To Show and To Tell by Phillip Lopate
It is an observable fact that most people don't like themselves. . . . Why this [is so] I cannot pretend to understand; all I can say from my vantage point as a teacher and anthologist of the personal essay, is that an odor of self-disgust mars many performances in this genre and keeps many would-be personal writers from developing into full-fledged professionals. . . . The proper alternative to self-dislike is not being pleased with oneself—a smug complacency that comes across as equally distasteful—but being curious about oneself. Such self-curiosity (of which Montaigne was the fountainhead and greatest exemplar), can only grow out of [a] detachment or distance from oneself . . . Maintaining one's dignity should not be a paramount issue in personal writing. [F]irst must come the urge to entertain or at least provocatively stimulate the reader. From that impulse everything else follows.