately, this essay works because it blends the universal father-son drama with this writer’s individual experience. I tell my students a great essay is at the intersection of the personal and the universal. So you need a topic that is both intensely yours and immensely the world’s. When I wrote “Imagine My Surprise” (an essay penned when I was so very young that I was shocked shocked to discover sexism in the workplace) that essay worked because it was my personal story – and the universal experience of a young woman in her first job. When I wrote “Mom, What Are Asses of Evil?” (thanks Salon.com editors for that nifty headline) it worked because it was about me and the event that was all over television that week. It was about my experience – and the experience of every parent in town at that time.

That’s my biggest challenge – trying to write something sexy and funny that is both personal and universal. It’s a lot of bases to hit in one essay. For my next topic, I’ve picked Sexing the Mammogram. I can’t say I’m 100% confident it’s a good topic. Can I get a laugh around the topic of breast cancer and not sound like a jerk? Is what I’ve got in mind even funny or am I just weird? But I’m already seeing public service ads for breast cancer awareness events coming up in September. And editors like a news hook. So I’m going for it.

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