When even BAD writing moves you to tears: living with a broken ticker (and a leaky faucet)

“Well this is the most depressing hallucination I ever had.”

– Harper Pitt, Angels in America


I’ve been watching screen adaptations of plays, as part of the whole “teaching myself how to write” thing I do these days. Most recent viewing: Angels in America, a 2003 HBO screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tony Kushner. I arrived home in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and, with a belly full of birthday cider and unable to sleep, I decided to watch both films. In hindsight, a mistake – totally killed my buzz. This was the second time I had watched this two part miniseries. I don’t, however, recall crying so much the first time.

I hasten to add that Angels in America is not the “BAD writing” I alluded to in the title of this post – it is a beautiful production. But I have also been watching romantic comedies for an assignment, some of which have mediocre writing. Yet, viewing these films produced the same result: tears. Enormous wells of tears. This deep outpouring of sympathetic pain, this emptying of tissue boxes (and a roll of toilet paper, because I ran out of tissues) has been a phenomenon of the last year or so that has actually interfered with my day-to-day life.  After Angels I had to watch a whole season of Louie, comedian Louis C.K’s warped series, just for some cynical grounding. Even then it took several episodes and many, many genital jokes for me to fully gain my composure. I’m freaked out.

Despite striving to find the silver lining, to approach life with as much enthusiasm and light as I can muster, I am one of those people who seems to have been born with a broken heart (metaphorically speaking). I don’t say this to inspire pity or in a “woe is me” manner… fuck that. It just happens to be true. From a very early age I had this strange background sense of sadness and loss that I could neither articulate nor explain. Even as a kid, I instinctively hid it from others, knowing full well that no one wants to hang around someone who is sad or depressed. No one. Much better to be witty and good at sports and happy-go-lucky. People liked that, that worked. Happiness is rewarded with more happiness. Sadness is interpreted as aloofness, and rejected.

Of course, even with a genuine ability to laugh at and LOVE life, with age and various experiences, the heart evidently remains broken, with additional wounds accumulated in spite of the awesome powers of fun distraction, sensual gratification and good company. And meditation. So after many hours of rom-com and screen adaptation viewing, I pondered whether there might be a correlation between accumulated hurts and the amount of tears that pour out of me whenever I watch anything involving loss or heartache. You know you have a problem when even shitty writing inspires you to weep in empathy (I cried in Eat Pray Love. I watched Eat Pray Love. Somebody hit me with a hammer).  I resent this unwanted devolvement into gushy over emotionalism! I don’t want to be an emo! How the heck did I get here?!

Back in 2009 I was sitting at a bus stop when I received one of the most sobering pieces of advice I have ever been graced with. An older lady came across me crying at that bus stop, on my way home from work (why I was crying is not something I can get in to. Suffice to say I am a more vulnerable person today because of it). She looked to be in her late sixties, adorned in a taupe trench coat seemingly excessive for a balmy spring evening. The lady pulled out some tissues and handed them to me, before applying her rather blunt wisdom to my head:

“The heart never heals. But you will learn to live with it.” 

Jesus lady, I thought. That is harsh. I was somewhat taken aback by this brutal delivery of truth. I hadn’t even told her why I was crying. I hadn’t spoken at all.

And yet, I think about her words, three years later, and they do ring true. I had soothed myself back then with the thought that in a few years time, maybe, I would be okay. Time would heal.  But nothing has changed. The wound has not healed. My consciousness and heart have expanded yet so too has the pain and blinding confusion, to the point where the most naff and ridiculous substandard scripts can induce rivers of tears in me. This is not how I wish to live my life, nor who I wish to be. 

So, given that acceptance is the first step to dealing with a problem, what does one do in this situation? What do you do with a wound that refuses to heal? I keep thinking about what the woman said:

“But you will learn to live with it.”

Initially, I had considered this to be negative advice, but, perhaps, I interpreted it in the wrong way. I thought it was such a downer thing to say. When I told a friend what the lady said at the time my friend warned me to disregard that crazy lady, before giving me essentially the same advice: “Buck up girl!” (that is what friends are for, after all). But the lady was right. I know people who have lost children and loved ones, who are still overcome with grief when they think about their dearly departed. I experience the same when I think of those in my life who have died.

So, learning to live with the pain becomes a way of life, as all discover sooner or later. You find ways to deal with it. The pain is not constant, but it remains, showing its face from time to time. And the time for me seems to be when I am watching a movie, no matter what I am watching – I don’t know why, it just is. Considering I want to be a writer and am a film enthusiast, I am just going to have to suck it up and get used to the fact that I will never be able to go to the movies again without arming myself with a bag full of tissues. No matter how terrible the movie. There are worse fates in life 😉

And there are perhaps benefits to uber sensitivity that I am yet to discover or find a full expression for. Someone recently alerted me to the archetype of the ‘Wounded Healer’. It is the healer’s own suffering and vulnerability that gives them their capacity to heal others. There are ways in which a broken heart can be a good thing, can be used for good, to enlighten the world. Think of all the people who use their own misfortune, pain or loss to educate others to be wiser, more compassionate, grateful, humble. And others who use their own understanding to help those struggling in darkness find some equilibrium, some meaning and peace in their lives, in a world where struggling with emotional pain and loneliness is so deeply unsexy and uncool. Ironically, it is their experience of brokenness that enables them to bring a little (substance based) humane light to this place. Pain doesn’t have to end in bitterness. Properly channelled, it can deepen you, inspire your creativity and empower you to help others.

Now if I could just find a way to turn my bleeding, sappy, mushy heart into something tangibly useful to others. I’m on the case. In the meantime, I will follow a viewing of Jennifer Aniston’s best movies with Season six of 30 Rock, to compose myself.


I woke up this morning to the sound of former AFL footballer Mark Bunn discussing Ayurveda, courtesy of my iPod dock alarm clock, a cat with purple paint on it, outside my window, scratching on the pane, and my mother declaring to me she wants me to take her to go see Charlie Pickering at the Comedy Festival. I had no idea how the track found its way onto my iPod, whose cat that was, or that my mother had a sense of humour. Random observations, 2/4/2012.


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