Lessons from Unlikely Sources

by Rebecca A. Watson on October 6, 2015

in attention, change

Awhile back I heard a This American Life episode where a woman empathizes way too much. As in, she starts to feel like she is the lead character in the movie she’s watching or in the book she’s reading.

reading

Her heartbeat starts to match that of the character. She gets claustrophobic when they do. Love affairs seem all the more torrid to her. She’s had psychologists match this stuff. It’s pretty incredible.

(I really wish I could find the episode, but I’m struggling in my search. If you know what one I’m talking about, please post the link in the comments. Thanks in advance!)

I’m not going to go as far as saying I feel like I have exactly what she has, but I’ve noticed since I was a kid that movies and book have a profound effect on my psyche and my attitude.

When I was about 8 I watched my first vampire movie. I slept with a turtleneck on for days after. I returned The Marriage Plot before finishing it (even though I loved Middlesex), not being able to shake the depressive attitude the main character after I shut the book. It’s why I don’t watch scary movies EVER anymore.

It used to mean that I only want to watch comedies and read David Sedaris memoirs. It used to mean that I only tried to write optimistically on this blog.

Because I'm always happy ... see! ;)

Because I’m always happy … see! 😉

But I’ve been trying to change that. What I didn’t realize I was trying to do was to not lose myself in the midst of all of this. When I’d get depressed after a sad movie, it was as if I’d internalized the problems (cancer, breakups, bad hangovers) of the other characters. I couldn’t truly remain myself.

Recently a friend recommended Bridge of Sighs to me. It has all sorts of themes in it that don’t really resonate: people don’t change, we grow up to become our parents, our lives are mapped out before we even begin, yada yada yada.

But maybe they do resonate with me and that’s why I can’t put it down. Those are things I’m desperate to prove are untrue. They go against my optimistic nature. And in fact, one of the main characters is so optimistic he’s seen as a buffoon. Ouch.

I guess books and movies that make us uncomfortable are just like situations and people who help us grow. They are teachers of a different sort. For too long I’d put aside something if it didn’t feel right to me, if it made me upset. Now I’m thinking maybe that was a mistake.

Mistakes? No no no, I don't *ever* make those!

Mistakes? No no no, I don’t *ever* make those!

**Note: I am NOT condoning reading/watching something you don’t enjoy. You can be uncomfortable and still enjoy something. If the book is crap, put it down. Marvel in your ability to leave something unfinished. Seriously.**

While I’m not suggesting we surround ourselves with New Wave albums and paint our fingernails black, I am saying that maybe it’s OK to dive into the sad, the scary and the (*gasp*) negative. Maybe we can even learn something from it.

That being said, I’m still not watching The Conjuring.

What have you been learning from lately? Anything surprising?

ALSO! Just realized I never told you what song inspired this post. It was Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. Thanks for your guesses via email and in the comments!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ainsobriety October 7, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I am very similar. Sometimes I watch sad movies just because I feel the need to be sad. To have the release of crying over something I know will end.

I have begun to think anything that incites strong emotion is worth considering. Even if it means reading a viewpoint you don’t agree with. Somehow it is a lesson in acceptance that others can be right, even if I don’t agree with them.

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Rebecca A. Watson October 7, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Ainsobriety! This … “I have begun to think anything that incites strong emotion is worth considering. Even if it means reading a viewpoint you don’t agree with. Somehow it is a lesson in acceptance that others can be right, even if I don’t agree with them.” … is so insightful.

I’d never thought of it that way. Mind. Blown. I guess there is a reason I read the Wall Street Journal sometimes 😉

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