STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 08/21/2007

SPORKS | Installation 2: Something Doesn't Feel Right

Story Bryan Parys '04
Illustration Grant Hanna '06

I feel like a yellow jeep is stalking me. Maybe not stalking, but at least trying to get a rise out of me, playing on my fear of coincidence. I mean, I've seen this thing on my way to and from work for what feels like weeks. My friend Grant has seen it, too, making him feel like there's some truth to the fear. "It's not paranoia if they're really after you," he told me. And then--get this--I'm driving through Beverly and what do I see? A yellow jeep for sale. I know; tell me about it.

Here's the thing. The yellow jeep most likely belongs to someone down the street. And, as weird as it sounds, they may even have to drive to work around the same time I do. I mentioned that this jeep has been following me for what feels like weeks. Well, they follow me because there's only one road out of town, and honestly I've only seen it three times. But it feels like weeks.

Actually, I feel like the real thing stalking me is the phrase "I feel like."

Almost everyone I know, minus a few grandparents and ex-military men, uses this phrase many times a day. I can't trace its lineage, but my guess is this is another thing we can blame on the hippie generation (that and Jefferson Starship). Despite not knowing exactly where it came from, what is more than a feeling is the fact that our culture is obsessed with feelings. They can be hurt, new, old, sinking, bad, good--driving our thoughts constantly in the direction they determine. And its sticky tentacles are showing up everywhere. Commercials boast products that keep you feeling young and full of life. And if you've visited the Weather Channel website in the last few years, you will have noticed they not only give you the actual temperature, but what it "feels like": "It's 39°, but, man, it feels like 17° with the wind chill. Best go stock up on water and batteries." And don't even get me started on the popular office phrase "Let's just keep our feelers out there . . ."

I remember talking about epistemology, the study of how we know things, in an English class with Dr. Anne Blackwill. I'm no expert on the subject, but I remember how difficult it was for the class to put forth any evidence as to how we come to know anything. And in a culture where food allergy warnings run longer than the ingredients list--in an effort to instill safe feelings--it's no surprise we don't know (or feel) the difference between knowing and feeling.

Every time I sit in a meeting at work, the "I feel like" thought-opener gets tossed around like a Christmas fruitcake. I've used it to pitch ideas I haven't thought through, and I've definitely used it as padding to tell someone that I don't like their idea: "I feel like having a link to The Apprentice on the economics and business major page might detract attention from our program."

The problem is that the phrase allows us to speak too soon and be okay with that. We no longer have to think through something or determine how true it might actually be. And even if it is a bad idea, it's understood that people can't argue with feelings. So if the most people can do is "feel differently," a true debate can never really happen. Conversations turn into self-commentaries and parallel existences. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is not the "feel" part, but the use of the word "like." In essence, you're assimilating yourself into something that isn't you but is like you. You become a simile, and every interaction turns into a hypothetical.

Canadians are often made fun of for their use of the inquisitive phrase-ender "eh?". Well, I applaud it. It asks the person being addressed to confirm the speaker's statement. The focus is then moved from "I" to "you." In terms of cultural fads, "I feel like" is a mood ring and "eh?" is a Chinese finger trap. The former is a self-inflicted trick, and the latter requires teamwork to solve a problem. With that in mind, if I had said to Grant, "I've seen a yellow jeep three times in two days. It's stalking me, eh?" Then he might have more aptly answered, "That's right. They're just waiting for the perfect chance to steal your mood ring."

bryan parys doesn't like to capitalize his name. He holds a B.A. in English and is currently a web editor at Gordon. He wants you to know that a pinkish mood represents uncertain, unanswered questions.