• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
  • Archives

So Take A Good Look At My Face

I just finished reading a manuscript that brought me right to the edge of tears. The restraint on the part of the writer was remarkable. In the novel, there is a moment we have been waiting for though on some level we don’t even know it. And when it finally comes, the author pulls back. The reader is desperate for the character to be saved, for something to makes sense, and the author offers nothing more than a brief memory, a moment in time that wants to stand for everything but in the end explains nothing. It just is.

I’ve always believed that readers love to cry. But there are tears and there are tears. What  Woody Allen says in Annie Hall, that if you get a laugh out of a stoned person it really doesn’t count, sort of applies. I mean if you schlock it up and get people to cry, does it count? Or are tears tears? I will cry at almost anything. Scratch that: anything. I remember my older sister mocking me for crying at an episode of The Patty Duke Show. I love to cry. The most manipulative movies will work their worm on me. And yet, like the novel I read this morning, I also relish that other feeling of not being manipulated, but of being truly moved as queer as that sounds.

The first books that made me cry buckets were I Am Third, Bang the Drum Slowly, Of Mice and Men, In This Sign and Love Story. What makes you leak?

96 Responses

  1. I just read Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and while I’m not sure I cried actual tears I was very moved in the best possible ways by it. And, at moments, horrified. And yet I knew every word to be true. That is the gift of great writers: an ability to render truth, no matter how far-fetched it might sound.

  2. People and their guts in the face of this unexplainable world. I get shit for crying over Andy Griffith episodes, but I think I probably teared up over a Patty Duke or two. Anything where the underdog, probably teared up over that too but I don’t remember, wins or keeps fighting gets me going. My family used to give me shit for crying too much but I think it’s better than breaking stuff — three computers in the last two years. Fortunately for me, I’m now afraid of my girlfriend leaving me so I don’t break stuff anymore. Sure as fuck feels good while your doing it though. Maybe I’m figuring myself out a little more now and that anger over the world not being always a happy ending is finally sinking in. The mystery is still there, so there is still hope. Man, I doubt anyone can put this life into words that enlighten or teach or do anything but say there it is, that’s what happened. Hmm. Writing. Interesting. I’m only a little buzzed right now but my mind is finding people writing things on paper and wanting others to read those words a very strange phenomenon. Not that I smoke pot anymore, but I remember very well trying to read a book high as hell and getting stuck wondering how a single letter carries so much information. It all turned into marks on paper. Anyway, yeah, me leak easy, and often. (And, of course, Betsy, you rock.)

    • PS. (of course, and why not!) My girlfriend wants a follow up to Food and Loathing. Is there one? I can’t imagine that there isn’t but just say Yes. And the part about the typing test in Food and Loathing, fuck, it’s killing me. My degree is slipping away. Thanks for the heads-up. Again, you rock.

  3. First, I’m happy for you, Betsy. It’s rare. And always welcome here.

    I’m going with the montage at the end of PHILADELPHIA and its Neil Young song. Jesus Christ, that song and the little boy with his baseball mitt on the wrong hand. Or maybe the end of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, which isn’t at all cool but my god when it’s pouring down rain and she grabs the handle of the truck door and just can’t do it. I want to bawl just remembering it.

    I’m reading a friend’s m/s, a brilliant and Biblical novel about abuses in The Church, based on his family’s true experience of him, his mother, and his sister being abused by the same priest – and I swear it’s killing me. Killing the already-killed Catholic I was. He handed it to me the other day, saying that a few agents have loved the book but “can’t publish it.” “No market,” they say, voo-doo subject matter and all. I think about this as I read and it breaks my heart, but also just pisses me off. It’s not even the story, it’s his voice. Man oh man, his voice.

    • I’m reading The Bell Jar for the first time and there’s a forward about Sylvia Plath. I’m so taken by her brilliance and how hopeless she must have felt to end her life.

      After watching Restrepo with my son I escaped upstairs and bawled my eyes out. In the words of Forrest Gump, and that’s all I have to say about that.

      • Oops, wrong place. But that last scene in The Bridges of Madison County always tears me up too, Teri. But you already know how I feel about that one!

    • Linden MacIntyre did quite well with The Bishop’s Man.

  4. Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River and Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement are the most recent books to make me cry. Sigh 🙂

  5. Martin Eden by Jack London

  6. Some baby books, like Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You, will make me tear up.
    Also, A Farewell to Arms, Old Yeller, or the James Agee story “A Mother’s Tale.”
    As far as depressing, I read The Easter Parade and The Grapes of Wrath back-to-back when I was recovering from surgery a couple years ago, and I felt so incredibly low. I felt like I stopped seeing in color.

  7. The occasional sad movie. Not Love Story. I laughed at that. Shane almost made me cry. Two Women made me cry. Also La Strada. Heart breaking.

    • Hadn’t thought of La Strada in years. Anthony Quinn had no idea how much he lost until it was too late. City Lights by Charlie Chaplin is one of my all time favorites, too.

  8. Acceptance of a fateful self moves me every time. Middlemarch, Gilead, Jesus’ Son, Under the Volcano, Antigone–that’s my crying territory.

  9. “What makes you leak?”

    Just about anything these days. I used to be more stalwart, though I do remember once when I was 21, getting drunk on whiskey while reading Dispatches, falling in a crumple against the bathroom floor while bawling my eyes out over and the wounded and the dead.

    • Man, Dispatches. No one brings that up anymore. It made me want to get out there and get some. The two photographers that disappeared, That’s crazy faith, or addiction to violence. Or rather, playing with death — a strange human need. Anyone that hasn’t read Dispatches, should, right away. What gets me is the hero shit: Those who play with death are somehow heroic. I don’t get that. We are all going to die some day, so why gamble? A fascination, I guess. I’ve talked to many vets from that war and dead bodies were just part of the program. That transition in human consciousness is, I think, something wroth investigating. Of course, all the time, hoping to hell a government by the people for the people won’t allow their people to hold a gun to the heads of some of their own people and demand that they go out and kill some folks.Where’s a vote there? Dispatches — An obligation. The DVD Winter Soldiers is also a must. Not to be an asshole, but don’t cry, it’s warrior shit. In the same circumstances, most of us would probably do the same. Oops, are we? Anyway, same old story. Good point, Tetman. The weird thing is that some of the people I’ve talked to are very fucked up and violent unhappy people but if you even suggest that the war fucked them up they want to fuck you up. People, go figure.

      • PS (of course, and usually must!) Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer weeny…’cause everyone would be in love with me. Man, there is so much informational language in that book. Again, good bring-up.

  10. Almost any TV commercial (I’m a cheap date).

    • Yes, yes! I wasn’t going to say anything, but you did, Sandra. The old AT&T ‘Reach Out and Touch Someone’ where the old people get a phone just *slayed* me. I’m an easy mark for tears around old people.

    • Remember that Folgers commercial, the one that had the guy coming home from college early during Christmas? And his six-year old sister was the only one awake, so they made coffee and everyone else came downstairs and were so surprised and happy to see him?

      I teared up every, single time

    • Me too. Hallmark commercials, ANY Hallmark commercial and I’m raising my book up so my family doesn’t see me tear up.

    • Yes, MacDonald’s brought tears because they used to be so sweet. Anything with laughing children and golden retriever puppies.

  11. The only time I remember a near sob -0- I really choked up for a second — reading a book, was near the end of Remains of the Day, the brilliantly achieved cliche of the narrator (who wouldn’t know it’s a cliche, really) when he tells us, “Indeed, my heart was broken.”

    Movies on the other hand… I cried all the way through Good Night and Good Luck, thinking about the level of intellect and discourse once encouraged in this country; I cried through much of a recent rewatching of Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, a rock concert movie (THE rock concert movie) because of hte expression s of freedom on the faces of the musicians, expressions, I realized, one never sees now and will likely never see again. Cry cry cry — that’s what movies are for.

    • Yes! Nearly everything I’ve read by Ishiguro. I also enjoyed THE MASTER by Colm Toibin in the same way. Movies? Anything, but “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” will get me in that Ishiguro kind of mode.

  12. The Kids Are All Right made me sob and sob. More because I related to Julianne Moore’s character than anything, but damn, those ladies are the cream that rises.

  13. My entire family is sentimental. We are known as the leaky-eyed Scotts. First books that made me cry and will identify me as the sap I am: Charlotte’s Web, Flowers for Algernon, The Yearling.

  14. The Way We Were. It spoke to me on a very personal level.

  15. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

  16. I would never admit these but here I go: The scene in the Sound of Music out in the garden gazebo where Maria and Captain Von Trapp reveal their love for each other, “There you are standing there loving me….”; when Lulu sings to Sidney Poitier “To Sir with Love”; and then of course, there’s “Feed the Birds” and “Lets go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins. Speaking of childhood books, The Red Pony, I cried buckets and I don’t even like horses. Love Story-forget it about. Rented that recently clandestinely from Netflix and waited until the house was empty and sobbed alone in the dark. As usual, wonderful question…

    • Your mention of The Red Pony brought to mind Where the Red Fern Grows, which reduced me to a puddle of tears when I read it as a child.

    • I second the whole Red Fern sobfest, but Deborah…Deborah…the scene where they first dance the Lindzer-whatever folkdance on the balcony. Sigh.

  17. Dumbo. You know which scene.

    And the memory of the memory of running crosstown full-speed, in work shoes, and bursting into the Animal Medical Center, wailing, so I could hold my good little dog in my arms while they put him to sleep. Even 5-1/2 years later, with such a good dog sleeping at my feet, I have tears running down my face just typing that. The well never seems to run dry.

  18. The most recent was the movie Iris. Anything about someone who relies on their intellect, builds their life around questions and then is taken down by Alzheimers.
    That terrifies the bejesus out of me. Writers being unable to write, singers being unable to sing…oh, La Vie En Rose. Watching Marion Cotillard in that destroyed me. The tragedy of demons who win.

  19. This documentary I watched the other day: The Horse Boy. It’s a distilled version of how fucking hard parenting can be; and how miraculous. And there’s no jerking the Kleenex cue on this one. It churns on the cycle of hope and despair that any parent (and especially parents of special needs kids) can relate to.

  20. I cried over “Love Story” every single time I read it or saw the movie, and I read it & saw it multiple times each. I must have been eleven or twelve. Where does that come from in an eleven year old boy??

  21. Brian’s Song, the movie, with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams as Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers.

  22. I’ve always thought, if you can’t cry at movies or music or books or paintings, how sensitive can you be? As Janis Joplin said, “Honey, I cry all the time.” I’ve cried several times at The Mentalist…it’s so brilliantly done. Always proud of my tears if they’re intelligent tears! And if I may say, I’ve cried a number of times at the end of my own novel. Hell, if I can’t cry there…where else can I cry? I’ve thought during that last chapter, “Not a dry eye in the house.” Big ideas make me cry.

    • That is just perfectly right: Big ideas make me cry.

      Watching those Egyptians in Tahrir Square, and now these Lybians fighting war planes with slingshots: their huge, vast, eternal ideas make me cry.

      • Yes. The price of freedom in each rock, scream or tear.
        A Thousand Splendid Suns left me angry and crying because of the injustice of the Taliban and those struggling to survive in their beautiful, broken part of the world. Do I want U.S. troops there? No. Is the situation in Afganistan intolerable? Yes.

    • Beautifully put!

  23. The most memorable leakage I had would have to be when I first read When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be by Keats. It’s a sad poem, and knowing what he didn’t know (that 5 years later he will actually cease to be), makes it all the more leak-worthy.

  24. I’ll cry over anything. In fact, I can even to it on command, one of the benefits of theatrical training. I did it for my kids at breakfast the other day. It was interesting to see each child’s reaction. One got emotional watching the tears well up in my eyes, one got scared, one started laughing and one looked at me like I was crazy. It was like having the world represented at my dining room table.

  25. The last time I cried reading a book was February by Lisa Moore – it was the first book I read on my Kindle and it confirmed to me that the reading experience could be as moving on an e-reader .

    But yes re the earlier comments -sappy commercials and children’s books can make me cry. Also the Neil Young song Helpless, as sung by KD Lang. Every time.

  26. The first book that made me cry was probably Black Beauty. I reread that book over and over, and probably cried every time. I was about 7. I soon learned not to read books with animals in them because they’re so often killed as foreshadowing.

    • Black Beauty. That’s a sobfest. Old Yeller. I could read animal books when I was a kid, but I can’t anymore. I cry more now than I did then. There’s a commercial where a dog brings an old guy the newspaper – even that gets me.

      • Those commercials that show abused animals are the worst. Punches to the gut.

      • I’m reading Old Yeller to my daughter right now, just getting to the rough part. She has no idea what’s coming but I’m already having a tough time. I remember reading it to my sons a couple of years ago huddled under the blankets … Damn, allergies must be starting up again.

        Also Love you Forever, Robert Munsch, thank God (and yes, too bad) my kids are past that age, I must have read it to them a hundred times in total and always had to stop near the end. Every. Single. Time. My kids would patiently wait for me to recover and stumble through the rest of the way.

      • Yes! Love You Forever kills me, every time. I can’t even attempt it without making a spectacle of myself.

      • Neither can I read animal stories or watch those SPCA commercials on TV without blubbering like a baby…..and I write books about animals. Go figure.

  27. Alison McGhee’s Someday (with Peter H. Reynolds’s beautiful illustrations) gets my daughter and I going — just thinking about that last line does it to me.

    And you know that bit in Mulan where the Emperor is listing her crimes — any of which could mean her execution — and then he thanks her and bows, and everyone in the city bows, too? Gets me every time.

    I’m not even going to bring up Lion King. Or Happy Feet. Or the Torchwood episode where Ianto dies. Or Much Ago About Nothing . . . Or the $&$#% St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V . . .

    My tear ducts hurt . . .

  28. I think you always remember your first. For me, it was crammed between my brother and sister in the back of my parents’ hatchback while I tried, and failed, to hide my weeping behind a tattered copy of Where the Red Fern Grows.

  29. Semiotics, but not in a good way. And Let’s not talk about Where the Red Fern Grows. Crying in a fifth grade classroom sucks.

  30. Under the obvious tear-jerker category, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Under the less obvious catgeory, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Post-Birthday World. Both gave me sleepless nights (for different reasons) and had me unexpectedly tearing up for days.

  31. The final pages of the novel, A Fine Balance. Also, various portions of What Is The What, once you get past the first 100 pages.

  32. I cry over anything, especially now that I’m menopausal. Sometimes it feels like I’m just making my goodbyes to the world; I’m perpetually misty.

    One thing that stands out in memory is the video of Stevie Nicks, gone to fat but still witchy-beautiful, singing “Landslide” live during the early nineties. When she comes to the part, “But time makes you bolder/ even children get older, and I’m getting older too,” she gives this little resigned nod, as if to say, yeah, my ass has spread, but here I am, singing like an angel, like always. What else is there to do?

    There are some books that make you want to stick your hands into the page and rip the characters free from their fate, even though you know things can’t end but how they do. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto comes to mind. There are others that I’ve bawled long and hard at, but I can’t seem to remember them at the moment. Damn.

  33. Oh, yeah. There’s Felix Salter’s Bambi, the chapter wherein the last two leaves on a tree talk about death. And The Little Prince, when the Prince and the Fox make their goodbyes.

  34. I hit a bird that flew into my path yesterday and saw it tumbling in my rear view. I didn’t cry until I got home and unloaded the groceries and held a whole chicken in my hands and burst into tears. The chicken will remain in the freezer for a long time to come.

  35. Les Miserables (the book). Just so damn beautiful.

    City Lights by Charlie Chaplin. Interesting, overlooked subplot of the schizophrenic effect of alcohol. Hard not to be moved by the happiness in the eyes of Chaplin’s tramp character when he learns the blind girl can see and she has no idea the poor little character in front of her is her benefactor.

    Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young. Raw tears.

  36. 84 Charring Cross Road:

    “Dear Miss,
    I have just come across the letter you wrote to Mr. Doel on the 30th of September last, and it is with great regret that I have to tell you that he passed away on Sunday the 22nd of December…”

    She never got to go to London! To browse the dusty oak shelves of Marks & Co.! To have a dinner of tinned ham with Frank and Nora and talk about Leigh Hunt!

    Oh, Helene….

  37. Anne Frank. “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

  38. i cried listening to marianne faithful last week. i’ve had the ballad of lucy jordan on one play list or another for more than ten years. last week was the first time i heard it and realized i was the same age as lucy. it felt like someone was choking me.

  39. I cried so hard in the movie Bambi that my sister had to take me out of the theatre. To this day I haven’t seen the rest of the movie. The end of Tuesdays With Morrie really got me. And I was on an airplane with my face turned to the window, trying so hard to swallow the sob that was filling my throat. Felt like an idiot, but damn, it was sad.

  40. I’m reading LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE with my daughter these days, and I’ve surprised myself by crying several times. When I was a child, reading about Mr. Edwards fording the river to bring Christmas to Mary and Laura was exciting (he met Santa Claus!) and now I find it incredibly moving– that someone would risk his life to bring joy to children not his own. And while my daughter was asking questions about the bunnies hopping around because of the prairie fire, I holding back tears from the terror Ma and Pa must have felt as they raced to save their family. Funny how the emotion can be on the page, but the reader has to be at the right place to take it in.

  41. A prayer for Owen Meany, Atonement, Never Let Me Go.

    I keep meaning to watch the movie version of the Ishiguro but I can’t even make it through the preview without sobbing!

  42. These are the last things I cried over (media-related only, for fuck’s sake, or we’d be here all day):

    Book: Ron Koertge’s STRAYS
    Commercial: ASPCA and the AT&T com’l where the dad tells his daughter with new braces that she’s pretty (note to self–just change the fucking channel, doofus)
    News story: Baby dolphin found still trying to nurse from dead, floating mother


  43. OMG, the worst sobfest: twenty minutes straight at the end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So beautiful. Okay, I’ll stop now or I’ll start crying.

  44. Do Burger King commercials count? Are there still Burger King commercials? Does the absence of Burger King commercials count?

  45. Nick Nolte crying in Prince of Tides when he let’s his painful childhood memories break through.

    And Dumbo. Mama still in chains, swinging Dumbo in her trunk. My son, about eight at the time, asked how come the happy part was so short. His dad had “won” him in our custody battle.

    • oh my god. i hope things are better now. (that sounds so flippant and light, but I mean it sincerely, that your son has been able to come back to you.)

      • Yes, Kim, thank you. He called me on the phone just after his 16th birthday, when his father could no longer stop him, and asked me to come pick him up, which I did, from his father’s house for the last time.

  46. On an emotional level I have changed little since prepubescence–which means that tears and laughter still come easily, spontaneously. Prefer laughter, tho. Who doesn’t? Tears, like laughter, erupt when I am moved. This is inconvenient. Tears don’t run on time! And there is suspicion and fear re people crying in public, so attempts are made to stifle or wear shades. More broadly, “excessive emotion” will drive people to drink or eat or drug in order to escape discomfort and to mask it. Emo people are often made to feel like freaks. I say screw that. Better emotional and warm than flat and “cool.” Flat affect is boring and safe. Tho, like I said, I prefer laughing. (Am reading Beckett right now, the Trilogy. B. is reassuring. The man was so attuned to grief and absurdity and humor, as well as the interplay and overlapping of same. Such beautifully vicious tenderness there.)

    And so:
    “The tears of the world are a constant quality. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.”
    — Samuel Beckett

  47. Sentimental stuff makes me laugh not cry. Can’t help how I’m made.

    • Right. Which is why I like Beckett. Not exactly a sentimental guy. Maybe more senti-MAN-tal. Tough, macho, relentless. Hmm, but with Beckett there is always the opposite–or two opposites and topsy-turvies. So he was also, I think, deeply vulnerable and emotional–even mawkish at times. I am guessing (and yes, of course, I could be wrong). As I was just reminded by a friend, I’m not as easily moved to tears these days as I said I was (fact-check!), tho I am often moved–and often slightly sad. But humor sneaks in, nearly always, to save the day. In Buddhism there is the idea of the “spiritual warrior,” one who is tough and gentle, both. This notion appeals.

  48. The first sentence of an email I got today from my dream agent, passing on a project I love with all my heart.

  49. Call of the Wild.

    My mother would see me reading it and say, “Not again! It’s going to make you cry.”

  50. Little Women. The Winona Ryder movie even more than the book, which makes it even worse.
    House of Mirth. Every time I reread it, I hope for a miracle.
    The opening of Jane Austen’s Emma. Mr. Woodhouse IS my poor, dead father, and his annoying, endearing way of being both doting and completely helpless just kills me.
    Anything I watch on a plane.

  51. I’ve been struggling with suggested revisions for almost a month. When I first read this post, I copied your first paragraph into my notes. I didn’t know why it was important but I knew it was. Finally, a week later, it clicked. I identified that moment (which had actually been suggested to me but I refused to accept). Once I saw the scene as this moment, all the revision fell into place, every last bit of it. I hope you know how inspirational you are. Wicked funny and sick and insane– sure. But inspirational too. So thanks.

Leave a Reply to independentclause Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: