Fangirl Thursday: The Case for Crying

do you cry

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.

22 thoughts on “Fangirl Thursday: The Case for Crying

  1. “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” – John Keating, Dead Poets Society

    I am two episodes behind on The Americans and one on Once Upon a TIme — Both dialogues I can’t wait to jump back into. But today, I just needed to pause and read something just for me and you were it! As someone who cried listening to Kelly Clarkson’s Piece by Piece last night as I drove back to my hotel. Who’s cried every time Tony’s death scene happens in West Side Story since the time I first saw it at 5 years old. Who read the Color Purple with a wet face as Celie finds not only her voice, but her self acceptance. Who cried with full abandon the first time I watched Renee Goldsberry sing Satisfied as her heartache and self awareness ripped right through me in the audience 20 rows away. Who cried watching the trailer for the movie Miracle. Who cried when Meredith said ‘choose me, love me’ and cried again even harder when Christina faces Burke for the last time talking about wanting to be him and when he flippantly says ‘are you done?’ she demands and commands her self presence with a guttural ‘NO’. Who cried when Darlene recites ‘To whom it concerns’ on Roseanne because it captured every emotion a 13 year girl feels. Who cried at more TV, movie, musical deaths, reconciliations and triumphs than I could ever count. And now I am crying at the flooding memories of all these moments and how they touched both my humanity and my identity. I hope my humanity is always in tact to provide room for the emotions and empathy that allow me to cry.

    • First of all, you can’t just lead with THAT quote and expect me to be okay! That movie—and really that moment—is what put me on the path that led me to where I am today. I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to spend my life talking about the things we stay alive for. And even now I ask myself “What will your verse be?” more often than I think I realize.

      And now it’s time for me to commend you for the absolute beauty that is this comment. Honestly. It’s poetry in a comment box, and it floored me with its depth and the love that poured out of it. If you need me, I’ll just be over here crying some more. 😉

  2. I somehow feel like this needs to be apart of your book because I can’t tell you how many people have looked at me as though I was a freak because of how deeply attached I get. Because I’ll cry when a kid has a great first day of kindergarten. I’ll mourn deaths on TV. And as you said, sometimes we have personal reasons — we see ourselves, people we know, and even if we don’t have that, we just feel what they’re going through.

    But there was never any shame in that. I’ve never once felt as though I was some sort of a weirdo because I cried my eyes out watching, reading something, or even listening to music. And it’s learning why we’re crying so hard that helps us grow. Example: the reason Emma’s lost girl hit me so hard, I couldn’t even properly write about it at the time is due to the fact that I’ve always felt like one and I just never knew how to put my feelings into words.

    I’m so glad you’ve written this article because just recently, I’ve been told “I cry too much” and I laughed it off, but at this moment, it’s just nice to know I’m not alone. That I have a writer/friend in my corner who feels just as deeply. (Plus so many others who’ll feel braver to admit they’re criers after reading this.) And you know what, I think that actually makes us pretty cool. Because we admit to being criers. We admit to sobbing through things other people may question.

    • You’re definitely not alone, Giss! I have been told so many times that “I cry too much.” And for a long time, I felt ashamed of that. But I finally realized that there’s nothing wrong with having strong emotions. There’s nothing weird about feeling deeply. And if other people can’t see that, the problem is with them and not with me. So kudos to you for seemingly figuring that out long before I did.

      And thank you for the high praise about putting this in my book! I’m thinking that many of its themes—if not this whole essay—will work its way into the book in some capacity. Like I said, the idea of understanding why we care enough to cry gets to the very heart of The Fan Mail Project, after all.

  3. Such a moving post, Katie. I’m so glad you shared this. We live in a world where cynicism is a way of life. No one is supposed to genuinely FEEL anything. It’s just so uncool. We can be amused or shocked by media, but anything else is just gauche. So, thanks for sharing this ode to being authentic in our reactions, to allowing ourselves to feel.

    Now, I’ll admit that I’m not that much of a crier — I’m more of an occasional sniffler. (I do want to offer, hugs to all the criers.) My passion tends to come out in other ways. This usually involves yelling at the TV and sometimes jumping up and down. (Yep, folks, I chose my handle for a good reason.) I know a lot of people will identify with the “it’s ok to cry” portion of your post. I think this is great. I think one of the reasons so many of us love this space is because you (and the commenters) are so openly passionate about the stories we see. It’s a space for all of us to be passionate.

    However, I really loved your “it’s something to understand” point. Yes, art should move us. We shouldn’t become so blasé that we lose the ability to feel. Beyond that, art should make us think. I love your point that art should make us reflective . . . why does this make me sad? Why does this make me angry? Why do I have the overwhelming desire to take these fictional characters and knock their heads together like Stooges? They’re fictional! Why am I clapping my hands like I just won the lottery? Why do I feel an intense connection to an animated character? (Animated, people!) Answering these questions help us understand ourselves and the world around us. And that’s another reason we love this space. It’s space to explore why these stories move us so much. It’s a space to see what moves other people. It’s a space to see that we’re not alone in our feelings . . . even if it’s something as ridiculous as our love of Doctoberfest mugs. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, friend. It means so much to me that you see this space as a safe place to express passion and to discuss why things make us feel so strongly. And I always want this to be a place where we learn about each other by learning about our emotional connection to the media we consume, where we help each other feel less alone in caring as much as we do. Because caring should be celebrated in this cynical world. (And if there’s one thing I’ve never been accused of, it’s being cynical.)

      I also want you to know you’re not alone in yelling at the TV (but do that more for sports than TV—except Rumple. I always yell at Rumple.) and jumping up and down. Although I’m partial to doing a weird leg-kicking thing while still sitting down. 😉

      And I just had an exercise in being reflective about media about 10 minutes ago. I found myself surprised by my very hard crying at the end of this week’s episode of The Americans, so I took a few minutes on my couch to think about why I reacted the way I did. And it was all because the moments that made me cry were moments of genuine emotion in a world that’s often devoid of them. So I had a very “meta” last couple of hours. 😉

  4. I’m going to be honest, I had noticed on your Once Upon a Time essays that you cried almost every other episode. While I never thought less of you for that, I found it a little weird. Now I understand that you get much more invested in the stories, in the characters, than I do. Not that I don’t connect emotionally with fiction, but I usually draw a line between what’s real and what’s fiction. I don’t allow myself to get too emotionally invested in something I use for escapism (but not only), when I have enough things to be emotional about in my own life. But if I went on and on about what makes me cry or not, this would turn into a therapy session.

    I only cry very rarely over a movie, a TV show, a book or a song, much less that what I sometimes hear people say. However, the very first time I cried with Once Upon a Time was very recently, when Regina saw her father again in the Underworld and when he met Henry Jr.

    • I think that Henry Sr. moment on Once Upon a Time was one of those moments that made a lot of people cry, so you’re definitely not alone!

      As I said earlier, everyone consumes media differently, so it’s just as okay not to cry when watching/reading something as it is to cry. I’m sure it does seem strange to some people that I cry as much as I do over fiction, but I hope this post and other things I write help people see that it doesn’t make you weird to cry over media—it makes you someone who cares deeply. And I think that’s a good thing. I think I strike a pretty healthy balance between knowing what’s real and what’s fictional. My emotional investment actually comes less from being invested in fictional characters and worlds and comes more from what those characters and worlds represent to me about my own reality and my life. I use fiction not just to escape reality but to help me better understand myself and the world around me. So when I cry about things, it’s usually because I relate to the characters and what they’re going through. But that’s just me, and what I love about this kind of discussion is that everyone consumes and reacts to media differently—and there’s no one way to do it that’s better than any other. 🙂

  5. I’m not much of a crier. I very rarely get choked up over a TV show – perhaps I’m too good at distancing myself. The way some people say “the writers really did a good job there” vs seeing everything from within the show, thinking about what the characters are feeling.
    I do get choked up when I watch certain things though – flash mobs, parades, award ceremonies…! Whether live or on video. Occasionally during movies – I think I got choked up watching Inside Out and Big Hero 6.
    The only book that has made me cry lately made me bawl my eyes out. I knew The Fault in Our Stars was going to have a sad ending, but I never thought I would sob (like full blown, ugly sobbing) through the last quarter of the book. I cried and cried. And then I couldn’t bring myself to be finished with the book, so I started over again at the beginning. I told my SIL not to read it on an airplane like she had planned to, but she didn’t listen to me. She told me she felt like such a crazy person, sitting on a crowded plane, sobbing.

    • You are not alone! There are two things that have made me cry harder than I have ever cried – ‘A Walk to Remember’ and ‘A Fault in Our Stars’. What did I learn about these experiences? I have a really hard time when lives are cut short too soon. All the life experiences and relationships they could have had gone with them. Crap I am going to start crying just thinking about it!

    • I had the same experience with The Fault in Our Stars. I’m not actually much of a “book crier.” Sometimes I’ll get choked up or shed a few tears, but they don’t usually make me ugly cry. However, when I got to the line, “I lit up like a Christmas tree,” I shut the book, doubled over, and started bawling. And the crying never stopped from that point on.

  6. This was lovely Katie. I love how passionate you are about the media you consume, and your passion always comes through in your writing, and I think it also shows in everyone’s comments too. Of course at times we all have to write things that we might be indifferent about – hell, my days are spent writing technical chemistry reports (which also sometimes make me want to cry for the wrong reasons) – but the writing I do here is completely different and much more rewarding.

    I wouldnt label myself a crier, I maybe cry a few times throughout an entire series of a TV show, and even less frequently during movies or books. But I think the fact that I do cry so rarely really makes me take a closer look at the things that do. More often than not my emotions are a lot more internal. When something really connects with me my brain goes into overdrive until I can talk about it and get my thoughts out. Hence why this site has been so important to me. This is my place to have a good word cry, haha.

    When I do get outwardly emotional, I am lucky that I have people in my life that have never belittled me because of it. My Dad is notorious for crying during movies. I am not gonna lie, it was a little embarrassing for teenage Shauna when her Dad sobbed uncontrollably watching ‘Titanic’, but he also showed me it was ok because he wasnt ashamed of it. If my dad could cry watching Titanic in public and not care what people thought, then I figured I could own any emotion I had to media too.

    So yes, my hope is that everyone learns to embrace their emotions, but also not be afraid to cut out or avoid things that induce unwanted feelings either. While we might not have control over how something makes us feel, we usually, when it comes to media, have the power to walk away and make is stop. (Baseball, I miss you, but after that remote throwing incident I had to let you go.)

    • Thanks, Shauna! I’ve always been a passionate person, and I strive to have that come across in everything I do. So it means a lot to me when people say they can feel that in my writing, and it means even more when people say I inspire passion in others. (And I totally agree with the end of your first paragraph. While I often enjoy writing the books I write for work, it’s not the same as the writing I do here. This is special.)

      I also really appreciate your last paragraph. It’s important to understand our emotional reactions in both positive and negative ways. Because sometimes when you’re a person who feels too strongly, it is possible to feel too strongly. When your emotional reactions start negatively affecting you—causing you prolonged anger or anxiety or making you feel actually depressed—then I fully advocate walking away. That gives you the time and space to find something that will engage your emotions in a more positive way. (I also understand the remote throwing. I used to hurl shoes at the TV during certain sporting events. Taking a step back helped me a lot in that regard.)

  7. Beautiful post! Thank you for writing and sharing it. First movie I remember crying at was Bambi, which is a common memory I think – never heard of Cats Don’t Dance. Yet another way you’re unique and special. 🙂

    • Thank you! I actually don’t remember much about the plot of Cats Don’t Dance all these years later. It had good music, though; I do remember that. 😉

  8. Crying is a great emotional release, and I can definitely understand being moved to tears over a song or an emotional scene involving characters that you identify with. This subject reminds me of an episode of “Northern Exposure,” a show such I still greatly esteem after all these years….an episode called Rosebud. A local medicine man is trying to find the “healing stories” amongst the non-native people of the community. He interviews several people, but the only stories anyone can think of are urban legends. But, the realization is that film contains some of our greatest healing stories. I really connected with that message, because it’s so true. (Btw, that show was like poetry to me. Watch it if you get a chance. It also starred a lady from my hometown!).

    I have to admit to being a sympathetic crier. Nothing makes me cry like someone else crying. That can be embarassing, but I hope it means that I’m a caring person who can empathize with others. Since I was young, animals (especially dogs, see Lassie, Ol’ Yeller) being in danger, dying, saving people makes me cry. I remember an episode of ER where an old man sang a song to his wife who had just died. Everyone just stopped and watched. When he was finished, he walked away. That made me cry buckets. I wish I could find a clip of that because it was brilliant. So, dying or imminent death (separation and loss) makes me cry too.

    I never really saw myself as much of a crier otherwise. But, when I do feel a deep connection with the subject matter, then yeah…I am that person!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us! I love the idea of film holding our healing stories. It feels so true.

      And I definitely understand being a sympathetic crier. And there are some people (actors, characters, people in real life) who have that effect on me more than others. For example, no matter what she’s in, I always cry when Jennifer Garner does. ALWAYS.

  9. There truly aren’t enough words for how much I love this. It is pieces like this that remind me so much of why you and I started talking about media together in the first place and from the looks of these comments, why so many have been drawn to this site. NGN has truly become a place that celebrates our passion and our love and encourages us to dig deeper.

    I’m not much of a crier in my day-to-day life. It takes a lot to make me cry and I still try to keep it in more than I should but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of letting myself fall apart when necessary.

    In my media-consuming life, however, I cry a lot. Every episode of Call the Midwife, most episodes of Parenthood, the majority of series finales, the other Districts honoring Katniss, and countless other things in books and TV shows set me off every time. Some may just be a few tears, others are full-on ugly cries. It ends up being a form of catharsis for me and gives me a way to let out some of my emotions while I’m still working on being comfortable with expressing them in my regular life.

    Sometimes, they are tears of joy or pride. Cristina’s farewell left me a mess, partly because of her having to say goodbye to Meredith, but also because this character who means the world to me was having all of her dreams come true. The same was true of the Parks and Rec finale and Beckett’s arrest of Bracken in “Veritas”. It means a lot to me to see those I care about achieve their goals and that extends to the fictional characters I love as well.

    While deaths on TV don’t often make me cry for the character, the reaction of those still living will get me every time. Clarke’s reaction to losing Lexa, a particular reaction in Buffy that shall be left unnamed in case Leah is reading this, everyone’s reaction to Leo’s death in The West Wing and Finn’s death in Glee, all of them make me sob. Upon reflection, this also seems to hold true in real life, and apparently something that runs in the family, as my mom will be fine until she sees that I’m upset and then she cries and we’re both a mess.

    Apart from the fact that I think it’s good that we allow ourselves to cry or feel deeply about the media we consume in general, I love the introspective side of it that you encourage here. Media matters. The things we love deeply matter. They teach us and guide us and shape who we are. It’s so often thought of as a passive activity when it reality, it’s anything but. Some people may never care to recognize how big of an impact it can make and that’s fine, but for those of us that are interested, our reactions to ideas, characters, and shows can teach us so much about who we are, what we want, and what our vulnerabilities are. I’m repeating myself at this point, but my letters for The Fan Mail Project were so valuable for me to write. They helped me clarify ideas and understand myself a little better and the joy I felt at recognizing why I have connected with certain characters the way I have was and continues to be amazing.

    • I love this comment so much. I love you so much. I would say more but I’ll start crying, which—while fitting for the subject of this post—is probably a bad idea since I’m not alone in my office right now.

      But I will say that I want to frame that last paragraph and keep it with me forever. ❤

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