Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m a crier.
I cry all the time. I cry when I’m sad, when I’m happy, and sometimes when I’m really angry. I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m scared, and sometimes when I’m really proud of myself or someone I love—or even someone I don’t know. And I cry all the time when I watch TV, go to the movies or theater, or read a book.
I think I’m supposed to be ashamed of that. I’m supposed to think that makes me weak and that I need to try harder to keep my emotions below the surface. But that’s never been who I am. And I’m done feeling bad about that.
I was only nine when a movie made me cry for the first time not because I was scared, but because I felt so deeply. It was an animated movie about cats in Old Hollywood called Cats Don’t Dance, and I cried so hard when it looked like the main cat was going to have to give up his dancing dreams to move back to his hometown that my mother had to turn the movie off and tell me things were going to be okay.
I feel things deeply; I always have. However, we’re taught from an early age that it’s dangerous to feel things deeply. We’re taught to be afraid of intense emotions. But the intensity with which we feel things and the ways we express how we feel are some of the most important parts of our collective humanity. Our emotions—even when they’re strong and sometimes overwhelming—are part of us. And that’s not something to be afraid or ashamed of. Instead, it’s something to understand.
When it comes to my relationship with the media, I love going through what I like to call “internal emotional analysis.” I’m always looking to understand why I feel what I feel when watching or reading something. And that’s especially true when it comes to media that makes me cry.
Media that makes us cry does so for a reason. It’s never as simple as “I don’t know why I’m crying so hard!”—despite what we may say to anyone watching us have an emotional breakdown over a TV show, movie, or book. And it’s important to figure out why the things that move us to tears are able to do that. It’s good to ask ourselves why we care so much about a character that we cry in our car thinking about something bad potentially happening to them. It’s good to think about why we cried tears of joy when two characters got married or why we sobbed with heartbreak when they broke up. Because when we understand our emotional reactions to media more clearly, we often come to understand ourselves more clearly.
That’s what I discovered while writing my letters for The Fan Mail Project (which you can still submit letters for, in case you were wondering!). It takes bravery to look inside yourself and unpack your emotional reactions to fiction and your emotional connections to fictional characters. Sometimes that emotional unpacking makes us confront parts of our past, our present, and ourselves that make us uncomfortable.
Emotions can be uncomfortable, but we can’t ignore them. We can’t spend our lives afraid of what it says about us if pieces of fiction move us deeply enough to make us cry. Because what it actually says about us is that we’re human, and humans are made to connect with stories that engage us not just on an intellectual level but on an emotional one.
So what did my tears during Cats Don’t Dance reveal about me? Dreams matter to me. If you want to instantly make me weep with sadness, show me a character giving up on their dream or being told that they don’t have what it takes to make their dream a reality. If you want to make me cry tears of joy, show me a character achieving their dreams or supporting the dreams of others. Even though I couldn’t articulate it then, I’ve always wanted to believe that my dreams can come true and that people should be supported as they follow their dreams. And I’m not sure I would have ever discovered that about myself without thinking about why a movie that featured singing and dancing cats made me an emotional wreck as a child.
If you’re not much of a crier, that’s okay. Not everyone is, and that doesn’t mean you don’t feel as deeply as those of us who stock up on Kleenex before season finale time each year. It just means you express your emotions differently—not that you don’t have them.
But to my fellow criers out there, don’t be ashamed that you wear waterproof mascara before going to see pretty much any movie. Don’t feel bad if you cry through commercial breaks when your favorite character’s life (or job…or relationship) is in jeopardy. Don’t hate yourself for caring deeply and visibly. Be thankful that you have a heart big and open enough to care that much. Be proud of your passion, not afraid of it. And use those tears—and the reasons you shed them—to grow not just as a consumer of media but as a member of the human race.