Quite, Jonathan Greene. Using personal experience to humanize a universal predicament is what personal essays are all about. Ditto using the minutiae of life as a jumping off point to tackle societal issues. But when the focus doesn’t move past navel-gazing, we learn nothing.
The writing I enjoying reading the most always performs some kind of alchemy and transcends adversity or takes us to a very unexpected place despite being rooted in the ordinariness of life. It’s a delicate balancing act and deeply relatable.
A good personal essay abides by one simple rule: go from the personal to the universal. That’s it. Whichever way we apply it is up to us, the only limits being those of our imagination / creativity.
Over the last year or so, I kept coming across a term that sums up your piece perfectly: personal writing career. It made me blink in incomprehension then and it still does now because how can that even be a thing?
Perhaps because of my background, culture (more European than American), and political allegiances, my stance is more extreme than most but, to me, writing is service, never self-serving even if it is how we support ourselves and our families.
Being a little repetitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing though — advocacy demands it if we’re to change hearts and minds. It’s a commitment. What’s more, you have to bear in mind that someone who has never read you before may require context so I always provide it as I don’t expect them to go trawling through my archive. Context is everything and yet it’s often missing, too.
Lastly, there are no writers without readers.