My favorite feeling is being moved to tears by art. I’m not talking about some tearjerking media that attempts to manufacture sadness but is ultimately hollow (like Nickolas Sparks). I love to be moved by real vulnerable human feeling.
I’m a writer. When you’re a writer, people ask about your influences. It’s a sort of intellectual game. They’re sizing up your answers to see if they’re sufficiently erudite. And yes, I’ll cite Kafka and some obscure French poets. But the largest influence on my work is Roger Ebert, low-brow movie critic and TV personality. Why? Because he believed in art’s power to generate empathy and human understanding.
That’s what I look for in good art. During this bleak year I was fortunate enough to engage with art that reminded me why there are many reasons to push forth, build a better world, and love each other.
So here are five things that made me cry and what kind of cry I cried:
The Apartment (Beautiful Cry)
Crying to “The Apartment” is my most treasured holiday tradition. It’s a Christmas movie in the sense that it takes place around Christmas, but it’s more interested in how the holidays highlight social isolation.
The plot follows a lonely man who works for a soul-sucking corporation aptly named “Consolidated Life.” He’s been coerced into letting executives take their mistresses to his apartment. Meanwhile, a miserable elevator operator is crumbling in the wake of a devastating breakup. It’s a comedy.
I saw this movie as a child. “The Apartment” enraptured me then and it still does. Why would a kid love a black-and-white dramedy from the 60s? I think it’s because our culture rarely casts the struggle against depression, loneliness, and isolation as a heroic struggle. There are so few times our culture imparts what I see as a crucial lesson: Life is worth living even when despair knocks you flat on your back. Getting up again is worth it.
Baby Holding A Leaf Near Somerville Market Basket In October (Happy Cry)
Are scenes from real life art? Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Who cares. I saw something cute and it made me tear up:
I saw a cute toddler throw herself on the ground and root around in wet leaves. She found her quarry. She lifted one chubby arm straight up and showed her mother the precious object: A perfectly shaped yellow leaf. I love how much joy babies get from small things. It reminds me to find small joys for myself.
FKA Twigs – Cellophane Music Video (Sad Cry)
There’s nothing worse than a bewildering breakup. You’re in love, you’re trying so hard to please your sweetie. Maybe you feel them slipping away but your heart still has hope … and then they dump you like a hot potato.
I’ve been a fan of FKA Twigs for years and her videos are usually eerie but fun. So when I first watched “Cellophane,” its vulnerability caught me off guard. Before the music starts we hear a cheering audience, but that cuts out, replaced by the plaintive song. She emerges and dances a poll-dance that’s more sad than sexual, made more gutting by the sharp metallic scraping sound of her high-heeled shoes. I started crying at the first lyrics: “Didn’t I do it for you? Why don’t I do it for you?” The second half of the video gets fantastical and strange. I won’t spoil it for you. Go watch and shed a few tears.
Heather Havrilesky/Ask Polly – ‘My Fear of Climate Change Is Eroding My Sanity!’ Column (It’s All Too Much Cry)
The world is dark and getting darker. Climate change is already here and it will get worse. I didn’t need to tell you that. You know it and it terrifies you. Likely, you came to this site to think about art and community or find a new album to listen or just for amusement. You didn’t come here to sit with your despair. But we have so few opportunities to sit with our despair, to investigate it without getting immediately consumed and then turning away for a distraction.
Sit with your despair about climate change for a minute.
Now ask yourself: “What will make you feel truly alive and grateful and strong, even now? What actions will honor this dying world the most?”
Now tell yourself: “You are being called to fight for this world with everything you’ve got.”
A small voice inside you, likely fed by social media, will tell you that there’s no point in doing anything. That you’re so small and powerless that nothing you do will make a bit of difference. It’s stupid and pathetic to switch your lightbulbs or eat less meat. You might as well eat imported beef every meal and run the taps 24/7 because the result is the same.
Now tell that voice: Living in alignment with your values is good for the soul. It is beautiful to do your best.
Now tell yourself: “We need to feel the sadness and despair of this moment in history. And we need to figure out how to align ourselves with our values, even when it feels small and pointless and inconsequential.”
Ask Polly is a weekly advice column. Yes, I cried over an advice column. Ask Polly columns aren’t about how to navigate a high-strung cousin’s baby shower. They’re about dealing with the ways this fucked up world fucks up our insides. Often her answers boil down to: explore your feelings, show your feelings, allow other people the space to express their feelings, and push back against this world that wants to grind you down.
The Colour of Pomegranates (Beautiful Cry)
Let’s end on a happier note that’s still sad. Filmed as a series of tableaus based on medieval Armenian art, “The Colour of Pomegranates” is (sort of) a biography of 18th century poet Sayat-Nova. It’s true spirit is a celebration of the resilence of the Armenian people, of a culture and language that has continued despite centuries of oppression and genocide. “The Colour Of Pomegranates” is a type of magic. Give in to its poetic language and you’ll be rewarded by a groundswell of feeling.
When it feels like the world is ending, I try to remember that the world has already ended for millions of people throughout history. War, disease, slavery, and colonization have destroyed and continue to destroy communities, societies, and entire ways of being. “The Colour of Pomegranates” reminds me that despite the most terrible of circumstances, people kept going and built new worlds that could once again contain beauty and joy. I remember the immense suffering my grandparents went through to give me the life I have. What miraculous things human beings have done. What a terrible betrayal it would be for me not to try my best in this present moment.
Meagan Masterman is a writer from Maine living in Somerville. She was longlisted for the 2018 Metatron Prize and the 2019 [Pank] Book Prize. Find her on Twitter at @MeaganMasterman. Find her generally online at meaganmasterman.com