Monday, February 14, 2011

the knee-jerk principle

There's a kid that sits next to me sometimes in Psych 101 (yes, yes--I'm a grad student taking Psych 101) that must have some sort of special situation because he often spends his time in lecture writing up a learning journal rather than taking notes.  I'm really not sure how I have time to look over at the guy's computer screen to notice things like this because I'm usually so furiously taking notes myself that I've practically burned a hole through my paper (or perhaps through the second joint on my pinkie--some days the jury is out on which one has sustained more damage).  Yet furious scribbling and all, I've noticed the emergence of the learning journal.  Maybe this is because I'm jealous and would much rather be writing a learning journal myself.  For psych 101 it would go something like this: this professor is highly agitated, I'm in a room with 400 other people born a decade behind me, psych 101 is hard, but I get an 'A' for effort on this learning journal, right...?

I love the whole concept of a learning journal.  No need to take notes furiously, no need to read books from the library.  Just reflect, put it on paper and--hopefully--remember why you're doing the learning in the first place.  This last weekend, as I turned 29 years old, I realized again the importance of this process.

I got in a horrific fight with my husband this weekend.  On my birthday to boot.  Actually, the birthday part exacerbated the fight part, but that may be diverging from the point.  There are so many reasons why the fight happened, and so many reasons why it didn't need to happen, but happen it did, and both of us spent a pretty miserable day in each others vicinity.  What surprised me throughout was that several times I acknowledged that what I was feeling had very little to do with anything my husband had actually done.  One accidental misstep on his part had initiated a seed of a feeling in me which sprouted, grew momentum and crescendoed before either of us could change course.  My reaction initiated an equal and opposite reaction in him (I'm defying the scientific principle here, I know) and both of us ended up staunchly in our own universes, unable to communicate with the other.

What I needed in this moment was a learning journal.  Something that could remind me what I had known and learned several times in the past, which was that my husband loved making me happy and couldn't possibly have meant to make me feel insignificant on my birthday.  My learning journal could have told me that I'd followed this same emotional path several times before (because, really, don't we often have the same exact feeling--guilt, fear, insecurity--just in response to different circumstances, like a rotating wheel?) and that it was my path, not one my husband forced me on to.  He could have had his own learning journal which would have told him much the same.  The truth was, our emotions had very little to do with the present situation--more than anything they were remnants from past crises that just never went away...past insecurities that kept gnawing at us in the gut.

In the end we made up without the learning journals, but not without some serious tension.  In the midst of it all, it felt like a day lost.  A precious Saturday together, with nothing to do but enjoy one another, but which never came to fruition.  However, today feels different.  Today I realize that sometimes all my stories, past and present, converge in a way I can't control.  Sometimes those stories that run around inside me and shape and pattern my landscape, sometimes they run into one another and I become the casualty.  Like when your knee jerks from the doctor's hammer.  Sometimes we have emotional knee-jerk reactions for no apparent reason.  I'm not sure I have the answers about how to prepare myself for more emotional knee-jerk moments, but a learning journal seems like a good start.  In the midst of the next emotional tornado, when nothing makes sense and my chest feels like it's being put through a blender, I can read through my learning journal and remember that I've been here before and things are going to come out a lot better than they seem at the moment.  Of course I won't get an 'A' for effort, but I bet I'll get my husband's kisses back a whole lot sooner.

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