Today I read a great Antonio Damasio interview in which he distinguishes between emotions and feelings, the first coming out of sensation and giving birth to the latter.
“There are certain action programs that are obviously permanently installed in our organs and in our brains so that we can survive, flourish, procreate, and, eventually, die. This is the world of life regulation—homeostasis.”
I’ve always wondered why emotional events play such havoc on our basic functions – sleep, metabolism – and how a loss or betrayal can usher in a fight or flight response.
“We must separate the component that comes out of actions (emotion) from the component that comes out of our perspective on those actions, which is feeling. Curiously, it’s also where the self emerges, and consciousness itself.”
I stumbled upon a playful rendering of this concept today in Maria Irene Fornes’ play, Fefu and her friends.
Cindy: When a person is swept off their feet. . . the feet remain and the person goes off. . . with the broom?
Christina: No. . . when a person is swept off their feet. . . there is no broom.
Cindy: What does the sweeping?
Christina: An emotion. . . a feeling. . .
Cindy: Then emotions have bristles?
Despite the luxury of twofold renewal (totaling a span of 9 weeks!), today I found these two books unmistakably due. With no reprieve in sight I did what any laggard bookworm would do – I opened them!
Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, is a practical gem. In Part I, she urges aspiring writers to write every day without fail for 15 minutes; the value of staying in touch with one’s writerly obsessions is priceless. One can use daily exercise to work on sense observation, or to start on a draft. I liked her tips such as labeling journal entries for future gleanings, and making a point to type out a handwritten draft right away for potential revision. How often do superb first-takes languish between the pages of a journal until some impossibly late date? She also champions a healthy balance between free writing and writing into a specific structure to create a finished piece. She promises that in the course of her book, she will help the aspiring writer develop a strategy to find structures for his or her work.
In my other neglected tome, The Theater of Maria Irene Fornes, edited by Marc Robinson, the first essay opens with a story of Irene and her roommate Susan. The girls are at a cafe in Greenwich Village in Spring of 1961. They plan to hang around and see if anyone invites them to a party. Then Susan discloses that she is bummed because she hasn’t been able to start on the book she wants to write. Irene says, you just need to sit down and start writing! Then, determined to encourage her friend, she turns down a party invitation and insists they go back to their apartment and commence writing. The procrastinating writer is no other than Susan Sontag and her helpful friend, Maria Irene Fornes, changes course that afternoon from painting to playwriting. “I might never have even thought of writing if I hadn’t pretended I was going to show Susan how easy it was.”
Even if I don’t make it past the first essay in either of these books, my take-away is huge. The secret of becoming and remaining a writer is spelled out as clear as day. Write! I wonder what else lies in wait for me to discover in the final moments as my time for exploration runs out?