Reflections on healing trauma, writing, and books by Tokyo-based memoirist
Do We Want Good Art Or Not? End Emotional Constipation

Do We Want Good Art Or Not? End Emotional Constipation

The past several days have been rough for me, and it took me a long time to figure out why. In my external life, I reached an intersection of suck.

I sent a follow-up email to the publisher that I’ve been waiting on (I submitted my manuscript to them a few months ago), and I still didn’t get a response.

I followed up with the friend who works in publishing about the feedback he promised. He said he was busy getting another book ready for press and that I would hear back from him “soon.” When I told Adam about it, he said, “It sounds like you got the New Jersey ‘definitely.'” I asked, “What’s that?” He said, “You know, it’s when run into an old friend and you say, ‘let’s get together soon.’ They say, ‘Definitely, definitely,’ and then you never hear from them again.”

My writer’s group didn’t give me the feedback I’d wanted on my story. As I mentioned before, the feedback wasn’t all that bad, but they didn’t have the reading experience that I wanted them to have. Some of their criticisms are things that I think I should’ve seen on my own, and that made me feel really incompetent. Writing about this now, at least I can say that I’m at a point where I know what I want my audience to get out of my work, and I know when it’s missing the mark, so that’s something.

Then, there’s this blog. If you’ve been following, you know that I’ve been cross-posting. I’ve also worked on my SEO and asked Google to re-index my website. I’m still not getting much traffic, and that frustrated me a lot. After some research, I discovered that Google doesn’t re-index sites nearly as quickly as it used to, so I can expect to be waiting for a while.

There’s nothing personal about Google not re-indexing my site, but by the time I got to this point, emotional black ooze was leaking out of my seams. I wasn’t doing well.

By mid-last week, I was too stressed-out to keep up with the daily posting for a month that had been my goal. I’ve since decided that daily posting is too much pressure, so I need to take it down a notch.

Even, as black ooze came out of my seams, I kept up my chirpy attitude. I said to myself, “Oh well, this is part of the process! I just have to keep trying!” etc.

People often say that writers (or artists in general) need a thick skin. I thought I remembered seeing Nicole Kidman talk about this a few years ago, but now I can’t find the original link, so maybe it was a different actress, or maybe I imagined the whole thing. In this imaginary Nicole Kidman video, she said that the hardest part about being a famous actress is that you need two contradictory things: a thick skin to survive the media attention and enough sensitivity to do your job properly.

That’s how I feel about my writing. Artists have a long history of being the vessels for emotional honesty and truth in our culture. (The book Figuring by Maria Popova has clarified this for me. I’m about 70% through the book, right now, and I’ve been finding it inspiring, but that’s an entry for another day.)

The point is, do we want good art or not? It seems like people are more invested in not allowing anyone to whine than allowing people to feel. Yes, we all hate to listen to whining, but the alternative is widespread emotional constipation, which isn’t good for anyone.

Anyway, because I’m a people pleaser, I tried to go the route of emotional constipation, but because I’m allergic to inauthenticity, my emotional constipation didn’t last long. I’m incapable of holding it in.

At the start of this post, I said that I reached an intersection of suck in my external life. I said that because all of the irritations that I listed above happened in my external world, but I couldn’t figure out why that stuff was irritating me so much internally. Later, I realized that these events had poked at some internal wounds and fears.

For one, despite my willingness to keep trying without any guarantee of a result (my definition of “faith” by the way), I was still very much attached to getting certain results.

The grief started when I realized I wasn’t going to get the results that I’d anticipated, but I wouldn’t acknowledge my grief, so it turned into a huge problem.

I didn’t want to recognize it for a couple of reasons. First, I was embarrassed that I was so naive to believe that people would respond to me just because they told me that they would (that is just not how the world works these days). Second, I didn’t want to give up my ridiculous fantasy that my path to publication would be easier merely because I wanted it more.

I couldn’t acknowledge my pain without also acknowledging how stupid I’d been. So, now that I’m done writing this entry, I’m going to go wallow in grief.

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