I woke up to two arguments in my email inbox today.
The first argument, I believe, became an argument because I have been quiet and “good,” not having articulated my goals/needs clearly along the way, because I did not want to ruffle
penises feathers. So people made assumptions. I did not advocate for myself.
The second is not an argument per se, but one that has spurred an internal debate. In this “argument,” I am met with suggestions, and because as my friend S said, I empathized with the sender of said suggestions (instead of with my own self), I acquiesced. Immediately, without checking in with myself, I expressed gratitude and intention to incorporate suggestions. But the thing is, the changes dont work for me, and I’ve ended up stuck. Again, I did not advocate for myself.
Both situations have come to a point where I must stand up for myself, something that makes me feel very uncomfortable (ironic, because my strength lies in advocating for others).
And so I find myself dissatisfied, anxious..and angsty.
My angst (or as my friend E put it, “the mean reds”) can be defined as a glowing ball of suppressed anger combined with a good dose of helplessness. Of which I feel a lot today.
From where does this helplessness arise? For most of the time, I do not feel helpless, and I believe, at least in theory, that true helplessness is rare. (Though people in North Korean labor camps face true helplessness–and I cannot compare my situation to theirs).
I thought I would examine this “helplessness” here in order to get to know and overthrow my combatant, because my helplessness is certainly not in any way real. I am not in a prison. I am not cut off from communication with friends and family. I am not denied food or rest. I am not helpless, and yet I feel helpless.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my helplessness stems from the desire to be good. To be good above all else. To subjugate my own desires and needs if necessary, so I can “be good.”
To “be good” is to please others. To gain approval. To prioritize others before myself. To follow laws (and not all laws are “good”–what of the Nazi rules to report hiding Jews and turn them into the concentration camps?). To “be good” is to stay out of trouble. To “be good” is to be good to others.
But it is “being bad” that enables my writing. And thus, the debate.
It is this desire to “be good” that also curtails my writing and my ability to play within my narrative. It is a desire to “be good” that makes it impossible for me to be truthful at times.
Writing is not about pleasing others. It is not about gaining approval (that’s propaganda, not writing). It is not about prioritizing others before myself. Writing is a diva and will not stand to be put in second place. Writing breaks laws, and invites trouble, because writing is about the truth. Writing saves my life, because “being good” does not.
In workshop last week, I gave feedback, to which Junot responded. His response was offhand, but contained a large lesson. The dialogue went as follows:
Me: “This story is too big to be a short story. It’s like being a size 14 and trying to fit into size 8 pants.”
Junot: “More like size 2!”
Me: “I was trying to be nice.”
Junot (cocking his head and without missing a beat): “Oh. I was trying to be TRUTHFUL.”
Therein lies the difference between “being good” and “being bad.” “Being good” in this case is about supporting the status quo, about supporting mediocrity. Being bad is telling the truth. It means true advocacy. It means saying “fuck it” and going for it.
Which is more important? For me? For my writing? For my life? For overcoming helplessness?
I want to be bad. I want to be the one that feels better. My mother-in-law once told me, “If there are two people, it’s best if both feel good and emerge winners. But if only one can feel good, let that one be YOU.”
6 responses to “Angst: on feeling bad vs being bad”
I know this ‘being bad’ of which you speak. My hope for you (and also for me) is that someday it will become second nature to know both that you are being good and that this is bad for you.
oh @bloglily! you feel it too?! it’s good to know i’m not alone, but it’s NOT good to know you are familiar this ailment. it’s like quicksand. at first, not so bad, but then you’re up to your neck in it, fighting for your life!
What you call “being bad,” depth psychologists call Shadow. Without this archetypal energy, we’re all shallow and bland (kind of like FB, hah). All good writing comes out of the ability to be truthful. We need the interplay of shadow and light; this is the struggle. This is also why we admire good writing so much; it’s all written in blood.
@Eve: You are right–there is a clear struggle between “Light” and “Shadow”; and your observation that FB posts are pretty much all “light” is one that makes me chuckle, too (and it’s sad because when someone puts up a post that is “Shadow” on FB, they are pretty much ignored and/or kicked to the curb). I am grateful to know that there is theory behind what I just threw out here on my blog.
Our old buddy Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”
The writing and the writer and workshopper are you and the only person that can possibly lose here is you, all of you. Ruffle damn it.
Oh, and if you must ruffle a penis, charge double 😉