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Writing While Angry

It began with the unwanted sexual advances of an older man I trusted in the summer leading up to the 2016 election. It was hot in my apartment when it started, and I had a yeast infection. A lot happened in the year that followed: a loved one was the victim of a violent crime, and some vicious media attention afterwards; I was dating the wrong person; someone with whom I had a complicated relationship died unexpectedly. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, but this wasn’t the ambient, grey listlessness I had known before. Everything was heat, sweat, nausea, motion. I was angry, and I was angry for a long time.

What I could do during this period was read. I was reading widely, and without much discipline, the work of unruly women writers: Audre Lorde, Kate Zambreno, Maggie Nelson, Aisha Sasha John, so many others. No rhyme to it, nor rhythm, just the desire to see sweaty, lived-in language. And I use the term “sweaty”[1] deliberately, in deference to Sarah Ahmed: “A ‘sweaty concept’ might be one that comes out of a bodily experience that is difficult, one that is ‘trying,’ and where the aim is to keep exploring and exposing this difficulty,” she writes. Navigating the calm neutrality with which those in her field—academia—typically write, she argues in favour of a practice that foregrounds the challenges of writing from a body that must fight for its footings. This is writing that does not aim to “eliminate the effort or labour from the writing,” but to expose the real work of writing against sexism, racism, ableism, violence.

“Lately I’ve been incapable of working on things that aren’t deeply, profoundly ugly… And it’s taking a toll on my ability to share my work, but it feels so necessary,” I wrote to my writing group in the lead-up to a blog post we co-wrote on rejection. I only ever ended up finishing one thing during this year, year and a half, of living angrily, a lyrical essay called “Burning at the Close.” I wrote it after being sexually assaulted by a much older man, and I wrote it quickly: in it, I see myself doing the problematic work of rationalizing this man’s actions and taking on his culpability. It’s also about aging, sexual desire, not having children. At no point do I switch to a reflective, writer-at-desk voice; it’s a real-time reaction to a shitty event that occurred at a trying time. “Burning” is hotter than hot, and I’ll never be comfortable with it.

“Burning at the Close” also has the distinction of bookending this time in my life: I wrote it in the ten days or so after having been assaulted, the assault being the catalyzing agent for my anger, and when “Burning” was published by Room in 2017, my anger had largely dissipated. The draft that I submitted to Room was not the version that appeared in print; the editors took a brittle, angry, disjointed essay, and made the editorial choices that I couldn’t sit still enough to do. Anger’s tough to refine into coherence, and I’m grateful to them they had the patience for that work.

I love “Burning at the Close.” It might be the best thing I ever write. It’s definitely the most problematic. But I cherish it for the rules it breaks, for its unabashed meanness. Women are discouraged from writing like this. Women aren’t supposed to make clear the effort of writing from an uncomfortable body. Women aren’t allowed to write while angry.

For a while everywhere I went was sweaty—the world was sweaty—and I swear to you I stewed until I was past tender, just completely broken down. And that’s where I am now, better for having lived my anger, for giving that hot feeling the time and space that it required. Writing is hard, and we do it a disservice with our platitudes—it’s not like riding a bike, nor should we all write every day, and writing cold doesn’t always suit the moment. I’ve given up on trying to hide the struggle. I’m grateful to anger for giving me that.

 

[1] Ahmed, Sarah. 2014. “Sweaty Concepts” https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/02/22/sweaty-concepts/#_ftn1

 


Emily McKibbon is a curator and writer. Her first chapbook, Notes on Photographs, was released by Baseline Press in 2016. “Burning at the Close” was published in a Migration-themed issue of Room (43.1) edited by Nav Nagra.

 

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