I bought a book yesterday. It's called "Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?" and it's a compilation of letters that have been sent to the New Scientist magazine as part of the "Last Word" column - a forum for readers to send in scientific questions that fellow readers then answer. It's great - it's full of all sorts of useless stuff, like "what time is it in the North Pole", "why does clingfilm stick to glass but not metal", "why does hot water freeze faster than cold (apparently it's true, and no-one's come up with a definitive answer yet)", "why is snot green (a personal favourite)", "what is the diameter of a bolt of lightning" and so on and so forth. It's great for train journeys to gigs - not sure it was worth €14.99 though.
It's good material for a blogger to read, because everything's bite-sized, and very little of it is straight-forward, so there's often lengthy discourse and hypothesising from the respondants. They're the sort of questions that children ask (and in fact some of them ARE asked by children, which is why I now know why sea-water is salty) to really wind their parents up at inopportune moments. Above all though, it invites people to crap on endlessly about their pet subjects with the view to convincing everyone how clever and interesting they are, as though anyone cares less (sound familiar?), and I kept getting the image of the people who asked the question writing back and saying "yeah ok, thanks, but did you have to be such a tosser about it?" Anyway, it's all very much like blogging, so it kinda puts you in the mood to write something.
It might sound a little sophomoric, but whilst I was reading all of this, and being invited to look at my world in a slightly more enquiring way, I began to consider the topic of human emotion, and emotional pain/loss in particular. I half expected someone to have written in asking for a psychological and/or physiological explanation for how broken hearts work (haven't come across it yet, but I'm only two-thirds of the way through). I came up with the following.
I've often considered that the word "injury" in its generic sense is used a little too sparingly. As a singer, I often think that it should be used to describe vocal problems more. We should be able to say "can't sing - injured", as opposed to "I have a cold/infection/nasty rash, pus-oozing nodules on my perineum, my budgie died, it's the worst thing in the world, how will I survive, waffle, waffle, waffle, why, why why?" and so forth. Not only does "injured" save everyone valuable time and patience, I think it sums up the situation quite well, too, I think. Much the same as when an athlete is injured, the injury at the very best inhibits the person from doing what they by definition are supposed to do - and often stops them from doing it completely. Consequently, an injured athlete to a point actually becomes an ex-athlete, or depending on the severity of the ailment, a temporary non-athlete. The same applies to a singer - if you can't sing, what are you, then? And this is why being injured is a rotten state to be in for either individual - it can seem like you're missing something hard to define but quintessentially YOU - and somehow you are less of yourself by consequence.
I have been feeling the same way about emotional pain, grief, and loss, and that "injured" might just as easily sum up that situation as well. When you're down, and particularly when you're down about a specific thing or person, you don't feel yourself then, either. You wander through life lacking energy or drive, and the most mundane tasks seem that much more difficult. Nothing is much fun, everything's a bit wan and colourless and essentially you are less of yourself. It can seem to both you and others that until whatever/whoever it is that was taken away returns, you won't quite be the same. The connection is not completely seamless of course - a runner with a bad hamstring can't run, a singer with layrngitis can't sing, a person with a broken heart can't - what? Live? Not really, but I guess the answer is live successfully and happily, and that's what we're all here for, after all. So it still works. And as with all other injuries, the most important thing is to give yourself time and rest. Unfortunately it's pretty difficult to rest from being you - but that's probably why emotional pain is so difficult to deal with.
There would be other benefits to thinking about it in these terms, namely that it would save everyone a lot of awkwardness. I've found that as a man, despite what the post-feminist world tells me, talking about any sort of angst or pain, no matter how genuine, is a good recipe for people to start shuffling their feet and looking for the nearest exit. As a hot-blooded, Alpha-male ever alert to the call to action, you're supposed to be off slaying mammoth and doing stock-market deals, not fannying about talking about your FEELINGS, for crying out loud. It just makes people uncomfortable. I can't count the amount of times I've witnessed women do it, though - it's just one of life's little double-standards. So I think that if we could just describe ourselves as being "injured" it would make things a whole lot easier. The below (very hypothetical) conversation might help illustrate my point:
A: Hi mate. How are you doing?
B: Not so great. Broke up with my girl over the weekend.
B: Yeah. I'm not really coping that well, to be honest. Never realised it could feel this bad! I just.... don't know why it didn't work out, you know? And now I can't eat, or sleep, I've got no energy, everything's gone to shit, I can't concentrate on my work - I wish she'd just come back to me, but she won't, and..... well, things aren't so great. It's really tough. If you've got any advice, let me know.
A: Well, you could start by getting a grip on yourself, ya big poof!!
A: Hi mate. How are you doing?
B: Not so great. Carrying a bit of an injury at the moment.
A: Ah. That's no good! Went throught the same thing myself last year. Do you want to go and get drunk?
B: Great! Is there any football on?
Now doesn't that just seem easier?