Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterbacking VIII

Whoops. Missed a week. Sorry about that.

Onward to ML’s most recent offering.

“Once Political, Now Just Practical,” by Sara Sarasohn is the most recent Modern Love essay and it is just the sort of essay I hope I write for Modern Love one day. This is an essay that marries the political with the personal. It’s my favorite kind.

What works in this essay:
*A timely topic. Gay marriage is a hot button issue.
*Good use of personal detail. It’d be easy in an essay like this to hide behind the politics. Instead, the author reveals elements of her marriage, her feelings about motherhood, feelings about who she is, as part of the narrative.
*Great exploration of a cultural subject. What is a “wife?” What does the word mean to us? How has the meaning of that word changed (or not) in recent generations?

I think a personal essay achieves its highest calling when it can leverage a personal moment to discuss a broader cultural point. I expect all around the NYT readership on Sunday wives considered their roles, husbands considered their expectations, couples compared notes and experiences and young people opened their eyes to the realities and possibilities of grown up relationships. This is an essay that makes you think about a word you may use without a second thought.

“I’ll check with my wife.”
“She’s so-and-so’s wife.”

It’s an easy word to use, yet how often do we stop and considered what we’re saying when we say wife?

Maybe it’s because I write for a living that I really enjoyed this part of the essay – the dissection of a word and its meaning. One word, properly used, is power.

“Do it.”
“Just do it.”

One word makes all the difference. The first phrase is an order. The second is an exhortation. Nike made a whole lot of money understanding that.

I’m working on a series of flash fiction pieces all of which play on a word in some way. The first is titled “Yes Please.” And it’s about a girl whose first name is Please. Another is called “Missing Person” and it’s about hero’s hometown street – Jesperson Place – and what happened after some local vandals trashed the street signs. The one I’m writing now is called “Parking By Permit Only” and it’s an all-dialogue short in which a man and woman debate what to name their first child. The dad-to-be (a New York City-born pragmatist) is lobbying for the first name Permit. That’s actually based on an old joke my (New York City born) dad used to tell. Whenever we had to circle the block looking for parking, he would tell my mother, “Let’s have a third child and name it Permit.”

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