I’m a grown man, damn it.
I come from a long line of grown men. There are expectations to uphold. Clan Man’s family crest has one symbol, a stone, and written beneath in the most metal-looking font is “Non Clamabit”.
We. Do. Not. Cry.
No one ever told me that. I saw, peripherally, the little league culture that ran future grown men through the necessary trials of Losing, of Bleeding, of Sucking it up. I saw the 90’s standup about grown men being like Easter Island heads, and the laughs that came from descriptions of emotional women. I don’t like sports and that stand up is before my time, so I’m not like those guys. But I also didn’t cry.
Not never, I guess. I lost some relatives. I had some snaps when my hormones mixed with the obligations of teenage life. I twisted my ankle real bad once. But I kept it pretty tight. There are expectations to uphold.
I am a silly arty boy, so it’s always come out that way. Did I say come out? It was cleverly repressed that way. Class clowns keep the emotions at bay and penning short stories with other people crying means that you’ve written it down somewhere, so it counts. Check that box. And I love art. Damn, I do, it’s everything. But I took it in sideways, like a twisted robot, reconfiguring the information and translating it. A really moving death scene, a true filmic tragedy would get a raised eyebrow of respect from me. Ah, yes. That reads as very moving. But it didn’t get me, a grown man.
No one told me to do these things, the way you don’t need to be told about chlorine to have a head cold after a day at the pool. I was just swimming out here. Doing laps in our culture. Which is great, oh man, let me tell you. The misogyny, the racism, the repression, you know what, I’d better not tell you, just go take a women’s studies or black history class. The whole thing’s been a journey, sometimes devastating to think about. But the more I dug into my inner plumbing, the more certain bolts got loosened, though slowly. I was more open. This began to cause leaks.
It had to be art. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just watch soldiers coming home on YouTube like a Normal person, but I need to do this my way. The Star Wars way. People will get this. The Force Awakens pushed nostalgia buttons the way it was designed to. It made unflinching eye contact with us and hovered its finger over the play button on John Williams’ Force theme. “Oh, you wanted to just have a space adventure with your favorite toys? It would be a shame if someone… SLOW-PLAYED A FOURTH INTERVAL ON A FRENCH HORN THAT HAPPENED TO SCORE THE FIRST TIME YOU EVER EXPERIENCED IMAGINATION.”
Uh oh. The fabled water works. Ok, a misting. Little leaks around the seams. Enough to keep supermarket lettuce fresh. THAT was weird, I said. Wonder if THAT ever happens again. It took time. Sure I was opening up, but there are expectations to uphold. Until my year of emotion.
See, my specific brand of art is getting so good lately. Yes, Hollywood is dying due to the superhero boom and endless reboots. Do I care? I mean, sure, a little. But NO! My stuff got so good! Star Wars has great acting and effects now! Superhero movies got funny and dazzling! Is a large part of that cold cash grabs, sure. But it’s getting me to a comfortable, open place. And then some things happened. Spider-Man things.
I slept on Spider-Man for too long. He was always in my life but I didn’t gravitate to him properly. And then very quickly between the Tom Holland portrayal, the animated Into the Spider-Verse, and some soul searching, I realized he was my favorite character from anything. I see myself all over that boy. Broke, earnest, funny to keep from being scared. And then when things happen to that boy…
Look, I’m just trying to say I was in no way ready for Peter Parker’s eulogy. It wasn’t fair to me, guys. Spider-Verse Doc Ock-punched me in all my vulnerable spots. To see a memorial service for Peter, a character I’d grown to love retroactively, and to see all the fans gathered around and told they all could be Spider-Man was just… uh oh. And they all put on the masks and the music picked up and, uh oh. Here we go.
And then since I was open to it, the rest of the film was a free for all. The film is an amazing love letter to vulnerability. It’s about a dad and son not being too weirded out to say they love each other. It’s about people not being too cool to say they failed, and badly. It’s super all about identity, and all the forms it takes. At one point, get this, a 40’s noir version of Spider-Man, who lives and sees in black and white and is voiced by Nicolas Cage, turns to his friends and says “I love you all.” No caveats. No macho distancing to make sure we’re not too gay. Friends being cool loving each other. Uh oh.
I cried a whole ton.
A few months later, the Avengers finale came out, and we went to see what happened to the heroes that disappeared last movie. And yeah, all you smartasses that nailed it with “what’s the point, they’re all going to come back next movie,” nicely done, brilliant work. They came back, all these friends whose work means so much to me. In one glorious montage, heroes from all over the universe assemble to have each other’s backs. People from Africa, from Asgard, from space, Spider-Man… UH OH.
Oh no, no no no. That boy is back. And Tony wanted to save him so badly. And he’s back, and he’s gonna, I dunno, speak or something.
“Hey, Mr. Stark.” OHHH NOOOOO.
It was too much. I won’t describe it, to preserve the little shame I have left. Just, water works. And if this wasn’t clear for some reason, I’m not sad. I couldn’t even describe any state I’m in, other than open. Just seeing earnest affection and commitment is doing some good in the world. There’s this weird old grouchy thing I keep hearing, “do we really need another Spider-Man movie?” Yes. Yes we do. Because they keep doing these things, and new angles on them. Showing the struggle of high school life, friendship, working hard when there’s no incentive to. Being vulnerable. Maybe we actually don’t need fifty James Bond movies.
It’s been a year, and I don’t think the emotion experiment is over. I’ve got some go-to cry button music playlists on Youtube. A cheesy Doctor Who monologue with one sliding tear got me this week. And the point isn’t just to feel something when consuming art, though it feels great. It’s about an entire openness in life. Taking blame, calling out my emotions as I see them. If for some reason you read this far and are still derisive about my softness, I’m not exactly sure what to tell you, other than to give it a shot. I’ve found that bottling up pain and keeping up appearances just hurts more on the inside, while being open to showing affection and being ok with being scared and wrong takes all the weight off your shoulders. It can start with little things. Don’t say “chopping onions.” It made me cry. Take it out for a spin, you never know. There may be a new standard to uphold.
I’m not crying, we are.