I have often wondered if one could write about emotions one has not experienced. Given our capacity for imagination, we can most probably extrude any feeling by getting into the head of the subject, provided that the personality of the character has been well drawn so that the emotions are believable.
In this excerpt below is self-loathing so visceral, and to many, so familiar. It is the demon that dwells in all of us, waiting for that moment to surface and wreck everything we had tried to achieve.
In this story, the protagonist, Josif, who is only fourteen years old, has applied to go to a Lyceum, and has been accepted. He has had to assume a different name and identity because Jews were only admitted to university according to a rigid quota system in Russia. Unfortunately he runs into someone who knows his former identity, and his real name, and his world comes crashing down:
I felt like crying; my good cheer and fortune were now like ashes in my mouth.
“Fool!” I thought and hit myself on the side of the head. “Fool! Fool! Idiot fool!” The litany of self hatred and despair gripped me as firmly as of old, and I struggled to calm myself.
Stepan Koshinski was a dangerous man. He could reveal my true identity and my life would be ruined. I would be sent to the Pale, I would never be educated, I would become one of those Jews who were doomed to wander the earth with no real home. Perhaps I should go to Israel, I thought. I could always go and live with Rabbi Shmuel and Rebecca. No, the other voice of reason retorted, you have the paperwork proving your identity, you have been accepted into the Lyceum, you have a sister and brother-in-law; family, Josif, you have family. But they are not my blood! my mind argued. They are not my people my mind screamed. WHO AM I? I am nothing, a piece of shit floating in a toilet bowl of nothingness, to be flushed away as quickly and efficiently as the law demanded. That is who you are, Josif, a nothing. Fuck, fuck, fuck…I rocked back and forth cursing and swearing, wanting to claw my face and annihilate myself, to be the nothing I knew myself to be.
Hot tears dripped out of my eyes and wiped them away, furious with myself for falling into this state. I felt an arm around my shoulder and looked up to see Nadya.
Drawing upon the angst of teenagers, this is a silent, but universal feeling that grips humanity;seldom talked about, it is always there, lurking in the shadowy world of the fragile ego, the curse and the cross we all carry within us.
It is the cry for help that sticks in our throats and cannot be uttered; the shame of the pain of being.
On that somber note, authors, you have to go into your own depths to find the right words, to create that character that stands out from the multitude of fictional personae that have graced thousands of pages of literature. If you have not suffered sorrow, joy, love and hate, you have not been fully human…
Painting by Edvard Munch, “The Scream”