Facing “Unbearable” Feelings as an Artist

For me, part of facing “unbearable” feelings has to do with my career aspirations. I come from a family of artists. As a young person I watched family members get a lot of public attention while simultaneously not having much attention for me (or the other children in the family).

Being dismissed by and disconnected from a family member felt humiliating, but I decided that I didn’t need to feel that because one day I would command just as much public attention. Over the years I piled more desperation onto the dream of artistic success and how it would rescue me from classism, sexism, racism, parents’ oppression, and more.

I am a writer, most recently a novelist. It has been key for me to separate the goodness of my work from the desperation mentioned above. The reality is that my work is powerful, re-emergent, and based on a vision of liberation, particularly for women of the Global Majority. (The world would be a better place if everyone read books like mine that have carefully crafted RC theory and characters who find contradiction to their distresses and discharge.)

It’s good for me to fight for as big an audience as possible for my work. At the same time, I need to be on alert not to pursue my career in a desperate and unsustainable way. Doing so is a sign that I am probably on the run [trying to escape] from unbearable feelings.

Uncertainty, setbacks, failures, rejections, and delays in my career all restimulate early feelings of humiliation. The pattern says, “Work harder, push yourself more; you have to break through to the next level in your career.” But it doesn’t make sense to pursue success on top of the old hurts. And I can’t be so busy chasing the “dream” that I avoid Co-Counseling sessions and discharging on the early “unbearable” material [distress].

It’s been tricky [complicated and confusing] to have this material as a woman of the Global Majority. For many Global Majority women, trying to make a big impact on the world contradicts early distresses; for some it’s even a contradiction to watch my enthusiasm (desperation?) as I pursue having a big life. But it’s not a contradiction for me.

In RC we often talk about not being timid in the world. My material has seized on that idea, and I have had to ask myself, “Is this sustainable? Am I taking care of my body? Do I have a strong team around me?”

Recently I was working on an early setback and got to something about isolation. I had a great re-evaluation: that it is more important to have a crew of people close to me as I work on a particular project than to achieve any particular marker of success. Here was my direction: “I’d rather have the team than the win.” I cried and cried.

Aya de Leon

Berkeley, California, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
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Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00