Sunday (July 28) was a lovely day. It started out with my granddaughter, Hayley, being in the house for the first time in over a month. We went to Headrush Roasters, a coffeeshop friends Eric and Nancy Schneider, so that I could sit in for my first installment as their philosopher-in-residence from noon to 2:00. On the way, we swung by midtown to retrieve Jessica Lopez, former student of mine and now good friend. After all the philosophy was wrung out of me by 2:00, the three of us went north to Kearney, Missouri, to muck about in the garden William and I maintain on his fertile property, escaping with potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and the ubiquitous spaghetti squash we inadvertently planted. However, this is not meant to be an agricultural blog.
On the drive back, talking to Hayley and Jessica, somehow the conversation moved to the topic of the display of emotions. What I confessed to them, I shall now confess to you. The subject may have arisen because I was curious about Hayley’s seeming impassiveness during all the times we have been together this year. But it may have come up by another avenue. One point I made is that I have a rich, active, and deeply felt emotional life, but I feel it has no means of satisfactory expression. Most of the people in my academic life are either too young to have more than a simplistic emotional life, or have no interest in knowing or sharing my feelings on anything. Blue River, the college where I taught, has the typical male dunderheads in the faculty, and married females who seem to see letting me be some kind of emotional colleague as something outside the boundaries. In fact, in MCC generally there is too much nervous talk about boundaries and little about what boundaries immunize you from.
I use humor, intellect, and profanity in class to keep the dirty little secret that I truly care about my students and their lives. And my colleagues quickly stereotype me and discard me in the bin of their label. The point I was making to Hayley and Jessica was that I felt very deeply the need to express my emotions about lots of elements in my life, but something seems to prevent me. And I know what that is. It may be peculiar, neurotic, bonkers, or all of the above, but I need someone with whom to share my emotional life. Now maybe that’s something everyone recognizes as important, but for me it seems to rise to the level of mandatory. My emotional life seems to dysfunction without someone in my life so intimate, though not necessarily physically intimate, that there is nothing inside me I dare not expose. Being married, from 2006-2012, to a woman whose English skills were rudimentary, at best, and seemed to have an even more elementary emotional vocabulary, seems to have embedded in my limbic system, by necessity, a program of No Exit.
As a philosopher, I wonder whether the necessity I have recognized in my own case is conceptually necessary, or sufficient. Must emotions be expressed in order to be legitimized? And does the observational recognition that they exist in you suffice for this? I know it doesn’t for me, but am I some sort of aberration? It wouldn’t be the first time. And does the (to me, at least) abstract expression to no one in particular — kicking the car, or pounding the car hood — express a particular emotion in a satisfactory manner? Again, for me it doesn’t. I need someone with whom I share a two-way connection of great trust and intimacy — that wonderful word again — in order to have those feelings really mean something, to me. Of course, it would be great if my emotions made some sense to the other person, but I think that might be too much to ask. But somewhere between no one and my emotional twin lies a land I want to explore, but when I reach out my hand to tread that path, it only grasps emptiness.