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natural resources

April 25, 2012

People broadcast their emotions on various ‘channels’. There are very often ‘channels’ that broadcast data that the people involved would not want to make public, but they don’t realize it is happening. And if they are usually around people who cannot pick up those channels, they’re okay. But when some people can pick up those channels, ‘secret’  data becomes available about the other people — usually things they’re conflicted or upset about, maybe even ashamed about — and it often directly contradicts what they are saying or doing openly, as well as what they claim to be feeling.

All those years living with my parents or other relatives, I was one of those people picking up ‘secret’ data, along with the more regular kind that most people receive, but I did not realize or understand how it all worked. I had way too much data, none of my algorithms made useful sense out of it, and I never knew why.

Spouse’s primary function is intuition, so he often knows or suspects things deeper than surface phenomena, which he has used to explain things to me about my family and other people that did help me understand them somewhat better. But it’s when I met his family that the big puzzle finally started to make sense.

I hadn’t met any of them until the night before our wedding. I did not have a clear idea of their personalities or, given their history, how they might react to me. Of course I was hoping to make a good impression which might lead to friendly relationships with them. Spouse assured me that they liked me. But every time we saw them, I was awash in contradictory emotions, most of which I was fairly confident could not be coming from me. (Anger was the most common one, and at that time in my life, it was something I rarely felt.) So then I started paying attention to how I felt generally when we were around them. And after that, I started listening to what they actually said. The words were innocuous, or seemingly friendly, but the underlying vibe was hostile. Yet when I talked to Spouse afterward, he tended to say I must be imagining things. So I gradually realized that Spouse cannot pick up those secret channels.

When you are enmeshed with other people, it makes sense that you would feel their emotions as your own, and react to them accordingly. You wouldn’t learn to separate them out very well because even if they’re not your own, if they are negative, overall things will go much better for you if you can change negative to positive, or at least, negative to neutral.

I don’t think my mother ever felt joy very often. I have. In fact, I think I have an affinity for joy. But it does not seem to be an emotion that is contagious. Now that I think about it, I usually feel joy when I’m the only human being around — for me it’s not a social emotion.

There’s this thing I call ‘sparkle’. Maybe it’s an emotion, or an emotional state, I don’t know, but it only occurs in social situations. When it’s happening, it feels akin to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, but also akin to joy. It’s sort of like flirting but not really. This one is weird because when I was younger, I often felt it happen when I was with other women I was friendly with, as well as with men. So I thought, back then, that sparkle was a quality my women friends had, and I was glad they shared it with me. Certainly they always acted like they were doing me a big favor by including my pitiful and unattractive self in their schemes. It was only much, much later that I realized that the reality was very different.

  • These women never shared anything with me. Everything was a transaction, and they always took much more than I meant to give, while they complained that I was being selfish.
  • When these women told me about their encounters with men or other women when I wasn’t there, sparkle never seemed to be involved.
  • Yet sparkle might happen to me no matter who else was there, men and women both, friends or strangers.

Sparkle seemed to require an openness to experience, boundless curiosity, a willingness to learn from anyone, and, perhaps most importantly, a capacity for delight. I brought all of that into the room.

I haven’t felt sparkle in a long time. I miss it.

+++

There’s a certain kind of writing that I’ve been doing since I was a child. I think it began from hearing my father’s stories about how he did something similar, and wonderful things resulted. After high school, my father worked for at least a year or two. No one in his family had ever gone to college, so there was no thought that he would go, and no money either. So he got a job, or a series of jobs, saved his money, and entered college, as a non-traditional (i.e., older adult) student, in the late 1950s. I do know he joined a fraternity because his friendships with those men have persisted ever since.

He also made friends with some of his professors (all men back then, and at least some of them Jesuit priests). I always got the impression that his relationships with his professors grew out of him writing letters to them, thanking them for what he learned from them. He said most teachers never got letters like that, so they especially treasured them. And I guess thought better of you for writing one.

I always had a lot of trouble making friends. But it was easy for me to find people to learn things from. So I started writing ‘thank you’ letters to people who had touched my life in a positive way. Sometimes I wrote them at Thanksgiving, because that seemed fitting. I did write some of them to my teachers — a whole bunch from high school; in college, my world history teacher; and to my Latin teacher, I wrote something heartfelt in English and then translated it into Latin. But most of them went to family members, because those were the people that persisted in my life. And because I kept hoping that if they knew how much they meant to me, maybe they would treat me better.

Out of 15 years in college (5 schools in 3 states), I made friends with 1 professor, and letters were not involved. I also tried talking to professors in person, but that never led to anything either.

And the only thing that developed from writing letters to family members was my mother thinking I could and would do it on command. She would invariably pick someone I was not getting along with, and tell me she thought it was a really good idea for me to write a letter of appreciation to this person.

No matter how many times I explained that I could only write letters that wanted to be written, and that I knew that they wanted to be written because they started writing themselves in my head or in my dreams, she never understood. These letters didn’t just come from a spring; they came from the bedrock of my deepest feelings and longings for connection. They couldn’t be faked. They couldn’t be kludged together. Either the feelings are there, or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, I have nothing to write about.

Not only did these letters never lead to a deeper connection or an improved relationship with a family member, but I don’t remember ever even getting a meaningful response.

So I don’t write them anymore.

+++

Spouse has made his peace with being essentially a hermit, and not looking for new friends, because social interactions are so difficult and rarely develop into anything worthwhile.

Unlike him, pretty much since birth, I’ve been ‘working on myself’, trying to become more likable. It hasn’t worked. I either can’t figure out what works, or I can’t do what works. Most people I meet do not like me, and that has always been true.

When I think of the resources I have spent on trying to change that — and failing utterly — I could weep for the waste.

Worse than that, though, I think some part of me deliberately committed most of my resources to a cause that was bound to fail because it’s easier to fail. If I manage to make a success out of my life, then all sorts of things I’ve been told will turn out to not have been true.

What if I stop spending time worrying about my legacy? What if I stop wondering whether I’m making a good impression? What if I take all the resources that have been turned towards other people, and I reorient them to focus on myself? What if I follow my curiosity? What if I start looking for delight, joy, sparkle?

The one strategy I have never ever tried is putting myself first. What could happen? Let’s find out.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sixwing permalink
    April 25, 2012 18:31

    Your last paragraph and the sentence after it nearly made me cheer aloud. Instead I will cheer in text. Go you! *\o/*

    I find it is not easy to remember to ‘feed’ myself in this sort of way. It is so much easier to worry about impression instead of substance, and to neglect what I feel and need than it is to refresh that deep source. I do find that it is worth the effort – when I remember to do it.

    Let’s do find out. I wish you the best of finding your delight, and joy, and sparkle.

    • April 26, 2012 17:18

      Can I cheer for you to do the same? \o/

      How do you refresh your source?

      • Sixwing permalink
        April 27, 2012 17:45

        Thanks. n_n

        I’m not sure I have a reliable method.
        I garden or draw or work on some project or other, or play with birds or walk or nap. But mostly it’s a matter of matching ‘what can I do now’ to ‘what do I need now,’ and that’s … difficult. Especially when at work. >.<

      • April 27, 2012 19:35

        ‘Reliable’ can be kind of tricky as so many things depend on, well, so many things. Variables, context, how I’m (you’re) feeling on a given day.

        If you had a blog, I could read about your adventures.

  2. May 2, 2012 17:19

    Laiima, I deeply admire your writing and your willingness to talk about stuff “out loud”.

    Internet hugs any time you want one. 🙂

    Oddly enough, while I was procrastinating on this comment, I ended up randomly finding out stuff about myself which is stuff you have talked about. Synchronicity!

    I clicked over from the Slacktiverse today, and binge-read a bunch of old posts to catch up; this is the newest post that my comment is vaguely relevant to.

    • May 2, 2012 17:41

      Ooh, synchronicity – yay! I’m always open to Internet hugs too. 🙂

      Writing about topics that are often deeply painful or unsettling with unflinching honesty, and then posting them here, has kind of grown into a spiritual practice, in a (Pagan) religion in which I think I am the only adherent. All I know for sure is that doing this is working, so I’m going to keep doing it. Thanks for reading!

  3. May 2, 2012 19:46

    Healing yourself first is a good thing!

    Feel free to give yourself a hug from me any time you want one – I’m sorry that sounds so pretentious, but …

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