The First Rule of Talking About the Stuff is You Do Not Talk about the Stuff
Amy Writes Words, #21
I’m dealing with some Stuff right now. I do not like this Stuff and I do not want to deal with it. My whole body is vibrating with how much I do not like this Stuff. I am being deliberately obscure about what the Stuff is. It’s Stuff, okay. You don’t always need to know more.
I’ve been writing feverishly about this Stuff, but the writing I am doing is not the kind of writing I can ship today, or maybe ever:
That I cannot publish this particular writing is itself causing me pain. Here’s Ursula Le Guin, on what happens when there are things that cannot be spoken1:
[T]he unspoken, as we know, tends to strengthen, to mature and grow richer over the years, like an undrunk wine. Of course it may just go to Freudian vinegar. Some thoughts and feelings go to vinegar very quickly, and must be poured out at once. Some go on fermenting in the bottle, and burst out in an explosion of murderous glass shards. But a good, robust, well-corked feeling only gets deeper and more complicated, down in the cellar. The thing is knowing when to uncork it.
I don’t know if I’m fermenting vinegar or fine wine, but I’m sure as hell fermenting something.
I could finish up some draft about some other topic, certainly. Instead. I could pick something remotely palatable to my audience, for the first time in a few weeks, something a little bit snarky but not too challenging. Something like the essay I wrote about the brokenness of engineering hiring, which has been one of my most popular ones to date. I think that’s because it’s easy for many engineers to relate to. Whiteboarding algorithms is a widely despised interview practice, and not specific to my experience as a woman.
When I write about such things, I don’t have to explain why anyone might care about them, why those things matter. Few people question the validity of my experience or the relevance of the topic to their lives.
I don’t have to ask anyone to either understand or else, if they cannot understand, simply to believe. To heed me. It is easy to write lots of things that plenty of people already understand, to say things they already agree with. People like to agree. They don’t always want to work hard to understand someone else’s perspective, and a lot of the time they really don’t have to, and so they never do.
I could use some agreement right now, I really could, but here I am instead vaguebooking my way through an essay about something I can’t publish an essay about.2
Another option, if I don’t feel like hating on something that’s easy for lots of people to hate: I could talk about my Instagram account. When I talk about my Instagram account that’s popular, I think because it’s a little bit titillating, even when I’m actually talking about things that I’ve learned through having that account.
Here you go then, here I am dressed up for Halloween as a Humorless Bitch3:
It’s really all in the facial expression, but it can be difficult to tell from a still photograph whether the expression is Resting Bitch Face or Humorless Bitch. I do a lot of both. You will have to take my word that this one is Humorless Bitch.
I would like my word to be taken on many things more important than how to describe the look on my face in this picture. I would like my word to be taken on some of the reasons behind that look on my face, but there aren’t a lot of people available or willing to take my word on that.
My god, woman, stop vaguebooking, it’s annoying, you might yell.
But I can’t. I can’t talk about the Stuff and I can’t talk about anything else, except about what it’s like not to be able to talk about the Stuff.
Ijeoma Oluo sent out a newsletter issue earlier this week that offered some timely wisdom on the matter of writing about what I will continue to refer to only as Stuff:
“Writing may help heal readers, but it will often leave you bleeding harder than you were before.”
I read that and I knew it to be true, that to travel back to some hard things that have happened and to write them may leave me bleeding harder than I was before. I asked myself what, then, is my purpose in writing something that can’t be published?
Who can I heal with my unpublishable words?
Then I remembered that some of my best work has not been publishable. Or was once not publishable and later became so. Became publishable, but only because it existed. If I had not written it down at the time that I needed to write it, it would never have become publishable.
I wrote a whole collection of poems about a dead man. Those aren’t ready for the world at large, yet. But I have sent that collection to friends, to some people who knew the dead man, to some people who were interested in reading what I had to say about him and about his death, about the sort of death he had and the ways in which it hurt me. I would like to publish that book someday. Even unpublished, though, it has had, as we say, Impact.
I once wrote a love poem in the format of a performance review. I am not sure that will ever be ready for the world, but at least I sent it to its subject. When I think on this, I realize I’ve actually written many things intended only for an audience of one. Those aren’t typically publishable, but they serve the same purpose as writing I publish.
My words mean to move someone. Whether that someone is one person in particular or some particular group of people or anyone, everyone — the intent remains the same.
Anyways, sometimes one person is all you need to move.
I’ve spent the last few months urgently writing plenty of words that don’t now seem publishable. I’ve done it because I hope they maybe will be, someday, or because maybe something that is publishable will be born from those words. Or because it is possible to share words without publishing them, and that may be all I need to do.
But maybe when I choose to write things that I cannot publish, it’s because I really don’t have any damn choice. Here is Cheryl Strayed as Dear Sugar writing about how she felt when she finished writing her first book:
I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.
I seem to have an inexhaustible number of extra beating hearts to pull out of my body, like the 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
In any case the words I’m writing that can’t be published have been taking up most of my writing time and all of my emotional energy. I can’t write something more palatable right now.
This is all I have to give you, this circumlocution.
And one last thing.
I was feeling lonely and defeated about the Stuff, I was feeling heartbroken, and then I remembered that I already knew the balm for this kind of loneliness and heartbreak and defeat. That balm is called solidarity.
The words that I’m writing, about the Stuff, writing them won’t heal me. But solidarity might. And solidarity has the potential to do more than heal, solidarity is how you multiply your impact. That’s what the manager in me would say, anyway, but you can go even further if you stop thinking in Business.
Solidarity is power, more power than any ordinary person could ever unlock on their own. If I feel lonely and defeated, if I am writing hard words that I can’t say and that won’t heal me, then I need to go in search of solidarity.
I cannot be alone writing hard things I can’t say and saying scary things that people don’t want to hear. There are other people saying scary things and other people holding hard things they can’t say, and I need to find a way to be in solidarity with them. I need to feel that solidarity in my body, to counter all my impotent rage and its children: loneliness and despair.
If the First Rule of Talking About The Stuff is You Do Not Talk about the Stuff, well, I guess maybe there comes a day when I have to break that rule. And when that day finally arrives, I’ll be ready, because I will already have written the words.
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