Notes on the difficulty of feeling

1.

I’m off Facebook again, which only means I’m too tired to meet the expectations that attend existence on yet another platform of society, too tired to respond to comments, queries, and requests, too tired to ride the waves of other people’s observations, aversions, displays, and desires while struggling to keep my own balance.

I’m tired. And not just over work—I’m perpetually overworked, in my profession that’s just par for the course, so you know, I’ve no right to complain, everyone’s corralled into the same Anchors Away ride, and some are seated at the crazier ends. It’s just that these days everything seems harder, heavier. I try to breathe deeply, but there are rocks lodged in my lungs. I sing softly in the shower and break at the high notes.

Last Thursday, I woke at seven in the morning and cried for most of the day. I wept through yoga practice and wept in the bath and wept into my cup of coffee and sat on the floor in a corner of my room and watched the white curtains billowing in the wind and wept. At half-past one in the afternoon, I started to pull myself together for my afternoon classes and managed to seem perky and perfectly fine. Afterwards, I went running in the rain while crying in the dark, a persistent cliché.

What’s more clichéd is that these tears are empty. I know not why I am so sad—if by “know” we refer to some definite, discoverable object, if by “know” we mean something I can simply explain away.

2.

If I were to graph my emotional life, I would draw a pattern of flat lines and troughs, with occasional peaks to make for an undulating wave. It seems to me that I go through life either feeling too much or trying not to feel at all, because too much feeling disrupts my rational functioning (but where do the feelings go when I refuse to acknowledge them?). The bland equanimity of my public persona is a product of daily struggle with and constant self-monitoring of my moods, my thoughts, my words. So many of the activities incorporated into my daily routine and lifestyle—long walks, yoga and meditation, running, writing, reading, drawing, hours in the shower, hiking, traveling solo—are there to keep me sane and help me rise from my mat on the floor and get through every, single, fucking, day of a life that seems intent to stretch over years and years and years.

Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the melancholy refrains of a never-ending villanelle, and no matter how I try to change the tone, the lines can vary only so much.

3.

Last month, after a day full of meetings, one of my undergrad professors (and now senior co-faculty) asked me how I was, if I still felt lost, if I was generally happy and at peace with life these days, if I was making friends, if I was feeling better after a week of being ill. It surprised me because we do not usually talk about these things. We usually talk about books and research and committee work. I do not usually talk about personal concerns in professional settings. It’s not only that I’m a stickler for the compartmentalization of various areas of my life; I just assume that people don’t give a damn about how I’m doing personally if I get work done. I think this assumption stems from standards I impose on myself—I don’t like using personal difficulties, be it sickness or emotional glitches, as an excuse not to deliver—and this, in turn, stems from my assumption that except for a very small class of people, i.e. my family and closest friends, nobody really cares about how I’m doing, and even then I typically go through my troubles alone.

Tama na yang solitude!” (“Quit your solitude!”) the professor said. But can I, really? One reason I dislike imposing my troubles on others is because they have problems of their own. Even talk is imposition, for it is no light burden to listen with patience, understanding, and empathy. I do not want to be told that I am too sensitive, that I’ve no right to moan because I wished for this life (to exist sensate and sentient in a senseless world is precisely my basic problem, and I never asked for this existence in the first place). A deeper reason, then, for my refusal to abandon the bedrock of my solitude is that I fear to be disappointed, I fear to be hurt by those whose love I most desire to keep.

It felt disconcerting to be reminded that it’s okay to be human and express human frailty, to depend on other people and believe that they care, accepting the profound vulnerability such choices entail. See, my trust has been broken and the parts badly glued together so many times, I decided to wrap it in terrycloth and put it inside a box inside a drawer inside a closet inside a room only I enter.

4.

Robert Macfarlane wrote, “Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.” Indeed, I climb mountains to be reminded that I am nothing, or, rather, that I am part of one great, pulsing, ineffable being; faced with visions of infinity, it is difficult to coil into the smallness of ego and its rooms. Pain is a chamber where ego dwells, because it is often uncommunicable, and so particularly mine—I can attempt to describe my pain, but only I can have my pain, only I can feel it. To speak of it is to cheapen what does not translate well, so I tend not to speak of it to others at all, and just endure it in the ways I know how (in writing or music or art) or hide it from view, including my own. In this way, I fortify the walls of ego, which only vast mindscapes and landscapes wear away—landscapes, or love. (But gods, how come it is much easier to reach mountaintops than to find love?)

5.

Overheard in a cafe where two sociology majors were discussing suicide ideation and what it takes to save people from themselves: “I think love is the ability to define your responsibility in the life of somebody else.”

I thought of the man who gave me the same definition for love, said he was unmoored and unready for this responsibility, and, true enough, drifted away, until he was barely a speck in my horizon, far enough not to hear my call. It made me very sad because he was the one person I thought I could share my solitude with. He had been so embedded in my ordinary existence, that when he disappeared I felt like a harbor with piles of rubble for seawall, no longer impervious to tides of longing and loneliness. I continue to mend the wall even in tempestuous weather, but it requires tricky and and repetitive toil. I get exhausted, too.

6.

A song I like, recontextualized:

Even so, isn’t attachment, be it in the form of love, also an addiction?

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4 thoughts on “Notes on the difficulty of feeling

  1. Reblogged this on Writer's Block and commented:
    It’s my first time reblogging on WordPress. The formatting is admittedly weird. (Or I’m just super comfortable with the Facebook Share button.)
    1.
    – “I’m off Facebook again, which only means I’m too tired to meet the expectations that attend existence on yet another platform of society,…”
    – “I’m tired. And not just over work—I’m perpetually overworked, in my profession that’s just par for the course, so you know, I’ve no right to complain, everyone’s corralled into the same Anchors Away ride, and some are seated at the crazier ends.” Powerful metaphors.
    – “I went running in the rain while crying in the dark, a persistent cliché.” This cliché is rather awful, because it’s not really helping. The rain, I mean. It’s just … there. The heat of the tears stands in stark contrast to the cool of the world.
    2.
    – “So many of the activities incorporated into my daily routine and lifestyle—long walks, yoga and meditation, running, writing, reading, drawing, hours in the shower, hiking, traveling solo—are there to keep me sane and help me rise from my mat on the floor and get through every, single, fucking, day of a life that seems intent to stretch over years and years and years.”
    – “Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the melancholy refrains of a never-ending villanelle, and no matter how I try to change the tone, the lines can vary only so much.” This is why I love reading her. I’m ending up quoting everything, and I’m not even sorry.
    3.
    – “‘Tama na yang solitude!’ (‘Quit your solitude!’) the professor said. But can I, really?”
    – “Even talk is imposition.” Yeah. (1) Except that for a select people, the imposition is *not* to talk, simply because the reality becomes shared, I’d venture, and the fact that you’re actually not saying anything is cumbersome. (2) Talking—or words, for that matter—approximate the expression of what cannot be aptly expressed, may it be pain or any other emotion. This futile, natural impulse is the work of love: Patuloy ka pa ring susubok kahit alam mong hindi sasapat, basta nanatili kang umiibig. As Pascal would have it, “The heart has its reasons (logique du coeur) the mind wouldn’t understand.” And talking, I’d say, is a product of this. (Can also be connected to grace. We are all, in the final analysis, just products of Love—God, since God is Love.)
    – “It felt disconcerting to be reminded that it’s okay to be human and express human frailty, to depend on other people and believe that they care, accepting the profound vulnerability such choices entail.” Brené Brown’s TEDx talk about vulnerability is the jewel that everyone should watch at least once in their lives.
    4.
    – “Faced with visions of infinity, it is difficult to coil into the smallness of ego and its rooms.” Ah. The sight of stars. (Cf. Calvin and Hobbes comic on the infinity of gazing at the stars.)
    5.
    – “It made me very sad because he was the one person I thought I could share my solitude with.” The ultimate goal based off of Rilke!
    – “He had been so embedded in my ordinary existence, that when he disappeared I felt like a harbor with piles of rubble for seawall, no longer impervious to tides of longing and loneliness. I continue to mend the wall even in tempestuous weather, but it requires tricky and and repetitive toil. I get exhausted, too.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Talking—or words, for that matter—approximate the expression of what cannot be aptly expressed, may it be pain or any other emotion. This futile, natural impulse is the work of love: Patuloy ka pa ring susubok kahit alam mong hindi sasapat, basta nanatili kang umiibig.”

      I just saw this. Your comments are beautiful. Thank you. :)

      And yes, Rilke! He’s one of my favorite poets. I also love LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the first day of the New Year | tenant on the top floor

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