Emoting: not the opposite?

originally posted on Facebook, June 11:

The first time I saw someone hide how they felt, it was regarding a man I didn’t know. And a man I will never know.

A man who had handed me a small coloring pad through the car window, just big enough for a 5 year old to hold. The man raspily apologized to my parents for making their child wait with him at the hospital.

We were taking him there as a favor. I remember I was surprised when he handed me that pad. How kind, I thought happily.

And I remember feeling a strange sense of disassociation when the man with a heart defect died. He may have been a family friend; he may have been someone we were just helping out from church in Corvallis. I don’t know how to describe him. I can’t even convey who he was to my parents, probably.

I have no idea who he was.

I felt sad anyway. He seemed nice. He was nice.


I felt his death more when I met his daughter a week or so after he passed away. And she joked about his death. “Yeah well, my dad is DEAD! And I’m proud to say it!” she proclaimed loudly.

I figured 9 year olds meant everything they said. But if even I was sad that he died, why wouldn’t she be?

I asked her, “Do you miss him?”

And she looked at me, a little misty-eyed and defiant. “Of course!” she exclaimed. Like, duh?

I felt stupid. But also a little uncomfortable. What was I supposed to say back?

And why had she done that?


Years later, I still only dwell on things when they confuse me. Emotions need to be understood before they are deeply felt.

So I question myself the same way I questioned her. I pull shit like that all the time. No one knows that in high school senior year, I cried every day in the bathroom because everyone talked shit on me for being excessively happy. No one knows that I didn’t cry when I left home at age 18 because I wasn’t homesick like everyone else, but it was too weird to try to explain why.

No one knows that when I cry about problems, it’s always thematically related to me not trusting the world to understand me, not because I’m butthurt over a rejection or disappointed about an outcome.

I do my best to fuck up unconventionality because showing pure emotion is really, really unconventional in my mind.

I’ve noticed it manifest in my interactions too: I feel extremely uncomfortable when people show emotion toward me. I hide it well, but for the love of God, please don’t tell me you’re sad. Or you love me.

I feel an obligation to say certain things, display certain responses, and I guess it’s weird. Every time I have cried, I feel embarassed and like a total inconvenience to basically everyone around me. I don’t know what I would expect from someone if I were to be that personal. I try to be comforting and come up so short.

Cause I’m not a super warm and fuzzy person. I always have a smile on my face, I’m always enthusiastic about basically everything, and I rarely get angry or even show mild annoyance. People who’ve seen the last one are privileged.

But everything I share with everyone is super general or super specific. I’ll voice relatively vague thoughts, or I’ll talk about something I noticed that could be attributed to a singular instance. I’m impulsive about inconsequential things (– “ooh, I’m totally gonna eat ice cream. We’re not leaving this place til I get ice cream. Ha”) and extremely guarded when it comes to consequential things ( — “I don’t give two shits that that person is no longer my friend. Okay, I do. But that’s all I’m gonna tell you, that I give a shit. There.”)

In my mind, my friends are made midsentence in a conversation about the ongoing flow of my life. They’re never people that know all the pieces of the context.


When people read “Hell is a seven minute montage” in November 2013, they were floored by the fact that that they were hearing about my deepest fears (possibly) embodied in story form. I remember someone even joked to me that they never expected “little Crystal Duan to be so intense.”

I bristled. But I guess I connect with people by asking blunt questions, but I never give blunt answers of my own unannounced.

Considering I know I’m a super emotional person, no one really knows me as that. People don’t know how often I think about death, and the past, and how I hate a lot of things.

Of course I can name times I cried, and know the instance-related reasons why. But do people know about the other feels that are always humming in the background as I go about my day? How I’m always hyper-aware of how deeply I feel everything?

Does this make me seem unphased? I’m not going to bank on that, but maybe. I don’t hate excessively on anything, I don’t share excessively about anything other than stories about boys or friends who fucked me over. But even then, I share those with the purpose of getting a different perspective, not because I want anyone to truly know me. What do those sorts of things represent about who I am as a person? Well, they bother me, but no one could say the extent.

People don’t know what makes me feel things. What makes me cry. What makes me laugh, even though I do it quite often. They probably couldn’t name my favorite band, my favorite food, my favorite childhood memory, my opinions of my parents, and all of the simple truths that could make someone go, “classic Crystal!”

I could tell you why I like things, and why I don’t like things. It’s a complicated distinction — hearing someone affirm reasons for pleasant sensations and knowing how deeply their opinions are held. Usually this happens if you bring something you’re passionate up organically. But I notice all my conversations start with a continuation of a story about some problem I was having, or some strange little anecdotal continuation of an inside joke.


I started freaking out about this the other day when my friend asked me how North Dakota was, and all I said was that I could die happy now, because I’d found a place where I wasn’t lonely anymore. I had never felt less lonely than being alone.

But why would I feel that way? I pondered this the other day. Perhaps I am lonely because I know that if I were to die tomorrow, and someone tried to compile a biography of my life, they’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knew a good majority of the facts that made up me. The people at my funeral would be faking smiles the whole time, while furiously whispering to their groups as to, “wait, have we heard of that person before? I didn’t even know that person existed and they said they were Crystal’s closest friend for 10 years…”


I didn’t get my license until I was 17. Sometimes, while attempting to clean out my drawers, I’ll happen upon that little card with the smiling Asian girl who just got her braces off and thought a bob above her neck would be cute.

I’ll feel a wave of shame wash over me, cause I didn’t get my license until I was 17 cause I failed the test three times. And I was told I was too slow, had shitty spatial awareness and timing, and this drove me crazy.

But I worked at it, time after time after time, until it felt natural. Until I started taking road trips for fun as soon as I came to Missouri. I’ve driven a cumulative 40 hours all by myself in road trips since I was 18. I like that.

But I also am scared of it, cause I can’t exactly trace how I learned to gauge how to park, when to press on the brakes, all that good stuff. With journalism, I’m just as scared of how it comes so naturally to me — how do I know how the story’s going to flow out before I even write it, to the point where just getting the lede correct is enough to give me a 20-minute-advantage in finishing time? How do I know I took the correct notes, that I understood the source, that everything I put down is something I’m proud of? I plow through mile after mile, article after article, and I don’t trust myself to understand why.

Someday, I’ll plow through personal — truly personal — conversations and feel the same way. I guess. Maybe someday it’ll come naturally.


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