072. I Just Have A Lot of Feelings
This episode is about feelings, and romance novels, and hope, and anger, and powerlessness, and the year 2020.
This episode is about feelings, and romance novels, and hope, and anger, and powerlessness, and the year 2020.
- Sign up for the email newsletter list | Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Email: Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com
- Romancelandia Holiday Fairies Gift Drive (2020)
- Check out Shelf Love’s website including the transcript for this episode
- Shelf Love episodes with transcripts
I mentioned Jayashree Kamble's idea of "the media romance," which she writes about in Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction (on sale until 12/31/20 for $20!) She also writes about it in her chapter in the Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction "Romance in the Media."
Thank you to beta listeners for this episode: Hannah Hearts Romance, Jhen, and Madison
I just have a lot of feelings
[00:00:00] Andrea Martucci: Hello and welcome to episode 72 of Shelf Love, a podcast where we have thought provoking, critical discussions about literature's most polarizing genre: romance novels. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And today I don't have a guest. This episode is about feelings and romance novels, and hope, and anger, and powerlessness, and the year 2020.
And although this episode is about feelings, I feel compelled to share my intellectual journey towards realizing that.
Let's start here. There's this thing that happens when I talk to people on the podcast. And it's also exactly why I usually like to talk to people for the podcast. I've noticed two huge benefits for advancing my own understanding of topics.
So number one, hearing somebody else's perspective on something that I've thought about helps me to see the problems from a new angle that I may not have considered without their help.
This seems like the obvious benefit of talking to other people, right? You can bounce ideas back and forth, and both people are considering new things. And usually this new insight is gained from listening to the answers that my partner is contributing to the conversation.
Number two was more surprising to me, which is the result of being asked questions that somehow unearth things for me that I didn't even know I was feeling or thinking. What happens is somebody will just ask a question, and the answer that pops out of my mouth is not something that I have consciously thought about, but it just pops out and I'm like, Oh, wow. I didn't realize I felt like that, but now that I've said it, I totally feel like that. And that's a very incisive comment that I never would have come up with if I sat down and thought about it.
So at the end of May 2020, I was recording an episode with Katrina Jackson. This was a rough time. We were about two months into the pandemic and it was days after George Floyd was murdered on camera and protests were beginning to make the news and happen across the U S.
So Katrina and I are sort of skirting around talking about what's going on and we're talking about what we've been up to. And the night before I had watched Contagion, which is a star-studded movie from 2011, that's basically a disaster movie version of a pandemic story. And it's all a little too on the [00:02:30] nose.
So I'm telling Kat about this.
(clip from episode with Kat)
It is so prescient. All the plot points, you're like, Oh. And then somebody is like peddling a drug that actually isn't helpful, but people start hoarding. And people in government unwilling to make hard choices because it's going to mess up the economy.
And then Kat asks this question.
Katrina Jackson: That's hard. I don't know how you, how did you get through that?
Andrea Martucci: I think the way I get through most things in life by dissociating my emotions from what's happening?
Katrina Jackson: This is sadly relatable.
Oh my God. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: I have emotions, but.
Katrina Jackson: You just don't process them.
Andrea Martucci: I'm like, let me examine this logically and then it will make sense to me.
Afterward, I thought about that moment a lot because wow. I guess I do dissociate my emotions from a lot of things and sort of wear that fact like a badge of honor, or I dismiss feelings like I'm above the need to feel emotions, as if I can logic them away. It's probably a really elaborate anxiety defense mechanism. And we know that people keep doing what's worked for them past the point at which it's working for them . But somehow hearing myself say that the only way I can deal with the world is to not have feelings about it. Well, you know, that didn't really feel like I was succeeding.
So then I got to thinking, because let's be honest, I may have had this realization, but I didn't immediately turn over a new leaf and give up my bag of tricks. And what I started thinking about was, is this why I'm so interested in reading romance novels?
A lot of readers identify hope as what they're seeking when they read romance novels. You can escape into this world that's either completely different from your own, or maybe very similar to your own. But unlike real life, you're guaranteed that things will end up better than they started. That's hope in a nutshell.
And I'm sure that's part of the appeal for me too, but I started to wonder, how much of what I like seeing in romance novels is that intimacy with characters' thoroughly explored emotions?
I get to peer inside their hearts and minds, see characters recognize their own emotions, express them to other people and navigate important journeys of self discovery. Some of these emotions are related to love, sex, and romance. Some of these are familial [00:05:00] emotions of love. Some of these are feelings about injustice or work or career or having children or dealing with tragedy.
The format of the novel and the romance novel in particular is incredibly dedicated to the idea of sharing the internality of the character with the reader.
And I think I can diagnose perhaps multiple reasons why this is particularly alluring to me, and maybe some of this sounds like you too, or maybe not.
Number one, I grew up in a family that was very much like, Oh, are you experiencing an emotion? You need to buck up and get over it because life's tough kiddo. So I don't know if I quite learned emotional literacy and how to be in tune with my emotions growing up.
Number two, I can not disregard that there is a bit of internalized misogyny going on here. In the patriarchal society that we live in - we live in a patriarchal society - we're told that excess emotion and sentimentality are associated with things that are undesirable. Intellectually capable people don't dwell in emotion, according to that line of thinking. So emotions and sentimentality are feminized and in a hierarchy they're placed below the importance of logic and being emotionally contained, which is associated with power.
This, not coincidentally, is one of the mainstream critiques of the romance genre from those who usually have never read one. And the critique is basically that because romance novels deal with emotions that they're for women only, and that they must be silly and not for serious powerful people, not even serious powerful women.
Again, this is, you know, the mainstream critique of what Jayashree Kamble calls "the media romance," which is not really what romance is, it's kind of people's perception of romance. And of course, I know that that's all bullshit, but underneath my intellectual understanding that that's bullshit, do I act as if I believe it a little bit, that if I'm too emotional, I'm just a silly person who shouldn't be taken seriously or shouldn't be believed to be competent?
I have never hidden that I'm an avid reader of romance in any of my workplaces. So to a certain extent, I refuse to allow those gender essentialist stereotypes to influence how proudly I proclaim my love of the genre. But, maybe wrapped up in that there is an element of me thinking that I'm confronting other people's stereotypes by loving romance, but also being very [00:07:30] logical and not at all what you'd think of someone who reads romance.
So as always it's complicated and none of us, definitely not I, can escape the socialization that we have been inundated with since birth. As much as I intellectually understand that feelings are good, healthy, et cetera, I think it's hard for me to actually practice that day-to-day. And so I tend to revert to this state where I'm hiding the fact that I have emotions, not just from other people, but from myself.
Because I also subscribe to, this is basically number three, post-modern cynicism and sarcasm because after all we know that the fairy tale isn't real and to believe in it means that you've been hoodwinked. You're naive and unsophisticated and, perhaps worst of all, uncool.
And so here I am present day, Andrea, realizing just how emotionally constipated I am and trying to reconcile that with my love for a genre that is about 99% emotion. I have praised romance novels, like specific ones, for the emotional modeling that I read in them.
Wow. It's so great to see people communicate like this. Wouldn't it be amazing if we all did this in real life?
And I do want to say that I'm literally a professional communicator. I work in marketing and we can unpack that another day, but that's just to say that I'm actually fairly good at communicating generally, particularly transactional information, or even sitting down and logically thinking through what emotional messaging I can write to get somebody to take action.
But understanding and communicating my own emotions. Ewww, I have a tendency to shut down pretty quickly just because I think I get overwhelmed pretty quickly. So there's a vicarious thrill I get, when I read about characters having healthy, positive communication, and seeing models for people expressing and articulating and identifying various emotions and expressing the ways that they feel about things. That exposes me to different ways of feeling about things.
And I don't think that the point is that one has to feel the same way the characters do, but even just opening my mind to the possibility that certain emotions could exist, I'm not seeing how I need to feel. I'm seeing how I can feel.
Seeing how this character feels about something and getting an unvarnished view of their thought process helps me broaden my understanding of what feelings are possible on a particular topic.
This podcast is really [00:10:00] in many ways an exercise in me needing to talk through the emotions that I'm reading on the page with another human being. Every romance builds a world and sharing the experience with someone else, of asking questions, like, what does this construction of this story's world expose about the world that we live in and how should we feel about it? Or how could we feel about it? And really pulling out all sorts of emotions about everything that we're living and experiencing as humans caught in the human condition.
I'm sure that exploration is part of what initially attracted me to romance novels over 20 years ago, in addition to the titillation of the naughty scenes, which were the initial main appeal as a 13 year old, I must admit.
But now my reading isn't a solitary act, unlike 20 years ago. And in doing this podcast and having these deep conversations with other people about all of these things, I think I'm now finding a way to articulate and access my own questions, and let's be honest, confusion about all of the things that I've been reading.
And I think anybody who has listened to the progress of this podcast, either in real time, or if you go back to the beginning and listened to it in order, I think you can see this progression happened pretty clearly where I come in thinking the podcast is going to be one thing, start having conversations and realize that I really have particular questions that I want to dig into more and other things that I became less interested in talking about.
One of the things that has emerged is I've zoomed way up from a close reading model of one particular book at a time, and generally allowed myself to just think through the patterns that are emerging across texts, and to talk about why these patterns appeal to readers, and you know me, because I am a reader.
And that's why I love to bring in people who can bring additional insight, like people who have done research on something and they can bring it to the table and give different disciplines' perspectives on these questions.
Because I think that as much as I love romance novels as a mode of entertainment, I think that really, I also see it as a lens into understanding. Because they're so fantastic at expressing emotions, they're a way to understand how I could feel about everything else in my life, from neo-liberalism to identity and what gives life meaning, and what is love, but a cultural script that we're indoctrinated into, and how do we form relationships with other people in communities? [00:12:30] And why are these relationships so sacred to us?
I think romance novels can explore literally anything because they're literally just human stories, even when all the characters are aliens from another planet.
And I think this is why I've started to question the commonly-heard mantra within the romance community that, of course we as readers can separate fantasy from reality. And yeah, obviously I don't think werewolves exist and I don't actually want to be captured by a pirate. But underneath even the zaniest premise of a romance novel, readers are looking for that human story and emotional journey. And even when those emotions are amped up for drama or have less nuance than the intersecting and complicated ones that we feel as quote unquote real people, I think that there are many parts of romance novels that we do see as models or representations of reality.
And don't worry. I will definitely be coming back to explore fantasy versus reality in more detail in 2021, I have reading material coming in the mail, but for now I want to talk about the year 2020 and the feelings that I've been having.
I can very easily place my finger on the anger that I have felt this year, which was a culmination of many years of growing anger, not just because of what was happening in the world around me, but also my growing awareness generally about the larger forces at play in my life, which I will chalk up to reaching a certain age and life stage.
This year, I have felt angry and really helpless to do anything about the things that I'm angry about. And anger is a bit of a crude emotion. And I think it tends to be an emotion that blocks us from feeling like we have power and agency in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
So when I'm angry, I do feel stuck. And then I think I feel like my option is either to be in a lather all the time or disengage and fall into apathy, because what can I do besides be angry? And for me, this seems to be the real dangerous zone because when I don't push past my feelings of anger to understand more about the root cause of my anger, which is hard because you have to sit with things that are infuriating, but if I don't push past it, then I can't identify what I do have power over.
Big problems are not one person jobs. And so I think it's often hard for all of us who are limited by our narrow perspectives [00:15:00] of big problems, to be able to break down those big problems until they get small enough for us to do something about it.
Anger is often a response to powerlessness, but you create your power. Nobody can give it to you. Oftentimes, I think the problems that I'd like to see solved mean tearing down the existing power structure, not moving into it. So I think one way of addressing the anger and powerlessness we feel is to redefine what power can look like.
Many of you have heard of the Romancing The Runoff effort. And I've talked about it on the podcast before. I think this is a fantastic example of harnessing the collective anger of a community and focusing it on something tangible and bite-sized that they, we could control.
Nobody gave Bree, Donna, Alyssa, and Courtney that power. They created it and seeing that inspired me to think about what I could do.
I mentioned last week that I started this mutual aid effort that we're calling Romancelandia Holiday Fairies, and the Holiday Fairies bit was a direct rip off of something that Kit Rocha has done in the past for their reader community.
I mostly followed the model that Kit Rocha had set up withBree's blessing. Bree is of course, half of Kit Rocha, or as some news media inaccurately reported during Romancing the Runoff, one quarter of Kit Rocha .
I positioned it as a way for people in the romance community to help other people in the romance community. But you know, there's like no test.
And the gist of it is that anybody who needs some material help can submit an Amazon wishlist. And I collect all those links on one page. People can go browse the lists and buy things that then get sent directly to the people who asked for the stuff. Of course, as I mentioned, I work in marketing, so I've tried to bring a few bells and whistles to the promotional aspects of this, because that's how I can utilize my particular skillset to add value and get the word out .
But at its core, it's a way for people to give directly to one another, with as few barriers and as little administrative overhead as possible. And although I kicked things off this year, this has been a true community effort. People have been so generous with sharing, buying, volunteering their time in various ways, and using their platforms to broadcast the message and bring more people into the fold.
So there's Candace Harper, a romance writer who has been helping with graphics and [00:17:30] writing copy to galvanize getting gifts. There's Bree from Kit Rocha, who has created a Discord community, where I was able to bring this idea and it basically was an idea incubator. Plus of course, Bree provided a fabulous model to work from, because why reinvent the wheel.
And then there are also some fantastic authors and organizations who have stepped up to sponsor wishlists, which means that they are highlighting one or two wishlist specifically to share with their email newsletter or social media following.
Wishlist sponsors include Dame Jodie Slaughter Roan Parrish Torrance Sene , Elizabeth Everett, The Bawdy Bookworms, RomBkPod, and the SmexyBooks team.
And so I started working on this Holiday Fairies gift drive and I'm like, woo, I'm not powerless. I can do something. Take that anger. And I'm adding wishlists, I'm making Canva graphics. People are sharing it and telling me that they're buying stuff.
And I'm like, wow, this is going great. There are 61 wishlists on the page. And it seems like it's working. People started making purchases for other people, which is the goal. I'm like, awesome.
And then I started hearing from people who were getting packages in the mail and here's where the story returns to feelings because this past weekend I'm relaxing on the couch and I get an email and it's from one of the wishlist recipients.
And the writer of this email is telling me a little bit about their situation and how much this means to them and their family to be receiving gifts from their wishlist. And here's a paragraph that I have permission to share:
" I will be eternally grateful to you for what this opportunity grants me. It allows me the chance to gift to my children and use that money for groceries and necessities for the bathroom. I'm able to craft and give them some sense of normalcy. Santa will happen in our house because of you and others like you, who adopt families like mine that are isolated, weary, scared, and needed someone to shine a light for us. You gave me back hope and showed me that humans are still kind."
And so I was a mess, and I'm kind of a mess now. I literally can not read this without crying.
And, you know, maybe this sounds emotionally constipated, which, you [00:20:00] know I am, but I was surprised by how many emotions this message brought up for me.
Surprise that seemingly small acts can have such a big impact on the recipient. Sadness that people face unexpected health challenges and economic insecurity. Happiness and pride that I was able to facilitate this for them. And shame that I don't do more and that I can't always do more.
These are not abstractions. And it's just all too much.
Intellectually, I understand why it's hard to look too closely at the struggles and suffering of other people who live among us in the world. And one defense mechanism against that secondhand pain is to try to find a rational explanation that helps explain why this can't happen to you.
Neo liberal rhetoric and culture teaches us to believe that we all get what we deserve based on how hard we work or how good or deserving we are.
And that's bullshit.
Misfortune can happen to any one of us. And every person deserves help, no matter how quote unquote good or deserving we judge them to be. If you look too hard at bad things, you have to realize that you're not safe from those things either. So we shy away. I shy away.
And another word for that emotional dissociation is apathy.
Is it possible that romance novels as stories that explore emotion and emotional growth have to end up at hope? Hope that when you feel powerless, that if you can recognize and honor your feelings, you may see that there is something you can do, you just haven't figured it out yet? Because when you believe there can be a different way instead of accepting "it is what it is," you're empowering yourself to take action and actually change things for the better.
Maybe you're changing things for yourself, which is enough. Maybe you're changing things for one other person, which is also enough. But maybe it also could be bigger than that.
Thanks for listening to episode 72 of Shelf Love. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com. To learn more and get all the details about Romancelandia Holiday Fairies, you can go to bit.ly/romancelandia, or there's a post on the blog section of shelflovepodcast.com.
[00:22:30] Another way to get there is to follow the link in the show notes. But if you are trying to remember something right now, the easiest thing to remember might be bit.ly/romancelandia.
Please continue spreading the word about this, and you can still sponsor a wishlist or two in your email newsletter.
Stay tuned for my next episode. I think it's going to be The Secular Scripture because I think that leaves some good foundation for some later conversations I'm having. So stay tuned for Dr. Angela Toscano, who joins me to deconstruct the very structure of romance.
Thank you so much for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to email@example.com.
This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's Joyless Hag editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson and Tasha L. Harrison.
That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.