Wednesday, 16 April 2008

On the theme of tension

I've posted about this in a writing forum because it's intriguing me. I'm finding I can learn more about the value of emotional tension - and balance - from an hour spent with my seven year old than I can from any amount of reading or writing.

Yesterday, I was feeling very sentimental, partly because I was suffering from a migraine. My seven year old let it slide for a while, suffering my need to hug and kiss her and speak in a hushed voice. But it must have started to unsettle her because towards the end of the day she decided to be cheeky, which she rarely is, in order to see if I'd take the usual firm line I adopt to knock that sort of thing on the head before it gets out of hand. The weaker I was, the cheekier she became. It was a test, quite obviously. She needed to know that her mother wasn't wilting into some spineless, ineffectual being who could no longer protect her offspring from passing predators, hunger, cold etc. The moment I gathered my strength and spoke sternly to her, she relaxed. A big smile of relief met my lecture on how Not to Speak to Your Parents if You Know What's Good for You. She immediately apologised for being cheeky, petted my cheek, said she hoped I'd be feeling better soon and skipped off to play.

By coincidence, the scene I am writing in my novel calls for precisely this sort of emotional ping-pong - the achieving of a manageable balance through experimentation with extremes. It made me think that tension is a vital part of any human communication and interaction. Equilibrium never lasts and, if it does, it becomes insufferable.

I remember, as a child, seeking out emotional (and to a lesser degree) physical obstacles which would provide a trial (or just an outlet) for a wide range of feelings which my otherwise comfortable childhood did not afford me. I was hardly ever hungry, rarely sad and never in peril. So I read books about girls who were, or I "tormented" myself with the idea of losing my mother, or my best toy or, in one instance of extreme imaginative zeal, an arm. I worked myself up into a fit of crying or shaking, from which I emerged a happier and 'rounder' person, without ever realising what I was doing, or why.

All right, so I probably revealed some deep psychological fault-line in that last paragraph (be gentle with me, Doctor Freud), but what do other writers (and readers) think?

Are you ever really happy, just being on an even-keel? Or does it take a little tilt every so often, a storm now and again, to really rock your world?

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