Wednesday, February 1, 2012


They say life is a refining process. Theoretically, the older you get, the more you have learned. The more you can apply past experience; perhaps even use what you know to create a better life, going forward. “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” I wish it was that simple.

Because I don’t feel like I’m getting better. I don’t feel like I’m becoming refined, or learning anything. I certainly don’t believe I’m becoming wise, which is supposed to be the reward for growing older. I feel like more like I’m…petrifying, like an ancient tree.

Maybe my case is atypical. God knows, I’ve been a couple of steps out of sync my entire life, as far back as I can remember. I wonder if I was born lacking a certain kind of emotional armor that comes as standard equipment on most people. It seems I have always felt things more deeply than most. And have lacked adequate filter to disguise my deep feelings. The double whammy. Feel too much and show too much. It hasn’t made my life easy.

I guess they call it “passion.” I have been told I am passionate…and it has not been meant as a compliment. More of an excoriation. “You’re too—fill in the blank.” Such is the lot of the passionate person living among those who are…not. This surfeit of feeling and depth of emotion are freakish, almost threatening, to those who do not possess them. We are taught to control our passion, mask it, sublimate it, beat it down.

Having come of age in the sixties and seventies, I feel like at least I was given a short reprieve. Passion was the order of the day for us hippie-types back then. Forty years ago, I felt a connection to a larger culture of passion; we wanted to feel, and we were allowed to feel. We wanted to see, and we were encouraged to see. Some of us thought it was real. We believed that the passion we felt would be accepted and encouraged. We could be who we were, and change the world. We didn’t know it was just a pop-culture fad. We didn’t know that, in ten years time, we would be hopelessly “out-of-style.” Invited to sit down, shut up, and get back in lock-step with the rest of the world toward...well, whatever we have now.

Over and over again, as the decades have passed, I’ve found my deep-feeling soul to be more of a curse than a blessing, at least when it comes to getting along with other people. In my heart, I feel right. I feel like this is who I am, and I feel no shame about it. Left to my own devices, I’m mostly happy with who I am. That’s probably why I am just as happy to spend so many hours alone. But as soon as I rub up against other people, I begin to get that “inconvenient freak” feeling. That certain knowledge that I am different, and that it makes other people uncomfortable. That the only way for me to make it peaceably through life is to either pretend to be like everyone else (and I suck at that sort of pretense) or actually BE like everyone else.

Thus, my perception of my 50+-year-old self as a fossilized tree. Once away from those brilliant years of my young adulthood, I have met with enough disillusion and disapproval over the years to douse my fire. Or at least turn it down so far that it is barely a pilot light. And it really does not make me happy. The only times I feel right anymore are when I forget myself and soar to some extreme of feeling that no one else around me—particularly not my contemporaries—seems to be able (or willing) to reach. And I always pay for it. Disapproving glances and raised eyebrows are the mildest of the consequences. Most often, I pay with a serious crash and burn, failure and alienation. I’m so fed up with dealing with the consequences that I hardly ever “show myself” anymore. I dial it down. I don’t allow myself to feel.

I suppose people like me need to learn to control their passion, or it will be the end of them. Perhaps this is why so many passionate, artistic types die young, or even kill themselves. If you allow yourself to burn so bright all the time, you’ll burn out all the faster. But I wonder…who really gets the better deal? Is living long the ultimate goal? Or is living completely, for however short a time, what we should be aiming for? Why add twenty or thirty boring years to an uninspired life? What are we really contributing to the Universe once we’ve learned to hide our light under a bushel? An interesting conundrum…

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