Set a timer for 60 seconds and write the opening of a story. Set the timer for 30 minutes and finish it.
When was the last time you cried? What caused it?
When I was a younger man, tears were a precious commodity, to be hoarded at all costs; buried from view; to be kept secret from the world. Maybe they were, so we reckoned with the wisdom of youth, a myth. Perhaps they didn’t even exist at all. Not to a real man, whatever that was, as if any of us would know.
Now that I’m older, many things have changed. For me, at least - I’m sure there are many other men of my age who still cling to the certainties and stupidities of their youth, but I do not believe that I am one of them. The passage of time has taken many things from me, but it has also stripped me of some of the certainty and ignorance of my youth.
There’s nothing wrong with crying. Of course there isn’t. Why would there be? Why do some men seem so afraid of such an overt display of emotion? Is it some lingering Palaeolithic need to hide a weakness that might single us out from the pack and render us vulnerable to predators? Perhaps we’ll never know.
Although I don’t remember feeling the pressure of my masculinity, I didn’t cry much. Oh sure, I cried all the time as a small child. I’d cry at the drop of a hat. I’d cry long and hard, as though the world was against me. They were real tears too. My brother, after me, would cry bone dry crocodile tears, but mine always flowed freely down my cheeks as I cried and cried at the cruel, unfeeling world.
And then, at some point, I stopped. The tears dried up. At school, my friends cried for their parents and for distant homes, but I never did. I even felt guilty that I didn’t feel at all homesick, but I didn’t cry about that either. The absence of tears wasn’t because I was afraid to show my emotions, it was because I simply didn’t feel any.
Over the years, I built an armour around myself to protect me from the unpredictability of feeling. Almost nothing can penetrate the forcefield around me and it has left me feeling blissfully numb to the unpredictability of feeling.
Now that I’m older, that armour seems to be slowly melting away and I’m beginning to feel the world seeping in around the edges. I’m now feeling for perhaps the very first time. I’ve been numb for so long that suddenly I’m now feeling everything with the intensity of the new.
I never cried before, but now the tears flow readily. The sensation is so new and so unfamiliar to me that I don’t know what to do with it. My first instinct is to hide it. I’ll be watching a mediocre film in the dark of the movie theatre or on the sofa at home and the hot, prickly feeling of tears begins to mist my eyes at the lamest, cheesiest of sentimental promptings. I don’t know if I’m ashamed, exactly, but it feels like a part of myself that I need to keep buried. I sit in the dark and try to wipe my eyes dry in secret, as though this sudden, unexpected display of emotion is something to be embarrassed about, revealing some terrible weakness of character.
When was the last time I cried? When was the last time I watched a stupid reality programme featuring a sick cat? Does this make me more vulnerable to predators? Maybe. Well, there’s not much I can do about it now. The armour is gone and, for better or for worse, those feelings aren’t going away any time soon.
I'm not sure this is exactly a story, but this is what came out when the timer started ticking.
4 days ago