I’m plowing my way through the first in the series of George R.R. Martin’s epic potboilers, A Game of Thrones. Finally. Well, I’m finally successfully doing so. And good grief, but it as actually brought me to a personal epiphany.
I have tried before to read this book and failed miserably. But John really likes it, and I value his opinion, so I kept trying. Also, HBO is putting together a series based on the books and it looks really, really good. Getting it on the Kindle helped (700-page epic doorstop novels are high on my list of things that give equal on the plus and minus sides in entertainment value and repetitive stress injuries). But for someone like me, this book was sort of like signing up for voluntary sandpapering of second-degree burns or giving Joss Whedon the license to direct the activities of your nearest and dearest for the next few months. I felt like a petty god was sitting somewhere and saying, “Oh – wait: you like this character? DEAD,” over and over and over again.
Why so sensitive, Jill? I don’t know – but I know that I was the person who couldn’t fathom being a divorce attorney because I knew I couldn’t tread the fine line between the empathy required to advocate passionately for my clients and the necessary detachment from their plights to enable strategic thinking. My emotional balance is wonky that way, even when I read a book. I read a news report a while ago that talked about people who actually feel pain when they see someone else receive injury – the pain areas in the brain of the person doing the viewing actually light up. I am pretty sure I am one of those people, and the more I empathize with the person in question, the worse it gets.
This even happens when I read. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I was one of those kids whose parents said the house would burn around my ears while I read. About ten years ago I finished The Golden Compass on a Southwest flight in a seat that faced a fellow passenger (a stranger). When I finished the book and slowly returned to reality this person commented, “I didn’t think you were coming out of that.” The more I do that deep dive, the more I empathize with death, injury, or loss suffered by the characters I like. Considering the shelf footage this series takes up, I knew I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to go through that much bloodshed with my nerves exposed.
So, at long last, I realized that I couldn’t read the book with my usual 100% investment. I had to view it somewhat dispassionately. Don’t get attached – everyone’s going to die and probably horribly. When I made that decision, the pages started ripping by. And I like the book – I really do. But I can’t love it the way I have loved other books that were also intricately constructed, intelligent, and well-written.
Here’s the disturbing epiphany. I have been doing the same thing in life with a lot of 2010. Not in my personal life, but in my reaction to the constant barrage of bad news. At some point I flipped from the empathetic to the dispassionate to save my nerves. And somehow I need to try again to sort out a way to walk that fine line. Because being dispassionate is not the way I want to face the world. At least, not entirely.
Edit: here’s my real incentive (to read the books, not to step back from the brink of being a completely dispassionate person-analog) – an HBO series with actors like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage? Yes, please.