I’m sitting at a coffee bar sipping some kind of latte, figuring out what to say. It’s Thursday night, October. My kids are at home sleeping, probably next to my wife. I keep holding the clear glass up to catch the light, watching the color change.
My old friend Paul is sitting to my left. We’re talking about emotions, my favorite topic. The coffee spot is narrow, we have two front row seats. I’m happy.
“I get so much pleasure being cruel to people, but it hurts that I’m like that. I don’t want to be that guy,” he says. “I hear you,” I say. “I’m in therapy now trying to learn how to manage my emotions,” he says.
“I hear you,” I say, turning to face Paul.
Maybe it’s the low-lights and jazz making me sleepy, or the all-nighter I pulled reading The Outsiders, or maybe it’s just the egg-scramble, but I’m finding it challenging to say anything more than, “I hear you.”
I know about managing emotions, and what a dried raisin it can be. I care so much about this flannel-clad friend from the old days. I feel clear excitement in my chest, a compulsion to craft the perfect sentence that will turn his sailboat around. But the words are hiding.
“I hear you,” I say.
It’s not until later in the evening, as I’m squeezing into my bed, searching the silence for a spare piece of blanket to cover my cold chest, that the words emerge.
“Don’t manage your feelings. Have them.”
My 2-year old daughter is sleeping at a right angle to my wife. Her mouth is hanging open, her pacifier resting quiet on the white linen sheets. I’m watching her.
“We manage because we think we’re sparing people around us. But we’re not, Paulie. When we don’t let ourselves have our own feelings, people around us feel it anyway. It’s energy, man. Emotion is a current. We gotta take it out.”
White noise is coming out of a small machine plugged into the wall. My daughter’s breathing is shallow. I’m holding my breath waiting to hear it. She opens her eyes.
“Just don’t take it out on me.”
Children in my creative writing classes learn how to direct their flow so that it doesn’t torture them, or others. I allow them to experience the pleasure of expressing their personal truths, however ugly or sad or embarrassing. I teach simple tools my teacher Jack Grapes taught me for writing in their authentic, creative voice – in a way that readers can relate to.
It’s therapeutic. It’s educational. It’s discovering the pleasure of turning truth into art. And God-willing, it’s saving them from the self-inflicted suffering our generation seems so addicted to.