Oh, what’s PJ doing? Crying again? In public? Again? What do you want from me? I blame writing. And reading. And living. All this stuff is just too good and too hard that one can’t help but shed a tear from time to time. Or, you know, imitate a fire hydrant. Potato, potahto.
Good writing rattles me. Good writing is different from something well written. It’s hot guts spewed on pavement, not a neatly stitched wound that leaves no scar. Some months ago, I read something that was both good and well written. My friend, whom we’ll call Smate, wrote a personal essay untangling some stuff. Grown-up, Life stuff. The essay centered around an event, a positive decision Smate had made in an attempt to abandon past conceptions of self. The decision symbolized a commitment to change; the essay provided way to work through the cascade of emotions. As I read through it, I felt a subsequent cascade set off inside of me.
Good writing rattles me because it hits nerves that I try not to touch. Edit: it hits nerves most people, safer people, try not to touch. But not me. I’m always poking the uncomfortable places, the painful spots, the wounds. I read a tweet recently from one of my peers which stated that writers should remember to let joy, and not only pain, fuel their work. Soon, I thought, but not tonight.
When I received Smate’s email, I was sitting at home. It was the middle of the day on like, a Tuesday. I couldn’t focus on my work. I welcomed the distraction. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it became evident that it wasn’t going to be a light read. I heard her voice and began to feel. And then cry. I kept scrolling. Crying wasn’t enough. So I bawled. I got up from the table and paced the kitchen, wrapped my arms around my chest. I sat back down and read more. I refilled my coffee. I kept reading. Another nerve struck. I wailed. I went to the corner of the kitchen and sat down, pulled my legs into my chest, and let the wall and door frame hold me in a sturdy embrace. I put my hands to my wet, hot face and gasped for air.
When I was finished, I thought of a satirical piece I love: If you think I’m pretty when I cry, you should see me sob on the bathroom floor. This kind of knees-to-the-bathroom-floor kind of pain, whether brought on by a break-up or some good writing, isn’t cute. I couldn’t tell tears from snot. I was sweltering and shivering. Inconsolable isn’t cute, but it is beautiful. It’s beautiful to feel your way through powerful shit–shit about what it means to be “pretty,” to be loved, to be whole, to be broken, to be healing, to be a woman, a person, stable, alive. To feel less than, unworthy, scared, petrified, confident, elated, petrified, alive.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried in public. Not because I don’t know the number, but because I don’t want to worry you. I can’t tell you how many times, but I can tell you a few places. I’ve cried in administrative buildings at my school. In parking lots. On airplanes…on a stranger’s shoulder. In a 24-hour diner at 5 am. In a 24-hour supermarket at 6 am. At church, often, but I don’t think that’s particularly strange. Subway cars. Chipotle. My yoga studio. The list goes on.
I’m not ashamed of my episodic crying. We are socialized to feel shame about stuff like this, but I won’t. As a woman, I’ve been told to calm down. Like, so many times. I’ve been told to be more rational. To be strong, be soft, sit still, stand up, lean in, lean back, nod my head yes, shake it no. To make sense. To boil everything down into a crux that other people can easily understand. To show less emotion so people take me seriously. I don’t want to be understood or taken seriously. I mean, I do, but by people who know what I’m saying even when my voice is cracking. My head isn’t the only part of me that provides useful information. More times than not it’s my heart and gut and toes and knees that show me where and how to go. I’ve learned so much by creeping into dark places with “Do Not Enter” Signs, often without a hard hat on. I don’t often emerge with a smile, but it’s been worth it every time.
This world will take everything from you if you let it, and that sounds a bit cliche, but as I count down the hours to tomorrow, they are the only words of comfort I can find. Don’t let this stuff make you hard. Don’t let Fear consume you. The world can take everything, but it also has everything to give. So make some room. Cry until you have no fluid left. Then hydrate and begin again.
Be beautiful. Be graceful. Be messy. Be true.
With love and nothing else,
And, obviously, Florence + the Machine: