artwork for Ellen Parker's foreword

Ellen Parker

I’ll make this short. I don’t/didn’t want to write this foreword. I haven’t wanted to write it for months. I won’t say anything smart, or cite any sources, or quote any experts. Let’s get this done.

First off, who wants to write about shame?

Raising hand. Oh, I do! Can I please write about shame?

I asked a writer friend to write a piece about shame for FRiGG, and she was like, Are you kidding me? No way am I telling people what I’m ashamed of.

I told her she didn’t have to write about her own shame. She could write about someone else’s shame—a person she knows, someone she’s observed. Or she could invent a character and give that character something he or she is ashamed of, something entirely alien, something that has nothing to do with the writer’s own shame.

Making up a character and giving that character a type of shame you’ve never felt is likely not possible. You can try to do it, sure, but you won’t do it well.

I didn’t tell her this.

(The writer who didn’t want to write about shame, she wrote about shame. What she wrote is here, and she wrote it well. No, it’s not the essay by “Anonymous.” You can guess which piece belongs to this writer, but I’ll bet you’re wrong.)

My theory is that shame arises for reasons that pertain to your own internal arrangement, your past experiences, and your present situation: (1) you haven’t done something you should have done or (2) you have done something, but you should not have done it.

Actually, three. (3) You have done something you should have done, but you haven’t done it well enough.

Number 3 is my category. I’m a genius at Number 3. And what sort of person has this shame produced? Someone who is brilliant at pointing out all the ways everything is wrong.

This foreword is going on far too long.

But there’s a Number 4. How could I have left it for last? This is the shame you feel as a result of the words or actions coming from one person or two people or three or more—parents, family, classmates, co-workers, friends, neighbors, voices on Twitter, members of a socioeconomic group or a political party, folks who identify with a particular race/gender/religion/sexual preference, citizens inhabiting a region or a nation or a coalition of nations—hell, why not go global? The population of whole wide goddamned freakin’ world. Some of these people’s words, their actions, the faces they make, the fists they raise, they cut you to pieces. The converse of this: these same people’s silence. Why would anyone say anything to you? Why would people even look your way? You’re repulsive. You’re unworthy. You’re not even there.

I’m writing this in late November 2016, and Americans have just elected, to serve as president of the United States, a man who has no shame. One of the reasons so many Americans voted for this man (I’m hypothesizing) is that such a species—a person without shame—is so fascinating, so riveting, and so rare, that millions of people who have felt shame every day of their lives have seized the chance to closely observe, and emulate, and be led by a person who can show them how to say what they want to say, how to do what they want to do, how to believe what they want to believe, how to want what they want to want—no matter how selfish, how divisive, how hurtful, how demeaning, how ruinous, how criminal, how murderous—how to live their lives by power-walking among other people, taking anything they want, shouting whatever words they’ve heard, looking past lesser mortals, annihilating those who would stand in their way … and for all of the years they’re alive, and all of the hours they’re dying, these people are, in their minds and their bodies, undisturbed, free, clean, with no second thoughts, no ambivalence, no specters—they are blissfully exempt from the experience of shame and all of its bite, its sorrow, its remorse, its complications, its redemption, its humanity.

Say hiya to America’s new president, a melon-headed biped who feels no shame, and greetings to the citizens who voted for him—not all of them, but more than a few—because, in their hearts, they want to mirror him.

Just a theory.

Good god, what am I doing knee-deep in this big muddy? For this foreword, I was aiming, max, for toe-deep.

In some of the pieces here, the theme of shame is obvious. Others, not as much. (Look a little closer, perhaps. The shame is there.) Some of the work shows people feeling shame, some of it shows people (deliberately or not) shaming others, some if it shows people in situations in which we think they should feel shame, but they don’t—or, rather, they’re not displaying shame in ways we recognize.

The population of our world, at this writing, is approximately 7.4 billion. There are, then, 7.4 billion ways, give or take, to experience shame. The number of contributors to this issue is 35. So, we’ve left out some people. Tons more work should have been included. (Shame!) There are continents of voices—billions—we’ve left unheard. (Shame!)

This is what I should have said here, and only this: Of the 7.4 billion voices in the world that might speak of all the ways to experience shame, here are 35.

Table of Contents

FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | Fall/Winter 2016 | The Shame Issue