Color Me Obsessive

Ebullient. Effervescent. Inspired. Words fly around my mind like popcorn at its climax. It all started with a writing practice challenge from Ybonesy over at Red Ravine to set a time for five minutes and write, non-stop, listing every emotion we could think of. Five minutes: now that’s a challenge I can do. I can spare five minutes. I recently bought a tiny timer to keep on my desk, mostly to prevent the pizza from burning while Sarabelle has control of my brain, but also to time freewriting exercises. When the timer beeped, I had a list of 64. I was pumped, stoked, thrilled, energized. I was also hooked.

For two days now, clusters of words have sporadically popped afresh. Yesterday afternoon I dared to hope I’d top 100. Before supper I’d surpassed that goal. Then the fire flared again, and by the time I went to bed last night, the count was up to 185, and 200 seemed possible.

Some nights I would have lain awake, obsessed with the search. Last night I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, but Sarabelle's insistent whispers woke me early. “Brain dead ... stymied ... pumped ... now get up and add those if you value my help!”

Others may be able to jot messages from their muse on a notepad by their bed and go back to sleep. I’m not one of those people. Sarabelle is a relentless taskmaster. Relentless. Isolated. Exhilarated. The list flew right past the 200 mark. Bashful — now why didn’t I already have that one? Up — another case of overlooking the obvious, and the 225th entry.

Am I done? Will there be more? I think the pot will sit quietly for a while, but I do anticipate more after-pops. I can never predict what Sarabelle will come up with.

You may wonder why on earth anyone would need 225 words to describe emotions, especially when bashful, shy, and reticent all mean the same thing. (Reticent — entry #226!) The simple truth is, you don’t, unless you strive for colorful writing. Even then, you still don’t. I could surely have derived this list in way less time, and probably have twice the entries if I’d simply clicked the link to my favorite online thesaurus.

But I love a challenge, and this one has paid off in an unexpected way. As the list grows, I find that the act of compiling it strengthens my ownership and command of the words on the list and forces me to examine various emotions more deeply than I ever have. There may another bonus. In a comment, Ybonesy writes that i
n a workshop she attended, a UCLA professor mentioned that a rich emotional vocabulary is linked to a rich emotional life. Presumably focusing on the nuances of variation hones our awareness of our internal states.

Lest I stray off topic, for the purposes of writing, a rich vocabulary enables us to keep our writing fresh and lively, and to paint deliciously detailed descriptions.

Vibrant. Zestful. That’s 252 and counting. Did I mention compulsive? Obsessed?

Write now: make your own list of emotions. Take five minutes to get it started, then let the list grow like a sourdough starter, one bubble at a time, for two to four days, stirring occasionally to keep it lively. You can make it even more lively by following Ybonesy's suggestion to freewrite about specific words.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


ybonsey said...

Wow, 64 in the first five minutes?!? When we did this in the EQ workshop, I don't think I got 30 -- AND there was a prize involved for the person who got the most!

I think that UCLA professor's point was that being in touch with one's specific emotions and having a vocabulary to describe them increased one's capacity to articulate (with some precision) the feelings and implications behind those emotions. In other words, to step outside of the emotion itself and get across the why behind it all.

ybonesy said...

BTW, your enthusiasm has now infused even more enthusiasm in augmenting my own list. And, yes, the synonym finder is always an option, but there's something satisfying in searching the wee cracks of one's mind to mine what's already there first.

Ritergal said...

I alway have scored off the charts on vocabulary. I'm so glad you pointed out the connection with Emotional Intelligence (EQ). That's an exciting field. I have Daniel Goleman's classic book, Emotional Intelligence on my shelf, but have never managed to finish it, so my understanding is primarily intuitive.

The challenge beyond the huge vocabulary is to learn to respond in the most helpful and appropriate way, and for many of us, that's an ongoing education and challenge. Perhaps the journey is worth writing about...

My list is still fermenting. Maybe in another day or two I'll take it public.

QuoinMonkey said...

Wow, great post and what a list. You've inspired me to sit down and do mine. I started it when I was in the checkout line the other day and didn't get very far before I was distracted. The problem is that, as a Cancer, I feel a HUGE range of subtle and intense emotions. But identifying the feelings with words - I need practice! I hope you post your whole list at some point. It would be fun to see it.

Ritergal said...

Hey, QM, I hope you have as much fun with this list as I'm having, reaching, stretching, digging deep.

How cool it would be to find to do a group share and shuffle them all together... I have an idea how to do this that will show how much overlap there is, if others are willing to share. I'll e-mail mine back to anyone who sends one to ritergal @, and follow-up with the end result, but let's wait until, say, Friday or Saturday to give everyone a chance to mine our own lodes to depletion.

Anyone out there is welcome to participate, not just Ybonesy and QuoinMonkey.

I'm convinced that the greatest payoff comes from personal exploration and the collaborative list will be glaze on the cake — more a matter of intellectual curiosity than anything.

ybonesy said...

How many are you up to now? I'm going to start my list tomorrow (I can't find the one I did when I did the workshop). I'll do the exchange once I have some to exchange ; - ).

Anonymous said...

Hi--LOve the blog and Sarabelle. The practice of listing emotion words is great to increase vocabulary. I've tried doing it with other categories such as color words, textures, etc.
I'm in the process of reading your book in preparation for editing and reowkrking my memoir so it can be published. I started it years ago when I read the book "Wriing From the Heart" by Susan Albert.
Thanks for all your ideas and advice--I am moving forward