Secrets from With/out Pretend: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood  
April 2018
"Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes
from never ­being satisfied."
-Zadie Smith (“Rules for writers,” The Guardian)


Making things can be joyful and exciting and affirming, especially when the thing you produce looks like the thing that started as a seed inside your head. Other times I think it might feel worse to make things than it does to wonder what it might feel like if you did. I’ve been on both sides of that fence; for a long time I suppressed my desire to be a person-who-makes-things, dismissing that particular inner voice as a child with an impractical dream.

Now I find that making things stirs up some pretty real feelings of uncertainty. I ask myself: Was it worth it? Will anyone understand it? Is it valuable? Am I just kidding myself?

Through my work with Etsy and With/out Pretend, I’ve met hundreds of people who write, paint, design, build, make — so I know they’re often plagued with these same questions. If you’re a person who makes things and then shares those things, whether you sell them or exhibit them or post them on Instagram, you are looking to be seen. This is a very human desire: to be seen and to be understood by others. And there are days where this inherent need can result in a very long, unsatisfying climb towards the unknown. Where both the journey and the destination feel very undefined.

It’s scary to admit that I care deeply about making things people will connect with. And scarier still to admit I’m afraid of finding that I’m alone, philosophically speaking. 

I usually don't talk about my anxiety as a capital “A” sort of anxiety. I don’t think I’ve ever officially named this feeling of stifling, winding self-doubt common to so many of us, a feeling that leaves me frustrated and panicked and helpless on the inside, and maybe a little ashamed too, that I can’t employ better self-regulation.

Maybe I haven’t needed to name this feeling because it's not how people see me. My anxiety is like a shut-in who doesn’t interact with others, a side of myself even close friends haven’t met. I’m the student with her hand always raised, the colleague who likes to “wing it,” the friend who hosts good parties. My confidence in some areas masks my constant and nagging fear of failure, rejection, criticism and above all, being misunderstood.
At our launch event for Happy If You Know It we hosted a panel discussion with some of the book’s contributors on the topics of happiness and intuition. Contributor and wise human Anne Thériault challenged the notion that happiness should be the feeling most worthy of our esteem. What about the other, messier, uglier feelings? Why don’t we celebrate these, too?

Everyone on the internet seems to believe there's a right way and a wrong way to talk about things. I’m glad that we’re getting better at talking about the importance of self-care and self-love, but I worry that we’re diluting important parts of these conversations with hashtags and an over-saturation of how-to blog posts. We’ve claimed the age of self-love, but on the days I don’t find it easy to love myself, just the way I am, the internet tells me I’m doing it wrong.

Why is there only room for self-doubt when the article ends with, “And then I learned how to cast doubt aside and see that everything is great, and you can learn this too!”

Human beings are dynamic, and so is the art we make. Our work will not always be “right” but if it’s grounded in our truth, it’s valuable. My personal experience is worth sharing, and so is yours, dark shadows and all. 

That's what I meant when I wrote the words "feelings can be art" on the very first page of Portraits in 2016. Feelings are powerful, and given the proper conditions, our feelings have the power to become mirrors, and windows, and rocketships, and yes, even art. 

It’s also important to recognize the difference between the desire to be understood and the even more painful desire to be validated by commercial or financial success. There’s real danger, when you’re in the midst of making something, in asking yourself: Is this something people will want? Is it marketable? Would Oprah approve?

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to quiet those kinds of internal questions. They come as naturally as breathing. But at least I no longer feel like a bad artist for asking them. When they pop into my head, I simply remind myself of what truly motivates me. 

I want to make art that can bridge our differences, our hard days, our moments of feeling misunderstood and alone. I want to make art that screams out, "Let me speak! I want you to see me! Accept me for my ugliness too!" 

Art is one way of expressing a truth, our truth. I have to believe it’s worth the climb.  



Erin Klassen is a writer, editor and the founder of With/out Pretend. She loves to think about the future and convince talented artists to collaborate with her.

follow her on instagram 

When do you feel most seen?
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Photo via Seattle Met
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Photo via the artist Regina Schilling

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Photo via New Museum Store
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