It takes a certain strength to cry in front of strangers. Or it takes a certain weakness. It depends on how you look at it. In my case I think tears are not part of a genuine and heartfelt exchange, or an expression of the self, but rather an outpour arising from an unhealthy lack of self-control.
Let me explain. Last Monday I stumbled into my Personal Essay professor's office, interrupted an ongoing meeting with a student, and began to cry.
I should tell you some of what I was doing that in hindsight probably contributed to the crying. The previous Saturday I had had unscheduled fun for three hours. Part of why it lasted so long was because one of the girls likes Doctor Who, and as soon as she brought up Peter Capaldi I blacked out and came to forty-five minutes later having reached deep inside and emptied myself of the unanchored, swirling Doctor Who-related contents, maudlin dialogue such as "Clara Oswald is a whole lot of woman," and "Martha got the short end of the stick."
I returned to my room after the hearty conversation positively buzzing with anxiety because I already had fun scheduled for the next day and this fun would likely take several hours. Scheduled fun is not as stressful because I can prepare for the inevitable deduction of allotted time. Well when I am stressed I stay up and keep working until I reach my quota or until I slump over my laptop. (Always make unmeetable quotas. This is extremely important. Meeting your goals is too easy. Instead be sure to feel like you are always significantly behind—it's bracing.) So I decided to stay up until 4 until I had finished what I planned to complete on Saturday, as Sunday is meant to be my maintenance day—you know how it is, housekeeping, drafting things as needed for the following week, and failing to obtain a job and take out my recycling. (Always leave your living quarters in disarray, so that when you wake up you feel like you are being reborn into infernal chaos, and you reach a state of heightened physiological activity right away.)
Sunday I went ahead with the scheduled fun. If it is planned it feels doable, even unavoidable, because as a person tethered to structure and arbitrary systems of organization if I integrate something into my plan, it is lodged there without question. It must be done. Don't ask me why I'm sure I don't know. (Never try to understand yourself or get at the roots of a problematic behavior. Unthinkingly perpetuate it.) Then, lodged in a ghostly realm between the worlds of the living and the dead I stayed up until 3:30 that night writing and listening to the score of Sky High. (This is why I hate having fun. I always pay for it. Or I make myself pay for it. Light-heartedness and joy are unmanageable and unsteadying. Be sure never have fun.)
Anyway. I thought I would be alright because my first class is only at 10 a.m. But it turns out you can get tired later in the day, too, if you stay up the night before. And I did.
Before I go further I should tell you the dark and unavoidable truth, a truth which may explain it all: I am a first-year writing major. We are a nifty, united little bunch of depressive cave-dwellers. We are isolated and desperate and bottomlessly emotional and self-hating, and because we anticipate poverty and suffering for the sin of our path of study we are tortured, but we are also generally self-aware and sincere. Which hopefully counts for something, cosmically.
Pursuing the arts is emotionally exhausting… an honest job is a job well done. If we are to provide something honest and searing, we are to sear ourselves. So every week I plunge my hand into my depths, tearing myself open and pouring myself out. To be tasked to write about oneself with clarity is both freeing and frightening, as I find that in my quest for a beautiful sentence I arrive upon unexpected truths or truths I was aware of but had no drive to acknowledge and articulate. There's a reason we keep such truths locked away. I've remembered and learned a great deal about who I am and how I function in all of these lines, but when I record them they become absolute. That is, they define me, absolutely. (Always pursue something that forces you to tear your own guts out and arrange them into something beautiful. (HINT—it's very difficult to make your guts seem sparkly! The crushing repetition of failure is an integral part of the artistic experience.))
On Monday I had a migraine which if you don't understand them are somewhere between being hoarse and parched in a barren desert and getting your toes plucked off by Satan. I returned from my 11 a.m. class, shut the blinds, and lay down in a dog-hair-coated sweater. I woke up forty minutes into Personal Essay, a class that is less a class and more a stunning, heavenly revelation, taught by a woman who knows how to juggle and slash tires, wears dresses with rainbow stars on them, leaves gentle and thoughtful comments on everyone's essays, and picks readings about diversity, inclusion, and defining oneself. I thought I had missed a presentation which in itself was granted to me as an opportunity to make something up. (Always ensure that the culmination of your smaller, myriad screw-ups occur on very important days. Otherwise, you won't be able to experience the brilliant scalding of trauma.)
When I sprang back to life I reflexively called my mom and sobbed loudly enough in my room for my neighbors to hear me and dutifully ignore me. Then at her behest, I jetted out of my room and stole across campus as majestically as a stubby person with chronic motion-triggered migraines possibly can. Which is to say I walked a little faster than could be qualified as slow.
When I tumbled into her office it didn't take long to discover that I wasn't prepared for speech, or interaction of any kind. I wasn't finished with my feelings. The following conversation ensued:
Professor: Oh, hi!
Me: I'm sorry to interrupt. I ran out of medication and—
And then tada I was crying. The speed of the drop was almost impressive. My professor frowned because she understood; she already knew about the migraines from one of my essays. The student present in the room, vaguely horrified, ditched her things and ran out. So I stole her chair and sat sniffling and holding a tissue like a small child, my feet barely touching the carpet, and my professor pulled her chair close and attempted to decipher what I was saying between gulps and gasps. There was, in that moment, absolutely nothing I could do to curb myself; for this moment was the apex of many irrevocable poor behaviors, a moment that had been approaching and, as these moments do, arrived savagely, secretly, and without warning.
The presentation had been postponed because of my absence. She gave me a nice hug and an excused absence even though really she should have drop-kicked me for wasting her tire-slashing, juggling, apple-crisp-baking, ass-kicking time. But as a kind human, she was bound in her soul to help a sniveling freshman.
I promised in my title that I would explain to you how to cry in front of your professor, or really any person you shouldn't be crying to. You may notice throughout that I have given you little pieces of advice in the form of parenthetical remarks—clever you. But here is a final statement:
The goal is to be, or at least to feel, so without control over your life that you are automatically inappropriate and demanding, that your natural emotional and behavioral responses to even small aspects of your life are sporadic, choked, explosive. You have to slow-roast yourself in an oven and then see what that pressure does. Find what causes you to fail at your daily excursions, and be sure to repeat these foibles, ignorant to their evilness so that it makes you very tired! In fact, be sure to feel very tired. Ensure exhaustion. This can be done in innumerable ways, but the easiest is not acknowledging your natural capacity as a human with a finite body and life. In fact, don't even acknowledge that you have a body and a life. Just cling to the mundane, the academic, the professional, the limited and small, and inflate them until they feel big and you, surrounded by them, feel small.
These are the strategies that have always worked for me. They are foolish, and for this reason, at least with regard to the pursuit of bringing about waves of tears, they are absolutely foolproof.