October 30th, 2011 / 6:42 pm
I suck at making money. I go for long periods of time without showering. I’m self-involved to the point of megalomania. I talk shit to myself about myself. I feel like I need drugs. I feel my poems have more to offer than my personality. My work seems like a series of mistakes played out over the course of many years for everyone to observe. I turn my feelings into products. I have a strong need to be praised for my work, which I cannot explain. My poems have no ostensible value beyond their capacity to conduct oblique messages, which I have no control over.
Why are you ashamed of being a writer?
Because I am poor.
Because no matter what I do, how much I do, or what I accomplish, I never feel as if it is good enough.
Because every moment is spent comparing myself to others successes and failures.
Because my family would be more excited to hear that I’m engaged than to hear I’ve published another story.
Because I didn’t realize when I started what a long, long road this all is.
Because the words of strangers often give me more comfort than anything else.
Because a lot of my self-value/identity is wrapped up in my writing.
Because most people, outside of writers themselves, don’t put much value in writing.
Because despite everything else, I’m not done yet.
Because most writers are pretentious and self-serious and narcissistic.
dont gotta be a writer to feel thaaaaaaaaaaaat
i have no idea when i’ll have anything to show for it…even to myself
Jesus. I loved this, it made me uncomfortable mostly because I kinda recognized something I know about myself if this. But I can’t say I’m ashamed of being a writer really. Anyway, happy Sunday!
Because Tao Lin is a writer.
I too suck at making money. I go for long periods of time without showering but I do ‘wash my smelly parts’ on a daily basis.
I’m self-involved to the point of mimimania.
I seldom talk shit to myself about myself.
I don’t feel like I need drugs unless alcohol counts as a drug.
I feel my personality has more to offer than my muscle tone.
My life seems like a series of mistakes played out over the course of many years, most of which I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding.
I turn my feelings into panic attacks.
I have little need to be praised for my work; this I cannot explain.
My words have no value beyond their capacity to relay veiled messages and reminders to myself, over which I have complete and ultimate control.
hit ‘enter’ after ‘ . . . money.’
Because I’m cruel
the psychological/personality related infraction is not THAT you spend time comparing yourself to others’ successes/failures. it is to WHOM you compare yourself that matters.
You’re ashamed of being a writer because you don’t really write. You spend more time talking about writing, gossiping about writers, jacking off and fingering your influences and icons, than actually writing. That’s why.
Takes one to know one ^^^^ right?
I’m a Quaker. We don’t believe that people actually write books.
“I have a strong need to be praised for my work, which I cannot explain.”
is it the “work” or the “strong need” you can’t explain? Narcissism likes to fuck with you with you.
What happened to just doing it because?
Please. Spare us the melodrama (and the faux psychologizing). The tiny violin squeaks. Je suis ashamed of a few things, being a writer aint one of them, dearie.
being a writer isn’t shameful, it’s saying you’re a writer that sometimes feels that way … but that’s bc it sounds self-indulgent (“your feelings and thoughts are so important?”) narcissistic (but isn’t everyone a writer these days? doesn’t everyone “write” and how are you different?), or phony (“yeah, where’s your novel?”) Writing isn’t a passion you can share as socially as music or visual art for example. If anything it may make people more suspicious of you, to think you are observing them and storing insights. In any case it’s probably best not to share it with anyone you ever meet in your life.
Hard to feel “ashamed” about something that know one cares about.
Ain’t no shame baby.
I never liked the word “poem”
Why aren’t you ashamed of being a writer?
“being a writer isn’t shameful, it’s saying you’re a writer that sometimes feels that way …”
I agree. Thanks for making this point.
How do you “really write”? All the other things you mentioned in your comment, I can already do pretty well.
It involves a small, rickety desk, a dilapidated Smith-Corona, a cramped basement studio, and intense loneliness accompanied by unfounded feelings of superiority toward those who interact with others. Apparently.
ben, i have felt similar shame and i think validation is the key. being all of those lame-ass things doesnt matter if you’re considered a genius or great, even. fuck–how about good? narcissism is romantic for the well-respected. right?
Because there’s nothing wrong with being a writer. It’s not necessarily a destructive, wasteful, malignant activity, either as an amateur or a pro.
Do you mean “shame” in the sense of ‘a mode of confrontation between one’s actions and one’s commitments (as far as one knows them)’, or “shame” in the sense of ‘source of [tee hee] pride’?
Didn’t mean for my comment above or this snippet to be taken as a general comment on all writers. I really want to know why Ester doesn’t feel ashamed.
For me personally, humiliation and shame are integral to writing. I’d like to understand why it is or isn’t the same for other writers.
Thanks, asj. Just to be clear, I’m not looking for a key to alleviating my own shame, or others. I’m attached to my shame. A lot of the time, I feel like it helps me to keep writing.
I like what you said about validation though. Do you think it’s possible for validation to lead to more shame, like a cycle. I have experience moments of validation before, but they don’t last, and eventually I revert back to feeling shameful.
I guess I don’t see the importance of the distinction. Both seem like valid aspects of shame and both could be applied to the snippet. Can you explain why the distinction is important?
–and I didn’t mean to answer for Ester.
Is shame integral to other kinds of interaction you’re engaged in? Do you think the shame you feel when writing or as a writer are integral to writing itself?
Truly, I don’t see what the shame is in writing. Writing dishonestly or uncommittedly, bought-off writing, lousy writing that one was once proud of, writing just to impress, writing that’s just a bribe: all disturbing–but, in no case because of the “writing”.
I’m more ashamed of being a rapist
Yes, shame is integral to other aspects of my life. I’d rather just talk about the writing part though, if that’s ok.
I don’t understand your second question, entirely. For me, shame permeates all of my writing life and my writing. I don’t feel that all writers should feel ashamed by being writers.
This comment thread is a good example of how I see shame and writing as integral to each other in my own writing. I ask a question which is replied to by either positive, negative or neutral comments. I feel ashamed by certain negative comments enough to defend myself by writing more comments. The positive comments are rewarding and validating, but then I feel the need to like them or comment on them because I would feel ashamed of not showing my appreciation for a thoughtful or validating comment. Neutral comments are the most shaming because the commenter overlooks the validity of my question entirely, replacing the chance of any conversation, with a vacuous hole, thereby equating my question with nothingness or blank space, which causes me to feel ashamed enough to reemphasize my original question. In all three of the possible outcomes, shame is a catalyst for me to write more.
There are other emotions involved in writing, but shame, for me, is one of the prevalent ones. And currently, the most interesting. I guess I could have asked “Why are you happy to be a writer,” but happiness isn’t interesting to me.
Thanks deadgod, but you answered just wonderfully above and that can stand for what I might have said as well. I won’t say more myself because, no offense B.M., this topic holds no interest for me. The intitial post suprised me into commenting, but that pretty much shot my bolt. Since I see you are genuinely interested in the subject beyond just being shocking, as your replies have shown, I bow out and leave the room for you to have the conversation you wish with those who are interested enough in the subject to engage. And I wish you all well.
glad I could help you shoot your bolt. guess I’ll go back to fingering my influences.
I’m not ashamed, quite the opposite. I find writing very liberating. It’s something that doesn’t carry any real weight in our culture anymore. I think by writing you make a decision: Hey, I’m not going to be interested in these other things things (American Idol, what Katy Perry is doing with her hair, etc), I’m going to be interested in something that, as a cultural force, is marginalized/inconsequential because that’s more interesting to me. I think if you’re ashamed you’re just thinking about it in these terms we think about other things in our culture that might have more meaning, and you can’t use the same criteria, because it’s different. I really enjoy Ghost Machine, Ben, I’m not telling you not to feel those things, because I do too at points; just don’t let them get in the way of what’s important, your writing.
Well, I guess I’m not sure what you’re calling “shame”!
Of your reactions to the three comment types, the only one that looks to me to have instigated “shame” is the positive comment: “shame” in being discourteous–which you circumvent by being courteous. –not “shame” so much as the anticipation of “shame”.
The negative comments inspire defense, justification–opposite reactions to that of undiluted “shame”, which inspires apology, abasement, and so on. The neutral comments seem to you to be disconnected from your blogicle, so, whoever’s ‘fault’ that is, you seek to foster connection. Even if you take responsibility for not having communicated well enough, that doesn’t connote “shame”, which implies an ultimate inadequacy of any repair.
In the case of your feelings about the reactions to your provocative blogicle, it doesn’t sound, to my indiscerning ear (?), as though you understand yourself to have caused any injury, to have perpetrated any wound.
The former case is one of self-accusation–and of a paradoxical or at least conflicted self-distaste that has reached beyond any adequate succor of forgiveness and self-forgiveness. It is the case of seriously accepting responsibility for an irreparable consequence.
The latter case is a luxuriation in the titillation and glamor of rule-breaking without the burden of having committed oneself to consequences that one deplores. I mean that this case is a use of the word “shame” without merit.
For me, “shame” – which is a most interesting question – is a question of not letting oneself off the hook, and I doubt that “writing”–just “writing”, without a consideration of some specific piece of writing’s content or consequences–actually can be “shameful”.
Thanks for making that clear. Both aspects that you mentioned are present in my experience of shame in my writing life. Often simultaneously.
Thanks, Curt. But, as I mentioned in previous comments, I’m not looking for someone to make me feel better. I’m not ashamed of my shame. I feel like it’s just there, as a part of my writing life. I don’t want it to go away because it helps me to be engaged with writing.
I’m stoked you read Ghost Machine. That makes my day.
life is hard, bro, and talking about how tough yr “feelings” are can help a writer connect to the audience the same way “HOW ARE YOU DOING TONIGHT, HOLLYWOOD!?” can pump up a (hollywood) crowd.
but supplying answers is pretty chill, too.
the strikeout is a good answer, but disingenuous.
complaining has never been my fave, but it is a huge crowd pleaser and a best seller, i guess.
fuuuuccckkkk. This is the best. Thanks, Bartleby.
I’m not interested in supplying answers for people to alleviate their shame or my own shame. I want to know if and why people feel shame about being a writer.
it’s not that it’s destructive. it’s that it’s unproductive, at least as seen from most of society who tend to be things like house-builders and farmers and sweater knitters. although i think we are only talking about shame here and not guilt? you can feel guilt about being a writer, but you can only be ashamed by the label of “writer.”
but from a macro point of view, which is the context for shame, unproductive = destructive to that macro society, just as from a micro point of view, or context for guilt, unproductive = destructive to the individual. writing is a non-communal activity. it doesn’t support the community in directly tangible ways. everyone here pretty much seems to acknowledge the inherent narcissism it exhibits. this is why there is often so much effort to force writing into being something communal, to “develop” a community for it online or elsewhere, because it’s not something that community surrounds itself around naturally, because it is an individualistic activity. there is so much narcisissm wrapped up in it that it takes a lot to rid the public of that perception, so we spend time creating faux communities to try to prove to society that perhaps it isn’t such a narcisisstic activity, but everyone knows it’s still faux and so we feel ashamed to call ourselves writers.
Why am I ashamed?
I’m ashamed because right now there’s a baby, somewhere, with an empty belly and tiny shining fingernails groping and screaming and the sad little thing’s going to die in its mother’s arms; someone’s grandfather can’t afford a gift for his son’s birthday; people are being shot in the back of the head in the middle of the night in their beds; a couple just getting married is finding out how little time she has left to live; people still hate each other; some kid somewhere wants, so badly, to go to college and “be something” and they’ll never be anything more than what they hate more than anything; I’m ashamed because I’m sitting here playing with fucking words on a computer screen and feeling self-important and “brave” and not calling my parents on the phone every day to tell them I love them; I’m ashamed because I want to change the world and and save people and make people realize how fucking *short* their time here is, and all I do is print out pages, and show them to people, and hope they think it’s alright, hope that maybe it makes them feel something.
Someone loves me right now and I’m not there to hold them and say it back.
And I think we should all be ashamed about it, but I think we should all keep trying.
I don’t feel shame about being a writer, any more than I feel shame about being a human being or a thinker or a working person or a friend. Nothing is perfect, and if writing gives you pleasure, why not do it? If it doesn’t, maybe don’t do it, or don’t take it so seriously? I used to be a lot more worried about poetry when I was younger; now I just enjoy writing about a poem a day and seeing if anyone else likes it. If they don’t, well, the truth is, writing makes very little happen in the cultural arena, so it’s like a special thing that some people like. That’s enough for me, I guess.
[…] Mirov asked this over on HTMLGIANT. […]
Just my humble two cents:
There is no cultural “shame”–at least in the US– associated with “being a writer.” Writers are not stigmatized and made to feel like inferior human beings because they write. Your question is confusing because it seems to conflate aspects of your own writing process/life with the vocation or occupation itself–“why are you ashamed of being a writer?” [re: a writer vs. writing]
Your question is also petty and trivial to those of us who have experienced legitimate shame–the kind that can cause outright discrimination and disenfranchisement.
Sounds like you’re really asking, “sometimes, the writing life has its humiliations–what are your humiliations? How do they inform your writing process/life?”
But you could ask these questions about any occupation and/or vocation and they would be wildly different than asking, “why are ashamed of being a tax accountant?”
It sucks that you’re trying to put me in a position where I have to defend myself as one who “caused injury”. It’s like that shit politicians do where they say, “I heard that so and so hates women,” and then the person has to say, “I do not hate women,” thereby drawing an oblique association between themselves and misogyny.
If you want to roll like that, go for it.
I am ashamed to think and feel this way, and then to hurl it into the world, I would rather never have her than ever lose her
man up man
you are kinda sensitive man
A writer who agrees that the hat is on her or him for being “unproductive” might feel “guilty” (you saw the Bataille vid below, eh?), but, as you say, that’s not the same as the “shame” that is (supposedly) attached to the label ‘writer’. As I say in the comment you’re responding to, I (perhaps stupidly) don’t understand what’s actually “shameful” about the act of writing itself, nor the act of writing publicly.
The political-economic criticism of writing – that it isn’t ‘productive’ – doesn’t cut any ice with me, but not because I’m worried about the justice of the accusation that writers are “narcissistic”, ‘indulging pathologically in self-regard’. “Unproductive” is not true of writing generically, nor is “narcissism” true of writers generically, and these mistaken inductions are not connected to each other anyway.
Some communities that some writers participate in are not “faux communities”: environmental, labor, creative, and so on. Understanding that one is ‘false’ is surely a source of “shame”, – and deservedly so, in accordance with the sense that I’ve proposed on this thread – .
–but falsity with respect to principles is not inherent in writing, though maybe it is inherent in being a person (in which case, why take responsibility for that falsity on board in relation to writing?).
You are calling yourself “ashamed” for being a writer. I am saying that “shame” is a sense that one is ‘responsible for harm’, that one has ‘acted in violation of one’s principles, with the consequence of harm’. So I say that it sounds as though you think you have caused harm.
I am not asking you ‘why you are a misogynist’. I am asking you ‘why you think writing has something categorically in common with, say, misogyny’.
When you say “shame”, what do you mean?
To add to your post, I find the reduction of “shame” to the individual sort of bizarre. A person can inhabit a position that society or culture deems “shameful” that really isn’t “shameful,” like harboring insidious guilt about one’s status that has nothing to do with the individual’s “behavior” more than society’s perversion of his status.
This is why I’m confused by the use of, “a writer,” because it seems to suggest that there is something perverse or disgraceful about “being a writer,” which is obviously a ridiculous notion.
doesn’t one tell you about the other?
“There is no cultural “shame”–at least in the US– associated with “being a writer.” Writers are not stigmatized and made to feel like inferior human beings because they write.”
You must have taken an imaginary survey before making up this completely generalized statement.
“Your question is confusing because it seems to conflate aspects of your own writing process/life with the vocation or occupation itself–“why are you ashamed of being a writer?” [re: a writer vs. writing]”
The question seems straightforward. I don’t understand what you’re saying either.
“Your question is also petty and trivial to those of us who have experienced legitimate shame–the kind that can cause outright discrimination and disenfranchisement.”
It’s fucked to say that my experience is somehow less legitimate than yours. You don’t know me.
For someone who feels like my question is trivial, you seem pretty involved.
“Sounds like you’re really asking, “sometimes, the writing life has its humiliations–what are your humiliations? How do they inform your writing process/life?””
I asked the question I wanted to ask. I like your question too. Maybe you should blog about it.
“But you could ask these questions about any occupation and/or vocation and they would be wildly different than asking, “why are ashamed of being a tax accountant?”
Are you saying your question and my question will produce different answers because they are different questions? Is that the point you’re making? Holy shit.
I’ll respond to your post in greater detail, but let me ask you this: why are you so defensive? Why is your tone combative?
Why do you ask a question and then get upset when you don’t like all of the answers? Is there a name for people who ask questions and then complain about the answers they receive? What do you expect when your entire post is a single question?
“You must have taken an imaginary survey before making up this completely generalized statement.”
One doesn’t need to conduct a non-imaginary survey to conclude the obvious. For instance, I don’t need to conduct a door-to-door “survey” to conclude water is wet, or the sky blue. Feel free to conduct your own survey that proves me wrong. Make sure that the non-twee, life-experienced crowd has a chance to respond.
“The question seems straightforward. I don’t understand what you’re saying either.”
A question can be written simply and still be tremendously complex and loaded. Your question would fit this description. Don’t denigrate your question’s complexity just because you didn’t receive sixty-one perfectly validating answers. It’s annoying when people ask questions in this disingenuous manner, which is why many people are reacting the way they are on this thread.
“It’s fucked to say that my experience is somehow less legitimate than yours. You don’t know me.”
I wasn’t necessarily suggesting that your own experiences were lacking, more than speaking to why some might be put off by your question and consider it trivial in the grand scheme of life.
“For someone who feels like my question is trivial, you seem pretty involved.”
Oh, well, trivial questions are still very interesting and often speak to larger issues. For instance, I’m interested in how one might trivialize shame by completely reducing it to the individual yet using language (“a writer”) that signifies the individual’s status within a community.
“I asked the question I wanted to ask. I like your question too. Maybe you should blog about it.”
When you “ask a question,” you don’t get to control how people answer it. That’s why it’s called a question. Maybe you should write a blog post instead of a asking question.
“Are you saying your question and my question will produce different answers because they are different questions?”
I don’t ask questions in order to receive pre-packaged answers, so I don’t know.
“I’ll respond to your post in greater detail,”
Fuck man. Don’t even bother. It seems like neither of us is interested in what the other one has to say anyway.
“why are you so defensive? Why is your tone combative?”
You should go back and read your comments.
I agree. It’s smug and pedantic.
“Why do you ask a question and then get upset when you don’t like all of the answers?”
People can write what they want on HTML, that’s one of the things I love about it. You pissed me off because your comment attempted to delegitimize my feelings and use them as a stepping stone to talk about your semantic concerns.
Is there a name for people who ask questions and then complain about the answers they receive?
Isn’t that what you’re doing, right now?
What do you expect when your entire post is a single question?”
Snippets are supposed to be short statements or questions. If I wanted to write a whole post about shame I would have.
Your definition of shame works for me. The things I mentioned in my post are some of the reasons I feel my writing may have caused harm to my life. There are others, too.
Also, Bataille seems to have it right. Sometimes I find writing to be evil in a necessary way. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I don’t like writing less, or find it less important for being shameful and or evil.
My sense of shame stems from my feeling like I should be doing something else. I should be helping others or making money or whatever. I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
Thanks guys. This has been a most delightful and edifying argument. A little blood on the dancefloor never hurt anyone.
One thing. I do think there is a certain kind of shame that a lot of people who are serious about their art share that Ben brings up when he says “I turn my feelings into products.” Or, at least, that is my greatest shame.
I agree that he’s onto something, but I ultimately disagree with his definition of shame and I don’t think people get to just decide that a certain word means something different than its definition(s); that is, I’m unconvinced by his definition and use of the term here and think what he’s really describing is “doubt” and “failure.” I’d be more willing to buy his usage of the term if it weren’t so broadly applied to “the writer” (as opposed to writing) and if he actually gave me the opportunity to say, “no–I’m not ashamed of being a writer.” If you reread his question, you’ll see that he doesn’t allow for this possibility.
Well, if I did have the power to make you not feel something you do, I hope I wouldn’t be evil enough to use it! I get the guilt trip, even at its irrationally most piercing, but I think it’s worth preserving a semantic difference between ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’. Some writing actually “help[s] others” – greatly – , and – as you might agree – “making money” in our world is sometimes as evil as action gets.
Let me go on a bit about the Bataille clip below.
“If they don’t, well, the truth is, writing makes very little happen in the cultural arena” — Okay, I can’t stand it when people say this. When in all areas of life, writers are made to feel less valuable. Does anyone realize why that is? It is one of the most effective and automated psychological defense tactics. Writers hold the most power. Why? Because everything… literally, everything within society is built upon the back of writing. Built upon language. The only craft to hold more power is visual art. And even then, I still stand by the idea that letters are still visual artifacts and therefore, writing is an actual of visual creation, first and foremost. Fuck the wall between writing and the visual arts… I digress.
I am not ashamed of being a writer. I am not ashamed because it is not something to be ashamed of. Pretty simple stuff.
What Bataille calls evil (in the tv clip above) is rooted in disobedience, in parents (and others) compelling a child to internalize wishes not immediate or conscious to her or him.
–and maybe the repression of infantile pleasure-seeking, or whatever the source of obedience and the thrill of disobedience is, directly relates to Kafka’s guilt trips about going “against the wishes of his family” (by writing and publishing–he also did get paid to work for his living, even if not in full conformity with his father’s wishes for him!).
But look again at what Bataille says: Kafka is and knows that he is “on the side of evil” because he has both internalized his father’s evaluation of “commercial activities” and he rejects that evaluation in so far as he writes and publishes with scant remuneration. –This self-conflict tells Kafka – and the reader who knows of it – that, when he writes, he commits himself to “the side of evil“, that writing in disregard of or conflict with the internalized value of “commercial activities” is “an evil thing to do in the strict sense of the word”.
I feel the same shame you describe. I must say, I am little surprised at the responses by the people in this thread, many of whom seem to be upset with you for even suggesting a writer might feel shame about what he does. Obviously we could get into elaborate Freudian explanations about why we feel this way (above my pay grade though), but for me I think it has something to do with what you alluded to earlier — that somehow, some way, I could be making better use of my time. The problem is, in the past, whenever I’ve tried to stash away the writer part of me away and simply be a good boyfriend, good son, friend, participate in political activism, whatever it may be, I a.) don’t feel so good and b.) can’t sustain it. I think, for me, at least, writing is hardwired into me on some level. As much as I might prefer to be a normal, social kind of guy, somehow I always end up in a dark room with a pen and a notebook and a computer, trying to make sense of things. Pissing people off. Not making any money. Potentially offending my friends and family and community. I think, for me, that explains a lot of the shame.
Well, disobedience of authority – imagining its consequences or feeling the conflict of one’s agreement with the priorities of those in authority – might be a moral spur, but is this inward pressure really what people mean by “evil”?? –not to be too theatrical, but the “evil” of raping a child, the “evil” of a pimp beating and raping his bitches to keep them in line, the “evil” at the entrance to a mass-murder ‘shower’ chamber: these “evils” are extremities of naughtiness in relation to capital-A Authority?
To me, “evil” is the identification of privilege with virtue. (Yes; virtue is produced by systems of authority, and as an organ of reproduction; but, in so far as it is ‘virtue‘, it is not privilege itself.) Maybe this makes of “evil” an Everything Word: all action involves calling what one wants ‘good’, as well as – albeit in conflict with – one’s being forced, in so far as one is conscious of countervailing forces, to question the ‘good’ of what one wants. So malice, ‘exercising privilege without compassion’, is a matter of degree and not a volitional ‘substance’.
–but Bataille seems to me to be talking about ‘guilt trips’ and not shame, as well as about a mechanism that might be similar to, but isn’t, that of “evil”.
These are somewhat related to each other.
I’m ashamed to be a writer because I’ll never be able to do it right.
I’m ashamed to be a writer because I want a life, too.
I’m ashamed to be a writer because whenever I think of the publishing process it makes me very, very tired and I go watch Doctor Who instead of starting the short story that’s been beating in my brain for days.