How to Cry and still be Happy during a Crisis

Yue Minjun, The Execution, 1995, oil on Canvas

[…] laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, with the absence of our rights that society has placed on us.”

Yue Minjun

If your emotions are all over the place and they’re riding you like a roller coaster, take heart, you’re not alone. This is a trying time and even the best of us who are optimistic, a tad panglossian, and always see the glass as half-full, are at the moment feeling all sorts of emotions that we have no words for.

Overwhelmed. Anxious. Depressed. Impatient. Inundated. Horrified. Irritated. Annoyed. Irascible. All these Thesaurus-friendly words don’t even begin to describe how I really feel. 

The trouble is I don’t even know how I really feel. Does anyone? Apart from the above emotions, I feel nostalgic too. On top of all this, I also feel like I’m becoming someone else. I feel that when this crisis is over, I’ll be in a state of novel-normal. I feel hopeful that life will really change; my life will really change and that fills me with excitement. Yet, there are days that I feel like crying—like today. But, I can’t cry though, which causes that lump in my throat to grow bigger making swallowing hard. I find something to do.

screen grab of Nadiya’s summer salad

I start to cook. I feel that any minute now if I drop a bowl and it crashes to the floor, I’ll cry. I’m so weepy but the tears stay at the base of my throat, hurting my eyes while I wait for the floodgates to fling open. But they don’t. I rattle them but they won’t budge. So I leave cooking (I’m all over the place now—the kitchen is a mess) and flick through Netflix. I find a cooking programme: Nadiya’s Time to Eat. She’s British and everything takes place in her culinary Kingdom far away. I want to be there. Her accent makes my heart ache. I miss this accent so much. Her recipes using favourite British ingredients hit me hard: I miss Marmite, Golden Syrup, Scottish Salmon and Smarties. As I watch her cooking hacks, the tears start to flow. They stream down my face. I feel deliriously happy. I imagine that I’m in my garden in London again and it’s summer. We’re having a barbecue. I’m making a rice salad filled with edamame beans dressed with sesame oil and soya sauce; I add a spoonful of harissa to spice the dish up a little. I throw in some chopped coriander and drizzle some tahini over the top. A squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of lemon zest and this piece de la resistance is done. I set it aside and turn my attention to the meat. The ribs and butterflied lamb will hit the hot grill soon and I’ll be throwing tubers of sweet potatoes into the charcoal to bake. I’m in food heaven. I wait for friends to ring the bell. I’m so excited. Then, I sob like I’ve never cried before. The floodgates are wide open. 

My daughters panic. “Mummy, are you alright?” They rush to my side, the teenager hugs me and the adult one strokes my arm. I’m watching a cooking programme I say. “Mum!!!” They think I’ve definitely gone over the edge now. Then, I laugh. I’m so tickled pink that there are so many cooking hacks that can save busy folks who love cooking time so that cooking does not become a chore but remain a joy. I’m chuckling hard now. “Mummy, you ok?” The girls asked hesitantly. They’re now convinced I’ve flipped. 

I’m so happy now. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I return to the kitchen. I make a salad. I cook some rice and marinade the meat for a bulgogi. In between, I sip a glass of crisp Chablis. After I’ve wiped down the work surface, I open my laptop and I write. Et voilà—here’s a new blog post. And I wrote this with relish and a glass of wine by my side. I’m ecstatically happy now. 

You’re looking at Yue Minjun’s ‘The Execution’ painted in 1995. It’s an oil on canvas and depicts a scene where a laughing man, Yue himself, is being shot by a row of executioners wielding imaginary guns. This style of painting has become known as Cynical Realism, a term coined by art critic and curator Li Xianting in the 1970s. Yue says of his work, “[…] laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, with the absence of our rights that society has placed on us.” There’s no more apt a quote than this encapsulating how I feel right now. So, I laugh because I’m a cynical realist. [This image is courtesy of Jeffrey Say, Art historian and lecturer at LaSalle College of the Arts.]