“Except for when I was very little and thought that being an “engineer” meant he [my father] drove a train. Then I imagined him in the seat of an engine car the color of coal, a string of shiny passenger cars trailing behind. One day my father laughed and corrected me. Everything snapped into focus. It’s one of those unforgettable moments that happen as a child, when you discover that all along the world has been betraying you.”
The Birth of Feeling
Feelings are not as old as time. Just as there was a first instant when someone rubbed two sticks together to make a spark, there was a first time joy was felt, and a first time for sadness. For a while, new feelings were being invented all the time. Desire was born early, as was regret. When stubbornness was felt for the first time, it started a chain reaction, creating the feeling of resentment on the one hand, and alienation and loneliness on the other. It might have been a certain counterclockwise movement of the hips that marked the birth of ecstasy; a bolt of lightning that caused the first feeling of awe. Or maybe it was the body of a girl named Alma. Contrary to logic, the feeling of surprise wasn’t born immediately. It only came after people had enough time to get used to things as they were. And when enough time had passed, and someone felt the first feeling of surprise, someone, somewhere else, felt the first pang of nostalgia.
It’s also true that sometimes people felt things and, because there was no word for them, they went unmentioned. The oldest emotion in the world may be that of being moved; but to describe it– just to name– must have been like trying to catch something invisible.
(Then again, the oldest feeling in the world might simply have been confusion.)
Having begun to feel, people’s desire to feel grew. They wanted to feel more, feel deeper, despite how much it sometimes hurt. People became addicted to feeling. They struggled to uncover new emotions. It’s possible that this is how art was born. New kinds of joy were forged, along with new kinds of sadness: The eternal disappointment of life as it is; the relief of unexpected reprieve; the fear of dying.
Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist. There are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written, or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom, or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges, and absorbs the impact.
THERE IS A PHOTOGRAPH OF MY MOTHER THAT NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN:
In the fall, my mother went back to England to start university. Her pockets were full of sand from the lowest place on earth. She weighed 104 pounds. There’s a story she sometimes tells about the train ride from Paddington Station to Oxford when she met a photographer who was almost completely blind. He wore dark sunglasses and said he’d damaged his retinas a decade ago on a trip to Antartica. His suit was perfectly pressed, and he held his camera in his lap. He said he saw the world differently now, and it wasn’t necessarily bad. He asked if he could take a picture of her. When he raised up the lens and looked through it, my mother asked what he saw. “The same thing I always see,” he said. “Which is?” “A blur” he said. “Then why do it?” she asked. “In case my eyes ever heal,” he said. “So I’ll know what I’ve been looking at.” In my mother’s lap was a brown paper bag with a chopped liver sandwich my grandmother had made for her. She offered the sandwich to the almost completely blind photographer. “Aren’t you hungry?” he asked. She told him that she was, but that she’d never told her mother that she hated chooped liver, and eventually it became too late to tell her, having said nothing for years. The train pulled into Oxford Station, and my mother got off, leaving behind her a trail of sand. I know there is a moral to this story, but I don’t know what it is.
So, here’s the book I’m currently reading. Joanna Goddard of A Cup of Jo -a blog that I love to follow- mentioned that this book was her favorite, and that’s why I decided to give it a try. I’m now halfway through and I cannot say that it is my favorite so far, but the book is written in quite an unusual way. Even though I didn’t necessarily “love” the whole concept, there are some parts that I thought were written rather ingeniously. The writer basically takes a simple event or a feeling and explains it in a beautiful way that you’d never think of. I especially liked the choices of words and the structure of the sentences. That’s why the next couple of blog posts will be the quotes and passages from the book. (My favorite is “The Birth of Feeling”)
Hope you’ll like them as well!