Fess Up

Why read an anthology of tell-all personal essays?

Single Woman of a Certain Age made me laugh now and again, but mostly I cringed while reading it. Now, I vividly remember being unattached and wondering whether I would be so forever -- maybe that seems easy to say now that I'm not, but it's true -- yet these stories made me sadder than I recall feeling at the time. I have many friends who fit the profile of this book, but I don't think of them as pathetic in the way that so many of these writers portray themselves. They're trying so hard not to be bothered by being single that they undermine their own power. One standout exception is "The Glamorous Life" by Anne Buelteman -- her first published piece -- about the itinerant existence of a performer in a traveling musical. She sounds like she's genuinely enjoying herself, unapologetically.

Women writers on a favorite topic: themselves.
Women writers on a favorite topic: themselves.

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It's both nerve-racking and purifying to write and publish an essay about yourself. Writing it feels the way I imagine a Catholic feels at confession: sitting in a dark box, telling your secrets to an unseen, judging listener, hoping for transcendence. Once the piece is published, the feeling becomes more like the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we announce our lameness to the world and ask for forgiveness aloud. It's not a casual thing, the tell-all; if you just throw it together and toss it out into the world, you risk defining yourself as a lightweight. And that's one word I'd never want to put on my list.

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