Cary Tennis After Hours

Musings, outtakes and daydreams

Cary Tennis

Cary Tennis
San Francisco, California, USA
September 11
Since You Asked advice columnist
Cary Tennis writes the Since You Asked advice column for He also leads writing workshops and runs a small publishing company. He lives in the Outer Sunset/Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Francisco with his wife Norma, who is a painter and book designer, and their two standard poodles, Lola and Ricky.


JUNE 19, 2010 12:40AM

Writing comes from feeling

Rate: 9 Flag

Whenever I am stuck, as I am now, I am lucky if I can recall that writing comes from feeling. Whenever I am trying to relate a circumstance or string out a narrative, describe an incident, portray an emotion, show a face, take you with me somewhere, if I am stuck it is almost always because I have lost or failed to contact the feeling of the thing.

I am writing because of a feeling but I have been taught to tell the circumstances, the facts. So being a good student I try to focus on the circumstances and the facts and I go dead. I can only tell you things that matter to me if I focus on the feeling. 

So for instance my proton beam therapy treatments at Loma Linda Hospital are interesting; the way I fit into my pod every afternoon and am slid into the cone-like space for treatment, the way the giant cone revolves around me so the proton beam can be positioned precisely, the way the ratiation therapists chat as they raise or lower my pod, insert or remove the heavy lead blocks whose centers are carved out to the exact size of the treatment field, the way I often doze off in the pod as the diffuser wheel whines and the beeps of the proton blasts bleep ... all these things I want to tell you but I have to start with the feeling.

It has taken me a lifetime to accept this and make it the cornerstone of my practice as a writer. This is because I have been taught not to start with the feeling. I have been taught to start with the facts. But the feelings lead me to the facts. This is the one great truth that I have to live with.

It may be that other writers do not operate quite this way. It may be that the facts lead them to the feelings, or that the facts themselves are inseparable from the feelings. But for me to tell you of my experience as a chordoma patient at Loma Linda I must begin with the feelings.

It is quiet now in my motel room. I have been out driving in the warm, soft Inland Empire evening air. Now I am tired. This is a feeling. I was feeling earlier the destabilizing effect of remembering early drug experiences. That was a feeling. All this is swirling about. I am tired. It is quiet in my room. I am going to sleep. Good night.

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Good night, Cary. Good advice, as always. Why did I never hear "Just the feelings, ma'am," when I was growing up?
I especially like your last paragraph, Cary.
I have just discovered that I like putting my new posts into the draft and preview limbo for awhile and some will stay there forever. That lets me get my feelings out raw and unedited. I have some pretty heavy things in my closet and it helps to get them out in black and white. Therapy. But to burden others with my raw feelings just doesnt seem right. They need to be refined and civilized somehow. Time does that. I really was fascinated with your experiences at Loma. The feelings involved there must be powerful. I look forward to more.
So insightful. I agree
Feelings first - then facts - good night.
yes facts are dead things, dispassionate, without the lived life of passion and caring they have no value or power.
i feel therefore i am.
Thanks for being here.
Following your progress and process. Having my own acquaintence with cancer this year, I believe there is good to be found in all things. Even this.
I was going to disagree but then I looked back at many of things I have written and they all came from feelings, then memories, then imagination. It's nice to deconstruct the process. Thanks.
"since feelings are first..." e.e. cummings
Some feelings hurt.