Lately, as I’ve been working on The Poems (current name of my untitled poetry book thing) I’ve also been working on some fairly emotionally intense non-fiction.
Today I finished an essay thing that is about how I experience anxiety. It’s not really something I necessarily want people to read, I feel a mix of shame and ridiculousness and like it is a risk I don’t know if I can afford taking. Writing it hurt. I talked a little bit about it on twitter, but the truth is I feel flayed.
I am feeling the mix of feelings where I’m very keenly aware that I have a not entirely unexpected expense (I need to buy a new phone soon) and I know I should write something more saleable and that’s what came out. That piece in particular is like a piece I have out already in that it doesn’t end on a note that really engages with bigger issues. It is intimate in that at the end, we (reader and writer) are face to face, nose to nose breathing the same tainted air that came out of me.
Neither of these pieces (and at least one other that is in progress) is what I intended to write. I wanted to write something bigger, something that engages with the big issues. That at the end comes out like a powerful telling and calling to The Issue at hand. That’s not what happened.
For years, I have avoided writing intimately this way. Mainly because, I don’t always have the wherewithal to cut that deep in that way. I can write about being harassed and being a Black person in the world and what that is really like in this age. I tell myself this is because I’m good at Big Issues. I’m good at making the connection from my lived experience to racism and sexism etc. I know how to do that.
I also lie to myself and say that I’m not good at intimate. That showing my scars this way is not in my wheelhouse. Leave it to the famous lady writers who lead workshops on writing dangerously and writing from the body. I explain it to myself in terms of profit. They are already famous enough to do this and make it. Their bills are paid, mine are mostly but not comfortably. Their risk is as risk goes, not the type of risk that takes food out of their mouths. The risk for me is food off the table.
I tell myself, this is stupid. Why are you doing this? Why can’t you write to sell? Why can’t you write on spec? Why can’t you write something about lipstick that doesn’t involve Blackness or intersectionality? Why can’t you write something that will titillate just enough, but won’t burn? Why can’t you write timely? Why? Why? Why?
Rational writer me understands that these questions are part of my anxiety brain and will pass. That I know why, it’s just not what I do and logically that’s okay. There’s room in the big bad world for all of this and what I do. I know. Sometimes, it’s okay.
And then I poke around in my drafts and I see blood. Part of me sees it wasted, not profitable because I have bills to pay. Part of me sees freedom and my naked heart on a page in a way that baby me would have cherished. That part of me knows that while I have an aversion to pain porn it is important to be a vulnerable, sad, anxious, fucked up Black person with problems. That part of me knows that vacillating between being proud of me for saying HEY I AM FUCKED UP and being ashamed is natural and saying that I do vacillate between those things, is valid and necessary.
I know that.
I feel that, fuck it, I don’t know it, I feel it. That is the level of importance that representation means to me. I know that right now my 39 year old fucked up baby self can be conflicted about this and work on it and express it because that is part of who I am.
I am conflicted and wounded.
I beez in the trap.
I don’t say all of this to engender pity. Don’t feel sorry for me. Understand that my honesty about my situation in life, whatever it is and how I talk about it, isn’t’ about your out eyes it is about mine. I have to remember that yeah, I’m poor and I’m terrible at ambition in the proscribed ways, and I’m bad at even nodding at journalism and I’m not palatable to a lot of people and it’s fucking great.
It’s not pleasant. It’s not lucrative. It’s not even easy 99% of the time.
But really, if I’m honest-
it is satisfying.
I think baby Shannon would maybe be disappointed that things like dayjobs and bills have an impact on the work but, baby Shannon would read all of this and feel it and feel seen and validated. So right now, I’m okay.
I’m anxious and a jittery shitbucket of terrible feelings-
but I’m all right.
The work hurt but I’m okay.