Writing From the ‘Inside Out’

One of my students said to me today, “Ms. [redacted], you’re very emotional aren’t you?” He was referring to the way I gushed about the cuteness of my niece, who is only four months old.

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My initial reaction was to make excuses, to say, “I’m sorry” for talking that way, for revealing my affection for my niece in front of my class. Later, after the lecture had ended, my student approached me to discuss his essay. In the course of our conversation, he commented, again, that I was a very emotional person, this time in response to my excitement about his paper topic. My instinct to apologise for my expressiveness almost won, again, until I stopped to think about why I felt the need to apologise.

In retrospect, it seems rather silly to apologise for emotions, the most natural thing about humanity.

The Disney Pixar film Inside Out explores what it means to feel like a human, what the depth and complexity of how we experience life looks like, from the inside out. In the film, it’s assumed that for Riley to be mentally healthy, Joy must be in the driver’s seat the majority of the time, and that Sadness (and the other emotions) must be contained, limited, and controlled.

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The film makes a case for allowing more than just joy to shape our human experiences, that by feeling sadness, anger, fear, or disdain, we can create memories that are just important to forming our personalities. Emotions, no matter which they are, are not a bad thing. It’s how we choose to handle our emotions that defines us.

So when my student called me “emotional,” my instinctive reaction to view the descriptor as something negative speaks volumes about the world in which I was raised. I was taught that to be strong was to be stoic, that to be serious I had to feign indifference. We’ve come to perceive our feelings as synonyms for weaknesses. “Emotional” has become a dirty word, and we go to great lengths to hide what we’re feeling from people immediately surrounding us.

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It is said that any strong emotion, be it anger or disgust or excitement, usually passes within ninety seconds. Feeling angry because of something your significant other said or did? Count to ninety and see if you still feel that anger at the end of it. If emotions pass so quickly, why are we reluctant to let ourselves feel them?

I could argue that the purpose in writing Inside Out was to show audiences that all emotions are valid, and that might well be true. But, if I think about why I write, it usually isn’t for so specific a purpose. Writing elicits emotions. The purpose behind any piece of writing is to inspire a response. Stephen King makes us afraid with stories like The Shining or Carrie. Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves brings out sadness. J.K. Rowling takes us through a series of emotions that mirrors those of her protagonist, Harry Potter.

So my second response to my student calling me emotional? “You’re right,” I said, “I’m emotional. As a writer, it’s my job to be emotional. How can I make you feel emotions if I don’t feel them myself?” He looked a little taken aback, and then he said, “I get it. I get what writing is for now.”

The key to good writing is making your audience feel what you feel, and Inside Out makes us feel. By letting ourselves feel these emotions, we validate them. The next time you’re tempted to apologise for being emotional, remember that.

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-An Emotional Collectress

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4 thoughts

  1. I’m glad you received a positive reply from the student because my initial take was that this male student was pulling a bit of a power play with you. When a male tells a female she is being emotional, he is usually doing so in a negative or demeaning way. Your points are still the reason for the argument — there’s nothing wrong with being emotional, at all. I would probably want to question why this student felt a need to call you such, as if it were negative, twice. Was he trying to erode your authority position in the classroom? You were enthusiastic and happy, and shared those emotions with the class. I am glad that you were also to show the student that emotions are integral for writing and connecting with an audience.

    1. I didn’t take his comment as a power play. If it were a different student, I would have thought differently. I understood that he was genuinely surprised that I would express my emotions so freely in front of my students in the classroom. In fact, he also told me that he enjoys my class more than others because I express my enthusiasm for the subject. We had a lengthy conversation about word choice and negatively perceived words, and now I think he understands that someone women would see the comment as an insult or power play. He’s a good student, and eager to learn about such things and correct his mistakes.

  2. I very much enjoyed this post, and I agree with what you’ve written. Growing up with a military father and an older brother, I received the impression that you mentioned above: “I was taught that to be strong was to be stoic, that to be serious I had to feign indifference. We’ve come to perceive our feelings as synonyms for weaknesses. “Emotional” has become a dirty word, and we go to great lengths to hide what we’re feeling from people immediately surrounding us.”

    It took me many years to accept that I was a passionate emotional person, and that I was even more so than others. It’s a shame that children are being taught this even if it’s indirectly. I think it should be a high priority for parents to make sure to teach their children that it’s okay to express their emotions. Females are, at least, expected to be emotional although this is treated as bad or incorrect. A lot of boys, on the other hand, grow up learning to suppress their emotions and never learn to/how to voice them. This results in poor communication skills thus causing issues for them in future relationships.

    “Emotional” needs to be reevaluated by society. It’s not a bad thing at all. It’s as you said: It’s what makes us human.

    Great post!

    1. Exactly! I think if we make a conscious effort to show our children that emotions are not something to be ashamed of, it will make a big difference in how we present ourselves and how we interact with each other. If we can validate our own emotions, I think it will be easier to accept and validate the emotions of others. 🙂

      Thank you for reading! -T.C.

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