Unacceptable – A Poem, An Origin Story, and Thoughts on the Things We’re Not Supposed to Feel

We spend so much of ourselves
Trying not to
Feel.

Even when we are marked for emotion
It has to be
Controlled.

We can only feel
Certain things
At certain times
In certain places
For certain reasons.
And anything that falls outside that tiny
Impossible
Box, is completely
Unacceptable.

Sometimes I don’t know if
I’m angry
At myself or the world, but
I’m angry
Nonetheless.

I would call on the power of witches and gods
To bring down fury, if I could,
And tear apart everything that has been so
Carefully built
To contain me
Or keep me out.

If the strength of this feeling
Ran through my limbs
I could break it all
With my bare hands.

But I’m told I wasn’t built for rage.
That it is
Unbecoming.

And that’s the truth of it –
You would have all these things I’m not allowed to
Feel
Be my unbecoming in the end.
Watching with disdain
As they undo me from the
Inside out.

But

I will not allow you to
Unmake me
With something so wholly
My own.

I choose to let my
Rage
Out, to chase your
Unacceptable
Straight to hell.

***

It’s rare that I share the ‘origin stories’ behind my writing, but in this case I feel compelled to do so. It might be a slightly meandering tale – bear with me – and (fair warning) there will almost certainly be swearing.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about Ruth Stone’s experience of writing poetry. Of how she would ‘hear’ a poem coming towards her and have to run like hell to catch it. How the poem would rush through her and she would have to try and grab it by the tail with one hand whilst trying to write fast enough to get it on the page with the other. I have never experienced this kind of Big Magic quite so dramatically (for which part of me is grateful as my hand-eye coordination is almost certainly not up to the task of catching a poem travelling at speed). However, I do occasionally find that a poem will pour steadily out of me, almost fully formed, without my having to do much to bring it into being. The above is one such poem.

Poems that come to me in this way often arise from a strong emotion. The emotions that prompt such outpourings are, more often than not, the ones generally construed as ‘negative’. Before I continue, let’s get one thing straight: I call bullshit on the ‘positive’ vs ‘negative’ division of emotions. It’s a false binary (we do love those, don’t we?!) that we buy into far too easily. Whilst I recognise that there may be ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ ways of processing and managing emotions, the emotions themselves aren’t good or bad – they just are.

We feel what we feel and that should be that.

But it never is. We’re made to feel some way about whatever we’re feeling and that makes us feel more things that we’re also made to feel some way about and then there’s no telling what we feel. (Confused yet?)

Today, I was angry.

There was no one particular thing that made me angry. I had one of *those* days that was fine until it suddenly wasn’t because lots of tiny, inconsequential annoyances had built up into a big ball of AARGH inside me. And then the AARGH bubbled over and I found my self snapping and stomping and slamming around, whilst more tiny things continued to add to my anger and further frustration piled on from the part of my brain that told me I was overreacting. Feelings about feelings making more feelings.

What a mess.

I went for a stompy rage walk with the dog, which ended up causing even more rage because my audiobook library disappeared meaning I couldn’t listen to my book, and then when I switched to Spotify for music instead the album I wanted to listen to wouldn’t play and THEN the torch on my phone wouldn’t work and I couldn’t see where the dog had done her business in the dark. One. Of those. Days. (Cue more feelings.) So as I’m trudging around in the blackness (literal and metaphorical), having eventually managed to get the torch on my phone to work so I could be a responsible dog owner but having given up on my both my audio entertainments of choice, I did the only thing I could think of to get all the AARGH and GRRRR and what-a-fucking-mess-of-feelings out of me: I opened the notes app on my phone and began to write.

What poured out was a poem rooted in rage. Of wanting to break things. Of more rage that, as an independent, emotionally intelligent, thirty-something woman, I had somehow allowed myself to be convinced that rage was not an emotion I was entitled to feel. The writing helped. There was still a whole mess of stuff burbling around inside me but it had lowered to a simmer. As I headed home, I reflected on all that big tangle of feelings, and the feelings I had had about those feelings, and I wondered to myself: “Does anyone else feel this way?”

I thought about sharing the poem here, on my blog, in case anyone else did feel this way. I thought about the magic of seeing someone else’s words capture your own unfathomable feelings and how comforting that could be. I thought my own words, rough though they are, might offer reassurance to some other soul that they are not alone in their rage and that they are entitled to it, regardless of whatever big or small or non-existent thing had made them feel those feelings.

I very nearly didn’t share it.

Because after all the feelings and all the thoughts about the feelings came yet more feelings. Fear that I’d be judged for the inadequate reasons for my rage; shame at feeling the rage at all; worry that maybe I really am the only one feeling all these convoluted layers of feeling. And the false good/bad feelings trap snapped shut once more and tried to both cut me off from and imprison me with all this delightful mess of emotion.

But then I reread the poured-right-out-of-me poem and thought: fuck it. We spend too much of our lives trying to think and act and feel and be a certain way. And whilst this might seem laughable as far as acts of defiance go, that’s what I’m calling it anyway. I claim my emotions for what they are: real and valid and messy and sometimes inexplicable. And I’m going to let myself feel what I feel, without owing explanation to anyone.

I encourage you to do the same.

Go gently, or in rage – whatever you need.

J x

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