Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Empathy and Fiction

Last night we were watching a thrilling Masterpiece Theater bit. Yes, I’m using the word thrilling to describe Masterpiece Theater, but I had me on the edge of my couch. It was about a sheltered young man, Davie, who was thrown into the world like soup getting pureed in a blender. He’s a likable fellow with absolutely no street smarts and I just cringed watching him fall into yet another trap. While my husband shows no stress on his face, I’m putting my knees up to my chin in hopes that my fetal position will somehow help him.

Where it is programmed into my brain feel so much for characters in perilous situations? I got into bed, and picked up David Sedaris’ Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules and started in on a short story just to find another character being led down a fictional path to torment and ruin. I think I’m going to have to go back to non-fiction, or I’ll never be able to relax.

These situations aren’t happening to me – why should I be so worried? Is it the vulnerability of the characters is so similar to my own that I can envision myself so clearly in their shoes. Yet, aren’t I just learning how to avoid these problems? Then again, I’m not much at risk of being sold into slavery on a boat headed for the new world.

You know, I think I might have to find a book on empathy to read before bed. If I learn about it, I may be able to master it, right?

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