I was going to write about something else today, but now I’ve forgotten what it is.
Instead, I’m going to talk about a personally traumatic experience. Because I was one of the people today subjected to the “texting while driving” video that’s been making the rounds.
I say “subjected to,” because I had not heard of it before, and I received absolutely no warning of its extreme, violently graphic content. So I am giving you fair warning, if you haven’t seen it. But I also want to talk about the dangers of watching videos like this, and about the alternative. Because I’m so emotionally keyed-up, I might say something I’ll regret later. But I think I need to express a unique insight on this video, as a writer and storyteller. I’ll also connect it to a repeated trauma that I was forced to experience when I was in elementary school.
This essay is long enough that I’m splitting it up over 2 days. I’m scheduling the second part to be published about 24 hours after this one. (That’s Wednesday at 8 PM.)
And I promise not to name names. (At least not real names.)
Now I remember what I was going to write about today. I was going to talk about The Corrs: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which I rented from NetFlix and watched last night, and it made me feel again the rush of excitement of being up on stage, of having practiced for so many hours, preparing for the performance, gearing up, then making it all look so easy, the satisfaction of sweat beading on my forehead, the vibration of the music flowing out your mouth and through your fingers, the passion, in front of all those people, the roar of applause, the swelling of accomplishment. I haven’t done that—not quite like that—not in a long, long time, and I miss it a little.
It’s fascinating how the human mind works. Watching a simple performance of a band whose music I appreciate, I experience all those feelings all over again, feelings that are mine personally, because what’s portrayed in the video, I’ve associated it with those feelings. And I’ve associated those feelings with those things, simply because in my past, they’ve occurred together.
But today, I was catching up on my Facebook friends’ feeds, and one of my friends posted a video, with one simple comment, that it was “a short video that speaks volumes.”
So I began to watch it. I got through about 30 seconds of the four-and-a-half-minute video, including the most intense, graphic, violently realistic car-accident scene I have ever encountered, every bloody detail faithfully choreographed. At the first break in the action, just as the EMT came upon the scene, I instinctively tuned out; then the impact this video was having on me dawned on me. Then I quickly stopped the video, but it was too late, because the damage had already been done.
The reason filmmakers use such graphic imagery, when they do use it, is to invoke gut-level angst, revulsion, despair, rage, at nothing in particular, a bevy of intense emotions, untargeted, yet riveting. As a storyteller, I realize that these emotions keep you glued to the page or to the screen, unable to think for yourself, unable to turn away until the story gives you breathing room. As a storyteller, however, I also realize that when set in the context of a rich story line, these emotions become attached to the characters and situations in the story; they become imbued with meaning.
But as a storyteller, I furthermore realize that this video couldn’t possibly “speak” anything, because it fails to imbue the emotions with meaning, because we never get to know the girls in the car who get into the accident. They’re not real story characters. They’re just 2-dimensional, paper-cut-out characters, like an accident on the side of the road, everyone craning their necks to catch a glimpse of a crimson puddle draining across the asphalt. And by the way, that disturbs me, too.
In the end, this video simply traumatized me. It did not make me want to be careful about driving. It did not make me want to avoid texting. It did not even make me scared of cars. But it did have a perverse—yet totally predictable—side-effect, which I’ll get to in tomorrow’s installment.
Dead children and bus drivers
The video reminded me of the bus-accident movies my elementary school forced us to watch when I was a kid. And that was traumatic for me, too.
Three short films, three devastating accidents, and dead children. In one story, rowdy kids on the bus interfere with the bus driver. One boy puts his hands over the bus driver’s eyes, as a joke presumably. End result: an overturned bus and a dead bus driver. In another, a little girl, carrying her class project home from school, accidentally drops it on the road in front of the bus. Without thinking, she turns around to pick it up. The bus driver never sees her. A third story involved a bus, a bridge, and a body of water, if I recall.
It makes perfect sense that I would remember these images, burned into my brain by being subjected to them year after year, as we children were ushered into a room and without a word of warning subjected to these violently graphic images and story lines.
Fortunately, my own kids are not subjected to such torment. But they’re no less safety-conscious than I was at their age. More so, I think, because they can stand to think about these issues without their thoughts being clouded by traumatic emotions.
Enter my own clouded emotions. As you may know, I’ve been managing depression. Without getting into details, my life is kinda complicated right now. Or at least it seems complicated, feeling so passionately about writing, dreaming about being a full-time writer, but needing to make money, and not being able to make enough money yet from writing, and needing to go back to software development, and not being able to find a software job, and… I face a lot of conflicting feelings every day. If I let these get out of control, I can become overwhelmed by them, and then I won’t take action to make my life better.
That’s why I’ve been avoiding the universal-health-care debate, for the most part. I’ve even started conversations with people about it, seen how they might directly be swayed to my point of view, and then—argumentative me—dropped the whole discussion, right in the middle of it, because I simply don’t have the emotional energy to deal with that right now, not when I have a gazillion more important, personal matters to take care of.
Because I’m trying to manage my depression, it’s essential I stay away from being emotionally over-stimulated.
(continued with part 2: click here)