As a writer of personal essays, author Leslie Jamison is often accused of being self-indulgent. Why not use her talents to write about the lives of others, as she did in her first book The Gin Closet? How conceited must she be to talk about herself so often? But the reason that Jamison writes about herself isn’t as self-centered as some would think:
“I don’t want to sound defensive about it, but sometimes when people criticize confessional writing in general or the confessional parts of the book – Jamison can’t stop going on and on about some tiny little thing that she’s gone through – it’s never that what’s happened to me is any more remarkable or interesting than what’s happened to anybody else. It just so happens that my life is the life I’m closest to because it’s mine.
Plenty of writers find inspiration within themselves for use in fiction and semi-autobiographical tales, so why shouldn’t Jamison be allowed to write about herself directly? Personal essays almost always start with a spark within the depths of one’s self; and if they don’t, then they always end up there. The personal essay is innately, well, personal.
Jamison’s essay collection, The Empathy Exams, came out in April of 2014, and since then, Jamison has realized that her “self-centered” writing has become the opposite of that. Her confessional pieces have inspired responses from thousands of readers who resonate with Jamison’s observations and realizations. Her work “coaxed chorus like a brushfire.”
“There are many ways to confess and many ways confession can reach beyond itself. If the definition of solipsism is “a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing”, then little pushes back against solipsism more forcefully than confession gone public. This kind of confession inevitably creates dialogue.”
According to Jamison, it’s okay to find inspiration in and write about the self, because in the eyes of readers, it will become something so much more.