Learning Feelings with Movies

There was a time when I had a laptop that only had enough space on it to store 2 movies at a . This was back when I didn’t have internet, so movies were a pretty big deal. My only way of getting new movies was by sitting in the corner at a 24-hour laundromat with free wifi hoping nobody would see me and ask where my laundry was.

My laundry? Uhh it goes to another school

I liked to get some form of vicarious emotional life out of the movies I downloaded at the laundromat. I told my therapist about that and she seemed as surprised as when I told her I like cats. Apparently, this information was quite evident on my face or in the tiny jagged rips in my skin courtesy of Moira the cat.

I remember the two movies I had on that computer the longest were Up and Wall-E. I had wanted to see them, but I was too cool of a teenage delinquent to be seen in public watching movies I had decided were for kids. I had also decided I was too cool to be seen sobbing in a movie theater.

Exactly how I pictured myself

When you have access to only two movies in the world then you split your time between watching those movies and watching your life fall apart.

I used to spend most of my time watching movies I’d already seen and trying to feel things. I wasn’t very good at feelings. Through an unpleasant cocktail of trauma, a natural lack of empathy, and probably a predisposition to be one cold motherfucker, I wasn’t a super emotional person. If my feelings were a relative, they would have said “keep in touch” and I would have blocked them on Facebook.

But I did get some kind of emotional gratification out of watching movies. I could vicariously feel things through characters on a screen because that’s what I’d been training my brain to do with books for years. Realizing movies and tv could give me feelings was the first step toward turning me into someone who measures time in seasons of Frasier.

Finding that I could feel something genuine if it was inspired by characters on a screen was special. It let me practice with feelings in an environment without consequences. Nobody cares if you cry when Jim and Pam get together or when two little robots hold hands because you’re just so fucking alone and broken. I was still the same emotionally vacant person to everyone else, but at home at night, I was someone who actually had feelings. That went on for a few years.

If we skip ahead to yesterday, there is evidence of some growth. My high school students graduated from their summer program. There was a whole ceremony even though most of them are coming back next year. Like any graduation, this ceremony teeters between excruciatingly boring–a 20-minute slideshow with pictures of every student at least 5 times–and emotionally devastating.

Jokes on them though because everyone who bullied me made fun of how often I wore the same clothes, but they didn’t know I was a sad homeless kid, so fuck them and I hope they get drunk and think about their shitty selves more than I do.

I’m really glad bullies aren’t really a thing I have to deal with anymore because if some of the people who made fun of me in seventh grade found out I almost had to run to the bathroom to cry because of a graduation ceremony for kids I’d only known for a month, they’d be relentless.

It is interesting to be able to recognize growth and change so clearly as the difference between only having feelings after midnight when actors told me to and having them at appropriate times with relatively appropriate intensity. Even as I was watching my shows and trying to understand how feelings worked, I wondered if there were other people like me: emotionally deafened and trying to figure their shit out. While it would make me happy to know other people went through the same stuff, there’s some comfort in not having to figure it all out anymore.

 

 

19 Replies to “Learning Feelings with Movies”

  1. I love movies. Especially the ones that make me laugh and the ones that get you in your feels. It really teaches you to empathize with people and their certain situations.

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  2. I am convinced that everyone has bad stuff they have gone through or are going through that they make an enormous effort to hide. Everyone wants to portray a perfect life. It’s obviously much harder when you don’t have a change of clothes.

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  3. There are a few movies and TV shows that make me feel real feels as well (have you watched Sense8? HOLY SHITSNACKS. All the feels, cranked up to 11, times a millionty. It’s so, so good, though), but mostly I’m like this with music. When I’m feeling super numb, music helps me get feelings back. And when I’m so numb that I actively don’t want to listen to music, that’s a sign that I need to get my ass to the doctor and get my meds adjusted.

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    1. I’ve heard a ton of really good stuff about Sense8, and there’s at least one character I’m very interested in the show for. I heard it had been cancelled though? Did it come back to life and finish?

      Music helps a lot for me too. There are some bands or albums that I only listen to when I’m particularly numb and want to have feelings again. It’d be interested to see what music other people pick for that same person. I’m partial to David Bowie

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      1. There were two seasons of Sense8 and then a two hour conclusion episode. I haven’t watched that yet but I’ve heard from many folks that it does a good job wrapping things up satisfactorily…it doesn’t just leave things hanging. Which, if you start watching it, you’ll realize very quickly is pretty important. The characters are so diverse and written SO well, and the acting is excellent. It’s also visually stunning from start to finish, as one would expect from the Wachowskis. It’s definitely a slow starter. I hated the first couple episodes because NOTHING made sense and it was like total sensory overload…but then it all started to gel and I found it riveting.

        Sorry, I feel like I’m always coming here telling you what to watch / read / listen to. 😬

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, I definitely have to watch this then. I didn’t get around to starting it because I didn’t want the overwhelming disappointment of seeing it cancelled.

        No, don’t stop! Like half of my interactions with anyone I know are just “have you seen/read/listened to this cool thing? No, well let’s sit you down and do that right now.”

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      3. My meatspace friends and I operate similarly. Almost every hang out eventually turns into a good hour or so of everyone sharing their recommendations and reviews.

        Will be interested to hear what you think of Sense8!

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      4. This seems like the right way to friendship. I’m kind of bad at watching new things and instead just rewatch the same five or six shows until they’re a part of me, so recommendations are welcome 😀

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      5. Which ones do you rewatch over and over? I’m not really much of a re-watcher, but I’ve watched The IT Crowd end to end at least four times now. Same with Father Ted. I will also watch My So-Called Life whenever I can find it, but that’s pure nostalgia, as it originally ran during my formative teenage years and is just so perfectly mid-90’s angsty.

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      6. I usually come back to Futurama, the Office, Parks and Rec, Cheers, and Frasier every year or so. There’s just something so comforting about all of them: relatively predictable storylines and lives I can almost relate to but not so much that it can’t distract me from my own.

        I love The IT Crowd! I’ve never heard of Father Ted or <y So-Called Life, but I completely understand the nostalgia shows. I used to watch Cheers before going to school as a kid, and that's still a part of why I like it

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      7. Father Ted is an older Irish series about a Catholic priest on a fictional Irish island, his doofus assistant priest, their bonkers housekeeper, wildly inappropriate townspeople, etc. It’s wonderful. Irish comedy is like British comedy except even sharper and darker.

        Parks and Rec should have been on my list as well. I’m about due for another run through! Fraiser and Cheers I watched as a kid / teen but have never rewatched as an adult.

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      8. Sharper and darker comedy sounds right up my alley. I think the only Irish comedy I watched was Black Books, and I really liked that. If I come across it, I’ll check it out. I’m getting so many shows to watch. Finally, I don’t have to worry about decaying over the next few years because I’ll have enough tv.

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  4. I no longer go to the cinema to watch movies mostly because I find the whole experience overwhelming on my senses. I’ve often come out feeling battered and bruised! But secretly the other reason is I know I will cry. At some point. For some reason. And that’s embarrassing not only for me but also whoever I’m with. Watching movies at home I can let it all out! My desert island choice would be music over films, but both make me very emotional. Music is to lose myself in 😉

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    1. I’ve been practicing my subtle crying game. It generally just looks like me staring somewhere slightly away from the people I don’t want to know and trying not to move.

      Music makes me emotional too but in a different way. Music gives me a feeling that I can project whatever I want onto. Movies let me react to the story or relate to it, and I like the distance just watching and reacting can give

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    1. I think I’d be more than a little concerned if too many of my feelings were open to the public. Nobody needs to watch my feelings of inadequacy over not being able to pick a really good melon at the store.

      Sure, I have a contact page if you ever want to email me

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