I am a casualty of the war between head and heart

After twenty-four years of getting nostalgic every time I hear Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” because I listened to it the morning after my husband proposed, I discover the song is about a break-up.

It seems the heart knows no logic. Or perhaps it’s the ear or the body’s musical core that are immune to logic. Logic, after all, is the currency of the intellect, the Spock-ification of everything, the natural state of macho men. Illogic is the realm of the mysterious inner feminine, of dream fragments that flicker across our corneas, of the hormonal slurry polluting—or perhaps enriching—the veins of women of a certain age.

Can we manage to exist in both realms?

Living mostly in a slipstream of sensation overlaid with an insufficient webbing of reason, I drift in and out of touch with my inner feminine. I find myself dreaming of girls and boys too young to evoke any concept of gender. In waking life, hormones gone haywire hijack my sense of self, igniting a consuming anxiety that seems completely beyond my control and that transforms me into someone I don’t recognize. I find myself flummoxed by the tension between thought and feeling, by the possibility that sensations of all kinds, from the most pleasurable to the most unendurable, might take me over without notice. Yet the converse offers little comfort. If my thoughts influence what I feel, then I must be responsible for any unpleasant feelings. What a Scylla and Charybdis: Either I cause my suffering or my suffering is a random visitation.

Scylla and Charybdis

An Italian fresco depicting Odysseus’s boat passing between the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. Scylla has plucked five of Odysseus’s men from the boat. [Public domain; via Wikimedia Commons]

And so I arrive at the familiar battleground of head and heart where, since childhood, I have found myself swept up in their epic clash. Head and heart stand in, of course, for masculine and feminine. Perhaps this recent takeover by feelings is a cry from the heart, a cri de coeur from my feminine side. “Listen to me!” she demands. “If you don’t pay me my due, I’ll fuck up your whole life.”

I have been paying dues. I have spent hundreds scrutinizing my emotions and tinkering with my biochemistry in an effort to ward off these ambushes.

All this unfolds against the backdrop of a family in the throes of adolescence. One son on the cusp of adulthood, one still in the depths of transformation. One who would never admit it but who is in touch with his feminine side, who nurtures the deep dreaminess and non-linear thinking of the artist; the other who sees no point in talking about feelings. He would rather discuss theoretical physics. Heart, head.

The thought occurs to me that perhaps theoretical physics is a manifestation of the deep feminine. In this arena, time doubles back on itself. I listen to Free Fallin’ and I’m on the road to work all those years ago with the windows of my ’86 Toyota Celica open to the clammy air of a July morning in New England. I am both there and here, then and now.

I should feel cheated that the song that became a soundtrack to pivotal moment of my life is not what I thought. Tom sings about being a bad boy, about leaving, about free falling into nothing. But all I hear is a voice tugging me into the slipstream where there is no Scylla and no Charybdis, where I am neither head nor heart, masculine nor feminine, young nor old.

Am I now everything, or nothing?

14 thoughts on “I am a casualty of the war between head and heart

  1. Beautiful post, Audrey. Music can pull us out out those polarizations, I think; draw us out of our heads and of categorizing and thinking in terms of feminine and masculine. Perhaps that’s why we so often (at least, like you, I do this too) we are moved by songs and then are surprised when the lyrics don’t match our experience of that song.

    Free Fallin’ sure does ‘feel’ liberating and positive so let’s run with that 🙂

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  2. you are Everything of amazing with your writing and description of feeling here. I SO relate to this sense of reality and all we can do is fall back into our feminine wisdom (which we have been taught nothing about in this culture or time period I should say!) nurture our intuitive self and embrace exactly what we are going through and heal ourselves as we walk through the fire, this initiation. What a terrific post, Audrey, and I especially enjoyed the Krauss video, thanks. PS: we played Free Falling as our first song after we got married (first marriage)…ha! now I know!

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    • Thank you–and your poetry does much to reveal and teach us about that feminine wisdom, I might add! I’m glad we have similar musical tastes… even if we don’t always grasp the songwriter’s intention :-).

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  3. You are everything and you are yourself. It’s a wierd dichotomy, almost as wierd as what happens to our brains on hormones. What is reality ? The estrogen high or, when the hormones tank, are the rose-colored glasses dropped so we see the world as it really is? What to do but try to hang onto the bedpost.
    Loved your comment about neurobiology. Turns out the male logic is as susceptible to hormones and the lizard brain as female hearts.
    “Free Falling” is a wonderful analogy. That’s what deciding to make a lifetime commitment is. “I want to write her name in the sky.” That’s all heart.

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  4. Those female hormones are definitely enriching, Audrey, not polluting, though world culture has done its best to make us feel otherwise. One word for the anxiety: Passion flower. Okay maybe that’s two. 🙂

    The recognition that we are all connected in a vibrational field, that we are, in fact, all one thing, (rather than many), as recent physics has suggested, helps me calm down about life. I wish I’d had this realization when I was still raising teens. It would have helped immeasurably—that’s gotta be the most difficult era of parenting ever.

    This was a really beautiful post, btw.

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    • Thanks for commenting. “Passion flower”–what a fabulous image. I will try to hold onto it in the dark times.

      I find that sense of oneness is the only talisman I have against the other type of anxiety, the existential kind. It is hard to stay in touch with that, especially amidst a culture that tends to discount anything it cannot see or count.

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  5. Whoa! Heavy, and close to home for me. Living in a family where anxiety and depression are chronic issues I’ve struggled a lot with the question of how much control we have over emotions. To make matters worse, I’m a wife and mother on the one hand, and a trained scientist on the other. I want so much to believe that rational, conscious thought processes can make some difference, but I’m also forced to concede that the mechanisms in the brain that produce emotions can be seriously out of whack, and when they are there isn’t a whole lot the rational mind can do about it. I don’t know about the masculine/feminine analogy. (That’s what I regard it as: an analogy.) For my situation, it’s not a very useful shorthand.

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    • Yes, I did intend the masculine/feminine descriptions as analogy and a shorthand for facets of being that we all share, rather than a literal interpretation. I hope that came across!

      It’s interesting that you say “a wife and mother on the one hand, and a trained scientist on the other”–sounds like another either/or dichotomy in the making. And I am fascinated by the rapidly unfolding discoveries in the area of neurobiology. I’m sure we’ll look back in years from now and be aghast at how primitive our understanding was.

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  6. Some heavy stuff you’re raising here. I, too, can get swept up in a battle between logic and heart, though usually my logic dominates. For those times the heart does take over, I can usually snap back to logic pretty quickly. Maybe that’s best, because the heart part can get overwhelmed, especially with all the yuck in the world. But it’s nice to have that heart, even if it does play with our emotions. After all, that’s what makes us human.

    Loved this sentence: “And so I arrive at the familiar battleground of head and heart where, since childhood, I have found myself swept up in their epic clash.”

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