Full Disclosure: A Reading List About Confessions

I’m entranced by the moment our secrets become our confessions. Over the past three years, I’ve confessed my fair share: Coming out as queer. Coming out as non-binary. Sharing crushes, deep-seated fears and ridiculous hopes with my friends, my partner and my boss. In these six stories, a drunk driver confesses via viral video; an ex-Catholic returns to confession; and a high-school cheater reveals her indiscretions. Elisa Albert writes about her training as a doula, and I respond with my own doubts. Finally, acclaimed essayist Leslie Jamison reviews two collections of deeply personal writing from Sarah Manguso, David Shields and Caleb Powell.

1. “‘I Killed a Man’: What Happens When a Homicide Confession Goes Viral.” (Joel Oliphant, BuzzFeed News, March 2014)

After a night of heavy drinking, Matthew Cordle killed Vincent Canzoni in a drunk-driving accident. Overcome with guilt and on the brink of suicide, Cordle made an earnest video through the organization because I said I would, confessing what he’d done. Alex Sheen, the creator of because I said I would, thought Cordle’s confession might get 100,000 views and provide some solace for Cordle. He underestimated a bit—2.6 million people watched Cordle’s video. His viral confession impacted the victim’s family, Cordle’s family and Cordle’s trial.

2. “Confessions of an American Pumpkin Eater.” (Lauren O’Neal, The New Inquiry, September 2016)

In my experience, it wasn’t true that students cheated because they didn’t work hard enough. Rather, they cheated because they didn’t want their hard work to go to waste. And if they didn’t work as hard as I did, so what? I still got my perfect GPA and test scores. My achievements didn’t become less perfect if others also did well.

3. “Enough About Me.” (Leslie Jamison, The Atlantic, April 2015)

In recent years, the personal essay has come under fire. Is it oversharing? Is it exploitative? Leslie Jamison, author of the esteemed essay collection The Empathy Exams, transcends those questions in her review of two collections at The Atlantic: Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness, which is a collection of short essays about motherhood, art and time; and I Think You’re Totally Wrong by David Shields and Caleb Powell, a back-and-forth of “challenged epiphanies.”

4. “Confessions of a Radical Doula.” (Elisa Albert, The Cut, March 2016)

Author Elisa Albert writes about her decision to train as a doula. Albert’s essay is less a blanket statement on what all births should look like (a.k.a. I implore you to ignore the comments section), more introspection. Writing like Albert’s reassures me it’s OK to have questions and doubts. Being honest will help me grow. We are all doing our best, and there is always more to learn.

Before reading this essay, I was embarrassed by some of things I was thinking and feeling about my potential future as a doula. I am a doula-in-training, and I, too, was skeptical during my first class. Unlike Albert, I wasn’t skeptical of my classmates—who were funny, charming and wise, of a huge variety of backgrounds and experiences—but of the material I was learning. I came to doula work at the recommendation of an acquaintance, because I am a feminist who wants to help families—especially queer families—thrive. Birth does not gross me out. I love kids. Yet I didn’t come to this work because of my own birth experience. I’ve never been pregnant or birthed a child. I’ve never even attended a live birth. (Like I said, I’m still very much in training.)

High school sex ed didn’t teach much beyond basic birth control. My Christian college health class textbooks removed all information about reproduction and pregnancy. I’d never considered that home birth or midwifery could be viable options for non-hippies, nor did I know much about the significant risks associated with Cesarean births. Could everything I’d gleaned from TV and movies—i.e., that birth was agonizing, foreign and inherently traumatic—really be wrong? Our instructor—a midwife by trade—taught us about everything from brainwaves, to breathing, to anatomy and physiology. My notes from class look like they were written in a dream.

Like Albert, I really struggle with the idea that doulas should support their clients’ decisions, including those decisions made, as Albert puts it, “even her ignorance? In her terror?” I take comfort in knowing that if I have done my work as a doula, my clients can rely on the muscle-memory of knowledge I’ve imparted and a relationship built on honesty and trust.

5. “Why Chris Gethard is Sharing His Darkest Confessions Onstage.” (Nicole Silverberg, GQ, October 2016)

When Chris Gethard and his zany comedy crew were on public access TV in NYC, my boyfriend and I stayed out late one night and went to a taping. We crouched on the floor between cameras and laughed with other GethHeads as Chris and his team discussed the birds and the bees. Now, Judd Apatow is producing Gethard’s one-man show, Career Suicide, off Broadway:

I don’t think comedy needs to be “brave” or “important.” If my show can give people perspective on what my experience has been like and they can maybe talk to their loved ones a little bit easier, I’d just be so proud of that.

His interview at GQ is wide-ranging and just as genuine and funny as I expected. It touches on therapy, nerds today, channeling anger into creativity and “being a bat signal for weirdos.”

6. “The Carnival of Confession.” (Kyle Gautreau, Killing The Buddha, January 2015)

A deeply personal essay about the sacraments from ex-Jesuit Kyle Gautreau, who attends confession for the first time in 10 years:

The sacrament of reconciliation is an encounter of what, exactly? “What are your sins?” This question is indelibly tied to another: what are your graces? I routinely feel devoid of both. Since I left priestly formation at the dawn of Obama’s America, the sacraments have never been the same. I don’t feel the same. Sin and grace are far less illuminating pillars to me today. Now there is just this and that.


from Longreads Blog https://blog.longreads.com/2016/10/10/full-disclosure-a-reading-list-about-confessions/

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