This might only be funny to you if you’ve escaped a cult…
This might only be funny to you if you’ve escaped a cult…
I wasn’t allowed to listen to many systemite songs as a small child. In fact, like outside books, most outside songs were curtailed, considered to be mind clutter that of course the evil ol’ devil wanted to use to take us away from Christ. Our strict prophet termed such clutter “vain babbling.”
Bob Dylan* was an exception. His music spoke to a noble aspect of what my parents, deep down, had always wanted: to reject the ills of generations past. Dylan’s words urged that societal change needed to happen. As it still does.
My Dad would pick up a guitar and sit us all down in the living room. My Mom’s breast could be flopped out as she fed one of the babies, and we listened, in awe of the sound of Dad’s heavyhearted voice as it weaved through metal guitar strings.
* Today Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first time the honor has gone to a musician.
“You don’t know what’s in store for you,” my husband whispered to our rabbits on the day of this photo shoot. This was what was in store for them, and it was simultaneously adorable and I hilarious. I had been inspired to do this shoot to create a cartoon to promote my book, with the bunnies portraying my parents, with dialogue such as:
Him: Should we become polygamists, Dear? I think it’s the Lord’s will.
Her: Well, if it’s the Lord’s will.
So I took the pics (with the generous help in positioning the bunnies by my husband, and another friend), then created a prototype of the cartoon, laughing all the way, and emailed it to a couple of people whose opinion I trust. The feedback was that it was too cute and distracting to convey the message I wanted for my book. So as you see I ditched that idea, and here ’tis, now unrelated to the book, and instead a lovely non-denominational winter well-wishing message. You win some, you winter some.
At 7:22am I was prepping my morning smoothie of kiwis and papaya, when my phone rang. I grabbed it off the kitchen counter. It was my sister Maria, all freaked out, telling me she worries about all of us her siblings, plus her back is in pain. She sometimes calls to tell me she thinks she has autism, restless leg syndrome, or whatever it is she’s seen on the news,“We’re all okay, Maria. You don’t need to worry about us,” I say, and add that her life isn’t that hard because at least she doesn’t have to ever work, and her husband neither. To which she adds that she does work because they have children. “But a lot of people have to have full-time jobs, and raise their kids,” I tell her.
Maria goes on, and it occurs to me that Lily would never dismiss Maria the way I just did. Lily is all of our favorite sister. She’is naturally compassionate. I can be compassionate too, but I have to remind myself to be so, and I think about what Lily would have said to Maria just now. Lily seems to just ‘get’ everyone. Sometimes I think that if Lily ever had a chat with a mass shooter, while she wouldn’t agree with his actions, she would see his heart, even if it was covered layers deep, in pain disguised as rage.
So I say to Maria, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that. I can see how it’s tough,” and at that Maria bursts into tears and says, “When we were kids the parents didn’t love me, they loved you. You were so perfect. and they treated you better because you were perfect.” Suddenly I’m transported to a time where I remember Maria with bright eyes, in wide-eyed wonder. She’s a waddling toddler, a toddler the parents would later clamp down on, and hard.
So I start crying too because I feel bad. I wasn’t perfect, only more of an authority-pleaser, one with a personality better suited for survival under a dictatorship-like regime. Unlike Maria, who had an inborn rebel element about her, who had to put her fingers in the outlet to know what would happen.
Maria continues on, about how I’d be a better mother than her. She tells me that she’s a shitty mother, and is afraid her kids won’t love her because of it. So I say the wisest thing I can think of. “Mom was a shitty mother, and we all loved her.” With that, we both laugh through our tears.
For some reason, it’s not socially acceptable in this country to stare at strangers. I mean really stare. Like watch the way their hair moves, the way their shirt clings to their shoulders, and really stare into their eyes. But when I was a photographer, and I shouldn’t say was, because I still do photography – anyway, when I did photo shoots, I had to stare, so I did. I stared at the person’s hair, their complexion, and into their eyes, even if it was from behind my lens.
At the beginning of the session I might think the person was okay looking, decent looking, good-looking, but whatever. But after an hour and a half or longer, of taking in this stranger, seeing them wince, smile, and looking repeatedly into their eyes, I could not help but feel a certain affection towards them, and see a certain innate beauty. Of course I had been trying to find beauty because I wanted the best possible pictures, so I did have an agenda. But it was more than that. Every time I finished a session I felt a palpable beauty coming from that person.
I bring this up because I think that’s how it is with writing for me. It’s staring and staring into the past until I see something beautiful. Something. Anything. And if it’s not beautiful on it’s own, in fact, even if it’s downright ugly, the staring at it, the facing of it, can be it’s own beauty.
Maybe that’s what that scene with the white plastic bag in the film American Beauty is all about. A scene that in my younger years I thought was plain stupid, but now perhaps I get it. Staring, taking something in, completely focused.
Of course since I’m me, and much of what happened in my life was highly absurd, I also point that absurd shit out, since sometimes beauty is found in the depths of laughter.
“I could have never lived through what you have,” she told me, as we sat across from each other at a bustling LA eatery. “What? No, what you’ve been through is so much harder, and way worse,” I told her. I’d read her autobiography,* detailing how she’d survived a murder attempt that left her with a permanent scar across her upper lip, was beaten by her husband in public while people cheered on, and much worse, before she’d made it with her children, to the United States from Sri Lanka.
That was our lunch chit chat last month. Me, in the presence of this lovely woman named Teera, who I’d met at an IWOSC writers’ meeting, and was captivated by her kindness, humility, and cheerfulness.
We walked across the street to MacArthur park, a place where drug dealing, prostitution, and the like, has taken place over the years. “I wanted to to show you this,” Teera said at the lake, and we took in the beauty of The Spheres at MacArthur Park, gigantic balls (the picture doesn’t do justice to how tall each ball is), painted by over 7,000 children and youth participating in creative therapy and civic leadership sessions as part of a project to revitalize the park. We asked a man with a backpack to take our picture and he did, with a smile.
*Teera’s book Teera: A Life of Hope and Fullfilment, can be found on Amazon.com.