Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Need of a Catharsis?

            Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the meaning of catharsis. I probably wouldn’t either if I hadn’t taught high school sophomores for over twenty years and included that term in the background material for Antigone. In my ongoing and often fruitless quest to help teenagers understand literature, I’d explain that catharsis meant “a purgation or cleansing of emotions.” When that was met with blank stares, I tried to put it into everyday language. “Catharsis,” I told them, “is a good cry.”
             While some will tell you catharsis is usually achieved through art, there are other ways to experience it. When I was in college I had friends who relieved pent up feelings by riding a roller coaster and screaming at the top of their lungs. And, of course, most males will swear by engaging in some form of extreme athletic activity or by pounding away on...well, just about anything. But for me, there’s no more effective way of bringing feelings back into balance than a good ol’, hold-nothing-back wailing session.
             So, you ask, what sparked all this ruminating about a term few people know and even fewer care about?  It was an article I found while thumbing through an outdated magazine. It announced 2012 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the play SteelMagnolias. Oh my gosh! How did I miss that??? Had I known in time, I would’ve thrown a Steel Magnolias party, complete with “cuppa, cuppa, cuppa,” and sweet tea—“the dinner wine of the South." Besides having great dialogue and zingers—“You are a boil on the butt of humanity”—Steel Magnolias is the mother of all tear-jerkers. Talk about catharsis. If you aren’t emotionally drained after watching this play/movie, you have some serious sensitivity issues going on.
            I vividly recall the first time I saw the movie. Because I had heard it was sad—a jumbo-box-of-hankies sad—I purposely went alone at a non-peak hour so as not to embarrass myself. It proved to be a good strategy. In the darkness of the almost deserted theater, I didn’t even try to hold back my sniffling, sobbing, out-n-out blubbering. I’m sure if I had, all the backed-up tears and snot would’ve caused my head to explode. As it was, I left the theater with both my emotions and my sinuses completely “purged.”
            If you’ve never seen the play or movie—and I can’t imagine there’s anyone over the age of twelve who hasn’t—don’t be put off by my post. Yes, the story is sad, no getting around it. But Robert Harling, who wrote the play, ingeniously balanced its seriousness with laugh-out-loud moments. As Truvy says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” And “laughter through tears” is my favorite way to experience a catharsis.    

            Now it’s your turn. Have a favorite way of experiencing a catharsis? Or how about sharing a favorite line from Steel Magnolias?

8 comments:

  1. Love that play. Just did it last fall with OKWU and let me tell you, I cried at ever stinking rehearsal. It gets me every time. But it really does help in life to just let it all out every now in then.

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    1. In the middle of writing this post, Christine, I remembered you and OKWU did it last year. Wish I could have seen it. It is such a timeless piece of literature. Hard to believe it's been 25 years since its debut!

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  3. Something annoyed me while viewing this movie and I quit watching half-way through (maybe 1980s big hair offended me even in the 80s - hard to remember what would torque off my younger self two and a half decades ago!). Maybe I'll have to check it out again for a do-over.

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    1. Yes, watch it again, Shel, and see if you can make it through this time. I'd be interested in knowing if twenty-five years has changed your opinion.

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    2. Shel, I figured it out this morning. What bothered you about that movie was "blush and bashful"--all that pink! :-)

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  4. Oh Dee Dee - and Shel - ! I LOVED that movie! Although a movie that requires watching with a full kleenex box in my lap would not normally be my first choice, I watched this one multiple times when it went to video. And every time I would make sure my tissue box was handy because I'd start crying in the first half hour - even though nothing cry-worthy had yet happened. I am so glad you reminded me of this! Next time I need a major emotion-and-sinus purge, I will get myself a copy and re-watch. (The cast is absolutely superb, and I'd have to say Weezy (sp?) is my hands-down favorite character. Favorite scene? Showdown at the cemetary.) Shel, it's not your normal smoothie flavor, but I think you'd like it. :)

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  5. Love this show! The quote you mentioned at the end was going through my head the whole time I read your piece. So many lines in this show resonate with me that I couldn't think of just one to add in this comment. I played Clairee in a high school production. It was a blast!

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