Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fight or Flight: Dealing with Negative Feelings

For the past couple of months, I have been taking a memoir writing class, instructed by award-winning author of Writing Motherhood, Lisa Garrigues. For our final class meeting, we were invited to select a few pages from our writer's notebook to read aloud in class. No editing permitted. I debated whether or not to show up. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, the very thought of sharing something unedited made me uneasy. Okay, that's a lie. It freaked me out.

I sat down with my notebook, flipped through pages of crap, and settled on a piece inspired by Hemingway in a letter he wrote to John dos Passos: "Remember to get the weather in your god damned book-- weather is very important." So I decided to pick the time it was too hot to sleep. Fine; it was something. I typed up my entry, made a few irresistible changes, and reluctantly headed off to class.

I took a seat amongst my peers, and thus commenced the readings- rich, deep, powerful, thought-provoking readings. One woman read about surviving a bombing in Cuba, another about the nanny who was her last lifeline in a failing marriage, another about how the birthing process is like riding a giant wave. These were readings about loss, love, and spiritual growth. And I had written about the god-damned weather. Holy crap. Get me outta here. I wanted to jump out the second floor window. A broken arm or leg wouldn't be all that bad. At least I wouldn't have to read. There must be a way I could gracefully bow out. I began praying for an emergency call on my cell phone.

I needed a lifeline. This was supposed to be a celebration of our writing, and yet, dread and anxiety roiled about in the pit of my stomach. Maybe what I really needed was to share these negative feelings with somebody, somebody who would look into my eyes, listen, and then admit, "me too."

As a kid, I can remember a classic response to my fear of trying something new: "There's no reason to be afraid." Bullshit. Try telling that to a six-year-old's nervous system, which is now flashing hazard lights. What I needed was someone to validate my fear, to help me understand that it's okay to experience a range of emotions; it's what makes us human, and real. The problem is that we often dismiss our feelings, judging them as silly. In turn, we never learn how to be with them and stare them down.

At some point, my daughter is going to tell me that she's afraid. And when she does, I am going to stroke her head, hold her hand and whisper, "It's okay to feel afraid. Let me tell you about a time when I wanted to jump out the window."

P.S.  I did survive the reading.  Thanks a lot, Hemingway.


Allison said...

Great advice, Liza will appreciate hearing that one day!

So, did you read in front of the class?

Veronica Lee said...

Hi and welcome to MBC! Great blog.