I was watching Benji with a group of family members in my grandparents’ living room the first time it happened.
Something sad happened onscreen and I wanted to cry so I pretended like I needed to go to the restroom so no one would see me even though every adult probably knew.
Even at 5, I’d already been trained that boys don’t cry.
My parents had recently divorced, so I’m sure I was more emotionally sensitive than I had been prior. But I doubt that’s the reason the sad Benji moment made me feel something.
I wasn’t much of a crier throughout most of my childhood, and save the tragic death of my father’s only brother when I was 17, and a handful of instances where I was forced to say bye to my father for several months at a time because we lived 500 miles apart, I didn’t do much of it.
Maybe because “boys don’t cry.” Or maybe because I ran out of tears for the “small stuff.”
I wasn’t a cyborg. I felt. At funerals of my great grandparents, or the ones I occasionally worked as an alter boy in my childhood church.
I felt when I read Alfred Slote’s Tony and Me.
I felt when I read Where the Red Fern Grows.
I felt when I saw E.T.
Just because I didn’t cry doesn’t mean my body didn’t want to. I just pretended to be tough because that’s the role I thought I was supposed to be playing.
The writing did its job. It made me feel.
In the end, I think that’s what made it good.
Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?
As I’ve continued to write personal stories here, something became clear: No one is reading any of this shit because of the writing quality.
People are reading because I wrote a personal story they identified with. I wrote something that mattered BECAUSE it mattered to them, personally. It’s really hard for us to empathize with people who have lives nothing like our own. It’s incredibly easy to empathize with people who have the same stories.
I think the longer we live, the more in common we start to have with everyone else. You know—the law of averages and all that as more things happen to us.
People who have been through divorce sometimes find catharsis in reading someone else’s first-person account.
People who have sick children sometimes find peace and perspective when reading about someone else’s challenges with their child’s health.
People fighting addiction sometimes find strength and support when reading someone else document his or her struggles with the same.
We get so afraid to talk about it.
Because we’re private or shy or don’t want to be seen as weak. Because we’re afraid of what other people think.
That’s what’s so beautiful about writing. The opportunity to be brave and help others.
Some of you might be thinking: “But I don’t think my story is special. I don’t think it can help anyone.”
There’s a scared, self-doubting version of ourselves that lives inside each of us. And that’s the lie that coward tells us so it can stay comfortably and safely hidden in the shadows.
I laugh at the idea of me offering another writer advice as if I’m in any position to do so. But then I remember the most important thing I’ve ever learned about human beings:
We’re not so different, you and me.
Sure, you might like sauerkraut and Mountain Dew: Code Red and rye bread for reasons hard for me to fathom. But when you strip away our skin color (thank you, Dr. King), gender, personal tastes and cultural differences? We are remarkably, miraculously, beautifully (and sometimes tragically) alike.
You Can Feel It*
If you had a family like mine, you were told how special you were your entire life. “Matt, I hope you know how special you are,” I was told by my grandparents, and my parents, and my aunts and uncles, and family friends.
And then you grow up and you realize you really aren’t that special and that’s just something they said over and over again because they loved you a lot and were trying to compensate for the perceived hardships they thought you were dealing with as a child with 500 miles separating your parents.
If you didn’t have a family like mine, you might have been told verbally or otherwise that you weren’t special. That you didn’t matter much. The net result of an upbringing with an unfair amount of dysfunction or neglect or abuse.
The truth is: we are all just a bunch of people. And if every single one of us grew up with the exact same parents in the exact same house with the exact same opportunities in the exact same school in the exact same town, we’d all be excruciatingly similar.
It’s not about special or not special.
But it is about unity.
I write things sometimes about marriage and relationships and women, and people are like: “Whoa! He really gets it!”
And it’s not because I know anything about you or how you feel, or about anyone else.
It’s because I know myself and I have extreme confidence that if I just write honestly about that, it’s going to be relevant to more than enough people to matter.
So, if you’re looking for some writing advice on how to write stories that matter, I’ve got one thing: BE YOU.
And I don’t mean the person your friends hang out with, or the person your co-workers know, or the person everyone thinks you are at school or at church or at parties.
Be the you that you know. Inside your head. When it’s just you in the dark staring up at the ceiling. That’s the you that can help people, and you don’t even have to try.
All you have to do is be brave enough to write it down.
The things that make you happy.
The things that make you angry.
The things that make you laugh.
The things that make you cry.
Because there’s a person out there who gets happy and angry and laughs and cries about the exact same things. And sometimes they feel like a freak. And they’re too afraid to talk about the things they think about when they’re staring up at the ceiling in the dark. They’re afraid of rejection. That no one will like them. That no one IS like them.
That they’re alone.
The most important thing I’ve learned as a writer, as a divorced guy, as a parent, as an insecure single guy who is shitty at dating—is that we’re NEVER alone. By that I mean, we are NEVER the only people feeling something.
There are hundreds. Thousands. Millions.
Countless people just like you. Just like me. Just like us.
And if you can be brave enough to feel something.
And brave enough to write it down.
And courageous enough to hit “Publish.”
They’ll find you. And then they realize: Wow. I’m not the only one.
And then you’ll know you did something that mattered.
The secret to making people feel isn’t through clever wordplay or manipulation.
In fact, there’s no secret at all.
You just write down what happens on the inside. The parts we often hide from the world as we attempt to convince everyone we’re better or stronger or richer or smarter or funnier or braver than we are.
Because you’re not the only one.
Because it’s okay to cry.
Because the best stories are the ones that make us feel something.
Please tell us one.
*- that’s what she said.
32 thoughts on “Somebody’s Got to Feel This*”
So so true. I have been waving the banner of “Tell your story” for years! (Even before my dramatic divorce). You’re absolutely right that we can connect with people…and I’ve learned this to be true in any kind of grief. I don’t know about infertility…but I know how it feels to feel “less than” or how it feels to be betrayed by something you never saw coming and I know how it feels to burn with envy at something other people have….just like my friend who lives with infertility. The specifics don’t have to be the same to feel something. Grief and Joy come in lots of forms. But we can’t help anyone if we keep our stories to ourselves. To be honest….we are also robbing ourselves. I see it everyday in my business. people isolating themselves to their own detriment and the detriment of others. It’s a real shame.
and thank you for the asterisk. You’re such a juvenile and I love it!
You get it exactly. Which I appreciate very much.
You don’t need to be a guy to understand how sad I was when my marriage ended.
You don’t need to have a son to understand how much I love mine.
You don’t need to have the same fears and insecurities I have to identify with feeling fear and insecure.
So you just write about it. Whatever the “thing” is. And someone out there understands and gets to feel less lonely afterward.
Not unlike my childishness which keeps me young. I deserve Children 12 & Under pricing on all my purchases.
REALLY like. 🙂
Thank you so much. That made me smile.
You have to like the subtle humor and sarcasm 🙂
Thank you, Dan. Sometimes I’m less subtle and not very funny, but I do tend to be excellent at sarcasm.
There’s some question as to just how funny or clever that sarcasm actually is.
Really appreciate you reading and commenting. Thank you very much.
Matt, who cares? I mean, level of sarcasm and funny factor…damn, this is a nice read and levels of certain factors…are way overrated. Ok, my point cool Blog !!! 🙂
Matt, the writing is excellent and people are reading it. It is just so difficult to get anything out there.
It only needs to matter to one, Leslie.
And I suspect almost every piece of writing matters to at least one.
That one person is worth it.
But I don’t totally agree. I do read your writing because your writing is good, good wordplay, grammar, pacing. Sometimes I can really relate to something you’ve written (because sure, I’ve felt loss or fear or love) but often your writing actually teaches me about something I don’t know much about. Because it’s beautifully written, powerfully paced, and yes, of course, always heartfelt. (Because the supreme power of heartfelt? I totally can agree with you there.)
It’s almost like you were trying to make my day, Jen.
Thank you for the too-kind comment. If you meant half of it, I’m extraordinarily flattered.
We all have different journeys. There are no two the same. Even if we did come from the exact same house.
Perspective is what separates us. Perspective is what allows us to either let the situation take something from us or take something from the situation.
Our little guy is very in tune with his emotions; we try to help and encourage him express them. Hence we have yet to finish “The Last Unicorn” because it was ‘just too sad’ regardless of the number of times I told him it would all work out happily…
We read for several reasons – as you mentioned – but I think the what trumps the why. Some may come to read about your parenting experiences. Others may come looking for a sordid tale of divorcees. And there are those who come because it is good sh#t to read. Regardless of why we read, it is what we read that truly matters because the what is the very thing we take with us when we go.
I didn’t mean we’d all be clones! Anyone from a big family knows siblings can pretty different, personality-wise.
Are you tell me I need to check out “The Last Unicorn”? *wide-eyed face*
Oh, I know cloning wasn’t implied. ?
And unless you have your tissues handy, you may want to skip “The Last Unicorn” (on that note, he won’t even let me broach “The Never-ending Story” because the idea that a world is falling apart is too much for his almost 5 year old self to handle!).
This was the first thing I’ve read in years that actually made me tear up. Beautiful.
Now you’re just being extra-nice.
Thank you, Emily. I don’t know what part of it resonated with you, but I suppose you’re making my point for me…
There’s always someone who cares when it’s honest and real.
Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment, young lady. Especially one containing such a lovely compliment.
The part where you talk about how brave you have to be to just come out and speak your truth really, really touched me. There is something profoundly brave about stripping every.single.thing away until all you have left is the pure, unabashed truth of who you really are and what your experience is. I have to admit that I’m not there yet. I want to be, though, and it’s words like yours that make me realize that I really have nothing to lose by just being 100% authentic.
You don’t need any help being good at writing. But, yeah. Near as I can tell, the difference between the writers I love versus the countless other greats is the honesty. People can tell.
That was really awesome. Well done. You are so right.
This part however, “No one is reading any of this shit because of the writing quality,” yes we are. There’s a writing voice in there that’s really quite appealing.
Well, I’m so glad you think so. Thank you for saying that.
Hope you’re having a particularly wonderful day.
That’s what she said….
It’s like I can’t help myself.
Hmmm. That’s what she said. 😉
I know that feeling!*
I have stories to tell…hoo boy do I ever! And I am slowly, painfully, writing them down. I’m convinced that there is wisdom and beauty in my story that others may benefit from…but my blog is still set to private. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to open it up and share it with others.
In my experience, it’s easy to feel the courage when you do it for something greater than yourself.
When you do it on faith that there’s someone out there (even though we don’t understand how or why) that will be moved to action or a change of heart or whatever for having read it.
It just has to be real.
Then people connect.
It’s beautiful, really.
I have that problem with crying in front of people, especially people that I don’t feel comfortable with. It’s hard no matter who you are.
I have to disagree with you just a little… the way you tell your story and connect to people is a talent, a skill… I understand the encouragement for people to just be themselves and tell their story but don’t sell yourself short. You are very good. With that said, I like the way you are encouraging others to reach out and connect. Good luck and take care! -Amy 🙂
Authentic- real, unedited edition of yourself. (Well I do edit for mistakes grammar, spelling etc. But I try to be who I really am when I write, not the person most of us are when walking out in real world with our masks on. Love your written voice, it speaks very clearly to me. Thanks -great post.
The Ginja writes stories because she exhausted the young adult fantasy fiction section at the library as a girl. Now she writes stories to live the extravagant dreams while pursuing realistic dreams. Like flying. On a pegasas. Like a princess. Probably a bit extravagant. People have told her the stories are “weird”, “far-out”, “too magical” (how can something be TOO magical? Seriously). But the Ginja continues to write, and she writes what she likes. Maybe she’ll meet someone who likes to read the same things she writes. Until then, her words are her own.
Feelings remind us we are beautifully and wonderfully made. Feelings are the depth and width and breath of every human being.
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