The home I grew up in was not a loving one. It was cold and isolated and, for a young girl who needs to be part of a whole, that was extremely painful. I grew up feeling like an outsider in my own family. Always on the fringes of something that I was too young to understand it was better that I not be included in. All I knew was that I was somehow different from my family members and that translated into an ostracism I didn’t understand. I internalized and took that into myself as evidence of my flawed nature.
A studious child, I took refuge in books. It is not a gross exaggeration to say that I read approximately five books a week growing up. I read every genre and books of all lengths. I read to escape into other worlds and I read to understand how people were supposed to work. What was expected of me as a human being so that I might mimic this behavior and be accepted. I also read in hopes of finding some salvation from the emotional pain I experienced.
What I didn’t understand until last night, was how unbelievably wrong some of my conclusions were.
I am in the last year of a graduate program to obtain a Masters in Fine Arts. My current class is on detective fiction. For my final paper, I’m doing a survey of Sherlock Holmes pastiche. I chose Sherlock Holmes because I, myself, have been fascinated with him since I was child. So this paper is in my wheelhouse.
I first discovered Sherlock through the films of Basil Rathbone. From the first one I saw, The Hound of the Baskervilles, I was hooked. I immediately began reading the books and short stories. Eventually, I would collect and read every Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved Holmes’ objectivity, his detachment and logic. I loved how there was an explanation for everything in his world. No fact was left without a distinct and plausible reason.
For a child who lacked the fundamental understanding of why the people she loved didn’t love her back, this complete certitude was a comfort. There were no unanswered questions at the end of a Holmes story.
My love for this form of mystery only grew and I would eventually devour just as many of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels and any other form of mystery so long as they were in the same mode. My television watching was the same I loved Murder She Wrote, etc.
Even the science fiction I embraced had a very Holmesian figure – Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. Again, I was drawn to his logic. To his cold detachment and ability to control his emotions. He saw emotion as a weakness and so did I.
With these literary figures as my role models, the only conclusion to my child’s mind was to do away with emotion. It served no purpose and only weakened you and gave power over you to others.
I didn’t understand until last night how the choices I’d made in reading had influenced my emotional health and how my emotional health had influenced my choices in reading. I chose novels and books that satisfied a need for order in my emotionally troubled life. The characters had mastered an area of life which, in my own, represented pain and disorder. I wanted nothing to do with the emotions that battered me and left me feeling so unbelievably hurt.
Looking back, I can even see the pattern and transition. It would be after my aborted suicide attempt that I really became obsessed with Holmes, Marple and Spock. I was seeking a way to control the pain when what I should have been doing was finding a way to deal with my emotions.
You see, I am an intensely emotional person. Not deeply emotional. Intensely. The distinction is that I freely admit that I don’t have consistently deep emotions. I can in fact be very shallow. But when I do experience something emotionally, it’s intense. Therefore, the slights and humiliations I experienced growing up would take on epic proportions emotionally when they got under my skin, and I had no way to deal with it or to understand it. The people who were supposed to be teaching me these things were the ones perpetrating the acts.
As an adult, I can see that I made the wrong decision. I chose to suppress my emotions all together and that placed me on a very self-destructive path. I see now that I cannot repress and deny my emotions. I need to seek to understand them and get them into perspective.
It’s not easy. I tend to cry the instant I start talking about anything emotional. Every emotion I experience has the same effect on me now and I’m left feeling like a wrung out rag when it’s done. It’s a strange thing to be afraid of your own emotions, but I admit I am.
I only hope that with this realization, I can work toward a healthier mind state. I’ll always love Holmes, Marple and Spock. They got me through a very tough time in my life, but I don’t need them anymore. I need me.