As a child, I was brought up to suppress my emotions. My father was remote, and had great difficulty expressing his emotions. My mother, while gregarious and charismatic, believed that emotion was an expression of human weakness.
I remember that when my father died (at age 62) of Alzheimer’s disease quite a while ago, my mother called to tell me of his death (which had been expected). She started to cry on the phone, and I remember saying something to her like, “Mom, you’ve been brave for so long, don’t break down now.” I remember it so well, because now, I think what a terrible thing to say! I should have expressed empathy and sympathy! But that gives you an idea of how strong the ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality was in my family.
I remember also that when I separated from my first wife, I was cleaning my small apartment on a Saturday morning. The phone rang. It was my mother. She wanted to know how I was, and at the end of the conversation, she said, “I love you.” I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t recall her ever saying that to me before. (I was 46 at the time.) I didn’t doubt that, in her heart of hearts, she loved me, but she did not express her feelings.
When I separated from my first wife, the minister at our church recommended that we both go to counselling. I did. I went to a psychotherapist for about two years, and during that time, I only learned one thing: get in touch with your emotions, don’t suppress them – emotions are an essential part of what makes us human.
Now, when my wife an I go to the movies, I often find that I’m shedding tears in response to something that’s happened. Not just sad events, but also very happy events. I’ll start wiping my eyes if I get caught up in the emotions of the actors. My wife thinks it’s kind of amusing. She seldom sheds a tear in the movies.
One interesting thing is that all five of the important women in my life are (or were) Capricorns: my mother, my sister, my ex-wife, my wife and a girl friend. Why would that be? Well, some is chance and some is by choice. I’ve had a look at the characteristics of Capricorns. One astrology website says: “These independent, rock like characters have many sterling qualities. They are normally confident, strong-willed and calm. These hardworking, unemotional, shrewd, practical, responsible, persevering . . . persons . . .” I think that’s a fairly good description of all my women. So, did I, as an unemotional child with two Capricorns living with me, choose three others? Maybe so.
As a writer, one has to feel and express emotion. I would have been a very poor writer of fiction before I went through psychotherapy. Now, I find myself shedding tears when I’m re-reading a particularly well-written description of an emotional event. For example, here’s a passage from Fishing in Foreign Seas. Caterina and Jamie are visiting Erice, an ancient, mountain-top town in western Sicily:
“I show you something I do not like,” Caterina said, and she led the way down narrow path which seemed to skirt the edge of the mountain. She paused near an iron railing, but clearly was going no closer to it.
Indicating the railing she said: “there is a very big drop there.”
Jamie walked over to the railing and peered over the edge.
“Not go so close, Jamie!” she said in alarm.
He looked into a narrow gorge which was covered on the near side with vines and seemed to stretch down into infinity.
“Yes, I see what you mean. I can’t even make out what’s at the bottom.”
“Jamie, come away!” she pleaded.
She took a step backward and held out her hands to him. He crossed over to her.
“The railing is quite strong. You wouldn’t fall over,” he assured her.
She looked at him, her lips compressed: “I am afraid of heights. When I get near a place like this, I am afraid I throw myself over.”
“But you’re not going to do that!”
“I know, but I still get the feeling. . . . As if some demon inside of me will take control . . . and throw me over.”
“But you don’t have any demons inside,” he protested.
“I know of one,” she confessed. Her eyes were misty: “. . . it is called ‘self-doubt’.”
He stared at her in utter amazement, then he felt her vulnerability, and he drew her close to him. “Let’s get a bite to eat,” he suggested.
They sat at a table in an almost-deserted patisserie. She would look at him for a moment and then she would look around her. The corners of her mouth were turned down and her head was inclined to one side.
“Caterina . . .” She looked at him, her face full of disappointment in herself.
He took her hands: “I love you!”
She took a deep breath, not believing what she heard. Then the dam burst inside her.
“Oh, Jamie, I love you so much! I never believed I could love anyone like this!” Her face was streaming with tears.
“You beautiful, wild, wonderful girl!” He got up and hugged her. “. . . Do you suppose they have any champagne here?”
She wiped her eyes with a napkin. “I doubt it, but they probably have some prosecco – which might be good.”
Now, when I write, I consciously step into the character I’m writing about – much as I suppose an actor does. And, knowing the character, I let myself feel the way that character would feel in that situation. And when I feel those feelings, I try to express them in writing – by what the character says, or thinks, or by his/her body language.
(For more information about my novels, see www.williampeace.net.)