28 July 2012

On Being an Emotional Sap

By Flicka Catherine (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
When did being moved to tears become a bad thing? Society pokes fun at those who cry at movies, as though having empathy for what characters experience is silly or stupid. We've all done both: cried and ridiculed someone else for their sentimentality. It seems to be an American notion to suppress the expression of emotion, from the tight-lipped New England to the stoic cowboy out on the range. We're supposed to be a tough, no-nonsense, suck-it-up-and- keep-going people.

Oh we talk a good game about accepting men who cry in public (see current Speaker of the House John Boehner) but in reality, we think less of them. After all, if you can't control your own emotions, how can you expect to control anything else?

It's a contradictory condition for me. One one hand, I absolutely hate to cry. I don't do it prettily like Demi Moore does in "Ghost." My eyes puff up as red as a baboon's butt, snot runs from my nose, and my face skews into eight different directions like a melted plastic Scream mask. Then there are the noises: snork, sob, keen, wail, hiccup...never that quiet, dignified tears simply running down the cheeks thing. I refuse to allow myself to do it most of the time--especially if anyone could possibly see (or hear) me. While I can take a bit of teasing, it's quite another thing to be the subject of ridicule. 

But I have to admit to getting choked up, quite often. I'm actually an emotional sap. A giant dumpling fills my throat and tears start to well. I'll blink rapidly, breathe deeply, and force it down. Perhaps I'm fooling myself to think no one notices, but to date no one has mentioned a thing. Thankfully.

What brings this on for me? Parades, for some reason. Loss in movies: the end of childhood as in "Toy Story 3", the impeding demise of the Native American culture in "Dances With Wolves", and of course, the classic scene of What The Hell Happened To Bambi's Mother. Certain songs  bear emotional ties to people and places I've been.  "Adios, Mariquita Linda" holds my mother's memory in every note.  The children's choir singing "Cwm Rhondda / Bread of Heaven" on the beach in Rhossili Bay during the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics nearly did me in with hiraeth--homesickness for Wales. (And as I've said before, I'm not even Welsh.)

Eliciting emotional reaction is the goal of every author. Empathy with our characters, caring about what happens to them, feeling their pain or happiness, is vital. I know I'm on the right tract with a manuscript if I choke up or have tears drip on the keyboard whilst typing away. Another reason to do  my writing  when everyone else is in bed.

Just don't make fun of me for it. I'd have to kick butt to save face.

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