I‘m going to start this inspirational post with a video. Those who know me probably won’t be surprised to see that it’s a Star Trek clip. If you’re not into that kind of thing, don’t worry. You don’t need to watch it; I’ll give a summary after the fact, so you don’t miss the pertinent details.
I can still remember the first time I saw this scene, and how potent it was to me. There’s Spock, katra and body finally more or less reunited, clearly at the end of a marathon of Vulcan retraining, mastering every question put to him by three rapid-fire computer screens with ease and agility, until –
“How do you feel?” ask all three computer monitors, at once.
And Spock becomes immobile, unable, at first, to form any response at all, and then, hesitantly, after a repetition or two, he answers, simply and truthfully, “I do not understand the question.”
At which point his human mother walks in, and informs him that the computers know his dirty little half-human secret, and no amount of Vulcan mind retraining can prepare him for the emotions that go with that Terran DNA he got from her (yes, I’m paraphrasing.). And then she goes on to tell him that emotions are inevitable.
Even if Spock doesn’t know how he feels, he is going to feel. Until he learns to identify and cope with his evolving emotional state, his learning will be incomplete. His mother and the computer diagnostics are preparing him for his re-entry into the world of human emotion – the kind that tends to defy even Vulcan logic.
By the resolution of the movie, when Spock asks his Vulcan father to tell his human mother that he ‘feels fine’, we see that he has come to some level of peace with the emotional realities of his existence.
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I’ve been asking myself Spock’s perplexing test question frequently this month, and I expect I will keep on asking. July is tricky for me. Births and deaths come close together, and span a good deal of the month.
How do I feel?
Last week, my daughter had a birthday. It was a lovely day. We’re car-sharing with my Accomplice, and, while dropping him off at work, we decided to walk a little ways to a thrift shop we’d passed. That led to a walk to the bank to break a bill too large for a small business, and to my daughter finding money on the street, then to a used bookstore.
We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, came home with some new treasures, and laughed a lot. It was happy, fun, and fulfilling, to have that time just with her, to celebrate her growing up, and the way the curtain is slowly peeling away to reveal traces of the woman she’ll be, in another few years.
A few hours later, I was crying. Not tears of joy, or even sadness at the fact that she’s not little anymore – honestly, while I love little children, these big ones are amazing, and I don’t want to go backwards in time.
I was crying for the child I gave birth to, and who never had the chance to grow up, cry, nurse, or even leave the NICU of the hospital where he was born. I was crying for him, and for myself, because today – Monday, July 13 – might have been his twelfth birthday – but instead, he lived only twelve days, the majority of that in a coma.
How do I feel?
It shifts. I suppose that’s always true, for all of us, but, in this month of highs and lows, it’s more noticeable to me.
How I feel matters. It matters in the way I approach my day, how much energy and focus I have to give to anything, whether writing or not, my level of tolerance for change and frustration – even what projects I’m emotionally able to work on.
Certain things are too triggering this month, and, because I live with people and can’t just crawl under my covers and hide with my grief, I tend to avoid them until I feel I’m on more stable emotional footing.
It matters, too, in my fiction. There’s deep value in paying attention to our characters’ emotions – so often, they drive motivations, introduce conflict or resolution, make the reader care about some characters, while wanting others to get just what they deserve…
And they add texture, depth, and breadth to the story. Emotions can be the blood in the veins and the breath in the lungs that makes characters more than paper dolls the writer is playing with…like theVelveteen Rabbit, they become Real when they feel…
So, this round, my round of reflection, I’ll be asking myself, often, “How do you feel?”
And I’ll use the answers to become a better, truer writer.
There’s no trick involved, other than being pressent and open to your own emotional state. You can do it, too.
So, now, once again, I ask you –
“How do you feel?”
Shan Jeniah Burton