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 fiction

Your characters’ memories and perception of time

Richard Restak’s article “Empathy and Other Mysteries” in the Winter 2011 issue of American Scholar contains a variety of insights from neuroscience. He didn’t address fiction writers, but fiction writers should take note.

  • When you say that “Next Wednesday’s staff meeting has been moved forward two days,” some people will believe that the new day is Monday and others will believe it is Friday. Yet if you say it was pushed forward two days, everyone will agree that it is Friday. Why? “Spatial and temporal information are processed differently within the brain,” he says. Spatial information is processed in “the frontal and parietal lobes,” while temporal information “doesn’t really have a clearly defined location in the brain.” It turns out that people who choose Monday have a “time-moving perspective,” in which they “conceive of time as coming toward you,” while people who choose Friday have an “ego-moving perspective,” and “think of yourself as moving forward through time.” People who have just gotten off an airplane will choose Friday, “having experienced themselves during their flight as moving forward from their initial to their final destination.”
  • When we are bored (for example, at a monotonous job, or sick in bed), we perceive time as moving slowly, but when that period ends, it seems that the time raced by. That’s because not much happened and there is little to remember, so it seems that we barely had that time at all. By contrast, when we are entertained, we perceive time as racing by, but when that period ends, it seems that a lot of time passed. That’s because we remember a series of events and we imagine that there must have been a lot of time to fit them all in.
  • Sometimes we are mistaken about the timing of cause and effect. We are used to adjusting for perceptual delays of light and sound, and this system can be fooled so that we perceive the “beginning” of something after it has actually begun. Quoting Eva Hoffman’s Time (2009): “No matter how much we may feel that our thought takes weightless flight, or that its velocity transcends time, mental processes work within biological materiality and have actual duration.”
  • People are easily misled into “remembering” something that didn’t happen. Often all that needs to be done is to tell them a story about themselves or show them an edited photograph of themselves. Later, when the false memory is revealed as fictional, it may nonetheless be difficult for the person to give it up. This “suggests the experience of a kind of double bookkeeping system within the brain whereby it’s possible for us to believe that something is true when intellectually we recognize that it is not.”

memory

How can these insights be used by fiction writers?

  • Think about how you can portray time as coming toward a person or as a person as moving through time. These are subjective states for your character.
  • Think about how rapidly events happen within your character’s timeline and whether they perceive their life as passing slowly or quickly during the events or after the events.
  • Just because you know the sequence of rapid-fire events doesn’t mean your character has to perceive them that way in the moment nor remember them that way later.
  • Just because the truth has been revealed to your character doesn’t mean they can easily give up their false memories and false narratives to the contrary.

All of these insights can apply to your consideration of your readers, too!

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.