On my desktop, there's a folder called "Article Starts." It's full of little bits of personal essays or individual scenes, all drawn from superfluous paragraphs or pages that have been revised out of the book manuscript. I started the files last summer after a gnashing of teeth about ways to introduce people to my work.
"Don't spend a ton of time on each one." Just brush them up, my mentor suggested, add a little meat or a little style, and send them off to literary journals that publish short nonfiction. "You have the chops."
A single paragraph got me going. It sketched a brief description of a friend's long-ago teasing as we prepared a casual dinner for a group of pals. He was dismayed by my lack of culturally appropriate (read: gigantic) serving dishes. His culture, mind you, not mine.
Of course, as far as the actual food went, given my culture, he was lucky I didn't serve hot dogs. Given one of his three cultures, he reminded me at the time, I was lucky he didn't serve actual dogs.
In any case, after staring at this little gem periodically over the last month or two, I finally worked through it last night.
I had the oddest sense of exposure, recapturing the place and time, remembering impressions, images, and snippets of conversation. But there was nothing really unusual about the evening I described. Except that the idea for the dinner had been my friend's. And I didn't do all the preparation and hosting alone, which was (and still is) most often the case.
Although I have no qualms about writing about myself, I don't always apply the language of art and emotion. I also don't put the rare people in my life into words very often. I used to, on an old blog I've long since pulled down. Even then, it was one thing for me to think highly of someone; it was another to call that person out by name. Never was that more obvious than in posts describing this particular friend, which earned comments like, "Stop teasing us! Who's the guy?!"
Now, my challenge as a writer is layering the amusement of an exchange about the size of a set of bowls with a hint of vulnerability and a sense of something rare ... while continuing to leave my friend's name out of it. His time around here was short; he's gone on to far loftier places and pursuits. So I'll let the characterization do the work. If any literary types recognize him just from that, so be it.
In any case, I think the writing is pretty close. The file is saved away in that folder for a few days. I'll open it up again later this week, make some tweaks, and then submit it to the journal I would most like to accept it. And cross my fingers.