How Do You Feel Today?


A simple question, isn’t it? Perhaps. But when we begin to unpack it we find it’s anything but. For instance:
          What are feelings? Just electrochemical neuron nudges in our gray matter?
          Where, exactly, are they? Our brains? our hearts? somewhere else? I certainly feel them almost everywhere *but* my brain. (Especially in my stomach when I’m caught doing something naughty. ^_^)
          If feelings originate in the brain, then must we deal with the hard problem of consciousness* to understand them?
          And there’s this: Feelings aren’t just internal. They affect how we perceive reality, and how we see the world around us affects what we do.
          What we do. Think about that for a moment.
          Nothing happens unless we do something, does it? Profound but simple, just as most profound things are.
          So let’s see. How we feel affects how we perceive the world; how we see the world affects what we do; and what we do is—well, it’s everything. It’s how we make the world a better or a worse place. It’s how we make our lives better or worse.
          My point? It’s simple and profound too.
          This is why we read. Stories are about how people feel, how they see the world, and what they do about it. Stories let us experience how others feel and see and do without having to go through the things they go through ourselves. When we do that, we grow. We understand ourselves and others a little better, perhaps. We become more than we were, better able to do good things in the world.
          And they’re just plain fun too, stories are. They take us away from the grind of our daily lives, let us soar in times and places and situations that are at turns thrilling, frightening, silly, seductive, and much more.
          Richard Russo, American novelist and teacher, told a little story about Israel Bashevis Singer, Nobel laureate in Literature, in his preface to Best American Short Stores of 2010. An earnest young student in a master class asked Singer about the purpose of literature. Singer’s response: “The purpose of literature is to entertain and instruct.” After a brief pause he said, “Next question.”
          This is why we write. Yes, many write for a living or fame or fortune, though few achieve the last two. But at the deepest level, we write to entertain and instruct ourselves. (Fill in your own thoughts about writing as therapy here. I’m sure you have some.) And it all starts with how we feel.
          Today I feel pretty good. I feel like writing something interesting.

*Also check out Why and How We Are Not Zombies.