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Oxytocin makes us cry during movies

My dad cries at movies. Two I can guarantee will bring tears to his eyes are Dances with Wolves and Remember the Titans. When I come over, my mom will often be preparing dinner or cleaning the house. I will ask “Where is Daddy?” Her reply “Oh he’s consumed in a movie.” Often, my reaction is to go sit on the edge of the bed or on the couch with him and Jazz, his German shepherd mix. It is dark, with only our faces lit up by the screen. It is generally a laugh cry.


This happens because my dad’s brain falls victim to oxytocin. It is a hormone that allows him and everybody to feel empathy. His brain does not differentiate between the fictional character flickering before him on a movie screen and real life. Therefore, he feels for the characters and cries. As do I.


After he watches a good movie he will consume me or my sister or my mother in a hug as he sobs and laughs. If it is one of his daughters, he goes on about how proud he is of us. If it is my mom, in the hug, he often ends it with a wet kiss on the lips and a profound “I love you.” It is not the casual “I love you” at the end of phone calls. It is a stronger one. The one you would say before a long trip or after a long rough patch in life.


When I lived in Thailand, I went to the movies often. I would take the cramped van filled with locals and chickens and produce to Bangkok. I would go to one of the splendid malls in the city and escape from the sweaty, dirty life I had become accustomed to. I dated a man in Thailand. His name is Book. He told me once; his mother called him that because she wanted him to grow up smart. He is humble and declares that the nickname did not work. I believe it did. I fell in love with Book during that year. I never told him this while I was there. There was one night after a movie, when I got very close to telling him. The movie was About Time. Once I escaped the air-conditioned mall I ran to the BTS, the light rail system in Bangkok. I took it to the very last stop where they would have the Chatuchak market on the weekends. Book had a shop in a smaller market near the same BTS stop. Once I got off the train I ran down the steps and weaved between people selling shirts and shoes and purses and antique furniture. I knew my way well, having gone through this maze several times before. I finally got to Bestsellers. Book was sitting there with his business partners. He smiled when he saw me. I smiled.


“Can we take a walk? I need to meet Anna at the BTS stop.”

“Yes, of course.” His English had small grammatical mistakes, and the formality of those who aren’t versed in idioms and short cuts.


This was when I had planned on saying “I love you.”  However, the urgency I felt running from the mall to the BTS stop had fled. Now I felt scared.


“Thank you for everything. You mean a lot to me.” I told him this, still breathless.


A few weeks later I would leave Thailand. Every time I watch About Time I cry and I think of Book.


The emotion this oxytocin releases also causes the moments after movies to be my most creative and inspiring. I sometimes wonder if my dad feels the same way. I wonder if he has creative outlets I am unaware of.


My manager often complains about my generation.


“You all are stuck up and bored in your creative pursuits and progressive objections. Political correctness is so rampant, we can’t talk about anything anymore. And it’s all because you have so much time on your hands.”


I was on the back porch with Tala, on a warm evening. We were talking about young adulthood. We were talking about how most of our parents’ generation skipped it and went straight to adulthood. They had jobs and children and marriages. They were busy and happy, maybe.


We’re so wrapped up with ourselves and our directions and what people think about the way that we create or decide or date or eat or spend our time. I wonder if my parents write or draw or sing or dance or play an instrument or have ambitions outside of their careers. If they do, they hold them sacred. I find that beautiful.


Danielle once said to me

“I feel like I consume so many books and movies and I don’t produce. “


There was a sense of guilt in these words. It was as though she had an obligation to give back creatively consumable products. I feel the same guilt if I don’t utilize the inspiration oxytocin has granted me after a good movie.


Yesterday, I watched three movies and read a couple of essays by Zadie Smith. I went to bed feeling restless, having not written one word down. Today I drove for an hour and forty minutes to the Oregon coast. I sat in the sand with my back against a large piece of driftwood and I read more. I read about Liberia and the tragedy they know as reality. I then read about losing accents and with them pasts and selves in order to be a part of a certain group. I listened to a podcast on my way home. It was about a window and a voyeur. I had listened to it before, but at the part when she cries oxytocin flooded my brain and I cried again.  And when I got home I had time, so I wrote. Oxytocin, in a way, forced me to create. And that’s kind of stunning.


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