Friday, January 21, 2011

Laughing Boy, Crying Girl

In the past I prided myself in being the kind of person who doesn't cry in movies. I could sit, stalwart, through Life is Beautiful and never shed a single tear. Then something happened to me; something very unnerving.
I think it began with Finding Neverland, a movie that I have seen at least eight times and in which I have never once been able to refrain from weeping. This is not normal crying either; it's sobbing, complete with snot, hiccups, and the inability to stop. I remember when I watched it for the first time. Kate Winslet waltzed through Neverland, and I felt myself losing control. I sat, stunned, as the credits started rolling in. It was over? But she was dead! There was no happiness with death at the end of a story! How treacherous!  I quietly climbed the stairs, slowly, went to my room and shut the door. I elevated the intensity of my sadness by turning on the soundtrack to that movie, which brought back that burning feeling. The characters were fictional alright, but oh how it hurt! And yet, it felt so good to cry.
The second time was even worse. I was with Koseli. She likes a pathetic story just as much as me, if not more. There were the credits again. This time I was sobbing uncontrollably right there in front of everybody, struggling to maintain regular breathing. To my left  Koseli was also crying and loudly blowing her nose into a roll of toilet paper. The harder I cried, the harder she cried, and so the harder I cried and so on. We both agreed: it was disgusting, yet incredibly satisfying.
Several years later when I watched this movie with Jason, I made a promise to myself that I would not cry. We were in the infancy of our dating relationship and I knew, rightly, that there is nothing attractive about a red nose and squinty eyes. I tried very hard to control myself. I actually made it with only a few tears shed by the time we turned off the DVD player. At first I thought to myself, "Yes! I did it! I didn't cry!" but then I started getting a tight feeling in my chest. Jason probably noticed the stricken look on my face and encouraged me to go ahead and cry since I needed to. Oh no, he was right! It had become a need. I HAD to cry. Unbidden, the tears started pouring out. I sneaked a glance at Jason and saw that he had a small smile on his lips. Okay. So that's how it is. If it gave him satisfaction to see me cry in order to have an excuse to hug me, I would never disappoint him with a lack of tears. He patted my head and said, "It's alright, it's alright." But his kindness and understanding only made me cry harder.
It is my belief that this problem doesn't completely stem from the sadness of the story itself, though a well-written or acted tragedy definitely does help. No. My belief is that the real root of the tears is my desperate need for romance, and nothing breaks my heart like lost love, father to son, mother to child, sister to sister-- it is all heart-wrenching in the most wonderful way possible. Black Beauty, Joan of Arc, The Road-- I have become a connoisseur of sad literature and film. Making someone laugh is easy enough, but the real mastery comes with making people cry. Sob. Convulse. It is pure art.
Last night I finished the Pulitzer Prize winning book Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge. The novel's main concern is the clash between Navajo culture and the newfound Americanism  in the Southwest. But when it comes to emotions, the most important aspect of the novel is the beautiful and resounding romance between the chief characters. Oh, how I'm a sucker for a good romance! I read the last word on the last page and felt that old familiar burning in my chest, felt my eyes fill up with tears. Jason was sitting on the floor next to me-- innocent, peaceful. Oh but he was at risk! His life! His life! I knew that, like Laughing Boy I couldn't live without him. To his astonishment I locked onto him, blubbering incoherent pleas that he would never allow himself to be killed by an arrow or a gun. "I promise you," he said to me, quite sincerely, "that will never happen." Well I knew that, but even so, I needed to imagine the worst-- Jason, slumped on his pony, blood gushing from an arrow wound in his chest, or Jason, sick with scarlet fever, his forehead bathed in sweat, or any member of my family, my cat, my parents, Jason! Jason! in mortal peril, begging for their lives-- to summon up that overwhelming burning sensation, to cry, and to relieve the pain.
As Koseli says, it hurts so good.


A Toast to Kos said...

You are on fire Jossi! I love this post so much. I remember that night when we watched that movie special. I love a good, sad story for cathartic release.

I give this post 2 thumbs up. Perfection.

she-bee said...

you actually did read the whole Laughing Boy? Dad gave it to me to read and I think I got through the first few chapters but just couldn't get into it. anyway, i'm glad you liked it enough to cry!
i too never would cry during movies but have changed... i think it has something to do with getting married and imagining what's going on in the movie happening to my beloved Jon-Jon. i remember when you and koseli were crying like crazy over neverland-i was laughing at you!! hahhaha

A Toast to Kos said...

hahaha. Shirsti, you have a heart of cold steel. hahaha yeah, anything sad I see or read I apply to us and I just fall apart. It's very dramatic.

Joslynn, do you watch Parenthood?