About three years ago, I began writing creative nonfiction, and in the first year, I wrote furiously. It seemed that each new essay achieved success in a new area that my previous essay had failed. I can remember the elation that welled inside of me. I’m really doing it I thought, I’m really a writer. Looking back on that work now, some of it is okay, much of it frivolous, and a few essays have good starts and simply require the revision and deference that almost two full years of grad school have taught me. However, one essay stands out in particular.
Amongst my files, there are actually several drafts of this one particular work, which is somewhat of a rarity of my fledgling writings. I would mostly write one draft and then edit it, make a few revisions, overwrite the file, and move on — this was enough to receive a higher grade on the revision in my workshops in undergrad. My final class in creative nonfiction really instilled in me what it meant to revise — that is, to rewrite.
I’ve avoided admitting to the title of this initial accomplishment of mine that I’m particularly fond of. Even as I type it now, it makes me grimace; “Chopping Down the Dating Tree: Tiiiiiiinder!” Whatever could I have been thinking?
It initially began as an excuse to download the then relatively new dating app Tinder, and try to meet girls. I’d had a particularly heartbreaking breakup several months earlier and wasn’t quite confident enough to just download the app myself and use it. No, I had to justify it by saying it was “for an essay.” I proceeded in the most scientific manner I could: I kept track of my search parameters, the number of girls I matched with, the content of our conversations, all while telling them very quickly within our conversations that I was using the app for something to write about.
I finally decided the essay would be incomplete unless I went on a date with one of these girls. After all, how could I judge a dating app if I didn’t actually utilize its intended purpose? So, I wrote:
I know for half a day that I’m going to ask her out to coffee but anxiety cripples me in the countless excuses I give myself not to ask her… In the antithesis of heroism, I pound out the text message I hope not to be too forward, but I was wondering if you wanted to get coffee tomorrow?
I’m still happy with these sentences, especially because the girl said yes. We then went on a thirteen-hour date and some months later moved to Chicago together, where we still share an apartment while I attend grad school. And as sentimental as all this is to me—and believe me, it is—it marked the first time I really had to rewrite an essay I was working on. Gone was most of the science and early narrative I had written about talking to other girls, now that I had a date to write about. The highlights include meeting for coffee, conspiring a text message to get her out of babysitting that night, allowing her to trail me in her car for forty miles to a grungy punk house for a show, followed by a party on my college campus, and then to a late night diner where we witnessed a fight, all capped off with a goodnight kiss.
But while writing I researched, both on what had been written about Tinder already and by using the app itself. I wasn’t simply telling a story about something that had already happened to me. One draft contained fourteen pages, which at the time was a record for me. I also managed to weave together references to Seinfeld, The Old Man and the Sea, and the Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughn classic Swingers. I played with the use of interior monologue and italicized my anxious thoughts on the page. What I mean to say by cataloging these details about my essay is that they were achievements in my early writing life. Words, sentences and entire paragraphs that I can now read and not think it’s superficial drivel. I’ll end this with another sample from that essay, an example of early achievement, both in writing and in my relationship:
Toni and I stand at the back of the crowd, and with the delicacy of a sledgehammer, I shakily snake my hand to the small of her back while I feel my own perspire. Did she just lean towards me? Is this okay? Oh man, what are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing? After an eternity of awkwardness, my hand is able to more comfortably slide to her hip and pull her closer to me. Toni nestles in and doesn’t seem to mind my teenage attempt at first date etiquette.
Evan Tingey, Assistant Editor