Monday, February 3, 2014

A Heart Out of Tune

This post was inspired by the novel A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  Feeling lost and burned out, Julia drops her well paying job at a NYC law firm. After hearing a stranger’s voice in her head, she travels to Burma to find the voice’s story and hopefully herself as well. Join From Left to Write on February 4 as we discuss A Well-Tempered Heart. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. 

One of the things that I love about the book club, From Left to Write, is that we don't actually do traditional book reviews.  We write posts that are inspired by the books we have the privilege of reading.  Last year, I got to read the prequel to this book, On Hearing Heartbeats.  I loved it!  It's one of my absolute favorites so when I saw that we would have the opportunity to continue the story of Julia, I absolutely signed up.

Do you believe in serendipity?  It's defined as finding pleasant surprises you weren't looking for or expecting.  I tend to take it a step further when those surprises seem to be a small multitude pointing in the same direction.

It took me three days to read this book.  Despite the fact that it is not a long book.  Despite the fact that I am a fast reader.  Because not all surprises we find are pleasant, and it made me recognize things within myself that I typically ignore, avoid, or deny.  (Nu Nu would say I was reading the signs.  And Nu Nu would be right.)  It took me three days to read this book and a fourth day to come to terms with what I found.

You see, for the past four days, I have been a heart out of tune.

If you've read my previous blogs, you've probably caught on that I'm largely optimistic, cheerful, prone to laughing, and maybe a pinch clever and creative.  In fact, that's a pretty good description for me the vast, vast, VAST majority of the time.  For as bright and cheerful and confident a person as I usually am, every now and then... I am not.

And this book resonated with that part of me that I don't frequently mention and even more frequently don't acknowledge.   The part of me that gets sad.  Agitated.  Frustrated.  Angry.  Doubtful.  Fearful.  And worst of all-- with absolutely no obvious outward provocation for any of them.  Melancholy.  I don't mention them, and more often than not don't act on them...but it doesn't mean I don't -feel- them.  I'm still just a human.  And sometimes, my heart is out of tune.

My husband cornered me and asked me, "What's wrong?"  (He can read me truly and truly see me, even when I would hide from myself.)  But I find myself divided in answering.  Because the easy answer, the quick answer, the answer I give that he accepts for now but doesn't really buy of "Nothing's wrong." is both true... and not true.  Truth:  There is no -thing- that is actually wrong.  But still...

I am a heart that has (briefly) fallen out of tune.

For the three days it took me to read this book, I knew that it was one of those time.  I was easily irritated.  Easily agitated.  Frustrated.  Questioning my life choices:  Have I made the right ones?  For me?  For my family?  Is my dream worth pursuing?  Am I talented enough?  Can I do this?  What if I can't?  What if I'm not?  What if...  "What if" can be such a terrible, paralyzing question.  So here's a better question, taken from the book:

"What is important to you?"

The simplest question he could think to ask.

But unlike Julia, even now, even full of self doubt, I could easily answer this question:  My beloved, our children, our critters, and making art.

To KNOW this, and to still have doubts.  To KNOW this with all of my soul and to still have irritation.  Agitation.  Frustration.  The questions.

I drove home tonight dreading this post because I'm usually very good at ignoring that portion of me that are the emotions we all feel and don't want to claim as our own.  Weakness.  Frailty.  Particularly when they're irrational.  When we know that others in the world face so much worse than we.  Endure so much worse.  So much more real.  And as I drove, I realized that I had succumbed to the implication that having blessings means we're not allowed a single moment of despair or unhappiness.

Tonight, as I drove home thinking these same circular questions that have plagued me for the last three days, it was a seed of anger, a kernel within me threatening to blossom and explode all over the ones I love at home without provocation.  Anger at myself threatening to volcano over those that I love, innocent bystandards.   And all because I was tired of these questions.  I was tired of the doubt.  And the fear.  And I realized that I had accepted a falsehood.  This falsehood, this accepted belief, that I am not allowed to be sad or frustrated.  And this falsehood had set my heart out of tune.

Because I am still human.  And that means I'm entitled to all the 'feels'.  Damn it.  I can be irrationally sad.  Or angry.  Or melancholy.

And I knew as I took the second to last turn headed to my house that for the last three days, I have been a heart out of tune.  Out of sync with the rightness I am usually blessed to occupy.  Out of sync with the love I intellectually know surrounds me.

As I pulled into my driveway, my children came out of my house to greet me while I checked the mail.  And I looked up and felt that kernel of anger melting.  In that moment, I could see the love they hold for me-- even when I'm melancholy and irrational and irritated.

Tonight, I needed a hug.  And my family gave them to me.  They helped to set my heart to rights.  To tune it back and remind me that the only question that really matters is "What is important to you?"

And I already know the answer to that one.


  1. Wow, what a great post! I think as women we don't allow ourselves to feel sad or off or have a heart out of tune. That should be one of the things they teach us in school! It took me a long time to learn that it's ok to feel like that at times and to just go with it and not try to stress out about it. And like you I find that no matter how bad things are, when I walk in that door and see my family it really does help, even if right before I step in I wish silently that everyone will be gone so I can be alone to have a good cry, it helps to know they are all there..waiting for family!

    1. Yes, as I was driving home, I half wished I could keep driving, but I knew that I wouldn't really. And I'm so very glad that I didn't (:

  2. Janin, as soon as I saw the title of your post, it clicked with me. I've been feeling "out of tune" myself lately and couldn't find the words to describe it.

  3. Out of tune... what a great way to describe the feeling! I get that way, and often tell myself I don't have the right or a good reason to feel that way.

  4. Such a thought-provoking post for me! I tend to think of anger, melancholy, worry -- those darker "feels" -- as a flare, a message my heart is sending me, that things in my life are not lined up right, that something's off. Those feels are like a call to pay attention to some situation that needs addressing. Reading your post really helped me get that clear, so that instead of feeling bad about being mad or irritable, I can see it for what it is. A little whisper from my heart (OK, sometimes a roar), a chance to make things right. Thanks so much. xo

  5. fabtastic post Janin! I too feel my heart is out of tune sometimes, and it is quite bothersome when there is no reason. I tell my hubby, who knows me and understands, kiss the kids, and retreat to my room with a good book. I know the hubby has the kids and in the morning I will feel better.

  6. There's so much pressure in our society to hide the negative, push away anger, reject doubt. Why do we do that? What a lovely idea you have hit upon - the heart out of tune. After all, a musical instrument falls out of tune, due to all kinds of influences (temperature, humidity, disuse, overuse), and when we pick up the instrument to play it again, the first thing we have to do is retune it. We don't throw away the instrument because it's out of tune - it is simply part of the nature of the instrument that it will go out of tune, but we can retune it, and make it sing beautifully. It seems your family tunes you. So may it be for us all.

  7. The idea of a Heart out of Tune is one of the wonderful treasures I received from Jan-Philipp Sendker's "A Well-Tempered Heart". He has such a beautiful thought provoking way with words. And that is the part that spoke loudest to me while deciding what to write about for this post. But I am truly thankful that my family tunes me. And love Janaki's wish that that might be true for all of us.

  8. I never had words for that feeling before... Where no actual thing was wrong but nothing felt right.
    A heart out of tune is a fantastic way to look at it.
    Thank you for the beautiful post.

  9. I, too have felt out of tune lately, thank you for sharing your view on the book, I can relate so well. (Though not as eloquently)


I'd love to hear your thoughts!