Plowing Emotions Under

#6 in my ongoing book series; original post August 23, 2013

At the end of last week’s post, after the collapse of my marriage, I was asking “Who Dunnit?”  Who’s responsible for so many divorces in this country?  First the gals and I blamed our men.  Then being an egghead, I blamed the economic crisis for depressing the men.

After that, I blamed electronic devices for replacing face-to-face interaction.  I’d been irate since the ’90s about the rise of the sound-byte society, a decade before neuroscience caught on. [FN1]

BrousBlog6a Tokyo punkIn luxe restaurants high above the lights of Tokyo and Seoul, my diplomat friends and I whined over the sashimi about the decline in personal connection, which didn’t start with email, cell phones, or texts, but was sure coming to a head with ’em.  As we planned development projects for Asia and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism, one Japanese official groaned, “Do we really want to export our so-called ‘modern culture’ to these people? Aren’t the Mongolian plainsmen happier in their yurts, without green hair, pierced noses, acid rap, and cell phone cranial transplants like our kids down there have?”

Mongolia? My beef was watching people show up at meals so glued to their devices that they never saw the living beings in front of them. By 2006 when my divorce began, I’d been to a slew of Washington, D.C. luncheons at which I was the only person not fixed on a cell phone screen.

That Christmas 2006, a friend’s daughter went abroad for a college semester in Lithuania.  She was away from home at Christmas for the first time, out of the country for the first time, on the other side of the world in a place barely out from under the Iron Curtain, buried in snow.  Eagerly, the extended family in New Jersey gathered around a wide computer screen to video-cam with Laurie. We could see her beautiful life-size face as if she were with us. After a moment’s eye contact, she turned her gaze down to her lap and left it there, not so much chatting as distantly answering our questions about her adventures.

Finally, I turned to her dad and asked, “What’s she doing?” “Oh, she’s texting her friends,” said the beaming parent, as if it were fine.

Egads, I muttered to myself, face-to-face, look-me-in-the-eye-and-please-be-home-behind-your-windows connection, is becoming a thing of the past. I felt like a dinosaur lost in an Atlantic City casino.

What Attention Span?

Next I went on another egghead tear.  I’d sung classical music a long time and was bummed about the sharp drop in new gigs.

Americans’ ability to sustain interest in a marriage, I journaled, is also related to an alarming drop in attention span.  To me, that was shown by the collapse of interest in longer classical music pieces, in favor of modern 3-minute cuts.  Handel’s “Messiah” and Rossini’s “Wilhelm Tell” used to be household fare; check out the movie score of “The Bells are Ringing.”  But today, more and more orchestras and opera companies nationwide are closing their doors each year. No audience.

I’d sung mucho Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, and the stuff’s got an architecture the size of the Golden Gate bridge. It requires concentration to write, sing, or even just audit.  There’s a scene in the 1984 film “Amadeus” showing how Mozart became famous for extending the length of a musical piece.  Before that, the longest single thing ever written with no silent space was maybe a 12-minute Bach chorus (for which Johann S. took a lot of flack; his average was more like 5 minutes).  Mozart expanded the length of a single vocal quartet to 23 minutes, and expanded the length of an opera from one hour to four.

Beethoven? His attention span was over the top.  The SONY engineer in Tokyo who invented the CD, designed it to hold 80 minutes of music (far longer than an LP) specifically so as to hold Beethoven’s complete Ninth Symphony. (And even then, only with a really fast conductor.)  Check out this video:
What Would Beethoven Do? by Jonathan Keijser   [FN2]

John F. Kennedy said it in quotes engraved on the walls of the Kennedy Center concert hall on the Potomac: “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.

“I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength, but for its civilization as well.” – October 26, 1963

Sure didn’t seem JFK was talkin’  ’bout today’s music. I wrote the above in 2006 when my divorce began and it was fine as far as it went.

But while I was railing on everyone else, it never hit me that I had a bad emotional issue with it, inside myself.

Emotions R Us

Emotional pain is  an issue for a lot of us. We can get plenty angry in traffic, depressed at a football outcome, or freaked about the boss; that’s the superficial stuff. But when it comes to real, deep emotions that endure, many of us are too shut down to have the depth of serious feelings required for lasting attachment to other humans.

BrousBlog6c General TheoryI found a piece of this puzzle much later in 2009, when a friend stumbled on “The General Theory of Love,” a pivotal book by three psychiatrists turned neuroscientists who expose America’s hate affair with emotions (and several other issues).

“Modern America plows emotions under, a costly practice that obstructs happiness and misleads people about the nature and significance of their lives. That is more damaging than one might suppose,” they say. “Science has discovered emotionality’s deeper purpose: emotions allow two human beings to receive the contents of each others minds…For human beings, feeling deeply is synonymous with being alive… Emotions have a biological function — they do something for an animal that helps it live.” [FN3]

In fact, they say, Emotions ARE Us.  Emotions are who we really are.  I was shocked; I always thought “I” was all my scientific head talk, and America was the Land of the Logical. “Whu Nu? He was Prime Minister of Burma after U Thant,” I mumbled again.

And the peculiar heat of my passion for classical music was actually a sign that my real underlying emotions were almost 100% dead frozen.

Often when I would get up to sing, people were shocked by the intensity. “Sie feuhlt was sie singt! (She feels what she sings,) one German listener exclaimed of my Schubert songs. “It was always going to be different when you sang,” my best friend Sandy remarked, “It was a whole ‘nother emotional experience.”  For decades, I was pretty much obsessed with this music.

Yet I actually knew by the ’90s that I was using music as a stand-in for the communication which was absent from my marriage.

“Most of my best friends are dead,” I used to say of Mozart & Co.

What I did not realize was that I tolerated a marriage with no children, in which my husband never came home, so that I hung out instead with men who died 200 years ago, because neither the husband nor the dead guys would ever present me with the challenge to attach face to face with a live human being.  (Same song as in Blog #5 last week.)

I couldn’t feel my own feelings, so I gravitated to mega-watt classical because at least I could feel Mozart and Beethoven blasting out their powerful feelings.  (I didn’t get until 2012 that “emotionally shut down” is dissociation, another facet of attachment disorder.)

Once my divorce began, however, I did notice a problem with my obsession. Commuting to my latest defense consulting gig outside of D.C. in 2006, I popped in a CD to sing along as usual. It was J.S. Bach’s “Wedding Cantata,” the most glorious celebration of wedded love ever. “Love is better than the joy the flowers feel as they burst forth; now two souls become one jewel,” sings Bach. The man knew, he had 14 children.

“Two souls, one jewel,” I sang… and suddenly I had to pull off the highway, eject the CD, and collapse on the wheel in tears. I loved my husband with all my soul, and never, ever thought it would come to this. This was my first taste of “breakthrough grief,” the devastating emotional pain to come which was just a tiny speck on a distant horizon.

From that day on for over two years, I could not listen to classical music. I got back on the road to work, scanning the radio aimlessly. This being Northern Virginia, there were 3 or 4 stations playing only Country & Western, a genre so foreign to me it coulda been in Transylvanian. But the songs were a riot, with lines like “I met a man in Hollywood, he was a credit to his gender/He really worked me over good, just like a Waring blender.”[FN4]

And boy did I need a laugh or three.  Plus, I somehow had the urge to dance, so I began to soak up this new material like a sponge whenever I hit the road and sang along, really loud.
In fact, I did a lot of banging on the steering wheel…

————————–
This is part two of Chapter One of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes

FN1    Porges, Stephen,PhD, Page 15 of 2012 webinar “Polyvagal Theory,”  http://www.stephenporges.com/images/NICABM%20April%202012.pdf : “Well-developed human beings can self-regulate their emotional state by being with other humans,” said top neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges recently.  “But what about people who regulate their emotional state with objects?…We’re in a world now being literally pushed on us, by people who are challenged in their own social and emotional regulation, and we’re calling this ‘social networking.’ We’re using computers, we’re texting — we’re stripping the human interaction from all interactions… We’re allowing the world to be organized upon the principles of individuals who have difficulty regulating emotionally in the presence of other human beings.”

FN2   Keijser, Jonathan, “What Would Beethoven Do?” http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/478793577/what-would-beethoven-do?ref=card

FN3    Lewis, Thomas MD; Amini, Fari MD; Lannon, Richard MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. http://www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

FN4    Ronstadt, Linda, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” 1996

 

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One response to “Plowing Emotions Under

  1. Kathy, I think part of the answer might lie in the fact that many men today don’t have a connection to their emotions. I think you might find the book The Emotionally Unavailable Man by Patti Henry an interesting read. There is a man’s side and a woman’s side. It’s also available on CD, read by the author. She describes that most men are stuck emotionally as a child and are not allowed to feel and express their emotions like women are allowed to do. Ever hear the term, “Suck it up” or “Big boys don’t cry”? I think this repression and suppression of emotions then leaks out in self destructive ways and creates adult men who cannot connect or relate to most women who have experienced emotions their entire life. Just a thought. I’m no expert. I’m just an emotionally unavailable man. I know deep down that I’d like to cry uncontrollably with deep body sobs over the losses of my childhood. I would be so grateful just to have that experience and even feel the body pain. Just don’t know how to get there.

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