I used to think it was cool to be tough. I still think that, a little. I used to want to be described as “fiery,” and “stubborn,” and even “difficult,” because that sounded like someone who might disguise herself as a boy and train to be a knight in the king’s court, or tame dragons, or, even in this world, be pretty kickass.
(um, yes! That armor might be a little tight on me, but I could definitely do the cloak)
The last thing I wanted to be described as was “nice.” And the last thing I wanted to do was cry.
It turns out, I’m pretty nice. At least, as far as I can tell. And I cry all the time these days.
Crying has always felt like quitting, to me. Crying happens at the very end, when all else fails. It’s sort of shameful.
Crying is girly, and girly didn’t feel like me.
Crying is a sign of weakness. It’s like rolling over and exposing your soft underbelly, when you have hard scales like armor everywhere else (I might still be thinking about dragons). It’s a little pathetic.
And the worst is crying for no good reason, when there are other people around. That happened to me once, in front of my big cousin. He was really cool and four years older and knew all the secrets of dating. I was fourteen. And I got so frustrated, trying to explain something to him, that I started to cry. I don’t remember what the thing was. I don’t remember any of the conversation. I just remember the terrible, horribly embarrassing crying. I couldn’t believe I’d let myself do that.
I remember crying in college, freshman year. It was right after my birthday. At 3 in the morning (because in college everything happens at 3 in the morning). Inexplicably, I started crying. And when the crying started, I realized that it was about missing my parents. How awful. I was an adult! I was independent! And here I was, sobbing, because I missed my parents so much. And it was more than that. I didn’t just miss them—I loved them so intensely that it overwhelmed me. I loved them with everything that I was. The sort of love that it’s totally not cool to admit you feel for your parents when you’re eighteen. That would be weird, or something. The kind of love that you usually have, but usually don’t have to think about. Existential love. Without you, I don’t know how I’d go on. It was horrible.
It was inevitable that I become a crier, though.
Both of my parents cry. My dad tears up every single time something moves him. It doesn’t take much. A hug, a moment of closeness. My mom is equally emotional. We tease her mom, because she cries practically every time the family gets together, out of joy and tenderness. We are some seriously emotional people.
And so, as I grew older, instead of getting tougher, I became…more the way I actually was inside. Which was a huge disappointment. Because suddenly tears sprang to my eyes with hardly any provocation at all. The day I found myself crying over a commercial, about a kitten, for cat food, I knew I was done.
Cat food. Cat food!
But the music! It swelled! And the tiny kitten! It grew up! And became a cat! Life is so beautiful! So precious!
That’s pretty much my mind, now.
I cry a lot because life is so delicate and stunning and irreplaceable, but also multitudinous. Yup. It makes me cry.
I cry because I love people a lot. Bear, for example. Especially when he’s asleep, and I look at his face. I’m almost always immediately overwhelmed by love and fear and helplessness and hope. Goddamn.
I cry because I’m frustrated sometimes. I cried when I got that rejection letter the other day. And then, after like three seconds, I felt so ridiculous for crying that I stopped. Which is promising.
I cry because I’m scared—because I am not in control, and occasionally things give the appearance of tumbling apart instead of knitting obediently together. Stupid things.
I cry because I am sad. Sad about people who have been abused. Sad about people being cruel to other people. Sad about the way that people are excluded. Sad about the dogs that get abandoned on “Dead Dog Beach” in Puerto Rico.
I cry because I am sensitive.
In Quiet, the book about introversion by Susan Cain, she talks about sensitivity a lot. She talks about how sensitive people are often deeply impacted by things that are happening halfway across the world. They care, without particularly meaning to, about people they’ve never met, in situations they don’t fully understand.
Yup, I thought. Yup yup yup. Damn it.
You can’t turn that off.
And also, she goes on to say, highly sensitive people are very attuned to beauty. She doesn’t get into details. But, as poetry does without explaining, it spoke to me.
That sounds like an upside!
That’s what it said, when it spoke.
But the thing is, the more I cry, the better at it I get. By which I mean, I am beginning to have some respect for crying. Instead of feeling like I’m seriously failing to get a grip, I wonder if maybe this is something that might be worth crying over. Like, kittens. They are so cute and vulnerable. I want to protect them. Maybe that’s OK. My cat is on my lap right now, purring happily. Every time I see a cat food commercial, she gets extra petting. And every time I look a Bear’s face as he’s sleeping and feel awed and astonished that he is my partner, and that I am sharing life with someone else like this, it makes me want to tell him how much I love him the next day. So that’s good.
As for the crying because of stuff like rejection letters—I don’t know. At least it was only three seconds last time.
And I’d rather be a dragon tamer, if I could choose.
But since I can’t, I think that I can take a little crying over the milk that got spilled, in exchange for the sensitivity that I can’t help but feel towards people in trouble, towards the world in general, towards beauty—whatever fascinating set of things it might cover, and towards the people I love.
Not so bad.
So bring on the tears!
Also, I think it’s actually possible to be fiery and nice at the same time. If not, I’m gonna do it anyway.
(Bring it on, adorable kittens!)
* * *
How do you feel about crying?
Unroast: Today I love my wrists.
P.S. It might even be possible to be tough and nice at the same time! Imagine that!
P.P.S. I just noticed that people are talking about me over on the big blogger bashing blog Get Off My Internets. I thought the timing was funny, with this post about being sensitive. I actually read through the comments, which I never do, just because I was so impressed that people wanted to have a conversation about how lame I am, so far away from my blog and my writing. I got called “batshit crazy” a lot and some people seem to think I think Bear is ugly. Which is bizarre. And the really weird thing was, it didn’t bother me. I was kind of flattered, oddly. And thanks to the people who defended me, even in that forum, even if you agreed that I’m a little crazy. I guess I’m willing to be seen as a little crazy, if that’s what it takes to have an honest conversation on the internet . But to the haters: here’s more fodder: I cry a lot! And then I write about it.
In happier news:
A reader cake pic for the gallery! She tells me it’s red velvet…Yum! Send me yours soon: