We Should All Be Weeping

If I had a daughter, I would want her to be little like Emma Gonzalez.

Or perhaps a lot like her.

There are a hundred reasons. There is her buzz cut for starters. As a woman who used to shave her head I promise you, bringing a set of clippers to your scalp is a statement, bold as brass.

There is her voice, honest and loud and cracked through with emotion. She is passionate and raw and real and as ragged around the edges as the shredded jeans she sports.

But as I watched her stand in silence for the better part of six minutes, shutting her eyes against what must have been a groundswell of emotion from both within and without, what struck me — or more accurately smacked me around the head with a 2 x 4 — was the ferocity with which she embraces her tears.

Emma Gonzalez keeps allowing us a window into her heart, and by doing so, she is normalizing the act of crying. By refusing to hide her anger and rage and grief but instead allowing us a front row seat to those tears, she is telling us it is ok.

It is ok to cry.

Because really, we should all be weeping.

We teach our American boys to man up, be strong, grow a pair. We teach those sons to suppress and repress and deny. We teach them to show emotion is shameful and weak. We decry boys and men who do show emotion as pussies, as feminine, as damaged and less than.

Crying is for girls, our boys are told. Which has somehow unmistakably become synonymous with weakness.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez wipes away tears during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

We teach our sons that boys don’t cry. We teach them that real men do not feel.

Except that boys do cry. And men do feel.

Why? Because they are human, and this is what humans do. We feel. That ability along with opposable thumbs, that’s all that’s really separating us from our red-assed, chest-thumping ancestors.

You can’t keep suppressing something as natural as emotion. You know what happens? All of those pent-up feelings explode outward. In a fist connecting with a cheekbone, or a crowbar to a window, or a spray of bullets.

It’s a fucked-up crazy upside-down world when we demonize tears and normalize rage.

Humans feel. We cry. Out of sadness or fear or pain or rage or frustration, of joy or happiness or pleasure. Crying is nothing if not a reboot for the soul.

We should all be weeping.

Yet we keep encouraging our boys not to. And by default, our girls. Because as women we know firsthand that a show of emotion will be held against us, used against us, a black mark against our souls when it is time to have our hearts weighed and measured.

And then here comes Emma Gonzalez and her tears.

Perhaps if we encouraged more crying things would be different. We might be sopping up tears, but perhaps we wouldn’t be cleaning up so much blood from classroom floors.

Maybe if we encouraged more weeping, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time figuring out why all that pent-up emotion with nowhere to go then explodes like an active volcano, taking the rest of us with it in its red-hot wake.

I spent a long time after the last US election in a pit of fiery rage. It took me a long time to understand that rage was a finger in the dike, holding my grief inside. I knew if I let that grief out, it would sweep me away. It would knock me under and drag me out in its undertow and spin me until I didn’t know which way was up and which down.

I was terrified of showing my vulnerability. I was terrified because I knew it would be held against me. It would be seen as a weakness, held over my head like a Damoclean sword.

It took me even longer to understand that vulnerability, far from being a weakness, is one of a woman’s most powerful strengths. Because it allows me to feel. And to grow and learn and manage and channel and adapt and change and live.

We should all be weeping. At the world we’re fucking up. At the blood stained floors and the hate-fueled mess we are creating. We should be weeping with the mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters, over the children who are washing up dead on foreign beaches, with the brothers and sisters who are being shot and killed for nothing more than being black at the wrong time, with the people across a globe being bombed into oblivion.

We should all be weeping.

Yes, if I had a daughter, I would want her to be a little and a lot like Emma Gonzalez.

But I do not have a daughter. I have sons. But I have sons who will grow up unafraid to express emotion. Who will be encouraged to cry and fear and feel. Sons who will watch me cry and rage and feel. Because how else do we teach our children to embrace their feelings — all of them — sadness and anger and fear and joy — how do we teach them what to do with those emotions if they do not see us experiencing — and surviving them?

Emma Gonzalez’s tear streaked face is a symbol. Not of weakness, but of strength and determination. And yes, of vulnerability.

We should all take a page out of Gonzalez’s book. We should all be weeping.

This post first appeared on Medium. I’d be grateful if you’d give it some love over there.

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The Magic Quilt of Expat Life

I’ve been an expat for nearly ten years. Blimey, that’s a long time; long enough to start using the word blimey in a non-ironic way, even. Nearly ten years overseas means I have said more than my fair share of goodbyes. I’ve gone to a lot of leaving lunches, farewell festivities, and tally-ho teas. I’ve drunk kegs full of coffee, ingested numerous kilos of cake and watched the resulting kilos materialize on my ass. I’ve given speeches, listened to speeches, presented gifts, bought gifts, assembled slide shows, written songs.

I’ve done it all.

It never gets any easier, not really. I almost always cry.

Not big, gulping sobs, though sometimes it has come close. But that sort of crying when you can feel it coming down the track: the tight throat, the sting behind your eyes, the stuffed up nose. It bears down upon you like a freight train and there’s little you can do to get out of the way in time. A whistle of warning, someone choking on a word, and that’s all she wrote, folks.

A room full of weepy women.

I wrote a post a long time ago about the importance of not crying during these things. Five years later I’ve changed my mind.

Cry, cry, cry.

Cry a river if you need to. It’s good for the soul. More people should cry. And more often.

Newsflash: Women cry. We cry when we’re happy. When we’re sad. When we are frustrated or overwhelmed or raging like a menopausal witch (No? Just me?). We cry over car commercials and Christmas commercials, during movies and reading books. We cry when someone else’s kid’s feelings get hurt. We cry at the very idea of something happening to someone we know. We cry when we meet our family at the airport, when they leave, when we fight with our partners, when our kids say something hurtful. We cry as we watch our kids walk across a graduation stage, when someone else’s baby is born, when things go awry.

We cry.

So, when you get a room full of women in a room, women who’ve spent a few years getting to know one another, giving each other rides and acting as emergency contacts, getting to know each other’s kids and families, seeing each other through difficulties and partners working in other countries, clinging together for dear life on this life boat of friendship in a foreign land–when you get a room full of women like that together and someone gets choked up? You almost always end up with a room full of weepy women.

These ritual goodbyes and all the emotions they evoke is a kind of exquisite torture. It’s incredibly poignant to hear stories and reminiscences, to look at years worth of pictures, to see the evolution of expat friendships play out in celluloid. It’s like watching a time-lapse of a child growing up.

I’ve been tasked with putting together a few of these slide shows. When I do, I always include a montage of people who have already said goodbye, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to remember whose paths have crisscrossed after this many years, whose lives have become entangled with whose. But I do it so that those folks, the ones we’ve already said goodbye to, remain a part of the whole. A panel that when stitched together with all of the others makes a quilt of a certain time and place.

It’s one of those magic quilts that keeps on growing.

Saying goodbye is hard. We should cry. And laugh. And rejoice and give thanks and feel sad. This is the reality of our life. Sometimes it can seem like the life of an expat is glamorous vacations and non-stop parties, but the edges of a life lived outside the borders of your own country can be rough. It’s just that no one takes photos of all those tears, those rooms full of weepy women, and posts them up on Facebook.

But maybe we should.

As a storyteller, it’s an incredible privilege to hear the stories that belong to others. As a human being, and a friend, it’s humbling when I get to be a part of that story. A panel on someone else’s quilt.

So many times those stories start off with feelings of loneliness and isolation, feeling stranded and out-of-place, nervous, unsure footing on choppy seas that are taking you far away from everything you know. And then the magic: one day, one coffee, one conversation, one friend. The tide begins to turn. The seas calm. Coffee doesn’t slosh out of your cup when you’re trying to drink it. You look around, and far from being alone, you’re at a table for forty eating kilos of cake.

 Just look how it ends: a room full of twenty, thirty, forty, sixty people who have put aside a chunk of their day to celebrate a friend, a friendship, to say goodbye and good luck. It ends in a room full of women to whom you mean enough that they hold back a tear, wipe a wizened eye, choke back a sob. A panel on that magic expat quilt that never stops growing.

Just look what you mean. 

Blimey, indeed.

Stop the Ride, I Want to Get Off!

Roy LichtensteinIf I reach back into my memory, back before the kids and the husband, stretch past the boyfriends and the general debauchery that defined my twenties, strain past that first bittersweet taste of adulthood, I can just about remember what life was like as a teenage girl, how weighted with importance everything seemed. Back then, before your personality had time to gel and set, it didn’t take much to make you feel like the world was ending. The mere hint of a cold shoulder was enough to send you running to the girls room. Tripping and God forbid falling in front of cute Stevie Jones was evidence that your life was ruined. Heather not talking to you or Tracy not giving you the time of day because she was too busy making out with Kevin by the lockers was enough to get you excused from gym. The thrill of the hummingbird wings of your heart racing when the boy you had a crush on sat next to you at lunch. The agony of I-can’t-even-remember-his-name calling you ugly in front of a gaggle of (short, pimply) boys, making you want to melt into a puddle on the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West until there was nothing left but a pair of pumps and ankle socks.

LIfe as a teenage girl is little short of bionic.  Every emotion is amplified, every feeling exaggerated. From the heights of cloud 9 to the pit of despair, all in the space of a seven period high school day. Somehow most of us survive. Things level out and life becomes a little less like a roller coaster at Great Adventure and more like a nice, gentle ferris wheel at the fair. Sure, there are still ups and downs, the cart rocks a bit in the wind, and there’s always the niggling fear that a screw is loose, but the daily highs and lows don’t seem so steep, so graded, so stomach churning.

Then one day you find yourself crying over a long distance telephone commercial. UpWorthy videos suddenly become a form of torture, emotional bamboo shoots dipped in estrogen and shoved into your cerebral cortex. Ads in other languages, ads that you can’t even understand make you weep. For the most part, you are able to wipe your eyes on your sleeve, sniff loudly and get on with your day. Until an hour or so later when the spaghetti sticks together and you have to repress an urge to throw the whole grain tangled mess, pot and all, on the floor and angrily declare your intention to NEVER COOK AGAIN.

All of a sudden you’re tripping down those high school corridors of bionic emotion all over again. Heather is mad at you and Tracy is debating whether or not to have sex behind the bleachers and what’s-his-name thinks you’re ugly and it’s like all those years have been compressed and you are once again trying to remember the combination to make it all work.

RL scream

What fresh hell is this?  I have to do this again?  Screw you, Mother Nature, are you for real??

Yesterday morning my husband was forced to listen to me rant, possibly even rave, about how much our health insurance sucks. The thing is, my husband knows our health insurance sucks. He agreed with me at the very beginning of the ‘conversation’. But that wasn’t enough. I needed him to know in great detail how much it sucked and what they could do to improve it and who could I write to and WHY WASN’T HE FIXING IT AND AGREEING WITH ME???  Fast forward to the afternoon when my Facebook feed was peppered with photos of friends sending their daughters off to school for a Father/Daughter dance and just like that…sobbing over the asparagus. Not teary eyed with a tinge of emotion, mind you. Great, heaving sobs. I won’t even go into the convoluted train of thought that derailed in my head, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the amplified, exaggerated reactions. Again.  Like a sixteen year old, but with crow’s-feet and gray hair.

There’s very little neutral ground here on the fairway of your forties. I believe I recently used the word ‘fascist’ to describe someone who wanted to do away with teacher appreciation day.  And I meant it, for those few seconds anyway. A friend sent me en email including a slide show documenting the birth of their second child and I couldn’t tell my husband what it was because I was crying too hard.  Don’t even get me started on fuck-wittery that is The Hobby Lobby mess. Rant, sob, rant, sob. It’s amazing that my husband still ventures into the kitchen these days, unsure if he will find me cooking dinner in a puddle of tears or threatening to brain someone with a frying pan.

Oh the descent into this fresh hell is dizzying for sure.

mood-swingYou can change sheets that have been soaked though with night sweats. Chin hairs can be plucked. Gray hairs can be dyed. You can fake it till you make it in-between the sodden sheets. But oh the hormone roller coaster! You’re well and truly stuck. You can’t just leap off mid hill. You can scream all you want but no one is going to stop the ride so you can get off.

I’ve started running to help balance out the rage against the machine, which helps. So far I haven’t had to run blinded by tears and breathing great, hiccuping gulps of air because, gee, that’d be really fun. I’m exhausted. The physical running tires my body. The book writing is emotionally draining, soul sucking at times, and very, very lonely.  Add the ups and downs of my current hormonal state of affairs and it’s any wonder I can keep my red rimmed eyes open long enough to threaten to hurl dinner off the balcony.  To go from high to low and back again takes a lot out of you. It’s like running an emotional 10K every day.  At least at sixteen you had the energy to bounce back. And perkier boobs.

So for now I’ll just keep going to bed a mere hour after my kids so that I have enough energy to make it up…and down…the next set of hills.  But if you hear someone screaming in between the tears, it’s probably me.