"Oh, to Feel Nothing": An Introduction


As I was looking at this massive 168-page volume of work today, I was baffled at the fact that I wrote it. I remember the long library nights, missing deadline after deadline, my room being a pile of unreturned library books, many cans of Starbucks doubleshots, tears shed over poetry and music that hit a little too close to home, and, most of all, how much heart I poured into this project.

For those of you who don’t know, I completed my senior honors thesis project in May. 95 pages of this monstrosity made up a research paper on the history of classical song cycles, the confessional poetry movement of the 1950s, the poetry and life of poet Anne Sexton, the lyrical genius of artist Sara Bareilles, and song and poetry writing techniques. The other 73 pages displayed the original song and poetry cycle that I wrote as the bulk of my project. From the influence of the study of Sara Bareilles and Anne Sexton, as well as the countless books I read on writing techniques, I crafted a song and poetry cycle on the stages of human emotion and states, titled “Oh, to Feel Nothing.” The cycle, made up of 14 songs and 19 poems, walks the reader/listener through the states that all of humanity experiences, beginning with emotions like joy, wonder, and peace; cycling down through darker ones like confusion, bitterness, guilt, despair, fear, and bottoming out at apathy, the complete lack of emotion. About midway through the cycle, we hit grief, and from there the cycle takes the uphill climb back to where it began, with hope, revelation, and a tip of the hat to the first piece, joy.

As I mentioned, I studied the confessional poetry movement, which was a movement that began in the 1950s with poets such as W. D. Snodgrass, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton being the one I focused my attention on. The point of the movement was the breaking down of the “prim and proper” boundaries that society held so dearly, and writing poetry about the nitty-gritty of life. Anne Sexton shocked readers with poems about the struggles of a housewife, therapy, mental breakdown, depression, divorce, sex...things that were not socially acceptable, and things that were never spoken about. It was a movement away from facades and towards brutal honesty. However, I studied the foundational aspects of confessional poetry that made it not self-indulgent, but that made it relatable to the readers and not simply therapy for the writer.

Therefore, It was very important to me that these pieces were without dishonesty. One of the things that made this large volume of work so difficult to write, and a reason that it took me almost a year and a half to complete, is that it was emotionally exhausting to dive deep enough into myself and the hearts of others to discover truth worthy of writing about. For each emotion, I wanted to be able to hit home with my readers and listeners; I wanted to not only express the way that I experienced these emotions, but also hoped that they felt them the same way. When I performed 23 selections from the work live, just me and a keyboardist and two stage hands, I experienced the most refreshing sense of community I’ve ever felt through a performance. I was more terrified to perform than I’d ever been. I felt like I was sharing these intimate details of my life and my heart, and my main worry was that the audience was going to think I was being self-indulgent: the one thing I’d tried desperately to avoid through the writing process. I didn’t want it to all be self-centered, despite the first person writing; I wanted it to prove that emotional states are universal experiences, and that no one was alone. This was something that maybe I wanted to prove to myself more than anyone else. I was equally terrified while I was performing it. More people came that I could have imagined. I didn’t forget any lyrics or mess up any chords or stumble on too many words, but I didn’t enjoy the performance. Ironically in comparison to the words of honesty and confidence that I was reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about what everyone must be thinking. But when the show was over, I was blown away by the words of encouragement and understanding that I was graced with. So many people, even people I didn’t know, came up to me in tears saying how I had made them feel understood and less alone that night. Some thanked me for writing something so honest and vulnerable, and said it had inspired their own art. I couldn’t believe it.

So as I sat here on this dreary Saturday looking at this big thick book on my shelf that no one has ever read (and probably will never read) besides my thesis committee, and maybe someday my dad, I thought about the influence that those pieces had that night. I decided that I want to share these pieces with the world, whether they mean anything to anyone or not. I want to share them to say that we all battle through these difficult places, and that no one is experiencing something truly unique. Everyone has been there. You aren’t alone.

As fulfillment for my audio segment, I ended up recording the entire work, all 33 tracks, as well. Every week I’ll be releasing a poem or song (in order) in both text and audio form. The audio will have rough beginnings and endings, because it was meant to be listened to in its entirety. When all of the pieces have been posted, the full piece will be available on Bandcamp and Soundcloud for a full listen-through. The goal of the audio portion was not to be perfect or high quality; in fact, I “messed up” the audio a bit on purpose to make it glitchy and scratchy and a little bit like life.

The first piece, a song called “Joy,” will be posted on Monday. If it means anything to you, feel free to share it on social media, or with someone you think it might have an impact on. I’m excited to share the work I’ve poured a lot into, and hope you can find some meaning in it too.

- mrp