Jan 16, 2011

On the loss of self and emotion; or, how honesty, pain and creativity are intrinsically related

So what do you do when you're so angry you're almost physically incandescent? Or when you're so disappointed, so disgusted by someone's blindness or self-righteousness or selfishness, that you're surprised the feelings aren't transmuting magically into radioactive sludge and oozing out your pores?

Some people do their best to hide their feelings ... even from themselves. Some of them are visible to the naked eye as emotional wrecks and still hide their feelings from themselves — just not from anyone else who bothers paying a wee bit of attention. I've seen cases of this that make me wonder where the stick could be shoved in so far that I can't see it.

I am not a fan of the "hide your emotions because it's more seemly" approach.

I am a fan of honesty — with oneself, at the very minimum. Honesty that isn't just the flip side of self-indulgent, fear-driven silence. I'm fairly against people running rampant at every tiny insult, screaming at length about their enemies and their enemies' ancestors and their enemies' future progeny and the unavoidable end of the world if people like this continue to exist; and by "fairly against," I mean I'm as close to dead-set against that kind of behavior as I can get without becoming a mindless zombie slave to the opinion.

But I'm in favor of honesty with that same intensity. And the most important person to be honest with is yourself. That comes before everything. Because seriously. When people can't be honest with themselves about themselves, chances are good that they have a problem being honest with themselves about large chunks of the rest of reality. And I'm kinda sorta a gigantic fan of that whole "being able to deal with reality" thing. It helps with solving all kinds of problems. ;)

So what do I do when I'm so full of negative emotion that the energy is barely short of perceptible to human senses?

What I do these days is, to be honest (See? I'm being honest with me and you! ;)), pretty much completely crap for me. It is perilously, soul-endangeringly close to the opposite of what I should do. I don't actively try to hide emotions from myself, but frequently, I suppress expressing my emotions to avoid hurting someone by telling them what a completely hurtful git they're being. (Yes. I have people hurt me and then consciously avoid hurting them back even by being straightforwardly honest.) That's a pretty appalling thing to do to myself, and anyone who's known me for longer than five years or so should probably be about as appalled as I am.

Because one of the other things to which I am devoted almost to an obsessive level is truth. And one of the things I used to do was call people out as soon as I noticed their hurtful behavior, if I was face to face with them at the time. And "as soon as I noticed" was really really soon. Because I had a lot of practice paying attention and smacking. That. Crap. Down. Before it could get out of hand.

Obviously people who are determined to be gits really hate it when you do this. But people who don't devote themselves to being assholes (and that's often, though not always, their word for it) are often surprisingly grateful when they finally realize they really were being horribly disrespectful and that you stopped them. Even though I saw it many, many times, it was always a little bit surprising to have people tell me "You weren't rude. It was totally justified, and I'm glad you did it" when I was, uh, yeah, quite arguably being rude. Even if it was justified and for the honorable purpose of making someone stop hurting someone else.

The other thing I did when I encountered something that absolutely incensed me, or depressed me, or wounded me intensely in some way, was that I would write that crap out. If the person who did the dastardly deed was not immediately accessible for me to stop them, I'd open a fresh ClarisWorks (or AppleWorks, those being things that existed on Macs before Microsoft Word for Mac ;)) document and spit out a lightning-fast rant poem. Or an opinion essay. Or a fantasy story. Or a letter (never to be sent) to the person who was acting horrible. Or I would get out the sketchbook and draw pictures of huge, awesome dragons spitting fire at tiny silhouettes that I imagined were the people I hated.

Then the anger (or fear, or depression, or whatever) had a home. It had an expression that treated it with respect.

What the "smack down" approach and the "write/draw it out" approaches have in common is just that: They both treat emotions with respect and recognize them for what they are. What they are is reasonable reactions to reality, not made-up, invalid pieces of mental/emotional trash. By regularly acknowledging my emotions and handling them with respect, I had control over them, rather than them controlling me, or them doing things beyond my control. I could choose how to use them.

Whether or not you agree with how I use(d) my emotions, emotional self-honesty has the same potential for everyone. If you have control of how your emotional energy gets used, then you can have emotions (you know, like, you can be a whole human being), but have them affect you in ways that are in line with your values. If you ignore your emotions, they do things you can't see. If you suppress them, you risk them running around in your heart secretly doing things you don't agree with. Because pretending they aren't there doesn't actually make them go away. It just makes them go underground. Until they burst out like the man-eating scarabs in The Mummy and terrorize random people. ;)

An important thing to explain at this point is what I said earlier about my devotion to truth. I really, really care about the truth. More than I care about being right for my ego's sake. I want to be right so I can deal with the cards that are actually on the table — not to be right for the sake of feeling good or superior. I fully admit that when I first started my campaign to Know Truth, it was largely for the sake of preserving my ego. I hated being wrong. When I was like ten years old. By the time I was thirteen or so, I was pretty much over the ego-driven thing and into the idea that truth is useful because it's useful, not just because it keeps me from being embarrassed.

So by the time I was thirteen, I had spent significant time and energy on making sure I could distinguish truth from illusion. I felt (because I had tested this repeatedly) I could trust my emotions were based on things that really existed. If I thought someone sounded condescending, then I could say exactly why I thought that, which proved it was a sound decision, not a random one. (And I was, and still am, very open to changing my opinion based on new information.)

That doesn't mean my perceptions were always accurate reflections of what was actually going on, of course, and I knew that — but I could trust that I wasn't seeing things in order to feel what I felt. I wasn't feeling something first, then creating a reason out of thin air to justify the feeling. (We all know someone who alters their idea of reality to justify what they feel, and gets all self-righteous about it ... right? Yeah. I hate that. I've hated it since I was thirteen.)

I was very young when I started losing trust in emotion, but learning to trust my judgement and perceptions allowed me to trust my emotions again. (Emotions are part of Self, so really, I'd lost trust in me and then earned it back. Yay. ;)) Even if I mistakenly got upset over something that I didn't quite understand properly, I knew I wasn't merely emotional. I was emotional with reason. I also knew that if my perceptions and understanding were wrong, there was an easy way to stop me from being upset: Giving me information to change my understanding.

This is not the same thing as telling me I'm wrong and expecting me to believe you. Presenting me with factual, reasonable information acknowledges that my initial perception deserves to be treated with respect, as if I might be (OMG! Noway!) a rational but non-omniscient human being with reasons for having emotions, but who merely doesn't have all the information. Basically it's the opposite approach from telling me "You're wrong, your emotions are pointless and if you don't take my word for it that makes you a selfish, irrational, overemotional freak." (What, I should believe you because you're just that much smarter and better than I am? Because you have no emotions and you're never wrong? I should just bow down to your battle aura because you're so cool you don't need to give evidence as to why you're right? Yeah, no.) That's the kind of thing that gets you targeted for a riled-up smackdown.

Soooooooooo. This has to do with crafting because, oddly enough, once I got broken a few years ago (I keep referencing this and not explaining it, don't I? ;)), I stopped being able to write and draw with any real inspiration or emotion. I'd spent so much energy on disrespecting my emotions, had suppressed them for so long, that I lost the heart to give creation life. Now, when I tried to write or draw or make any kind of art, what I created was a pallid glance at a badly-shot black and white photo of life. Technically, my slide out of true creative ability was a long, slow, painful process of losing pieces of myself and my passion, and I fought it as hard as I could...

...short of fixing the real problem. Which was that I was disrespecting my own emotions for the sake of not hurting other people. I was hurting myself to avoid hurting them. That's not only really, seriously unfair, it completely kills your ability to make art that means something to you.

Because art is emotion. Creation is emotion. Any emotion. Good ones, bad ones, whatever. Art and creation aren't about judging your emotions; they're about expressing your emotions, for better or for worse. The better you get at any art, the better you are at expressing what you really mean, what you really feel.

For more than a decade, yes, more than a decade, and that is more than a third of my entire life, I have been slowly destroying my own ability to create. By pretending that my emotions are not important and not valid, and that expressing them is bad.

I am going to stop.

If you are afraid of emotions, I apologize, and I expect you'll probably be leaving, and I wish you well. I also think you should consider exploring ways to stop being afraid of emotions, but really, that's not my business (unless you make it my business ;)). And everyone proceeds at their own pace, and I expect someday you'll understand where I'm coming from.

As for me, I have been the weight on my own wings that has kept me from flying far and fast as I once did. I really, really, really want to fly again, you guys. Not flying is killing me.

And while I used to write and draw out the pain to take that weight off, crafting (almost my sole creative expression for the past five to seven years) has never served that purpose for me. I can't remember ever letting myself "taint" crafting by expressing negative emotions with it. The closest I can remember coming is with sewing costumes; the idea of wearing a "negative" character's costume never bothered me. But most of my costuming happened before I got broken. So maybe there were other things I did back then, that came closer to using craft as emotional expression, but that was a long, long emotional way away, and I don't remember it.

With the crafts I've learned more recently than sewing — knitting, weaving, spinning — I've kept to this inane idea that crafting is sacredly connected to the ideas of hearth, of nourishment, that it should always be positive and wholesome. I've been consciously avoiding ever associating it with negativity, which is probably because when I first starting knitting, I was using it specifically to avoid thinking of the negative situation I was in. That was the first of the fiber arts, sewing aside, that I really learned. Weaving and spinning came after, like offshoots, and inherited the same imagined sacredness, the same rule that it was taboo to be negative through them.

Unconscious habits, anyone? Oy.

It's time to let that one go. It's bad for me. I don't know yet if that means I'm going to cut down on knitting (and maybe the other fiber arts — *cringe*), or if it means I'm going to have to experiment with transforming knitting and the other fibery things I do into an art form that's allowed to express negative feelings without being pathetically self-indulgent or tasteless (and the idea of creating evocative but beautiful fiber arts products has a lot of appeal — that's what I was going for to begin with, starting my little crafty business). What I do know is: Something's gotta give.

To answer my own question again: What do I do when I'm so angry I can almost breathe fire?

I take the clamp off my pointy dragon snout and I point the flames where they can do the most good.

By God, Goddess, the Tao, or Whatever you believe in — pick your Powers That Be — it feels good to be honest again. Even if it means 2,000+ words of blog post at once.

But ten years of feelings takes a long time to write.
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