Saturday, December 26, 2015

Gifts: Empathy

I'm continuing my creative gifts series. This is all about writerly gifts that I've received from others on my journey. I'm extremely wealthy when it comes to receiving these gifts. This week I'm going to talk about Holly Cupala. Holly is someone who has been generous to me in so many ways I cannot count.  She is one of the most deeply empathetic people I know. She aware of the feelings of a wide range of people; she feels deeply what they are going through. She is a gift to us all.

I tend to be socially awkward. I do care about other people, but I end up seeming really callous sometimes. One reason is I don't always feel what others feel. I recognize they are feeling something, but inside me I don't feel it. I have deep sympathy for them, but that is not the same as empathy. Everything I write has to relate somehow directly to my experiences, what I have felt. This limits my creative spectrum, but there it is. Exposure to the empathetic has helped me become a better writer and a better person. 

Here is how this thing works: I've been bullied so I can write authentically about that. I wasn't at 9:11 and did not personally watch anyone die that day so I cannot write authentically about that. Empathetic people feel what others feel. The clueless part of me is I forget that people are feeling what others are feeling, because I don't. When I see someone writing about something outside his or her experience, I struggle with: "Is this authentic? Some rare individuals really do connect with experiences that are not their own. I'm blessed to know one of these people.

Holly has helped me learn to respect how others feel even if I can't feel it. She has taught me how empathy expands your world. When I am hurting, my first thought is to get away from everyone, wrap myself in blanket and deal with feeling pain.  Empathetic people feel something and realize there are people all over feeling that and reach out to others that feeling the same thing they are feeling. Empathetic people surround me. I think they get it more than most that I need some help. 

Holly's writing really shows off  her empathy for others. Her characters have greatly varied experiences. Even when she is working out of what she knows, she's injecting what she has felt from others too. Her influence has forced me into the shoes of my antagonists. No character should be flat, but each one should be full of life. Exploring the intersection of characters has greatly expanded under exposure to Holly's empathy.  

I hope something about empathy helps you march toward authenticity. I will begin a new series in the new year! Happy New Year!

Here is the cover of one  of Holly's books. 

And finally a quote for you pocket.

Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life.
 Barbara Kingsolver


Katherine said...

This is so beautifully transparent, Molly. Many people don't understand that not feeling empathy is not a moral failing; it's just the way some brains are wired. It also doesn't mean not *feeling*. I know you as someone who feels deeply: love, compassion, joy, and sorrow. Thank you for this window into how you make connections; it helps me understand some other people in my life a little better. And thanks for explaining how your writing process works; it makes me admire you even more.

Molly/Cece said...

Glad my thoughts helped! I like growing old because I understand so much more than I did when I was younger. I've had time to think. One thing that strikes me is that we are all perceiving the world in different ways, and it's important to make room for that. Sharing perceptions opens all the eyes.