Posts Tagged ‘Marker’

 

Mel Green at the WeHo Book Fair 2011 – Signing books between Dave White “Exile in Guyville” great guy check him out and some chick with a skanky book that should have remained just a t-shirt.

Meet Mel Green at the West Hollywood Book Fair. He will be signing books from 1-4 at the West Hollywood Library.

For more information about participants, parking and stuff go to:  http://www.westhollywoodbookfair.org/

Buy Marker Now!

at the Byrdcliffe Theatre, Upper Byrdcliffe Road, Woodstock

Mel will be reading an excerpt from his new book Marker.

For More information go to: http://www.woodstockfringe.org

I’m not someone usually found in church on Christmas Eve or, if I can help it, anywhere near La Grange, Texas. But Andy, my nine-year old nephew had called full of news: he’d been cast as one of the three wise men—the wisest—according to him or at least the one with the most lines. Any second thoughts or excuses I might have were quashed when Andy delivered the closer: there would a real live Baby Jesus.

It was clear upon entering the church that they had gone all out for this year’s Nativity: Volvos in the parking lot were missing seat covers so kids playing the lambs had woolly coats. The baby Jesus, as advertised, was indeed real and wiggling in the arms of the Virgin Mary, portrayed by a tall girl who seemed not only older than the other children, but also somewhat drunk … slack-jawed with an odd tilt to her head. She must have gotten into the communion wine backstage. The pressure of Christmas.

I too have always struggled with Christmas. The pressure of gifting. The incessant Christmas carols, the baby Jesus thing, Santa Claus—fairy tales, myths told to children so that one day they can feel lied to which I suppose is the real training for becoming an adult. My own childish belief had been shattered by a pair of cynical six-year olds and as I grew into a holiday hardened teen I remembered firing a question at the priest concerning all the frippery and seasonal dressings of the church, “How would Jesus feel about all this stuff?”

Father Vander was a sharp-tongued chain smoker rumored to have once strangled an altar boy. I braced myself, but he answered quietly, “The trappings of the church are merely reminders—an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were having some halting exchanges of dialogue when it became apparent that the Virgin Mary was not tanked. She was “special”. Challenged. The poor girl had a disability and was trying her darnedest to get her lines spoken while maintaining a grasp on an infant tweaking on sugar. The actual mother was easily located: front row, leaning towards her child like a hungry leopard.

Enter the Three Wise Men: Andy was resplendent in a purple robe, previously a plastic shower curtain. Holding his gift for the Baby Jesus, a foil-wrapped cigar box. The other Wise Men were also outfitted in shower curtains of watermelon and avocado respectively. The Baby Jesus, however, was not responding well to this color combination that was now moving towards him.

“I offer this gift of frankincense to honor the blessed child,” Andy said as he   extended his gift, and then Baby Jesus lost it: with one kick of his tiny legs, he broke free and we all watched the Baby Jesus execute a half-gainer, bounce with an audible burp on a padded step, roll over the wine-colored carpet and come to rest on his back, arms spread to the heavens.

A horrified gasp erupted from the congregation. No matter what you believe in, watching a baby free fall does affect you: your arms extend from hopeless distances. The infant’s mother sprang forward like a sprinter. But Andy, being nearer, swooped down and casually retrieved the Baby Jesus as if he were no more than an errant basketball. We all waited for the tears, but instead a big loopy grin spread across the infant’s face.

Unlike the Virgin Mary, who with hands clasped over her mouth, eyes brimming with regret, was sinking into her own private hell. And it was here that Andy did the amazing thing: he walked over and handed the baby back. Back to the girl that just dropped it! It was like watching someone tugged back from the brink of a life-crippling memory—forever marked as the girl who dropped the baby Jesus. Gratefully, she took the child from Andy and delivered her final line. The house lights came up to deafening applause while the lambs ripped off their seat covers.

I had that light-bodied feeling I get whenever I’ve forgotten about myself for over a minute. My eyes were still on Andy, and having just witnessed a child’s spontaneous act of generosity, I felt something like pride. Rather than blame—Andy had given the gift of a second chance.

I listened to the happy burble of humanity as the crowd moved towards the doors. Like I said, I don’t often come to these things, but there was something special in the air that night. In Father Vander’s words—an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”   Merry Christmas, everyone!

Mel Green will be reading from his new book “Marker” in the Big Bend! (Where Bert, for those of you who haven’t read the book yet, is rowed across the Rio Grande into Little Lajitas, Mexico by an old man in a metal rowboat, discovers something of great value and leaves something behind. Cant’ say what that is, material, spiritual, maybe both…)

If you are from the Big Bend, you probably already know the answer. Come to the reading, buy a book, get an autograph and be rewarded with wine and bites.

In a recent interview, Warren Buffet was asked, “What was the best advice you ever got?” I watched hoping for some investment insight that would allow me to profit as the Oracle of Omaha has done. His answer, however, had little to do with finance. What he cited as the most important lesson in his life was in fact, the unconditional love he had received from his father growing up. “Knowing you can always come back.” I gather everything else, his enormous success and happiness, was built upon this foundation. How fortunate for Warren Buffet. If only I could have bought shares in his father. Which is my way of saying with understandable envy, What about those of us who didn’t get that lesson? Who did not receive unconditional love in our tender years? I was adopted around two and half. The people who adopted me were good people. My father provided for me and my mother, saw that I was well-fed, clothed and had dance lessons. But as for unconditional love? That sense of safety, of “knowing you can always come back.” Well, I can do a passable Cha-Cha …

Adoption for any child at that age is an emotionally fraught issue. You are simply incapable of consciously processing what is happening to you. Why do the adults keep leaving the room and coming back as different people? No doubt it fostered insecurity. But I believe that insecurity was compounded by the punishment received from my adoptive parents when I misbehaved. I was told to go into my room, drop my pants and bend over my bed. The bare backs of my legs were then whipped with a folded leather belt until tears could no longer be held back and I would curl into a ball on the floor; my humiliation complete.

In spite of this, I would not characterize my father as a cruel man. He would even turn to me and say on his way out the door, “This hurts me as much as it hurts you.” And though I would have gladly switched places with him at the time, when I look back, it must have cost him a portion of his humanity to see what he’d just reduced a defenseless child to—glaring at him with hatred. But these punishments were sanctioned by the tradition he had been raised in, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” My father thought he was doing the right thing. Doing what had no doubt been done to him. He was terribly wrong.

It is my current belief that spanking should be between consenting adults only. No child should ever be hit or humiliated. As the therapist Alice Miller has pointed out in numerous works, the child will only go out in the world and do the same to others. She’s right. That’s what I did, treating every thing from my dog to the odd kid at school just as I had been treated. I went on to have a very insecure adolescence that persisted well into my twenties. Mistrustful of others though longing to connect, I harbored a brooding anger that was often misdirected and only served to alienate me further.

I examined this issue while writing my book Marker. The question that came up was: When one hasn’t been the recipient of unconditional love, but in fact its opposite—abuse—then how do they overcome it? How do you build a bridge over that empty hole where a sense of safety, of “knowing you can come back” was supposed to reside? The short answer is You don’t build a bridge over it. You go right down into that hole for it is not empty. It contains the truest part of you. It is where your anger at being humiliated— along with all the feelings you suppressed in childhood reside. As Miller points out, there was no choice at the time and you had to rely on the very people that hurt you for your survival. You could not help but want, as all children do, for these same people to love you. So the “inappropriate” feelings get stuffed and you don’t know what you feel anymore other than that a large part of you is not “lovable”.

As a young adult, a surprise birthday was engineered by a female roommate. I recall asking her why she had done this; gone to all the trouble.  And she said because she loved me. My response at the time was, “Why?” And I really wasn’t being flip—I wanted some hard evidence of what was lovable about me.

There are those who might have the impulse to label all this as feeling sorry for yourself. Life deals in hard knocks, pick yourself up and get on with it!  Toughen up! In fact, those of us who didn’t get the UCL are the ones who most often say this to ourselves. Stop feeling weak. Buck up. Only to find, after flagging efforts, that we tumble back into that same place: sadness, depression, disconnected not just from others, but from ourselves; left feeling that something is wrong with us, something is missing.

So how do we repair the psyche that thinks itself unlovable and more likely than not, keeps reproducing events that confirm that? No, I really am an asshole just stick around. For myself, it required an understanding of what had actually happened to me; how I had been damaged and who had done it. And by ‘understand’ I mean allow myself to actually feel all the feelings of what happened to me as a child.

During an acid trip in my first year of college, the power of speech abandoned me. Someone had asked me a question and the act of speaking involved a knot of considerations and implications—what to say, and there was so much to say and so many uncomfortable feelings that I was terrified to open my mouth and let it all begin to spill forth like a crazy person. I’d be institutionalized and my parents would be mad at me. After all, “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all,” was Mom’s default injunction. So I clammed up and allowed fear to smother possibility. Better to risk nothing and keep your mouth shut than to speak and be humiliated. Not exactly a recipe for success; and certainly no way to live. In many ways it was my anger that saved me. I knew I was killing something inside myself. So I decided it was time to take a risk.

At that time, I had the good fortune to room with a young man named Bruce McGill, a well-known actor now, and the voice of California Edison—a company I contribute to monthly. Bruce had been blessed with a 4F by the draft board, allowing him to take a year off between high school and college without being sent to Vietnam. In that time, Bruce discovered exactly what he wanted to be—an actor. It was also abundantly clear as you watched his theatrical performances that Bruce had received UCL. To move with such freedom; to feel so fearlessly before the eyes of others—I wanted to be like that! But my ego was far too fragile to enter the Drama Department with everyone competing for the spotlight. So it was a less flamboyant speech class I signed up for, one that required you to stand-up before the class and read a short story.

I chose The Use of Force by William Carlos Williams, a visceral story about a doctor who uses physical force to examine an uncooperative female child; humiliating the child and losing his humanity in the process. Seemed right up my alley. When my turn came to read, I stood and began to walk towards the front of the class uncertain whether my feet would stop at the podium or continue right on out the door. But I arrived determined to open my mouth and speak. And so, in a shaky voice, I began to read.

At first, I clung to the words on the page, swinging from sentence to sentence as if traversing a fearful chasm. But as I read, the story of the child’s abuse came to life and the emotions I had felt during my own childhood surfaced. They filled my voice and charged my telling of the story. My rage at what had been done to me was released out into the room. When I finished there was a rapt silence and I looked up to find all eyes upon me. And then, like a nourishing rain, came the applause.

Through the medium of the story I had connected to something vital and human within myself—as if some larger self had burst through the confines of the smaller person I had previously considered myself to be. I now stood before others naked, but more alive than ever before. My emotion connected to these people. And I knew that I was not alone with these feelings.

In a sense, I had found a place that I could “always come back” to. A place of emotional honesty within myself and an acceptance of that by others. Though it was not a home in the traditional sense of a family, or the abiding trust of a deep personal relationship, it was a big step on the road to finding human connections; a taste from the well-spring of unconditional love that dwells within each of us when we break through and allow ourselves to feel again.  Unconditional love can be found if we have the courage to step out of what we have been taught to believe is our only acceptable self and share those inconvenient feelings whether through art or communication with others.

As I say in the opening lines of Marker, “There is who you are told you are. There’s who you discover you are. And there’s what you do after.”

Peace be with you.