Thursday, May 19, 2011

On emoticolonialism

An imprint of the flower I smelled this morning
Think back to the worst time of your life. The loss of a loved one; some big, personal failure; or a dramatic event that changed your life - and not for the better. Now, quickly, before you sink into depression, think back to the happiest time of your life. If you're a parent, it's probably the birth of your child. It might be your wedding day. Having a book published. Going on a dream vacation. Or perhaps you're one of those people who cherish the small things to such extent that your happiest moment is the flower you smelled this morning?

Either way, compare those emotions. The extreme sad/scare/rage to the extreme happy/thrilled/enthusiastic. They are powerful ends to the same emotional spectrum. If you did as I told you - picked the very worst and very happiest memories you have - these emotions most likely represent the strongest sentiments you have ever felt. It's a little frightening, actually, just how strong these feelings are.

It struck me today, how we sometimes - not too often, fortunately - are overpowered with emotions so strong that they leave a lasting memory for the rest of our lives. By mentioning the thing that triggered these emotions, we can feel a version of the same emotion, even years after. When I asked you to think back, I might have triggered intense grief you almost had forgotten you had in you, but then it is there after all, like an imprint of the original feeling. Or a tingling sensation in your stomach region, reminding you of how you really felt that first time your boyfriend kissed you.

Imagine now that instead of having an aftertaste of an emotion already felt, you had a preview. The same imprint - a mellower version of the original - but before the actual event and your reaction to it. Would you be able to bear it? If it was a happy preview - wouldn't the expectations of the real thing lessen the actual feeling? And worse - if it was a sad preview - wouldn't the premature grief weaken your ability to handle the real thing?

One of the impossible questions I have asked myself after the earthquake in Japan in March is whether I'd gone if I had known. It's an impossible question because it doesn't really matter. I didn't know, and I did go. Plus, I think the answer is given. Had I known for sure that there would be an earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear crisis, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere near it - even though I wasn't injured or directly affected. Still, there might have been a part of me that would still have wanted to go - not to play hero per se - but perhaps in a misguided "solidarity" with Japan? Or to prove to myself that I wasn't scared? (Which would be wrong, by the way.) Well, that part would have been convinced if I had had a "preview" of any of the emotions I've been dealing with, during and after the earthquake.

I think it is good that we don't know.

Somewhat related, I'm writing about nuclearism over at Burrowers, Books & Balderdash today. I guess the same questions is relevant there - if we had known, would we have acted differently?


LL Cool Joe said...

Interesting as I was reading this I was trying to think back to the worst time in my life and the best, and I can't think of either. I can think of bad and good times, but I'm not able to differentiate between the worst of the worst or the best of the best.

Marjorie said...

The other day I had a momentary flashback to the worst time in my life. Thinking back and remembering can't compare to a flashback. The flashback holds all the pain, heartache, and anxiety of the real thing for just a few seconds. It freaked me out!

I'm glad you decided to go back to Japan. I think that I might not have gone back. I'm not as brave as you.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I can think back to the night my husband passed away and my life changed. The hardness of the moment he went has gone but in place is a thought of pride of meeting him, loving him, marrying him and having his children. I still miss him and always will but that worst moment has mellowed over the years.


Michael Offutt said...

My brother said an odd thing to me the other day that I thought may be applicable in some way to your post. He said, "Have you ever wanted to know about the day that you die?" I replied, "No way...I don't want to know that at all. Why would you?" His response was simply, "It would allow me to plan for it so that I had all of my arrangements taken care of ahead of time and I could die knowing that my funeral was going to be perfect."

Cold As Heaven said...

I've never experienced a significant earth quake. Earth quakes are very interesting from a scientific point of view, the source mechanisms by which they are released, and the propagation of the various modes of seismic waves. I would liked to experience an average size earth quake, big enough to feel the nature of it, but not causing damage

Cold As Heaven

Kelly said...

I had a little trouble with your exercise because time tempers our emotions (or at least it has mine).

I definitely think it's a good thing that we can't see the future.

Leslie said...

You may be interested in this:
"Thousands of people across the world who survive devastating earthquakes are living with the trauma of the disaster compounded by the experiences of aftershocks. Claudia Hammond talks to Metin Basoglu, a psychiatrist who has developed a method of mass psychological treatment for survivors of disasters like these, based on his research with over 10,000 people who lived through the Turkish earthquake of 1999. Could a single session of this kind of therapy really make a difference?"
It comes from a description of an article on a radio programme which I just happened to hear yesterday:
I'm not sure if the link to the audio stream will work outside the UK but if you want more info, please let me know.

NESLiiCE said...

nice blog

sue said...

I have no trouble thinking of the most terrifying experiences - having my 10 day old son stop breathing and turn blue in my arms is pretty high on the list (he survived) and being at a party and having a guest rush in to say my daughter had been hit by a car as she was crossing the road to the party (it turned out to be another guest - who recovered well) having my adored cousin and aunt killed in different car crashes - but the best? That's harder. But would I want to have known ahead - no way, and there's no way I'd choose to have had those experiences either.

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