Monday, April 30, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
In retrospect, the truck itself was an oddity. It sported the sticker, of course, and also featured two "back seats"--padded monstrosities which folded down from the cab interior of the truck bed. As these "seats" were situated behind the driver and passenger seats, the sitter was given exactly 1.5 feet in which to "stretch out"...my brothers and I fought over these iron maidens as if they had been forged by the Gods.
Its possession was also questionable. As my grandmother was a woman of small stature who lived in the suburbs and never, with the exception of my uncle, aided in any strenuous moves, I have literally no idea why she possessed such a vehicle. Or why she took such great pride in driving it. Had I sense at that tender age, I would have been embarrassed to be seen, contorted, a human pretzel, stuffed in the makeshift "kids section" of a truck bearing "you toucha my truck, I breaka you face."
I'm glad I didn't have sense.
Because I loved that truck.
Today, I miss my grandmother.
Like so many, my childhood was less than ideal, but when I needed a respite I knew there were two "safe" places to which I could retreat: my imagination and my grandmother's house. I started writing at a very early age--right about the time I took the red suitcase emblazoned "Going to Grandma's" to my sojourns to Sussex Place.
I spent a significant portion of my childhood at Mausy's. When she wasn't at her bridal shop (I visited her there often too), I stayed at her home under the watchful supervision of my Great Aunt Clara, who found it amusing to chase me and my brothers around the house without her teeth in.
I miss Clara too.
I think about these women often, especially my grandmother. I could bore you senseless with the sights and smells of grandma's house. I know now that I have the power in my words to transport you there, to let you in at that uncomfortable level. With the one true gift I know I possess, I could show you what it was really like to bravely face that dark hallway at the rear of the house, singing Neil Diamond's "Turn On Your Heart Light" as you ran from the room that had The Incredible Hulk Head in the closet. How you were "safe" once you got to grandma's room. But in doing so, I would inevitably spur you thinking about your grandmother, and, in this moment dear reader, I'd like to focus on mine.
Her name was Wanda Jean.
And I didn't really know her at all.
Of the many facts I have garnered about my grandmother, I will share with you these: she was born in the 1930s, the next to youngest of 10 children. As her youngest sibling, Buster Brown, died in infancy, my grandmother was the baby of her family. She grew up poor in Virginia, the daughter of a once very wealthy woman who was disinherited for marrying a poor man. I know very little about my grandmother's childhood, but do know that she had to get water from a well house. She was married twice, the first time to a man who sired my mother. I do not know this man. The second time to Harvey Barker, the man who would go on to adopt my mother, sire my uncle, and become my first very best friend. I know my grandmother worked in a bank.
Everything else--until I came along--is hearsay.
Lately, this knowledge (or lack thereof) has become unacceptable to me.
Like all children, I knew my grandmother for the role she played in my life. As if she had had no existence pior to March 16, 1981, I knew Mausy by the things she said and did to, with and for me. I could speak endlessly to these. She was, in so many respects, the ideal grandmother. But, as I age, I wish with all my heart that I had known Wanda Jean.
How is it possible that this woman who, it can honestly be said, forged me in her fires was such a stranger to me? How is it that I only discovered and rediscovered this at the end of her natural life?
This was a woman who attended every recital, every concert, every show. This was a woman whose every social event, save bowling and bingo, revolved around being there for her family. This is a woman who would die for me. And who didn't write me off when I threw a Bible at her from a second-story balcony. (To my credit, I didn't write her off either...)
Today I have two wedding dresses in my closet, both from my grandmother's bridal store. She saved them for me, so I would have something beautiful to wear for my wedding. My mother found them among her things when she died. The boxes remain unopened. I think they always will.
I will marry someday, but there is something about the sentimentality of that unopened box...the last unshared vision of a grandmother for her granddaughter.
Fuck, grandma. You've been dead for three years. How is it possible you just made me cry?
In one of my last conversations with Mausy, I told her I wanted to give her a tape recorder, and that I wanted her to tell me all of her stories so I would forever have them. I told her this, but I didn't follow up with the tape recorder. And I didn't take her to the beach one last time, like I promised I would. I should have. I don't even know why she loved the beach. I never got around to asking her.
And I guess that's the lesson here: to sieze the day. To not procrastinate on getting to know, on spending time with, on loving with all your heart those people whose very existence fuel your own. I don't know. To be frank, I am too emotional to address it at present. I can tell because too many words are coming at once, none of them cohesive. When this happens, I know I need to take a break. But if I stop now I might never finish...
I have a job to secure and a thesis to write...but, my friends, I instead feel compelled to take on a project.
To my knowledge, my grandmother has three siblings living. And, of course, her children.
I am a filmmaker, am I not?
I need to take a journey--a journey that begins in Virginia in 1937 and ends in an Atlanta hospital in May of 2009. Through my medium, I will finally meet someone who I've spent time with on so many occasions it's impossible to keep count.
Today, I will begin my journey to meet Wanda Jean.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
I visit the others often. Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath and Lust are certainly no strangers to me. We have a weekly game night. I always lose.
Pride and Greed? They occasionally crash on my couch.
Envy though--she and I are TIGHT.
"Mean Girls" might call us frenemies.
Any newer cultural reference might just call us cohorts.
That bitch and I hang out nearly every day.
We walk campus, and she points out all the pretty, pretty girls.
She points out all the stylish outfits. And the beautiful bodies to which they cling.
Not a pair of designer shoes goes by unnoticed.
She laughs as she draws my attention to the other women my age in business suits, strolling to their next meeting.
"See that ring on her finger? Her husband is AMAZING. Smart, funny, rich, kind. Did I mention he's gorgeous and killer in the sack?"
I fucking HATE Envy.
And she lives at my house.
The editor of Cosmopolitan magazine once advised that I pay close attention to Envy.
Envy, she advised, can be used as a guidepost to point out those things which you truly desire. In this way, Cosmo Girl (*ahem* lady) argued that Envy is a good friend to have around.
I can see that.
But I also have my doubts.
Especially as Envy is currently using my toothbrush to scrub her callouses.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Like a true southern gentleman, my friend Jeremy bequeathed me with tickets to the Gone With The Wind Jonesboro Tour for my birthday. An all day affair, the package included a driving tour of the city's Civil War homes, admission to the museum, and a walking tour through an antebellum plantation. My kinda day.
I'd been planning this tour for more than a week, and it was GWTW themed. You do the math. I was pumped.
Adding to the excitement of the day was my company--my friend Thomas (a fellow actor, student and film enthusiast) would be joining me for the tour. Thomas is tall, beautiful, and black. This latter fact may or may not become important later.
Thomas and I arrive on time and have a lovely tour of the city, stopping over in the Confederate Cemetery and the old jailhouse. We peruse the graves on unknown soldiers. We laugh at the jail register which includes arrests for "possession of illegal chickens" and "fornication." We are having a lovely time.
The museum proves equally lovely. The lady who took our tickets--a sweet, sweet lass named Phyllis--had no idea what to do with me. I had taken it in my mind to be her favorite patron of the day, and therefore chatted her up an inappropriate amount and prodded her to badmouth "Jason," a patron who was supposed to tour that date but didn't show up. Jason--the bastard--didn't call to cancel either. Phyllis, apparently, forgave Jason the indiscretion. I was not so kind. In the end, Phyllis and I had to agree to disagree. That's just the kind of concession one must make for their new best friend.
The museum itself was packed with images from the film and many film-inspired dolls, which Thomas, despite my insistence, refused to steal for me. That Thomas, he's a stand-up guy.
Next stop was the walking tour of the antebellum plantation.
Thomas and I arrived in front of a large, white columned building from the mid 1800s, which was flanked by a schoolhouse, barn, kitchen, blacksmith's shop and outhouse from the same time period. There was also an authentic Creek village from 500 years ago, but we'll get back to that in a minute.
A few minutes early for the tour, Thomas and I ascended the stairs of the main plantation house to speak to a heavyset white woman who appeared to be in her 50s. We assumed her to be the woman in charge because, quite frankly, she was the only person visible on site, aside from two Jonesboro police officers. She had on a name tag: Bertha.
"Can I help you?," she said. Her southern drawl was thick as molasses without any of the sweet. Her arms were crossed. She moved to stand in front of the door.
"Um, yes," I replied brightly, matching her southern tones with a sugary version of my own. "I have tickets for the 3 o'clock tour."
I showed her my LivingSocial certificate. She frowned. "You have to go to the store," she said.
I was confused. She offered no clarification, but merely looked at an old wooden building on the property.
"Is that the store?"
As Thomas and I made our way to the store, I commented on Bertha's lack of hospitality. "What a bitch," I profferred.
The store smelled like Christmas, and was lined pine ceiling to floor with GWTW memorabilia that I already own (except for the Scarlett O'Hara nightlight. Don't have one of those. Yet.) The woman behind the counter was kind, if slow, writing out our tickets as if with lead hands and drawling (not once but three times) about how the school on the grounds was arranged for the next day's luncheon.
"The school is decorated for the luncheon. We're having a luncheon at the school tomorrow. Sometimes we have luncheons here and tomorrow we're having a luncheon..."
Now officially "ticketed," Thomas and I gave each other "the look" and stifled our giggles as we proceeded to the school. We'd heard they were having a luncheon there, and we wanted to check it out.
After the school, Thomas and I made our way back to the house, where a pair of ladies, one older one young (mother and daughter perhaps?) had joined Bertha on the porch. Bertha was chatting with them openly. She stopped when Thomas and I approached. The mother/daughter team were kind to us. We joked as we had seen these two ladies on the bus tour previously. We entered the house.
As we did so, Bertha turned on a CD narration and left the room. Our crew of 4 was left to wander about the first floor of the house and listen to the poorly-acted narration meant to be the owner of the home. The actor had chosen a southern drawl for a man who had been born in Ireland. Thomas and I--actors ourselves--lamented this oversight.
We weaved in and out of the rooms, noting the period decor, all emblazoned with signs reading "DO NOT TOUCH" in all caps. Bertha came back in and watched us. As she did, Thomas went into the back part of the house that was, apparently, administrative. He hadn't been back there two seconds--he was just realizing he had walked in--THROUGH AN OPEN DOOR--to a room that now served as a kitchen, when Bertha yelled through the house "That's not part of the tour! Come out of there!"
She yelled this in front of everyone.
I was angry, but I held my tongue.
Thomas apologized, saying he didn't know.
Bertha quick waddled her way back into the kitchen--I presume to make sure Thomas hadn't broken or stolen anything--and Thomas and I headed upstairs, followed by the mother/daughter pair.
I paused on the steps. "Just want to make sure she isn't going to yell again," I told Thomas.
Once upstairs, we were examining the bedrooms from the hallway (the bedrooms in such places are usually blocked off by a guardrail to prevent damage). As we did so, Bertha appeared at the top of the stairs.
"You know, if you want to know the history of this place, you really should stay downstairs and listen to the tape. When it's done we can come up here and I will answer any questions."
Dutifully, the mother/daughter team headed down the stairs to listen to the droning southern Irishman. Completely uninterested in a history we both already knew, Thomas and I stayed upstairs, examining a cabinet filled with toiletries from the time.
Bertha stayed at the top of the stairs, watching us. She stared uncomfortably for a solid three minutes while Thomas and I marveled at some ornate hairpins before rudely interrupting, in a voice like ice,
"Alright, that's enough. I need you to go downstairs."
Camel's back, meet straw.
I rounded on her. "Can't we just enjoy our tour as we see fit?"
She puffed up like a toad, eyes wide as saucers, and began to retort in an equally condescending tone about "doing her job" when I cut her off.
"Obviously we cannot, as you've been on our ass from the moment we walked in the door."
With Thomas close behind me, I pushed past Bertha and stalked to the door. Bertha was stunned. Thomas was stunned. The mother/daughter pair were stunned. At the door, I said something about "having no excuses for being insufferably rude," and stormed out, assuming Thomas would follow. He did. All the way to the Creek huts, where I stomped about furiously.
I don't know if she had just had a long day, if she wanted to get out early, if she literally had no sense of decorum, or if she had a fucking problem with the fact that a young white woman had come accompanied by a young black man...(Oh! Let her say something to me about THAT!) but that bitch was out of line, and I don't care if I had to be the one to tell her so.
Because there is no excuse for being rude to paying patrons. Or to anyone who hasn't done anything wrong by you.
Because there is absolutely no reason to watch two young people as if they were criminals. This isn't 1864 for fuck's sake.
And because, bitch, I guarantee that YOU don't have a damned thing to teach ME about "Gone With the Wind."
Bitch, let me tell you a story about "Gone With the Wind." Let me tell you about how Margaret Mitchell was not allowed into the Junior League because she had the audacity to dance provocatively with a Georgia Tech student in front of the Georgian Terrace. Let me tell you about how, after she wrote her famous novel the Junior Leaugers came back, begging her favor. Let me tell you about how quickly she told them to go straight to hell.
Let me tell you about Scarlett O'Hara. Let me tell you how she ran a business for herself, by herself, when women were meant to stay at home birthing babies. Let me tell you what she thought of societal morays when she stole India Wilkes' beau and snagged herself three husbands. Let me tell you abou how she started a scandal by visiting a man in jail and by hugging her best friends' husband. Let me tell you how half the men and women of Clayton County owed their life to a woman they didn't even like.
They sure as fuck didn't do it by listening to and staying within the acceptable bounds mandated by ancient peahens like you, Mrs. Merriweather and Mrs. Pittypat Hamilton.
For no conceivable reason, you were rude to me and to my friend on no less than three occasions. Margaret Mitchell wouldn't have stood for that. Scarlett O'Hara wouldn't have stood for that. And, Bertha, as you now WELL know, I'm not going to stand for that.
Yep, you're fucking with the wrong southern belle. Y'all.
You said no.
I prayed for an amazing relationship.
You said no.
I prayed for some sense of security; for something--anything--to go right.
You said no.
So, for a while there, I hated You.
Dear G_d: thank you for my poverty.
You know me better than I know myself.
In times of comfort, I'm a lazy cow.
Why put off 'til tomorrow what I can put off for the rest of my G_d-given life?
When I have money, I don't strive.
Success makes me lazy.
Failure makes me fight.
Dear G_d: thank you for my fight.
If you hadn't taken everything I had, I never would have gained what I have.
If you hadn't taken my condo, I wouldn't now be living in the area of town that has made me happier and more inspired than I have ever been.
If you hadn't taken my relationship, I never would have had the peace of mind to pursue what I really want, as opposed to sacrificing my wants on the altar of someone else's happiness and, relatedly, I wouldn't have had the time to discover what it is that I really need from another human being.
If you hadn't taken my job, I never would have had the drive to pursue my Masters degree. I never would have met these people. I never would have taken on these amazing projects. I never would have been on the radio. I never would have interviewed Ted Turner. I never would have made my own movie.
I'd still be lost.
Every day is a struggle.
But I am getting stronger.
I feel that now, for the first time in my life.
Thank you for forcing me to do things I know I couldn't--or wouldn't--have done on my own.
Now, every time I get my bank statement and lament, I remember that J.K. Rowling (*bows in reverence) had to be broke as fuck before she wrote "Harry Potter." And, from what I've heard, that endeavor worked out pretty well for her...
I used to cry all the time, but now I know You've got this.
You've got me.
And You made me to fight when all is lost.
So, seriously, thanks for making me broke as fuck.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
As a species, we excel at the comfortable. We dig our little holes and we stick to them with crochity tenacity. We're like crabs. Except that some crabs change shells. Humans are same-shell crabs.
That said, there are those rare occasions in life--those almost unheard of instances--those moments of legend--where, in a moment, you realize, often with awe, the amazing power of the human mind to completely transform a person...
into an idiot.
Think about it. You know exactly what I mean. You recall the day; it began unassumedly enough. You wore your old t-shirt and arrived 5 minutes late for what was bound to be just another ordinary lunch with a friend, only to realize within moments of picking up your menu that your once-logical friend has somehow magically transformed into a certifiable cray cray.
And all you can do is watch the lunacy unfold.
Before your very eyes, this friend--your roommate from sophomore year, your big brother/big sister from your fratern/sorority, your former coworker--has gone from comfortable confidant to special guest expert on Ancient Aliens.
The tipoff is usually subtle. You may even question if you heard him/her correctly. "Surely ____ didn't just say...?"
Slowly it dawns on you that the answer is 'yes.' Yes, Jerome DID just send the salad back to the kitchen because he claimed it was undercooked.
Your eyebrows furrow. What is happening here? Surely there is some misunderstanding. Surely there has been some...
Mid thought, you are jarred from your perplexed internal questioning by a shrill exclamation. "Soooo! Have I told you my new favorite color is chartreuse?"
"I LOVE ELEPHAAAAAAAANTS!"
Upon reflection, this MAY be a hyperbolic example, but, given my recent life experiences, it's not that far off.
Turns out people you know--or think you know well-- can pull an out-of-the-blue, out of character move with such a swiftness that it leaves you broken, winded, mouth agape wondering what in popsicle hell just happened.
Where in the world did that reaction/exclamation/decision come from? Because the person I knew would never do something like that. What in the world would inspire this person to do a complete 180?
The confusion gets more disturbing: you start questioning yourself.
Have there been signs that I just missed? Is there something I could have done to pull him back from the cliff?
And then, the coup de gras: your sanity falters as your questions reach a paranoia fever pitch.
Has he always been this way? Is this really who he is and I just never saw it? What is wrong with me?
Now in a hysterical frenzy all your own, you completely lose yourself. You start muttering and pacing like a crazy person as you contemplate all of the possible implications, the signs, the hidden meanings behind what just happened... And all the while your former friend is gone. Off yelling somewhere about the elephants.
Cliff's Notes: (Author's 'what-the-hell-I'm-yammering-on-about's):
Thing is, how well do we ever really know the people we align with? Can we ever really know them? And what d you say when the person you thought you knew goes on permanent hiatus, replaced by someone that, generally speaking, you'd go 5,000 miles out of your way to avoid?
What happens when Jekyll goes home and Hyde comes out?
Monday, April 9, 2012
For me, dragging myself into situations I'd rather avoid usually involves me volunteering my time to some creative endeavor for some entity outside of myself.
The process is always the same. I roll my eyes and heavy sigh as someone grabs me by the arm and drags me into yet another work-for-free project.
I grumble and moan. I throw little huffy tantrums. I wonder for the millionth time how I let myself get involved in these time wastes and energy saps.
And then I love every minute of it.
This morning, I am loving every minute of interviews I am conducting for a locally-based but internationally-known service group.
I just got off the phone with a pastor in an extraordinarily large and violence-ridden city. My interview was scheduled for 9 a.m., and of course, I was all pissy about it. "How," I asked myself, "can I get off the phone as quickly as possible so I can watch episodes of Parks and Rec on Netflix?"
But--true to form--5 minutes in, I was hooked.
This man has bullet holes in his walls from gang drive-bys, but he feeds thousands of underprivileged city kids every week. With the money he raises through his church, he buys gift cards to exchange with gang members. The deal? You give me your guns, I'll give you this gift card to go buy some new clothes. In 2 years, he has collected more than 400 "street" guns.
At first, the police wanted to arrest him, because he didn't have a permit for the seized weapons. But the D.A. came to his defense. Now the program is receiving national recognition.
Because he feeds the kids of those less fortunate--some of them in prisons--gang members have even gotten behind the pastor's programs. The Son of Sam killer has raised money to help the pastor get the guns off the streets.
In a world still so full of negative, this man and his wife brave a terrain where most of us wouldn't dare set foot.
This man is my idea of redemption. This man's life shines as exemplary of those who walk the walk. Charlie Muller, you are a hero, and I thank you for continuing to remind me of why I do what I do...even if I bitch about it every step of the way.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Trouble is, I don't believe in it.
This is the first year I am not celebrating Easter.
As a Jew (mid-conversion) this year I celebrated Passover--the commemoration of the Jews' deliverance from slavery in Egypt. An equally remarkable story laden with plagues and death and sea parting all culminating in "Hey! Who forgot to bring the map? Damnit! Hope we're not stuck wandering around out here..."
This year I need deliverance.
As it turns out, I could use a rebirth too.
So why is it one seems so much more feasible than the other?
Let us explore, children (harkening back to my Sunday School days...)
Deliverance: as G_d is all powerful, it seems a small stretch to embrace that He could make it rain frogs or split the sea so His people could walk through. That said, (and assuming the same premise) I am having a very difficult time understanding why I seem completely unable to embrace that He could kill His son--and subsequently resurrect Him--so that all mankind could be saved. Certainly, G_d is capable. So what gives?
Perhaps, for me, it is the nature of the action.
In the Torah (or the first 5 books of the Old Testament) G_d comes to the aid of the Israelites when they can no longer aid themselves. We were SLAVES in Egypt, subject to the rule of Rameses an completely unable to deliver ourselves. As we were utterly helpless, He came and delivered us (but it still took Him hundreds of years to get around to it and even with all that preparation, He still left the handy "get out of the desert free" map at home...)
But in the New Testament, the Jews, while still under Roman rule, had it relatively easy (comparatively speaking). Within bounds, we were free to worship as we liked. So, in the time of the New Testament, the Jewish imprisonment was one of the mind. Jesus (Yeshua), therefore, came to deliver us from being enslaved to a certain way of thinking. It was an ideological rebirth. Surprisingly, it was not all that popular at first. Seems Yeshua received quite a bit of earth-bound Hell for it. And then, of course, there was the literal rebirth.
See, you had me up until that last part. For, an ideological rebirth is one I can completely get behind, but I start to balk at the discussion of a literal one.
This struggle is currently consuming me.
There is a truth here, and I MUST get to the bottom of it.
And, my friends, I think what I am trying to get to the bottom of here is less a universal truth and more a truth about ME.
What does it say about me that I think G_d can rain down death upon all of the firstborn of Egypt, but that I cannot fathom that He would resurrect a peasant prophet after three days?
It says I embrace punishment, but not mercy.
This may be the first time I have ever articulated that statement.
And it scares me to death.
"For G_d so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life..."
I love. I love with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. But I cannot conceive of a self-sacrificing love such as this. For surely, G_d Himself is enough. Surely, such an action would be entirely unnecessary. Surely, G_d has it in Him to do all things. Surely, surely, surely.
I do not believe in Heaven. I love G_d and strive to live a good life, but I do not believe He owes me any sort of reward for doing so. I do it because it is right. I do it because He asks me to. I do it because I know nothing else.
Perhaps it is my lack of belief in Heaven that causes me to question the idea of a resurrection or rebirth. I most certainly believe in deliverance (and pray every day that G_d provide me with it) but a rebirth? A total transformation of who I am into something greater, better, higher?
Do you know how HARD it is to totally transform a human being?
It is harder than sending locusts.
It is harder than killing oxen.
It is harder than inhabiting a burning bush that refuses to be consumed.
It is harder than killing a generation of oppressors.
It is harder than marching an entire race of people across a parted sea.
It is harder than raining manna from Heaven, or writing on two enormous stone tablets.
True change in the life of a man--in his mind, from whence his body follows--is the greatest feat on earth.
And my mind can conceptualize a rise from death before it can accept a change of heart.