At the risk of stereotypes, being of Midwestern Scots-Scandinavian blood does not lend itself to emotional availability.
Often it seems as if I don’t feel so much as observe, then analyze, then consider, then debate, and finally – usually around two in the morning on an important deadline – understand that what I’ve been turning over and over made me feel sad. Or angry, or happy, or whatever. It made me feel and that’s why I’m still thinking about it.
I’m told this shows in The Suicide Tourist, the documentary of my father’s assisted suicide. Mom and I both appear detached throughout the interviews, a studied remoteness I didn’t realize came across so strongly. My sister Katrina and I talked about this once – she had been slightly embarrassed by crying during her interview, and I assured her that, even to me, it was the only thing that humanized our family.
I sometimes fear my characters come across as too studied, too detached from the things they fear and the things they want. That level of gut-check, immediate emotional response or desire is far away from me, and I have a hard time understanding it, much less channeling it.
(On the bright side, I’m told my strong points are in description and dialogue – two areas that require observation and analysis over emotional responses.)
To come back to the point: I hear what Matt’s talking about when he talks about feelings and writing.
Let me be clear. I don’t suffer from clinical depression. It’s a serious condition that I’ve got no part of. Still, it fascinates me to hear him say his emotions become an intense inner hurricane. When something brings me low, my inner landscape turns into a marshland, filled with will-o-wisp doubts and quicksand pathways. It slows me down and forces me to pay attention to it, if only with the hindbrain.
That’s why, when writing brings my emotions to the fore – when I can’t deny that something has touched me and touched me deeply – I know I’m part of something special. It happens often enough to let me know I’m alive inside, to tell me that the shields can still be broached, even if only at the distance of the written word. It happens often with the works of Catherynne M Valente, whose lyricism overwhelms the rational core and drives straight into my body. It last happened with A Prince of Thirteen Days, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and the wonderful phrase, “Where the dead go when they have lived enough to die.”
Which sums it up nicely.
As Matt says, I want life. I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it.
But we all come at those feelings differently.
Whether it’s a sharp punch to the gut or a long, slow bleed, you’re feeling; and as long as you’re feeling, you’re alive.
So keep living, however you come at it. Keep writing, however you write best. Watch and learn or feel and bleed, spill your words or measure them out; but be among us and share your path, because nobody else in the world is living the way you do, and nobody else can tell your stories.
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