Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing Experiments: Working Up the Courage to Humiliate Myself

For the last five days, I've been thinking incessantly about how I can best humiliate myself.

That sounds insane, so let me explain: I read a lot of writing about writing. As in, writers talking about the writing process, and in particular a lot of the do's and don'ts of writing personal essays. The New York Times has this section in its opinion pages called Draft, which I suspect is a huge snooze for those not interested in writing. It's the opposite for me, obviously.

A recent post from Susan Shapiro is the reason why I can't stop thinking about how to humiliate myself. It's called, "Make Me Worry You're Not O.K." and in it, she describes the first assignment she gives her students in feature journalism classes:

Write three pages confessing your most humiliating secret.

Thank Jesus she wasn't one of my journalism professors. One of the worst—and of course, best—experiences I had with journalism class humiliation was the professor who would read aloud our essays to the entire class, not caring at all to mask the sarcasm oozing out of his voice during the sections he found particularly pathetic. So I can only imagine the levels of my anxiety were I asked to write three pages confessing my most humiliating secret to a new professor.

But really, it's genius (and probably why she's been assigning it for more than 20 years). As she says:
It encourages students to shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.

You can’t remain removed and dignified and ace it. I do promise my students, though, that through the art of writing, they can transform their worst experience into the most beautiful. I found that those who cried while reading their piece aloud often later saw it in print. I believe that’s because they were coming from the right place — not the hip, but the heart.
I can't stop thinking about it. Of course, I have written my share of personal shit, but I've never been ballsy enough to write about the worst of the worst, in a sense.

Recently, I wrote an essay that terrified me: It was scary to put the words together; to admit certain feelings I had felt; and above all, scary to draw any sort of conclusions about what had happened. I shared it with exactly three people, who gave me positive enough feedback that I braved submitting it.

Not two days later, I got my rejection email.

I started to go through my usual rejection routine—feeling like a fraud, feeling like no one will ever publish anything I write, feeling like the whole, incredibly personal thing I had agonized over was a bunch of shit. (Dear God, are all writers as fucking sensitive as I am?)

So I said fuck it. Maybe I'll submit it elsewhere, maybe I won't. Or maybe I wrote something that I was brave enough to share with three people, and three people enjoyed it. And maybe that's enough.

Either way, the rejections aren't going to stop me from an attempt to humiliate myself. Again, and again.

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