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Top Ten Reasons Why it ’tis the Season to Cry

On the art of being brought to tears…

This past weekend was a crash course of life lessons. I had two days of directing filmed interviews for the Alzheimer’s Association, pulling out beautiful and harrowing stories of the people dealing with the disease, caregivers and patients alike. I had a 19-year-old sit across from me explaining the importance of taking care of yourself before you can really take care of your family, wisdom beyond her (and my) years. I had an 86-year-old explain to me the importance of finding a place where you can cry, surrounded by people all dealing with the same issue so the pain doesn’t become confounded by loneliness.

And those were just the lessons being presented in front of the camera, not the career lessons happening behind, from the mundane, keeping your carb load up, to the epic, being beyond privileged to have an amazing crew from PA to Producer standing behind me, supporting me, allowing me to focus on my own task — an amazing and welcome change from the one man band that has been the epitome of my career.

Being overwhelmed by all of this swirling around me, it got me thinking about the nature of tears, especially at this time of year. The holidays have an amazing way of being the happiest and the saddest time, all of which is clearly indicated by the music of the season, some of my absolute favorites. High on the list is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” as it plays out with quiet melodic beauty about wondering if you can push those early signs of love to the next level. Of course there’s Barbra Streisand taking it a bit too far as does Rufus Wainwright, but I’d say go with Mindy Smith who gives it a slight swing with the innocence of her voice contrasting the sorrow.

From the more classic pile of tunes, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” always gets me, with that visual of Judy Garland perched in the window singing about a brighter new year with the inevitability that everyone wont still be together after the holidays – a true and gorgeous downer. James Taylor turns it into a soft guitar driven masterpiece, resting nicely in his sumptuous voice. Jane Monheit makes it a breathy mournful tune that finds an honesty in her voice, much like Nancy LaMott’s straightforward take that takes on a more blunt honesty. If you need a bit more diva, there’s always Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand again, and a Kewpie doll cuteness from Bernadette Peters. But for something truly special, go with Aimee Mann who throws on a walking bass and pitch perfect organ beneath her unique husky voice that with its breathier upper register both dazzles and breaks your heart.

This time of year is never complete for me without my annual viewing of Love Actually, which has yet to not bring me to tears, specifically Emma Thompson opening up her first gift on Christmas Eve, the sounds of the late recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” swelling. I first saw this film in London with my mom the week it opened, on a magical night in Leicester Square on a magical trip. Ever since then, it is requisite holiday viewing, even the year that I had forgotten the DVD at my father’s house and had him overnight it to me to make sure I didn’t miss out on my tradition.

Despite my wavering love of Glee this season, with episodes that have delighted but too many episodes that have substituted plot with “character development” in five minute spurts just so they could cover every character, I must admit that the Christmas episode got to me. Watching Britney’s naïve belief in Santa Claus and her undying belief in Artie’s ability to walk was a surprisingly heartwarming bit of television. And could “Welcome Christmas” at the end of the episode not move anyone? Auto-tuned or not, it’s still a simple and moving piece of music that will always make me see the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes bigger. Also this past week was a shocking episode of Bones in which Brennan has a personal crisis that I found beyond effective. Of any procedural show on TV, it has done the best job of balancing real and developing characters, playing so pitch perfect on the back and forth love of Booth and Brennan. I wont say more about the episode, but urge anyone with an intellectual heart to view it.

At this time of year, it’s change that generally brings a bit of water to the eyes for me. It’s that same irrational fear I had every time a new school year started, that somehow it was going to be completely different (despite the fact that I went to the same school with the same people for fourteen years). There’s that little voice in the back of your head saying, this next year will be different, partly from excitement of things you can change, partly from fear that we’ll all return from the holidays slightly different. Well, this year, I can safely say things will change, and will indeed bring a tear to the eye. After four years of living in my studio in Chelsea, I will be moving. I’m extremely happy to report that I’m moving to a gorgeous new place that I’m so excited to turn into my home. But I will be packing up the past four years in a place that hosted a hundred nights of Top Chef and Project Runway, that became the emergency home of my 24th birthday due to a surprise rainstorm, that hosted dinner parties and holiday parties despite the fact that full occupancy isn’t really more than one. It has been a happy home and office and with a heavy heart I will be finding myself in an amazing new situation that I can’t wait to make memories in for the next four, eight, ten, twenty-five years.

So why all this sadness? I’ve got my health (check). My family and friends more or less are happy and healthy (double check). My career, especially these past couple months, has been thrilling and fantastic (I’m going to go ahead and give that a triple check). It all goes back to the sentiment from that 86-year-old man who I got to spend a challenging but beautiful hour with, in which the lights in the studio and the cameras behind us disappeared, and together we uncovered the amazing power of the human spirit to overcome the deepest traumas. And for him and in particular for his wife whose spirit has literally faded away over the past ten years, it comes from art. The power of art to transcend, to move, to grant us solace and acceptance in things we should never have to face. Long story short, I’m not sure there’s anything so wonderful as tears, the beauty of creating them, the relief of shedding them, their amazing power of granting you a moment in a world and in this city where taking a moment is often impossible, their power of bringing people together, both familiars and strangers, and at the end, the inevitable smile that is so often the result. Have you ever noticed how close crying and laughing are? I often can’t tell where one starts and the other ends…

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