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July 1st, 2004

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Man, oh man, but do I hate object empathy. It is a stupid neurosis, but I guess it's my brain's payback for not having a socially-crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder or something. (I mean, okay, so I always have to make absolutely sure all my items on the grocery belt are lined up by type and facing brand label out towards the cashier in neat little soldier rows, but I can easily justify that by saying IT MAKES THINGS EASIER FOR THE CASHIER. And that's really not obsessive-compulsive as much as it is ... insistently brain-naggy? Yeah.)

But object empathy can go suck it for all I care. I have a friend who, as a kid, watched as her mom threw a broken hairdryer into the trash can. The sight of the familiar hairdryer, which for months (years?) had dutifully and unwaveringly served my friend and her family, now discarded in the trash all broken and useless, so shook said friend that she burst into tears and was inconsolable for a long time.

That's object empathy for you. (And yes, that really is a "friend of mine" story, and not a "story of mine which I will cunningly disguise as a 'friend of mine' story so as to fool everyone oh ho ho I'm so clever." I didn't want to name names because A. I don't know if she'd want me to reveal her identity and B. I can't remember which friend it was. Oops.) Kids seem to have it more than adults, most likely because they have great imaginations and ascribe human qualities and feelings to everything in an attempt to comprehend them, but when you remember an incident like that from your past and it still haunts you, you know that's some powerful neurotic mojo working there.

Me, I don't even have real object empathy, I've got some crazy space-age brand of iconic representation empathy or something. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but for some strange reason it's just not something that can be easily brought up in the employee cafeteria during lunchtime.

I mean, Example One. I'm eating a box of El Cheapo Macaroni & Cheese tonight, and while yeah, it's no gourmet extravaganza and I could be doing a whole lot better, I'm sad because on the box is written, in happy letters, "Yummy Cheese Flavor!" and I pretty much don't feel as if I could categorize said macaroni and cheese as "yummy." And with that, the box has not done its job, the word 'yummy' has failed in its descriptive duties... and for some reason, I feel sad about that. Has the macaroni and cheese failed me, or have I failed the macaroni and cheese? (Chew on that little transpositional conundrum the next time you're high, kids.)

Example Two. Cute happy animals on packaging. When the brain's in the right state, those happy little creatures can make me sad. Take the cute cartoon Johnny Cat on the cat litter bag for instance, all happy open-mouthed and meow meow meow and "hello I'm a cute kitten with a precious little bell around my neck" and stuff. Even that can make me sad if I think... what if the cat litter turns out to be terrible and I don't like it and have to throw it away? Why would happy little Johnny Cat lend his likeness to an inferior product? If I throw the bag away, poor little Johnny Cat will be there still happily meowing even though his cat litter let me down and I had to put him in the trash oh god it's terrible.

Seriously, I got sad-chills just typing that paragraph up. That's messed up and how.
And don't think for one second I haven't noticed the fact that I'm writing about this on LiveJournal, of all places. LIVEJOURNAL LIVEJOURNAL LIVEJOURNAL

On the one side of the brain, I know that objects are objects and they don't have feelings because they're just non-sentient matter existing in the form I am familiar with right now. But on the other side, I know that we tend to develop attachments to favorite objects, we anthropomorphize whenever humanly possible so as to maintain some frame of reference, and we respond best to some kind of emotional pull, be it positive or negative. But even knowing this doesn't keep me from doing it, or even trying to stop. And I know I'm not the only one.

I mean, it's one thing for me to remember that the part of Robocop that freaked me out the most as a kid was the scene where Robo's hiding out in that abandoned warehouse and as part of his rehabilitation, he does a little target practice on some jars of baby food and we get a few closeups of happy smily baby faces on the jars going KABLAM and exploding and stuff.

But it's another thing for me to admit it in front of a group of people years later and have like two other people go "Oh my god, me too!"

Object/iconic empathy is far more widespread than some would think or care to admit. What's your level of neurotic attachment?

(31 comments | Leave a comment)


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[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 07:48 pm (UTC)

Oh my god, me too!

hi, my name's jess, i'm 24, and i still sleep with my teddy bear i got when i was six.

(hi, jess.)

i knew my husband was The One because he was the first guy who didn't torment my teddy bear or make fun of me for still having her (and not in storage). my first boyfriend at college hung her from my doorknob with my graduation tassel. shortly after that, it was all over.

also, my cousins threw her around and generally abused her so much when we had sleepovers at my grandma's house as kids, that in a fit of paranoia, i "reinforced" Emma's ears with a needle and brown thread circa age 9. then, about a week later, i saw The Velveteen Rabbit and cried and cried, because i was afraid i was going to catch a bad flu and Emma would have to be burned up with my bedding.
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2004 06:26 am (UTC)

Re: Oh my god, me too!

I still have my teddycat at nights too :)
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 08:00 pm (UTC)

oh my god, me 2

my level of object empathy is ... extreme.

one of the scariest things i ever saw was a sign in the back of a video store that said "please don't leave tapes in the sun!" and had this melting videotape ... with EYES. scary weird eyes. now maybe if i had been six this would have been acceptable -- but i was 14. i still think about it and creep out.

to be perfectly honest i thought i was the only (sane) person who thought these things. LJ is good for something.
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 08:30 pm (UTC)
Me! Me! I'm hairdryer girl. And I still get teased at family gatherings for my so-called "fondness for small appliances".

And the object empathy ultimate movie moment: Closing scene of Poltergeist, when they shove the television onto the hotel balcony, while sad music plays. I cried and cried.
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2004 08:19 am (UTC)
oh man, i knew it! i read the story and thought- "that totally sounds like something cana would do!
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 08:44 pm (UTC)
At the beginning of next week I will move my stuff from Amherst to Toronto. All of it has been in storage for 2 1/2 years. In the intervening time, we have replaced many items.

I dread -- DREAD -- going through it and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of (Get rid of HOW?!). Most of my kitchen stuff will be right out the door, as we now keep a kosher kitchen. (What?! My kitchen equipment? What?!)

Rest assured that my reaction does not stem from worry about missing very useful tools. It has everything to do with the horrible thought of abandoning FRIENDS that stood by me through the squat years and the Scott years and the grad school years. Now that my life is more stable, WHO AM I TO DESSERT THEM??
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 08:46 pm (UTC)
You all probably don't want to read this then:


(Also, insert Brave Little Toaster ref here.)
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2004 03:30 am (UTC)
Oh, man. Mr Doomed Roach is the best thing ever.
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 08:49 pm (UTC)
I've never had iconic empathy, thankfully, but I had really strong object empathy as a kid. I couldn't bear to throw anything away, or give anything away, even if it was broken and useless, because it had served us and been around the house and now we were just going to throw it away? Like trash? It felt like the worst kind of betrayal.

I've gotten better over the years, but I've still got it. It's at the root of my packrat tendencies; if I can possibly justify it as something that'll be useful or interesting or just a memorable keepsake in years to come, I can't throw it away. It's only when I'm in Cleaning Frenzy mode that I can pitch things out or even give them away to Goodwill.
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 08:50 pm (UTC)
I've never had iconic empathy, thankfully, but I had really strong object empathy as a kid. I couldn't bear to throw anything away, or give anything away, even if it was broken and useless, because it had served us and been around the house and now we were just going to throw it away? Like trash? It felt like the worst kind of betrayal.

I've gotten better over the years, but I've still got it. It's at the root of my packrat tendencies; if I can possibly justify it as something that'll be useful or interesting or just a memorable keepsake in years to come, I can't throw it away. It's only when I'm in Cleaning Frenzy mode that I can pitch things out or even give them away to Goodwill.
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 09:27 pm (UTC)
I don't have object empathy in the least. In fact, throwing things away makes me feel good inside. It's like getting a fresh start and moving on. When I was a kid, I hated throwing things out; even crappy little toys I never played with, and my room was a disaster area because of it. Life is so much simpler with fewer things!

I have a friend, though, who when he was a child, retrieved his sister's old shoes from the trash and hid them so they wouldn't be thrown away again. To this day, he really can't explain why.
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 09:31 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty resistant to throwing things out. One time I made some el cheapo macaroni and screwed it up*, but I forced myself to eat half of it then felt terrible throwing the rest out. And I'm notorious about patching up socks and continuing to wear them long past their expiration date. But it's not really object empathy. I'm not betraying the macaroni or the socks by throwing them out, I'm betraying myself, or the universe, or something. I'm also compulsive about reading books. I got this awful book for free at the AAG meeting, but I feel like since I have it I have a duty to read it cover-to-cover before I get rid of it.

*Overcooked the noodles so they turned into sludge.
Date:July 1st, 2004 10:08 pm (UTC)
Once I bought a book at the airport to read on the plane and it was incredibly boring. It put me to sleep on the plane, and then it put me to sleep every time I tried to read it thereafter, but I felt too guilty to throw it out. I kept trying to read it because I felt bad about having bought this book I hadn't read and never intended to read at a future time. I showed it to all my friends and said "hey, do you think this is interesting?" They all agreed it was awful but I wasn't really free of the guilt trip until one of the friends sneakily took it home with him. Now it's not here, so I can't read it. Triumph!
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 09:54 pm (UTC)
Hey, I posted about this very same thing a few months ago! Just about everyone on my friends list reassured me that I wasn't alone in my psycho childhood object empathy. And now I watch my 20 month old daughter go around and kiss all the furniture in the living room because she accidentally missed my leg when she was going to kiss it and got the seat cushion instead. Can't have the other furniture feeling jealous now, can we?

At least that's why I think she's doing it. It's kind of hard to tell because her vocabulary consists of only nouns and "go" at this point.
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 11:09 pm (UTC)
Whoa. I had no idea there was a whole term for this and everything.

Back when CDs came in those paperboard "longboxes"? I couldn't bear to throw any of those away, because, like, they were ART or something. I made about three collages on posterboard of the ones I liked the best, which are *ahem* probably still around here somewhere.

Seashells are another big one. I'm better about this now, but the first couple of times I ever went to the beach (remember I grew up in the midwest, and I didn't really spend *time* at the ocean until I was in my thirties) I picked up gobs and gobs and GOBS of shells. My then-SO gave me so much shit for picking up plain old clam shells. And now I have shells in my house that I can't possibly bear to get rid of, and it's not like they're doing me any good or anything.

Oh, and you know those big plastic buckets you buy kitty litter in? I have like six of those in and around my house. The curbside recycling people won't take them, but I can't just throw them out for some reason.

If everybody's weird does that mean nobody's weird?
[User Picture]
Date:July 1st, 2004 11:38 pm (UTC)
I feel bad about putting the cat litter bag in the trash, because there's a nice picture of a cat on it, and it feels like throwing the cat away. Thought it was just me.
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2004 12:15 am (UTC)

New roses?
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2004 01:38 pm (UTC)

Blue roses.

Laura, I do declare, you have a gennlman callah!
Date:July 2nd, 2004 12:50 am (UTC)
Roger Rabbit.
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2004 02:05 am (UTC)

I've got better about "stuff" than before, and paper-based things (even books, but also posters, boxes, etc) have never had a hold on me.

My big weakness is, I think, also electrical objects, which is made worse by my habit of anthropomorphising them. I've got a blog entry on the topic, I forget where, but I had a "Little Blowy Heater" for the bathroom which blew, uh, hot air and was fab, and made the bathroom warm and me happy. And then one day it stopped working and we had to get a new one and I made the SO go and buy it, and I made him deal with the old blowy heater and I actually got tearful when I saw he'd taken it apart for fun.

I don't think I actually had this problem as a kid, except with toys, which I hated to see abused (I had a big 'rescue collection' of barbies with their hair cut off, and so on). The first time it ever really manifested was in my mid-teens, when my mum threw my blu-tack ball on the bonfire. I'd been collecting little bits of blu-tack from posters at school, and all over the place, and made a really big ball of it which I used to make sculptures, and play with when I was working, etc. Some of it was so old it'd gone grey, and my mum, for reasons best known to herself, thought it was a giant wad of old chewing gum (considering I never use chewing gum this is extra wierd) and cleared it into the rubbish bin with all the paper waste, and then burnt it.
I actually *cried*
I remember her trying to console me by saying it had gone to the "big Blu-tack heaven in the sky"
I was, like, sixteen for Pete's sake

So pathetic.

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