What Drag Queens Can Teach You About Your Feelings

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The most feminine people I know are men who dress up and call themselves drag queens. The fact they can do that so convincingly, calls into question the notion of femininity and masculinity.

According to Judith Butler in her book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, gender is constructed by repeated performance of behaviors that belong stereotypically to men or women. Girls play with dolls; boys shoot each other with guns. Women wear dresses; men only wear pants. Women use makeup; men seem unconcerned with how they look. Women flounce; men hulk. Women lilt; men proclaim, when they are not grunting or mumbling. When a man, despite being a man flouts convention and presents himself as a woman, he exposes gender as a performance, not as anything real. When drag queens take femininity to an extreme and parody the feminine, they ridicule our cultural norms and expose them as lies.

I’m not here to debate or affirm Butler’s ideas, but to take them into an area I know well, the feelings. When you have a feeling long enough, or often enough, that feeling will become part of your identity. Stomp around a lot and people will say you’re an angry person. Cry, and they’ll say you’re sad. Have fears, and you’ll be a scaredy cat. If you’re always happy, you might be the most annoying person they know. Continue reading

Cabin Fever: How Compulsion Feels from the Inside

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I used to live in a cabin, so I should be an expert on cabin fever.

At age nineteen, I emigrated to western New York to live on a remote piece of land, a quarter mile from the nearest neighbor and built that cabin. They didn’t plow my dirt road, so I’d be snowed in for weeks at a time, which was just as well, for the rattletrap vehicle I drove was broken down as often as it was operable. A trip to town was as special as a vacation in Paris. It took years before I realized and could admit that I really didn’t like living in the country, and would much rather be in the city, or at least as much of a city as Rochester, NY, where I am now, can claim to be.

Currently, with every non-essential business closed, due to the pandemic, I might as well still be living in my cabin in the woods. My cabin fever is back, but not nearly as bad as before. I have skills now and can confront the problem at the source before it gets out of hand. Continue reading

Your Emotional Immune System

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There are germs everywhere; but most of the time, you don’t get sick because of your physical immune system, consisting of everything from the tough hide of your skin, to the snotty mucus of your nose; the white cells of your blood, to your ability to sneeze and vomit all the bad stuff out of town. Fever, too, is part of an immune response, as your body cooks the germs out of existence.

The body’s immune response is as wonderful and useful as it is disgusting and often uncomfortable. Thank God you have it. But you should also thank God, or whatever you choose to thank, that you have an emotional immune system, as well. For, while there is stress everywhere, most of the time you don’t go mad. Continue reading

A Bad Mood

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A bad mood is when your feelings get stuck in a terrible place and you can’t change them, no matter what. You’ve been in the doldrums for weeks, sad and depressed, even though you have nothing to be sad and depressed about, except for being sad and depressed. How do you shake that feeling and experience the joy you have every right to claim?

Imagine a radio dial with many frequencies along a continuous range. When you tune into one station, you get one genre of music, Country-Western, say. When you tune into another, you get a different kind, the Classical station where they play Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Your moods are like that. When you’re depressed, you’re thinking depressing thoughts, talking about depressing things, watching depressing movies, and counting your losses. The food you eat is plain and filling. The curtains are drawn. You stay in bed and never do anything. You are tuning in to a particular feeling, so that’s all you feel. No wonder you’re depressed. If you weren’t depressed already, everything you’re tuning into would make you depressed.

It looks like it would be easy to change your mood. People tell you to stop thinking depressing thoughts, talking about depressing things, watching depressing movies, and counting your losses. Eat food with flavor, they say. Pull open the drapes. Get out and take a walk. Doing those things is almost impossible because you’re depressed. If you try doing them, or someone makes you do them, it feels forced or you feel nothing at all. Even joy is jarring and uncomfortable. How can you ever get out of this pit? Continue reading

Joy

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According to a Jewish myth, Genesis didn’t tell us the whole story about how God made the universe. When the world was created, something went horribly wrong.

The story goes that when God decided to bring this world into being, He made room for it by withdrawing Himself a little. The result was darkness. When He said, “Let there be light”, His light filled the darkness like little beakers of sunshine.

Unfortunately, the beakers, being created out of darkness, were flawed. They shattered, scattering the light everywhere. The myth says, whenever you find a spark of that light that had been lost from that primordial accident, you feel joy. In fact, that’s why God created humans, to help Him find the missing sparks amidst everything that’s broken in the world. Joy guides you towards your life’s purpose.

Joy is closely related to and often synonymous with happiness, bliss, charm, exhilaration, gladness, delight, glee, elation, satisfaction, pleasure, and wonder; but it’s different. Many have thought it might be useful to reserve one of those positive feelings for when we find something good in a bad place, the silver lining of a cloud. Joy is the word they use for that. You can be happy in Disneyland, but when you’re feeling positive in Peoria, that’s joy. Continue reading

Grudge

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Suppose you’re angry on Tuesday because someone stole from you on Monday. On Wednesday that person returned what he stole, compensated you for the inconvenience, apologized, and credibly promised never to do it again. If you’re still angry on Thursday, you are said to be holding a grudge.

Plenty of people say grudges should be abolished. They are irrational, lead to unbalanced retribution, and hurt the holder of the grudge. I’ve said so myself in my book, The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. It’s one of the many ways that victims get wrecked on the road to reconciliation and fail to find peace. But an article in The Boston Review by Agnes Callard caused me to reconsider. She says holding a grudge is a perfectly rational thing to do. Could this be true? Continue reading

Ambivalence

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Two heads are better than one; you get multiple perspectives. Two eyes and two ears are better than one for the same reason; plus, you get a spare. Two legs and two feet are better than one, so you don’t have to hop everywhere you go. Two hands are better than one, so you can hold your coffee as you find your keys. Two parents are better than one, so one can follow the energetic toddler when the other is ready to drop.

But, two heads on the same body? That’s just weird. Isn’t it better to be single-minded? No one likes to be ambivalent and unable to decide, do they? It’s painful to sit on a fence, racked by doubt, hesitancy, and indecision. You’d rather be resolute and stay out of a muddied, hazy, confused quandary. Continue reading

Envy

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Envy is not a rare feeling, but it’s a rarely acknowledged one. No one likes to admit they’re envious. Instead, they’ll call it some other feeling: anger, injustice, resentment, sadness, hurt, puzzled, lonely, bored, or jealous, among others. But, if you have ever been unhappy that someone had something you don’t, you were envious; admit it. Continue reading

Stillness

Photo by Ryan Magsino on UnsplashMost feelings seem like wild carnivores that ambush you, jump out of the bushes, seize you in their jaws, carry you off, and consume you till there’s nothing left. Stillness is not like that. Stillness is like a rare flower, easily overlooked; but, if you find it, you’ll want to collect and grow it in your garden. Continue reading