The Guilt-Shame Tango

I hope that picture doesn’t offend anybody – I’m Catholic – or else I’ll just have something else to feel guilty about and right now, friends, I don’t need that.

Let’s start off by saying that my mom, who was old school Irish Catholic, could make me feel guilty for having to go to the bathroom. She’d whack me on the ass if I got snarky (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is just part of my personality) and then, when I cried, because getting smacked on the ass hurts when you’re a little kid, she’d give me that line that we all hated: “Stop crying before I give you something to cry about.”  I obviously already HAD something to cry about, but there was no reasoning with the woman when I was 5 and she was….older. Actually, I never learned to reason with my mom, but I did learn to sidestep the ass-smacks.

Then she sent me off to the nuns. If I had been feeling a little bit of the guilt bug before, the nuns nailed it in really, really well. I bit my nails in first grade, mainly because I was a nervous wreck of a kid and wanted to do everything right. The nun who taught my class, Sister Saint Ignatius, would come sliding down the aisle in her habit and nun skates (I still believe they move on wheels, the old ones anyway) and would loom over my desk and ask to look at my hands. I would turn my hands palm up, trying to put off the inevitable. Then she would tell me to turn them over. When she saw the ragged nubs that passed for fingernails, she would mock me then make me kneel in the front of the room and pray for forgiveness for desecrating my body, and for the strength to stop myself from this disgusting habit. It felt like hours but it was probably only about 15 minutes. The floors were wood, and my knees would start to kill me, but pray I did, and fervently, mainly that Sister would get struck down in front of the class by a lightning bolt straight from the Big Guy himself. Never happened (that’s when I started to doubt the power of prayer).

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Getting older didn’t seem to help, and high school not only refined my high sense of being responsible for everything that went wrong and everybody that DID something wrong, it also convinced me that I was not only unattractive but pretty stupid and not fit for human company. Looking back, I now realize that the rest of the kids in that school were not human and I just wasn’t fit for THEIR company, but I went on to drop out and get my GED, rather than deal with the daily dose of bullshit and humiliation. I got an English degree a few years later from a very prestigious New York university, but even that didn’t salve the wounds. I think I tried harder than anyone in any of my classes. I had never had a problem acing any material, I could merely skim it and come out with at least a B+. But in college I worked so hard, my parents worried about my health. I was graduated from said university summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, editor of the literary rag – and feeling guilty that someone else didn’t get at least the suma or the editorship.

And so it went, on into adulthood, the guilt following me around like an unwanted suitor with bad teeth and body odor. I went to therapy. Didn’t help (especially since the therapist had the nasty habit of talking to my boobs when he addressed me – I was super glad there was no “couch” in his office or I would have had to kill him). I tried meditating and felt guilty about the time I was taking away from something more productive. I drank and did drugs. That helped while I was doing them. It helped a lot. But when I sobered up, the guilt was three times as bad as it was before because I had probably done something completely inappropriate to at least two people – and my friends were more than happy to call me the next morning and obliterate my beloved blackout by filling me in on all the details.

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The good thing about the drug and alcohol use was that it got me into AA and NA, where I was taught (and I learned slowly on this point) that guilt is a wasted emotion. No one should walk around feeling guilty all the time. And it’s usually tied in with shame, which tells us not that we did a bad thing (guilt) but that WE are inherently bad people (shame). That’s a shitty way to live your life.

I’ve for the most part tried to let the guilt go. It still rears its ugly head if I miss a deadline or forget a birthday (which is hard to do, since Facebook reminds me for weeks about birthdays, so if I miss one it’s only because I didn’t log in that day). But it’s not ruling my life. I have made it my goal to refuse to feel guilty for the way other people feel. I can’t MAKE anybody feel any kind of way, just like nobody can make ME feel any kind of way. No one can MAKE ME feel guilty, or angry, or anything else. It’s all in how I receive the other person’s words and behaviors. It doesn’t always work, but keeping that in mind helps me out a lot.

With all that said, it bothers me when I hear a parent tell a small child, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” There is absolutely no reason for any child to be ashamed. Perhaps they have done something that they should feel sorry about, in which case they should apologize and the matter should be dropped. If it was a big deal thing, like microwaving their sister’s Barbie, punishment of some kind is probably warranted (and here I’m not going to tell people whether or not to spank – I never saw the need to spank my children but as long as people are not leaving physical scars – I believe it does leave emotional scars – it’s none of my business how you raise your kids). But telling them to be ashamed? That’s just setting them up for a lifetime of feeling bad about themselves. Which, if they don’t get past it, will lead to them doing the same to their children.

Guilt and shame ruled my life for a very long time, and I’m happy that for the most part I’m free of them. I wish everybody could go to AA – the 12 Steps are a really great plan for living, even if you don’t have a substance abuse problem. But if I can take away one thing from the program and pass it on to whoever stumbles across this blog, it would be that we must always remember that we are NOT inherently bad. There is nothing wrong with us just as we are. There is always room for improvement, but we are only responsible for putting in the work – we cannot control the outcome. And we should never feel guilty about it if we put in the best work of which we were capable.

To the Woman Who Told Her One-Year-Old Daughter That Boys Are Bad

This is spot on. A great read from a great writer.

My name is Lynzee.

I watched your daughter run around today. I loved her sweet smile and listened to her infectious laugh. She was one of those kids that you’d just love to take home with you–especially since I’d love to have a girl someday. I smiled when I saw her earrings and told my friend how cute her clothes were. I saw her blow kisses as my son told her goodbye…and I listened with disappointment as you proceeded to tell your one year old daughter that boys are bad.

Now even though you said this right in front of me, I thought about just brushing it off. I’m sure it was an innocent comment and you didn’t think before you said it. But some of the most damaging things can start that way. Some of the things that stick with kids the longest are things you didn’t think they even paid attention to.

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NOT Writing About Your Ex

I don’t know about other writers, but I am having a very hard time not writing about my ex-boyfriend, even using a pseudonym and changing it up a little so people won’t be able to identify him. Of course I write about the breakup in my journal and call him all kinds of names (WITHOUT using a pseudonym and God help me if I ever lose my laptop). But that’s not what I mean. I mean writing about him in stories and essays and getting him out of my system for good and all. Writing is how I get things out of my system. That is why I have two blogs and write for a living.

For instance, I’m working on an erotic version of Cinderella right now, for a novella which I hope to turn into a series (it’s not porn, it’s erotica, tastefully done). And God help me, I want to make him a character in this story. And not Prince Charming, either, I want to make him the half-witted stable boy. Which isn’t really fair because my ex is a lot of things but half-witted is not one of them (he’s probably the smartest person I know, besides me). But that evil, vindictive little voice in my head, which I usually try to ignore, tells me to do it, and have him suffer all kinds of humiliation, much like the humiliation he put me through only more primeval. Like falling face first in a pile of horse manure.

I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to do something like that when the person can’t defend him- or herself. And I suppose that, as time goes by, the vindictive little voice in my head will shut up and not provide me with a thousand and one entertaining and humiliating ways to incorporate him into my work. It’s hard enough keeping him out of my blog, which clearly I’m not doing a very good job of since I’m writing about him right now. But this is a blog, so he CAN defend himself here. He can sign in any old time and write a nasty comment, or a nice one, defending his right to do what he did and to let me go through what I went through without any support from a man who told me I was the love of his life (I have since found out that he’s said that to every single woman he’s been with so…). I mean, I have open comments, I don’t even check them out first before they get published because I think that’s assholish – like I have the right to tell people what they can and cannot think of my work. So writing about this here is one thing. Making him into a stable boy with a hair full of horse poop? Not so good.

And I don’t even really want to do it in the Blog Universe. Before we broke up, we had a lot of the same friends on a lot of social networks, and I pimp my blog on almost all of them, so people who know him and who know me are going to know who I’m talking about. That’s why I haven’t referred to the situation between us at all since it happened three or four weeks ago. Aside from the fact that I spent pretty much all my time in the fetal position except when I absolutely had to work, I wanted to put distance and perspective on it before I put it out there. And then I decided that it would be really childish of me to put the details of our breakup on a public blog where everyone could see it, so I chose instead to tell only my closest friends the details. To the rest of the world I’m just single again.

I think my wanting to incorporate him into my writing is a way for me to keep him in my life. My characters all become a part of my life. I live with them in my head all day long, thinking up new plot twists for them, or dialogue, or whatever. So if I make him the stable boy, I can keep hating on him and piling on the literary humiliation. On the other hand, if I make him Prince Charming, I can wander around all day with him in my head with all the wonderful attributes he has as a person intact (because he is, basically, a good person – I just don’t like the way he treated me at the end, but that’s just the way he deals with things). Whichever the case, it’s not healthy for me to keep him in my head.

So THIS time, writing is not going to be the way to get him out of my system. Even though I just wrote about him. You don’t have to tell me that, I already know. Maybe I’ll talk to my therapist instead. And make my OTHER ex the stable boy.

Getting Noticed

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My blogs aren’t the most scintillating pieces of literature to ever hit the internet, but I try to make them entertaining and interesting. I write this blog for a couple of reasons. The first is that I want to entertain the reader, or catch their interest, but as with all my writing, I want to move them in some way, either to laughter, or to tears, or just to think. Most of all, I want my readers to want to read more of my writing.

Those of you who have read me before know that I’m working on a novel. I was told the other day that I can publish it through Amazon direct to Kindle (the whole publishing world probably already knew this but I’m always the last to know). I think that’s awesome, and I’ve already found an editor I can afford (because while I think every word that comes out of my keyboard is a pearl, that’s really not the case, and I need an objective eye to cut it back). But I still have the same problem as any new writer: getting noticed. How can I sell my book if no one has ever heard of me?
And that is the third, mercenary reason I write my blog. To get people to know my name, to know who I am and how I write, so that when I finally get the first installment of my trilogy (I’m working on a trilogy of erotica, putting the big novel on the back burner once again for business reasons) people will want to read it.

So, aside from this blog, which is read by maybe ten people (I don’t know much about promotion) I’m breaking things up into three sections, novellas probably around 150 pages each, and I am hoping that, with the right description, people will be willing to pay between $0.99 -$3.99 to read the first one and that, once they’ve come to know the characters in the first book, they’ll be willing and maybe even eager to buy the second and third.

It’s not a porn trilogy, and it’s not even a soft core bondage trilogy like another author did (I won’t mention any names). I know I will not be repetitive, because my editor is an ace at being honest and telling me if I’ve started repeating myself or gotten sloppy. It will be erotic, and I don’t pull punches with my erotica it will be explicit. But not disgusting. Because erotica is an art form of its own and it takes skill and talent to write a trilogy of erotica that won’t have the reader snoozing by chapter 2.

Anne Rice is my role model. She started off writing erotica, and now look at her. I am by no means saying that I’m as talented a writer as Mrs. Rice, nor am I saying that I’ll be going on to write great vampire and other horror fiction. What I AM saying is that erotica can be done in a way that is not offensive but serves its purpose, which is to move the reader, generally sexually but also to care about the characters. I don’t want to write a Harlequin romance with explicit sex; I intend to write a work that has a plot, and a really good story, and characters that will want the reader to come back for more.

So back to getting noticed. If you find one of my blog posts entertaining or interesting or funny, please, please share it among your social networks. Yes, this is shameless self-promotion, but I only reach so many people on my own friends’ lists or circles (although I have been trying to add more of my LinkedIn contacts, especially the ones in advertising and publishing). If even five people were to share my writing with their friends, those friends might be moved to share it with THEIR friends, and on it goes, until some people know my writing other than the people I pester every day to read my blog. I should probably pester them to SHARE my blog, but I hate doing that. So I do it here.

I’m really not good at self-promotion, but I am trying so hard to make a living as a working writer, and I need your help. Please share blog posts of mine that you like. Please click the like on Facebook button, and please follow me. If you guys help me, I’ll give you a free preview of some of the hotter scenes in the trilogy. Yes, I’m begging and yes, I’m bribing. I suck at promotion.

And that is why I am not in advertising.