1. 1994. I was 11, in my first year of high school, playing football on the school fields. I was awarded a penalty. A group of older kids came and stood on the touchline, taunting and jeering. I ignored as best I could, but scuffed the shot and the ball rolled wide. The older kids erupted into screams of laughter and name-calling. I burst into tears.
Those taunts, and the years of reminders that followed, that “you cried because you missed a penalty,” simply weren’t true. I cried because they'd humiliated me, very publicly. They taught me a lesson a lot of men learn early: Never cry.
2. When my nana died in April this year, the last of my grandparents to do so, I spent the two weeks before the funeral somewhat numb, focused on writing and delivering my eulogy. At the service I spoke clearly, without a crack or waver. As I returned to my seat, the room stood to sing "Jerusalem". Halfway through the first line, my legs buckled and I collapsed to the pew in fits of tears, crying with my whole body. My sister sat and put her arm around me as two weeks of tears and a lifetime of memories flooded out.
For years I reserved tears for funerals, thinking that only truly traumatic events deserved emotion. I placed too much emphasis on what was expected of me, as a man. It wasn’t until my thirties that I came to understand the truth: Emotions don’t need an event, but they do deserve my attention. Narrow definitions of masculinity do not.
3. Christmas 2013. I’d spent the day with my ex and her family. It was six months after the breakup, but in the evening I’d begun to feel out of place, and I returned to the small cabin I’d rented. There I sat on the sofa and cried, with no provocation other than a total melancholy. I was half a world away from my family, and my life in Australia had collapsed. Not only that, but I’d gone cold turkey off my meds the week before, not realising how potentially dangerous that is. I sobbed harder than I had in years.
Christmas is a difficult time for those with depression, and that Christmas for me especially so. After crying myself to sleep, I woke up the next morning and went for a long walk in the mountains. I felt more positive and refreshed. Sometimes you need a good cry to put things back into perspective.
4. A couple of years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I read The Time Traveler’s Wife. I enjoyed the book immensely, it was playful and surprising – and incredibly moving. The last few chapters or so I bawled my eyes out. So, so sad. Just thinking about it now I’m getting a bit choked up. Thanks, Audrey Niffenegger.
This is not an isolated case. In the past year I’ve cried at number of books, including but not limited to Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill, Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt, and Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter. But The Time Traveler’s Wife really ruined me for a good while. I don't seek out stories that will make me cry, but when they do, I don't hide from it. Reading about other people, other lives, is a great way to expose yourself to your own thoughts and feelings.
5. Last year I had the fortune to see the film Beasts of the Southern Wild with a live orchestra performing the score. Not only is it one of the most beautiful and original films made in recent years, but the score is wonderful, at once triumphant and heartbreaking. When the final song, the most emotive of the soundtrack, played over the final scene and credits, I smiled and wept quietly, surrounded by a theatre full of people doing the same.
6. Last month, my Spotify Discover playlist coughed up a song by former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. I’d never heard any of his solo stuff, but it was haunting, and the pain in his voice hit home. I slumped in my seat, tucked away at the back of the office, hidden from view by the stacks of books on my desk, and let the tears fill my eyes.
It’s taken me a long time to get here, but there’s no shame in finding beauty in the world, no matter what triggers it. It's not about being a real man. It's about being an honest one.
7. When the Philae Lander went out of range.
And then managed to power up and speak to us again.
No, you’re crying. OK, we both are.
8. On a recent trip to New York, I watched Inside Out on the plane. It's a film about feelings, about how they work, and the lesson – that sadness is not only OK, but is necessary – was a vivid affirmation of a way I’d felt most of my life. From around the halfway mark, tears started rolling down my cheeks. By the end they were full blown sobs. I’d very much recommend you see it. Have tissues on hand.
I’ve cried at a few films in the past year or two. The Harry Potter series – Sirius, Dumbledore, Dobby – for starters, but also About Time completely ruined me. But that was mostly in the privacy of my own home. Public crying is something I was taught not to do. Time was I’d have choked back my tears, lest someone – a flight attendant, a fellow passenger – see me cry. Not any more. It felt good to feel. I didn't care who knew it.
9. While in New York I went to see a small indie film, The End of the Tour, about the late writer David Foster Wallace. I’m not a huge Wallace fanboy – I’ve never conquered Infinite Jest – but I respect his nonfiction work and have enjoyed many of his articles and essays. The film, about his book tour for Infinite Jest in 1996, was a tender portrait, but as I shuffled out of the cinema I was struck by a particular and affecting sadness.
In the film, Wallace had struggled with his place in life, had battled addiction and depression, but had found a way to work. The film ended with Wallace hopeful for his future. Knowing that he didn’t make it filled me with a deep sadness. I opted to walk the 20 blocks back to my hotel rather than get a cab, tears welling in my eyes and occasionally tumbling down my cheeks as I walked.
My depression might not be comparable to Wallace’s – everyone is different – but I do understand the struggle to find your way in the world. As I figure that out, through downs and ups, there is plenty that fill me with hope, and while not much is certain, I can say this without a doubt: Crying helps.