'Alchemies of Hormonal Imbalance': The Emotional Landscape

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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'Alchemies of Hormonal Imbalance': The Emotional Landscape

Jessica Rosenberg

This class purports to investigate emotion in what are now considered the great works nineteenth-century classic literature. We will be reading canonical works from the inside out, through the lens of their own emotional structure, using theories on emotion from various disciplines, from contemporary to modern theorists. But before embarking on this reading and analysis, it seems prudent to understand, as much as possible in a single paper, how my own emotional landscape operates.

I will be reading through the lens of my own emotional procedures and history, and though college has been good for many things, serious introspection has not been one of them for me. I will look back, before I go forward (to the nineteenth-century). I need to look in before look out (to others' interiors).

In class, we started with Instinct, Emotion, and Feeling. What we felt, biologically or subjectively, and what we wanted to do; adjectives and verbs, quick snapshots of complex reactions. Not able to stop there, the class forced additions to the discussion: Anticipation. Conditioning. Thinking. Action. Catharsis. Much more useful to me, these categories reveal the story making instinct present in humans. Regardless of which comes first, the emotion or the physical reaction to an event, at some point during an event, humans make the story out of it, connecting the event to what came before and what will come after.

Buried in these stories are the why's of an emotional response to a physical happening, of a physical response to an emotion. Only by examining these stories can we begin to understand either reaction.

Why I Laugh
In class, we delved into the emotional responses felt when bears or teachers attack, how we feel during scary or sad movies, and rollercoaster rides. No one used a joyous example, or wanted to discuss, say, the emotion that comes from an orgasm. That has to be one of the most obvious examples of a physical reaction tied to an emotion, thought perhaps it is not a physical event where the 'why' needs overanalyzing.

Laughter, then, my second favorite physical performance of emotion:
I laugh when, in movies or television, and hopefully someday soon in real life, animals talk. I laugh even harder when they have a British accent. I chuckle when they do human things, like drink beer. I do not laugh at Jew jokes about loving money that I've heard countless times before, but a do laugh at new Jew jokes, or very old jokes about Biblical Jews that are still funny.

I do not know what exactly that says about my sense of humor. More generally, I laugh whenever possible. Physical comedy, satire, dark humor, political humor to fart jokes, I do not believe there is very much I should be too mature for.

I know that I laugh too often and loudly for some people's tastes, as in, some people prefer not to go to the movies with me anymore. I laugh at moments that are supposed to be serious, in fact, often I laugh because things are supposed to be serious. Sometimes the coach's halftime, 'we can come back and win the big game' speech is just too much for me to handle. I laugh at cliché's. That means I get to laugh a lot.
Why I Bite My Nails
Nail biting, partnered for me with curl twirling and scalp scratching, is my physically destructive response to nervousness. It comes in two flavors for me, undetectable by the physical performance of it. I like the rush at the end of movie, especially when I know its going to end happily after all of the nervous chaos. I do not enjoy the nail biting necessary for taking standardized tests. I loose a lot of nails at the end of sports games, but that's the necessary cost of being a Philadelphian.

What I hate most, is watching people get embarrassed, especially when they are embarrassing themselves. This is the one thing I consistently do not find funny, instead finding it painfully nerve-wracking. I do not like characters based around saying the wrong thing; I do not laugh when those who cannot string two coherent sentences together are forced into public speaking roles. Take any scene of Bridge Jones's Diary and examine; I will look away and try to focus on something else, tugging at my hair and rubbing my head until the defined curls explode into cotton candy like frizz.

That, it seems, is one of my most serious fears: being horribly awkward and publicly embarrassed in large social situations. Submarines and tarantulas freak me out, but realistically, the former is a much more serious threat. I do not like watching others go through what I dread.

Why I Cry
When I am premenstrual, I cry for everything, I am just waiting for an excuse to cry. Some months, I force myself to watch ER reruns just to get it out of my system, so I can relax with everything else.

Most of the time, I am more stable. I can watch the news, though I prefer to read it. I do, however, cry at the news, sometimes. In class, I started a list in the margins of my notes. What I came up with then:

Bombings in Israel; gay bashings or violent acts of homophobia; stories of women being raped or sexually assaulted; high school shootings.

That's all I've been able to think of. The news is the news, and everyday people die. And I only cry when it could be me.

I do not cry when there is violence in Iraq or Africa, or Philadelphia or even Montgomery County. People are violent and horrible and they have been and they will be, and I hate it, but, yes, I am desensitized. I do not cry when straight men die, even if they've been murdered and it was unfair and horrible. I do not even cry when other minorities are killed. That, according to my tear ducts, is their business.

When I cry is an amazing experiment in the self-preservation instinct, and the fears that come along with it. As a Jewish, queer, female college student, I cry when something threatens a group I identify with.

How I Feel About This Paper

This is the writing I should have done a week ago. Each paragraph could be the beginning (or middle, or end) of a much more in-depth, entertaining investigation. But I am just getting used to my schedule, when I have to get work done. I am just getting mentally back into a Bryn Mawr amount of work, after a semester abroad where my nights were spent drinking, going to the theatre, writing, and ignoring the pages of Chaucer I was supposed to be reading.

I did not feel anything more than a minor annoyance towards "Turn of the Screw." I wrote this paper so that I could skip the third or fifth paper. What I fear now is that when those papers approach, I will have something very interesting I'm ready to say. I will either not bother saying it, and waste the ideas. Or I will write all five papers, proving myself to be the huge nerd many accuse me of being, and meaning that the hours spent on this paper were in vain.

And Anne Dalke puts the ball in my court. Knowing that there will be no grade attached to this, the paper does not have the usual purpose: a means to the ends of a grade. Instead, the means is the ends. I paper is exactly as good as the amount of worth I get out of it.

So what have I gotten? I have examined how the class approached the categories of emotion and feeling, explaining it to myself in a way that lets me understand possible motivations for why we spoke the way we did. I delved into the unconsciousness of the class, albeit not as deeply as I could have.

I did not do a closer reading of "Turn of the Screw," or force myself to get anywhere further with it. I kept William James' and Freud's inquiries into emotion present as I was writing this, but I did not breakdown their arguments, take them to task, or use them to prove anything.

I investigated myself, broke down my most common emotions and read them as a text. If I focus, I think this can aide me in reading my own reading of the texts, let me get some metacognition going. Hopefully it will help in this class. If nothing else, perhaps I am in some way healthier for it.

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