emotional writing

Friday, April 2, 2004

Emotions. That’s what I’m missing in my stories. It’s another part that I forget when planning the story. I just finished watching “Big Fish,” a wonderful movie by Tim Burton about a father and son relationship told through the tall tales of the father. It had a wonderful ending—emotional without falseness. It stalked the emotions but did so in service of the story, not for cheap reaction.

When I synopsize, I focus on the facts and the characters. I have finally realized that I lose track of an important part, something that I am after with my writing: I want to feel things. There’s an ego part to writing as well, of course. But the thing that draws me in and keeps me going is the emotions.

I’ve been sharing emotions through consternations and feelings of failure, or, lately, feeling that the writing itself is the emotions I’m after. That’s not the case. Writing helps me share or find the emotions. The writing itself is not the emotional part. I have to remember that. I write because I like to write and I love to feel emotions. Those are the two important parts of writing. To sacrifice emotions or replace emotions with consternations or ego would be a failure.

Emotions have always been difficult for me to feel. That’s not accurate because I used to feel them. I used to feel them very strongly. But then came a time that I masked them. I could still feel them, but they were hidden behind walls. I’m working on bringing down those walls now. It’s not an easy process: Undoing years of neglect is difficult, but it is worthwhile and important.

The masks I’ve worn have come about because of death (more exactly, probably separation). First my grandfather’s death, a death I did not understand. I tell this story often, mostly because it’s true and one of the clearest memories I have of my own father. When my mother’s father died, my father brought my two sisters and me to my grandmother’s house. On the red rug, he sat us down and took off his watch. He pointed to the second hand and told us that everyone’s life is measured by the ticking of the hand. I’m not sure if he was trying to tell us that everyone’s life is finite and that people die, or something deeper and more important. It’s hard to know what he was after, looking that far back.

What I do know is that I cried. I cried for a very long time after my grandfather died. I cried whenever I would think of him. I didn’t know why I cried. I never really knew him and by the time I was old enough (old being six or seven) to learn something about him, he was blind and didn’t talk much. But I couldn’t understand what it meant that he was not there. Why wasn’t he there? (I imagine myself asking that. I don’t remember what my actual thoughts were or why his death affected me so strongly.)

This story goes further, of course. My father died years later. It was a time in my life when I was ruled by my emotions. I never succeeded in suppressing them. I wanted to be strong for my family, and I wasn’t. I was useless. I was the man of the house and I couldn’t look at my family or help them with his death.

I spent the next few years learning to stop feeling. (I also spent the time learning to hide myself behind lies and false personalities, but that’s a different story.) The feelings did not disappear. They were still there, but hidden behind bleeding scabs. The feelings were not completely suppressed. They would rear up from time to time. This would happen at home, usually at night. I would be overcome and cry. I would cry loud so that my mother would hear and come over and put her arms around me. I wanted her to come to me. I never went to her. I’m not sure why that was. But she always came and I would cry until I couldn’t cry, and then my head would ache, my eyes burn, and my bruised nose would run. But the emotions were released, and I didn’t have to worry about feeling them until they bubbled over again, or a trigger activated them, such as his anniversary or a visit to his gravesite (something which I have not done in many, many years).

There is more I wanted to discuss about emotions, but this is where I felt the discussion became pandering. I feel that I use these thoughts to feel something and it makes them feel cheap to me. I will overcome this, hopefully. But for now, I’ll leave it at that.

I want to add emotions to my stories. These emotions do not have to be as strong as the ones I described above. This is the “something” I’ve been thinking about and writing about for the past few weeks.