Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Freedom

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose….”


The Janis Joplin song came on my husband’s satellite radio as we were driving back to Memphis from Seagrove Beach, Florida, on Monday. We’re a lot like Donnie & Marie Osmond in our music tastes—I’m a little bit country; he’s a little bit rock ‘n roll. So we go back and forth between the Nashville country stations and the classic rock stations when we travel together. But my husband loves the music that was big when we were dating, in the 60s. And that music has been streaming into my email box with a vengeance lately… from Chuck Anepohl. Chuck is a classmate of mine from the Murrah High School class of 1969. We’re having our 40th Class Reunion in Jackson, Mississippi this July 31/August 1, and classmates are coming out of the woodwork in response to Chucks emails, each one having another song from our era attached.


I’d be less than honest if I said that I have no reservations about going to the reunion. I skipped the 30th, after feeling kinda’ like an outsider at the 10th and 20th. My high school, at least at the height of its glory—in the 60s—was full of Golden Boys and Beauty Queens. Beautiful People. It was like practice for Ole Miss, where I went to college my freshman year. So many movers and shakers … I feel like I need to lose 30 pounds and get a book published before going to the reunion! So, the book thing isn’t going to happen. And I’ve been trying to shake this 30 pounds for 20 years. So, if I go back, I go back just like I am. In 3 months and 3 days from today. Several things have helped bolster my courage:

A few months ago I began to reconnect with a few classmates I hadn’t seen or communicated with in, well, 40 years. One of them, who will go unnamed because he would be embarrassed, was someone I was totally intimidated by during high school. I thought he was “too cool” to speak to me, so I would look the other way when I passed him in the halls. Turns out he’s a great guy. We’ve connected a little bit through writing, and I told him how I felt in school and he said, “We were all scared to death back then. It was just a façade… acting cool like that.”

Some folks reading this won’t believe that I felt this way, because I had lots of “honors” in school—I was Secretary of the Student Council and voted a “Favorite” in the Feature Pageant, an officer in the theater guild, business manager of the school newspaper, honors and activities that led to my being inducted into the Hall of Fame. But I was so lonely. Even with a non-stop flow of boyfriends (which I clung to in my insecurity) I never felt like I “fit in.” Thirty-something years

later I would learn some things about myself that explained some of my outsider status—my inability to connect, intimately, with people. But I still struggle to believe it wasn’t because my thighs weren’t skinny. Or my hair wasn’t perfect. Or my—fill in the blank….


So today when I picked up yesterday’s New York Times and read the Sunday Styles section’s article about Susan Boyle, “Yes, Looks Do Matter,” I wasn’t really comforted. The psychiatrists and sociologists and journalists quoted in the article pretty much gave us all a nice big hall pass—an excuse for the judgments we make about people based on their appearance. Even Boyle herself is resigned to it, saying: “There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are.”


Okay I get what the NYU psychology professor says about stereotypes being “a necessary mechanism for making sense of information,” but I don’t think we, as fallen human beings, stop at that. I think we go far beyond categorizing. I thinkwe judge. And it causes wounds that can last a lifetime. So how do we break free from those wounds? How do we quit caring what people think of us? Is Susan Boyle immune to it? She’s made a change in her looks since her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent.


Check out the difference in these photos.


While we were at the beach I read two amazing books. I’m saving one of them to review in June, just before its release. (I got an advance copy.) But I’m dying to talk about how the author also felt this pressure to perform, this hunger for applause, this people-pleasing urge. And how, even at the end, having been through an unbelievable life-changing experience, he still felt that way, to a degree. The experience helped him grow, but he wasn’t a completely different person. He left room for “discovery,” as I discussed in my last post. That’s something I’m working on in my own writing.


So, instead, I’ll talk about the other book I read at the beach, Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Ron Hall was an upscale art dealer in Fort Worth when his wife, Deborah, plunged them into the world of the homeless, including Denver Moore. Denver grew up in modern-day slavery on a plantation in Louisiana, escaping to the streets, which seemed a luxury by comparison. I won’t spoil the story line (it’s a true story) by saying too much, because I really hope you read this book, but I learned something about freedom from it. Denver was more free than the rich people who were enslaved to their “stuff” and their way of life. And he freed some of those who were slaves to riches and image and comfort through the big heart of one woman who had enough love and courage to cross the line, over the stereotypes, over several comfort zones, to truly love without prejudice. (He eventually became in artist himself. You can see his work here.)


This is Denver, with Ron Hall, the art dealer.


It got me to thinking about the slavery I’ve lived in for almost 60 years, and how maybe it’s a slavery of my own making. This caring about what other people think to the point of trying to “achieve” acceptance. But how does one break free of this?


Maybe recognizing the chains is the starting point. And that’s where I am today. Wanting to break free, but realizing that I still believe I have something to lose… which makes me a slave to things I wouldn’t want to lose. Or to things I want but don't think I can ever have.


Either way, maybe Joplin was right: Maybe freedom is about having nothing left to lose.

2 comments:

DayleShockley said...

Susan,

Stumbled upon your blog from somewhere, but can't remember exactly.

Loved this post. I've written about our society's obsession with outer beauty, and how so many gems are overlooked, simply because they don't "look" the part. Truly sad. I tend to agree that absolute freedom comes only when we cast off the superficial things (chains, as you put it) that impress others. These things keep us in bondage. We have to dress just so, and make-up our face just so, and drive the right vehicle, etc. etc. I prefer the simpler life.

Wow! It's a small world, indeed. I scrolled down and read a few of your older posts and found we have a few things in common. I was born in Mississippi and lived in Vicksburg when I started elementary school in 1960. We moved to Meridian in 1966, and I have dear friends in Jackson to this day. We transplanted to Texas in 1969, and I love being a Texan, but Mississippi will always feel like home.

I'll be back to see what good things you're writing about next.

I have several blogs (it's getting ridiculous), so if I show up under another name, don't be alarmed. HA!

DayleShockley said...

P.S. Good luck with that reunion. My 35th came and went without me even knowing about it. Not sure what happened there.