This weekend I spent a lot of time listening to Crybabies, a podcast about crying, while driving to and from Illinois and falling asleep in my childhood bed. I cried at almost every episode, in which hosts Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre interview guests about the cultural items and moments that make them cry. My crying was indulgent, almost romantic — think of the word “pine” or “yearn.” Yes, Terms of Endearment is devastating, but it’s not an imminent unimaginable problem like climate change or terrorism! I’m in the room where I used to lie around and listen to R.E.M. and feel wistful, and I’m still more sensitive about everything when I’m here.
The podcast hosts talked about crying having a cultural resurgence in the past few years, as more people stop trying to be so ironically detached all the time. One of the most depressing things about the Internet now is that sincerity can be just as cheap and fake and easily curdled as irony. But it still feels intimate to listen to someone talk about a person they lost, or even just hint at it, and to hear their voice get high and shaky and phlegmy.
I find myself on the verge of tears a lot about things that aren’t openly sad. Watching a performer, on TV or live, can get me choked up — something about the combination of the person’s vulnerability and talent with the general heightened emotion of the moment when someone strides out on stage. Last February, the Current radio station did a Black History Month series on black musicians, and I started crying in the car at a segment on Tina Turner that said something like, “Finally, in her 40s, Tina Turner found the success she deserved.”
I’ve always thought of crying as cathartic, but even that romantic indulgent kind is often an excuse for me to stay in a mopey, restless gloom. There are songs that can ruin my mood (Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt”) and movies I try not to even think about (David Gordon Green’s George Washington). Lying around replaying them in my head, like I used to do in my old bedroom, certainly doesn’t help. I think Crybabies works because it makes me want to talk to people about being sad instead of just staying sad by myself.