Emotions =/= bad

So I don’t much like my writing lately; the last few posts have felt clumsy and stilted and the normal ease has been missing both during the actual writing and in the finished product. I know why, at least partially—I’ve been feeling really self-conscious about it, which, of course, makes things that are normally routine and easy feel awkward. I’ve also been worried about who might be reading, which makes me even more self-conscious. Thus I kind of want to hit a massive Delete button and get rid of a huge chunk of posts. But I won’t, because that would be silly, and anyway perhaps the stilted posts will make others look better by comparison. Perhaps.

I received some rather disappointing news this morning that’s had me feeling, well, rather disappointed. It wasn’t a surprise; I’ve had my suspicions for a while and I think I’ve been reacting to this eventuality (even the Guatemala plans could be seen as a bit of a pre-emptive strike, though not entirely, and I do think I’m acting more under a prompting than an emotional response). In short, I’m grieving. I just want to crawl under the covers and shut my eyes for a while.

I’m quite acquainted with sadness; there’s something even comforting about it (as the song* goes). But I was really fighting it up until a few days ago. I’ve always been someone with strong emotions—people who feel things this strongly but aren’t as afraid of behaving badly as I am tend to break things when they’re angry (HULK SMASH!) and stop eating for weeks at a time** when they’re sad and go totally manic when they’re happy. I’ve never felt that I had the right to inconvenience other people by doing any of these things and I’ve frequently lamented my lack of an even-tempered disposition. I even went so far as to wish I hadn’t any emotions at all; I felt the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous described me perfectly when it says “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.” This is me, I thought; emotions = bad. Strong emotions = very bad.

Thus it was surprising and comforting a few days ago when I was discussing this with a close friend and mentor and she told me I’d misunderstood the Big Book. “It’s not about not having emotions,” she said; “it’s about not being destructive.” It’s OK to be so elated when Peter Sagal says he loves me that I go a little berserk in my kitchen or so upset when I injure myself by slamming into the side mirror of a parked car that I burst into hysterical tears (something I desperately wanted to do but felt it would be stupid, or at best out of proportion). It’s OK to feel angry and hurl pillows at the couch as hard as I can when a horrible and abusive person hurts someone I love (actually, I didn’t do this—but I did drop a few F-bombs that day, two of which were in front of nice Mormons). It’s not OK to go completely crazy and slash someone’s paintings after a breakup (which thing I have even come close to doing; I’ve never even sent a nasty [though entirely justified] e-mail). There’s a difference between controlling an emotional nature and repressing emotions entirely.

Which is good, because emotions can’t be repressed entirely. “Bad blood will out,” says the idiom, and so will feelings. I’ve read about people who wake up with fingernail marks embedded into palms from clenching hands into fists during times of extreme stress; I’ve experienced white-hot rage completely out of all proportion to the event when my headphone wire gets caught on a drawer handle, yanking the headphones out of my phone during the most important part of the podcast (as if I can’t just plug back in and rewind, for pity’s sake). (Yes, I know that threading the wire down one’s shirt largely removes this problem, but I don’t always do it, obviously.) When I react that strongly to a minor irritation, I need to figure out what’s really going on.

Which thing I already knew, of course. I’m self-aware enough for that. But I didn’t know it was OK to first feel and then express feelings, even negative ones—that in fact that’s the only healthy way to deal with whatever underlying issue is plaguing me. I don’t have to sit and feel frustration mounting to anger with myself that I’m sad or angry or even happy because I think I should be “mature” enough to handle every situation with calm serenity, and try in vain not to feel what I’m feeling. This is really a new idea for me and not feeling guilty for having emotions is going to take some practice.*** For now, I can be glad that I have the time and latitude to think about this—something I’m well aware that far too few people can enjoy.




*I’ve actually never heard this song; a friend quoted the “I miss the comfort in being sad” line to me many years ago and I felt an instant connection to it, but I’ve never bothered to look up or listen to the song itself. I kind of don’t want to in case I don’t like it.

**OK, so maybe I have done this, and a few years ago lost 22 pounds in three months. I owe my current small-ish size to this particular ordeal. Thanks, Personal Trauma Weight Loss Program!

***I know that I frequently express strong emotions here on my weblog and in Facebook posts, personal interactions, et cetera. But I also tend to feel afterward that I really could have been a bit more reserved and I worry about overreacting. Thus my internal and external selves aren’t necessarily aligned completely, which is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Opposition in all things

Some days are just awesome, and then the Law of Averages takes over.

On Tuesday, I was exchanging e-mails with a delightful young woman who turned out to be the intern from Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (!!!), which many readers will remember is my all-time favorite radio show—a show whose new episodes I await impatiently every week, that never fails to make me laugh out loud, that I turn to in times of acute distress or just vague crumminess. This e-mail exchange had me completely starstruck in a way that (my therapist tells me) is actually quite normal and not immature or weird or borderline stalkerish. But the rabid fangirl in me was in for an even bigger treat when the intern said, “I even told Peter about our conversation, and told him that you love him, and he says he loves you back.”


ZOMG DOUBLEPLUSSQUEE!!!11!!!!1!11!!!!!

I cannot adequately express in words what this means to me. The only way to convey the feelings of absolute elation involved spastic dancing, complete with squealing and flailing. (In my kitchen. There is no video.)


But euphoria can only be allowed to last so long, apparently. The next day I was riding my bike through Cambridge when yet another &$%# cab driver came way too close for comfort. Uncharacteristically, I turned to yell at him. “Hey, watch i—”


I slammed into the driver’s side mirror of a parked Honda. (Irony of hitting something while telling someone else to watch out: noted, thanks.) It hurt. A lot. My arm started to bleed. I came to a stop and started to go into shock, which was weird, because the accident wasn’t that bad. (Isn’t shock for real problems?) Fortunately a good friend of mine happened to be riding by on his Vespa, and he sat me down (the thought hadn’t occurred to me, although I was getting dizzy). A friendly woman gave me a ride home, since I could only walk about 15 feet before the world started spinning, and my roommates set me up on the couch with some ice packs and food and The Bachelorette: Men Tell All (so actually I wasn’t completely enthusiastic about the choice of television; to prevent my IQ from dropping too precipitously I read posts on the Mormon American weblog [which you should do, too]). Self-pity commenced. (What kind of idiot runs into a parked car, especially while telling someone else to be careful?)

Then later—much later, since weather had delayed her flight from 8:30 PM until 1:00 AM—I went to fetch a friend from the airport. No problem, right? I live 10 minutes from Logan and her house is only about 20 minutes away from mine.

Except that summertime is constructiontime* in New England, so all the roads I needed were closed, which meant I got to take badly signed detours through indifferently marked roads (seriously, how hard is it to paint straight lines on pavement?!) in downtown Boston to the airport—where the police weren’t letting anyone stop to look for their passengers, and my friend’s cell phone battery was almost dead, so the first three times I called I got her voice mail. She finally walked up just as a vehicle with flashing blue lights was pulling up behind me; the ticket-bearing vehicle went away (thank goodness). On the way home even more of the roads I needed were closed, so I got to drive around through downtown Boston again. Add to this the trauma of the earlier accident and it leads to a thoroughly discouraged Fishies crawling tiredly into bed at 2:36 AM, then staring at the ceiling, feeling both wired and wretched, until after 4:00.

So I heard from the intern yesterday that she can get me tickets to the Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! show in Maine in three weeks. (!!!!! Peter AND Carl Kasell IN PERSON AND IN THE SAME ROOM!!!! More spastic dances are needed to express the excitement.)

I stayed inside today.

*Somehow this never makes the roads any better. Boston is a horrible place to drive if one cares about one’s car.


So I can do a lot of random things kind of well—well enough to be better than the average American, perhaps, but not well enough to be actually, like, good. I can make my fingers trip and slur through some Bach and Mendelssohn and sing well enough to solo in Sacrament Meeting, but I’d never be accepted into any kind of music school. I can ride at least 25 miles on my bike without much effort (on flat roads) and run a few nine-minute miles at a time, but I’m no athlete. I’ve visited 22 countries, but I don’t know that much about many of them (though I can sing Finland’s national anthem) and I was in some of them for less than a day. My bachelor’s degree means that I know L is the only English lateral and I could once quote 100 lines of Shakespeare, but literature classes don’t build on each other the way science or math classes do, so it’s easy to forget stuff. And when discussion turns to politics, economics, and religion—all things I feel obligated to know about but don’t—I just let the wicked smaht folks talk.

The same is true for languages. I’ve always found them fascinating, and I can say a lot of random phrases in various tongues (“It’s not about the onions” in Korean; “He says that is my sheep” in Icelandic; “I can’t carry that on my head” in Shona; “Shut up and kiss me” in Spanish, German, Icelandic, and Finnish [would that I had a reason to use this last phrase again, in any language {sigh}]). I used to be able to talk about allergies in German (it helps that the German word for “allergies” is “Allergien”), and I can carry on a conversation in Spanish as long as it’s about the gospel. But despite taking four semesters of Spanish in college and living for three months in Germany five years ago, I’ve never become fluent in either language.

Thus it is high freakin’ time I sat down and got good enough at something to be useful. An idea has been flitting around in the back of my mind for a while now, and it finally broke through to consciousness a couple of weeks ago. Some friends of mine have taken language immersion classes in Guatemala, and they’ve loved them. When the idea first began to crystallize I was somewhat dubious—I hate hot, humid weather! (The past week or so in Boston has been AWFUL.) However: Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela [shay-la]), Guatemala has a temperate climate year-round, and several friends have relatives and/or have served missions there. Quetzaltenango also has several inexpensive homestay language schools that also offer volunteer opportunities. Since I’m not working full-time right now, I’ll be able to study one-on-one with a tutor for several hours every day.

Current plans are to be there from September through December, returning just before Christmas. And things are coming together beautifully.


Presto, allegro, andante, lento, grave… HYMNAL

I can’t take credit for the joke in the title (tempo markings in order of decreasing speed) (shout out to LSD, who first shared this with me in the kitchen of her Heritage Halls apartment in 1995), but I can, most unfortunately, bear solemn witness of its veracity.


So I’ve known many Sacrament Meeting organists who seem to believe that singing hymns slowly helps one feel them more. Our current organist, a very kind and giving sister, is one. I want to say right here that she is a WONDERFUL person. But…

Feel them I do. Excruciatingly.

You try singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 68 peats per minute (recommended speed in the hymnal: 88-104), or “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” at 50 (recommended: 72-88), or “Carry On” at 81 (recommended: 96-116). (No, really. Download a metronome app and try it. I’ll wait.) The first and third of these should inspire, if not ebullience (which is necessary should one try for the high G at the end of “Carry On”), at least a degree of adventurousness; the second allows ample time for reflection when sung at the recommended speed. Sung too slowly, hymns are interminable.

Thus I was excited yesterday morning when the Relief Society opening hymn was “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go”—I’m the pianist,* so I can not only play the hymn at the listed speed (48-58 bpm [and it should surprise NOBODY to learn that I skew fast]), but I can also say something about why it needs to be sung at that speed. (Going where the Lord wants one to go should be an occasion for joy, not martyred resignation.) So I did. And we sang the song joyously. I looked around to see if <Organist> appreciated the suggestion I was kind enough to make for her benefit.

And she wasn’t there.

She came in halfway through the lesson, so she missed what in my humble opinion was the most important part of the meeting (for her, anyway). I sat, rankled, elbows on knees and head in hands.

And then, in Sacrament Meeting, the closing hymn was—wait for it—

“I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.”


I’ll go where you’ve forced me to go, dear Lord, but only if under duress / With weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeeeeeeeeth… and cursing, and most sorely vexed.**

Now, I’m fully aware that, had the backhanded Relief Society lesson I so desperately wanted to teach been of vital importance for <Organist>, God could have made sure that she arrived on time. She always does.

That she didn’t this one time, AND that the very song I took such pains about was then the Sacrament Meeting closing hymn, would seem to imply that the lesson to be learned here is not for <Organist> at all, but for someone else.




*I firmly believe this is God’s (or at least a leader’s) way of getting me to church on time. When church begins at 9:00 AM, with Relief Society first, ‘tis tempting for those of us with nocturnal dispositions to skip the first hour or two.

**If “heaven” and “given” can be forced to rhyme, so can “duress” and “vexed,” which (in addition to capturing my feelings perfectly) are awesome words.

Fishies Goes to Camp

So I spent last week with 16 of the awesomest 13-year-old girls EVAH at girls’ camp. One might legitimately wonder whether this was an adventure fraught with risk; after all, my skill set (writing, classical musicianing, remembering random details from bygone decades, reveling in air conditioning, organizing inanimate objects, slaughtering the competition at literature games and Bananagrams), maladroit set (meeting new people, dealing with large groups, getting up early, tolerating heat and humidity or insects, coming across as any kind of authority figure, functioning a-tall during periods of sleep deprivation), and novitiate set (working with teenagers, anything involving the Great Outdoors™) seem remarkably ill-suited to such an endeavor. Thus it was with no small degree of trepidation that I set out last Tuesday for New Hampshire with two teenage girls and all our stuff crammed into Simon Bennett. Fortunately, all the other counselors/staff at the camp either currently have or have had teenagers, either currently work or have worked in middle or high schools, recently attended girls’ camp themselves, and/or are in the same ward as some of the campers; they were immeasurably helpful.

And we had a blast.

The girls were fantastic—our group had none of the drama and intrigue and disciplinary problems that other groups had. They didn’t complain about getting up early or hiking in the heat or scrubbing the bathrooms or having to clean up TP after someone pranked us:

Some of them asked me somewhat incredulously if I’m really older than 22 (most blessèd are they). All the girls—the shy ones and the diametrical-opposite-of-shy ones— actively participated in scripture study discussions and got along swimmingly. Several gave us chocolate, and one made us earrings:

Additionally, the three that I drove to the trail head for our hike fully appreciated the absolute synergistic joy of loud Finnish Christmas polka music* + Simon Bennett (WIN!) (everybody else makes fun of me). I wish I could post pictures of their adorableness; you’ll just have trust me when I say they’re all ZOMG SO CUTE!!!!!!

As for me, I became slightly less of a pop culture reject (I can now sing the chorus of “Call Me Maybe” as well as a few other current songs), and found that I have, to my complete and total astonishment, absolutely MAD hula hoop skillz. (There is a video. You will not see it.) I experienced a prodigious amount of junk food, insects, and screaming (teenage girls’ default emotional expression); I went swimming and canoeing and kayaking in the lake; my canoe was most cruelly SABOTAGED during the counselors’ race (side note: swimming with one arm while dragging a mostly submerged canoe back to shore = tedious). I got insect bites on my face (in the *#&% middle of the *#&% night—I had to *#&% get up and find the *#&% bug spray), the sole of one foot (grrr), and too many other places to count (no pictures). I got my hair did twice:

(’Tis an unwritten rule of adolescent girlhood that where several teenage girls gather for any reason, there is braiding in the midst of them.)

and scored a reasonably impressive bruise:

I even felt non-grimy a couple of times—for approximately 30 blissful post-shower seconds before reapplying insect repellent. And—possibly best of all—I ate good food that I did not have to procure or prepare in any fashion. (In my real life, I mostly survive on glorified hors d’oeuvres and comestibles that require, at most, peeling.)

So it was great. Thus the Summer of New (and Not Necessarily Comfortable) Experiences continues. I hope to do more things like this one—the kind that are actually fun while they’re happening, rather than being fodder for good stories after the fact.


*Or, if you prefer, the hard rock version. Faster = more fun to sing along.