Jack of Many Trades

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Originally posted: 2014-04-05

I always feel like I'm living with the volume turned up to 11. For me, being a monster is like speaking capslock as my native language. Everything is experienced immediately and intensely, in a way society tells me is "overboard." The details vary, as details pretty much always do, but the aspect of Buddhism that draws me in is the philosophy of experiencing each moment fully for what it is.

Whatever I am doing at any given moment, that is the thing I have fully committed myself to. If I'm on a mountain, I'm enjoying the hell out of that mountain right then, not worried about the next part of the trail or whatever pissed me off that morning. If I'm fucking, my partner knows exactly where my attention is at any given moment. If I'm working, the work is what matters and doing it right becomes important no matter how dull the job is. Telling me not to care is meaningless, and this can cause me a lot of stress at work. If I'm watching a movie, my emotions are fully consumed by the movie, regardless of how stupid I might look crying in Wreck It Ralph.

Being a wild thing means being in the moment, not in the past or the future. What matters is what I'm doing now, and whether I could be doing it even better than I already am. Whatever I'm feeling, I'm feeling it one hundred percent. (Even if that feeling is confusion, or even if I'm feeling two different things and I'm at 200%.) Every feeling is valid and important, it's just what you do with them that matters. Anger and joy are easy ones to picture, and while Americans are acculturated to cringe at expressions of both, we at least know what they look like. That's not the case with many emotions. Grief, for example, is felt keenly by monsters and most other creatures; I mourn loudly and messily, and I'm a sobbing mess when I get started. (Traditional Irish wakes as well as funerals with wailing and screaming mourners are both closer to honesty than the stoic, silent funeral that's so common.)

Fear is a feeling like any other, to be felt completely in the moment when it overwhelms you. The beautiful thing about really feeling all of your emotions is that you become aware of the fact that every mood changes and every feeling passes. That fear will pass, and be replaced by anger or relief or bravery; in the mean time, you can appreciate it for the survival instinct it is.

Because every feeling is valid, there are no guilty pleasures, just pleasures. If I like 80s power ballads, then I am going to turn that Journey album up to eleven and I don't care who hears me sing along. If I'm running, I'm doing it for the sheer joy of running, even if there's someplace I have to end up as well.

I can tell you without shame that I love bad movies, 80s rock, and cartoons as much as I love deconstructing mid-20th-century American poetry and traditional blacksmithing and opera. None of those is more valid than the other, and I sing along with La Donna Il Mobile and Don't Stop Believin' with equal passion. Shame makes no sense. If I like it, it's clearly worth liking. If you disagree, we can have a lively debate about it, or we can ignore ignore it in favor of things we agree on.

The American cultural ideal of the "polite fiction" is ridiculous. Most monsters will take you at your word; this is why honesty is so important in fairy tales. If you're going to lie, lie big. Make it worth your while. But when in doubt, don't lie at all, especially not to yourself or the people you care about.

Yes, this ends badly sometimes. Freaking out when someone "moves your cheese" is frowned on in the workplace. We're expected to act like we're simply okay no matter how we really feel. Maybe some people can learn to tamp down their feelings like that, but I never really have. If I'm angry, or if I'm happy, you're going to know. (I've had bosses complain about my "oversharing" before, and I've worked on it, but it's still hard.)

There is also a tendency toward violent reactions that's not easy to understand if you're not from a culture that allows honest feelings to flourish. I don't punch people any more, but I am going to let you know what I think and I am going to call you on your bullshit if I think it's deserved. Otherwise it not only builds up inside you, but it can turn poisonous, leading you to undermine whatever compromise you reached.

Even my anxiety is something I live at full volume. I don't have any small, creeping fears. I have terrors, and I learn to live with them. I have my obsessive thoughts, and I think them loudly, and eventually I'm able to release them.

And that's the amazing thing about living a life where you aren't afraid to feel everything. Yes, it will hurt, and you will feel every inch of the pain. But the joy and the excitement and all the pleasures are that much sharper as well. When you know every feeling will pass, you learn to treasure all of them, even the anger and the pain and the grief, because you know you'll never feel precisely this same way again.

This is all I have. I intend to enjoy it.