“I believed that [feelings were unmanly], especially complicated feelings. I didn’t admit to them. I hardly knew I had them.” -Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
“You don’t have to be a slave to those experiences if you can find a way to process the emotions.”
-André Guttfreund, discussing the film Cachada and how we interact with old pain
I keep hearing how emotions “get in the way” of our “rational mind:” how they trip us up on the way toward what “makes sense.” The more I look at myself and the people around me, the less I think that’s true. Sure, sometimes my feelings start pulling me apart. They’re like roots, working their way into the foundation of this life and mind I’ve made. They always seem to find my cracks. Then again, all that usually happens when I’ve been ignoring or denying them. When I pay attention, my emotions are also the roots that grow my forest, my garden, that give me the wood I build with.
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m feeling. I’ve gone months, maybe even years, not sure if I’m angry or sad, astonished or tense or serene or indolent or quiescent. (All those are different). It’s in those times, the times that I’m farthest from my own emotions, that I’m most frustrated by them. It’s in those times that I start trying to tie them up or push them away or have Tony do something irreversible to them down at the docks. I also start lashing out: when I don’t know what pain I’m feeling, when I don’t know what I need, I have an urge to strike back at anything and take everything.
In the last few months I’ve spent more time feeling through what I’m feeling. That’s meant some hurt, and a lot of confusion; some silliness, and a lot of energy. As I spend more time in this garden, I believe, more and more, that all the plants here are sharing something. I don’t want to miss out on the pear because I’ve only noticed the prickles. I don’t want to chew on the tea leaves and decide they’re not good for anything. Maybe uncertainty helps with my curiosity. Maybe hopelessness is only the rotting fruit of wanting to help, and I can learn to harvest a little sooner. Maybe I can brew hurt into an understanding of what it’s like to be hurt, and that can help make me kind.
The first time I saw artichokes growing, I thought, “The first person to eat one of those must’ve been really hungry.” Maybe they were just paying attention to their feelings, even the complicated ones. I can’t eat everything the same way. I can’t just keep chewing the pointy bits. But I can learn to fillet puffer fish and soak cassava and steep tea, and scrape my teeth over the inside of an artichoke’s petals.