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Advice on feeling bad

Wednesday 1/10/24

Yesterday I called my mom to check in. She told me how down she'd been feeling. A couple times now after Christmas she's said how depressing it is taking down the decorations, and that Christmas itself was depressing for her. She'd said words to this effect to someone else, and that someone else put their hands on her shoulders and said that they'd been through worse Christmases. My mom said to me, "They were right, and etc. etc."


First of all: The person offering this counsel meant well. I know that. But there was a fair amount of projection involved. They're someone who had an experience that subsequently played a large role in many of the important life choices they made going forward, and which shaped their life. They granted it rights to shape their life. Chose to have it be the shaper of their life, in a way. And that thing they went through--which was a loss--had a seasonal association. Was felt keenly at Christmas. There was a final Christmas before the loss, which was much remembered, and then a first Christmas after the loss.


But the thing was, they were speaking for themselves. People usually are, even when they mean well. They can't step clear of their own experiences.


How you feel is how you feel. That's what something is. It doesn't have to answer to strictures of cause and effect and be ironclad, like some mathematical equation. How you feel can be a separate thing. Your feelings in and of themselves are not wrong because they're not about being right or wrong. Now, your feelings can be out of whack with what occurred. For instance, people in publishing are so fragile that if you suggest something critical about them or their work, true and obvious as it may be, they'll fall apart. Is that wrong? Feelings aren't wrong, but people are often wrong for various reasons. They're lazy, weak, simple, ignorant, evil, they have no standards for themselves, and so forth. Such a person is going to have feelings like those I mentioned for this particular example.


But the feelings are still the feelings. They get their space. They have a place. It's how we then respond to our feelings that matters, that puts us on the hook. A publishing person could say, "Well...thinking about it, this is a pretty irrational response that I just told Fleming he's like a member of the Mafia out to get me because he politely pointed out that for the last ten years I've been doing hooking up my friends and not treating him fairly."


See how that works, Michael Griffith of the Cincinnati Review, guy who actually compared me to a member of the mob for saying a very simple truth after a long time of the evidence of that truth stacking, and stacking, and stacking?


You have to let your feelings be your feelings, though. Growth is sectional. It's not a blur. There are parts to it. It occurs in multiple keys; growth is a process of modulation.


Recently, I wrote a story that I knew would be an amazing story. I'll get into that story more later, but before I wrote it, I thought it was likely that I'd have to write it twice. All stories are different. That was just my feeling. So I wrote it once, and it was a mess. I let it be a mess. The story had this very precise rhythm, such that it had to appear surprising at every turn, and yet there'd be this burgeoning awareness on the reader's part so that they'd fill in parts themselves when a given part of the story came around another bend, so to speak, and as they did this, there'd be greater meaning to them each time with what they were filling in, though the words used for that filling in would be the same--the refrain, as it were. Then I opened a second Word document, pasted in the story, and began cutting, cutting, cutting. Fitting. Blending. Adding. Annealing. After that, I had my amazing story.


That first version of the story, though, is like our feelings. It was a temporary thing, before I got on to the next stage of work, but it was still something that had to happen and needed to exist as what it was. Note my language there: As what it was.


That's how feelings are. Telling someone they shouldn't have the feelings they do doesn't help. Don't fight your feelings off, don't argue them away. There they are. Have them. Be in them. There's no "get over it" or "it's not that bad" during the feeling stage. It's the rock wheeled into the studio before hammer and chisel are brought to bear upon it. You can be trying to help someone, but you'll help them more if you let them have those feelings, and work with them regarding that next part of the equation. Feelings can definitely be irrational. You don't want to stick to anything irrational. But you have a better chance of not doing that if you allow the feelings to be there, then take the step back and evaluate. You need to have the presence of mind to do so. And you must make the choice to do so. Because it's a conscious choice. The best and most important things often follow after a conscious choice is made. They don't just happen. Feelings can be like a wild goat in the basement. They kick up a ruckus, make holes in the wall, chew clothes and furniture to bits, but they must be allowed in that space. The place can sparkle after, but it won't with half-measures or a censoring of any part of the process, which includes letting feelings be what they are and then assessing what for and why.



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