Thursday, August 21, 2014

curly hair, People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck

Recently, hot curlers popped into my thoughts. Do people still use hot curlers?

As a child, my mom was determined that I have curly hair. She put my hair in bobbie pins every night, before electric hot curlers and curling irons (do they still exist too?!!) were around. At least around our world in Irish Southside Chicago. Every single night, I had to stil on the floor in front of my mom and let her pins tight curls in my hair.  Every morning, she pulled out the pins, criticized me if any had loosened in the night and styled my curls.

The curls would not last until I had walked the few blocks to school. I moaned, groaned, begged and pleaded to escape mom's determination that I have curly hair but she never relented.

The habit became so ingrained in me that by high school, I put my hair in curlers, altho not yet electric ones, every single night. Again, the curls would have fallen apart by the time I go to the bus stop, not even lasting until I got to school.

Then hot curlers, the kind that came in boxes, each roller sitting on a hot tiny stick that heated the curlers, which, presumably, held more metal. Those curls would last awhile.

In M. Scott Peck's book, People of the Lie, in which he posits his theory that evil should be a psychiatric diagnosis instead of a judgment on a damaged, supposedly 'evil' person's values and morals.  I like the idea of seeing evil as an illness and not a state of being.

I bought and read People of the Lie because I had gotten a lot out of Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled.  I didn't really know what it was about. Once I started reading it, I read it straight through, staying up all night, in spite of the fact that I had a child to get to day care the next morning and a court appearance to get to by 9. I could not put the book down.

At the time, I was in the midst of an ugly custody battle from a physically and intensely emotionally abusive man. Our PhD marriage counselor said my wasband was the cruelest person he had ever met. He said "Most people have a certain threshold beneath which they will not sink. As far as I can tell, and I have been a psychologist 20+ years, this is the cruelest person I have ever met. He seems to have no threshold. He has done things to Tree that I have had a hard time believing but which definitely were true."

You better believe a book about evil kept me up all night. It was like reading my life.

It took some years before I associated some of Peck's anecdotes with my parents.

Note:  I have not read the book since 1983 but I remember it vividly. One of the saddest anecdotes was the story of a little girl born with blonde hair to an Italian mother. Her mother dyed the child's hair black throughout her childhood because the mother had wanted a dark-haired Italian daughter. That mother ignored who her child was and tried to impose a different persona on her.

Another example I will never be able to forget:  Peck once treated a teenager, not the parents, of a boy whose brother had committed suicide with a shotgun that the parents had given the brother for Christmas. The next Christmas, the parents gave the same shotgun that Peck's patient's brother had used to kill himself to the son.

Dying a blonde haired girl's hair black throughout her childhood is evil, in Peck's view. Giving your one surviving son the shotgun his brother used to kill himself as a Christmas gift is evil.

Something was wrong with my mom. All her children were very damaged by her.  For a long time, I thought I was the only one she was cruel to, for I was the only girl until I was fourteen and my sister was born. I thought my sister got favoritism as the baby in the family. And my sister did get treated a bit better than me. But I gradually learned my sister also felt mom had been emotionally abusive. All my siblings feel that way.

And my mom, I totally believe, did not wish to be so hurtful to her children. Like just about all parents, my mom wanted to do her best for us. She did do her best. Her best sucked.

Shaming me my whole childhood for having straight hair may not have been evil but it dismissed who I was.

Mom also took me to get permanents a couple times, in her relentless quest that I have curly hair as she had. Mom's hair was softly wavy, not tightly curly. And mom wanted my hair to look like hers.

My hair is straight as a stick. So is my daughter's.  My daughter doesn't look much like me. When we used to be seen together, more than a few people asked me if she was adopted because she does not look like me. She got my very straight hair but she is a brunette. She got her coloring from her dad:  big, dark brown eyes, a light olive complexion that tans well, as opposed to my Irish light tone that burns burns burns.

The curly permanents literally washed out of my hair. After the first fail, the beauty shop gave me a second permanent. When that one washed out of my hair, which was too fine to hold the chemicals, the shop refunded mom's money and refused to try again.

The beauty shop accepted that I was not destined to have curly hair. My mom never did.

I am wondering, just now, if mom's curly hair obsession is analogous to that woman who dyed her blonde daughter's hair black.

What did Peck say?  he said that people of the lie, people sick in darkness/evil, can be surprisingly unfeeling, unaware of the darkness of their behavior. He talked to the parents who gave their livng son the same shotgun his brothe had used to kill himself and those parents could not grasp what might be wrong with having given their surviving son that shotgun. The Italian mama who dyed her blonde daughter's hair black throughout her childhood could not grasp what was wrong with doing that.

I know, for certain, that my mom never wished to harm me. Well, except for the time when she pretty much lost her mind and brutally beat me 100 times with my father's leather belt.

I see that my writing skills are improving. Altho I had not edited what I have written here I see instantly what I should edit out, see how I lose the thread of my piece, take to many side paths and diminish the power of my story.

Was my mom evil?  Only in the sense Peck used the word evil. She was sick.

Growing up with such a damaged mother, I seem to have failed to develop, until now, radar to detect people who are heedlessly unkind to me for no discernible reason. And, until fairly recently, such people would be the ones I would become desparate to earn their love and approval. If someone was angrily abusive to me, their anger was like a gravitational pull, compelling me to dance like a circus pony hoping to win their approval. And such people are always delightfully charming. If I were a devil, I would be very charming.

Lucifer, after all, entices humans into sin with light. Lucifer is all charming delight until you are enthrall to him and then he hurts you. That Broadway play, 'Damm Yankees' captured the lightness of Lucifer's lure brilliantly. My sister once played Lola in a high school production of that play, so I have read it and watched the film, supporting her vicariously.  I remind anyone reading:  Lucifer makes a delightful, enticing, seemingly light-filled offer to the ballplayer who wants to win a World Series. Lucifer promises him he can win a World Series but then his soul will belong to Lucifer. And Lucifer enchants also with the 'light' of Lola's sexy luring.  Lola is part of the 'light' Lucifer uses to get that ballplayer to sell his soul.

Many people sell their souls to evil, although not in overtly negotiated contracts.  Oh no.  Humans slide into darkness one small step at a time, one angry outburst, one blast of verbal abuse. Step by step.

I have been in thrall to darkness a few times. I think I have finally figured out how to avoid darkness or evil. Kindness. Compassion.  Empathy.

And most importantly, at least for me:  I never, ever forget that how other people behave is never about me. Never.

I am kind and good. Trust me to be kind and good and I am. Filter me through a lens of negative expectations and I falter. I make mistakes. I lose touch with my goodness and slip and slide in the slime of darkness, of evil.

I do not use the world evil here the way most people think of evil. I use it to indicate some darkness in a person that crops up in how they behave towards others, towards me. If anyone ever treats me with disregard of my feelings, wants or needs, I consider that darkness. Or evil. And I flee.

Fortunately, once I earned this understanding, my whole world shifted. Light started streaming into my life. New friends. Love. Kindness.

I think I will always be vulnerable to Luciferic charm. I pray I have learned some lessons that have staying power.

I was glad those permanents washed out of my hair.  I never wanted to have curly hair.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the time my grandma bought her first pair of tennis shoes

I was staying with my maternal grandparents for several weeks, the only grandchild for that period of time. An aunt and uncle, with cousin, had driven me from Chicago to South Dakota. I got to stay alone with my grandparents a few weeks and then my mother would come to visit, bringing my brothers.

It was the only time, other than my last visit to her when she was dying and I was a young adult, that I got to visit my grandma all alone. Grandpa was there but my maternal grandpa completely ignored children.  This was a big deal treat, to spend a few weeks with my grandma.

This special visit happened, maybe, around 1960. My grandmother had always worn black tie shoes with a small heel that lifted her a tiny bit. Grandma shoes. Sensible. Good arch support. Ugly, at least to my eyes.  My mom was always trying to make me select sensible shoes that I would reject, turning up my nose and saying "Uck, those are grandma shoes." She would say "Your grandmother wears them. They will last a long time and you are hard on your shoes."  "Grandmas wear them. You don't. I won't."  We had that little exchange pretty much every time my mother bought me new shoes, forced to do so because, dang it, my feet had grown again.

I have always been an intense letter writer. Before I learned how to write, I used to write pretend letters, scribbling on lines up and down the page, pretending I was writing. And in my mind, I was telling stories, writing real letters. I knew no one could read my scribbles. I couldn't wait until I could write.

Once I learned how to write, I wrote to every distant relative I had, which were not many. Everyone from my dad's side of the family lived in Chicagoland. Although I did maintain a correspondence with my Chicago grandpa, who lived just across town, throughout my childhood. He always answered, very briefly. His answers were the excuse I needed to write again. I might have written, Dear Grandpa, Today me and Tammy (my best friend that he knew all about) and I played dress up.

When I was staying at grandma's, I wrote letters to my parents in Chicago. I wrote and told them grandpa had bought a pair of tennis shoes at the dime store.  I can still see those tennis shoes. They were navy blue, with white laces and a white band around the bottom. Very basic. Not well shaped atheletic shoes like today.  Grandma said she bought them because they were cheap and she would cut holes in each one for her corns. And she did. And she wore them the rest of that summer. Tennis shoes were newish, at least new for the middle class. They had not always been in the dime store. And there was no such thing as an athletic shoe store in those days. Mitchell had a JCPenneys but grandma mostly shopped at the five and dime. Cheaper she said. And, yes, my grandma was cheap.

I have always been a truthteller.

Yet my mom wrote back, "Good heavens, you have a wild imagination. Your grandmother would never buy tennis shoes."

I was hurt that my mom disbelieved me.  I wrote back to her and said "She did, honest." And I described them.

When mom arrived to claim me, and visit her parents, the first thing she said getting out of the car was "I want to see if your grandmother really bought tennis shoes."

Of course she had. She was wearing them, the holes on the side cut out for her corns.

Grandma did not wear them out in the world. Only at home. And maybe a run to the grocery store.

My grandma Joy did not have a cool bone in her body. She wore old lady dresses, old lady shoes and old lady hats. She was really into her hats. She had quite a collection, spanning most of the 20th Century. When she did, her daughters, including my mom, donated them to the local college's theater department for costumes. I was disappointed that they did that. I would have loved to have had her hats.