The Ask Alanis Q&A continues this month featuring 4 new questions. Read Alanis’ answers on songwriting, emotions, friendship and more below.
when writing a song, have you already usually decided on the theme of it before starting or do you go into it blind, not knowing what will come up? – Rob H
some percent of the time I go into a studio with some lines written in my diary. It can be a theme, a topic, or even a few lyrics I have in mind. I start making the music (alone or collaboratively) and the theme or topic comes to life and we are off to the races…OR…I abandon the theme and idea and start something from scratch, based on what the music is moving in me. and a new narrative is born from that. I love not knowing when I begin. The music and lyrics are all written at the same time, once the “flow” begins 🙂 thanks for asking.
Since I was little I was taught to keep my emotions to myself, specially those emotion that makes us stumble and fall in certain situations (fear, anger, insecurity and so on). My parents didn’t have very much experience on sharing and embracing emotions so I’ve had to work my way to live with them and see them as a part of me and as a part of life but my mind keeps on blaming them for the things they once said to me. I feel it’s wrong to do that and I would like to be more empathic about it. I know they had a very hard life and nobody explained to them to make room for every emotion but how can I reach to that point of forgiveness and feel free of all those words that keeps resounding in my mind every time I have to face a difficult situation or a everyday decision? I would love to read a little advice for you in this since you were a very big therapeutic way to escape and feel understood. I love you forever. – Oscar A
hi Oscar. Thanks for being so brave in your inquiry about how to be more empathic with both yourself and your parents. Your parents were not alone in their resistance to feeling certain feelings (or leaving room for you to), it seems it is a pervasive message we are sent all around the planet…that somehow there are certain feelings that are ok to feel (if any!) and tons of others that are somehow..not. I myself was taught that sadness, fear and anger, those three in particular, were BIG no no’s. the thing about feelings is that they are meant to be felt all the way through, as harbingers, messengers, indications—all in an effort to move us through to our next place in life. If we DON’T feel each feeling all the way through to its’ natural end (and often, feeling them “all the way through” means feeling them for all of 2 minutes, or less…although many need to be moved through for longer, especially if they have been repressed, or are linked to other un-felt emotions), these feelings will be stored in our bodies. When they are stored in our bodies, they create all kinds of havoc for us..with our physical health, with our emotional health and with our relational health (because if we don’t process our feelings (aka FEEL them), we often find them being acted out in our relationships, often with very dysfunctional and corrosive effects. If I sublimate or implode my anger, as an example, it will often explode inappropriately in a context that doesn’t entirely warrant it—and can lead people to feel less safe around me, or compromise the intimacy and trust in my relationships, or compromise my ability to act in my own and everyone’s best interest. The less I implode or explode these feelings that I am “not allowed to feel”, the more of a moderate relationship I have with them. Meaning—that when I feel a feeling coming on, I will start by locating it somatically, that is to say I locate it IN MY BODY. And describe it. Is it a burning in my throat? Is it a clenching of my jaw? Is it a heat in my face? Is it a sense of activation in my arms? Is it a fluttering in my belly? Is it a numbness? Being able to locate it in my body allows me to get to know the unique sensation that each feeling offers as an indication of something within me, within my soul, within my psyche that warrants attention. If I can’t offer attention to it immediate, I will often table it until later. But attending to it later is very important, because otherwise I start the cycle of sublimation and implosion and explosion (which negatively affects my body and tarnishes the bond in relationships.) As far as feeling anger at not having been supported in feeling your feelings as a young person, I would say feel that too. Often we can’t move out of a cycle of feeling victimized until we feel the anger, the grief (a big one) and perhaps even a deep sadness about not having been guided or parented with wisdom or empathy. I have found that the more I allow my feelings to be felt FULLY, the less I have to repeat a similar pattern of victimization or blame in future relationships. I often see blamefulness as an anger for not having received the love or protection or guidance or support or affirmation we ideally would have received as children. It’s just that staying in blame feels so disempowering over time. It depletes a person’s system. So I would emphatically say “feel it!”. Feel the victimization and the blamefulness (rather than the acting it out) all the way through. And a peace will come, like a sweet raindrop-tinged calm after a big storm. And what also often merges is a clarity to access whatever action or request or boundary that might be born from the groundedness that feeling your feelings yields. I and billions of others are with you in the tops, corners and bottoms of every feeling you could feel…as it is one of the many ways we are linked beyond race, religion and status. Blessings to you xo
I love your album titles, they are all so creative! How do you create your titles? – Steven R
I usually finish the record in its entirety…then I read through every lyric with the goal of “finding the perfect title for this record”. (I love this process, I also love that it happens when the record is finished, so there is a great outbreath that comes along with this juncture!) The words usually jump right out at me. it’s a very intuitive process. I attempt to find something that encapsulates the whole record, and when that happens it’s great. Otherwise I attempt to find a line or words that really mark a big part of what the record is dwelling on. Thanks for asking xo
I’ve seen you remark on the importance of what being a friend is to you both lyrically and even here on your website; most recently via the post about the Daddy Long Legs musical. Maybe this will pop up later in a podcast (hoping) but what does being a friend mean to you? How do I recognize the traits of people in my life who DON’T know how to be friends? Am i just being too sensitive? How do I as a sensitive, empathic person find the courage and self-love to make the change to end toxic relationship without feeling guilty later? My core self is saying “end it, end it now!” but the reality of facing it seems like a feat, unbelievable. Why would I recognize this about someone in my life, know that I need to make a change, but be more worried about how they will react to my withdrawal from them than the liberation of release from it. – Jeremy M
hi Jeremy. This is such an important and often under-asked question. Thanks for asking it. We put so much effort into “finding the right partner” when friendships are the relationships that help support maintaining or finding our primary romantic relationships, and are primary themselves. We so often repeat patterns from our childhood when we “pick” friends…our unconscious often picks them, and we repeat patterns as a way to find a way to correct these old (and often painful) dynamics. The thing that we need to have in place, in these friendships, however, is the awareness that this friendship can not only provide laughs, comraderie and companionship, but that they are also (depending upon how committed, intimate and safe they are) provide a very deep correction and healing as well. This kind of friendship is the kind I sense that you might be yearning for, and it certainly is the kind that I have yearned for as well. There is more of an onus on compatibility in friendships, I have found. Whereas romantic relationships often rely on (for their sustainability) a shared value system (there seems to be more room for being complementary, as in “opposites attracting” that can be found in romance.) Friendships seem to benefit from not only values being shared, but being compatible personality-wise as well. I have painfully said goodbye to many friends in the past…and all I can tell you is that I indeed felt guilt (especially with the ones with whom I shared a long history), I felt grief, I felt doubt…but I persevered anyway, because my gut knew something better-for-me was possible. Even in the face of my guilt and grief, as time went on…there was so much room made for a whole other quality of relationship that is a far better match for who I am, and who I have become. There is more safety, more compatibility, deeper laughs, and softer landings. In some ways I just chalk it up to maturing and being a little bit more intentional around friend-picking.
That being something to consider, I will share with you what I look for in a friend (this is me, personally. everyone has their own qualities that would make a new friend a lovely match):
integrity (what they say and do match, and they live by their value system)
a desire for and commitment to growth (psychologically oriented)
a deep humor
someone who values safety, and the healing that comes from it
sets boundaries and honors mine
likes to eat chips, watch movies and lounge 🙂
there are likely more than this list denotes, but this is the greater share of what makes or breaks what could be a friendship in my adulthood. Thankfully, I have met the perfect amount of these people in environments where I have been living the qualities above. If like attracts like, when we show up in environments where qualities we value are embodied, there is a good chance we might make a really great new friend. I wish for you a gentle tolerance and empathy for all the feelings that will come up when you step away from relationships that no longer match who you are, and a great joy in the basking of new and thrilling companionship. Keep your eye on that prize, always. May these friendships you are so bravely committed to forming bring you great peace, healing, fun and warmth. oxox