Discover more from THE FEELING by Kate Carraway
THE FEELING: The Self-Imaginary
A new way of thinking about being. Plus: a Q&A with Monica Heisey, food delivery, and lip balm
I’m not going to actually understand the work of Jacques Lacan until I have silver hair waving down my back (what are my tattoos going to eventually… look like…) and am wearing double denim on my horse farm in the hills above Laguna Beach (my golden-era fantasy includes straight LARPing a woman I met who lived on a horse farm in the hills above Laguna Beach), but his theory of “the imaginary,” and other social imaginaries, have helped me approach a phenomenology of wellness, at least just for me. (I have been thinking about Lacan’s “lack” for, oooooooooh, a decade, and my conclusion is: the FUCK?)
“Wellness” is, properly, an industry, but it’s used to describe something that is quite separate, which is the pursuit of something about the self. Something… what? Something closer to what’s possible, is what I think, something that both understands a person is whole and perfect just as they are, just in the fact of their existence, AND also that a person has to be trusted to express and go after what they know is possible, part of that existence, already in them, and not about “improvement” of a damaged or wanting soul, but heavy-acknowledges the ways in which everything about contemporary life is ideated, designed, manufactured, marketed, sold, and shipped direct-to-consumer from the Imperialist White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy Warehouse just off Highway 5, all with the intention of blasting the delicate creature in its crosshairs. That’s you.
The first “wellness,” the industry and all the stuff, is so successful because it is, of course, the only body of product that doesn’t even need an immortality metaphor. Youth and health and faith and forever-ever just IS the thing.
(Criticizing “Wellness, The Industry: The Wellnessing” is just fine by me, but the expanding galaxies of criticism around wellness, part two, the pursuit of feeling good and feeling better, and feeling safe and seen and cared for, are so sad and stupid and misogynist and mean. Why dismantle what sucks about something without considering what it’s there for, achieving and providing, that nothing else does? That other arenas, like governments and the medical establishment and school and families and relationships, are supposed to do? And don’t!)
The second wellness — still called “wellness”! And shouldn’t be! We’re getting there! — is outside of commerce and capitalization, and is closer to religion, or psychology, and also maybe art or medicine or material culture, but it’s mostly outside of an existing taxonomy. Basically, because it’s something that matters mostly to women, no one gives a shit.
The “imaginary” to Lacan is one-third of the way the self is conceptualized; first is “the real” (which is what is… real, but, specifically real to you, and this is the most interesting bit from a psychotherapy perspective but also what I struggle with the most, rude) and then the “symbolic” (language and meaning, signs and symbols, etc. etc. etc.) and then “the imaginary” (Reality Plus, or, seeing — and maybe also feeling? I don’t know? — yourself in context as an abstraction or idea, making use of the symbolic).
Nobody email me to correct me on any of that, let me just be perfect on this, okay?
The self-imaginary, then, can be a way of conceiving, or perceiving, of the ways in which we are in context to just ourselves, or, how our selves are in context to… us. The subject and object, subjectivity and objectivity, are the same dude, and that dude perceiving and being perceived at once. Fun, right?
What this offers is a framework for understanding the… stuff, the up-levelled, glowy stuff, the peace and rightness, that is already inside of us, in our wholeness and enough-ness. It sanctifies what is already ineffable and forever and ours, just, there, available to be understood and accessed. So, sure, there is “work” of many stripes that can be used to more reliably see it, use it, integrate it, whatever — mindfulness, meditation, pursuing privacy and silence and solitude and boundaries; just fucking vibing out — but it’s already there. The self-imaginary collects and codifies our existing self-possession, self-fulfillment, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem.
I’m not being cute. It’s there. It’s in every animal, every spirit. Recognizing the various ways in which it is crushed and diminished, and sanctifying it, a priori anything else, is the currently, just, absent basis for a kind of work that is usually understood to be silly, girly, weak, pointless, or about responding to other people and other systems. (Patriarchy, duh.) Maybe it’s about self-ejection, too: removal from those systems.
Making use of the self-imaginary establishes that it isn’t the self that needs improving, because it was born good; it’s the circumstances around the self that might — or might not! — need to change, ranging from, I don’t know, pajamas to personal habits to relationships to heterocapitalism.
It is the way we sense and access what is possible for ourselves, what we are owed and due, our highest state of being, not according to external, shitty metrics, but: what is the fullest, rightest expression of ourselves, which is already here, already enough, already enough beyond enough? It is about meeting yourself as purely and for-really as possible.
THE FEELING Q&A: MONICA HEISEY
I already wrote this on Instagram Stories, which is not so much my “diary” (that would be THE FEELING Diary) as it is my “one-person group chat” but I told my husband that Monica Heisey’s debut novel Really Good, Actually — which is about a young woman’s divorce, but really about the searching that happens, through pivots and corrections and strangeness and leaps and grabs, in the first half of adulthood — would be really good (I will assertively refrain from the obvious joke here) because Monica is so smart and funny. I knew it, and I was right, because I always am. The other day I said I was going to nap and, instead, read her book in bed, and it was exactly right: usually, fast-’n’-fun fiction is not so real and so warm and so familiar. She is currently filming a TV show that she wrote, and her novel comes out on January 17th. (You can pre-order it here.)
What do you want to say about what you “do”?
God I don't want to say much. I feel like people let writers talk way too much as it is. What I say when pressed is that I am a comedy writer. If I'm drunk I will add that I love my job and feel very lucky to get to do it for a living. If I'm really drunk I'll add that both my sisters are nurses and I definitely have a complex about how much more useful and necessary their work is in the world than mine.
What is a good habit that you’ve recently formed?
I found out a few years ago I had poor tongue posture. Had no idea this was a thing. It was my dream diagnosis though: a problem that was very easy to correct. Basically I just had to remember to stick my tongue up to the roof of my mouth whenever I noticed it wasn't there, and now that's where it goes naturally. I wish every problem was as simple as “adjusting as and when you remember.”
What do you find most challenging in a relationship?
Balancing how much I like being alone with how much I like being with my partner. I basically want two of me, one to spend all day lying around, taking baths, reading, and feeding myself odd fruit-based snacks while speaking to no one, and a second one to koala onto Stephen's back and whisper in his ear all day trying to make him laugh.
What is your most unwelcome feeling?
I do not like to know about a problem and not be working towards fixing it. I am not good at “sitting in discomfort” if the discomfort seems... fixable. I especially loathe when the fix is obvious but not being attempted.
Are you in therapy? If so, what does it do for you? If not, why not?
I've been in therapy on and off since I was 25. I love therapy and wish it was available to everyone. The protagonist of my novel is very therapy-negative and in a way I think the entire novel is like a nightmare version of what my divorce might have been like if I hadn't already had a longstanding relationship with my therapist. So I guess what it does for me is make me feel capable of making difficult choices, of treating myself and those in my life with appropriate care.
Where is your phone when you sleep?
Sometimes beside my bed, sometimes in a bowl in the kitchen with a lid on top of it. I prefer it in the kitchen. I have started to refer to my phone as “my enemy,” and I mean this very literally. I do not want to be around it and think it is almost fully evil.
Are you a crier?
Hell yeah, baby! Happy, sad, hungry, hormonal, moved, sleepy, excited... you better believe I'm crying about it!
THE FEELING Diary is my monthly bonus edition and people who subscribe are cool and fun and good-looking. (If you’d like a subscription but can’t afford it, email me and I’ll set it up.)
I was super busy this week and got food delivered a bunch of times (three? But that’s nothing, compared to how I have previously done things, like when I lived on top of Pusateri’s and had coffee and orange juice and their turkey-and-brie croissant brought up to my apartment all the time; once I had them send up two issues of the new Vogue because I had to go on the radio the next morning to talk about a story ((but like, why two?))), and what I mean is, I’m down, way down, to throw an additional bag of coins at a problem, but also, it’s like no matter how much I shop, how many groceries I bring into this house, I never have enough protein. Never enough. And I wonder if I don’t buy enough because I don’t like touching uncooked meat, or cooking meat, in particular, or cooking, or doing anything beyond “opening one thing and reaching inside of it” when I’m bizzeeeee, and am setting myself up to have to order something??? Sneaky-like?
Me: “Are your people posting their Spotify Wrapped on social media?” Simon: “I don’t know what that is. Would I have to be on Spotify?” And… scene.
I bought my friend the ILIA balmy tint hydrating lip balm, and it’s been sitting in my front hallway, but then I needed some moisture and couldn’t lay hands on any of my own stuff, so I went fucking nuts and ripped opened the package and used it myself, sorry to Dirt who was the intended recipient, but as a scholar of lip gloss I can say that this one is a triumph: silky-cushiony balm with a lot of lasting pigment (I’m pretty done with matte pigments that just lay on top of the lip like a pillow queen in product form, not that I have much standing to speak out against pillow queens). I got Lady, but Lullaby, Heartbeats and Wanderlust look good too. (And here we have supplementary material on why being a straight cis no-makeup guy-guy would be just the worst: in what part of their own life are they ever encountering moondust glitter gel in “Sparklepony”??? Nowhere! Grim as hell, baby.)
I didn’t so much “like” this tweet as I live for it: “They should have coffee trucks like they have ice cream trucks. At like 4 o’clock a goofy ass van drives around blasting Paper Bag by Fiona Apple so sad adults can run out of their apartments for oat lattes.” Very “worldview,” no?
This is where YOU tell ME something, which is what other Substacks (yes, specifically, Substacks! Benevolent overlords, good company man, etc. etc. etc.!) you subscribe to that have anything at all to do with wellness, relationships, feelings, identity, the self, self-help, self-improvement (barf barf barf), self-care, the universe, I don’t know, organizing your tumbling shoe pile, whatever we get into here. I’ve been having sweet, clean fun adding Substacks that I like to my “Recommended” section and would like to know about more.
“We ‘want’ self-care to be something realistic, ‘manageable,’ because that is the way of best practices, of harm reduction, of bringing it to everyone, of responding to important considerations around access and privilege. But I want to think about it in imaginary terms. Fantastical terms. I keep coming back to ‘exquisite’: delicacy, fully realized. I am wondering, just experimentally, what would even be involved in leveling up my self-care at this point, and to take it on as part of my life, the same way that art and marriage and work and family and love are part of my life. As a human orb of care and love and fun, at my very best, I feel that I have the capacity to experiment with infinity, here, and I’ve seen other people — fucking weirdos, but identifiable people — make sweeping power moves, and keep them going, full-time all-in shit, toward their own good feeling. Mine will look different, I know, but what would it look like?” — me, in 2020.
Here is how I drink water: instead of focusing on drinking water, I focus on filling up cups of water. So, when I’m done taking my 800 supplements in the morning, I refill my water cup, and take it with me wherever I’m going, and just leave it there. And then a few hours later when I let the dog in or out of the back door, I get another cup water. And then! Later! I will encounter these waters where they have been abandoned, and drink them all at once. If I intend to drink water, it won’t happen, but finding a cup of water I have left for myself, like the folded twenty in a winter-coat pocket, is a treat, not a task.
I love you.
“If you enjoy 20 minutes of your day, I think that’s pretty good. I think if you enjoy 30 minutes you’re basically a Buddha.” — Mike Birbiglia, who is a comedian and the host of one of my fave pods, Working it Out; this is from the Bill “BDE” Hader edition
I have been asked to “remind” people who I “am” because I guess some people sign up kind of randomly and can’t tell their newsys apart? Also to include more pictures but for now my big pumpkin face from when I was crying in a hotel room at TIFF is up there somewhere. So: Kate is a writer (New York Times, ELLE, VICE, GQ, etc.) who lives in downtown Toronto with her husband Simon, her daughter Strawberry, and her dog Jem. She is into warm and cozies, fun and sillies, weirds and wonderfuls, little nices, happy garbage, treasure and trolling.