Unbottling the Heart – Expressing Difficult Emotions

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”
E. B. White.

“I do not believe that I have ever written a children’s book,”
Maurice Sendak

“Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else … may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.”

There is a wonder and magic to childhood. We don’t realize it at the time, of course . . . yet the adults in our lives do. They encourage us to see things in the stars, to find joy in colours and laughter as we play. But what happens when that special someone who encourages such wonder and magic is no longer around? We can hide, we can place our heart in a bottle and grow up . . . or we can find another special someone who understands the magic. Oliver Jeffers delivers a remarkable book, a touching and resonant tale reminiscent of The Giving Tree that will speak to the hearts of children and parents alike.

We do ourselves and our children a disservice if we shield them and ourselves from difficult emotions. Happily many beautiful children’s books are now helping children make sense of loss and grief. One of my favourites is Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Varley’s book provides concrete ways to deal with the grief associated with the loss of a loved one.

Over at Brain Pickings there is a wonderful article about Oliver Jeffers poignant The Heart in the Bottle which also addresses how to cope with the emotions associated with a significant loss.

Another thread that can also be picked up when talking about unbottling emotions can be found in the work of Elizabeth Skye. Skye. Unbottling the Tragedy of Stolen Relatives, a project she initiated, explores the use of pottery to visualize data and tell stories on missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.

In this work, Skye is consulting with families of MMIWG2 to create personalized, unique bottles representing individual MMIWG2 cases, with the aim of creating an impactful representation of MMIWG2 data, and fostering critical dialogue on this violence.

Skye is creating hand-casted bottles inspired by the shapes of liquor bottles, as a means of representing the history behind the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls. Colonization has led to indigenous women and girls being objectified, and like alcohol, consumed and discarded—as empty liquor bottles pollute our homelands, the grief and trauma of the violence against our women and girls pervade our communities.

The bottles created in this work are thus also a representation of the relationship between violation of Unčí Makhá (Mother Earth) and the violation of women and girls. Each bottle will have a label reminiscent of the missing person labels that historically were printed on milk cartons; this is to make the bottles recognizable as calling attention to stolen relatives, and to criticize the irresponsible negligence of federal and local law enforcement in handling MMIWG2 cases, many of which are missing person reports that they fail to adequately document or publicise. The care involved in consulting with families, hand-casting each bottle and creating personalized labels is a reclamation of the sacredness of MMIWG2, and an honouring of the unique spirit of each stolen relative. Bottles will only be made with families’ permission, and the information printed on each label will be determined through consultation with each family. Source: Sovereign Bodies Institute.

Promotional material for a conference about unbottling the vulnerabilities of cities facing the threat of natural disaster included this image of a bottled city, presumably shielded from disaster. Those of us who have read Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death know that barricades are rarely impenetrable. Prince Prospero who reigned over the kingdom in this tale deluded himself when he thought you could keep out the dreaded Red Death. Even the youngest children who I read the opening of this story to know that this story is not going to end well and that the Red Death will prevail.

Identifying location of emotions in the bodyOne way to unbottle emotions is to keep a journal and write unsent letters.

Consider how you will you unbottle some of the emotions that Bessel Van Der Kolk maintains are stored in various parts of the body?

Van der Kolk’s book ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ conjures, in my mind, the kind of scene we see on television when someone like Anthony Green is standing in front of visuals, keeping score as they come in from all over Australia.

One way that we begin to unbottle emotions in a Lived Experience Narrative Course is to undertake an extensive body scan. We systematically search, with a good torchlight, all the hidden crevices and locate all the hermetically sealed places where things which need to be unbottled are hiding, but emitting all sorts of toxins into the body.

Upon completion, we mark things on a template like the one shown here and then contemplate which hidden emotion we can unmask.

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