yessss, let the feels flow through you
“You seem to cry a lot lately. Are you ok?” My youngest sister worries about me, and from a distance, reading my self-reports on Twitter and here and by text, I can see why. I do cry a fair amount, and often, I mention it when I do. There just always seems to be something out there dredging up FEELINGS of all sorts: Hamilton (both the musical and the Ron Chernow biography, which details the many traumas A. Ham and his contemporaries experienced on the way to founding a nation), the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, the closure of the Toast, the death of one of my most vintage Internet ladyfriends, the 2016 election and its aftermath, the list goes on & on. My own specific life is very lovely, but life on this planet is hard! Being a person is hard.
And, you know, I’m a cryer. (And a laugher, and a giddy hand-clasper, and a placer of palms to bosoms, and an enthusiastic yeller. These are, for me, all very nearly the same thing.) I cry when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry, when I’m overwhelmed, and sometimes when I’m just a regular, everyday degree of whelmed. Big emotions are a big part of my processing methodology. In both her parenting advice work and her blog PostTrump.help, Magda Pecsenye talks about two common approaches to crying, tension-reducing and tension-increasing. I’m definitely a tension-reducing cryer: emotions build up, I have a bit of a weep, and then I can move on just fine.
I noticed last summer, when I was still deep in my David Bowie grief, how frequently I was seeking out books that I started describing as a feels bomb to the solar plexus. Looking over my Goodreads from the last year, it’s littered with books like this: Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Laurinda, Bone Gap, Bellwether Rhapsody, Moonglow, a reread of Persuasion. Every review I wrote, and nearly every time I texted my friends or tweeted about it, I made some reference to how deeply I was feeeeeeeeeling these books. Alternating reading new-to-me titles with rereading favorite Good Cry books, the ones that make me feel like the emotional journey is earned and substantial started as a general 2016 grief coping strategy and is now my normal.
Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago, when Carly Rae Jepsen released a new single. It’s called “Cut to the Feeling”, and is, as so many of her songs are, is both an unmistakeable jam and an emotional call to arms. Remember how, in “Run Away With Me”, she implored her love interest to take her to the feeling, and how it inspired Jia Tolentino to liken CRJ to a modern mystic a la Margaret Porete, burned at the stake for her heretical belief in having direct access to the divine?
Her willingness to be directly possessed by emotion — to regress, away from narrative, away from audience, back to that original point — reminds me of Porete’s idea of the soul stripped naked by divine presence. A soul:
to whom one can teach nothing
from whom one can take nothing away
to whom one can give nothing
and who has no will at all.
I don’t feel like I lack will, though. If I review my listening, reading, and viewing habits of the last two years, I can see that my will is pretty strong, and one of the strongest manifestations of that will is my pursuit of stories - across all media - that take me to the feeling. I prefer rock-solid stability in all my personal, familial, and collegial relationships and something approaching an emotional frenzy in my cultural consumption. I love to have a good cry, to ship characters so deeply that I have earnest conversations about their well-being, and to lose myself in a kitchen dance party. Nearly every day, I want my culture to take me! to the! feeling! And then I want to yell about it with my friends, because that combination -- that communion -- of erudition and feelings really does feel divine.
And, surprise!, it turns out that that’s been something I’ve wanted out of culture pretty much my whole life. Reading Rob Sheffield’s new book Dreaming The Beatles (which is just about perfect, by the way, bear it in mind as a gift for the Beatles lover in your life), he talks about how weird and unexpected it is that the Beatles became anything at all in the moment that they did, given that they admonished each other in 3-part harmony about treating their girlfriends better, covered and were rabid fanboys of girl groups, and wrote a vast catalog of songs about the complexities of their relationships with women. The Beatles are constantly calling out, crying out to girls and women, both the many anonymous Babys and Shes and Yous, and quite a few by name: Rita, Julia, Eleanor, Prudence, Her Majesty. They’re not perfect, but is it any wonder that listening to boys singing about being deep in their feelings made such an impression on my young & developing ears?
Addenda for Your Journey to The Feeling, in case that’s a place you want to go to, too:
Last year, without quite knowing why, I put together a playlist of my Favorite Swoony Beatles Songs. Now I know why!
Zan Romanoff’s piece on how falling in love with One Direction - specifically their shouting about loss of control and their open invitation to their fans to do the same - was a step towards a better life (CW: depression, suicidal ideation)
Finally, in case the release of “Cut To The Feeling” made you long for Carly Rae to just release a new album already, here’s a playlist I made to tide you over. Take as needed, side effects will almost certainly include feeeeeeelings.
Live footage of you listening to Carly Rae Jepsen Methadone