Raise your hands, tall and proud, if you’ve cried in the last week? I cannot see you, so I am going to trust you’re actually doing that. I wonder what percentage of ALL you listeners, all you readers, have your hands up? Now, leave your hands up if you’ve cried sometime in the last 3 days? Good. Still some of us I imagine. Now, keep it raised if you’ve cried in the last 24 hours. This, this is where I truly wonder how many are still hands up and proud. Now, let’s repeat the whole exercise, only this time, instead of tears we will use actual, honest, belly laughter. I’ve a sneaking suspicion the number of hands will be fewer, and that’s ok given the absurd debacle we’ve all endured together over the last years. What I want to know, what this essay is truly about, is if there are more “mes” out there hiding in amongst all you “yous.” Do you too struggle with the ‘middle of emotion’ as the poem above says? Let’s dive in.
As the poem, which I will recite for you now says — dramatic pause for reading this one aloud for all you who listen to, instead of read this Signal Fire — I cry a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I tear up at poetry I read, at tiny bits of movies or television shows, at bits of novels, I cry at beautiful moments that sneak up during a day, I cry when I feel the full weight of the love I have for those I have that love for, I cry when I’m overwhelmed with excitement or exhaustion or elation or sorrow. I cry, I’m a cryer, and I’m just fine with that. It is not a secret that there’s a toxic view of masculinity that I have positively never subscribed to, and never will, that all men must be stoics, that we’re prohibited from showing anything that highlights a vulnerability. Men, in absurd numbers, are taught from a young age that “real men don’t cry,” that real men do not show weakness, that they rise above their own emotions and become masters of them. For centuries, the idea of displaying an emotional response other than anger or ambivalence toward something was verboten, that we must never dip our toes into that salt water pool filled with tears and susceptibility. So for centuries, we didn’t. As the ice surrounding this utter nonsense began to thaw, sometime in the 70’s or early 80’s, those brave men that decided to show those aforementioned emotions were ridiculed, were outcasted, were called horrible names and most often homophobic slurs. I’ve been there, I remember it, fresh as though it just happened, multiple times in my own life where I was called names, those slurs, teased, or even bullied, for showing emotions. Going through elementary, middle, and high school in Montana as a guy who respected women higher than all things, wrote poetry daily, hated hunting and fishing because he loved the animals, and wished for a giant magnet to suck all the guns from the world up into space, clearly I had my fair share of contempt and disdain. It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now, and I remember being that strange kid that was proud of that vulnerability in me, that never shied away from highlighting it, celebrating it, pouring it into art.
There is so much value to tears, so much catharsis that comes only when we allow ourselves to shed them. Fact is, emotion weighs A LOT. More than we know, we carry the burdens our life throws at us internally, like concrete around our spines, and we wonder as we hunch over the further into age we trek. Crying, sobbing, is a purging, and it is freedom incarnate. If you don’t cry now, if you’re blocked for any reason from letting them loose, please take this as the sign you didn’t know you needed to shed them. Let them go, and with it, yourself.
On the other side of the coin, and again I hope you understand when I speak on this Signal Fire, I speak only from my own experiences, and in no way assume that the perspective I am coming from is a universal one, nor do I think myself worthy or wise enough to adopt a position to speak for anyone other than myself, phew, sorry for the digression, but anyway, on the other side of the coin, I also have seen the joyful side of emotion fall victim to similar censorship. I see so many people downplaying joy, stifling their own laughter for any number of reasons ranging from insecurity about their own physical manifestations of that laughter, to some strange belief that silliness is childishness, and childishness is just as weak as vulnerability. I have seen the women in my own life avoid sincere and hysterical laughter as they wished to avoid the ‘undoing’ of all the work they put in to be taken seriously. I have seen the men in my life restrain themselves in the pursuit of appearing “cool” or mysterious or some other bullshit that shouldn’t matter, but somehow to them does. We all fight so hard at seem so balanced, so calm, so free from the extremes, I cannot help but wonder of the health of a society that has encouraged that for so long. I cannot help but wonder of our own mental health when we’re terrified to show the edges of our emotion, terrified to even admit we’re terrified, or sad, or lonely, or in love, or joyful, or whatever else lingers on the periphery, miles from the hazy grey center. Miles from the humdrum existence we for some reason strive for.
For me, give me the extremes, for I am a man of them. Give me the wild borders where we’ve not yet drawn the map, not yet sailed the sea, give me the dragons that we swear thar be in those dark waters. Give me the belly laughter and the fist curling weep, give me the abject terror of this existence, give me the staggering beauty that is being alive. Give me the passion that courses through veins like quicksilver and lights up the streets we walk down, the sheets we tangle in, the adventures we say Yes to. Give me the tears, give me the giggles, give me the grief, give me the elation. Give it to me, and give it to me again and again, for I have no use of a life in the middle, no purpose for anything other than the magnificent everything.
Join me here, somewhere on the curled edge of this old map. I’m waiting.
Man of many tears,
man of laughter unrestrained.
Man of the extremes.