“‘We, uh, we don’t all see the same thing when we look at something.’
‘True,’ said Sherng. He probably thought Jess was reciting a platitude, instead of making a statement that was very literally true for her at that moment.”
-Zen Cho, Black Water Sister
I love this quote in so many ways, but I suppose I’ll talk about just two.
One: a friend of mine likes watching horror movies. I hate horror movies. But as we sit and talk, it’s clearer and clearer that we don’t do the same thing when we’re watching them. For me—it’s hard to say, but they feel like jump scares and gore-for-gore’s sake, technologically enabled. I don’t like those images in my head. Besides, their horror feels like a distraction from all the very real things we do have to fear. For my friend, I learn as I listen, some horror movies create space for exactly those very real things we have to fear. They create a stage on which we can look at what we’re usually so busy ignoring. They also, sometimes, create a kind of safety: by having a space to look at horror, my friend also finds more space to look in other directions.
I want to watch horror movies the way my friend does. We have a loose plan to try sometime: they’ll pick a movie, and we’ll watch it together. Even that, sitting side by side, won’t be enough. Maybe they’ll talk to me about how the movie unfolds for them, about how they respond to it. Probably I’ll have to practice. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to be less sure— less sure of me, of my assumptions, of how I usually do things, so another way of doing can come in.
Two: so many important statements can be mistaken for platitudes. I had another friend who suggested that most of the lessons we need to really understand are simple, the kind of sentences a five year old could easily come up with. The thing is, my friend said, it takes us decades to get back to that simplicity and feel it.
“Like what kind of lessons?” I asked them.
“I can’t tell you,” they said. “I’m still trying to understand them. And besides, they’d sound like platitudes.”