Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Please Update Your Blog"

So wroteth a Facebook acquaintance and I found myself in agreement.  Lately I've come to Car on the Hill with agendas (which I had to look up because it seems as though the word should have a Latinate ending -- but it doesn't).  I still have one but I think I can do it in tandem with "What Fat Women Want" over at Psychology Today.

I am thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins and how some of them -- greed, pride, avarice -- have sort of become virtues.  What, then, are the Seven Deadly Sins for the 21st century?

The first -- but not necessarily the greatest or the worst of the New Deadly Sins -- on my mind is Shame.

It it is of particular pertinence to Car because it's one of the reasons I've kept my posts either general or political.  While I was working on the book formerly known as Sex and the Pity (now referred to as Love Sick, but it needs a subtitle), I didn't want to tip my hand. While I was teaching I didn't want to draw my classes into this part of my life.  While I was depressed, I couldn't write, didn't want students or faculty to know or, also God forbid, affect my chances of getting a grown-up teaching position for which I had submitted many applications. Ditto eating, admitting disappointments, et cetera and so forth.

And a lot of those reasons revolve around shame. 
My Microsoft dictionary defines it as "a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace".  The fourth meaning is "a great disappointment".

There is, of course, much that looks familiar in that paragraph.  What feels alien about it, however, are the words "painful," "strong," and "great".  Because I rely on my Car readers to sort of identify with me, I'm going out on a limb by saying that those big adjectives are mostly negated by sheer familiarity.  Shame should also have the adjective "perpetual" or "chronic" added somewhere to its definition because it takes an unusual blip on my emotional radar to become aware of how much shame I live in.  If, for instance, I laugh too loudly or ask for help or make no plans to see anyone besides family when I go back to my hometown, I may feel a sharper twinge of an emotion that is my second skin, but ordinarily my painful, strong, great emotional state is mostly a sinking nervousness at the idea that I have to leave the house or wake up in the morning or pick up the telephone.

So far almost everything I've written could go on my Psychology Today blog where I might earn a teeny royalty some day but I've confessed enough here to make it Car-appropriate.  Let me be even more specific.

I hide.  I sneak around my very small world beyond the Bat Cave trying to be both invisible and very big -- very big by telling jokes, saying please and thank you, telling amusing stories, apologizing for being in the way.  For invisibility I rely on side streets, waiting until dusk, turning off my emotions, wearing oversize clothes, and staying inside as much as possible.

I had a run of abstinence this summer that did not seem to produce weight loss and I fear with good reason that I may now be as big as I was when I began to lose weight lo! those many years ago.  As a dog-walker, I do not dress up.  As someone in debt, I no longer have my eyebrows, hair, nails, etc. done.  I feel tremendous shame -- embarrassment, disgrace, disappointment, in that order -- over what I look like.

Next Wednesday I fly to Seattle to stay with friends I've come to conclusion are obligated to like me anyway.  The following week, I go on to Missoula where I will once again not see old friends.  It's the end of a tiring summer -- I wrote some 30,000 words (some of which have been knocked down, causing me more shame) and walked a lot of dogs in 100-degree heat.  I have failed my own dog and find myself unable to get back up on the novel bandwagon after my agent rightfully nixed the 120 pages I gave her.

The other thing about the definition of shame is that it needs the word "compound" in it.  Shame inflates itself.  If I can walk Hoadie for an hour a day, why don't I walk Daisy?  (Because I can't stand leaving my house unless I have to.)   I know I have the bones of a story, the talent to write it and all the time anyone could ask for, but I'm frozen with fear that I can't make the final leap into a new chapter one.  Why?  I'm afraid of failure and afraid of my sloth, one of the traditional Seven Deadlies. 

And in between all of this, I am teetering, yet again, on the border of depression when my life has no meaning and all I want is to go back to sleep.  I am terrified of another bout.

Any good news in here?

I think so.  I think there are some major sins beyond shame that are making themselves apparent: fear, frozenness, a certain kind of weakness that manifests as giving in too easily and for which I need a better word.

Which is, at least, a project I can work on teasing out.


Eating as a Path to Yoga said...

I wish there was something I could say to make it all better. Hang in there, Frances. Thank you for your vulnerability.

Unknown said...

Oh, thank you so much for writing again. I check daily and am so happy to see an entry, even though the words are about sadness and shame. You are not alone with either of those, been feeling a lot of sadness today and know shame well.
Sending cyber hugs.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frances. This is Ewa from Poland. I'd like to thank you for your sincerity. Your pain and shame have a meaning. Writing about your pain and shame has a meaning. For example me, a 40 year old blonde somewhere in the city you'll probably never see is feeling less lonely and unhappy now. Got that XXXL t-shirt. God bless you or Nature bless you or whatever you believe in. Cyber hug.

Vickie said...

I am so sorry you are having such a hard time. When I finished reading I had a strong sense that you need to get out of New York. But I don't know if it hurts or helps to say that. Maybe it is something you can discuss with your family and friends while you are with them. And maybe the routine of a " normal" job would help. Because the routine of having to walk your dogs at certain times does seem to help from what I understand of your postings.

I wasn't sure if you are still teaching - ? It didn't seem likely if you are getting ready to leave for two weeks right as schools are underway.

Anonymous said...

I think the 7 Deadly Sins remain the same no matter what century we're in, but I cannot agree that Shame is a sin. Shame is the outgrowth of a tremendous vulnerability which needs to be understood and managed, not condemned nor excoriated. It is one of the most horrible feelings as it turns in on itself again and again and paralyzes its host(ess)with constant new reasons for feeling it even more.

I wish I had magic words that could relieve you of this burden but your native intelligence and obvious heartiness (in the face of such overwhelming feelings) encourages me to believe that you will find your way back to the Rooms and back to the Light.

Wishing you the best,
Old Friend Debra

Marianne said...

I think everyone can understand this post. At least I hope so

Anonymous said...

120 pages gone? Fuuuuck. Don't be ashamed of grieving that--it's a shitload of work. I ditched a manuscript to Start Again and you bet I cried.

I know you feel weak, etc., etc. but you are really an incredibly resilient person. You've done things that I'm still struggling to do. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...


Hang in there. Prayers for you - for all of us - keep up the good fight. You are worth it.

Anonymous said...

I've weighed 185 since the 1990's and I know personally the ultimate failure of abstinence diets. I can get down to 160 but eventually I return to my set-point again. Only a 25-pound fluctuation, but it's just as ultimately inflexible and inescapable as any other overweight person's "yo-yo zone." I know better than to try to "diet" anymore. The reinforced helplessness just leads to emotional depression which our bodies then continue to personify. It's the wickedest Catch-22 ever. Frances makes such an important point about the central role of perpetual, chronic shame. Shame is amplified when a person is by nature an emotionally sensitive introvert with social anxiety. (Childhood/family bullies don't help, either). I share every one of these influencers, and I know anyone else who does would agree with me that Frances Kuffel is truly and deeply a brave person. If Frances should read this, I wish her to know that someone has been reading her words, heartening themselves by them, and doing their best to learn from the personal experiences she has been so heroically willing to share.