Strong Tears, Artist’s Tears

I cry a lot.

This isn’t an easy statement for me to make. I have worked hard to make sure that my sensitive nature and my anxiety do not rule what can I can and cannot do. Much of the time, I feel like I won’t be taken seriously if I can’t keep a check on the waterworks. I fear that people will look at me as weak and discount my contributions. Not to mention it becomes a joke when I begin to tear up at every sappy, sentimental commercial around the holiday season.

Sometimes it makes verbal communication almost impossible. At times it feels as if the tears blurring my eyes blur my voice just as much, though I feel they shouldn’t be connected. As a writer, someone who prides herself on speaking clearly and sharing her ideas with others, it’s painful to be caught in the “cone of silence.” It’s one of the reasons I say that anxiety is not just something I can buck up and get over.

Last week marked the second time I cried in a meeting with a professor this semester. I hated it the first time. I had prepared for the meeting and I wasn’t even angry or upset over the constructive criticism for my conference paper; I was happy and excited to get some real feedback on how to improve my academic writing. Point in fact: I was able to turn around a new draft with successful revisions in just a few hours the next day. This second outburst happened at the end of my design class. Again, I had prepared for the design presentation, thought over the play, re-read the text over and over, and combed the Internet for a few images that reflect the concepts in my head and on the pages of my notebook. But as the other students presented, my stomach dropped: I no longer felt that what I had was cohesive or representative of all the thinking work I had done, my immersion in the story and the text. I elected to pass over presenting to the rest of the class and stayed afterwards to talk to Julia.

Wish it were this easy.

Wish it were this easy.

As soon as I started explaining this overwhelmed, unprepared feeling, the tears started coursing. I tried to get over them, but they wouldn’t stop (as normal.) But this time was different because Julia did not pity me. She did not wait for me to recover myself (although she did offer me some tissues), but instead explained that this was a great moment for me as an artist. Instead of viewing me as weaker or less prepared, my professor said that my tears told her I was profoundly connected to the play’s material. She could tell that I was “in process” and that being in tune with my own artistic process was most important. It is a design class after all, a learning environment.

As we talked, I recovered more of my ability to communicate and was able to discuss new ideas and new paths I could take to expand my design in the upcoming weeks. Ways to respect the overwhelming emotions, but to push past them to the final design.

I have not felt that validated as a sensitive artist in a long time. It reminds me that this is why I came to graduate school: to be in a community of artists and theater makers who can lead me further down my own path.

At the end of the meeting, my professor encouraged me to find a way to share this sensitive reaction to the play and to the design process with the class. I intend to do so to open up those conversations and, I hope by posting here, I can reach out to other sensitive artists who may have been silenced and discounted–or worse, have been self-censoring and hiding–because of their tears or large emotional reactions to the world. I’m here to say that you bring value to the world because of your sympathetic/empathetic point of view. Don’t let anyone take that voice away, even if it’s tear-stained and strained. Those tears are still sending important messages.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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