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  • Elise V Allan

The Lifespan Of Emotions.

first published April 2nd 2019

"The life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes. After that we have to revive the emotion and get it going again."  I wrote about this quote from the neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor a year ago. Something about this information went in deep. I recalled my daughter when she was little and how she wept for her favourite tumbler when it broke. “I loved that glass! I’ll never, EVER love a glass so much again!” Then, at the next mealtime, she was happy to use a different tumbler, which quickly became the new favourite. And so a while back, when I broke my favourite plate, a lovely black and white starburst patterned dinner plate, I decided to allow the sadness its full expression and entire lifespan. No one else was at home at the time and I bawled like a small child. I really loved that plate! I didn’t time how long I wept, but my guess is about one and a half minutes. After that I looked at the broken pieces – and I felt surprisingly, and absolutely, fine. I watched for another wave of regret, or feeling of loss, but there was none. I did look online for a replacement, unsuccessfully, and I was still fine. A couple of weeks ago, I was tired. I’d been much too busy for too long, and I really needed to chill out with something mindless. Joy of joys, I had a loan of a jigsaw. It was a lovely nostalgic picture of a delicatessen, comforting and full of vintage details. I was enjoying the visual pleasure of making an image without any mental challenge. No struggle with making decisions – with a jigsaw all decisions are clearly right or wrong - utterly relaxing. But the jigsaw needed to be moved, as my husband had to use the table for work. I asked him to move it, on a board, into the living room. Now in my living room I have what the Rocket St George website describes thus: "A style spot is where you group together furniture, artwork and lighting, which in turn creates a focal point in a room that demands your attention. It also has the added benefit of making it easier to design a room, by narrowing your focus into smaller areas of the room." One of my so-called style spots, shown above, is comprised of a hand built and painted cupboard, with my lovingly curated collection of objects arranged on top, and above them, the wall full of artworks and framed mirror; the icon was brought back from my post graduate year in Cyprus, the antique Thai Buddha on top was gifted by a friend, and the much loved Louise Bourgeois artwork reproduced on a plate was a treat to myself from a sale in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. As my husband entered the room, holding the jigsaw on its board, it hit the side of the big framed print, which swung on its hook and levered the heavy mirror off the wall, catching the Louise Bourgeois plate and bringing it down, taking the icon and the Buddha down with them, the mirror and plate crashing down on top of various objects including the three white ornaments, all with sentimental memories – the china cat was the first thing I remember buying for my mum when I was small - and a cake stand that my husband had bought for me a few years ago. It made quite a smash. I have to say that my husband did not fully appreciate the beauty of the minute and a half lifespan of my emotional release. But when it was over, it was over, and after just ninety seconds I was simply ready to clear up the broken pieces. I had no return of feelings of loss or shock and I didn't revive them. The breaking of objects is no doubt not the most challenging emotional situation. There might have been deeper buried upsets triggered, but fortunately this wasn’t the case – so it was a good opportunity to witness the minute and a half emotional lifespan theory hold true. And it turned out that although things that I loved for their beauty were broken, surprisingly more had survived. I was able to buy a replacement Louise Bourgeois plate from the Tate shop, my husband glued the china cat’s bow tie back on, and the cake stand is now just a tier shorter. The mirror frame and the cupboard still need a little touching up with paint - but the framed print that had acted as a lever is now firmly attached to the wall with mirror plates. As artists, performers or writers, disappointments are regular occurrences. It can feel as if everything is crashing down at times. Most of us have to work out some sort of recovery ritual. You might have learned to toughen up on the outside while accumulating the weight of disappointments on the inside. Or you might have gone in the opposite direction, and have got stuck in a loop of reviving old hurts. I've done both of these at various times. But if at times you find that you are surprisingly upset, who knows, you might actually be clearing some backlog. Anna Freud wrote, “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” Within our creative practice, many of us have taught ourselves a lot about allowance. In order to keep creating, we will have allowed ourselves to take risks, to make mistakes, to begin again when everything goes wrong. This is a great reference point. I am finding out that this sort of allowance can be extended to allowing a minute and a half for feeling emotion – remembering not to revive unpleasant emotions beyond that - and that it might be possible to learn, in time, to move forward increasingly lightly in life. As Picasso once said, “It takes a long time to become young.”

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