When I say what I’m about to say, I’m not trying to knock emotion, the thing that makes us feel alive, feel human, feel that our actions and thoughts matter, but damn is it also our biggest burden. Someone that’s as skeptical and as cross-thinking as I could argue that such a spot has already been occupied by the constant need to breathe, but since our body pretty much does that for us, I think I’d characterize it more as an unconscious necessity than a burden. The term “burden” has mostly been defined and identified with a negative connotation. Usually understood as, “a heavy load that causes hardship, misfortune, anxiety or grief,” I find the “burden” of human emotion to carry with it a similar fate. You won’t find “emotion” in the dictionary (if you do, it’s complete bullshit). “Emotion” is indefinable at our current state of knowledge and is what leads me to label it as a “burden” among the ranks of “love,” “where do we come from?,” “are we alone in the universe?,” “what’s the point of anything?,” and , “what does it all mean?” I’ll probably hit a bit of each here, but what I really want to focus on is this idea/concept I keep harping on about: “the burden of emotion.”
An amusing anecdote: looking up “emotion” on the current online edition of Webster’s Dictionary results in definitions for, “emotional disturbance,” “emotional excitement,” and “emotional feeling,” but their definition for “emotion,” as an idea in of itself, simply states, “obsolete.” This could just be a simple case of them saying that the word and concept is indefinable, but for a publication that is globally known for being the “go to” source for definitions, they place too much of their time on the importance of word-choice for “obsolete” to not mean something more; or maybe I just want it to.
Either way, it enhances my thoughts on the matter and my general problem. Why talk about emotion if it’s indefinable? Because it’s so damn perplexing. We can all pretty much sound out a definition if we tried, “it’s what we feel,” maybe. But that “what,” in the definition is the ambiguity that leaves “emotion” indefinable in my book. Sure, you’d go insane thinking about it 24/7, and I sure as hell don’t, but until I’m done writing this, and then until you’re done reading it, maybe by the end we’ll both get something out of it. I’m not a professional writer or anything, my professors have all told me that my grammar is horrible and that I use too many commas and have run on sentences, but I don’t really care. I don’t really know how the reader’s “I got something out of this” part works, but what I do know, is that “obsolete” as a potential definition for “emotion” is the scariest/most wrong/most right definition possible.
We don’t really need emotion, but we have it anyway. I’m not a drug addict, so don’t take this as me saying, “Numb the pain forever!” but the battle with our emotions is nothing if not a love/hate relationship. Emotions are the best, they’re the bees knees, the cat’s pajamas, it’s what makes life so enjoyable, but on the other hand, sometimes life sucks. I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone, but such is the balance of life. I’m not preaching that emotions are pointless, we can function without them like machines or humanoid automatons, but there’s so much more to existence than just simply existing. We all crave the need to feel.
The first time I heard The National, it wasn’t the Dessner twin’s beautiful string and guitar arrangements, or Bryan Devendorf’s subtle yet rhythmically exciting drumming, but Matt Berninger’s rich baritone vocals. Sung, sometimes as if spoken, it often sounds off the cuff, like he’s just sing/speaking whatever’s on his mind. Now approaching their forties, The National are fathers, living in Brooklyn, New York, and have lived a good portion of their lives thus far. While their band is relatively known by name, their music is either considered “okay,” “shit,” or “the best” by listeners. Regardless if you’ve heard their music or not, and I certainly encourage you do, I’m not trying to write this as free advertisement for The National, just writing on the theme’s and working ideas that I have found exist in our lives and in their music. Everyone has their own “The National”, that thing that brings up the same thoughts, music or art or literature or place or anything, but mine is The National.
The National, in my own personal opinion, are the closest to understanding this burden of emotions on our lives. Although they sing of heartbreak, sorrow, upbeat sarcasm, and try to figure out the point in all this; performing , writing, and playing these songs brings them joy and happiness and makes all of life’s struggles feel worth it. It wasn’t The National that made me realize that life can really suck sometimes, the world and women did that; but recently, as events in my life force me to begin to have thoughts again of, “what is happiness really?,” “what’s the point?,” “what does it all mean?,” I find myself back to The National. They’re a band of nostalgia. I hear their heartbreak, their sorrow, them trying to figure it all out. This somber yet upbeat contrast is the struggle of our emotions. Life. Like The National, there is joy in singing of heartbreak, and there is happiness in accepting the burden of emotions.