|This essay was published by Elephant Journal on June 11, 2020 under the title “Uncomfortable Emotions are Wretched. Here’s Why We Should Feel Them Anyway” at https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/06/uncomfortable-emotions-are-wretched-heres-why-we-should-feel-them-anyway-pamela-stewart/|
I don’t know why I ever write about anything other than the struggle of writing itself. It’s the only thing that comes naturally to me. It reveals a stubbornness, rebelliousness and a relentlessness in me that I thought I outgrew at 9. This may be the beginning of a series, though I’m not sure if it would be titled “How Not to Write” or “How to Write.”
I’m afraid to start. Or more specifically, I don’t know what the point in starting is. I’m quite certain I have nothing to say, I’m nearly positive of that fact. So then why the niggle, the frustration, the anger with no discernable source. In these moments I feel like a dude, wholly disconnected from the root cause of my emotions so severely so, that I don’t even acknowledge the existence of the emotion in the first place. But what I do know is that going to the park feels empty, watching TV feels empty, reading, having a bath, going for a walk–it all feels empty. And I can pretend not to know why for an impressive amount of time. And dammit have I been doing a good job of that.
I have been ‘not knowing’ so hard that yesterday I literally did nothing, that was me avoiding doing what I knew I should be doing. By avoiding sitting down to write and avoiding the feeling of emptiness that would come from doing anything that wasn’t sitting down to write, I had nothing left to do but nothing. So I sat. And I stared. And sometimes I paced. I ate when I was hungry, but even that, even food, my once most cherished friend of avoidance, even that I chose not to pretend with, not to lie to myself with. For whatever reason, yesterday I was past the point of lying. I was so indignant in my stubbornness, that lying felt beneath me. So instead, I chose the truth. And the truth was that I was not going to write and I was going to feel miserable for not writing. So I sat with that for an entire day. Unmoving, unrelenting, and refusing to look away.
This was a staredown between me and God. If God wanted me to be happy, I thought, then GOD shouldn’t force me to do something that I don’t want to do. I was calling the Universe’s bluff. I was not going to move, I was not going to write, and if that meant I was going to be miserable for all time, then so be it. This was Spirit’s fault, and I was not going to lose this game of chicken. So with spite in my heart, I sat. And I stared. And sometimes I paced.
“Wretched” is the only way to describe the feeling. Like coming off of your drug of choice (mine taking many forms, but for simplicity we can just call it Distraction), you now feel everything you’d been avoiding feeling. It’s not quite pain, it’s just on the edge of pain, it’s the fear of pain: it’s uncomfortableness in its most extreme form.
But you are too far in by now, and far too stubborn, to respond to the desire to crawl out of your skin with more distraction, so you sit still out of spite. You demand more. You are proving a point, proving how much you can withstand and how determined you are to not write again, and you know that at some point, It/They/She will break. Because They must.
It feels like giving the finger to some deserving and unseen force. It feels like hearing voices. It feels like having an argument with yourself, throwing your straightjacketed body against the walls of a padded cell. It feels like if you withstand the horridness for just a tiny bit longer then everything will turn dull and snowy and fuzzy like a non TV channel that’s not connected to a station. And you are too blinded to realize that what you’re hoping for isn’t to feel better but to stop feeling at all.
When I’m in the stages of distraction that come before this one, there isn’t any calm or self-containment like there is now. There’s excessive activity juxtaposed with nth degree lethargy — it can look like both depression and obsessive compulsiveness. It can look like crying over a relationship, excessive online shopping, over-absorption into American politics, and making plans to move or quit my job. And what’s so tricky about me and the writer who doesn’t write and the painter that doesn’t paint, is that often we are so damn articulate, making us doubly slippery and thus difficult to pin down. I can point to the literal dumpster that is on fire, the actual open wound seeping blood, and the very real baby at the bottom of a well. I can demonstrate with certainty and legitimacy concerns warranting my attention that ARE NOT doing my work as a writer.
My apartment is spotless, I fly through novels and self-help books alike, my relationships are tended to, my legs are muscular. All of these facts I have been using as justification, a punitive whine (to who?), “See? I have done EVERYTHING that I am supposed to do. I am a full-fledged and functioning adult. See??” And nothing. I get no response and no relief. The ache continues. The guilt, the pain, the hope that there’s got to be some other way. And yet, the stages of creation as I have discovered them to be: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
I exhale. I swear. I set a timer, because I will be GODDAMNED if I am going to spend ONE SECOND longer than I have to on this. I vow to suck. “You may get me to the page, but you’ll get nothing of value out of me, cocksucker.” You smirk, because you’ve never said ‘cockcucker’ before. Cocksucker, cocksucker, cocksucker. You think it’d be nice to get laid again at least once before you die. And then you sigh with frustration and write one damn sentence with malice as your only motivation. And then you write another. All the while refusing with a creativity of denial you didn’t know you possessed to admit to the just slightest sensation of easing you feel the second you begin. Refusing, even now, to give even that to the asshole you have been fighting this whole time, the asshole you cannot name or see or describe, but know is involved somehow. You’re not sure what it is, but you’re fairly certain it’s male because only a dude could rile you up like this. And then you smirk as if you’ve beaten the system. Like you just spent 30 minutes writing only about how you won’t write and that the Writing Gods can go straight to hell for all you care. And then you walk away feeling, inexplicably, like you’ve won.
And then tomorrow comes.