“All I wanted when I was in my early twenties was to find something to write about. It felt like that was the gambit: find something to write about; then you get to be a writer. So when a bluegrass band I was playing in landed a gig starring in a national television commercial, I thought, Here it is! A thing. To write about.
“But in the days and months after, every time I sat down to write a pitch of the variety I was then fielding as an editor at a national magazine, nothing came. What was there to write about? A thing happened. It was a good thing, and possibly noteworthy. I just didn’t know what to note. So the idea brewed, simmered, grew cold. A year passed. Then more years. A whole decade. I wrote two books, had two kids, moved on. At some point I thought, Well what was that period of my life about, anyway, when being in a TV commercial was even in the realm of the possible?
“I have always loved an answer the fiction writer Richard Yates gave in an interview with the journal Ploughshares in 1972, more than a decade after his novel Revolutionary Road was published to great acclaim: ‘I managed to avoid the two terrible traps that lie in the path autobiographical fiction,’ Yates said, looking back on the book with the benefit of ten years of hindsight, ‘self-pity and self-aggrandizement.’ Maybe this is what the writer of personal essay waits out, too, as he figures out how to assay an experience, a memory: the third way. Because what’s the other thing, the one that’s not self-pity or self-aggrandizement? That’s the question that never changes. That’s the gambit.”
Daniel Torday’s novella, The Sensualist, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction. His debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015. An editor at the Kenyon Review, he is currently the Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.