Month: March 2018

Resting Emotion Theory: On Choosing Love.

I’ve been working on a theory of Resting Emotion.  The state in which a person has a moment of nothing– a state of neither bad nor good– the emotion that surfaces.  It’s the moment after a room is laughing together, the joke has already been told, the oh‘s and ah‘s and mmm‘s have fallen to the floor, and the silent lull takes over.  Sometimes just for a second, sometimes a few beats.  In that time– the transition– what is the emotion that a person naturally fades to before the next thing appears?  When I was conjuring this idea, I believed mine was Sadness.  We were parked outside of Kingman, AZ at a place called Coyote Pass, where we woke to rock structures that looked like Mars and spent our mornings hiking and our evenings seeing multiples of stars we swore we’d never seen before.

I traced back to my childhood– the crushing sadness of waking up.  The debilitating sadness of the third pew from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.  The seeping, serene sadness of a sunset.  My Someone and I named it one late night after a show– years before he was my Someone– as the Other Shoe.  We had been laughing til we cried, until the crying became crying.  Maybe it’s fear or nerves and some other neurotic phenomenon, but wherever there was bliss, my body prepared itself quickly for the Other Shoe to drop, padding itself with sorrow that could welcome whatever punishment was coming for my happiness.

This is my Resting Emotion.  Contrary to podcasts and science that tell me that emotions are social constructs, contrary to nurture, contrary to free will and change– I was born this way.  My Someone was born with the Resting Emotion of Anxiety, resorting to the what-if‘s and potential failings that keep him twitching in the transition.  My little dog, Happiness.  At least there is a little balance.

We were fighting again.  We fight a lot since our dog died, and I am suspicious that this is our Resting Emotion coming head to head.  Sadness and Anxiety clashing to make Anger.  My Someone said something unintentional.  I raged.  I prepared myself to retort, brewing a wiry, stiff cocktail of jab and truth.  And just as I was ready to pour it out, a voice in my head stopped me.

Choose love.

The sentiment seemed so cheesy, so unlikely, that I did stop.  I clenched my jaw, I tried again– and the voice persisted.

Choose love.

I stopped resisting.  I eased.  I took a deep breath.  My Someone eased, too.  We changed direction.  We made dinner, instead.

Barf, I thought, this could actually work.

The thing about Resting Emotion is that all other emotions are a surprise or a challenge.  They’re unnatural.  They are work.

This morning I was thinking of my Resting Emotion.  It was holding up.  My Someone was still resorting to Anxiety, my dog still Happy.  And me, Angry.  I’d been guzzling the emotion for a couple of weeks, now, occasionally voluntarily.  I couldn’t get enough.  At least, not until the voice started.  Now, my Resting Emotion was in a constant state of challenge by Love.  I didn’t particularly like it, but the pangs in my chest and shoulders were decreasing, and the crease in my brow was less severe.  And my Someone and I were fighting less.  Which was still a lot, but less.

We are halfway through a four day pact to not-fight-at-all-costs.  We are winning, in spite of my Resting Emotion.

Which is why, when checking on my writings of my theory from a couple months before, I was shocked to see that my Resting Emotion was first diagnosed as Sadness.

And in this way, I am debunking my theory.

This is the thing about the little Choose Love voice that is taking over.  While it is foreign to me, it is still the sound of my own voice.  Which brings me back to Resting Emotion.  I think it might hold up, after all.  What if our Resting Emotion is Love?  What if our Natural State isn’t the garbage we tell ourselves?  So then, maybe we really can’t change who we are, but we fight it.  We can fight it by believing that we will only ever be Sad or Angry or Anxious for the rest of our lives.  We can fight it by saying that our natural state is Not Good.  But, I can’t deny that in a moment of white hot fury, my own voice told me to Choose Love, and I instinctively knew what that meant.  The instruction was vague, but I already had it in me to do what it asked– to a T.

So maybe our Resting Emotion is Love– and maybe it’s not an emotion at all.  Maybe regardless of who we think we are, our real selves will persist.  And there are 100 tiny redemptions we perform in a day to uncover ourselves rather than what we believe we are.  To uncover each other.  To uncover love.  To choose it.

Made for TV: On Cures.

We were watching TV again, something we do when we are trying to think of how our camper roof is not falling off and our family unit is not missing a piece.  That’s when the commercial, for the billionth time, about fibromyalgia came on.

On the outside, I look normal.  But inside, the pain is real.

The lady in the commercial turns transparent, and the pain is marked and moving with red lines through her muscular blue skeleton body.

“On the outside, I look normal, because my pain is only in my head,” I say.

“What?” my Someone asks.

“My pain,” I explain, “it is only in my head.”

My Someone pauses.

“In your head?”

“In my head.”

“In your head,” he says definitively, “That’s still a real place.”

Plane Crashes and Murder Mysteries: On Loving Again (and Again).

“You think I baby her,” I said.

“I don’t think that,” my Someone said.

“Yes, you do,” I said.

“No,” he continued. “I know that you do.  She’s even more spoiled than the last one.”

“That’s because I have all this stretched out love leftover to share.”  Then, I gave my dog her third big treat of the day at 11AM.

“I killed my dog,” Charlie said.

The room erupted.

“Stop saying that!”

“No you didn’t!”

“It wasn’t like that!”

Daughters and son-in-laws and a wife all patted down the abrupt declaration.  The Iowa living room quieted again.

“But I did,” Charlie said again. “I killed my dog.”

The room erupted a second time.

“How do you mean?” I asked, when the shushes had cleared.

“I mean it was too hot out,” he said. “I kept pushing her.  She died of a heat stroke. And it’s my fault. I killed my dog.”

“That’s tough,” I said.  Something clarified in me.  

I had killed my dog, too.

My Someone and I were driving through Dayton, Ohio early in our touring days playing radio scan to keep us awake from an early Nashville departure.  We landed on a story of a stunt plane at the air show, which had crashed and killed both people on board.

The man driving the plane had years of experience.  It was all very sad. But the peculiar part was the woman who was doing acrobatics on the wing when the whole thing went down.  The woman was the man’s ex-wife. And they were set to be remarried after years apart just the next week.

I couldn’t navigate whether I was happy or sad for the couple– to end things before they had a chance to crash again, or to have it all go down in flames just after it had gone down in flames.  It was a difficult thing to hold in my head–whether they saved themselves from another failure or lost their chance at a second chance.

“Do you think he did it on purpose?” he said.

We paused.

“Maybe they both did.  Maybe it was their death love pact.  Like the last thing they said before they split up was, ‘We will get together over my dead body!’  And then they did it.”

This was easier.  To believe in the world as an elaborate, deliberate joke made by consenting parties is easier than the world of accidental fiery deaths or last minute revenges.  Or maybe it’s not.

“But I really did!” I told my Someone.  Our roof was coming off the camper again, and we were waiting overnight in a parking lot for someone in Omaha to fix it.  “I killed our dog.”

“I don’t see how that helps you to think that,” my Someone said.

“Because,” I continued, “all of this wondering– all this talk of a freak accident, that can turn circles in my head forever.  But I felt weird about that stupid bone she choked on. I had a weird vision of leading her to her death as we walked away with it.  We both felt a chill when you wanted to take it away from her in that hotel room. But we persisted. I persisted. I kept letting her have it against my better judgment.  And it killed her.”

“So where does that leave you?”

“It leaves me wanting to do better next time,” I said, looking at my other, alive dog.

“Margo is the platinum child,” Erin said.  Erin is Charlie’s step-daughter. Margo is Charlie’s 2-year-old golden retriever.  Charlie just smiled. He called the dog to him. He slipped her more treats and sat back.

“Our first dog, man, I thought– ‘This dog is the favorite child.’  Then, after she died, they got Sierra. Sierra was a yellow lab. And she got even more than the last dog!  Treats and rides in the car and walks. And I told them, I said, ‘She’s the golden child!’ Not even just a favorite, but really golden.  I thought no one would be greater than Sierra.  And now there’s Margo. She’s platinum. She gets on the bed and the front seat.  Margo is the platinum child,” Erin finished, feigning jealousy.

“Well,” Charlie said, “it only gets bigger.”

Love, he meant.  You can only love bigger with the next one.  Even if the last one nearly killed you with all the stretching it made you do.  And it’s more than the guilt of having not done enough. It’s the inevitable accumulation of love.  And you keep taking the risk, even if you will inevitably go down in flames.

And it only gets bigger.