Feeling How You’re Supposed to Feel

03 Jan 2014

written by Carolyn


I wrote this piece almost a year ago, in January 2013, but never posted it. Pity, because a year later, I finally decided I liked it. I’m posting it as is as part of my 32-day writing challenge. Maybe that’s a cheat, but whatever. One of my challenges this month is to go through my blog drafts and either clean up the draft pieces and post them, or toss them. This one felt like a good one to keep.


Toward the end of 2012, I figured I needed to post some type of year-end post on my blog.

After all, I had a lot to be proud of in 2012. Metropolian Black Bar Association’s Corporate Counsel of the Year. Writing for CNN.com. The post about Christina Aguilera and menstruation that got so many hits it crashed my site for a few days. Participating in the Op-Ed Project and being published on Huffington Post. Even the friendly rejections from big publications were – or should have been – cause for celebration.

But I couldn’t pull all of that together in a year-end post. Life was a bit too much in the way. This has been a challenging school year for my kids. Yet there comes a point in your children’s lives when your writing identity can no longer revolve around telling their stories – when there’s no conscionable way to package their pain, their fear, even their joy, into neat, entertaining tales. Even if I had their permission, their stories are not mine to tell anymore. The part of their stories that belongs to me – namely, how what they’re going through affects me as their mom – isn’t valuable enough to me to justify betraying their confidence.

This also has been a challenging period in my relationship. I don’t write about him much. I refer to him, if at all, as The Dude. The Dude has made it clear that he didn’t sign up to be a character on my blog, and I’ve respected his wishes. That means that, when things are going on with us, whether good or bad, I keep it private.

Between the kid filters, The Dude filters, my professional/workplace filters, my family filters, and all the other filters that I have in place, my personal writing suffers.  Some writers operate just fine keeping their personal lives mostly offstage. For a would-be memorist, though, keeping the personal out of my writing has been death. I feel too filtered, too stifled. I’ve thought of writing an anonymous blog – if not strictly anonymous, then at least under an alias. I even have my superhero alias picked out. In the end, though, it would have to be identifiable as me, or – what’s the point, really?

I’ve been nestling myself in beautiful writing over the last few weeks, both as an escape from all the various forms of drama in my life and as a refuge from the awkwardness of my own prose. Smooth, well-written analytical essays like Jelani Cobb’s critique of the movie Django Unchained, which I’ve studied as an exemplar of argument construction and craftmanship. Thoughtful, heartfelt pieces, like Ann Friedman’s and Roxane Gay’s defenses of personal writing. Kelly Wickham’s searing blog post about being a young single mother and finding her voice in the midst of despair.  Pieces by Tayari Jones and Ann Patchett about the habit and the practice of writing. And many more.

Then today I came across Samantha Irby, and I seriously thought about chucking it in for good.

Samantha Irby is the founder of the blog bitchesgottaeat. Here’s her bio on the site for independent publisher Curbside Splendor, which will be publishing Irby’s first book in the fall of 2013:

“Samantha Irby is a writer and performer who mostly makes jokes about hot dudes, diarrhea, kittens, and magical tacos on the internet at bitchesgottaeat.com. Seriously. Go read it. In addition to co-hosting The Sunday Night Sex Show, a sex-positive live lit show, she has performed at Essay Fiesta, Write Club, This Much is True, Grown Folks Stories, The Paper Machete, and Story Club, among others. She opened for Baratunde Thurston during his “How to Be Black” tour. She has been profiled in the Chicago Sun-Times as well as in Time Out Chicago, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus and Jezebel. Samantha and partner Ian Belknap write a comedy advice blog at irbyandian.com.”

The problem with reading good writing is that it makes you despair even more about your own. It magnifies the flaws in your own work, like looking into a magnifying mirror and seeing your previously normal-sized pores appear as craters, making your face look like an unfinished road surface. Irby’s writing is profane, raw, honest, and absolutely hilarious. I read, then retreated back into my rabbit hole.

And then I read Irby’s achingly beautiful, heartbreaking essay for The Rumpus about caring for her sick mother when she was just a little girl, and I had a Roberto Duran moment: No. No mas. That there? That’s writing. What I do? Whatever it is, it ain’t that.

And today – I emerge. Not all the way. I am poking my head out, testing, seeing how it feels. Acknowledging the feelings of fear, of worry, of self-doubt, of loneliness, and battling not to have them take over. We novice writers imagine that our experienced peers turn out poetic prose without any of this churn. We imagine experience as this super fun slip and slide that runs from the brain to the fingertips, and the words just slide right down and out, maybe even with a giggle and a “Whee!” along the way. Or we remember those few, rare moments of being in the zone, where thoughts and ideas flowed from our minds to our pages, with what felt like minimal intervention from us – and we imagine that’s how writing “should” be; when it’s not, we think we’re doing it wrong.

Instead of thinking right versus wrong, pretty versus unpretty, cogent versus incoherent, I am reminded of one of my favorite Bikram teacher’s favorite sayings: “However you feel is how you’re supposed to feel. Whatever you’re feeling is what you’re supposed to be feeling.” I suppose that’s as true of writing as it is of life in general.

The real posts – that year-end post that may or may not happen, the piece about not writing about your kids as they get older, the piece about how some of the writing I cited earlier really moved me – those will have to wait for another day. For now, it just feels good to feel.


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