Of Dąbrowski’s intensities, I think emotional intensity is the least-understood, least-grasped, and often least-valued of them all. It’s among the Four Sisters of frolicking frivolity – emotional, imaginational, sensory and psychomotor. We’ve got a schoolteacher scold for each. “Sit down! Stop daydreaming! Dry your eyes! Keep your hands to yourself!” Smirking Intellectual intensity is out in the tree devouring a good book while these four stay after school to clap erasers; giftedness, unfortunately, is still most often welcome in its output. But even among the Four, emotional is aside from the others, a misfit among misfits. The others are reachable. Conceivable. If you don’t have them, you can at least imagine what it’s like to habitually live in other worlds, or vastly enjoy a repetitive stroking of hair, or simply need to get up and move. Emotional, however, lies in a distant and sometimes frightening country of its own, for one simple reason: it’s the only intensity that, I believe, makes those of us with it look crazy to those that don’t.
From all of us to all of you: it’s all right to feel that way. Emotional intensity actually makes us wonder if we’re crazy, so we’re not going to begrudge you the same concern. I’m never closer to feeling truly unhinged as I am when a washtub or a set of striped pajamas or a goddamn jingle bell makes me feel like I’m trying to swallow a tennis ball slathered in A-1. I’ve come to terms with being emotionally intense, and I’m glad I’ve got a few others – H and A – in the house to share this daily no-safety-bar thrill ride. We get each other; there’s an undercurrent of commonality among us. When a despondent Vincent Van Gogh is brought forward through time to see his eventual fame, to the accompaniment of a swirling orchestral score, I find each of my hands being squeezed, hard, from both sides of the couch. I know who’s doing it without looking; this is a tough moment for us to get through. Things hit us hard, bring forth tears, send us into spasms of uncontrollable laughter, and summon up towering rages. The events of any given day are a workout for our hearts. A tortoise trapped in a record-player box for three decades? Existential devastation. Pikkiwoki, the Papua New Guinean mud god? Oxygen-starved paroxysms. Everything in the Great Engine Room of the Soul runs a little hot, every lever’s pushed to the limit and bent just a bit beyond.
Secretly, we envy you, the non-EI, most of the time. Movies about tailless dolphins merit a golf clap from you, and then you’re looking around for your phone and trying to remember what section of the parking garage the car is in. We’re completely puddled; it’s going to take nothing short of a dry-ice intervention to get us back into a form capable of independent motion. Injustice gets a beetle-browed shrug from you; what’s to be done? Meanwhile, we’re emptying our bank accounts to make sure the nets are received before peak mosquito season, or the orangutans get their iPads, or the kinda-scary/kinda-cool whaler-fighting pirates have trail mix to eat. We cycle with the emotional impacts of our days, our leaves reddening and falling and bursting forth again in green shoots. It’s exhausting. Often, we’d opt for your needles and implacable resistance to the forces threatening to rip our hearts asunder.
Sometimes, we feel sorry for you. There’s a particular sensation, one where an emotion is slightly too big for the body being asked to contain it, that’s beautiful. It exceeds us. It conveys, in no uncertain terms, that there are emotional reactions present in our universe vastly larger than ourselves. They are ours, great and terrible, if only we can tune to precisely the right frequency to receive them – despite being too small to hold those reactions. In so doing, they’re doing damage – no vessel can hold something larger than itself without some harm – but in the destruction of our old selves, we’re granted a slightly larger one. In accepting it, our shadows once again grow taller than our souls. Pajamas and washtubs and tailless dolphins and broken hearts will push us beyond that emotional ‘form,’ too, in time, and we’ll be granted a still larger one, and on and on we’ll go. What moved us yesterday might move us tomorrow – or we may have stretched beyond it. We might not admit it, but we EIs fear the day when we won’t feel that sensation, because it will mean the end of that process. Perhaps we’ll be you at that point, needles rocking gently in the wind as sun turns to frost and thence to ice and back to sun again, immutable and immobile and fixed, no longer able to tune our transmission towers to the massive, heart-pounding emotional signals emanating from beyond.
Dave Mayer posts regularly with his wife, Kathy, on Chasing Hollyfeld.