Sunday, August 24, 2008

When feelings leak...

This blog usually begins (after a brief meditation period) with me sitting down at my computer and browsing through photos to see what speaks today. It's a bit like a game we used to play that a priest friend called "Bible Bingo," and not so different from those plastic fortune-telling eight balls you buy at the novelty store.

Basically you ask a question, roll the ball or flip open the bible, and see what answers come to light. Only with the blog, the question is always the same: what image should I write about today? And something always springs forth, though I rarely know what I will be saying about it until I begin to type.

So this is the image that surfaced today. I took it long ago, while walking on my friend Karen's beach; this is the cement piling from a dock that no longer exists. The official title appears to be "Blood from a Stone" but now it reminds me of a workshop I attended many many years ago.

I was a librarian in a small town in New Hampshire, and our town manager was something of a bully. If memory serves me, all the town employees were required to attend an anger management workshop (including the manager, I presume) as a way of enabling all of us (especially him) to cope with the challenges of job, life, etc.

I only remember two things about the workshop: pounding a couch with pillows as a way of releasing anger, and this one phrase: "Anger leaks."

Looking at this image now, I would say that its message may well be "emotions leak." We are, many of us, busily keeping our emotions contained much of the time, for a variety of reasons. For women, I think, we are keeping our emotions pent up as a means of protecting our families -- or even as a way of holding the family together: we forget, sometimes, that catharsis, and truth, can be have healing qualities.

For men, taught from early childhood not to cry, the "stiff upper lip" may mask sadness, a variety of fears, performance anxiety, or just a need "not to look like a wimp." And most of us know that in certain situations we are simply powerless to change what is, and just need to "bite the bullet." Those who have the misfortune of living in abusive relationships may well be keeping feelings under wraps for fear of upsetting a delicate balance, or fear of reprisal.

I can tell from all these quoted phrases that society passes this message to us in a lot of different guises, and I am reminded of my mother-in-law's edict: that a parent's job is to CIVILIZE her children, by which I believe she meant to teach them not to be self-centered but rather to function as a useful cog in the machine of community.

What I'm pretty sure she failed to communicate -- which intrigues me, as she was an artist of considerable competence -- is that one way to function as a useful cog in community is to express a feeling that all of us may share. If I say "situations like this make me feel so helpless" or even just "boy, I sure got up on the wrong side of bed this morning -- don't you hate that?" it allows others a safe space to explore their own feelings, because responding and sharing feelings is an accepted way to function as a cog.

It seems to me that this is the function served most commonly by artists -- not just painters, but writers, photographers, musicians, poets, actors, sculptors. We give voice to the unexpressed. Our bishop used to say that that was the job of the church: to give voice to the marginalized, though I'm sure he meant people, not feelings. Whether or not he was successful in that, I would nonetheless agree that this is a sacred charge.

Which may all be a way of saying that today I may be trying to contain a lot; there's a lot on my plate, and one last performance to do as well. And I expect that to function reasonably I'll be determined to keep it under containment, and that, with the inevitability that always attends such attempts on my part, something will leak.

I hope, when it does, that it's not quite as "bloody awful" as the right side of this image, and has more of the blue, healing quality of the leaks on the left. But there are no guarantees...

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