That which makes us pitiful creatures makes us excellent human beings: the art of exploiting emotion

“I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”

Jorge Luis Borges

So far, my experience at the University of California, Santa Barbara campus has been a whirlwind of

unbelievable beauty;

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hipsters, including those who walk around barefoot, meditate under trees, or use these strange contraptions;

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some interesting-looking wildlife including these birds I believe to be called ibises, and even the odd raccoon;

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and finally, the overwhelming rush of emotions that hits the traveller when he or she eventually stops to settle for a period in one place.

My very first lecture at 9am this morning was run by an Irish professor who has entitled the course “Literature and Life”. He postulated, quite correctly, that good literature, films and music hold such appeal because they allow us to tap into intense emotions that we just don’t expect to experience ourselves. He noted how quite “ordinary” situations – two people falling in love, for instance – are transformed into something quite extraordinary in this context, and this is what we will be studying over the next two months, beginning with Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

But this turned over and over again in my mind. Why do we need to escape into someone else’s world in order to feel this intensity?

If we stay with the emotion of love, I suppose what we all strive for as human beings is to have it in some form. My professor put forth the question: if you are not loved, are you still alive?

Perhaps we are all just made up of the love which enters our lives. If we are lucky, we are adored by friends, family, a lover. We are merely walking circles who together make up a complex pattern of Venn Diagrams, entering each other’s space and tenderly merging ideas. We’re made up of the strands of those people who input love into our lives, and the result is a patchwork quilt of mismatched colours and embellishments, meshed together under our skin or in an aura we carry around.

If we can love without needing, we are very content human beings – but I don’t think that’s intense enough for me. My life is a blank book, a canvas on which to paint every detail of my passions, experiences, dreams. I don’t do forgetting now. I will remember every stab of the knife, every moment of adoration I have ever known.

I took my first walk on the beach after the lecture and thought about it: isn’t intense feeling what living is all about? I looked at the vast ocean in front of me, felt my eyes well up with the beauty of it all, and decided that if I’m going to cry, I will kneel at the shore and do so shamelessly into the great Mother Sea, where the salty tears of millions before me have mingled into a rolling, comforting swathe. I will sit on this tree stump and inhale and sigh and shudder at the wonder of this world, because we all need to suspend our disbelief sometimes. I will cry again just to make some space for all the emotion. I will know that I am happy, I’ll clap my hands for fairies, I’ll stare at the sun till it mottles my vision with red and yellow and orange.

I will crave a body with whom to share this magic, but love it for the fact that it is mine alone. I’ve got something that’s all mine. I’ll not fight the pain but will allow it to be soothed by the fresh faces I meet with and the thunderous waves which drown out the doubts in my head. That which makes us pitiful creatures makes us excellent human beings: I will cultivate my heart’s pains and pleasures; learn to befriend it. I will embrace the passionate tendencies of my Scorpio star sign. When I love, I love hard. If I am jealous, it consumes me. I am missing someone so intensely that it threatens my sanity, but it’s okay. I am surrounded by people who are absolutely nuts, and that’s the way I like it.

I will not listen to music half-assed, but pick the songs that snag at my heart, sing along and feel the sound ricocheting off the walls of that warehouse between my ears, and I will feel and feel and feel and feel.

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