What do you do to prevent crying embarrassingly in public places?

I fought a battle for the ages this morning to remain on the right side of coffee shop etiquette. Here's the narration of the conflict...

This morning I'm trying to finish the Acknowledgements for my forthcoming book Luminous (IVP, late 2013). Now is my chance to say a very special thank you to all the people who have spoken into my life and encouraged me during the long and difficult process of writing. I don't want this to be a perfunctory exercise, and I want to feel these Acknowledgements as I write them.

I'm sitting at a small table next to the window at a downtown coffee shop. There is a steady flow of hipsters and professionals coming in and out of this little shop. I love places like this, since I dream of being either hip or professional. I order a coffee and settle down to write. But then, what ends up happening? I sink into the writing, and I feel the Acknowledgements, alright. My eyes well up with tears, and if I don't do something stat, I am going to start bawling in a public place. Red alert!

In the universal man-move when we are fighting back emotional waterworks, I look upward -- in this case, toward the photos displayed on the wall above me (looking upward enables us to blink back tears before they spill embarrassingly down our cheeks). It's not quite working. I am sure the other customers wonder whether the guy by the window is having a breakdown. I feel like a freak, and I seek to improve my strategy.

The window! I turn my head intently toward the outside world, as if I am deeply interested in something going on in the parking lot across the street. This works for five seconds until a group of people walks by on the sidewalk, and a couple of them look in at me. I think back what I was writing, and I feel another wave of gratitude. My defense against the tears is about to be overrun like Custer at Little Big Horn.

At last, genius! Combining strategies, I look up and outside at the same time. The sky becomes my place of distraction. It's so fascinating (okay, not really). So blue (kind of pale, actually). It works. Slowly I collect myself. I am able to return to the Acknowledgements with professional decorum. Battle won. Vanity preserved.

What do you do to prevent embarrassing emotional displays in public spaces? Or are you mature enough not to worry about it?


  1. I love this post for so many reasons but mostly because it immediately brings back memories of throwing around tissue boxes with you in meetings. :)


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