Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Sometimes I hate how easily and how fast I cry. On Monday, while driving back to Davis from San Jose, I heard a Morning Edition piece on how crying might be an evolutionary trait. Supposedly humans are the only species to cry for emotional reasons, but the interesting thing about tears is that they are a demonstrative way to show distress, but only to those close enough to see our faces. It makes sense: if we were out hunting for food and were suddenly surprised by a predator, we wouldn't want them to know we were feeling vulnerable, but we would want our allies to know immediately that we need help.

And I really need help when I'm cutting an onion? When I'm tired or my blood sugar dips ever so slightly or I stub my toe or I am suddenly, momentarily pissed off? Perhaps what bothers me the most about when I cry is not the fact that I'm crying, but rather the way that it's interpreted. I tend to cry more often out of sheer (momentary) frustration than I do out of honest-to-god sadness. Real grief inspires stunned silence, and a desire for action or response. But my evolutionary response seems less to do with incoming predators and more to do with incomprehension. Misinformation. Brief and inconsequential bullshit. That's the stuff that raises my hackles and I always wish that my tears wouldn't betray me so quickly.

The irony is that when I cry (at least out of frustration), the last thing I tend to want is for someone else to approach me and try to make it better. Because that's when tears multiply, not because the feeling has grown, but because by simply acknowledging that what I'm doing is out of the ordinary, whatever it is I'm feeling is likewise extraordinary. As if it's silly to be feeling anything in the first place.

I had a long day today, and it was my fault. I agreed to work a total of 12 hours between two different gigs, and was already low on steam. On my way home, I stopped by a house I've agreed to sit to water the plants and air out the upstairs. This house has a great huge fan that is turned on by a single switch. I've been given careful instruction to open the upstairs windows before turning on the fan, which sucks out the air and circulates fresh air all over the house. It emits a loud, resonant whir as it goes. For some reason, when I turned on the fan tonight in that big, personless home, it sucked the tears out of me too. It was as if the entire house was sucking out my excess carbon dioxide, as if it were giving me permission to relax my shoulders and lean back and just let the feeling circulate. It made more noise than I ever could, and that was refreshing. Best of all, when I turned the fan off, it was as if I had turned off a switch in my own brain. Moment noticed, moment experienced, moment done.

I wonder if, every time I make a mistake or misinterpret directions or accidentally take too much insulin or hurt someone's feelings, instead of shedding real tears I could just imagine a giant fan opening up in my brain, filtering the feeling down through my body, until whatever it was had sufficiently circulated before I could turn it off.


Anonymous said...

Hi J. this is Seth

I really enjoyed your writing on this post. Crying is something that is very dear to me.

In reading your post I found myself wondering why crying is an activity that is so undesired by you. Why do you dislike crying so much?

Personally I LOVE crying -it allows me to release pent up feelings, it allows me to feel very alive, it indicates for me what I care the most deeply about, after I cry -physically I feel much better (probably due to chemical releases of some sort). I Love to cry -and I would be sad if I couldn't (poetically absurd, I know).

You say that sometimes you dislike crying because others may respond by acknowledging your tears which makes you feel self-invalidated (e.g., you start to think that you're crying for a silly reason) or it makes you feel like a weirdo or something. In an ideal world, how would you like others to respond to your tears?

Finally, I LOVE your illustration of the venting fan! What a cool image. Why can't tears be your venting vehicle? My impression is that you'd prefer a more distanced way of venting -as though you could stand objectively and let your troubles get meditated away. Do you feel like tears are too personal?
Very cool -thanks for sharing your writing. You inspired me to update my facebook status.

miss J. said...

Hi Seth,

Thanks for your thoughts! It is refreshing to hear another perspective on this. It's interesting that you say you enjoy crying -- I agree it can be cathartic, but I think my main frustration is that I am always surprised to find myself crying, as if my body just does it without my permission. And usually in public places. And usually during times when I'd rather just write down the feeling and let it go away.

I guess my main objection to crying is I hate how much attention it draws to oneself. I've always been shy and really am not a fan of being approached (especially up in my personal space, like near my face) when I'm not feeling, you know, awesome.

Obviously there are exceptions--if I'm truly upset about something and someone I love comes to give me a hug, that's one thing, but I think what I was getting at here are the everyday little annoyances that trigger tears. Forgettable stuff that I'd really rather not share with coworkers, classmates, peers, etc.

In the latter case, I'd much rather the person in question say, "I can see you're upset. Why don't you take a five minute break and we'll catch up when you're feeling better." I had one coworker who would sometimes say this to me, when I'd get frustrated at work, and it was an immense relief to just go outside, do my thing, and come back on my own. It's much more personal and requires a lot less explanation.

As for the illustration--I should give credit where credit is due. Unlike the scanned cartoons in my blog, which I draw, this one popped up when I searched "tears" into Google Image. So, thanks to this website:

Thanks again for your thoughts!