Just recently I read Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, a compassionate look at what it is like to be ‘intersex,’ a condition where your gender is not clear at birth.
There was a passage I loved about emotions. Eugenides talks about how we call emotions by simple names, like ‘sadness,’ or ‘happiness,’ but in reality our emotions are much more complex. I liked how Eugenides put it so much I copied it out for my journal:
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness,’ ‘joy,’ or ‘regret.’ Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions, like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.”
I think this is a profound statement about emotions in general. Perhaps one of the reasons we struggle with our emotions is because we try and simplify them into one category or another. I love this photo of Arthur, in front of the Angel that was supposedly made by Thomas Wolfe's father. Arthur was a big fan of Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel and often quoted the first lines, including
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
I know these lines were on his heart when he turned to me with that look in his eyes.
This complexity is a big part of grief. I’ve felt: “fear of change in wake of spouse’s death,” and “the joy that mingles with sorrow when talking about your departed lover,” and “excitement about a new direction in my life mixed with guilt that I can find pleasure in something that is a result of a loved one’s death,” and even, at rare moments, “the bliss of a mystical connection to my dead lover intensifying the loss of his physical presence.”
I’d love it if readers shared their own complex emotions.