christinas-world-c1948Growing up in my family, the biggest insult by far was:  What are you?  A crybaby?

I spent last week organizing my head around a possible story, jotting notes and possible scenes on long yellow paper and tiny torn white scraps, thinking about a structure, the questions that need answering, trying to find the story in the situation.  If there was a story.  I spent this weekend, from 5 am both days, splicing it all together, digging a story out of the scraps.  And since I had writing group today, I spent this morning reading it out loud to myself, to see if it made a lick of sense.

And then I cried.  Whoa.  Where in the hell did that come from?

I kept reading.  Got control of myself.  What are you?  A crybaby?

And then I went to my writing group and, in a room of all men except for me, I read my story — for their critique — and could hardly finish.  Three pages from the end my hands stared shaking and I had to lay the papers on my lap for control; two pages and my voice started shaking, the words gone blurry, choked; the last, long paragraph was — and I am not even remotely exaggerating here — barely audible.



When was the last time you wrote something — or read something — that made you cry?







22 thoughts on “Crybaby

  1. jpon

    You never know what’s going to trigger a response, Teri. I have a friend who lost her husband two years ago. She went through the entire grief process like a rock, never revealing emotion in public. She likes to order coffee by saying she’ll take it black… like her soul. Last year I asked her to critique a story of mine that I’d worked very hard on, one that went into an unusual aspect of empathy. I didn’t know if it said anything or even made sense. But it made her cry. We carry so much inside, don’t we?

    1. Teri Post author

      That is true. You never know. I had no clue I’d lose it completely and not be able to recover enough to continue. Of course my writing group was incredibly kind and professional, and we went right into the “critique” part of things, which helped a ton —- stepping back immediately and looking at the piece structurally and discussing missed connections and what was lacking was a godsend.

      And then we went on to discuss things like the end of human civilization and the Deseret language of the Mormon church, so that helped too. 🙂

  2. MSB

    Not me. I was encouraged to cry, to “let it all out.” I find that part of me very tuned in. In fact, maybe a little too tuned in. Through the years, I’ve come to realize that a certain amount of detachment is vital to happiness.

    I read the newspaper everyday. Everyday I read about a child who has been starved, or raped, or swept away by a flash flood or massive mudslide. It seems so impossible and yet I know it has happened. Letting myself hurt is my way of carrying on.

    1. Teri Post author

      What would that have been like, to have been encouraged to “let it all out?” Wow.

      And speaking of children …. on the drive home from writing group, I was thinking about the time I spent at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the cancer ward. Many stories there, for sure, but there was one infant with special circumstances that I still, a decade later, think about and can see in my mind as if I’m still in that dimly lit room, rocking him.

  3. donnaeve

    That had to be so hard for you.

    When was the last time you wrote something — or read something — that made you cry?

    lt’s been a while, years actually. In a very early manuscript I wrote a couple of chapters about two dogs from my childhood. That ms was more memoir than anything I’ve written since. I believe I’m the way I am today about the current dogs in my life because of those incidents. They were horrible, preventable, but I was too young to do anything to save them. I was only eight with the first incident, something so crazy and violent, I find it hard to believe even today. The second was when I was thirteen, and I was simply filled with a ton of guilt.

    I read them out loud to my husband and couldn’t finish. (I was doing that insane thing I call jerk crying…hiccuping, feeling breathless) I just had to stop. I think I’d tucked it all away and wouldn’t let myself think about any of it because it was just so darn sad.

    1. Teri Post author

      Which is exactly why I can never never work at a shelter or kennel. I would never be able to sleep at night.

      I have a couple of horrific dog instances, too, from my childhood, so I totally understand what you’re saying. There was one in particular that was so graphic and horrific, I can still see it clearly in my mind — I was angry at my grandmother for almost 20 years about that before I found a way to forgive her.

      1. donnaeve

        Me either! I so want to go and give those dogs a kind word, a hand across their heads…but I am not stoic enough. I’ve always wanted to do it, but…, hey, I cry over the SPCA commercials. I’d be useless.

        It sounds like our stories could be along parallel lines as I can still see them very clearly too…,and I’m STILL angry at my mother who set the first incident in motion. I can’t talk to her about it, and even though I’ve never tried, it would do more harm than good at this point. Besides, she’d deny it ever happened. I have buried anger at her for many of the “incidents,” that happened to ALL of my dogs back then.

  4. independentclause

    Teri, all the fucking time. When I first started writing nonfiction, I’d cry without even realizing I was going to. I was all like my mom, tough as nails, never cry, until my dad died. Now I’m a fucking waterworks. (Makes me swear.) But in the wise words of my buddy J, if you don’t cry, your readers won’t either.

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh Indy, this memoir-writing business is not for sissies, is it?

      Interestingly, I showed up at my group saying, “This is a whole new essay and has nothing, not a single thing!, to do with my memoir,” to which they all said afterward, “You are wrong. That’s a chapter, and here’s why….” And of course they are right.

  5. Averil Dean

    Like you, I grew up ashamed by expressions of tenderness. No one called me crybaby but there was this tacit understanding that tears were almost always inappropriate and were to be discouraged. This upbringing made my father’s last years all the more bewildering; he became one of those maudlin drinkers whose eyes always seem full to brimming, leaving me itching to escape before they fell.

    My last book is fairly overwrought beginning to end but I think I needed to write it that way. I cried a lot that year. Always in private, and usually over my pages.

  6. Downith

    Teri, your writing group sounds so great -what a find.

    I have cried over books but I can’t think of one right now. Been leaning towards the funny lately.

    1. Teri Post author

      I can’t read funny lately. Though it would probably be the best thing for me.

      Salads and lite fare would be best, too, but I’m avoiding them as well. 😉

  7. Josey

    my mom was tough on us when we cried. i’m not sure about my siblings, but i remember often being told how ugly i looked when i was sobbing. (i know, that sounds so awful…i don’t even think of it so much in a poor-little-crying-me way anymore, just a regular response to a run of the mill situation growing up.)

    as far as your question – you were in the room with me last time it happened!! i haven’t read aloud since.

    1. Teri Post author

      And I can promise that YOU are EXACTLY who I thought of, as I sat there while my group comforted me just enough, then went on (thank god!) into the helpful critique part of things. And then told me their stories of getting choked up by reading.

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