SHām, noun, 1. “… a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior….” Synonyms: humiliation, mortification, chagrin, ignominy, embarrassment, indignity, discomfort ….
When you write the Disappointing Novel—the one that makes you cringe when you think about its missed opportunities—you experience a feeling of deep failure.
Failure really isn’t so bad. It comes. It goes. It comes and goes.
But, oh, then there is Shame.
Shame permeates your marrow. Shame makes something wonderful you once had go dead inside. Shame pummels your heart squishy, gnaws at your bones as if you are the carrion to its flesh-eaters.
Shame twists your brain into knot upon knot upon knot—
Shame that you wrote a book full of missed opportunities. Shame that you handed that book to your editor. Shame that your publishers accepted it, just as it was, because they had faith in you. Shame that it was published, just as it was, because they had faith in you. Shame that it didn’t sell like a house-a-fire after your publishers said, “This book will be your next best seller!” and it ain’t and likely never’t wilt be because you didn’t write it right. You wrote it wrong. Oops.
“Oh, the book this could have been, if I ….” You shake your head sloooowwly back and forth. Tsk Tsk.
Then there is the well-intentioned friend who serves you Shame on a burnt-black platter. “This book doesn’t have the heart and soul of your other books. What happened? And what’s up with those sex scenes? They’re weird.” Um, those sex scenes are RAGE RAGE RAGE! All the corners of that book are FIRE and RAGE. Don’t you also see the beauty buried in the RAGE? Don’t you see it?
No. Of course she didn’t see it. You didn’t do your job. You didn’t write it right. You wrote it wrong.
You are ashamed that RAGE took over your life and Godzilla-stomped it to smithereens and made your brain go all wonkity where you couldn’t even write a goddamned book right and you wrote it wrong.
You lovingly pick up your other books and smooth the covers with your gentle sweet hand. But with the Disappointing Missed Opportunities Book, you often pretend it’s not there. “What? That book?” you say. “Oh, that’s my Rage Book. Yeah. That’s the book I wrote when I Godzilla-stomped through my life. That’s the book I wrote when I decided to end my 16-year marriage. That’s the book I wrote when I began drinking too much liquor and eating crap for food. That’s the book I wrote when I isolated myself inside myself. That’s the book where I almost lost the last bit of my Self. Yeah. That book. Whatevs. I didn’t write it right. I wrote it wrong. Dammit.”
The missed opportunities of the poor little disappointing novel rise up and swallow you whole. And in the dark gooshy belly of that great beast you wallow around until you create enough friction to blow fiery breaths of disappointing novel RAGE! Until all that is left under the rubble is—
And even when you get your ever-lovin’ shit back together and pull the Godzilla-stompity-stomped pieces back to a whole and trade your liquor and bad food for the running shoes and dumbbells you’d left in a corner, you still can’t get over that book. “It could have been so beautiful, so cool, so so so—so much better . . . ” you wistfully, regretfully say, once again, needlessly and pointlessly and tiresomely, boringly.
(Because you know you didn’t write that book for you. You wrote it for Not You.)
Shame. Shame. Shame on you! You didn’t write it right; you wrote it wrong. You shameful little shamester!
Is there anyone out there in any realm of Life’s Work who has not had a bad day, month(s), year(s), book, piece of art, fallen on the dance floor to a full house, fumbled the football in the last seconds of the Super Bowl, recorded a song that plummeted down the charts—etc etc etc etc on and on and blah blah blah!
And it is in those moments of our Failure and Shame that we are supposed to rise above it. Be all kickass and go do it all over again. And we should. We really truly should!
But Shame, unlike Failure, is insidiously sneaky. Failure gets up in your face and bitch-slaps you until you are so mad at it you bitch-slap it back—take that Failure! I’ll show you! But Shame creepily creeps up on you and whispers nasties in your ear. You think it’s your own voice, but it’s not your voice at all. It’s every voice who ever told you that you suck, that you are Less Than. It’s very quiet, Shame is. Unlike loud Failure. You don’t even know Shame has you by the throat until you are choked half to death.
Shame should be ashamed of itself. Ha!
What if we told ourselves we are Human and not to be held to impossible standards of self-imposed perfection or some other pedestal we climb on to? What if we told ourselves it’s okay to feel disappointed if we write a novel (or whatever it is you do) that isn’t quite what we wanted, but not okay to feel Shame over it? What if we stopped comparing ourselves to others, because they aren’t us but they are they and why do we want to be someone else when we’re pretty damned awesome? What if we consider that maybe, just maybe, even those who we see as successful may very well struggle with many of the same concerns and worries and disappointments that we do? And if they don’t and their life and bank accounts are all nifty-keeny-cool, then why would that make us feel bad about ourselves—it has absolutely nothing to do with us.
What if we leave Shame by the side of the road? (I’m picturing me driving down a lonely old road, slowing down my 20-year-old Subaru, and kicking Shame to the curb, watching it stand there incredulously as I quickly drive away. But then, now I’m feeling sorry for Shame. Dammit! Now I have to back up and go pick up Shame and take it somewhere safe, but far far away from me. Maybe there’s an island where lots of other Shames live and they can gleefully shame each other because that’s their Thang, and Shame shouldn’t feel bad about being Shame—uh . . . where was I?)
And what’s not haha-funny but life-is-funny is that the worst things didn’t happen to you. You worried and raged and hid and cried and drank and acted like an ass—all for nothing. Because after you became tired of stomping and slobbering around, you took a deep breath and got right back to your Self.
When you stand up tall and keep striding strongly forward, Shame has a hard time keeping up. Shame is kind of a weak little shitter. It is rather “easy” to be rid of Shame. When you don’t entertain it, it grows super bored and moves on! Yeah!
Hold on . . . *grabs that book and gives it a big hug and a kiss, because the poor little thing needs it.* It’s not such a bad little book. It’s not bad at all. It has a gorgeous cover, and a title that you are proud of—the only book your publishers let you title your own little self. And some people love it and say it’s their favorite of your books. And are you going to call those nice readers wrong? Well, there you go now. La Tee Dah, y’all!
Yeah. We got this! WHUPOW!
Have you written the Disappointing Novel (or whatever disappointed you) full of missed opportunities that perhaps made you feel shame? How have you handled that?