2 min read

Writing Off-Center

I've been thinking a lot lately about "off-center." We may not be the center of the world, but we are the center of our own worlds. We center our own perspectives and experiences. Anything close-to-but-not-quite what we believe we know is off-center. It's still familiar. Not unknown. But it doesn't fully align with us.

For instance, I might refer to someone else's relationship to the truth as off-center based on how willing they are to stretch the truth. The gap between what is honest and what is dishonest is negotiable, if not always navigable.

It's like the optometrist flipping and sliding lens, rotating dials, and asking you, "A," pause, pause, flip, "Or B?" Perceptibly fuzzier, is easy. Nearly identical? That's a place to write from.

When you feel there is a difference, when you feel uncertain whether there is a difference, and articulation nearly escapes you, this is an off-center essay. Michele Morano explores these places in her essay collection Like Love. Each essay is about an experience, a feeling, a person that is like but not quite love or broadens the way we define love. There are a couple excerpts on the Internet, but I don't think either really does the collection justice.

What I appreciate about Morano's writing is that she doesn't attempt to justify or moralize her feelings (or even the actions born of her feelings). She's not fascinated by guilt and shame, she's more curious about what is this emotion and can I call it love? Having this sort of remove from your experiences, allows the reader to engage with their own experiences in the same manner, witness what is human (no matter how fiercely we attempt to reject it), and makes space for your essay to wander some place far more interesting than right or wrong.

The guilt and shame of a writer can suffocate an essay, choke out any connection with the reader. You must ask yourself, why have you chosen an audience who would judge and condemn you? Yes, when your essay enters the big, wide world, judgment might await it, but are those the people you're writing for? I sure hope not (And plzzzz do not take this as permission to release violent, harmful takes into the world. LOLZ. No, thank you).

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, can you think of a time in your life where you experienced something that was like love but was off-center of your expectations about love? Set a 20-minute timer, light a candle, and write.

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