Within the last hour, I've seen three stories about gay teen suicide, and a separate story about a gay college student who's being harassed by a crazy alumni.
WHAT IS GOING ON???
It's shit like this that creates gay rage within me. These cultural wars have got to stop! There needs to be some kind of intervention when boys as young as 13 are hanging themselves in their backyards. Different is not bad. It is not evil. It is not the destroyer of life as we know it. But you know what is? Hate. And Fear. And when Fear fuels Hate, we end up with an inferno of madness - shear, unadulterated, illogical, unreasonable madness. I've been crying on and off for the past hour, gob-smacked with sadness.
I'll post links below. You may choose to read at your own discretion. But if you, like me, have had a terrible, scary news day, I don't recommend clicking on them now.
One of the links asks why teen lesbians aren't targeted in the same way. Are they more resilient? Do they just hide better? Are they less self-destructive? Having been a former lesbian teen, I don't think it has anything to do with that. Girls and sexuality are handled so differently than boys, especially as teens. When boys figure out their sexuality - especially as young as 13 - it's a lot more obvious, because so many of their peers are going through rite-of-passage rituals that we provide for heterosexuals. Boys are supposed to learn how to be "men" and play sports. They spit. They laugh at stupid, bawdy jokes. They punch each other in the arm for no apparent reason - and as guy, you're just supposed to take it - because that's what "guys" do. If you complain, if you cry, if you show fear or misunderstanding or shy away from any of this - like blood in the water, the sharks come and circle and bite. Boys are so physical - the sheer visible differences between "young dude" and "young, cute gay boy" are amazingly clear.
I don't know what it's like for other girls, but for me, it was all about hiding. I do think it's easier for girls to hide, to a degree. But the ease of that choice is only permissible because girls don't have the same gender expectations. It was easy for me to agree with a standing gaggle of girls that JP Huntington was the cutest boy in school. All I had to do was say yes. It was easy for me to go to another girls' sleepover and let her mom put make up on me and give me a facial. It was easy for me to fill up my middle school and high school life to such a quantity, that I had no time to hang out or be "pretty." And more importantly, as girls, we're taught to show love for other people, patience, kindness, niceness, pleasantness - which is why so many teen girls have issues with expressing anger. Dudes are allowed to be angry and lash-out. Girls are allowed to love anyone, we're just not allowed to be angry and/or express our anger. We're supposed to smother it internally, and keep smiling through it all. That's what "nice" girls do, anyway.
This my sound silly, but I also think that in being *so* much taller than the other kids, that already marked me as being "different," so no one had the same expectations for me as they did for other girls. But all I had to do was say "Yes" and go along with everything. In fact, I once was so afraid about being found out, I made a terrible gay joke (to my basketball team), trying to create a diversion of attention away from myself. Thankfully my dad had the courage to tell me, right there, in front of my friends, how inappropriate and uncouth that tactic was. I still get embarrassed about that particular act of cowardice. I didn't really gather the courage to be myself and start saying "No" to the bullshit until I was 17, and knew I was leaving for college.
But the hiding - the hiding in itself is incredibly self-destructive. I remember listening to one of my basketball teammates senior year, talk about how, if she knew any lesbians, she'd punch them in the face for being "unnatural." Granted, I was almost twice her size, and would have no problem taking her down. But the point is, I shouldn't have had to. And I shouldn't have had to hide. I was so scared for years and years after that about someone freaking out that my friendship with other women would be taken the wrong way. And a few times, it has been. And I've gotten hurt. But I was at an age where losing a friend was no longer the biggest tragedy in the world - especially because I had SO MUCH incredible support around me. Now, I'm to the age where I just don't care. And that's a nice place to be.
But not everyone has what I have, men or women. Especially not 13 year olds. 13 was the crappiest year of my life, and that was without knowing anything about my sexuality, one way or another. The transitions that happen in Middle School can be the hardest of anyone's life - add on top of that a life-changing self-truth of a counter culture sexuality?? I can't even imagine. And then to be bullied every day at school. To not have friends. To not have the support of your parents because you're too scared to talk to them about it, and far too embarrassed. To live in a place so dark and desperate, you are convinced that death is a far more healthy choice than any further existence could be. To know at the core of your soul (albeit, incorrectly), that everyone else would be better off without you; hell, even YOU would be better off without you. And the penetrating SHAME that consumes your life, bit by bit.
Meanwhile, most states are (or have already) banning gay marriage with the fear-based argument that homosexuality will be taught in schools. Well you know what? Maybe it should be. Maybe we should be having a talk with kids and giving them information, instead of making them scared about their differences. Maybe it would save lives and improve generation upon generation, so that we're not dealing with this shit in 10, 20, 30 years.
And I urge you - if you have some gay males in your family, be they friends or relatives - just tell them that you love them. Just as a reminder. Because chances are, they were in these kids' shoes at one point or another. And it's never tacky to remind the ones you love that you're happy they're alive, and in your life.
That's all very heavy-handed; but amidst this madness - here's what I'm grateful for:
1) Dan Savage
3) People like you.
4) My friends and family - without whom - well, I don't know where I'd be today.
Muster yer Hope, all ye who enter here:
The incident at Rutgers
A blog that sums it up
Crazy Dude in Michigan. Sick 'em, Anderson!
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Within the last hour, I've seen three stories about gay teen suicide, and a separate story about a gay college student who's being harassed by a crazy alumni.
Monday, September 27, 2010
When I was little ... like 3 or 4 ... Annie was my favorite movie. I loved it *so* much, my dad produced the live stage version, just for me! I would sing it, I would quote it, I would while away hours in my room by myself, reenacting it. One of the highlights was that the dog who played Sandie came to live with us, and as we didn't have a dog of our own, it was awesome!
Ahhh ... the halcyon days of my childhood. I identified with that spunky, little orphan. In fact, when I was really young, I thought I was an orphan. I didn't see how I possibly belonged to my mother. Oh, my father I knew - beyond the shadow of a doubt - I was related to. But I figured he just searched for me until he found me. Coincidentally my love for Little Orphan Annie was only replaced (around the age of 6 or 7) by another orphan named Anne ... but this one was Canadian, and didn't sing or dance.
Both orphans ... with red hair ... names begin with A ... smart, spunky, optimistic girls who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, took it on the chin, and never looked back. That must have been the reason why I hated being blonde - by all rights, my hair should have been red. UGH! Stoopid genetics.
One of my favorite scenes in Annie (the movie) is when Albert Finney, as Daddy Warbucks, takes Annie and Grace (Ann Reinking) to the movies, simply because Annie had never been to one before ... because she's an orphan. What I loved about that bit, was the bizarre fact that Daddy Warbucks buys every seat in the theater, just for that one show. I guess it isn't really bizarre - if I were a billionaire at the beginning of the depression, and seats were only a nickel a pop, buying all the seats would be chump change in the deep money couch of my life. But when I was little, it seemed so ... extravagant!
I went to the movies tonight. I also went to the movies on Thursday night. And while I understand that it isn't 1933 anymore, I think that $11.50 for one seat in a movie theater is a little much. $11.50!! Last year, it was $10.00. The inflation rate seems a bit steep, doesn't it? But then, I suppose with the competition of television, live performances, and more visual stimulus than anyone in 1933 could possibly imagine, I suppose I understand the need for it ... to a degree. I'm sure that in the '30s, everyone would go to the movies. That was it - that was the entertainment. Besides my two friends and I, there were maybe 20 other people, sitting in a theatre that could probably seat 100-125 people.
On the other hand, we have 30 times the amount of movies playing in one theatre now. Literally - the movie houses had one screen, and one movie. Now, we have AMC 30 - 30 screens, and up to 30 movies (though probably closer to 24, since the newest releases show on multiple screens). But all of this means that I spent $23.00 in two days to see two separate movies.
So my $23.00 is going to what, exactly? The actors on screen? Only partially. The Studios? Most definitely. The movie theatre itself? I'm sure. I don't generally go to the movies a lot. I'm usually either too poor, or too busy. It takes a lot - and I mean, A LOT - to get me to slap down $11.50 to go watch people (who get paid amounts that I can't even quantify), perform on a two-dimensional screen, surrounded by other people who can't turn off their electrical gadgets, for reasons I can only assume are related to life-threatening situations (or ... you know, not), listening to babies cry (seriously? Why are you taking your NEWBORN to the MOVIES?), and/or children running up and down the aisles (When did the concept of parenting vanish??).
And for all of this - I actually like going to see movies. I'm not trying to knock films, or film actors. I don't think it's a stupid medium. I value both the art and entertainment a movie can provide. But more and more, I would rather take my $11.50 and go see some possibly hideous NoHo live theatre. Which I would totally do ... if I lived in NoHo.*
Now ... all of this being said, the movie I saw on Thursday night is called Easy A. This one was WELL worth my money. Why?
1. Emma Stone.
2. Any teen movie that seeks to question and chastise the obsession we have with female sexuality is AWESOME.
3. Any teen movie that does the above by incorporating smart dialogue and the major themes and parallels of the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - yes, Yes, YES!
I'm going to buy it when it comes out on DVD, it was that good.
Tonight we saw You Again. I probably could have waited to see this one on Netflix.
1. Kristen Bell is very good - the best thing about the movie, really.
2. Sigourney Weaver - well, who doesn't like Sigourney Weaver? In anything??
3. Script - nice concept, poor delivery.
4. If you go see it, tell me what you think about the dude who plays Kristen Bell's brother. (I wanted to hit him in the face with a baseball bat, just to shut him up)
But the bone that I'll throw to both these movies, is that I found myself in an inner-dialogue questioning my own experience. With Easy A, I was thinking about the creative delivery and brilliant tie-in with the Scarlet Letter, and then how the writers turned it on its head. It made me want to become an English teacher, again. Or ... you know, for the first time. I really want every teenager to see this film - a "what not to do" for both men and women.
You Again had me thinking back to my high school career - being grateful that I was never horrible to anyone, and that no one tormented me. I survived, and got out (relatively) unscathed. No, don't think I'm lucky ... I got mine in Middle School. Although hideously, the movie had Kristen Bell graduating high school in 2002, and supposedly growing up and empowering herself in the long, long years since her teenage version of hell; she plays a public relations executive - a VP at the age of 26?? REALLY?? I have to admit ... that was just a bit much. Especially since I graduated in ... never mind. But it made me feel OLD - and I'm not really in any life position just yet to feel that way. Although, the fact that I'm currently unemployed at the moment didn't make it any easier.
Also, I spend $8.95 a month to watch movies, courtesy of Netflix, on my Wii. Saturday night, I was up till 3:30 a.m., watching Lena Headey (mmmmm) speak with a Scottish accent (*Drool*) in a British film called Aberdeen. Relatively depressing, yet redeeming - Stellan Skarsgard is also in it. In a nutshell: A cocaine addict is sent by her mother, who's dying of cancer, to retrieve her alcoholic father in Norway, and get him back to Aberdeen, before mom dies.
I decided to chase that little gem of happiness with Rachel Getting Married. Everyone I know has been telling me how great this movie is, and how great Anne Hathaway is in it. I don't know what I was expecting; possibly some honest-to-goodness self-deprecating humor, or at least the "funny-'cause-it's-true" variety -the kind I love in movies about family dysfunction. Yeah, it doesn't have any of that. Imagine my shock! It was so painful ... I almost turned it off. I didn't - and I'm glad I didn't. But hot damn. There should be category requirements for dysfunctional family films:
"It puts the FUN in dysFUNctional!" or "It's just going to make you cry." Or, possibly: "Wes Anderson Dysfunctional" or "Mommy Dearest Dysfunctional." I know I'd appreciate the warning. Anyway, Anna Deavere Smith and Bill Irwin are in it, as is Debra Winger. It was all sort of heart-wrenchingly fabulous from an acting point-of-view.
And lastly, having nothing to do with anything I've just talked about, I've decided that I like Glee. Many people thought I already did, just because I happen to be a lesbian, and the show deals with gay themes and musical theatre. But folks, let me tell you - the gay boys are the ones who are stereotyped to like musicals. The lesbians are stereotyped to like sports. See the difference? You can witness this stereotyping right here, on my blog. Just look to see how many musical theatre-related items I've tagged. Now look to see how many sports-related items I've tagged. PLEASE - let's stop confusing this. I feel slightly annoyed whenever someone tries to stereotype me outside of my stereotype.
Also - I'm tired of the "liberal" media linking pedophilia to gay rights and/or sex. [see: anti-gay rights pastors/priests/politicians who are accused and/or actually solicit sex from young boys] This story pissed me off ... though I do find a *great* amount of irony in Ted Haggard coming to his defense ...
And - I bought my first purse/bag/thing on Saturday. I was with my friend Stephanie who said, "It's stylish, but it's also very you!!" I wasn't sure how to take that comment, exactly, but it's true! It's cargo-fabulous, has a long adjustable strap, and lots of pockets. I was getting really tired of carrying my wallet, keys, cell phone and multiple pairs of glasses in my pockets, on my head, or hanging by my shirt. Lara told me today that it was a "bag." Liz told me it was "a satchel." Whatever it is, it's mine, and it boosts my estrogen and femininity in one fell swoop. Just one more element in my ultimate quest for androgyny! BWUAHAHAHAHA! My evil plan is working! Soon, no stereotype will work at all!! Look upon me and tremble!!
......and I'm done.
* While I do support OC theatre, NoHo is the only place I know of where tickets for $11.50 (or less!) actually exist.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
I know I've written about our adventures at the dog park before ... but believe me when I say that not all dog parks are created equally.
So my little Garden Grove dog park is great. I mean, besides the fact that I seem to get hurt every time I go there ... It's a great place to take the dogs for an hour, play some ball, and then go home. It's not very big, and at most, I've only seen 7-8 dogs in the big dog park at a time - but it's easy, clean, and convenient. Sure, there are giant holes void of dirt where dogs have had a digging party, and where I consequently twisted my ankle the afternoon before show - but still. As a tax payer, I'm glad it's there. We don't have much in Garden Grove, but doggoneit, we have a dog park!
[long-story short: I stupidly attempted to stop a pack of 6 huge dogs from chasing a tiny, white yippy thing last week. I lost. Oh Barking Lot, why must you hurt me so?]
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Last night was the closing of King Lear, and the closing of Shakespeare Orange County's 19th Season. The end of a theatre company's season is always quite emotional - though I find this one, in particular, more so. I am really, really fond of this Fool - that is to say, I'm really really fond of the parts of me that this fool lives in. I was in the right place at the right time with the right company of actors - the clarity of this perfection is going to resonate with me for a long time.
Theatre companies are families, without the obligation or responsibility. There's the fun uncles, the caring aunts, the awesome big sister, the cool big brothers, the squirmy younger cousins that make you laugh. And for 6-8 weeks, you live with them in this intense, pervasive, inescapable bubble. You learn things about these people that sometimes even their spouses don't know. You laugh and cry together, you fuck up together, you make fun of each other - and then, suddenly, it ends. But there's no obligation to write, no obligation to keep in touch, or call, or visit. We always say we will, but we usually don't. It's not out of callousness, it's just ... the unspoken understanding that artists are vagabonds are rolling stones. We move on, we move out, we move up or down. If we're lucky, we'll see each other again. If we're even luckier, we'll act with each other again. But it'll almost NEVER be the exact same group of people. The ties are as slight and invisible as single strands of silk. They will always be there, but it's almost always impossible to see them.
The perfection (or imperfection) of a cast is known instantaneously. There's not much doubt about it - it's either going to be an amazing adventure, or long, hard slog up the Mountain of Hardship; usually a mixture of both. You say the same words each night, but they're different each time - a change of inflection, the raise of an eyebrow, the tapping of a different register; breath coming from a different place, or a new impulse revelation that only happened that one night (the attempt at duplication fails too easily). The happening of a good theatrical performance changes minute to minute, second to second. You will never see the same show twice. Therein lies its genius and its agony. Once it's gone, it's gone, and nothing in the world will ever replicate it again. It's impossible. It's magic.
I went to the theatre today to clean up the massive amounts of food that we all brought last night. On my way out, I called my dad to ask if I could keep my Fool's coxcombe and puppets. I don't often get sentimental in that way - I'm almost always okay with the completion of show. I tend to play lots of clowns - though don't be mistaken - a clown is NOT a fool. Clowns are for laugh breaks - they don't typically add anything to the plot, they're not essential in carrying the action forward. They're support for a leading character, or usage in a quirky little subplot, or a stumbling, drunken little soliloquy before something really terrible happens. In the biz, we call them "One-and-dones." You go out for a big scene, you make 'em laugh, you come off stage, and you're done. I can do those in my sleep.
But Fools ... fools are different. Fools, though witty, aren't just there for laughs. Their commentary cuts to the quick of the tragic problem, flaw, or circumstance of the play, serving for a mirror or foil of the lead character. Fools tell the truth - though often vaguely or metaphorically. Fools are multi-dimensionally, and simultaneously sad, angry, bawdy, and joyous. Fools love more than any other character on stage, for there is no moderation in a fool.
I can't say that my fool was iconic. I can't say that it was the fool to end all fools - though even if I could, I wouldn't. I can't say that it moved people to tears, or taught them anything about their humanity. I mean, hope it did, but I can't say for sure - the audience gets to have their own emotional and intellectual reaction without my imposing knowledge one way or another. But what I can say is that I was present in every moment and that I didn't hold back anything. In my dad's beginning Acting Shakespeare class, he constantly reminds his students that when they leave everything on the stage, and give it all to the audience, they won't need to worry about whether or not they were any good - because at that point, it doesn't matter. If you've given everything you can give, the "good" or "bad" of a performance ceases to have any meaning - it just is.
That's what I can say for myself. I held nothing back.
The reality of "the great and powerful biz," being what it is, chances are pretty favorable for me not ever getting to play that part again, anywhere else. I'm not the small, slender male that many people think of when Lear's Fool comes to mind. In fact, I'm the exact opposite - in every instance. But in this company, with this family - I am the Fool. And the amount of gratitude and joy I have as a result - is something so special, so unique - it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I don't know how much more I can say about it, without becoming redundant. But I'll leave you with this poem - it's a childhood favorite of mine, recited by one of the founding members of SOC when we used to do Christmas shows. He was our Kent. He's a superb Kent.
The Shakespearean Christmas Tree
by Vachel Lindsay
Monday, September 13, 2010
The celebration of 9/11 by burning the Qu'ran ... you're a douche, Terry Jones. I know it was theoretically "called down," but the planting of idiocy can infect at warp speed. I wonder how many "Americans" actually went through with it.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
So here's the thing about the dog beach: there are LOTS of dogs.
I know, I know - sounds improbable. But there are more off-leash dogs at the dog beach than there are at the dog park. Add that to the fact that there's a mile or two worth of open beach, tennis balls being thrown in every direction, and more doggy smells than a trash heap on a hot day - and you have yourself one hell of a dog owner's dilemma:
Should I let them off the leash? ... Will they come back?
Seriously - it all boils down to that great conundrum. It's the ultimate experiment in trust, letting go, and honest-to-goodness hope that the trust and letting go doesn't get ruined by two drooly canines who love to get excited about damn near anything. And the chaos that is sure to ensue.
I have been putting off the dog beach purposefully. Hagrid and Hermione's acclimation to our household notwithstanding, I wanted to make sure that they really were good, kind dogs. The dog park was phase I of my plan. If they can handle the dog park, chances are they can handle the dog beach. It even took me a few weeks to get brave enough to go to the park. But: not one fight started, not one bite given, not one growl uttered. We've been dog-parking it for awhile, and now they get a bit elitist about the whole thing. They kind of ignore most of the other dogs and would rather play fetch with me ... I say that, because I'm *still* chasing my own tennis balls half the time. Which brings me to....
Phase II: Will Hagrid come when he's called? This phase is more complicated and time consuming than Phase I, primarily since there was an episode in June, consisting of my dad forgetting that we had brand new, rescue shelter puppies, leaving the front door wide open to make a phone call, Hagrid taking off like a Lear Jet down the street, and my sister and I trailing him (she was running, I was jogging), frantically calling his name. He stopped suddenly, Caitlin grabbed him, and we walked him back home. It was this solitary jail break that mitigated the need for a gate in our front yard. Hagrid had a huge listening problem when he first arrived home. I spent many, many hours, coaxing him with food and toys to listen to the sound of my voice. And it's paid off. There have been two or three times where he's started to take off down the street, I've called him, he's stopped, turned around, and come right to me. I never have to chase after him at the dog park, and I even let him walk himself to our newly built gate when we return from aforementioned dog park.
But the *real* test is the dog beach, and I have to admit - it didn't start out well. As we were in the parking lot, waiting for the cars ahead to claim parking spaces, watching the numerous dogs on leashes. I heard a scratch in the back of my car, and Hagrid is half way out the window. Let it be known, the window was only half-way rolled down. I frantically got out of my car, and tried to help the nice young man who was holding onto Hagrid so that he wouldn't get caught by his leash. If I've been more simultaneously scared and mortified, I surely can't recall. I almost packed it in and drove us back. But no - with all of the packing and prep work I had done in order to get us there, I was going to see this mother through! [Note: Dogs, like children, take plenty of prep time]
We finally park. It takes me 5 minutes just to get the quarters into the meter, the dogs are way too excited and squirmy. [Sidenote: Huntington Beach parking meters SUCK! a quarter for 10 minutes??? You've got to be kidding me!] We walk ... slowly ... as I hold the hounds of Hades back with most of my strength. The other bit of my strength was dedicated to keeping me upright. I'm sure we look like one massive whirling dervish of insanity. I'm trying to keep my dogs from pouncing delightedly on other canines with full anticipation of a good sniff, who's owners are glaring at me with a look of, "Don't you let those things near my dog!" To which I wanted to say, "You're at a DOG BEACH." We slowly, painfully make our way through the sand to an area that isn't packed in with people ... I figured that any attempts to avoid disaster would pay off in the long run.
I took them down to the water. There I was, face to face with the ultimate question. It was just me, and the beach, running on either direction. Would I lose my dogs forever? Would they come back? Would they do something so terribly heinous that we're never allowed back here?? And then a voice in the recesses of my brain said, "Let them go." And I did. And they sat there, anticipating the throwing of the great purple wubba, the water toy to end all water toys. So I threw it ...
One bounding golden body, and one white one, vying for the best toy known to dogkind. Through the waves and foam they leaped, swam, frolicked and ran, their tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths with pure happiness....
And they were fine.
They didn't go more than 15 yards in either direction...they'd go play with other dogs, and then come back, sometimes bringing their new friends back with them. Hermione chased a little cockapoo around in a circle for 5 minutes. Hagrid was on a tennis ball chase, wanting to race with each new ball that he saw; but he always came back for the purple wubba. I was so proud of them! And I was proud of myself. We stayed for about an hour [see:aforementioned parking meter suckiness], and then made the painstaking trip back to the car, and drove back home. Wet, sandy, and very happy, we all made it back to the Bradac homestead safe and sound, with naught but a few scratches on my rear passenger door.
Regrettably, I don't have any photos. Being the single parent with two 65 lb. dogs has many challenges, not the least of which is my misfortune in not having 2 extra limbs - photo taking on this adventure would have been impossible. But ... my monkey is coming to visit next week (squeeeeeel!!), and there will be more opportunity for photos.
In other news:
King Lear opened this weekend, and seems to be getting great responses from both critics and audience alike. You can read this review, if you'd like. And here's a photo:
Also ... a friend of mine posted this on facebook. "King HROTHGAR!" Ahhhhh...there's nothing like a bunch of a classics nerds putting a musical on. They're in Montreal. If I were there, I'd TOTALLY go.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Let me tell you a little story.
Growing up in the wilds of Orange County, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Being the only child of a divorced marriage is hectic enough - but move both parents 35-40 minutes away from each other, add in school activities, practices, vacations, and the omni-present question, "What do we do with Alyssa?" Well ... it's really no wonder. Let it be known that my grandparents were not the typical "grandma" and "grandpa." In fact, I was to call them "Grandmother" and "Granddaddy." There's a myth (told by my parents) that my grandmother wanted to be called " ," after the French fashion, but I don't know if that's really accurate. But ... that would have been very typical for my grandmother.
My grandmother didn't make me sweets and spoil me rotten and take me to amusement parks. My granddad was closer to that, but he worked so much, that it was really just me and my grandmother. All the time. They were quite young when I was born - my mom was only 24. And the youngest of my mother's siblings was still in high school. It was a strange position to be in - not really a grandchild, not really child - some void of a thing in between.
As I was saying, my grandmother wasn't the rosy-cheeked, spectacles-on-the-nose, copious amounts of hug-giving grandparent that many of my friends had. When I was younger, she seemed strict, dour, and down-right scary at times. I was always being corrected, always being taught the proper way to go about things like napkin placement, salad fork vs. dinner fork, the necessity of an "excuse me" when I needed to get up from the table ... she was a regular sergeant-major of manners. And I became a fast study.
Despite the near-militarism of my grandmother by way of civility and good-breeding (whatever that is), I really loved being with her. She would leave me to read, leave me to watch old movies while she prepared dinner or was out in the garden or whatever it was that needed doing. She'd call me in to shuck corn, shell peas, help with dishes ... but we'd talk. In fact, I remember a very vivid talk of college when I was only 12. She was emphatic that I go, and that I finish. I didn't realize it at the time, but later discovered that she dropped out of USC to marry my grandfather, and, as I perceive now, maybe regretted it more than she'd ever thought. She was my biggest advocate, one of my best teachers, and liked me, in spite of myself. It sounds odd to write that, but I wasn't the sharpest kid when it came to looks, style, or just general awareness - and my grandmother was for all of that. But I tried and worked hard to please her, and I was a very polite young girl, which I think made her proud.
I didn't really come into my own until high school. Something in me woke up, and I saw the world, and my place in it - the power I was capable of (at times), and the good I wanted to do. Like most of us at 16 or 17, I had a slightly anarchic side, that started scorning manners for being barricades to truth. Pleasantries became objects of my ire. I'd still say please and thank you, I've never been a "rude" person. But I thought back to my grandmother after she died, and all her work toward emphasizing manners. What did any of it matter? And more over, why do something if it's not honest? And at that time, I perceived that her manners, more often than not, were not always sincere. "Fuck that!" I thought.
Cut to my first journey to Massachusetts. A huge wake up moment for me in regard to the brazenness of human beings. I was miserable that first summer. I didn't have any friends, I didn't do anything socially - I was afraid of the people. I was wholly unprepared for what I found, the harshness, the lack of courtesy, the rude gestures, the curtness. Who would want to live here? It was explained to me some years later that it's just the New England way - instantly distrustful of others. Whether it's because of the cold, whether it's because of the Puritan foundations, whether it's because they embrace rudeness in a purely singular way and make it their own - they're called "Massholes" for a reason.
I've been noticing this terrible trend over the past 5 or so years. We don't treat each other very well, and I don't think it's for the purposes of honesty or an attempt to be more sincere. At camp over the last few weeks, a handful of children said, "Please" or "thank-you" when they received candy or awards. It made me really sad.
But here's the thing about manners - you can't practice them solely for themselves. You have to use them because you want to. Because you want to treat everyone kindly. Because you care about other people. Because you can make someone's day just by smiling and saying "thank you" when they hold a door open, or move for you, or hand you something you need. Because treating people with respect has never, and will never go out of style. Because maybe, if you show someone a common courtesy, they'll pass it on. And maybe that will result in less horns being honked, less middle fingers being raised, less rage on the road, less violence, less expletives being used in anger, less rudeness tossed about as flippantly and mindlessly as trash on the street.
I admit that it can, at times, require vast amounts of patience, humility, and kindness, which may just not be there at times. But there's nothing that can replace our human connections to each other. We are all so connected, yet spend so much time severing those connections with little shows of our displeasure. So why not let the guy merge in front of you? Why not ask the cashier at the drive-thru window how his day is going? Why not smile at the woman walking past you on the street? Why not make someone else's day better, and perhaps even yours in the process? It's a hell of a lot better than being angry all the time, than clenching your jaw in frustration, than screaming in your car. Don't get me wrong - there are times when those things are completely necessary.
But when all else fails ...