Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Time to Cry

The moment after I clicked on 'Publish Post' on my Shirley Hazzard piece, I felt a distinct pang of regret. It wasn't quite strong enough to make me rewrite and it certainly fell far short of the suicidal, middle-of-the-night, pillow-clutching, ohmygoddidIreallysaythat? moments that have dogged my career. But it was real enough. The pang-causing words were 'sobbed copiously'. Now, of course, I am a New Man and I must be seen to weep once in a while. But, for a moment, this felt, in this context, a little too much. In response, Johnny asked if I often 'blub over books' and I am afraid the answer is, 'Yes, often.' But I only blub over good books. When it comes to films, I'll tear up over any old crap. Odd that. Either way, I cry a lot, though more often about fiction than fact. This probably makes me some kind of psycho, it certainly makes me an embarrassment. Anyway, I'm a crier. I have come out and I feel better for it.  Join the club, guys. I suggest you start with Andrei Tarkovsky's film The Sacrifice. This produced my best ever sob, a real gem, a desperate, shuddering inhalation accompanied by a weird, high-pitched yelp. It was late at night in St Martin's Lane and I'm sure I heard applause.

41 comments:

  1. what a relief, we thought you might be gay.

    come on, new man is so old, man! it's the 21st century - we're going back to proper British values...

    (I should say something like; 'not that there's anything wrong with being gay' - there isn't - but to say such a thing is gay in itself. oops)

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  2. when your hole is deep enough, after you with the spade..

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  3. Cry if you have cancer, AID's or if they're going to amputate your foot. Don't cry over words.

    There is real suffering in this world. Look around you. (And I don't mean in Waterstones).

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  4. Cry if you have cancer, AID's or if they're going to amputate your foot. Don't cry over words.

    There is real suffering in this world. Look around you. (And I don't mean in Waterstones).

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  5. Everything about that comment is completely and utterly wrong, Void.

    Having said that, I'm usually incapable of crying at anything sad, but lately find myself unexpectedly welling up at small real life stories of generosity and self-sacrifice. A news item a while back about some lovely old geezer who gave his land to the National Trust rather than flog it to some developer had me quite spluttering and I had feign hay fever.

    The only film that got me as an adult was Life is Beautiful. I didn't even think it was that great but in the very final scene an enormous, wracking sob suddenly ambushed me and then, just as quickly, was gone.

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  6. Be careful. Matthew Parris wrote the other day - unfortunately I can't remember where - that the real mark of a cruel man was that he cried over films. Which if true has me down as a right Lord Effingham.

    However, and in mitigation, it has always struck me that Parris, like Simon Jenkins, has more than a touch of the misanthrope himself.

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  7. I don't know, you try and use your alibi and up I pop as 'mark'. Unmasked. Curses.

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  8. Oh, take me out and shoot me. Effingham?!?!?! WALSINGHAM.

    Sorry, my host. Clearly not myself this morning. Must have been watching 'The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp' last night: blubbed like a baby.

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  9. Music's the reall killer isn't it?

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  10. I think it is. The 3rd movement Adagio of Elgar's 1st Symphony always gets me, and I'm 'on-the-verge' even before it starts as Elgar employs astonishing technique in fashioning the transition; it's full of anticipation as he creates the most wonderful example of musical 'gear-shifting' I've ever heard. I'm playing it now, oh God, here we go ....

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  11. Wonderful, Bryan. Same here with silly telly/movies.

    I was talking with Clive Barker about this recently. He said: "If I weep in a movie it's almost always a moment of triumph rather than a moment of grief".

    I find the same with, say, things as cheesy as the finest Disney animated features. I acquiesce in the most obvious sensory cues.

    If I ever feel the awkward tingle of embarrassment at getting teary over something daft, I console myself with the memory of an ex who would sob uncontrollably every time Elton John's weird Diana tribute came on the radio. That's embarrassing. I think you're right about music, Nige...

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  12. The first time I was ever reduced to tears by anything/anybody other than my brothers was when reading a book called the Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater. I can't remember exactly what it was that made me cry, but do remember feeling a bit startled that a book could have that effect on me.

    Now, it doesn't take much to set me off - like Johnny, I'm a sure thing for Disney sentimentality involving animals or children. Old Yeller, anyone?

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  13. "Graham Greene remarked that the mark of a really cruel man is that he cries in the cinema. Or so I think someone once told me, and I've quoted it often. A friend and fellow author who had misremembered and attributed it to Goebbels, called this week for clarification, and we tried a Google search. The quote's there all right - but only as quoted by people quoting me quoting Greene. Soon there will be disputes as to whether it was Greene or Goebbels. The awful thought occurs that it was neither, and I just imagined it. So can I have it back as my own?"--Matthew Parris, "My perfect national motto", The Times, November 15, 2007.

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  14. It all depends on what you are doing in the cinema.

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  15. Your mate John Gray nearly had me weeping for my children while I sat on a crowded bus this morning. Black Mass is a terrific book in more ways than one but on every page it reminds you what a squalid little world we inhabit and that we are all inevitably doomed. To take my mind off such things, I put it away and turned on the news...

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  16. Neil, dinna fret. John Gray is a polemicist and enjoys putting the wind up. Think of him as the LSE's very own Private Fraser: "We're doomed, I tell ye. Doomed".

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  17. And, in fact, John is a very cheery sort of bloke.

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  18. Neil - but the ones that get me going are those that remind you that, although we are all indeed individually doomed, it is not an entirely squalid little world after all.

    Nige - music but very rarely lyrics. Hitting the exact notes that set off the tear glands is a cheap trick that music has (violins in particular).

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  19. There's a great discussion re: crying and New Men in Lethal Weapon, where a cop announces, "I'm a new man. You know what? I cried in bed last night." To which Murtaugh, "sounds like a New Man to me."

    Not bed but films with me, The Thin Red Line particularly, even though i've seen it a dozen times already. Every time, when Sgt Walsh looks down at Witt's grave and asks quietly, accusingly, "where's your spark now?"

    It's not generally my own situation or hard facts that get me, it's oblique, unexpected, it's John Grady looking at the body of the girl he loves, her throat slit, it's Spiegel im Spiegel. i can face my own woes and the woes of the world but fictive woes get under my guard, they are unresolvable, rien a faire.

    People who don't cry have something wrong with them; sociopaths, people with dead hearts, no love, no joy.

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  20. Most of us do cry more as we get older, don't we? As the man said, Sunt lacrymae rerum.

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  21. et mentem mortalia tangunt

    Funny, on the subject of whether it's appropriate to cry at fictions, that Aeneas - long before Waterstones was around - utters this line while looking at the wall paintings on the Carthage to-be, the wall paintings of the Fall of Troy; so he can speak of the tears of things while contemplating his own life made into a fiction, in a way he finds difficult otherwise.

    Link to Odysseus in the Odyssey, disguised as a beggar, listening to the bard sing the tale of Odysseus, he pulls his cloak tighter to hide his tears.

    Neither Aeneas nor Odysseus what you'd call new men, really, but both afflicted by fictions of their own lives. There may be a sense in which we feel the lacrimae mundi, the tears of the world, more in fiction than in the heady rush of actual life. Lest 'fiction' seem to imply Waterstone's, i have in mind more Wallace St's 'poetry is the supreme fiction', an act of the imagination.

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  22. Most of us do cry more as we get older, don't we? As the man said, Sunt lacrymae rerum.

    Not sure. Why be sad when you can be grumpy instead. Grumpy is more fun. Blubbing instead of raging at the dying of the light is a little, er, unfortunate. Not sure, either, that not crying at all is the mark of a sociopath and outcast. My understanding is that many bloodthirsty tyrants were notorious for crying at the drop of a hat. Compared to that, not crying is a virtue.

    Better, anyway, to cry at the miraculous, the sudden, unexpected, inexplicable sheer delightedness of it, whether a new vista, an act of generosity or seeing a truly great painting for the first time. Crying over Disney-stuff is pretty grim, like someone crying with gratitude when given an extra sachet of ketchup in a McDonalds. You'd wonder what was wrong with them.

    I did see a recent picture of Shirley Hazzard. This dispelled all notions of wanting to cry there and then. She looks a tough one.

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  23. Sophie, I'm with you. Anything to do with kids or animals being hurt and I cry. Don't cry at the other stuff, though.

    Alas, I was raised with all brothers and learned not to cry early in life. I'm sure I'd feel better if I cried more often. I was always the one among my girlfriends who wasn't sobbing when everyone else was, and it's caused me alarm on many occasions when good female friends have burst into tears over something. I must feel like men do: I don't know what to do and I wish they'd stop.

    Now there's an admission for Tuesday a.m.! 'Course, I have to take my dog to the vet today b/c she has an eye infection. Maybe that will get me -- or her -- to shed a few tears.

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  24. Brit, you are mostly right about music and lyrics. But some lyrics do tip me over the edge, which is bad when you are supposed to be singing them. I have snivelled my way through Unto Us a Child is Born from The Messiah on more occasions than I care to remember. And what about Dido's Lament? I think with these examples it's precisely the combination of both music and lyrics that moves me.

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  25. The closest I've come to crying while reading a novel recently was at the end of a rereading of The Guermantes Way, when Swann explains, to general indifference, that he is dying.

    The other instance that comes to mind is when one of the dozens of characters in James Gould Cozzens's Guard of Honor makes a wrong decision, one that the reader and the character both have known he was edging towards for a long time, despite the fact that it is sure to greatly hurt those he loves.

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  26. Might steal that idea about weeping with joy & gratitude at receiving a free satchet of McDonald's ketchup, if that's okay.

    Strangely i found passages such as Swann's death hilarious. One man's sensitive soul is another man's sociopath, that much is clear.

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  27. Great stuff Elberry - there's an amazing amount of male crying in Homer, isn't there, and God knows those guys weren't New Men. Osysseus's men weeping with 'homesickness' all the time - but that's a subject in itself...

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  28. Sophie:

    I'll nominate Dylan's 'Most of the Time' from Oh Mercy as a devilish little tear-jerker.

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  29. ...That and Two Little Boys of course.

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  30. Not sure what to do with this information but I feel certain that if anyone can use it, Thought Experimenters can: there is a national shortage of goose fat according to The Times. Those sufficiently worried by this info can call The Goose Fat Information Service - yes, really.

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  31. It is like weeping at a funeral. Are you crying for the deceased or for yourself?
    Obviously for yourself. What is that?
    Self-indulgent.
    It is akin to stamping your foot and throwing a temper tantrum because mummy won't take you to McDonalds.

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  32. wow! So many repressed people I am astounded, especially at the home of thoughtful comment. A good cry is exactly that - liberating, human catharsis. So good for you Bryan. Then again I'm welsh and we are all cry babies. Cryers have soul; non-cryers have cauterized their emotions somewhere along the line.

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  33. Interesting point, Void, except have you ever cried? Been to a funeral for a loved one? Ever loved anyone? Of course not. You sit in your high stool chair eating your Ruskies and watching Button Moon and make considerable judgements about the human race, beating your wooden spoon and screaming. Eat your Ruskies, sweetheart.

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  34. Joni Mitchell: 'A Case of You'. Surely even Void can shed a tear listening to that ? Well, maybe not.

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  35. Perhaps Void's tear ducts were removed at birth. Perhaps he is the Terminator and feels nothing, cannot understand anyone else so must judge and despise everyone. Poor sad man without tear ducts, only his contempt.

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  36. Though having said that i just slashed myself with a knife as a drunken mishap so having no human nerve endings or tear ducts would right now be quite useful. Everything in its place.

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  37. Since I've had children, I've cried more and more. It's partly a case of: if you can't beat them, join them. But of course it's also got something to do with their innocence and vulnerability and the terrifying responsibility of having to protect these unbearably precious gifts of nature. They have also unlocked my heart in other ways. For example, memories of my own fraught childhood have coming flooding back. Can anybody recommend a better defence mechanism than repression? Because it ain't working for me right now. All in all, the little blighters have turned in into a emotional wreck.

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  38. In Australian, the death last week of Matt Price, a youngish(46), witty and popular multi-media political journalist had many other journalists (male and female) sobbing on TV while passing on their condolences. It was terribly moving, seeing political journalists finding it hard to keep control. I suspect that even if you have never heard of him, as doubtless most readers here would not, the video tribute at his old newspaper would have to get to you: http://tinyurl.com/325kup

    As for crying at movies or novels: I am truly puzzled by people who claim that fiction simply cannot get to them that way. It seems such an unnatural barrier that they are able to set up in their mind: is it a weird filter like a voice constantly whispering in their ear "it's not real, you know, you don't have to feel anything"?

    Final departure scenes accompanied by appropriate music will always do it for me: the ending of "Ghost", (yes, even with Swayse) or the ultimate guarantee of tears for me: ET's departure.

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  39. When you lose someone you love you shed tears - are your tears for yourself or for the one who is dead? Are you crying for yourself or for another? Have you ever cried for another? Have you ever cried for your son who is killed on the battlefield? You have cried, but do those tears come out of self-pity or have you cried because a human being has been killed? If you cry out of self-pity your tears have no meaning because you are concerned about yourself. If you are crying because you are bereft of one in whom you have invested a great deal of affection, it was not really affection. When you cry for your brother who dies cry for him. It is very easy to cry for yourself because he is gone. Apparently you are crying because your heart is touched, but it is not touched for him, it is only touched by self-pity and self-pity makes you hard, encloses you, makes you dull and stupid. When you cry for yourself, is it love - crying because you are lonely, because you have been left, because you are no longer powerful - complaining of your lot, your environmment - always you in tears?

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  40. Neil, love the idea of disciplining your children not by beating but by crying at them. i had a great & terrifying bald Irish history teacher, Chops he was called, who would loom over his most hated pupils and bellow from 6 inches away, his whole head red and wobbling, "I wish I could STRIKE you!!!" This was, we all agreed, pretty amazing & traumatic, but if he'd then burst into tears of fury or self-pity or madness, i think even we would have been a bit cowed.

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  41. Maureen the HousewifeDecember 05, 2007 9:57 am

    Well, Mr Void, I can tell you I WILL ALWAYS CRY during Pretty Woman and if you don't like that you can just boil your head! People like you should be dragged out of their homes by an enraged lynch mob, and hanged from a lamp post! For all to see!

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