One of my toddler nicknames was ‘The Screaming Mimi.’ I wasn’t aware when I was christened such, I just remember hearing it whispered: ‘Oh here comes the screaming mimi again.’
From context rather than content I assumed that like the many other (very clever and erudite!) things my brother called me (like, Gila monster) it was an insult. 20/20 hindsight reveals it really wasn’t (see Below), but it does capture how affecting, frequent, outsized and possibly calculating, my fits of childhood tears were.
And they were fits. I was a shaking crown to toe, racked with sobs, snot-dripping, pointedly inconsolable, upon the floor flailing, peals of shrieking wails, kind of crier. I could have been a professional mourner. Or a Banshee.
Whatever it did for me in my childhood, by Tween time crying was embargoed. I would do anything and everything I could not to shed a tear. Not only had I lapped up all sorts of negative ideologies and associations about crying -sign of weakness, crying is always only about bad things- I had seen so many ‘baseless’ tears (my own and my family members’) that I had begun to blame the tears themselves. It was the crying and not its stimulus, that was the evil. If one could just avoid the crying, perhaps the bad thing didn’t happen?
This belief helped not at all with my already developed (and still present) tendency to bottle up emotions.
Thank heavens, some time in the last five years I have learned to enjoy crying. I am still loathe to do it in public. If you witness me crying, I am profoundly overwhelmed, or thought I had the safety of general anonymity (I cry on train rides in foreign countries).
And if crying alone has a long-moldering stench of the pathetic to it, it is also an amazing opportunity to feel your body. The small muscles of your face contort so curiously, tears cool so fast, a shocking contrast to the rising heat of the effort to expel the emotional splinter and find your regular breaths; bits and pieces tingle.
There is a refreshing quality to crying (glad I feel so because I have been doing more of it of late). And while the soreness of whatever cause is discomfiting, the lesson learned becomes somatic, easier to conjure, harder to ignore.
‘Let’s not do that (that way) again,’ you might think. ‘Yes, last time it all ended in tears.’
A little research plus my brother’s predilections make it clear Screaming Mimi was a reference to a Marvel character now called Songbird. Which is a) really not an insult at all; and b) both prescient and really creative. Thanks bro!
Three quick articles I liked on crying:
- Why Do We Cry? The Three Types of Tears
- Why Do We Cry? The Science of Tears