Below the Surface

Knowing of my love for Marilyn Monroe, a friend sent me a book of Marilyn's recently discovered poetry and journal entries.  I took the book to my screened-in porch, curled up on my chaise, and lost myself in Marilyn's candid, touching musings, the cicadas providing a rhythmic, soothing backtrack. 

I was struck by Marilyn's intellect, courage, self-depreciating humor, and deeply probing questions.  I found her to be a talented poetess and a philosopher.  I've always intuitively sensed there was more to her than big boobs and a big smile. Yet, so many times I have focused on her external, rather than her internal beauty.  It's an easy trap to fall into - looking only at the surface, failing to probe a bit deeper.  How many times do we make rash judgements about someone - a surly cashier, a seemingly "perfect" parent, an unfriendly neighbor? 

Dumb Blonde Jokes
I have been unfairly judged because of my looks and personality.  I am a bubbly, petite blonde who likes to talk...a lot.  I am also an anxiety-riddled perfectionist.  People look at my appearance and assume I am a dumb blonde, that I must have been raised by wealthy parents who pampered and coddled me.  They look around my clean, orderly home and assume I have it all together, that I am another "Martha Stewart".  They watch me greet friends and strangers with equal ease and assume I am outgoing and utterly confident.  They don't know I had a difficult childhood, that I am educated and extremely well read, that my jet-powered speech is fuelled by a deep anxiety that people won't like me unless I connect with them in a relatable way/entertain them with my stories/keep the awkward silences at bay.

Once, I went on a date to a barbecue hosted by an Air Force pilot (my date was also a pilot).  After the introductions were made, greetings exchanged, backs slapped, and beer distributed, the wives and girlfriends formed a chatty circle, while the men clustered together to talk shop.  I chatted with the ladies and then joined my date.  I wanted to put faces with names and get to know the men who accompanied him on missions.

As is often the case with military men and women, the talk centered on the mission.  The tricky approach into Guantanamo Bay.  Upcoming deployments.  Recent promotions.  Which loadmasters were the most skilled/inept/annoying.  Tired after a long, challenging day at work and a bit lost in the flying jargon ("He's getting ready to go on a SID..."  "Blah blah blah microburst...."  "...updated the pubs..."  "...visual flight rules..."  "flaps...trim...elevator...pitch...").  Honestly, their talk began to sound a bit like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  Mwa Mwa Mwa Mwwwwaaa Mwa.

Maybe my eyes glassed over.  Maybe I yawned.  I don't know what inadvertent signal I sent out that I was beyond bored with the one-track conversation, but suddenly one of the pilots turned to me and said,"I am sorry.  Are we boring you?  We can talk about something you would understand."  Then, affecting a condescending, Valley Girl patois, he said, "Like, ohmygod, did you hear about the totally awesome sale at Nordies?"

My quick, witty retort drew appreciative chuckles but the patronizing _______(fill in the blank) looked like an Alaskan salmon leaping out of the water only to discover the open mouth of a grizzly ahead.  His mouth kept opening and closing as he struggled to find the words that would extricate him from the situation. 

Later, I learned that Lieutenant Salmon and I had grown up in the same city.  How unfortunate that his erroneous, snap judgement precluded us from connecting in a meaningful way.  His loss, not mine.


I sit here, now, thinking about the way our prejudices and superficial assessments preclude us from connecting, achieving, relating, expanding.  When we judge people solely on the basis of their exterior or our prejudices, when we offer platitudes in favor of thoughtful responses, we miss the opportunity to expand and connect in a meaningful way.  It's like traveling to a famous museum but never walking through the front door, never looking at the artwork inside.

I recently read a biography of Lucille Ball and was surprised to learn that she had been in Hollywood for over twenty years and starred in dozens of films, before she was presented with the opportunity to showcase her comedic talents. 

Lucille Ball started out as a model, a walking mannequin, for several New York dress designers.  Studio chiefs and directors learned of her earlier career and quickly typecast her.  They saw her as a chorus girl, a pretty secondary character, set dressing.  For years, she was only offered bit parts in B-movies (She eventually earned the moniker, "Queen of the Bs"). 

A few Hollywood types looked beyond Lucy's porcelain skin, wide blue eyes, and long dancer's legs.  The brilliant, beautiful comedic actress Carole Lombard believed in Lucy's talents, as did the Marx Brothers and several other well-known comedians.  Lucy fought against type - raged against the typecasting - but it was only when she put up her own money to help fund the sitcom I Love Lucy, and form Desilu Productions, that her comedic talents were given free rein.

Today, most people associate Lucille Ball with the character she played in I Love Lucy, a zany redhead who uttered Vitametavegimin, smuggled a round of cheese out of Italy, and stuffed chocolates in her mouth while working at a candy factory.  Few know that she started out as a model and a somber B-movie actress.  Lucille Ball was the first woman to run a major television studio.  She was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards for her comedic performances. 

I can't help but wonder how many more television shows and movies Lucille Ball could have starred in - how many more people should could have entertained with her unique comedic style - if only movie executives would have taken the time to look beyond her exterior. 

To Like or Comment, That Is The Question
I have often wondered if Facebook is making us more superficial and narcisstic.  We share our likes, aversions, daily irritations, inner-monologues, photos, annecdotes - an endless flow of personal information - all in an effort to connect, relate, maintain.  (Believe me, I am guilty of letting it flow.)

Does Facebook bring us closer together or is it merely giving us a false sense of connectivity?

I have noticed a trend.  People seem to be reflexively clicking "like" on updates - even the sad or tragic updates.  How can anyone "Like" an updated that speaks of loss, illness, depression, or hardship?  Just last week, I read an update posted by an acquaintance in which she announced her brother's suicide.  Sixteen people clicked like but only two took the time to compose a response.  What?

Another friend recently posted an update about the loss of her much-beloved pet and her lingering depression.  People actually clicked like or offered quick or insensitive platitudes like, "Stop being sad and focus on your pet that's still living."  What?  Is that what our demonstrations of support and compassion have come to - terse oneliners, or worse, no lines at all?  After suffering a loss, a friend wrote,"I feel like dying..."  And someone actually clicked like.  Clicking like to an update like that is akin to saying, "I am glad you feel miserable...I like that you're suicidal."

Connected or feigned closeness?

I spent an hour today scrolling through my updates for the last few years and do you know what I discovered?  My most "popular" updates - those that received the most responses - were the ones about inane topics like:

"What's your favorite 80s song?" 

"If you were planning the ultimate dinner party, which six people from history or pop culture would you invite?"

"Damn Teavana and their aggressive tea pimps! Went in for a quickie - one cup of tea and four ounces of tea leaves - and walked out an hour later with SIXTEEN ounces of tea. Bonjour! My name is Leah Marie and I am, in fact, a tea WHORE!"

The ones that got the least responses were ones in which I asked deeper, more ponderous questions or the ones in which I posted a link to my writing (I receive, on average, 6,000 page hits per month.  Apparently, not all of my friends are included in the demographic of On Life, Love and Accidental Adventures readers...or they just find my blatant self promotion annoying...or they visited my blog, read my piece, and found it unworthy of comment.)

I can hardly blame them.  What with Pinterest pins, Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, Amazon Wish Lists, and Instagram photos to upload, who has the time to dedicate 2 to 7 minutes (depending on your reading speed) to read one of my blog posts?  I barely have time to write them!

The thing is, writing has been my profession and passion for as long as I can remember.  As any artist knows, sharing your creation is like giving birth to a child.  You conceive an idea, let it gestate, nurture it, and eventually you share it with the world (internally wincing in anticipation of the critics who will survey your "baby" and find it wanting.)  Our creations - our art - is an extension of ourselves.  It takes a lot of courage and generousity to share oneself so openly.  I would rather people appreciate my creations more than my inane/entertaining/silly musings and inquiries.  Does that make me needy, demanding, too sensitive, overly-analytical?  Perhaps.

Suddenly I feel as if I am lost in a tangled tangent...but no, it all connects.  If we only look at the surface, connect in superficial rather than meaningful ways, we visit the museum without appreciating the art.

I am resolved to slow the flow of information I share, to reduce my inane musings, to never click like or offer a thoughtless platitude in response to a friend's omission of suffering, to connect in deeper, more meaningful ways with the people who truly matter.  I resolve to appreciate the art inside the museum more than the facade of the building.

A personal note to my friends:  This blog post is not meant to shame you into responding to all of my updates or read all of my blog posts.  This is less about guilting and more about growing. I realize we all lead busy lives and are often unable to connect as frequently or deeply as we would like.  I don't expect you to comment on all of my thoughts - or even half of them.  All I ask is that you don't click "Like" when I post an update about the death of my pet, a brutal rejection letter from an editor, or a photo of a tragically awful new hairdo (I know.  I know.  My decision to temporarily go copper penny red was a fashion misstep of EPIC proportions, but if I make a similar misstep in the future, please don't click like.) I treasure each of you and appreciate the time we spend "together." ~Leah


Lis Steeden said...

Hi Leah - just came across 'your words' and how refreshingly written they are too - can I say a little 'wow' - as that was a nice way to start a new day, and that being the start of a weekend full of viewings on our lovely house(wished our house always looked that organised)...as Provence is very much on the 2014 agenda...

Your comments about 'likes' on FB well, how right you are, and sooo nice to see someone commenting on this! Do you think BF is going to do anything about it? Guess they might have to hire more staff to monitor the 'dislikes' in FB - well, just thinking aloud here! It really does my head in, the which make me from time to time dislike FB!

You said it all, and I have many many times commented on FB how inappropriate to 'like' someone's unhappiness, whatever their comments tells us the FB readers! Wonder if the table was turned on some of these 'FB commenters' - would they like to see people even friends tick the 'like' if they were unhappy or hurt, nah, don't think so, but people do not think - or do some of them have too much time on their hands?

These days, as and when I get notifications in my inbox telling me something's up I'll most times will have a read! I no longer 'do' FB as I used to, as there's so much nasty stupidity even hatred and total ignorance or should I say lack of education on FB, which is the worst and people 'like' that?...

Take care, leave you in peace, as I've been babbling on...yes, I'm good at talker too...and do keep up your writing(well, I know you will) and have a nice weekend when you get there as Friday has arrived...all the best from London :)

Leah Marie Brown said...

Dear Lis ~

Please accept my most heartfelt apology. I don't know how I missed your comment.

Thank you for following my blog and for leaving such a thoughtful comment.

It seems we are kindred spirits in many ways (verbosity at the top of the list)! :)

How's the move going?

Leah Marie

Jennifer K. said...

Beautifully put. I've closed my Facebook account after having too many misunderstandings or superficial connections. I appreciated your blog.

Anonymous said...

Another wonderful blog posting. You are such an interesting woman.

DeBorah Fuentes

Anonymous said...

Another wonderful blog posting. You are such an interesting woman.

DeBorah Fuentes