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NRG

Kerry Feltner


I envision myself in a golden orb before I leave my house in the morning. My arms close to my sides, I close my eyes and imagine light coming out of my head and my limbs as I stand behind my closed door. I try to block out the sounds of my roommates leaving for work. In this orb, I believe I am protected from others energetically. In this orb, I believe I can be a positive influence on others; that maybe by believing in something, I will bring good fortune into my life. I think that maybe if I’m consistent at seeking this kind of emotional peace, a man could love me again.


Praying quietly to myself, I ask my Catholic God to tell me what to say, where to go, and what to do: to tell me how not to lose myself, to tell me how not to lose my shit. I need a spiritual GPS, one that recalibrates with every interaction. I ask Archangel Michael to use his machete to cut my energy cords. I see the cords as silver strings, strings that keep connecting me to men I used to talk to and who used to touch my body, strings connecting me to siblings who choose not to talk to me anymore, strings connecting me to oversharing coworkers I hope not to see for much longer. The kind of strings that used to hold gifts together before Scotch tape was invented. In one motion, he cuts the ties. In my mind I watch the strings evaporate and disappear. I try to have an imaginary clean slate every day.

——

Once “cleansed,” I drive to work. My commute includes the nation’s oldest battlefields and newest grocery chains. I mentally send light, like the kind from a lightsaber, to all the people around me: that wiry old man running super slowly, the lady in the car next to me staring straight ahead with a dead look in her eyes, the construction worker in Day-Glo colors, digging into the earth. I take the light I send to mean a wish for the highest good to happen to each person. I am able to briefly feel benevolent.


My job is to report on a community’s goings on, to see what’s up across 13.6 square miles of the city proper. When I arrive at each interview, I sit across from other people and I ask them to tell me things. How bad was the fire? What was it like to win the national barbeque competition? Why are you running for City Council? How does a falcon’s body react to rat poison? What is your vision for the city as mayor? Before I enter a room, I feel shielded in this golden orb, an orb I reinforced in my imagination again by meditating in my car before the interview. I believe that the imaginary circle is protecting me from absorbing all kinds of energy: mostly the random angst, gossip, pettiness, and negativity picked up in a week spent listening more than talking to people.


There is also positive energy to absorb that I try to accept with genuine sincerity: a smile, a door held open for me, a hot Styrofoam cup of Folgers coffee handed to me, or a corny joke made in earnest for a laugh. After interviewing thousands of people now, I know that every interaction comes at a price, that interactions are not neutral. I have become acutely aware of the ways in which other people’s emotions, vibes, pain, moods...whatever it is, can alter my entire day, my entire state of mind.


I have been in rooms that lose their air due to the tension of talking about uncomfortable topics: why did the company, led by you, Mr. CEO, who is glaring at me, lose so much money last year? (Yes, I think to myself, I know I don’t run my own company. Yes, I know I have no clue what I’m talking about, that I have no right to even ask the question.) What would you want the community to know about this last round of layoffs?


I am required to get information from people. I’m required to be an emotional sponge. People don’t talk unless they feel comfortable, so I have to make them feel at ease. I feel like what I imagine air traffic controllers must feel sometimes. They usher planes in and out, but they aren’t flying themselves. They aren’t going anywhere. They hold up plastic orange lights and wave at a pilot, helping them park. Guiding planes into gates to unload passengers who have been somewhere. I’m not going anywhere. I listen and ask and absorb the thoughts of other people, but questions are not asked of me—a role I signed up for. I’m not taking off, succeeding in the ways I want to be. There is no launching happening in my life. Instead, it feels full of stagnation. I am so social with strangers each week that I don’t want to socialize with those I’m familiar with, with people who would actually care what I have to say. I don’t want to listen to anyone by Friday.

——

I tell myself that this visualization is the only way I can continue as a community reporter with some integrity, the only way I can prevent fatigue, or burnout, and the thing I need to do so I can feel some empathy for the people I encounter. It is comforting to have something to rely on, even if it is my own imagination. I don’t want to be destructive to myself using the proven ways to ruin a life: alcohol, drugs, or self-harm. But the orb is barely working.


I feel foolish, too aware of my own pathetic sadness and my ineptitude. I don’t think someone falls in love with a sad person. The habit I used to have of giving every person the benefit of the doubt when I met them is not something I practice now. I operate in defensive mode, stockpiling my energy like I’m in a bunker somewhere needing to survive. I don’t feel depressed and I’m not in serious emotional pain, I just feel fatigued, sick of phony connections, stupid conversations, and trying so damn hard to accommodate the feelings of others, an issue I have always brought upon myself. It’s what makes me a good reporter. I learned to be polite and to be a ‘yes’ little girl, a no-fuss kind of person who barely existed so that others could exist more. I learned that from my mother. But now I am detaching daily from the world, and I’m becoming immune to others, a step further than my mother has gone. I wonder if everyone does this to some extent as they get older.

——

Lately, my mind has gone back to 7th grade science class. Mr. Hartman, a skinny man in his thirties—my age now—exclusively wrote ‘NRG’ as a shorthand for the word ‘energy’ on the board and throughout our unit, teaching us about Julius Robert Mayer. Mayer discovered the Law of the Conservation of Energy: energy cannot be created or destroyed. I was bored in the class and didn’t like Mr. Hartman much since the previous unit when he threw a tennis ball at my face. I blocked it and the class laughed, a perfect example of the importance of reflexes, he said at the time to my blank face. I didn’t care then that friction dissipates energy or that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, that essentially, people are molecules of energy. That our cells vibrate. But I do care now. If energy can never be created or destroyed, just transferred, then I want to control what kind of energy I am receiving and giving. I want to conserve. I want my energy to be regulated, just like a windmill, a dam, or even a dishwasher.


As a pre-emptive strike against emotional energy vampires, I decided this year that I no longer want to attach to other people if I can help it. My isolation is not a Buddhist’s philosophy of non-attachment to worldly things to achieve Nirvana, or some other level of spiritual enlightenment, but instead it’s simple and more self-serving: I want to keep my current attachments to whom I have in my life but not add any more attachments, specifically people, to my life. The problem is I have the same job. The problem is, I don’t think I can sustain this desire long-term. At 30, I know I will meet more people in the coming years but, I know I have no desire to work at it anymore. I don’t want to schedule revolving coffee dates that never happen and start the endless game of apologizing tag for not making time to meet up. I don’t want to have anymore ‘followers.’ I don’t want to be vulnerable; I don’t want to share myself so openly as I once did with possible friends or acquaintances. Or men before dates, on dates, or after dates. Not everyone gets a piece of me. In my life, only whomever I deem the fittest will survive.

——

I get joy out of eliminating social media followers. It must be how a diehard minimalist feels. I want to curate who gets access to me. That uncle who always talks down to my father in front of me? Friend request denied. That “friend” from college who blatantly wished for me to fail? Cut off. Men that treated me like an object? Blocked. I don’t want to allow people to sit on the sidelines of my life and judge me when they do not know me. At the same time, I know that I choose not to allow them the chance to know me so they never will. Is it callous? Probably. I don’t want their likes. I don’t want to spread my influence online or in-person, I only want to make my influence more acute, clearer, deeper, and more intentional to people I choose to know. There was a time when the periphery people of one’s life would fade out of view, when a person could be anonymous eventually, before cell phones and status updates. You just stopped seeing people, my parents told me. They were alive when that was still possible. You stopped tracking a person’s every move. Now I know that a high school acquaintance has a new tattoo or that the kid I babysat two decades ago grew up to be a cop.


I am pushing people away because I know life is not so sequestered. I know it will force me to interact in ways I want to opt out of so I try to remove whom I can in the meantime. I have started protecting my energy, but I worry that operating my life out of a place of defensiveness will come back to haunt me.

——

“The goal is not to make you numb,” the nurse practitioner said to what I thought to be a younger woman in the room next to mine. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop given the thin walls and my own boredom while waiting for my blood to be drawn. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” played from plastic, corner speakers.


People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening


She was prescribing her Zoloft. The goal was to stop those episodes, the nurse said. The goal was to keep her functioning. Side effects were rare, she told her. It probably wouldn’t affect her fertility.


I sat quietly, wondering what the woman’s face said, what her eyes looked like when she heard the details of her new prescription and its possible consequences. I questioned my own need for some pills. I wondered how to know the extent to which one is a “normal” level of numb.


People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence


“Good luck,” the nurse said as the patient left the room.

——

One night, while browsing Netflix, I found new energy. Wanting to see what the hype was all about, I watched wellness entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop employees see an energy healer on the series, “Goop Lab” in an episode called, “The Energy Experience.” With the multiple controversies surrounding the lifestyle brand, most recently the sale of a candle that smells like Paltrow’s vagina, a vaginal steaming fiasco, or jade eggs for “feminine energy” for, yet again, vaginas, I knew I was venturing into a new level of strange. GP, as she’s referred to as the company, asks the healer at the start of the episode: “What the fuck are you doing to people?” Everyone in the shot laughs.


“I believe the 21st century is the age of energy,” said the energy healer and chiropractor, John Amaral in the video as B-roll cut to employees hunched over at their desks.


In the session, John, snaps his fingers and moves his hands above the bodies of each person while they lay on a table face down in stretchy, color-coordinated athleisure wear. He touched their sacra, which I found a little disturbing, and their lower necks. Each participant reacted differently to his arm movements in the air.


Soon, the participants started writhing. Hands shook, hips torqued upwards, and heads whipped back and forth. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. A person who suffered from sleep paralysis began to cry. Another person uttered a loud guttural moan. One looked like she was having an exorcism, muttering low sounds under her breath. One self-described, “uptight person and skeptic” felt it was worth it because he was able to relax and quiet his mind, he said after.


Each session costs $2,500. The general advice for viewers to help with their own energy is to put their hands on their hearts and necks to try to feel their emotions. This can be done for free! At home! they say happily.


I sit in my bed and hold one hand to my neck and one hand to my heart. I don’t think this positioning would look like healing to others if they saw me. I picture myself looking like I’m in need of a neck brace or like I’m a high school student, posing awkwardly for my senior pictures, trying to do something with my hands. I feel no different but am not surprised.


I go to yoga and see shirts that say, “Don’t kill my vibe” and “My tribe is better than yours.” Every generation has a new cliché, I think. I’m buying into it all, all the affirmations, the mantras, the whole wellness industry that needs me to be unwell so I can keep striving to be well. It feels better than doing nothing and all I’m focused on is feeling something, even if it is diluted hope.


No one feels good all the time, but I want to feel more alive. I want to feel better than I do. I am chasing peace or quiet that I know isn’t realistic. I yearn to feel enthusiastic again like I am at least open to the mystery of the coming days or weeks, like I have something to look forward to. I want to feel like the next few weeks or months will be exciting; that they will make me feel something other than apathy. Even when I felt severe emotional pain, I could acknowledge I was more acutely awake, actually responding to the world.

——

There are days when I feel the orb disappear. I forget to meditate or pray or ask for help. I let the lives of others consume my body and brain. I ruminate. Did he like me or was I awkward? Did my boss think I was as lazy as I felt? Why don’t I care about anyone else? What if I never get to where I want to go? And on really wallowing days: Does anyone really care if I exist?


I know I would ward myself from my own energy if I met me. For all of the well-wishes, for all of the morning prayers, I still carry in my core, strong anger. I wonder if it was always there or if one major setback—a colossal breakup years ago—has made it harder to hide. Maybe other people can take more hits than I can.


I recently started watching videos on YouTube to help me feel positive, or happy, or filled with love as they promise in their titles. I figure my cells should vibrate more or whatever. There is practically a video for every emotion. I type in “high vibrational frequency music” and sometimes I add specifics, like “for money,” “to attract love,” “to be happy.” I listen to soundwaves that are supposed to turn my jaded, cynical, apathetic, and pessimistic attitude into something more neutral. I try many types of frequency for effect: 888 Hz, 639 Hz, 432 Hz—all levels that are supposed to heal me from feeling nothing and move me into the box of feeling love for everyone and everything. Videos titled, “MANIFEST ANYTHING YOU WANT,” “HEALING TONE FOR POSITIVE TRANSFORMATION,” or “RECEIVE UNEXPECTED MONEY IN 10 MINUTES!” hook me. I’m all in.


I figure I’ll start small. I listen to videos specifically to attract money into my life for a month. The comment section for one video is filled with surprises: “Guys, believe me this works. Listened to this last night; checked my 2 lottery tickets the following day and boom..won $150,000 and $1,000,000” someone named Diamond wrote. Another woman named Connie commented, “I started listening to this and before 10 minutes someone gave me unexpected $60.00 Wow!!” Others are not so positive: a man named Alexander wrote, “I’ve lost my job and have no more money. Pray for me people.”


I repeat the mantra: ‘I am rich, I am rich, I am rich’ to myself daily. One day, I walk through the middle of Boston Common and step on a $5 bill. In Cambridge, I walk home and pick up a $10 bill off the ground a few days later. I feel happier and a little lighter, but I still go to my settings in YouTube and delete my watch and search history, feeling too foolish even only to myself. It worked, but money wasn’t what I really wanted.


I move into the realm of Tarot readings and watch those videos on YouTube too, now seeking guidance for my love life. I see what predictions these people—usually women—have for me and my star sign cohort (Pisces) in the upcoming weeks. I watch their hands, usually detailed with fake nails, and cluttered with rings, shuffle cards that will determine my fate. They promise things, all usually good: a new love interest: the two of cups card; a new job: the death card; success: the six of wands card. I look at a drawing of two people holding chalices out to each other; a man on a white horse holding a black flag; a man on a horse with six sticks in the air around him, the one he holds has a Christmas wreath on it. The cards are laid out in perfect rows.


After a reading is complete, I feel like things could be looking up. I feel like there could be something happening to me in the week they read for. But the days and weeks blend together, and I forget what they said would happen.


Eventually, I turn to Google. I search, ‘highly sensitive person’ and find: a person who processes stimuli more intensely. I’m not sure if that is me. I know I used to feel emotions more intensely before I closed myself off to them. I know that I crave to be alone but also am deeply lonely. I know that I am sick of being taken for granted. I know that I have let others dictate my actions for too long. Maybe this state I’m in is just known as being a human.

——

At my worst I looked like a wounded animal. I took a selfie for proof, to remember what it was like. I wore a cream-colored wool sweater from Ireland and my cheeks looked gaunt. I was the lowest weight I’ve ever been. Family members kept telling me how great I looked at 20 pounds below my usual weight. “What’s your secret?” they joked. “Depression and self-loathing,” I deadpanned. In the photo, I was crying but my eyes were expressionless. The details—a breakup filled with betrayal and moving boxes to another state—don’t really matter anymore but feeling that low completely ripped open my life. My lack of any real suffering to that point was laughable but the suffering still felt very difficult to me.


I no longer have the look of a wounded animal, but I do wonder how I look to others now, years later. Maybe others feel my energy as one that is guarded, or maybe they see me as a stuck-up person, one who doesn’t make time for simple niceties. I get it. I generally have been more comfortable with the extremes: I either want to be your friend or I don’t. There is no in between for me. Maybe they see me as doing my best.


When I was overflowing with anger during that particularly bad year, I directed my pain towards others, hoping they would take it from me for a moment of reprieve. It never worked. I would go on runs and (in my head) tell people I passed to fuck off. They waved at me and made me even angrier. I flipped the bird while driving more than I ever had before. I was raw and ready to hurt someone else even in the most miniscule ways. I hit the bumper of the car in front of me on accident while driving in December, close to Christmas Day. At least I caused some damage, I thought then selfishly, finally feeling seen: there was a physical mark on the car to show what happened. But then the other driver’s husband brought me a hot chocolate after giving his wife a cup of it. Together, we waited for the cops. I felt worse than bad. I sipped the warm liquid, my mind elsewhere. I burned my tongue.


These days, I hibernate, seeking to remove myself from situations where there can be real social expectations of me, a tactic I have continued to hide behind. But I’ve found that the more I have pulled back my energy now, the more people have reached out to me more. My system is now being called into question. Can I keep my extreme boundaries and be close to my brothers? Can I keep my boundaries and allow someone I’m not sure of to be my friend? Can I open myself up to more risk in my love life? Is holding back healthy, a sign of maturity, or a cry for help? I still find it very easy to write someone off.

——

“That’s it,’ I said to myself. “I’m done with him.” It felt better to pull back, safer to remove myself. I had decided to stop talking to one brother after a difficult fight. It was settled.


Months later, I received a rare birthday card from him, possibly the only one I have ever received from his address. He sent me pictures of his baby, my nephew, and wished me well in writing. I felt confused, unsure how to think of him now, something I had been more sure of before. I didn’t know if I wanted him to remain in my life connected in that way, but I couldn’t deny the gesture. My nephew had scribbled in red and blue crayons in the corner of the card. In one picture, the baby smiled at me, with the same smile my brother has, from his car seat.


I read my brother’s birthday card over and over again. I pictured him writing it, slowly and carefully, choosing each word. “We hope you enjoy your special day,” he wrote with the same handwriting he had in high school. “We look forward to seeing you soon.”


I slid my finger over his message and sat the card down on my desk, after, that is, bending it so that it remained open.

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