I’ve always been terribly skilled at being emotional; whether this is due to personal nature or stereotypical feminine melancholia, I’m never sure. Whatever the underlying reason for the rather harsh vicissitudes of my emotions, I’ve nursed my fragility with the help of a number of sensory aids. I tend to be a fan of the overly-something: coffee so hot my tongue never learns its lesson, sweaters so large they’re assumed to be my father’s, music so loud the elderly frown. I eschew middle grounds in general, opting instead for either too much or too little; Goldilocks always seemed like a finicky bitch to me.
So it makes sense, in the illogical maze of my mind, that I do things like sit in the storage closet of my apartment with the lights off listening to Joni Mitchell’s “River” as loudly as possible through my headphones or listen to “California” twenty times in a row when I finally leave the discomfiting dustpile that is Nevada into the Golden State on my drive home from school. I like to joke that you can tell from everything about me that I love Joni Mitchell, especially the “Blue” album. I sometimes feel that I’m a caricature of myself. The girl raised by lesbian parents in the Bay Area who studies creative writing at a liberal arts college loves Joni Mitchell? Yeah, makes sense.
I love love and I hate longevity. I find that anything that endures in my life only serves to make it feel shorter. If I spend my afternoons doing the exact same thing for a month, I won’t be able to distinguish them from one another and, in a flash, my month turns into a single afternoon. If happiness means being content, and being content means falling into a routine, then I worry that being happy means living a shorter-perceived life. But is that better than an excruciatingly long one marked by suffering and unhappiness?
Maybe it is; a literally long life has never particularly appealed to me, and that’s not just me languoring in melancholia but a genuine worry of leaving the party long after it was time to go. I suppose it’s another practice in extremes; I deal in bursts and flashes and flares. It might be better, easier to be slowly effusive, venting out energy in steady streams. But I’m not well-versed in matters of permanence, so for now (and maybe forever), I erupt.
I also love to cry. I try to do it as often as I can, about anything I can, and sometimes about nothing at all. During the aggregate 10 months or so that I was on Prozac, I didn’t cry at all. In my mind, I paired this with my relative inability to orgasm as well, and shelved it with the other reasons I hated Prozac (the primary reason being that it drove me into such insanity that I often worried on my walks home that the squirrels were filming me through cameras in their eyes).
During these months of drought-eyes and dread, I often turned to music to either take the place of or encourage tears. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” has featured prominently in my life since I discovered it wedged between a Dixie Chicks and Indigo Girls CD on my mother’s shelf in early middle school. It became a fixture in high school, when I would lie on my bed listening to it, belly swollen with lovesickness. I remember listening to it on repeat freshman year of high school while reading “Love In The Time of Cholera” and feeling so filled with an inimitable something, relating so painfully to Florentino’s flowery sickness. Maybe it was the link between the flowers Florentino eats and the wine Joni could drink in “A Case of You,” the chronicling of that desire to entirely consume someone else, or at least the essence of them. It wasn’t then (and isn’t now) that I couldn’t get enough, but the risk that enough might cross into too much; that I might drink a case of someone and not stay on my feet.
At 14, I had yet to truly love and be loved by anyone, including myself, but I had already created a horrible habit I maintain to this day: I fall in love 20 times a day. Of course, my loving lacks the proper timing of courtship and understanding and intimacy, but it’s still love to me. It’s horribly treacly and starry-eyed of me, but I was raised and have remained a romantic despite myself. I’ve noticed that the people I know, especially women, tend to turn away from notions of romanticism as we often conflate it with vulnerability. Women are so often painted as crazy in love, chaining themselves to the first person they fall for, that it’s easier to offer a colder shoulder in order to not give the impression of hysteria or neediness.
I find this is a problem in hookup culture as well; people are loath to confess true feelings or say how they feel in fear of rejection, in fear of being vulnerable. I do this too, often burying my emotions so deep that even I’m unsure of what I really feel. To be vulnerable is to be hurt, to be rejected, to unearth the fear that you’re unworthy of whatever it is you’re searching for in the other person. Although I might not have in the past, I’m starting to think that the pain might be worth it. Bear all and bare all, even and especially when it’s easier to not. Like in “Little Green,” where Joni writes about the baby she gave up for adoption when she was 21. The bittersweet of the song sounds how other lives might have felt, sounds like placeless nostalgia … if Joni can write “Little Green,” I can weather any storm of emotion that might barrage me. I can be thankful, in the end, for the vulnerability. I have already learned that sometimes, there will be sorrow.
We shy away from vulnerability in order to keep from getting hurt by and hurting others, which I suppose is a well-intentioned action, but it means living at 50 percent saturation. There’s a Fernando Pessoa quote that I often think about, from “The Book of Disquiet.”
“To feel everything in every way; to be able to think with the emotions and feel with the mind … in short, to use all sensations but only on the inside, peeling them all down to God and then wrapping everything up again and putting it back in the shop window.”
This, to me, is the art of being delicate. To be delicate is to break every day, break yourself and let yourself be broken, to truly feel everything. In my mind, Joni Mitchell is a Pessoan woman like myself. Maybe I’m projecting, but the words “I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad” in “River” make it hard to feel like Joni and I aren’t the same in some deep, permeating, internal way.
Sometimes I worry this will destroy us. Joni has Morgellons, a disease in which the individual believes there are fibers under, in, or emerging from the skin paired with a crawling sensation, and often sores from scratching. Medically, it's considered a psychological offshoot of delusional parasitosis. This makes me scared of my strong connection to Joni; I see much of myself in her delusions. Aside from recurring nightmares where Play-Doh pushes out of my pores in strings like in one of those Crazy Cuts kits, I already feel myself falling fully into other delusions. Delusional parasitosis often fully develops or emerges after age 40, and more often in women, but anyone who knows me well knows I often joke about how I am perpetually convinced I am infected with parasites; I get tests to check for parasites at least once a year and sometimes worry I have parasites that have evolved to be undetectable. On one level, I see that I’m being ridiculous and overly-anxious, but on a deeper, more internal level, I go to bed noting every place my skin twitches and scratch away any sort of bug bite I get, mentally terrorized by the parasites I know can’t exist, but do nonetheless.
Logically, Joni Mitchell’s Morgellons and my parasite fixation can’t have anything to do with our vulnerability. But it feels that way to me, sometimes—like our emotional rawness has allowed spidery darkness to creep in and hijack our brains into believing things that can’t be true, into hurting us. I know I denounced emotional middle grounds, but I find myself desperately searching for one to settle into safely, a gray area to wrap myself in so I can coast by comfortably in life. Unfortunately for me, and maybe for Joni, those gray areas don’t come easily.
Is this what our vulnerability has done to us? Have we peeled down our sensations so many times that we can’t put them back in the shop window? Maybe the feel-everything in me has ruined me, in a sense. Maybe it’s unsustainable. But in “All I Want,” Joni says she wants to belong to the living, and at the end of the day, I think I do too. My life often feels like an exercise in staring directly at the sun as it rises. The sunlight hurts my eyes, but I continue to look because I know it’s also beautiful. The things that we love will very likely destroy us one day, but that doesn’t mean we should close our eyes. Even if life is one extended risk assessment, I can’t think of a risk not worth taking or a death I wouldn’t die to live my life in full color.