Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Free to Be You and Me... Or a Tree
Ever since I saw my privileged dormmates down the hall repeatedly puke all over the bathroom at Connecticut College and leave their beer-and-pizza vomit for the cleaning staff to take care of*, I carry around a bias against others who look like them, or used to before they grew up. You may know the stereotype--conservative, WASPy, probably, though I'm not even clear on what that means anymore. But whenever I get the slightest whiff of button-downed, deck-shoed, freshly shaven entitlement, I feel small and threatened.
Or plain old grossed-out, thanks to the strange sit-com phenomenon known as Gas Face. Above right is just one example (and know that I have no idea who this is or what the show is about, I'm just zeroing in on that fake-uncomfortable bean-fueled expression). But I promise you, if you start looking at signage and commercials, prime-time news and print ads, you'll see this mug everywhere. From what I can tell, it's mostly adult men in Oxford cloth shirts who are making it.
What the heck is the entertainment industry/media--because, really, those to me are the wheels that make our red-white-and-blue world turn---getting at anyway? "I was once large and in charge but the demographic revolution in this country has gelded me and now I'm trying to be relatable and relevant by making a flatulent fool of myself?" Reading into it much?! Yeah, probably, but ultimately, this face says, "I'm a tool."
There is a female version, too. Roll your camera on the typically white-ish woman of a certain age who, feeling the urge to let go, executes 10 or so seconds of doofish dancing.
I'm sorry I'm not as generous as most of the commenters. I hate those histrionic faces she makes, and I hate her outfit, and I feel embarrassed for this demographic of which she belongs and in which I'm probably categorized. Like the funk couldn't find her through that Stepfordian haze of feminine deodorant if it tried... C'mon, Hollywood, is this the best you can do for us honky women--pit-sniffing in a pair of khakis?!
Geez Louse. Notice how snarky my tone has become, and the leaps I made from judging a barfing college kid to judging a character on a TV show that's algorithmed-up-the-wazoo to get ratings (and that I know nothing about), and magically making that fictional character a stand-in for others who may look like him? That's why stereotypes are so dangerous--they start from a place of fear, even if it's an unfounded one, from a place of us vs. them.
I can't fault myself too much for that--it's human to judge, some leftover survival tactic from our Homo erectus days. But it is also human to seek connections and commonality, right? Why not broaden that to finding connection with everyone, not just the person who looks the same and has the same religious beliefs or eats the same thing or wears the same sneakers that you do. And by you I mean me.
If judging is too human, well, forget humans then. Trees don't seem to have this problem, and they've made it longer than we have. They don't have guns and use them, they don't organize into parties--still of color, red and blue, why only 2?--that fight within themselves and then each other. They're all over the place, in just as many and more spaces that humans are. And they not only coexist with us, but their activities completely support the planet, unlike human activity. (That green thing they do, what's it called again? Ah, photosynthesis…)
So, for the past couple weeks I've been practicing thinking about how I am like a tree. There's a beautiful one outside my window that I've looked at, really looked at, every morning for the last few years. I watch the tree in the winter, stark and still, and I watch my tree now in the busy season, green and always in motion, all that growing and changing to do. I was worried when a plastic shopping bag got stuck in the branches early last spring, and felt relieved when one morning it was gone for good, dislodged by rain or wind (I guess…or maybe a polite request?)…
How is a tree like me? Is a tree a he or/and she?
How does a tree gauge overall success, a life well-lived and a life well-gived?
Is leaves-taking easier than leaves-making?
This morning I saw the tree as green and tender fireworks, no bellicose blow-harded boom-blooms for punctuation, the only commas a few withered and brown leaves on the edges… will they disengage and blow away, too, like an unkind thought or behavior pattern that no longer serves?
This may be Pollyanna, but the ultimate goal is to see yourself and everything as one--an idea way bigger than this pee-wee blog, older than the hills, way back when we were thick in the nucleon soup of time, when time in fact was still freaking figuring out a plan of action, when Iamheasyouareheasyouaremeandweareall together.
Many will say, in light of current events, it is not enough, that I am sheltered and idealistic, that I should get off my ass and shout about it. Maybe. But when events feel overwhelming, I gotta get grounded first, start with the basics, get that squared away, stand tall. I wish this was viewed as equally grand a gesture as others, 'cause it's not easy. But I will practice it every day. And while I don't yet have the desire to exercise my right to bear arms, I sure as sh*t want to start using my right to bear branches.
OK, so I had no idea that gas face was already a thing! It's different from mine, but still... beaten to the punch...or bidet?
My go-to song about being green.
* It wasn't just that. They did other things, too:
- Made fun of me in the cafeteria on the first day of college because I had spiky hair and wore a shiny blue head scarf with fringes (this was Connecticut, people-and The Preppy Handbook was probably still on peoples' shelves). Their unimaginative insult : "Who's this, Cyndi Lauper?" (Insults are never really about the words, so it still stung.)
- Said things like, "The last time I used a rubber, it broke and rolled down my dick."
- Laughed at my writing teacher's beautiful caramel-blond Afghan hound, Billie Jean, because they thought she was funny-looking