I did the emotional vocabulary exercise this weekend. The exercise is this: For five minutes, list every emotion you can think of. Write as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think.
Except, after five minutes were up, I kept going. I went for an hour, and then as I typed my list into the computer I went further. Eventually I stopped, but afterwards, when I was slicing potatoes or brushing my teeth, I’d think, Did I remember excited?
The next step of the exercise was to take one of the emotions from my list and do a 15-minute writing practice on it. I thought about emotions all weekend — lust and envy, distress and kindness — yet I never made it to the writing practice.
I shared my list with Ritergal, and she shared her list with me. When I saw some of the emotions in her document, I was like Homer Simpson when he realizes he’s missed something obvious. Doyt, how could I have forgotten flabbergasted?
I’m not going to publish my list, but I do want to share these things I learned in the process of doing the exercise:
- I often used strings of words to describe emotions — loopy for someone, out to get you, walking on water, all over the map, on pins and needles. I was quick to find a way to say what I wanted, even when I couldn’t pinpoint the one word that captured it exactly. It was empowering to realize I can get where I need to go with the words I have.
- I sometimes wondered whether something was an emotion or not. After I did the exercise, I googled “what is emotion” and found this helpful link.
- Each emotion I wrote triggered another. When I fell into a negative streak, I flew with it. Then I balanced with opposites. It was like flying in zigzags with words.
- Whenever I got stuck, I used the prompt I feel…. That always got me started again.
This exercise made me think of the song “Feelings” by the band Gemini. It came out when I was in 7th grade. Thecla and I were in love with Kenny Martinez, who in turn loved Carmen.
I was nothing but emotion that year. Hating Carmen, who was actually my best friend. Lusting over Kenny in his polyester bell bottoms. Finding solace that I at least had a budding friendship with Thecla, which perhaps was better than Kenny, better even than Carmen. Thecla was loyal in a way neither of them were.
Up until 7th grade, emotions were like arms or bony knees or movements of my body — something you just had. But in 7th grade I suddenly found words to describe what I was feeling. Puppy love. Infatuation. Longing. Insecurity.
Ritergal said: “The golden nugget I have discovered the last few days is that a five-minute writing exercise can turn into a potentially life-changing event. Exploration and review of one small area may ripple out into your whole life or way of thinking.”
I’m right there with her, and I honestly still don’t know why. Somehow I think it has to do with emotions being at the core of writing practice.