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beautiful goodbyes

January 24, 2013

During my ritual death period, I purchased songs for the first time in two years, and one of them was Jennifer Hanson’s Beautiful Goodbye. It’s been running through my head a lot lately.

Because my ties to a great many things have been cut, when I consider them now, it’s from a distance. My boundaries aren’t tangled up with theirs any longer. I don’t feel constrained by conflicted loyalties.

And a lot of things have become clear that I only dimly perceived before.

+++

There was one particular thing I did during that time period that I have spent the most time thinking about. Because I didn’t know why I did it. I woke up one day with a related idea in my mind, noodled around until this particular idea occurred to me, and then jumped on it. Yeah, I spent three days on the letter (but I could have spent months. And I had thought about it for years). And then I sent it.

In the beginning, after I sent it, I was consumed with anxiety about what the other person will think when they read it. How they might react.

It took me several days to realize that whatever their reactions are, they don’t invalidate why I did it (even when I still didn’t know what that why was).

And that’s when I had the picture-thought about Yellow.

I’ve now spent parts of three days thinking about Yellow. (Yellow will get its own posts, later.)

If I had rediscovered Yellow first, I couldn’t have written the letter I did write. If I did write a similar letter, I wouldn’t have sent it.

I don’t regret doing either.

+++

I now perceive that this letter I sent is the 5th in a category that I didn’t realize existed before now. (Because I do things by feel, they occur bottom-up; they self-organize. I never got around to writing the post I meant to about that process, and the metaphors I use to think about it. I probably should do that.)

And the 1st letter in this newly discovered category finally makes sense. At the time I wrote it, in 1990, I had no idea why I did it but it ‘felt’ like a good idea. And then everything changed, almost immediately afterward, so my ego/conscious mind was embarrassed, and felt like I’d made a terrible mistake. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it in the interim, never coming up with satisfactory reasons why it made sense. But it does now.

+++

On the one hand, I’m kind of astonished that I spent 20 years absolutely convinced that I was an NT, albeit one with so-called anomalous quirks. In my defense I can only say that I knew very few NFs. And one I spent the most time with was a narcissist (although I didn’t realize that the time). Right around the time I turned 40, I realized I was actually an NF, and had always been one. I’ve been exploring that new territory from the inside out for 6+ years, and I’m only just now starting to really understand it. On the other hand, it is not a coincidence that I discovered I was an NF almost a year after I stopped talking to my parents. If I had stayed in contact with my parents, it would never have been safe to realize I was not, in fact, a native NT.

But I digress. In 1990, secure in my supposed-NT-ness, I wrote a letter that talked about my feelings to an unprecedented degree. The letter essentially celebrated the best things about a dead relationship that seemed to have been rekindled. But scant days after I sent it, my PTSD kicked into high gear, which I slowly realized was because I was back in contact with this person. So I ended the relationship a second, and final, time.

And I felt really dumb for the next 22 years. I felt like I had to ‘live down’ that letter.

Today I saw for the first time that the letter I just sent, letters I sent in 2000 and 1994, and the letter in 1990, are all related to each other. Along with a fifth (recent) letter that had a slightly different emotional tone. But all five are functionally similar.

The NT/NF stuff is relevant because NFs do things by how they ‘feel’. Reading about that in books about Myers-Briggs, I thought what the authors meant was: NFs use their emotions to figure out what to do. And they do. And I do. But because I’m tactile, I can use ‘doing things by feel’ to describe two distinct processes: emotions, yes, but also, something else. Hard to express in words, but I’ll try. I think with my hands and my skin, because they touch things (and things touch back). Sometimes I get a ‘feeling’ (not an emotion) in my mind that’s similar to, hmm, trying to pick a lock, and finally finding the right combination of . . . stuff . . . where everything falls into place. That’s what I mean by ‘feel’, in the 2nd sense: instead of a mind’s eye, or a mind’s ear, it’s a mind’s fingers. The sensation has volume, texture, almost . . . . flavor. (I’m synesthetic, so my sensory stuff is all cross wired.)

When my fingers are happy, or my mind’s fingers are happy, that doesn’t mean I can talk about why, or even what, or how.

But now that I’m a writer, I’m trying to learn how to translate.

Maybe it’s being an HSP (highly sensitive person), or an artist, or synesthetic, or who knows what. Or being all of those things at once. But I have an extremely complex palette of emotions, wyxzi, ‘feelings’ of both sorts. The best counselor I ever had was an NF and even she said that there were nuances to the stuff I tried to explain to her that she’d never felt, had never thought of, didn’t know were possible. Together we came up the idea that ‘maybe most people see only visible light, but maybe you (Pqw) can also see ultraviolet and infrared. Or polarized light.’ There’s definitely something going on where what I feel and experience I can’t describe so that other people understand easily. I think it’s another bell curve kind of issue: I’m way at the tail end. And so when I try to talk about my emotions and my aesthetic experiences (or my encounters with the numinous, or anything spiritual or mystical), I don’t have any common ground with most people. To me, the stuff they talk about, feels elementary. It’s so basic, why even talk about it? There’s none of the depth, the richness and complexity that infuses my life.

I’ve read a lot of books about these kinds of things. For the longest time, I felt sorry for people in my family of origin because I thought they were all emotionally stunted, and that I wasn’t, and that’s why there was a discrepancy between us. But recently I’ve read more stuff that seems to suggest that my family of origin is within normal parameters, more or less, and I’m way off in left field. Which actually explains a lot. But is also depressing. Because where can I find other people who see polarized light? I don’t know.

+++

When I wrote these five letters, I distilled my very favorite parts of my relationship with the person in question into something I could explain to someone else. Here were the highlights. Here’s what you/they meant to me. Here’s what I loved best about you/them.

I think it’s analogous to making perfume. You start with a whole lot of flavor notes that you want to include. But some flavor notes, when they mix, the result is muddy, or prickly, or ugly. So the perfumier keeps distilling and combining and trying things until the end result not only contains flavor notes they wanted, but smells good on its own. The notes are good, but the gestalt (flavor profile) is also good. That’s what one of these types of my letters does.

And one flavor note in there (well, in 4 of the 5) is something that’s not quite hope, but I don’t have another word for it. Not quite innocence. Words don’t allow me to directly say what I would say, if I could. Hopeful-ish.

I can say my letters directly express love, generosity, maybe even joy. They are celebrations of the very best of my experience with the relationship.

By writing them and sending them, I socially acknowledge not only the relationship, but the complexity of my experience with it. I honor my own experience, which is apparently extra-ordinary. I write about that person at their best, and us at our best together, but I do so with an eye and fingers that no one else has. It’s not just a gift of the best I have to offer, in that moment; it’s a work of art.

+++

Sometime after I send it, I realize the only way I was able to write a work of art about that relationship is because  . . . it’s over.

And once I know it’s over, the kind of letter I could write about it would not at all resemble the letter I wrote. A letter that knows contains judgments. It might seem to tell the recipient how they should feel, reading it. It might seem to ask the recipient to do things, or not do things. It might seem to tell the recipient how to tell other people about it.

So there’s this tiny window of opportunity where my unconscious mind knows that the relationship is over, but my conscious mind does not. My conscious mind is still hopeful, loving, generous, joyous. All emotions that I understand and embody really well, and can also express (I think) really well.

If the relationship is important enough to me to want to honor its place in my life, then I write a letter, and I send it.

And after it is safely in the mail, or has even been received, my conscious mind catches up to my own unconscious mind. And that tiny window of opportunity closes forever.

If the recipient responds to the letter, I’m already in a totally different frame of mind about them or the relationship. Sometimes it’s still pleasant to hear from people, especially if they are generous, or, even better, insightful, in return, but it’s not necessary.

+++

A month or so ago, I counted up how many significant friendships and other relationships I’ve had. I came up with about 32 (a lot more than I was expecting, since I’m an introvert).

How is it, then, that I’ve only written 5 such letters?

  • I’ve drifted away from people, or they from me.
  • Someone has physically moved away, and then the relationship petered out with no fuss or drama.
  • I’ve broken off relationships when I found out some deal-breaking kind of thing about the other person.
  • I’ve had a big fight with someone, and we never wanted to see each other again.
  • The other person broke up with me.
  • I became aware that one significant relationship had ended when I saw the person at a social gathering, and they snubbed me, and persuaded everyone else at the table to also snub me. We had not had a fight or a falling out. I never did find out why.
  • Other people interfered, and made that person choose between me and them.
  • They died.

So it’s a fairly rare occurrence to even be able to write such a letter. Which is probably part of why, when I have the chance to send one, I do send it. Before now, the letter from 1990 haunted me: after I send this, a week later will it seem like a terrible idea? Now I know, maybe it will, but so what? I can still be confident that that person got the best I had to offer, and that’s worth doing. No matter what happens afterwards.

[1-ACUJ / 2-PHW / 3-JTS Sr / 4-PSW / 5-DAW]

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