A Feelings Post
If you read this newsletter every week, value the labor that goes into it, and haven’t become a paid subscriber — think about it! Many of the people who read this newsletter the most are people who haven’t paid — and I get it, I really do, I’m constantly saying I’m going to pay for things and take weeks to actually do it. But maybe today is your day.
This was not the plan. The plan was to write a big piece on family estrangement, drawing from the stories that hundreds of you have sent my way, and interweaving those stories with thoughts and writing from therapists who work with adults who’ve chosen to become estrangement. I have the books on my table and my inbox. I have the stories in an Excel document. I had the days reserved for writing and editing.
But turns out, I do not have the wherewithal for that piece. At least not right now — my mind feels resistant to organization, to anything requiring real clarity or concision. These moments are when I usually end up writing what I’ve come to understand as a feelings post. I had a three hour dental procedure earlier this week; I had the reward I had promised myself fall apart; I have grey December blahs and those good old “why make plans, Covid just fucking wrecks them” resentments.
On Thursday night I had the house to myself, and I just sat and stewed in my mild dental pain, watched a truly nightmarish episode of Law & Order SVU, muttered about how dumb everything was, just generally, and retweeted this:
It felt bad, but it also felt good, you know? Like a good old-fashioned teenage wallowing. I was feeling my fucking feelings, including the selfish ones. And while a wallowing doesn’t fix everything, I did wake up the next morning with the sensation that I had undergone a very mild exorcism. But instead of launching into productivity (or, you know, writing the estrangement piece) I read all of the comments in the Friday thread (which were filled, truly overflowing, with FEELINGS) and went on a long walk with the dogs, where I found myself in extended conversations with no less than four different people over the age of 70, who also, in various ways, communicated big feelings to me.
It was freezing out, and uncharacteristically dry — clarifying, in that eye-watering sort of way. It was also the first morning in many weeks that I haven’t had some sort of meeting or appointment on the calendar. It felt like something small and vibrant in me was resurfacing. But that feeling, too, was fragile. How can I nourish it today, and in the days to come, and through whatever hurricane of Covid shit that comes?
I often feel embarrassed about feelings posts. I wonder how much this embarrassment has to do with the fact that they’re the part of the work that most resembles the blogging and personal essays we wrote for free, back in the heyday of blogspot and LiveJournal and Tumblr, and have thus internalized that no matter how much personal value accumulated in those corners of the internet, they are worthless to others. It is also, of course, because feelings are generally feminized (and, as such, devalued) whereas analysis is masculinized (and, as such, invaluable).
But the various metrics that communicate the spread and open rate and subscription conversion and new sign-ups all signal that there’s nothing readers like more than a feelings post, and I am trying to feel less shitty about the times when I just try to dump the mix and mash of feelings on the page the best I know how. I mean, I really like reading other people’s feelings posts — Chris La Tray’s and Helena Fitzgerald’s and Brandon Taylor’s and Emily Gould’s. I devour them, I revisit them, I put them in the “just trust me” at the end of these Sunday pieces so others can hang out with feelings, too.
We like feelings posts not because we don’t like analysis or reading ideas that challenge and provoke us — you all certainly like those, too — but because they’re implicit invitations. When we say that something makes us feel “seen,” we are talking about some form of identification, but we are also talking about making one’s own feelings, so often submerged and denied, into something visible, palpable, tastable. Others’ feelings help give shape to my own.
It’s always felt appropriate to me that Helena Fitzgerald’s newsletter is named Griefbacon — a broad translation of the German word kummerspeck, used to describe the indelible experience of eating when you’re sad. And indelible is, indeed, the vibe of the whole enterprise. As Fitzgerald puts it, “A bunch of long, weird essays. The conversations you have when you’re the last people at a party at 3am. That feeling you get after taking a long, hot shower, or after crying a lot, or after crying a lot in a long hot shower. An essay-newsletter thing about weirdness and ugliness of the ways we try to love each other.”
Those feelings, they are so essential! We gravitate towards them, again and again, even as we attempt to repel them, or are told to deny them. I often think of how women’s trips to the weekend cinema — programmed with “weepies” (Now, Voyager, Stella Dallas, and Imitation of Life) — were conceived of as a frivolous.
“Among the Anglo-American critical brotherhood (and a few of their sisters as well), the term “woman’s film” is used disparagingly to conjure up the image of the pinched-virgin or little-old-lady writer, spilling out her secret longings in wish fulfillment or glorious martyrdom, and transmitting these fantasies to the frustrated housewife,” the great Molly Haskell wrote. “The final image is one of wet, wasted afternoons. And if strong men have also cried their share of tears over the weepies, that is all the more reason (goes the argument) we should be suspicious, be on our guard against the flood of “unearned” feelings released by these assaults, unerringly accurate, on our emotional soft spots. As a term of critical opprobrium, “woman’s film” carries the implication that women, and therefore women’s emotional problems, are of minor significance.”
But we know that there was, and is, no waste in those afternoons. They present opportunities to viewers to feel their fucking feelings in gentle, quasi-private space of a dark theater. But crying in public, that’s great too. There is no waste in whatever facilitates your own form of release. Do you cry on the Peloton? Great. Every time you talk about a certain precious memory? Also good. Cry with friends, cry when Ryan Gosling shouts “It was never over!!!!” in the rain in The Notebook, cry at dog videos, cry when you hear voices singing in harmony, cry when your body really hurts, cry when your kids or parents say something that hits you in your most vulnerable spot, cry when you are in the well of loneliness with only the sound of your own voice echoing around you, cry because it feels like you have been carrying so much for so long, cry because you overcooked the chicken. But also make sure and hang out with that mixed sensation of relief and grief when the rush of feelings begins to lift.
There are seasons of our lives for strategy and action, seasons for resilience and fortitude. But there are also seasons for feelings. I’m in one. It feels bad, but it also feels really good, you know?
This Week’s Things I Read and Loved: