Favorite Emotions

Every language is inadequate in terms of the vocabulary of emotion.

Complex emotions have always drawn me into their embrace, wrapped around me, woven themselves through me like a detailed tapestry whose design is, by necessity, as unique to me as it is to each and every one of us. To say you are happy or sad, excited or bored, in love or enraged, is to oversimplify your emotional state. Any genuine, fully-explored emotion is bound to be so complicated that it cannot truly be labeled. These feelings can only be described, and will only be understood by those who take the time to listen.

There is no adequate term for that feeling of intense pride and love mixed with the fear and bittersweet envy you feel for the young people in your life whom you know will soar higher and fly further than you ever did. Excelsior, dear ones! Don’t fly too close to the sun, but please do get a better look at it than I have.

And what do you call that laughter through tears moment when someone gazes into your most intimate pain and relates to you and it so well that they’re able to blast you out of it with a well-aimed, yet compassionate and humorously cynical barb? And then there’s that sharp, fleeting emotion that comes directly after that, which makes you think, “Dammit, do not make me laugh about this!” even as you are thinking, “I love you for making me laugh about this!”

Disappointment is not an adequate word for the feeling you get when someone sees something within you, or something that they believe is missing from you, when you know that conclusion is patently false, but there’s nothing you can do to change their minds. It’s never pleasant to be misunderstood by someone you hold in high esteem.

Even if a scary movie makes you jump or even scream, that feeling isn’t fear, per se. There’s an exciting frisson that ripples through it because you know you chose this experience, and therefore it’s also an adventure. Pure, distilled terror is something I have felt more than once, and I can assure you, it ain’t no movie.

I absolutely love that sense that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to do, and that your whole messy, beautiful life is what has led you to this moment. I’ve only had that feeling a few times in my life, and I’m glad of that, because it makes the experience all the more precious when it does wash over me. If anything truly does flash before your eyes when you are dying, I genuinely believe that these particular moments must surely be included. That’s why I don’t fear natural death, despite the fact that I don’t want to rush it along.

The reason I was inspired to write this post is that I was experiencing yet another of my favorite emotions: that feeling of shock, awe, admiration and surprise that you get when you discover that there is another facet of a friend’s personality that reveals a talent, passion, or expertise that you never expected existed. That complex cake of emotions is heavily frosted with a feeling of excitement that you’ve now got the opportunity to explore this other aspect of your friend, and that by doing so, you will learn even more about him or her, and by extension, you’ll learn more about yourself.

So it was today, when I was chatting away with my dear friend Areiel, perhaps the most global human being I know. He casually mentioned that in addition to the amazing life he leads that I know about, which is filled with a deep love for his family, a job that allows him to travel a great deal, and one that lets him effect positive change in the world as we know it, he also has a radio show.

Wait. What?

I mean, I knew he had an intense love of music, but I did not know that he had been a radio DJ in his early 20’s, and now, 35 years later, he has picked it back up again. And he has combined that avocation with his love of travel and his natural ability to teach, to create a show entitled Musical Highways, which you can listen to here.

And listen you should. Not only do his musical highways lead you all over the world, but Areiel also gives you a lot of background information about the music he’s featuring in that episode. I guarantee you will hear from artists you’ve never heard before, and you’ll learn oodles of stuff in the process. That is a delicious musical treat indeed.

I’m not sure Areiel considers himself a teacher, but he has taught me much over the years. We have talked about politics, philosophy, music, art, travel, and a whole host of other subjects. He has given me some excellent advice. He never fails to cause me to look at the world in ways I may not have considered independently. Because of that, this feeling I had in learning that the man also has another side to him that I have yet to explore is akin to discovering that you’ve somehow overlooked one of the very best books written by your favorite author.

English may have a higher word count than any other language, but it still is inadequate in terms of the vocabulary of emotion. But it would be a daunting task, indeed, to get the emotional recipe exactly right for every person and every mood. The very intricacy of emotions is what I love about them most, even during those quite frequent and frustrating moments when I realize that the very complexity of these emotions means that I am being utterly misunderstood by those around me.

It’s complicated.

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Feeling Relief Instead of Grief?

You are not alone in this.

I was talking to a friend about her mixed emotions after the death of one of her relatives. This guy had made her life a living hell when he was alive. He was an abusive alcoholic who created nothing but drama in the family. He left financial devastation in his wake, and he was quite adept at dishing out emotional abuse. The man was toxic. I found him to be a horrible human being.

Since his passing, my friend’s life has improved substantially. Her stress levels have decreased and her health has increased. She gets more sleep. Her self-confidence is much more evident now. I’m really happy for her.

Sadly, she feels a little guilty for being relieved that the guy is finally gone. He was, after all, a relative, and she did love him to a certain extent. But she doesn’t miss him at all.

I can totally relate to this. When my stepfather died, I wanted to throw a party. But of course I didn’t. People would have been horrified. They would have thought I was callous. They have no idea what the man had put me through. The world is a much better place without him in it.

Relationships are complicated, and therefore the subsequent grief is bound to be complicated. There are many scenarios in which it would be quite understandable to feel relief and/or a complex mix of emotions at someone’s passing. You would definitely not be alone in this.

For example, if your loved one had been suffering for years, it’s natural to be relieved that that suffering is over. And if you were the primary caregiver for that person for what feels like an eternity, and that care has left you exhausted and depleted and stressed out, it’s okay to be relieved to have your life back again. If you have lost someone due to an easily preventable death, or due to suicide, you may have a lot of anger and/or guilt to process.

I’ve had several people broach this subject with me over the years. They tend to speak in hushed tones and look over their shoulders to make sure no one is listening. It’s as if they’ve committed a crime. I seem to be one of those people who silently signal that if you feel the need to confess this particular offense, then guuuurl… come sit by me.

Our culture causes us to have really strange ideas about what grief is supposed to look like and feel like. It’s supposed to be pure, sincere, and it should last for a year. (Longer than that, and people lose patience. Shorter than that, and something is wrong with you.) And if other family members are experiencing what looks like a more wholesome form of grief for the person you are thrilled to be rid of, then you are expected to suppress your feelings so as not to ruffle feathers. But make no mistake: you are grieving, too, in your own way.

Grief can’t be pigeonholed. Each person’s experience is different. In fact, your grief experience will most likely change over time, and it will be different for each person you grieve. Grief can manifest as depression or sadness or anger or numbness or an inability to concentrate, and yes, it can also include relief and even joy and a sense of freedom and release.

It’s not uncommon to encounter insensitive people as you work to process and adapt to this monumental change in your life. They often don’t realize they’re passing judgment by showing their confusion, impatience, or shock at the way you are feeling or behaving. Please remember that they don’t get to decide if you’re getting it right. There is no “right” way to grieve.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that not passing judgment should be a two way street. It does you no good at all to try to force your brand of grief down the throats of those around you, who may, in fact, not be feeling grief at all, or may be so devastated that they struggle to function. You can erect a shrine, but you shouldn’t expect others to worship at it. You can throw your own party, but no one should be forced to attend. You can wear all black for the rest of your life, or cover yourself in bright, shiny colors, but please don’t dictate anyone else’s physical or emotional wardrobe.

Another thing to consider is that you’re not only grieving a person. You are also grieving change. You may be grieving the life you never had because of the life you were forced to live while you were in a toxic person’s orbit. You may be grieving the fact that you were unable to improve your relationship with that person while he or she was still alive. You may be experiencing confusion and/or resentment and/or excitement because now you have to figure out what your life will look like moving forward.

A good rule of thumb is this: you do you. Feel what you feel and allow others to feel what they feel. Give yourself and others that gift.

And if you wish to support someone who is grieving, ask that person what they want or need. Don’t assume you know. Some people, like my friend, want nothing more than someone to listen to them express their relief without criticism. I’m glad she came and sat by me.

mixed_feelings_by_salyalaverte_d3d7y8t

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A Simple Tip for Apartment Dwellers

If you’ve been a good tenant, this trick to avoid a rent increase works like a charm.

If you live in an apartment complex, there’s something you can count on as much as death and taxes: your rent will increase when you renew your lease. I spent many years in such circumstances, and my rent only increased the first time around. After that, I learned.

What I did was mark my calendar for about 2 ½ months prior to the end of my lease. Then I’d send my landlord a letter. “I have enjoyed living here, and I hope you’ve enjoyed having me. My lease ends on ________. I’d love to stay. Please let me know if you intend to raise my rent at that time, so that I have ample opportunity to find a new address. Thanks in advance.”

It works like a charm, but only if you have been a good tenant. Have you always paid your rent on time? Have you avoided visits from the police? Are you quiet, non-destructive, and abide by the rules? Then you, my friend, are a landlord’s ultimate fantasy.

That gives you a certain amount of power, because that landlord is going to want to keep you around. Trust me. As a landlord myself, I know what a monumental hassle it would be if my wonderful tenants were to move and I had to scramble to find someone else, with its attendant anxiety that the new person, an unknown quantity, would be your basic nightmare. That, and I’d probably go at least a month without rent until I found that new tenant. That’s no fun at all. Even if I could likely find someone who would gladly pay more in rent, it’s just not worth it.

Be advised, though, that you have to be prepared to have your bluff called. If the landlord doesn’t like you for whatever reason, she might go, “Yay! See ya!” And of course, it’s only fair that your rent increases a little every 5 to 10 years. Maintenance and operating costs get expensive. Fair’s fair.

I think this trick is worth a try, but your results may vary. Good luck!

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We Are Five…

Things are getting complex.

The other day I said to my husband, “Do you think we’ll ever settle down to a nice, quiet routine, or do you think we’ll always be in a state of barely controlled chaos?”

His response was, “Well, we are five…”

Indeed we are. Two adults, three dogs, all with different needs and desires. And while having dogs may not be as complex as having children, they do make an impact.

There are things we do because I’m suffering from a bad cold. There are things we do because our car was recently totaled. There are things we do because one dog is deaf and going blind. There are things we do because one dog is prone to biting and generally showing his a**. There are things we do because one dog is easily frightened.

We are still working on transferring my possessions from one location to another. We’re learning everybody’s sleep habits. We’re adjusting to various energy levels. There are work schedules to consider, and doctor/vet appointments, and errands. There are birthdays and anniversaries and relatives and friends. There are walks to be taken and cars to be repaired and a never-ending pile of clothes to be washed. There are meals to plan and prepare and eat.

When I was single, I could blow a lot of this stuff off. But now we are five, and things are exponentially more complex, chaotic… and delightful.

kk2up

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Think of Horses

Here’s a quote that’s often used in the medical profession:

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” – Dr. Theodore Woodward

In other words, don’t assume some exotic medical malady first, when it is much more likely to be something quite common. A child is much more likely to have a bladder infection than maple syrup urine disease.

But I think this quote can and should be applied to a lot more areas of life than just medicine. One of the reasons that I tend to look askance at most conspiracy theories is the simple, basic fact that the vast majority of people cannot keep secrets. And trying to get a large number of people to agree, let alone march in lockstep toward one common, corrupt goal, is next to impossible. If something nefarious is going on, chances are it’s one person at the heart of it, maybe two at most. Not an entire organization.

I know a woman who thinks zebras all the time. For example, she saw a dog hair on the counter at her place of work, and rather than assuming it fell off someone’s clothing, she instantly concluded that someone was sneaking his or her dog to work on her days off. Seriously?

And when you try to do something helpful for this woman, she automatically believes you must be out to get her. It has got to be exhausting, always running with the zebras like that. And because she trusts no one, no one trusts her. That’s kind of sad.

I genuinely believe that the simple explanation is most often the right one. That’s how I choose to live my life. Yup, sometimes I’m wrong, but I’m also a lot less stressed out.

zebras
It makes me tired just watching.