You Too?

Whenever I hear someone say they write to “express themselves,” my first thought is, nobody cares. Life is hard for everyone, some more or less than others, but it’s hard enough that a complete stranger demanding attention in order to express feelings about whatever is significant to them, personally, smacks of entitled bulls**t, aka privilege. I tell my students over and over, the purest way to express an emotion is to elicit that emotion from your reader. I say purest, not quickest or easiest. The expression is purest because the emotions are the reader’s, unadulterated and straight from their own motherboard.

The purest way to express an emotion is to elicit that emotion from your reader.

Conveying an emotion—fear, joy, anger, love, contempt—by eliciting that response from the reader makes the feeling shared. It’s those moments that make reading so worthwhile, those moments when we come across a passage that speaks to us, where the author simply nails it by putting into precise words a feeling, perception or experience that is so fleeting and nuanced we thought we were alone with it, or lacked the capacity to express it, to share it. Those lines that make you stop and think, Yes, that’s it, exactly, those are the moments when the writer and reader meet each other halfway. It’s the shared experience of emotion taking place above some chasm of time, distance, age, etc., that is the very nature of empathy. “Yeah, I get it.” “Me, too.” “I thought nobody else felt that way.” It’s the same note struck at the beginning of a friendship or love affair. “Yes, you get me.”

-Craig Clevenger, from The Safety of Transgression versus the Risk of Honesty (LitReactor.com)

In Jack Gilbert’s poem, Poetry is a Kind of Lying, he says,

Degas said he didn’t paint
What he saw, but what
Would enable them to see
The thing he had.

Preachers, evangelists, writers, people take note: it is not enough to be excited. It’s not enough that something gives you goosebumps. It’s not enough to tell someone that you love it or how it makes you feel, or to tell them that they should feel the way you do. You need to communicate it in a way that will actually make them feel the way you feel and see what you have.

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