Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In January, I started a crying journal, not as therapy, and not out of need. I just got curious one day about my own tearing-up because, although I'm pretty steady about most things, I can, in the words of Rob Strong, "get dusty" from time to time. And I thought if I logged those moments, I'd have a calendar of my--what?--lapses.

It'd be a funny-sad kinda journal: Pixar movie, church hymn, Fannie Mae commercial, general depression, general elation, general downbeatedness, guilt, Pixar movie. And at the end of the year, I'd write a funny-sad essay, with dates and stats, about the way I let my emotions get manipulated, about real and periodic sadness, about unexpected, ambivalent joy and overwhelmedness (this is a five syllable word; please read it as such).

The Pixar movie list above is an approximation of the first month's entries--once every four days, a little welling.

Then I forgot about the crying journal, maybe because I suddenly dried up, maybe because I'd gotten too conscious of my own dustiness: since I was paying close attention to the groundhog of ambivalent overwhelmedness, said groundhog of ambivalent overwhelmedness wasn't coming out of its hole anymore.

(You know the old adage: a watched groundhog of ambivalent overwhelmedness never boils. Or is it that the watched pot calls the kettle a racist? I can't remember. Either way, I'd mostly stopped tearing up.)

Anyway, I bring up this journal because I would have had to make three entries in it today, if it still existed. And they would have provided me just the material I would have wanted for that longer essay about emotional manipulation and the like. Because they were weird/typical moments.

First: the new Muppet Movie.
Second: Modern Family.
Third: Reading the sad, reflective words of the sister of a friend of mine.

So, at about 3pm, Kermit The Frog had me dusting all over my shirt collar. Why? Are the emotional machinations of the Muppets so complex, or original, or close-to-home? Maybe. But I think kids' movies slay me because I have a blind spot for simple emotions now, for innocent messages about loneliness or bravery. Thinking I'm beyond that stuff, I get walloped.

Also, cartoons and, in this case, puppets are just enough unreal to do something a little extra to me. If I see a person in a sympathetic situation, I put up all my defenses: don't feel too much, this person could hurt you. Watch out, you're being manipulated.

Plus, I'm still analyzing. Is this a realistic depiction of devastation? I may think. Does Richard Dreyfus deserve the Oscar?

A puppet is abstracted enough to let me wallow. I'm not in the position either to withdraw from a real person or comfort a real person, and so maybe I'm allowed to relate to the cartoon. Somehow, real person + dramatic situation = unreal; while fake frog + dramatic situation = precisely my emotional level.

For the emotionally-calloused (stunted?), The Muppet Movie is a safe place for a little sniffle. And has there been a movie in the last three years that's been sadder than Toy Story 3? I honestly had to stifle an audible sob in the theater. How can that be? My ideas are evolving on this point.


Modern Family, meanwhile, has purely conditioned me to tear up. It's done so with structure and with music. At the twenty-eighth minute of every episode, there's a lesson, often having to do with husbands and wives, with taking things for granted, with seeing beyond one's own needs--in other words, Modern Family is cuttin' onions. And when W.G. Snuffy Walden plays his little theme, I remember hearing that theme from last week, and we're off to the water park--I've been eroded by the cruel pattern of a viola.

Coincidentally, Kermit the Frog singing "Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me" was the first perp of the day, and Jay Pritchett talking about "dreamers and realists" was the second. I'm a softy for dreams today, and somehow made to snot all over myself when considering the co-existence of idealism and reality, of puppets and real people, especially when there's a soundtrack behind that co-existence.

D.H. Lawrence, the most famous writer named David, put this experience nicely in his poem, "Piano": "In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song / Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong."

Elsewhere in the poem, he writes, "The glamour / Of childish days is upon me," which also sounds like an explanation for my Kermit-Krying, my Buzz Light Year bawling. The simplified goodness of a kids' movie and my normal jadedness co-mingle in the graduated cylinder of mine heart to produce a chemical bubbling over--an electron of emotion breaking away in the reaction. "My manhood is cast / Down in the flood of remembrance. I weep like a child for the past," writes Lawrence.

(The only other poem of his that I know is about Tortoise coitus, so let's not think he was a sentimental push-over).

And then I have to wonder why those two pop-culture heartstring-pullers--Kermie and Dunphy--can find themselves in the same league as the last journal-able offense, when I had the eye-twinge while reading my friend's sister's holiday letter: in the last few months, she's had just about all the species of grief and is still able to write an affecting Thanksgiving message about gratitude.

We know this pattern. It's derivative, maybe, but it's not at all worn out. How many times have I been trapped into blubbering as I hear about that crusty, old sailor--perseverance? How many more?

You shouldn't be able to feel that way, that brave, I think. I couldn't do that in your situation. You're strong, I'm weak, so strong, and Fozzy's hilarious, and I love my wife, so Damn you W.G. Snuffy Walden--or I hurt her--, but either way I'm glad you're sort of okay, still a dreamer, yet Happy Thanksgiving--in spite of myself.

1 comment:

Jayme said...

Great idea for an essay! Love it.