So how do I feel these days? I’ll try to make this a bit interesting to you, my anonymous, invisible, undefined, but understanding reader.
I’m happy to know you exist, for I need you. Today is one of the times I need writing here not to feel creative or useful, but to feel a little less alone and disoriented.
Since a few days I’m extremely sentimental, emotionally fragile, unstable. Not very depressed maybe, but more like prone to weeping. In the middle of last night I twice woke up from the sadness of a dream, crying uncontrollably, tears streaming down my face. Both dreams had to do with loss, with missing something essential, with loneliness, perhaps also with some kind of nostalgia.
What did I dream about? I’ll tell you if you promise to leave Freud out of this. No Traumdeutung please. You know as well as I do that we’ve left most of that behind us.
In my first dream I was longing (and trying) to get back to home. My real home. The problem was, I couldn’t remember where it was: I did not even have a clue what it was supposed to look like. I had no idea. I was left with a gap, a void. I felt like an uprooted vagrant, overwhelmed by intense longing for a home that probably was imaginary but that I knew ought to be somewhere, should have been somewhere. Maybe around the next corner.
When I woke up crying, after switching on the light I recognized my actual bedroom and my base emotion shifted to: what is this? what am I doing here? I don’t belong! Yes, I was completely unsettled, literally.
After two hours I managed to get myself asleep again. Then my second dream came along.
In my second dream I was visited by one of my best friends, the one who killed herself two years ago. She sailed into the room in a cheerful long-time-no-see way, and immediately got into bed next to me. We started fondling. Then she began to talk. She kept talking and talking to me, happily, about the many new things she’d been doing last year. About where she was living now, about some kind of education project, about her son and her neighbors, about some chairs she’d bought for her room.
Somehow reality dawned upon me, I remembered her being dead, and woke up crying again.
Again it took me a few hours before I got back to sleep.
Today, tired after this bad night, I asked myself why such emotional instability is getting hold of me. I can easily pinpoint a few things that may have worked as triggers, such as the fact that next month I’ll be moving to another place again (a few miles from where I’m living now). Looking back over my entire life, I believe this will be my 14th move. Except for one of my childhood homes I’ve never lived anywhere for longer than five years: perhaps it’s understandable that I do miss some roots.
But when it comes to regaining some emotional control and stability, this kind of analysis or explanation does not really help. I still feel very sentimental, helplessly drifting on the waves of sad emotions, with tears that can return any moment – overwhelming and overpowering me without warning.
This sea of emotions is very much like the stormy ones so often pictured by the famous 19th-century Russian seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky:
So what to do?
I’ve decided that the best attitude is to not flee from sentiments today, but rather seeking, confronting, evoking them intentionally. For a while this may result in even more tears, but at least these will be my own tears, my own deliberately generated sentiments instead of those uncontrollable waves that can sink me unexpectedly. If I allow myself a little more sentimentality for now, maybe the sooner I’ll be able to leave it behind me again.
Do you see how I hope this will work? Almost like how in the old days some people took tiny drops of snake poison: it would make them resistant to the actual bite of a venomous snake.
When it comes to sentimentality, another good example is (I think) that unique Argentinian dance music: the tango. It can be extremely sentimental, but at the same time it always remains strictly within bounds. It allows for highly theatrical moving in a way that at the same time requires and creates stability. It expresses and evokes sentiments in a stylized way that prevents those sentiments getting out of control.
So if you like it or not, here is the Argentinian singer Susana Rinaldi with the tango song Sur (“South”).
A very sentimental, theatrical song with a text that is all about nostalgia: about lost places, lost loves, the sand that’s left of life, the irrevocability of change, and dreams that died.
Click the “Play” button to start the music. Or do you hate tango, do you hate old-fashioned sentiment? I was already afraid of that…
(if the player does not work, install Flash)
• tip: When uncontrolled waves of sentiments threaten to sink you, sometimes it can be worth trying to indulge in a little selected sentimentality of your own: this can work as a kind of safe harbor, channeling your emotions.
• note: The 1887 painting Ship in Stormy Sea by Ivan Aivazovsky is in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
And yes, compared to the much more modern, individual style of contemporaries such as Vincent van Gogh, this painting looks like a piece of kitsch. Or shall we call it sentimental?