A few years ago I watched Twilight, the first one (where Bella moves to Forks and Edward catches an apple with his foot), approximately 21 times in one month. I was 27, a freelance fashion writer living in Manhattan, and I was about to move into a brownstone in Brooklyn with my grad-school boyfriend.
I looked like an adult, but for one month straight the only thing I wanted to do was watch a teenage girl make pouty faces at her ancient-teenage-vampire boyfriend and be courted by a guy who was actually a werewolf.
There was a lot going on that June, or, rather, not a lot going on. My boyfriend was spending time with his family across the country; the friends I lived with were traveling or falling in love; work was slow and I was kind of broke; and it rained every day.
I turned down invitations and didn’t make any plans. Life was better in Forks, WA, where people, dead and alive, required absolutely nothing of me and I could pretend I was the heroine of a Mormon sex fantasy.
Over the course of my Twilight month I ate the movie for most of my meals. Every day I entered a fictional world that, while it seemed like a balm, sunk me deeper into isolation and some low-grade version of despair. When the dishes were cleared I wrapped the tablecloth of make-believe around me like a protective cloak.
Here’s what I’m getting at: We eat a lot of things besides food. Books, movies, billboards, magazines, death tolls, headlines, our friends’ stuff, strangers’ stuff, sound bytes, well-lit pictures of bliss bowls. You know.
Some of this, like my Twilight binge, we choose to take in. A lot of it we don’t. Either way we have to digest it. And, like any nutritionist would tell you, we can’t eat every food item we see and expect to feel awesome later.
How do we eat information well? For one, we can choose not to consume the content of every feed on our phone. For all of the other stuff heaped on our plates, a start to better digestion is acknowledgment that we’re eating it. (That same nutritionist would tell you that digestion starts in the mouth.)
To switch metaphors, as much as we like to think we’re building what’s inside our brain, we aren’t the only architects: the foundations were laid by our parents, the first couple of floors are messages about our gender, race, abilities, options, etc, and next comes beautiful pictures of perfect skin, weddings, houses, lives, etc again, that we know are fake but still.
Soon we’re handed a litany of well-meaning questions—Are you seeing anybody? What are you doing with your degree? When are you having kids?—that, though we may rebel against them, make insidious grooves in our brains, just like those pop-up ads we think we’re impervious to but do influence, even just subtly, what and when we buy.
And that’s just the personal stuff.
How do we take in hate? What are we supposed to do with overheard rants rooted in fear? Where do we catalogue images of the dead or pictures of the earth melting and bleeding like an open wound?
I wish I knew.
Like lots of advice handed out these days, the answer probably has something to do with balance. We hear a lot of noise; let’s make time to be silent. We are overwhelmed with visual data; let’s close our eyes for a minute and give ourselves nothing new to consume.
The next time you feel sad or overwhelmed about something in your life take a pickax to your thoughts and uncover the foundation of that feeling. If you’re sad about being single because the only word we have for that state is spinsterhood—which sounds like something to get tested for—and because even the plucky female heroines of our collective unconscious end up with a dude, remind yourself that that version of reality has nothing to do with you and that the derogatory connotation of “spinster” is just another way to keep women down.
And the next time you’re sad about the world, whew, babe, I guess you could try just sitting in it. Chew on it until it becomes something you might be able to swallow and let the digestion process be a way of finding out how you to want to act. Volunteer somewhere. Look for your implicit biases and dismantle them, one conditioned belief at a time. Make more love.
This doesn’t mean you won’t still be sad about being single, or overcome by a feeling of vast hopelessness, but at least you can own why.
By all means, watch the show. Listen to the news. Play the scene in Sixteen Candles where Jake Ryan waits for Samantha Baker outside the church, leaning against the red car, and then play it again . Reread Where the Red Fern Grows and cry yourself to sleep. But just know that you’re doing it. Every time you scroll through Instagram ask yourself, “Do I have room for this?”
It’s easier to figure what’s causing the indigestion if you remember what you ate.
As for that month of Twilight? It’s a brilliant movie. I have no regrets.