Tell (Almost) All
The average person keeps 13 secrets, five of which they have never told anyone. Come up with three of your secrets to write about.
That was the first homework assignment in my personal essay class. Last July, I decided to actually get a little writing training. This decision was part and parcel of the annual Summer Betterment Program that I undertake at the shore. I return home accomplished, refreshed—and completely unable to replicate my regimen until the following summer.
Anyway, I figured an online course was my best option. I found a six week class on personal essays and so, one Tuesday at 5 PM, I logged on to the website. But when I attempted to join the class, no one was there! I soon discovered my miscalculation. The course was being taught from San Francisco, where their 5 PM is my 8 PM. My classes were going to run two hours, ending at 10 at night! For me, that might as well have been 1-3 AM, as I am almost always tucked into beddy bye long before 10 PM.
Somehow I managed to stay awake, and (virtually) met my instructor, Kalle, who teaches at Columbia, and my fellow students. The “secrets” assignment felt like a plunge off the high dive for me, but my classmates seemed to have no problem baring their souls. What are the safest, most innocuous secrets I keep? I wrote THOSE down (as a child, I used to pour orange juice on my cornflakes because of my milk allergy). I knew that was not exactly in the spirit of the class, so I tried to dig deeper, finally settling on my troubled relationship with my mom towards the end of her life.
By Class #3 we all had a draft of our stories written. We were each given about 8 minutes of class time weekly to discuss our pieces and get feedback. I enjoyed this part, and really liked the other writers’ work. The final weeks focused on selling our essays to major publications. We had to find the editors of our top five targets and be ready to submit our finished work. And so it was that I sent “My Bipolar, Mom’s Dementia, and How We Lost Each Other” to The New York Times (aim high, right?)
I’d love to report an immediate, enthusiastic response from The Times, but I got a rejection. So I chalked that one off, and sent to my next target publication, Vox First Person. That was also a “no.” I got into final consideration at Narratively–then nix. I have three other prospects, so I’m not too discouraged (yet).I realize that these outlets get hundreds and hundreds of submissions. I just hope my little essay will appeal to SOMEONE out there, and get published.
Was it worth it? Most definitely. I now have lots more tools in my writing kit, which I can and will use going forward. Would I ever take another online class?
Only in my time zone.