5 Ways to Write about Your Feelings, with help from Cheryl Strayed and Tiny Beautiful Things

I’ve noticed it’s become common internet parlance to talk about the “feels.” In book blogs, usage is something like this: “this book gave me all of the feels,” or “XYZ_author got me right in the feels.”

Sigh. I get it. It’s easier to say “the feels” than to try to put into words how a book makes you feel.

Well, who doesn't? (via memegenerator.net)

Well, who doesn’t? (via memegenerator.net)

However, it’s also lazy and not all the descriptive. Harsh, I know. Don’t worry though, I’m here to help. You’re welcome.

Because bloggers love lists, I present you with – 5 Ways to Write about Your Feelings, with help from Cheryl Strayed and Tiny Beautiful Things.

1. On the feeling of someone (close to you) calling your bluff and making you realize something about yourself:

I remember that moment precisely – where he was sitting in relation to where I was sitting, the expression on his face when he spoke, the coat I was wearing – because when he said what he said it felt like he’d scooped a hunk of my insides out and showing it to me in the palm of his hand. It wasn’t a good feeling.

A scoop out of your insides, eh? How’s that for your feels?!

2. On unrequited love, and what it does to you:

Then you’d sob and sob and sob so hard you couldn’t stand up until finally you’d go quiet and your head would weigh seven hundred pounds and you’d lift it from your hands and rise to walk into the bathroom to look at yourself solemnly in the mirror and you’d know for sure that you were dead. Living but dead. And all because this person didn’t love you anymore, or even if he/she loved you he/she didn’t want you and what kind of life was that? It was no life. There would be no life anymore. There would only be one unbearable minute after another and during each of those minutes this person you wanted would not want you and so you would being to cry again and you’d watch yourself cry pathetically in the mirror until you couldn’t cry anymore, so you’d stop.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever played out this scenario once or hundred times. Anyone? Anyone?

3. On love in all it’s forms, and possibly the greatest advice ever given:

Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and loaded with promises and commitments that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.

Tackle the motherfucking shit out of love? I know that would be a totally inappropriate line to work into wedding vows, but…

4. On experiencing something incredibly painful and debilitating:

Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

Build your own bridge, because no one is going to do it for you. Sugar tells it like it is…and like you feel.

5. On feeling accomplished after completing something extremely difficult.

Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin words humilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. I had turned thirty-five a few weeks before. I was two months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had to hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.

Pulled a beating heart out of her own chest? Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

How do you feel now, yo?

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin


Published April 1st 2014 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

260 pages

From Goodreads…


On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

I love books about books.  I can’t help it, I just do. We meet A.J. Fikry when he’s in a place of despair.  His book store is failing, his wife is dead, his best friend is a womanizing drunk.  A.J is a grump.  He’s a book snob.  He reminded me of my husband (a former book seller)-who I love dearly-but he is also a book snob (and maybe a grump).

“Everyone thinks they have good taste, but most people do not have good taste.  In fact, I’d argue that most people have terrible taste.  When left to their own devices– literally their own devices–  they read crap and they don’t know the difference.”

How can you not love A.J. Fikry?   We learn what A.J. expects from his books:

    “If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three.”

YES!  I loved that each chapter began with a book review by A.J.  I loved how we learned what books he chose for Island Books changed as he changed himself.  This was a book about books; more importantly it was a book about life, about how we make family and about love.  I think this is one that it is best to read without knowing too many details, so I’ll stop here.  This book made me laugh and made me tear up.  What a life A.J. Fikry had.

One more quote, because as I know I had this experience and I want to know who else did too:

    …”I always wanted to try the Turkish Delight in Narnia.  When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a boy, I used to think that Turkish Delight must be incredibly delicious if it made Edmund betray his family, A.J. says.  I guess I must have told my wife this, because one year Nic gets a box for me for the holidays.  And it turned out to be this powdery, gummy candy.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in my whole life.”

RIGHT?  That stuff is so gross! Such a let down.

Read it and tell if you loved this too! Also-survey please on Turkish Delight.  My husband has never tried it and I’m appalled.  I feel like this disappointment is a milestone in life.

5 stars!!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

Thank you NetGalley and Algonquin Books for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review!

Words I’d Like to Have Written


I often agonize over just the right word to express what I’m trying to say – to the point of ridiculousness. I try not to let my obsession with le mot juste (Bro Ruhl shoutout!) get the best of me, or I’d never get anything done, but I do have a dictionary (a book one, not an internet one) next to my desk for those times when I’m not sure if a word means what I think it means. Inconceivable!

Anyway, when I come across a passage or a paragraph that is full of the perfect combination of words, it makes my heart happy. So here, for your reading pleasure, are a few of the paragraphs that have made huge impressions on me.

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ~Jeffrey Eugenides, in Middlesex

I’ll just let that one speak for itself. Love it.

Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them – a mother’s approval, a father’s nod – are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives. ~ Mitch Albom in The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Okay, I have not read that book, so I can’t speak for the story or the context. I saw a fraction of that quote, the part about the stories as stones upon stones, printed somewhere. I had to search for the full passage online, and I was not disappointed when I found it.

I am a dog, and I know how to fast. It’s a part of the genetic background for which I have such contempt. When God gave men big brains, he took away the pads on their feet and made them susceptible to salmonella. When he denied dogs the use of thumbs, he have them the ability to survive without food for extended periods. While a thumb – one thumb!  – would have been very helpful at that time, allowing me to turn a stupid doorknob and escape, the second best tool, and the one at my disposal, was my ability to go without nourishment… ~ Garth Stein in The Art of Racing in the Rain

Unlike the first two, this quote (and really, the next two pages) are more meaningful as part of the context of the rest of the story. The Art of Racing in the Rain is told from the perspective of the dog, which could definitely be, well, absurd. But, my favorite thing about this book is that Enzo the Dog’s point-of-view completely makes sense. It doesn’t come across as human, and it’s somewhere between “dog” and “how we people completely anthropomorphize our pets.” In this same section, Enzo is faced with a demented stuffed zebra toy. This whole scene is why this book stands out to me – Stein takes a situation – dog is left alone so dog tears something up – and turns the scene around, successfully enough that you not only feel sorry for the dog, but also understand (sort of) his motivation.

Next time my dog eats a blanket (or a door, or a plastic swimming pool, or a box of hot chocolate), I’ll try to remember that.

Any other collectors of favorite passages out there?