“You knew you wanted to do it, but you’d never had the courage…:” Writing in the second person

For some people, it’s bungee-jumping. For others, it’s swimming with dolphins, getting a tattoo, or eating fugu.

What am I talking about?

The thing you’ve always wanted to do, but were too chicken to try.

For me, it’s writing in the second person. When it’s done well, it’s so, so compelling. The reader is naturally drawn into the narrative, as they are a part of it. But when it’s bad, it’s like a poor imitation of a Choose Your Own Adventure book (I loved them as a kid, by the way). I remember reading a book that teaches writing which suggested that only the most gifted of writers should attempt writing in the second person.

Over the last few months, the second person narrative has appeared on my radar quite a bit. And for the first time, it’s in non-fiction.

I’m a huge fan of Erika Dreifus’s blogs, and that led me to some of her other writing. Among her corpus of work are several interlocked true short stories about her (yikes!) mugging in Central Park.

(You can read them, too:

What really interested me about the stories was Dreifus’s handling of her misadventure. While the events actually happened to her, she writes them as if they happened to the reader. Whether this was intentional or serendipitous, she discovered a way of writing about a traumatic event that happened to her with greater objectivity.

My new POV

A couple months back, I wrote a very self-revelatory story. It was the kind of thing that is so embarrassing to myself that I can’t be at all objective about it. When I wrote piece, I thought it was completely unpublishable, but shared it at my writing group nonetheless.

Surprise! Several members of the group had a very strong reaction to it, not because it was exceptionally well-written (it wasn’t), but because they felt the feelings I portrayed were very universal. So, they encouraged me to revise it.

Struggling to handle material that was a little too close for comfort, I tried Dreifus’s technique and rewrote my story entirely in the second person. I’d describe it as highly therapeutic. I was able to laugh at my foibles and not take the behavior that elicited my negative response so personally. I have no idea if the story will ever make it to publication. But the process definitely gave me a new perspective on my behavior.

The process also gave me a bit more confidence in writing the second-person. Now, I’m looking for the right opportunity to use it again.

Have you read notable works in the second person? Have you ever tried to write in the second person? Share your experiences as a reader or a writer below.

Why you should do what you love to do, even if you’re no expert (and never will be)

I am no Picasso.

I am no Michelangelo or deVinci.

And I’m never going to be.

My girlfriend at MoiMeMoi posted last week about doing things we love even when we are less than expert at them. Her words struck a chord, because recently, I’ve started drawing again after years and years of avoiding it.

For my entire grade school career, I was considered “artsy.” I drew and painted better than my peers, mostly out of a smidgen of natural talent, but also because I applied myself in art classes and loved to read art books. It was a hobby that I hoped might turn into something more.

Then I hit 12th grade and had the sudden realization that I was good, but I wasn’t great and might very well never be great. That smidgen of talent was just a smidgen. So I threw my hands up in the air and gave up drawing and painting and pottery–the whole shebang.

Occasionally, I’d startle my husband when I had to draw something to show my kids how, or my students would respond to a diagram I’d drawn with admiration. At such moments, I felt like my past was leaking out. My family knew about my “artistic” past, and even suggested I illustrate my books, but I’ve always felt like I’m not good enough to do it and never will be.

Maybe that’s true. However, lately, I’ve gone back to drawing. At times, I sketch still lives, other times, I draw my kids while they sleep, or from a photo (because they are rarely still). I’ve also drawn a couple cartoons. I mourn years of no practice–my skills could have grown, but they didn’t. Sometimes, I get very frustrated. But it’s fun. It’s a hobby, and it’ll probably stay that way.

G-d-willing, I’ll share some more about my renewed hobby soon, with the help of my handy-dandy scanner.

What skills and hobbies have you neglected over the years?  Would you ever go back to them?