Talking It Over

Talking It Over

“writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.”—Pico Iyer

Most of you have heard my stories about readers challenging my sanity when I started the blog almost ten years ago. It was hard for people to understand why I’d put so much time and energy into writing not knowing when, or if, there’d be a financial payback. I tried to explain that art wasn’t a measurable commodity, like so many other valuable things we need to survive, but that never changed minds already made up. Obviously (literally) money would be the proof by which our work can be judged as ‘successful’, in that it adds the commercial component realizing a connection to others we want to reach. Sometimes that’s so; but often, it isn’t. The readers of my book, Twilight Perspectives, who’ve written to me about how it changed their lives and ways of living, paid me in a way no legal tender ever could. Their reactions made the time and energy spent infinitely invaluable.

Often I hear the same response from the readers of this blog, but thwarting my original plan for a community discussion, they almost always send their rejoinders to my private email, siting reluctance to write publicly on a blog for…writers. That baffled me for a while, but I’ve finally had my dismay upended by one of the blog’s readers this week. She stated that my essays seemed so personal, as if meant just for her, that she didn’t want to bring anyone else into the conversation. Now what’s not to love about a compliment like that? They’re not called Personal Essays for nothing, after all. But that said, I want to share some of what that reader added in response to the post, Too Much Emotion?; with her permission, of course.

She wrote me, “I grew up with a Mom who was always teaching and expecting me to “reign it in” while she herself flung her emotions about wildly, regardless of the consequences! …truly it seems as though I was taught to be ashamed of how I feel.” She went on to describe being brought up in a different culture from ours, which “surely added to the squelching of emotions.” She ended admitting that those lessons ingrained a “lifelong pattern [which] has been hard to break and still catches me off guard sometimes.” Ain’t it the truth!

Yet we know, as discussed in last week’s post, that scientists are urging us to understand more about the importance of emotion to the health of all living creatures. Many artists, of which the blog reader being quoted here is one (though not a writer), understand that creativity is the expression of freedom, the actual manifestation of emotion itself, the physical display of ephemera of immense importance to us all. The blog reader followed up my email back to her with an even more salient question: “is my self-consciousness a hold over result of not showing and sharing emotion???” She then added that an aspect of the art of Tai Chi is to “acquire sensitivity, to understand and interpret energy accurately, and respond accordingly.” That “energy” is most certainly another name for emotion.

How important it is to acknowledge and evaluate our emotions, as well as those of others around us. How differently our conflicts might be resolved if we all practiced that skill. It reminds me of a conversation my characters in the soon-to-be-published Certain Liberties had on the roof of a Fifth Avenue mansion, in mid-nineteenth-century New York. Thirteen-year-old Emily exclaims as she looks out over the treetops of Central Park, “I’m about to explode—everything’s so wonderful! I only wish it could stay this way forever. I just hate the way bad feelings overcome the good ones at times.” Her twelve-year-old boyfriend, Corey, responds, “Oh Emily, don’t hate! Adults need all the help they can get. They’re always upset about something, but they don’t really talk about it the way we do.”

It’s true; talking about feelings can make them easier to deal with. But first, we have to acknowledge their importance; or don’t you agree? Let’s talk it over.    

4 Responses to Talking It Over

  1. One of my wonderful mentors was in a highly charged intellectual policy argument at work. He got heated because the policy meant a great deal to him and told the group who and why he felt they were moving in the wrong direction. One of his opponents made what seemed the obvious rejoinder, “Don’t take it so personally Joe.”

    Joe responded without pause, “I take everything personally.” He won over many of the quiet members. It was a lesson to me. We must be weary of relegating emotions to a minor position and hold only supposed rationality as supreme. “I feel” has equal place with “I can prove.” Artist and physicists need each other to get to understanding the cosmos. Artist and psychologist need each other to understand the mind.

    Your leadership in putting forth your own emotions on various subjects gives us the chance to express our own in return. Perhaps if many the personal responses you get would share more with strangers on the blog we would see how in so many ways we are connected, maybe not in agreement but in emotional vitality and place higher regard for the importance of emotional connection within ourselves.

    • OH my yes! This is the whole crux of it. And most important is the realization that we’re all connected, as you suggest, through emotion. When I say all, I also mean other life as discussed in the blog post before on animal emotions. So it’s always personal, whether talking one-on-one or to the universe. Thanks for stimulating this, Paul. I still got some private responses to this today, but they all seemed more relaxed. We’re making progress.

  2. It seems to me that feeling free to show emotion comes down to how free you feel showing your soft underbelly and becoming vulnerable. For some (I’m married to him), it’s quite easy, as you know. For most of us, it’s much more difficult because emotions are….well….emotional. Personal. Private, even. I’m finding as I (ahem) age it is becoming much easier share my personal feelings as I begin to attain that oh-what-the-hell attitude that makes becoming a senior citizen palatable, and even fun. Who really cares, after all, what I think? Most people are too wrapped up in their own life to think too long and hard about yours. This is freeing, as I realize that the world isn’t going to swing off its axis if I share a personal emotion or two.

    • I have to ponder this a bit. I think one shares specifically because we think others will care what we think as much as we do, not because they won’t. But yes, opening up definitely gets easier when we stop thinking we’re the center of the universe! I suppose what the reader described in this post meant was that she’s more comfortable sharing one-on-one than universally. It all comes down to personality, and that’s rather nice! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Let’s see what others come up with…

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