Cutting off pinkies, rolling around on earthworms …

“How about Still Alice,” my sister suggests as we consider the movies she’s plucked from RedBox.

“What’s that one about?”

“Oh, I think it’s about a woman who has Alzheimer’s” I volunteer, smirking, because I know what Chad’s response will be.

Oh, great! And then why don’t we all just sit around and cut off our pinkies together—Jesus Christ!”

My boyfriend doesn’t watch sad movies. When we first began dating, I tried to describe a movie I really loved, The Lives of Others. “Well, it’s set during the Cold War, in East Berlin …” I started. Immediately, Chad began shaking his head. Nope. “That sounds horrible,” he said, drawing out the “horrible” with a groan.

Chad prefers comedies. Or cerebral thrillers. Or nostalgia-tinged Sci-Fi flicks. I’ll admit that, at first, I thought this was pretty shallow of him, even boorish. But then I realized that this was a guy who would cover his ears and lumber out of the room when a sad pet commercial came on. A guy who read constantly, did the crosswords, looked up every little thing he was curious about, and even handcrafted art out of books to give away to friends. My boyfriend is simply a man who copes with his deep sensitivity in ways that work for him. And sometimes, coping means not looking, especially when he knows that viewing a certain thing will not improve his quality of life; it will simply make tears pour out of his eyes. It will simply hurt. As a man who lost a parent and wisely gave up drinking when he realized it was getting the better of him, he’s choosy these days about the things he lets his heart feel.

In the end, I compromised. I agreed not to force him to watch some of my favorite dramas (not counting Deadwood. Deadwood is always on the table.) so long as I never had to watch another episode of Psych.

Me–I’m different. I feel like I’m obligated to be a witness to heart-scarring things. I prefer to visit tragedy and stay awhile—roll around on it like a dog that’s found an earthworm.

It’s cathartic, right?

The cartoonish stuff—I mean the ultraviolent clashing of swords—that stuff just makes me sleepy. In fact, I may be the only person on the planet who can snooze out to Braveheart. When I’m gutted, prefer to be gutted emotionally.

Of course there are some movies, on some days, which I’m not emotionally prepared for. I’ll put off watching this or that because I know my brain will want to mull it over—swirl it around like tea and let it seep down through the body until I feel it. I also think that there are certain movies that I have to give my mental and emotional all to. It wouldn’t be right, for example, to halfway watch Twelve Years a Slave. It took me months to work myself up to that one.

I believe, because I teach literature, that emotional gutting helps us understand what it means to be human. It’s important to expose our young people to art because art teaches empathy. But I also believe that for some, especially some of our more sensitive young men, a different sort of curriculum is required.

Oh, I’ve been a feelings snob! I’ve held the attitude that anyone who doesn’t feel the same way I do about a particular piece of art is missing something vital. Maybe missing his soul. Hell, I’ve broken up with fellas for less! But the more I live, and the more I teach, the more I see that people are human whether or not they truly appreciate Antigone. And that humanity itself is the thing to be valued.

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