Posted on October 13, 2009
by Catherine Austen
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A friend of mine was surprised to read my last enty, in which I confessed to being deeply moved by a song about a lost cat. She has known me for years and never seen me cry. That’s because I don’t cry, except at the odd movie or song. Don’t get me wrong: I like to cry. It’s relaxing and good for the eyes. But tears either come or they don’t, and at this point in my fortunate life, they just don’t. My friend asked, “If you can’t cry about your life, how can you cry about a fictional cat’s life?”
For that, I have three answers. First, my life is a lot happier than that lost cat’s. Second, there are reasons to pull myself together to face life’s challenges, but there’s nothing I can do for fictional characters, so I might as well fall to pieces over their fate. And third, it’s not the cat I cried over, it’s the story and the sorrow-filled universe the story is played out in. It’s every sad feeling everyone ever felt.
But still, that’s not enough to explain it. Why would I cry over a fictional lost cat and not cry over real cats subjected to fates worse than death? Why would I cry over a tragic love story in a movie and not cry over a friend’s divorce?
I’d like to learn more about the connections between fiction and emotion in our strange species.
Take love in its infinite variety of fictions. How can you feel intimately connected to a character in a book? Who hasn’t felt love for a character in a movie? Some people feel a stronger love for celebrities than for the real people in their lives, but even the most grounded of us fall in love with fictions. Think of that first encounter when you hit it off with someone. Aren’t the emotions awfully sharp then, when love is mostly fictional?
Think of hatred, the kind that entire groups of people feel for other groups. You can’t get that kind of hatred without a good dose of fiction, can you? Fear, too. The stories we tell ourselves about what might happen feed our fears. For all I know, there aren`t any emotions that don`t have a story at their source.
I`m not a believer in catharsis. Anger builds anger, fear builds fear, and hatred builds hatred, just as love builds love and joy builds joy. You can’t release your fear by wallowing in it. Ask any hypochondriac. Venting anger just makes me angrier. And laughing makes me happy. I don’t watch a comedy and laugh with friends, then go home feeling sad, having vented all my joy. Emotions snowball. (That’s how the fictional lost cat got to me.)
I’m glad that my first children’s novel is full of humor, despite its dead mother and breaking hearts. Humour in the face of sorrow and adversity is something I’d like to snowball among 12-year-olds. Come to think of it, I’d like a little more of it in my own life. So should I stop listening to sad songs and reread my book? Nah. But I might listen to the Gypsy Kings for a while and see what happens.