On Sobbing and Being a Blubbering Fool

SobbingSaturday afternoon, I was sobbing in a car.

I was listening to a little bit of This American Life. It was the episode, 20 Acts in 60 Minutes. It was a rebroadcast from back in 2003. And I’d heard the whole thing at least two times before. But it got to the last act, “The Greatest Moment I Ever Saw On a Stage.” It’s the story of these girls at a detention facility putting on a show for their families — mostly their mothers and grandmothers. It’s just three minutes long. Go and listen. I’ll wait.

And it made me sob as I was driving around the rainy streets. And it made me sob every other time I had heard it. And after I left the car (I didn’t even hear all of it this time), I still kept breaking down. I’m doing it to a lesser extent as I write this. And it’s just sentimental nonsense. It strikes very sharply at my strong feelings about the bounds between parents and children — especially when one or both are not at their best. But mostly, it made me cry because pretty much everything makes me cry. I cried when I saw President Obama cry. Crying is something I am very good at.

But it was not always so. When I was younger, I could barely cry. I was raised to be stoic. But I remember when that all changed. It was my first year of graduate school. A friend of mine had given me a box of VHS tapes that he had recorded off PBS. These included some things I loved: The Day the Universe Changed; the first Connections; The Voyage of Charles Darwin; and my absolute favorite, In Search of the Trojan War. But it also contained The Adams Chronicles, which I had never seen.

So one Sunday, I just watched it from beginning to end — all 13 hours. It was not my intent to watch the whole thing. But it was such a parade of death, I hoped that it would get better. It seemed to frame everyone’s life as: what they did before they had a profoundly sad deathbed scene. Not only did this play into my sentimentality about familial relationships, it fed into my great fear of death. At that time, I really was disturbed about death. Now I don’t know what the big deal was. It is hard to regain that state of mind. But it bothered me greatly. I guess it has something to do with being too attached to the world. Now I think of Simon Stimson’s outburst at the end of Our Town:

Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those… of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know — that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.

Regardless, I probably spent half of those 13 hours sobbing. And that seems to have been it. There was a wall that somehow kept back the sadness of life and the sentimentality toward idealized relationships and the rage about the constant injustices of life. And then it was gone and the emotions flowed like the waters of the Kangding-Luding flood. So I am a sobbing and blubbering fool. But it is preferable to the alternative. I don’t do stoic well.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “On Sobbing and Being a Blubbering Fool

  1. I used to cry constantly as a kid-it was pathetic. Now I don’t except when I force myself to in an attempt to keep my eyes from being too dry. Plus of course work requires you to not have any emotions on your face.

    If that series can make Adams interesting, then maybe that will make me cry. I tried to read the book. I tried to watch the HBO series and I love Giamatti’s work but it was soooooooooooooooo boring.

    Anyway, here is a tissue. :-P

    • I don’t recommend it. I thought that as historical fiction went, The Adams Chronicles was pretty bad.

      Your comment about work reminds me of something Brando said about acting not being hard because all of us act all the time. I quite agree.

    • It was pretty boring, except Tom Wilkinson as Franklin. (He’s also played Joe Kennedy, LBJ, and Dean Baker. Just put him in every movie with a U.S. politician in it!)

      I think what bored me was the saintly tone. It was like a Biblical film. I think I made it through three hours and there wasn’t a single joke. Ok, I get it, most Americans think the nation’s founding was a big deal. But not THAT important.

      Strangely a show I did enjoy was the BBC “Wolf Hall.” It’s slow, and I found myself looking up half the people in it on Wiki (I suppose English audiences know who they all are), but I liked how the political characters were all presented as humanly flawed. Even mad Henry is more pathetic than anything else (although spookily crazy.) And I discovered one of my newest favorite actors, Mark Rylance. He’s superb. Worth checking out just to watch him, even if you don’t care for the story.

      • I try to avoid watching history shows I know way too many details about. And I know a lot of Tudor history so I usually spend my time yelling at the screen. Like the tv show The Tudors-from the wrong guy to play Henry VIII to the wrong things happening at the wrong time…I spent most of the first episode seriously annoyed.

        And yes, Henry VIII was nuts in the last roughly 10-12 years of his reign. There is a book on it-Blood Will Tell which has a theory that he had some kind of rare blood disorder but it equally could have been from the head injury he suffered when jousting since it knocked him out for a couple hours.

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