Jan 09, 2022
7 mins read
I very nearly didn’t publish this. A tiny thing happened today, so small it could hardly be detected by the human eye. It set off a surprisingly big wave of irrational emotion, and I did what I always do, which is write it down.
And I thought I’d give it to you, because it might be useful.
But the problem is that I would have to give it to you unedited, because that’s the whole point of writing your way through an emotional wave, and some of it genuinely doesn’t make much sense, and clarity is my number one principle as a writer.
So I was torn between authenticity and not befuddling the Dear Reader. Authenticity is just winning, in a photo finish. I’m not sure I’ve picked the right horse. But I am going to press publish anyway.
Here’s an emotion storm for you:
When you are giving and giving and trying to use every atom of your brain and heart and spirit and soul, and someone - a horse or a human or the damn world - just says: no. They won’t hear or can’t hear and you think: but I’m really trying my best here, and I’ve got something of value, and I want you to have it. And they say, silently or out loud, ‘No, thank you.’ Or they say, ’Yes, but.’ Oh, that Yes, but. And then they tell you that someone much cleverer and wiser than you has said or done something much more brilliant than you will ever say or do and you stare in amazement and try not to feel as if all the humans are laughing as you just pointlessly click your teeth.
And then you feel horrible because you know it’s not all about you and all you talk about is how it’s not all about you and you loathe people with a sense of entitlement but you are suddenly being entitled. Why on earth should anyone - dog, horse, child, adult human - listen to you? Sure, you’ve done a bit of work and read a few books and put in a few hours and you can carry a tune. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got the answers to the universe at your fingertips even though you would like to pretend you have. If you are offering something and someone says no, that’s perfectly fine and to be expected. And that’s all it is - it’s not a rejection of your entire self or your complete reason for being or every bit of striving you’ve ever done.
It’s just a thing. It’s just one person - or dog or horse or even a stranger on social media - saying no. They don’t need you, at this precise moment, and that is such a small thing.
I can switch now from the universal you to the individual I. My shoulders are coming down. I can say: yes, this is me. This is what I am feeling. I am smiling, ruefully, at my own folly. There are certain things that, even now, even at my advanced age, even after all the books I have read and the wise humans I have consulted, can send me into a loop. I just went into a loop. (As you can see.)
And here’s what I do with a loop. I immediately and at once and with as much speed as possible, write it down. Write it down, write it down. I don’t want it to get purchase in my head. Once the loop, which starts off visceral, from some old, deep wound, gets into a chorus of voices, I’m buggered. Actually that’s not true, but it takes longer to deal with. The loop just needs some words to go with it, some lovely, incoherent words on the page - because this part does not need to make sense, may perhaps be even more true if it does not make sense - and then it’s out and it’s gone and it loses its power. Then I can get on with the rest of my day.
The emotions are true and need to be marked. But these particular ones are not much use to me. (I like feelings which are useful.) But I can’t belittle them or despise them. I have to say: ‘Yes, I see you. I hear you. I’m going to write you down so you’ve got somewhere safe to go.’ And then they are honoured, and gone. I do need them to be gone, because the sun is shining and I want to go and stand with the red mare and look at the light, and I don’t want the gremlins shouting in my ear and the hollow weight in my stomach and the sneaking sense of failure and resentment.
These emotions come from Mabel, who is my officially Least Good Self. I gave her a name because I find things easier to understand if they have names. Poor Mabel. She is the one who makes everything about her. She moans and groans and completely forgets that other people have their own lives to lead. She stamps her foot when she does not get her own way. She very much wants people to feel what she would like them to feel and do what she would like them to do. (I am actually laughing as I write those words, because they are so absurd, because Mabel is so absurd, and I think: thank goodness, the writing it down is working, because I couldn’t have laughed ten minutes ago.)
And now I am sighing and slowing and the world, which was stuttering and screeching and scratching, has steadied and grown gentle and knowable again. That’s all it was: an emotion storm. Something got touched, and the fuse got lit - I think this has been building for a while; it’s a matter of increments, of small, undealt-with hurts - and the explosion came.
And that’s when the years of practice kicked in. In the old days, this would have ruined my Sunday and probably half of next week. I would have felt sick and furious. I would have snapped at people I loved and been dismissive to the dogs and done my work badly. Then I would have been even more grumpy, until the dam would finally break, probably at around 3am on Thursday morning, and I would have had a stormy cry and remembered at last what it was like to feel like a half-way decent or sane human being.
I’m fifty-five, and I don’t want to waste three and a half days feeling like shit. So I did some work, over the last few years, and I found some tools, and every time I use the tools and they really make a difference, I want to dance and holler and sing Hosanna. Which I may well do. Not the Hosanna bit, because I never sing that; I wrote that because it’s a lovely old trope and it sounds good on the page. I’ll sing Red Light Spells Danger by Billy Ocean, because that is currently the number one top song on my Spotify playlist.
It’s taken seventeen minutes to get from hot mess to ease and happiness. I shouldn’t say this, but I feel bloody proud of myself. I learnt how to do that, and it was hard work, and I couldn’t have done it without the red mare, and it damn well is something.
I think: that’s not bad. I think: my dander, which always goes up when it scents competition, is asking whether I can get it down to seven.
I think: let the Dear Reader have this unedited. Send it out raw. Some of it won’t make any sense, but sense is not the point of this. This is about honesty and reality and authenticity. This is about it being all right, sometimes, to be a mess. This is not about presenting everything all perfect and polished and tied up with a bow.
There is no bow. Don’t give them the bow; give them you.
I think: why not?
I think: we have nothing to lose but our chains.