Saturday, February 16, 2013

Feelings as yet Unnamed

A question for everyone.  Do you every have an emotion that you don't know what it is?  
This happens to me from time to time.  It happened this week.  It was at work.  I was trying to resolve an issue over a new process I've been instructed to implement.  It was making things difficult.  I wanted to get a postponement, but it was made clear to me that I simply had to deal with it and make it work.  
Walking back to my department I noticed that, instead of feeling more annoyed or put-upon, my mood had actually lifted.  I wasn't happy.  I certainly wasn't relieved.  I was energized.  An energy born out of the frustration I'd been feeling for the last several days.  It was a harsh, prickly feeling that kept crawling up the insides of my ribs, like some creature trapped in a cage trying to claw its way past the bars.  It was a I imagine Genghis Khan probably felt when he looked upon the helpless city he had just taken that had stood in his way.
I described the feeling to my writing friend, Ann Dulhanty.  She offered me the term, "violent elation."  Yeah.  After consideration, I've decided that it is an apt name for that feeling.  I wav violently elated that day.  
Does this ever happen to you?  Feeling something you can't simply call "love" or "hate" or "happy" or "sad"?  
I remember another nameless feeling I used to have a lot.  Back when I was a kid.  My dad liked to tease us.  He was an excellent teaser.  And having raised us, he knew exactly where our soft spots were.  I remember when I was the target of his teasing attacks.  I would be laughing and giggling.  His barbs were funny.  At the same time, I'd feel my face trying to screw itself up as if preparing to cry.  His barbs had points on them.  I'd be saying, "Stop it!  Stop saying that!" and laughing, wanting to leave, but staying there.  I could never put a name to that feeling.  
After giving it some thought, I came up with a term for it.  Repellent affection.  I was feeling repellent affection for my dad in those moments.  It was like eating a bowl of your favorite chili, as much as you wanted.  Relishing each and every bite as your tongue melts in your mouth and your insides ignite like they've been doused in kerosene and hit with a blow torch.  
I think we don't have enough words for the things we feel.  It's because our emotions stem from our instinctive reactions, and are felt in the different parts of the brain that monitor these physiological processes.  
What we call, "Love," for instance (which Nat King Cole assures me is more than just a game for two), is felt when twelve different regions of the cerebral cortex are stimulated and endorphins are gushing about in our heads.  I believe its associated our desire for nourishment.  It is why, amongst us mammals, that the first person one normally feels love for is our mother, the initial source of nourishment and survival.  It explains why so many words used in association with loved ones, like "sweetie," "honey" or "sugar" come from taste sensations, as well as the practice of bringing the orifice normally used to convey nutrients into the body into physical contact with the object of this mental stimulation ("Kissing").  
"Hate" and "Fear" I think are the same emotion in different contexts.  Its the feeling one gets when our "Fight or Flight" instinct is triggered.  Whether we fear or hate something depends on whether we are running from it or trying to kill it.  
I remember an acting teacher in college telling me once that he believed there really is only one human emotion, "Excitement."  The labels we give it, he contended, depended on the context.  
All of this means is that it's possible to feel multiple things, even contradictory emotions, at the same time.  Who hasn't been in a relationship where, particularly toward the end of it, you found yourself loving and hating someone at the same time?  The desire to feed yourself on their psyche and the desire to stop the threat they posed to your emotional existence by throttling them, all sloshing back and forth inside your skull like some left over stew pulled from the fridge gone rancid in its container.  
Taking a slight detour here, I think this answers the question that sometimes gets argued between animal lovers and skeptics about whether their pets "love" them.  I think the answer is clearly in the affirmative, as long as you're talking about animals that have evolved to have a cerebral cortex similar to ours.  Dogs, cats, parrots, hamsters, all mammals and birds, all have cerebral cortices.  Theirs are simpler than ours.  Which is why their love seems so much more unconditional.  But the machinery is there, so the emotion is there.  
Fish and reptiles, I don't think so.  Their brains are more elaborate versions of what would be our brain stems and medulla oblongata.  These areas deal with more primitive emotions, such as the aforementioned Fight or Flight response and territoriality.  An alligator in the swamp protecting its nest and clutch of eggs doesn't "love" its unborn children.  The eggs happen to be in the center of the area that his "Mine!" to her.  Once the eggs hatch and her clutch of baby gators swim out into the swamp, she's just as likely to think them a quick little snack as any other creature.  
It makes me wonder what creatures built differently from us would feel.  If his brain and nervous system was more than a primitive stimulus response network, what would a male black widow spider feel toward his mate.  The uncontrollable desire to get as close as possible to insert his quivering packet of spermatozoa at the end of his pedipalp raging against the desire to flee screaming through all eight of his legs.  Calling that such a feeling "love" would be like calling the cravings and DTs an addict might get "love" for their preferred substance to abuse.  
In the past, while trying to describe someone's feeling in my writing, I've worried over my inability to pick the one specific name for a feeling the character I was writing about was feeling.  I don't worry about it much any more.  The most interesting times in life are when you can pin what is going on inside you to one simple term.  "Contentment" is nice to feel on a summer, Saturday morning while swinging in a hammock.  "Raging palpitating revulsion" might make a more fun read.


Anonymous AnnD said...

Nice piece.

When I am in that situation, where I have decided to take on a challenge that feels a little past doable, I describe it as my adrenaline junkie state. I think you have captured all the parts of this - our instinctive drive to survive and pass on our genes, as well as that extra something, to excel, which some theorists might call that drive to have more of our genes passed on than the other guys. This is a concept that has fascinated me for some time - what makes people want to excel, or take on leadership roles?

Thanks for provoking some thought.

February 17, 2013 at 10:58 PM  

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