Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Real Beauty Looks Like

I am sure it was pure coincidence, but was anyone else struck by the fact that the largest display of Hollywood beauty and glam came on the eve of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week?

As you all know, I love movies.  When I was in junior high school and had to fill in some survey for one of the teachers at the beginning of the school year so she could get to know us, I answered the question about what I wanted to do when I grew up as "film critic".  I've probably mentioned that before.  It's occurred to me since that my 14-year old self knew me better than any other iteration of me since.  Of course, had I pursued that, it would mean that I would have to actually sit through movies with "Resident Evil" in the title or "Silent Hill" or anything that claims Nicholas Sparks as the source material.   However, if you think about some of the things I've actually done for a living, that would probably be a more productive use of my time.  But, as it stands, I go to the movies for personal pleasure only and enjoy them like some people enjoy fine wine.  At their least they entertain, at their finest they inspire and maybe even educate.  And as such, Oscar night is a big deal for me because it's the ultimate celebration of the medium I love so much.  Yet, now, after everything we have been through as a family, Oscar night takes on a different tone.  I can never just look at all those women in their finest gowns and jewels and be dazzled.  For me, the red carpet is a whole lot of complicated these days.  As a matter of fact, I skip the whole red carpet parade and just concentrate on the awards themselves and sometimes even that is hard.   I didn't make it past Angelina Jolie's presentation last year.  I was so distressed that I erased the rest of the show.  That was a tough one all the way around because Rooney Mara was in the audience, and she reminds me so much of Kelsey, particularly when she is sporting short, severe bangs.  She is lovely and NFL royalty, but she is disturbingly thin with a piercing gaze that just unnerves me because I've seen it on another's face too.  I will never look at her with any level of comfort I'm afraid.  Then of course, there is always the threat of a Suzi Amis sighting, which I find highly troubling on several levels (for one:  she's known as quite the fashionista around Hollywood - don't any of those designers think enough of her personally to do something or say something...?!)  This year, however, things seemed better.  Relatively.  There still was a dazzling parade of women with dresses designed to show off flat tummies and lots of bare arm, and lots of evidence of women fighting off aging with collagen, silicone and lots and lots of Botox.  There is still ample evidence that body image is game one in the City of Angels.  There are some exceptions:  women with full figures who are thriving in a body conscious world like Adele, Melissa McCarthy, Queen Latifah and Octavia Spencer, but the fact that I can list them by name in a single sentence will probably tell you something.  When I look at Catherine Zeta-Jones and think, "Well, I don't stack up well against that!" then I'm in danger of losing perspective.  I can only imagine what girls like Kelsey must have thought watching all of those hard bodies walk the red carpet.  I wondered about that a lot when I saw Jennifer Lawrence, who truly is a vision and only 22.  But I watch because this was a phenomenal year for film, and I wanted to see that being celebrated, but there is a lot to process after seeing so much glitz and glamour on parade, as you can see since I'm writing about it days later.  And, as I sat and considered all of it while I was watching a female police officer on Boston's Finest last night (and yes, that is because it has a Wahlberg connection and yes, I do get the hypocrisy...), it occurred to me that I'm wrong - we're a lot of us wrong - about what real beauty is.

Here maybe is a better depiction of what real beauty looks like (just to name a very few):

Eleanor Roosevelt:  First Lady, author, activist

Barbara Jordan:  Civil Rights leader and politician

Jane Goodall: primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace

Rosa Parks:  Civil Rights activist

Mother Teresa:  need I say more?

Who do you find beautiful?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Had a Daughter Once

In the Shadows
artist:  Kelsey N Veldman
One of the things that has kept me from giving up this blog in favor of a little extra reading time every week (or whatever I chose to do with the time - folding laundry could probably use some additional attention) is that I'm afraid.  And like really terrified actually.  Afraid that people will forget Kelsey.  Maybe I'm even a little worried that I will forget her because I don't even use the blog to feature her these days.  It's all about me, some might say.  The reality is that grief is about you, not the one you've lost.  That may shock you, but think about it as I make the case...

I'll never forget when a high school psychology teacher hipped us to the fact that we don't cry for the other person; we cry because we are sad.  There was a murmur in the room, I can still recall it - people protested, but he insisted.  And his logic was irrefutable.  It's a very selfish feeling:  sadness.  If you are crying over the loss of someone, the other person no longer feels hurt, sick or sad.  As a matter of fact, if you're spiritual, you probably believe that they are in a better place.  So, you are crying because you miss them.  I think most of the kids in the class who were a little shocked at the statement were thinking of times that they had cried over something sad they had seen on the news or had happened to someone else and they felt badly for them.  Surely, we all said to ourselves, then we are crying for others, and I think we felt that, in a small way, it proved our goodness that we could be so moved by someone else's plight.  (Little did any of us know that collectively we would all have so many opportunities for that in our lifetime.)  But, no, he still insisted that it was for our own purposes that we cried.  We were the ones who felt badly, and it was in reaction to our own emotions that we shed tears.  There is no denying this.  He was right.

But he stopped short of letting us off the hook for this by explaining that feeling sad is not a bad thing.  That selfish display of emotion means one thing very plainly:  we feel.  And feeling something is a good thing.  Generally.  I would imagine people who were/are monstrous also feel things, but their feelings are just off kilter from the rest of us somehow.  But, putting them aside for these purposes, you have to have a depth of feeling about something to then take it to the next level, whatever that might be.  It's like the key in the ignition.  If you are numb to the things around you, you'll be stuck.  The engine will be frozen. (This will all tie together, I promise.)

I think I see evidence of my theory at work every day in how people spur themselves to action after losing a loved one.  I belong to a group of mothers whose children have suffered or are suffering from eating disorders that was started by a woman who lost her daughter to the disease a decade ago (I may have mentioned this before).  She is also active in a number of other eating disorder-related activities.  That is just one example of course.  Some people have made a huge national or worldwide impact like Candy Lightner who founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) in 1980 after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver.  Others stay within the confines of their community, like a local mom who works diligently on anti-drug efforts in Pittsburgh after her son died of a heroin overdose.  But you see those kinds of efforts over and over in honor of their children, and I realize that, at the core, they are probably doing it for much the same reason I can't quite let myself let go of this:  so people don't forget who their children were and so their life and death mean something.  It is selfish.  But that is okay, because it has spurred them to act in ways that helps others far beyond themselves.  If only every selfish act we do has such selfless results.

I don't think this little blog rises to that level at all, and the other thing I spend a lot of time pondering these days is the fine line between trying to keep the memory of someone alive and exploiting it.  I've crossed that line in my own estimation a time or two I think - but that's almost its own topic.  But, to bring it all back to the beginning - as we look toward Eating Disorder Awareness Week next week, I need you to remember I had a daughter once.  She was beautiful, but she could be ugly in spirit when she wanted to be.  She had an amazing talent that her disease abused and refused to allow to blossom to its full potential.  She loved passionately, she hated that way too.  She could be funny, but that humor could bite as well.  In short, she was a human being, with assets and flaws.  What she could have potentially become we will never know, but what she is that I know for sure is my first born daughter whom I held in my arms at the moment of her birth.  I need you not to forget her.  I need it.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Love Story

Love Story, Paramount Pictures, 1970
February is pretty crowded for being the shortest month of the year:  Black History Month, the Super Bowl, Eating Disorder Awareness Month, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (well, that's a big deal to some of us anyway) and, of course, Valentine's Day.  The latter is coming up and those of us who are long over the thrill of a manufactured holiday cannot seem to get away from it.  The normal beer and shaving cream ads during the hockey games are replaced by jewelry ads, perfume ads and promotions for some movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book.  I can without a doubt guarantee you that no one watching hockey would willingly go to a movie like that, but lots of people watching hockey have significant others who would, so, since I watch a lot of hockey, I've been subjected to it several times recently.  Oh well, no matter, Valentine's Day is almost here and then it will all be over.  But, that got me thinking about romantic movies over time and how they don't all necessarily have to be so nauseating.  Take Out of Africa, for instance.  Or Casablanca.  One movie I hadn't thought about in eons is Love Story, but apparently it hasn't faded into complete oblivion because a couple used the theme music for their free dance recently during the US National Figure Skating Championships.  I do not hold it in the same category as Out of Africa, but it came out when I was a little girl and it was a massive sensation.  All my babysitters were so completely over the moon about it - they all wanted to have someone like Ryan O'Neal fall in love with them and they all wanted to be Ali McGraw.  And the theme song was everywhere.  You just couldn't get away from it - even if you were just a girl, more interested in loving puppies than people.  And the tag line - oh my! - it was on everyone's lips:  Love Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry.  It was so prevalent that it has been voted No. 13 on AFI's 100 Most Quoted Movie Lines.  The movie may have taken melodrama to a whole other schmaltzy level, but in terms of a business venture, it was genius.  I watch ads for romantic movies now and wonder if producers are forever hoping to replicate what that movie and a few rare successors have achieved.  But, marketing genius or not, I have to say it's one of the dumbest movie lines of all time.  I'm with John Lennon who once said, "Love means having to say you're sorry every five minutes."  Maybe every five minutes is a little overstated, but I agree with the concept:  love, really, deep, long lasting love is all about being able to accept that you will do and say dumb things to your loved one on occasion and you have to be able to atone for it. 

It occurred to me yesterday that I have been with the same partner for over three decades now.  We have beat all odds so far to be able to say that, and I am not sure I really know how we did it.  As a matter of fact, if I stop and think about all those days when we struggled to come together over how to treat Kelsey and Marissa's disease, those horrible dark days after we lost Kelsey, and all the normally hard days when we were strained over money, who got to do what or go where, and even whose football team is better (mine), I am actually extremely amazed that here we still are together.  But we prevail, so I think it gives me credibility to say that love cannot be boiled down into a simple tag line.  But, if it could be, it certainly wouldn't be that one.   Love is Messy; Wear Wading Boots might be a better one.

I don't think, despite our longevity, that we are in a good position to be giving any young couples advice, but, if pressed, I think it would have to be:  accept that you are two separate, unique individuals and there will be days you do not see eye-to-eye, and there will be days when that is the least of your problems, but try and approach everyday and every decision with both of you in mind (not something we have always done, by the way).  When you do mess up - because you will - be sincere in your acknowledgment of it and learn from it so you do not keep making the same mistake.  When your partner messes up, remember all the times the tables were turned and treat your partner like you would want them to treat you.  And, maybe most important of all, do not make your love interest take you to a sappy movie on Thursday instead of staying home to watch some hockey!

Happy Valentine's Day, yinzers!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Live Like a Tourist

Super Bowl Sunday.  The Worst Case Scenario Super Bowl for Steelers fans.  There is no winning with this one:  do you want the 49'ers to win and tie our beloved team for the most Lombardis in the trophy case, or do you want to protect that entitlement at the expense of seeing the hated rival Ravens hoist one?  Either way, at the end of the night there is something to be unhappy about.  Yet, here I am getting ready for the Big Game with a Big Meal and will spend the hours before kick-off watching the Pens-Capitals, just like I did two years ago.  Two years ago.  Has it really been that long since I moved here?  Sometimes I still feel like such a newbie, but sure enough, Cheyenne and I have indeed called Pittsburgh home for 24 full months.  What a crazy time it has been, too.  And after all this time there are some things that I'm so comfortable with that it seems like I've been here forever and yet, at other times, I'm reminded that I still have a lot to learn about my not-so-new home.  And for every experience I've had, there are others I still want to have or places I haven't gotten to yet.  But, if I sit here comfortably on my Steelers couch, watching Sunday afternoon Penguins hockey, I have to confess that I've seen and done more in two rapidly passing years than I did probably in a decade in Austin.  Now, granted, there were reasons outside of my control for why I couldn't get out more to Keep Austin Weird.  But, in general, I think moving to a new city spurs people to get out and explore more; it's a natural side effect to relocation.  As I contemplated my first two years here this morning, watching out the window at the snow falling just like it did the first day I lived here, I thought to myself that everyone should have the opportunity to move at least once in their life to shake them out of their routine and get them out in world.  Too bad it is so expensive.

To be fair, Austin is an awesome city with lots to do.  But, one becomes absorbed in the regularity of life:  working, paying the bills, getting the kids to and from school.  Going for groceries seems like the big trip out.  If you throw in an illness or two, and an already tightly contained world folds in on itself.  Moving to a new place carries some of those same obligations and time constraints with you of course, but it also forces the family to get out there a bit if only to find the services they took for granted before.

However, I have to acknowledge that it was being a caretaker and a working mother that made my world so small.  I don't resent that sacrifice, but I have to realize that, for me, it was liberating after - in some ways - being shut in for so many years.  The big days for so long were the trips to the doctors - sometimes three in a day.  What I suddenly can think about is using that time to go to the zoo or the dog park, or maybe the trendy Strip District to look for cheap Steelers and Penguins stuff.  That's not just because I live in a new and vibrant place, but because my days as a caregiver are behind me.  I've discussed before allowing oneself to be reintroduced to life if our time as caregivers ends.  To allow ourselves to be released from the guilt and/or grief and take some joy from life.  So, today as I was thinking about all of this, I realized that every city has things to commend it - of course, or else no one would live there!  And I'm willing to bet most of us don't realize all the wonders each city holds within it.  So, maybe it's not so much that everyone should move to find wondrous new things as it is that everyone should live at least some of the time like they are a tourist.