Tag Archives: emotions


Stylized sketched emoticons (happy, mad, crying, love) against random doodle background

Yusif is a talented writer. He’s completed one novel. He’s several drafts into another novel and has two more in the works.

I know Yusif personally. I’ve read his work. We’ve brainstormed together often. He’s creative and his ideas are truly unique, never derivative. What’s more, I’m certain that Yusif’s stories have mass-market appeal.

I was hanging out with Yusif at a museum one day two summers ago. He was looking at a blurry, black-and-white photo from the early 1920s, depicting a nondescript teacher and her students standing outside a one-room schoolhouse in the Florida Everglades when, out of the blue, he spun around and announced, “I want to write a story about this!” Before the day was out, he had completed a full chapter outline for what would be a middle-grade novel. And over the next two weeks, if memory serves me correctly, he was writing a chapter a day.

Upon completing each chapter, Yusif would read it aloud to me, sometimes in person and sometimes over the phone. His descriptions were masterful without being overwrought. I cared about his characters. His dialog was fresh and authentic.

He was passionate about researching details. He read every book he could get his hands on about the early settlement of the Everglades: the people, their background, customs, housing, transportation, religion, food, relationships with the Native Americans of the area. We made several more trips to area museums, churches, schools and Everglade City itself. We walked together through the actual setting of his story, studying the buildings, the photos on the walls. Eating alligator.

Within a year, the novel was completely written, thoroughly edited and ready to be submitted.

It was an exciting time.

Except when it wasn’t.

You see, there were many, many days during that year when Yusif read his work… and hated it.

The enthusiasm and positive attitude with which he went into querying the manuscript fizzled. As sure as he’d ever been that this book could fly—maybe even become a favorite book for many readers—he was now equally convinced that no agent would want the book. That readers wouldn’t get through chapter one without putting it down, never to pick it up again.

“Be honest with me. It’s awful isn’t it? No one’s going to want to read this,” he moped.

How is it that the very same story and ideas that had thrilled him now felt lackluster? That the characters he’d grown to love—that he’d brought into being, and rooted for and cried over—now seemed like cardboard cutouts? And that the same configurations of words that he’d painstakingly crafted and tweaked, and which he’d read aloud to me with pride only weeks earlier, now sounded bland and trite, even embarrassingly bad?

To quote the Bee Gees:

It’s just emotion that’s taken me over
Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul

Interestingly enough, while Yusif was working on his second novel (with all of the wide-eyed wonder and hope with which he’d begun the first), we watched a video series where prolific author Judy Blume talks about her process. Her unassuming nature, candor and vulnerability struck me. Here was one of the all-time bestselling children’s writers, whose books have sold over 82 million copies and earned her more than 90 literary awards (including three lifetime achievement awards) saying, “So often, I’ve…

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no words

The Best Advice So Far: no words - wide-eyed man with tape over mouth

It was Wednesday, somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. I was in the middle of a shoulder workout. Joe, the sole employee on duty, was parts unknown; so I essentially had the entire gym to myself. I had just finished up a set of lateral raises and was placing the dumbbells back on the rack.

That’s when I started crying.


I received quite a bit of feedback with regard to last week’s atypical post. Responses ran the gamut, with people enthusiastically supporting or decrying in about equal proportions a wide range of things — some of which I never actually said or meant.

What I found even more curious, given the nature of the topic and its accompanying challenge, was that for all the disparate thoughts shared, not a single person asked a clarifying question toward being sure they understood my intent.

And that, of course, only further underlines what the post was actually about — our seemingly inescapable inclination as human beings to perceive through the lens of our own existing belief systems what others are saying, taking as a given that our interpretations are accurate.

As it turned out, that post was one of my longest to date. And yet, for all the words, clarity still had a tendency to remain elusive.

I’ve always felt that language grants us magical powers. Yet like any tool, I’ve found it to be a double-edged sword — capable of being used for both enormous good and dire ill.

Words allow us the ability to mitigate or to manipulate.

To clarify or to confuse.

To liberate or to label.

To draw people in — or to draw lines that keep them out.

I recall having seen a movie where an inmate at a high-security prison killed someone with a plastic spoon. It occurred to me that, much like words, the spoon was not the problem. The intent of the user was.

Still, this great capacity to help or to harm only accounts for willful uses of language and words.

Some years back, I read a memorably strange news article. A woman had waded out some distance from shore at a beach and was dunking herself under, perhaps seeing how long she could hold her breath. Suddenly, a pelican dove, apparently mistaking the bobbing hair on the surface of the water for an injured fish or squid. But instead of finding an easy dinner …


sentimental - moss covered trees during a sunny day rainshower

My last three posts were written from the table in a beautiful vacation home in Naples, Florida, where I spent three spectacular and soul-refreshing weeks around my birthday. Though I was there by myself, I never felt lonely. And anytime I wanted, I could wander outside “the palace” into the wide world and create alternate realities at will.

The night before my flight to Florida, I had gone out and bought one of those giant pill organizers for people who have to take meds four times per day. It had 28 little snap compartments, all of which I clicked open once I got home. I grabbed my thyroid medication and systematically plinked out two pills per compartment for 23 of the 28 compartments. Then I grabbed a handful of my daily multivitamin and added those, one by one … plunk, plunk, plunk. Next was my Super B-Complex, then the supplemental Zinc, D3, and on it went. It took a long time, but I got into the rhythm of it and didn’t mind in the least.

When I was done, I called my best friend: “Wow! I’m looking at all the pills I’ll have to take while I’m away,” I chimed. “I’m going to be gone for a nice long time!” We both snorted with sudden laughter at my unlikely “hourglass” and how fitting a marker it was of yet another birthday around the corner. I mean, when you start merrily marking the length of a vacation in pills, let’s face it – you’re old.

I remarked many times while away that a week seemed like a month, in the best of ways. But at some point during my time away, as I wandered into the kitchen to grab a tangy lime pop, I happened to peek down through the clear multi-color lids of the pill organizer and noticed that more were empty than full. It’s silly, but this was significant to me.

Then there was the day I could definitively count the number of filled compartments at a glance. Suddenly, there was a catch in my throat, and a prickly pressure built at the front of my eyes. It’s almost over.

That was the day I began writing “i am here,” which I posted last Friday. The time had come to put into practice those strategies I go to in order to stay fully present, to enjoy this moment and not let thoughts of future or past moments rob me of it. And I’m pleased to report that it did the trick. (You should give it a try, because it really does work.)

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door knobs

Door knobs are funny.  Have you ever looked into one?  Long before computers stole hours of free time and Internet space by providing face-warping apps, door knobs were doing it up.  Innies.  Outies.  Dodecagons.  It’s like having mini fun-house mirrors right in your very own home.

My friend Dib and I have adopted quite an extensive code language.  Some of it is non-verbal, just a gesture or look.  Some of it is composed of movie lines or song lyrics.  Some is just plain made up.  One such code phrase that we use often is “door-knob face.”  Door-knob face describes a certain perception that can arise at crowded or awkward social functions.  You’ve been corned for an hour by the too-close talker who’s been explaining to you, with great animation and without stopping for breath, about a frog population of Istanbul.  Or it’s past the witching hour and you’re just plumb peopled out.   Usage:

“The party at Ralph’s place was fun at first; but around midnight, everyone started to get door-knob face.”

When describing door-knob face interactions, one must deliver all lines spoken by the other party in a lower and slower voice, somewhere between SpongeBob’s friend Patrick and pulling taffy.

It is also important to note that multiple people displaying door-knob face simultaneously can induce psychosis, and is reasonable grounds for an immediate exit from any event.

When I was a teen, my nose entered a room long before I did.  You know that stage.  The one where certain features decide to jump right into assuming their adult form, while others remain small and childlike.  It makes for an awkward few years.  During that time in my youth, certain key people taunted me about my nose.  In fact, one such person, when feeling that an argument was slipping away, would cut things off sharply with, “Oh, yeah?  Well, at least I don’t have a huge nose!”  It was a little like tossing the chess board when your queen is surrounded.  But, fair or not, it worked.  I really thought that my nose was comparable in size to the remainder of my head.  This odd phenomenon was dubbed “door knob nose,” and remained in force for many years into my adulthood, when Dib finally convinced me that my nose is, in fact, proportional to the rest of my features.  And perhaps not entirely hideous.

I think feelings can be a lot like door knobs.

Last night, I had trouble sleeping.  I tossed and turned.  It was something hurtful and judgmental that someone had said earlier in the day, and I just couldn’t shake it.  I applied my usual strategies, which I posted a few days ago, and quickly realized that this wasn’t something I was worrying about exactly.  It was just an “icky” feeling that left me sad and a little less shiny inside.

This sort of feeling is common to all of us, if you think about it.

We feel that someone doesn’t love us.  Or doesn’t love us as much as they used to.  Or as much as they love someone else.

We feel like we don’t have anything interesting to say and would certainly bore people just by opening our mouth.

We feel that reaching out and saying hello to a stranger will likely end in awkwardness and humiliation.

But, like door knobs, feelings can easily give a distorted perspective of what actually is.

Last night, as I lay unable to sleep, I reminded myself of that.  This is only a feeling, not reality.  It changes nothing.  The reality is that you are safe in your bed, you are living a positive life, and you are loved by many.  Somewhere in the middle of repeating this to myself, I fell asleep.  And today, after some good talks with key people in my life, I’ve gained further perspective that my feelings did not change my reality in the slightest.

Feelings are powerful.  They can loom very large and seem more real than reality itself.  But giving in and acting on feelings can land us in some less-than-desirable situations.  Arguments.  Depression.  Teen pregnancy.  Divorce.  Often, acting on feelings can wind up creating a new reality, one that need not have emerged.

A reliable tip-off that you are being fooled by feelings is that you are talking in extremes:  no one, everyone, never, always, worst.  These are dead giveaways that the door-knob effect is in play.  As I mentioned in Sunday’s post about linking the present with a negative past, ideas like “Why is this is happening to me again?” may also be indicators that emotions are running rampant.

When these times come — and they will — first remind yourself that emotions can lie.  If it helps to use the visual, think of that door knob.  It’s reflecting something, but that something isn’t always accurate.  Second, a real lifesaver is having a rationale, honest and caring friend or two whom you can run those door-knob feelings by.

Emotions are not an enemy, by any means.  I’m rather a fan of them myself.  They help us convey positive messages and information in meaningful ways.  The key is to find the balance between free expression and letting them have the run of the place.   The goal is not to turn them off or doubt them at every turn.  Rather, it’s a matter of being sure who is controlling whom.

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