Posted in art, avoidance, fiction, listening, nonfiction

Unnamed feelings

For writers and artists, feelings play a big role in what motivates us to create, and they are also important for the characters we create. Many feelings are hard to spot and to name. Exploring them can yield rewards.

“Odd Emotions,” an article by Rebecca Webber (Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2016), discusses the treasure trove of unnamed feelings. As the article explains, simply being aware of feelings gives us more insight into our perpetually changing inner lives, and naming them can help us feel that we are participating in a shared human experience and can empower us to respond appropriately.

One language or culture may have a name for a feeling that another language or culture does not. Feelings may be nameable in principle and, if they don’t have names, it may simply be that no one has named them yet or that the name is not yet widely known or translated. Webber gives the example of the Norwegian word vardogr that refers to “a premonitory sound or sight of a person before he or she arrives.” Finnish also has such a word, “but not English.”

Webber quotes Lisa Feldman Barrett, the author of How Emotions Are Made, as sharing her position that emotions are caused by the brain “categorizing sensations, making them meaningful so you know what they are and what you should do about them.” But emotions are not neatly divided even into primary types. From a brain science perspective, emotions are complex and overlapping.

 

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

 

Webber also refers to the work of writer and artist John Koenig whose long-term project The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a portfolio of his invented names for feelings. It is a Tumblr blog, a YouTube, and a forthcoming book from Simon & Schuster. One person, reflecting on a work situation, remembered that “her stress was infinitesimally small in the context of all the time that had passed before she was born, and all that would go on long after her death.” For this feeling, Koenig coined the term “moriturism,” based on the Latin term memento mori (“remember to die”). Koenig has also come up with the name “exulansis” to describe “a sense of frustration when you realize that you are trying to talk about an important experience, but other people are unable to understand or relate to it, so you give up.”

Another woman quoted by Webber mentioned “a ‘deflated’ variation of schadenfreude, which she describes as when someone ‘finally comes around to your point of view or is served a very cold helping of karma, but sadly, you’ve matured past the point of really caring anymore.'”

Two women in white dresses with black sleeves are holding hands. The text of
Part of the original photo by Guzman, as laid out in the article “Odd Emotions” for Psychology Today.

Take a look at the article “Odd Emotions” and see what resonates with you. Is there a word for the special feeling of that resonation? What does it mean for your writing and art?

Posted in nonfiction

‘Heart Berries’ describes the rough places

Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir Heart Berries (Counterpoint, 2018; available from BookPeople) gives an important perspective on interpreting one’s own emotions and place in the world.

Mailhot, who is from Seabird Island Band, transcribes her experience with a psychiatric hospitalization. She shares what mental illness means to her:

“I am sick or possessed. The spirits used to possess the people. We called it ‘Indian sick,’ and it was the first illness to be accounted for. It begins with want, with taking, and ends with a silence that hurts and makes us beg. There were stories about the cures and causes. Women tried to eat soapberries, or nothing, and talked about how we all had it coming. When the first children died it was too late to stop talking. … The only thing, the right thing — the thing that brought about our immunity — was the knowledge that something instinctual would carry us back. The awareness that our ancestors were watching was vital.” (p. 15)

So much happens in these few sentences. “I am sick” gives us the simplest possible assessment of the situation on the ground, the assessment likely to be understood by the greatest number of people. She immediately grounds it culturally: “the spirits used to possess the people” is a mythological narrative, followed by “we called it ‘Indian sick'” which is a lesson on language and history, then “it begins with want, with taking” which is about how those particular sufferers experienced this sickness. “When the first children died” is a memorial to those who were lost. Then, the faith in redemption: “something instinctual would carry us back.” What is happening now will become part of all of this history: “our ancestors were watching.”

This small book accomplishes a lot. This is a lesson in how to describe those patches that are very nearly unexplainable.

Posted in listening, nonfiction

Spotlight: ‘Elegy for Mom,’ a caregiver’s memoir of empathy and growth

Elegy_for_MomWhile Vicki Kaufmann’s mother suffered from mixed dementia, Kaufmann learned about the challenges of caregiving. She knows that caregivers want to research medical facts and also to let themselves feel empathy for the person who is sick. In this memoir, she aims to provide caregivers a new perspective on what they do. Caregiving can be, as she puts it, “a pathway to new levels of grace, courage, creativity, and love.”

Elegy for Mom: A Memoir of Family Caregiving, Alzheimer’s, and Devotion was published by Middle River Press in 2015. You can purchase it through Kaufmann’s website Caregiver Families. It is also available on Amazon.

Posted in avoidance, fiction, nonfiction

Spotlight: More books on Alzheimer’s Disease

AlzAuthors features the work of over 160 authors writing about Alzheimer’s, including books of non-fiction and fiction. Here’s five more books!


 

The Memory Keeper by Jessica Bryan

Jessica Bryan is a caregiver and author of four books. In this book, she describes coping with her mother’s advanced Alzheimer’s Disease as her mother’s memories disappear in the haze of dementia. What is raw and sad is also humorous and candid. She shares how she overcomes anger and frustration, and her words act as suggestions for others undergoing the same ordeal. She writes, “I hold the memories of this beautiful woman who is disappearing thought by thought, sentence by sentence and memory by memory. I want to remember the moments we have left, the good and the bad times, the laughter and the tears. I am the memory keeper.”


 

Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia by Vicki Tapia

Faced with caring for both parents after their dual diagnosis, author Vicki Tapia watched helplessly as her mom and dad both descended into the rabbit hole of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. Her memoir, Somebody Stole My Iron, weaves their family’s struggle into an engaging story, filled with humor and pathos. The narrative offers an honest and heartfelt glimpse into the ups and downs of life with memory loss and provides readers useful information and tips for coping. “I wrote my story to offer hope to others whose lives have been intimately affected by this dreadful disease,” she explains, “to reassure them that they’re not alone.”


 

Alzheimer’s Daughter by Jean Lee

Both of Jean Lee’s parents were diagnosed on the same day. Published in 2015, this memoir has over a hundred reviews on Amazon and was voted #5 in the best selling books about Alzheimer’s by Book Authority.


 

A Turbulent Mind: A Poetry Collection of a Mother’s Journey with Alzheimer’s by Jay Artale

This poetic memoir is about Jay Artale’s mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s. It’s a collection of 39 poems with a peppering of wry humor to destigmatize the impact of dementia.


 

My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver by Martin J. Schreiber and Cathy Breitenbucher

Former governor of Wisconsin Marty Schreiber has seen his beloved wife, Elaine, gradually transform from the woman who gracefully entertained in the Executive Residence to one who no longer recognizes him as her husband. In My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, Marty candidly counsels those taking on this caregiving role. With patience, adaptability, and even a sense of humor, Marty shows how love continues for his Second Elaine. My Two Elaines was named a Best Caregiving Book of both 2017 and 2018 by Caring.com. Marty has also reached thousands of Alzheimer’s caregivers at more than 300 presentations around the country since November 2016.

 


 

Image at top: Based on a 2012 photograph of an elder Selkup woman in Krasnoselkup, Yamal. Photograph by Aleksandr Popov. Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in fiction, nonfiction

Spotlight: Books about Alzheimer’s Disease

AlzAuthors features the work of over 160 authors writing about Alzheimer’s, including books of non-fiction and fiction.

Here’s just three of them! These three books are all available in both paperback and Kindle eBook editions. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read the eBook for free.


 

Motherhood: Lost and Found by Ann Campanella

This memoir, the author explains to me, “tells the story of my mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s when I was in my early 30s and struggling through a series of miscarriages as I was trying to become a mom myself. I live on a horse farm, so horses are the backdrop of the story. My thoroughbred Crimson, a grandson of Secretariat, helped carry me through this difficult period of my life. I was honored to have my memoir named ‘One of the best Alzheimer’s memoirs of All Time’ by Book Authority.”


 

Finding Joy In Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers by Marie Marley, PhD and Daniel C. Potts, MD, with a foreword by Maria Shriver

The authors explain the importance of overcoming denial, accepting difficult situations, and finding hope, and they express their opinion about the role of spirituality. They provide tips for interacting with people with Alzheimer’s.


 

Forgotten Secrets (the first volume in the Singing River series) by Robin Perini

This fictional thriller features a crime witnessed by a person with Alzheimer’s.


 

Image at top: Based on a photograph c. 1900 of an elderly couple in Hampton, Virginia. Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection (Library of Congress). Wikimedia Commons.