Lyn Gala

One writer's journal through one version of reality

Emotional Hangover

5 Comments


I think indulging in story is an exercise in psychic vampirism. I’m a vampire, and I don’t want to give up the literary blood source—which might explain why I write my own stories when the vein goes dry. Psychologists would disagree since they call it the “paradox of fiction,” but whatever.

I have to say that right now I’m having the same sort of post-good-story fictional psychic spillover from Supernatural that I had the first time I read Brave New World or The Count of Monte Cristo.  Yeah, don’t just me.  I was nine or ten, and I was obsessed with the Count of Monte Cristo there for a while.

Besides, it’s not like Supernatural is some literary classic, but it pulled at the angst, the guilt, the pain in a way few shows do.  Buffy hit that note, but let’s be honest—most television pain revolves around broken relationships and self-importance.  I don’t feel for them, and I felt for the boys.

So, when we fall into this story funk, this place where the mind keeps rolling over the emotions and the events of fiction, psychologists call it the paradox of fiction, the idea that A) We have emotional responses to fiction.  B) “Emotions for objects logically presuppose beliefs in the existence and features of those objects” and C) We know fiction is fiction.  The quote came from Jerrold Levinson. I’d cite it properly, but honestly, who cares?

The Greeks called this same feeling catharsis and said we needed to let our negative emotions all hang out and have a good cry at a play before we got too caught up in our own lives and self-destructed.

So here’s the question… does everyone feel this psychic vampirism?  I feel like I’ve been emotionally feeding off the story, and now that the story has come to a logical conclusion, it’s like I’m full. I’m actively avoiding the sixth season because I don’t want to spoil the taste of a really good meal.  I want to start Joey W Hill’s vampire queen series, which Emma recommended, but what if it ruins this angst perfection?  The last time I felt this sense of perfect ending from television was Xena.

Yeah, I know.  Xena sucked at the end.  I don’t even want to talk about magical children because it will depress the hell out of me.  However, the ending was perfect.

Xena dies to stop a demon, and when she learns that she could return only at the cost of 40,000 souls trapped in a magical spell, she asks Gabrielle to let her go.  These two have died and come back to life so many times that it’s not funny, but Xena won’t live at the cost of other’s suffering. This after she tortured and burned her way through her corner of Greece. But that decision leaves Gabrielle alone.

And in the closing image, Gabrielle stands at the side of a ship going somewhere, and suddenly Xena is there beside her. Xena’s ghost will follow Gabrielle, waiting for the time when they can be together again.  It was a perfect image and I just wanted to live in that moment.

But the part that’s depressing (and that makes me wish I could unlearn some stuff) is that psychologists would call that a pre-programmed response… an emotional program triggered by stimuli designed to elicit a quick and consistent reaction in response to a specific problem.

Psychologist Katja Mellmann believes that the paradox of fiction—our ability to have real emotions based off fictional situations—comes from evolution.  These emotion-programs detect triggers, real or fictional.  Like she points out, we have the same emotional response to a baby as to a doll that has the specific features of a baby (awwwww… isn’t that cute???) Kindchenschema may be an interesting idea, but am I really that pre-programmed?

According to Mellmann, I am. The situational parameters or structural features trigger the program and as it continues, certain subroutines engage depending on which features the person observes.  She would call it perfectly logical.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why Susan dislikes Supernatural and its habit of killing women, and I really love the angst and see the women’s deaths (and the men’s too) as just part of the angst-mill.  It doesn’t explain why I adore the ending of Xena and other fans are still bemoaning it a decade later.

I guess I’m just going to hope that Mellmann is wrong and I’m right. My emotions aren’t pre-programmed, and while I am feeling my internal literary vampire, I have a choice about what blood to feed on.

Right now, I’m still enjoying my last meal so I’m going to go clean my house.

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Author: lyngala

Lyn Gala started writing in the back of her science notebook in third grade and hasn't stopped since. Westerns starring men with shady pasts gave way to science fiction with questionable protagonists which eventually gave in to any story with a morally ambiguous character. Even the purest heroes have pain and loss and darkness in their hearts, and that's where she likes to find her stories. Her characters seek to better themselves and find the happy ending (or happier anyway), but it's writing the struggle that inspires her muse. When she isn't writing, Lyn Gala teaches history part time in New Mexico and constantly prays for that one big breakout novel that will let her leave the classroom behind forever. She loves teaching, but she loves writing more.

5 thoughts on “Emotional Hangover

  1. Psychic vampirism, huh? That’s like creativity at its acme. I mean each of us likes stories, enjoys them, relishes them, remembers them… but the terminology that you use (psychic vampirism) is quite interesting! Good imagination employed… So, why don’t you tell us something more about your writings?

  2. I never felt like it was vampirism as we usually think of it, but more like– nourishment that is offered to us by those stories. Some stories only feed us once– reread it and the flavor is gone. Others are some kind of inexhaustible font of plenty.

    I agree with Melman up to a point.
    Humans are 1) tribal animals, as all primates are, and 2) symbolic animals, which may be somewhat unique in us– at least in the enormous variety of symbols we respond to. That we respond so strongly to stories though, might not be because we evolved to respond to them but that the stories were created by us, out of the elements that we respond most strongly to.

    • Sometimes it’s feeding… sometimes it’s vampirism complete with draining the literary body and leaving it to die on the side of the road. I’ve seen one too many shipping wars in fandom. If you love your source material, shouldn’t you avoid shredding it in your quest to try and prove some point? But I agree that reading/viewing should be more like accepting nourishment.

      And I definitely agree that our stories are part of our psyches. They are us. I just don’t agree with Mellmann that evolution has trapped us into certain programs. God knows we don’t agree on Supernatural.

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