“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.