Empathy & Ultraviolence

For all of my talk about people being seduced by culture and violence, it’s worth saying that I’ve fallen under the spell many times.

From late gradeschool on, when I first discovered writing, oftentimes I tried to sum up my sense of loneliness, and later actual depression, by writing fictional accounts of school shooters. One of them was a kind of jailhouse interview after the fact, where I was able to funnel my cynicism and bewilderment at the world through some extremely articulate but also violent young man.

It took a long time to realize, however, that I was neither articulate nor violent. The few scraps of a journal I still have from early high school reveals a vaguely suicidal kid with, alas, no clear-cut vision for improving himself or society. And as for violence, only too late did I see that the kind of high-school-revenge that most attracted me were actually the suicides in the Pearl Jam video Jeremy, and near the end of the movie Dead Poet’s Society.

In a way it makes sense, to kind of redirect the shame of depression and awkwardness into a posture of strength and certainty, however horrible. I’ve said elsewhere that I was lucky to have been exposed to such an evocative movie as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as early as I was; but I don’t know if I’d say the same about A Clockwork Orange, which I perhaps did see at the wrong time, or too early, since Kubrick’s sophistication, of telling the story from the perpetrator’s point of view, does make ultraviolence seem pretty sexy and cool, and “cultured” in a way that a shitty horror movie never pretends.

How different is this, then, one of the few times I’ve been able to write in fiction about how awful those times were, unvarnished and loosed from revenge fantasies against others:

But it’s always my mother, I think of how it’d all be over in a second, it’d be so easy, but I know she’d be the one to find me, my mother I’m nothing but a trouble for—I’ve thought of taking one of the guns and driving somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t matter, it could be on top of a mountain a million miles away, and they could report me missing, and the entire world could know I was missing and go looking for me, and I could shoot myself in a cave in India, and she would be the one to find me, the same as the kitchen downstairs, her only child with his head blown off and why did I do it, and she kneels and lays me across her lap and screams and sobs, and I can’t do that to her—

Nothing very cool about loving your mom, and knowing that she loves you, or in the realization that we are sufficient in ourselves and worthy of love, but there it is. The entire story that paragraph is a part of would have been impossible to write in high school, so that even as I began my largely self-educated road which has led to my mantra of Empathy, empathy, empathy, pretending to be violent and in control was immensely more satisfying than realizing I was none of those things.

It’s a lesson I take when I look at—and reject—nearly any ideology which pretends that all the answers lie in certainty and power. Rather, our ability to see our own worth through the recognition of that same worth in others, is inestimable.

I don’t really have an end for this, except to say Go care for somebody. It’s the best thing we can do. 

HOS

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. James McEwan says:

    I would add that writing fiction sometimes allows the writer to release his feelings or live in an imaginary world – while feeling safe. I suspect people say they like horror books and films because they provoke feelings they have suppressed and would love to act out – and don’t – but afterwards they know they can get up from their comfy seat and go for a piece of soft cake or a beer.
    Try living it…
    https://jplmcewan.wordpress.com/short-story-list/innocent/

    I’ve read your blog a few times, but don’t often comment. You have some very interesting reads.
    Best regards.

  2. this puts me in mind of a problem i have with writing fiction: how do we justify killing off a character? my sensitivity or perhaps ego toward my creation makes it a difficult undertaking. i have not written much fiction, perhaps less than a palm full, mostly projects i started & quickly abandoned, due to my finding story writing boring— not stories themselves but the actual writing of them, for me, is not on a par with poetry or even creative non-fiction.
    but i have killed off a character in a long narrative poem & it was tough, i felt guilty. but i also realized to make the impact that everything was peaking to, they had to die. i wonder if this isn’t in the same manner of thinking as you are getting at here? i am not ‘violent’ & i was (perhaps because their mind was mine) empathetic to their having to suffer death.
    maybe you don’t or didn’t realize it, but somewhere, those characters, that violent & articulate kid who killed, which you created, they may have done a psychological number on you. i’ll tell you a dream i had once; i had this dream after moving back home after living away nearly 6 years, i had no job, no money & felt rock bottom & received a letter from my pal in Berlin who told me i need to find a way out of my rut, i have to at least enjoy being with myself if i am to suffer my loneliness as long as it may continue. that night i had this dream: i am sat on an embankment at the bottom of which was a motorway. a short stretch of one lane there was an ornate dining table, aristocratic, 19 century say, with aristocratic guests sat eating a meal. they were all idiots, tossing food into their faces, making a dreadful mess. the table was so positioned that if they moved back even a millimeter the traffic rushing behind them would hit them & drag them to a very grizzly death. usually their limbs popping & their skin shredding in a truly hyperbolic way. i sat on the hill had the power to stop this with a click of my finger. & despite how horrific it was to watch, how it made my stomach sink to let them die, they had to die. i watched everyone of them die. it was a long table.
    i had to let this happen because they were the symbolic manifestation of all my disappointments, all my depression, anger, feelings of being useless. after that dream, things looked up for me: i felt lighter, got a job, was able to practice writing again & read without disruption from the inner voice & started meeting people again. but it was that fiction i had made which started it. maybe your high school, fictional murder streak went some way to making you the caring, intelligent & sensitive man you have become.

  3. spudbudette says:

    Mind opening.

  4. My brother and I are caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s- we all three live together.

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