LA Eloi

Her glowing, porcelain face protruded from the brick background, then faded into the blue stage lights. Every stroke of her features, handmade with care. She hasn’t been used much, barely taken out of the box. Too afraid of damage, she’s fragile. So fragile, if you bumped into her on the street, she might shatter like china.

You see, even to hold her is to warp her unscathed skin. If she touches too much, her hands will blister and crack. Every step calluses her feet. Don’t you want her to be soft? If she has to worry about anything, or if you make her sad, or mad, crevices will carve themselves into her forehead.  And if she loses sleep, craters will nap under her eyes, endlessly taunting her. Don’t you want her to be pretty?  

She was Weena*, daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and musician. Now it’s her turn to become the star she was primed to be. She stood before us, not as a woman proudly owning her destiny, but as someone who just realized she was naked in front of a crowd. Her bones glued at the joints, she was petrified.

Her voice was beautiful. Her songs were simple but catchy. Melodic runs really showcased her expansive range. We all rocked and swayed to the feel-good beats. But there was something missing, passion.

Passion comes from suffering. What revolutionary painter or poet never had to struggle too much? I believe art has the power to transform the world. How can you heal if you’ve never been torn apart by life’s shrapnel, and then had to lick your wounds, and limp away with your tail between your legs?

Like an Eloi from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, her environment never presented many challenges. Therefore, she knew how to enjoy life, but not overcome obstacles, endure pain. Poor Weena was paralyzed by her fear: fear of being exposed, fear of looking stupid, fear of failing. The only time she looked at ease was after her set while dancing with her celebrity friends.

Woman in yellow and blue with a guitar, by Henri Matisse

She has the disorienting beauty, decorated in ornate garments, encompassed by the faces of Hollywood’s past, present, and future elite. She even has the voice, but she lacks courage and she lacks affliction.

She has had every opportunity at her disposal, dancing then acting, now singing…but I wonder had she not, would she have the grit it would take an average person?

I always wondered what my life would have been like if I had half of the opportunities Weena has. What if my mom could have afforded the voice lessons I begged her for each birthday? What if I grew up in safe, loving home? What if I wasn’t at constant war with myself, battling the voice in my head echoing “you’ll never be good enough?”

What would I write about without my struggles? What painful memories would I channel when I performed? How could I teach lessons I haven’t learned? How could I help those who are suffering, if I’ve never suffered? How can I change the world, if I am blind to its problems?

Ironically, all of my talents would vanish with my struggles.

Just because you have all of the advantages, doesn’t mean you can cash them in, or even know how to. You may have an audience, power and influence, and nothing to say, no wisdom to share. Or in my case, have plenty to say, but no voice to speak it with, and no one to listen.  But let me just say this, I do believe in the power of passion, and the impact of endurance. 

Given the option, I’d choose adversity every time. 

*The artist’s name has been changed.

“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”-H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Dream Big (Not Too Big)

Every week I drive to therapy in West L.A. I drive down Vine, through Hancock Park, near West Hollywood.  I see perfectly paved streets, no gaping potholes, no trash seeping out of the gutters, no rotting couches or mattresses clutter the sidewalks. Every lawn decoration, every palm, every petal, quintessentially placed. You do not hear the clinking and clattering of the cans the homeless push around. Mothers lull their children in strollers, not shopping carts. They do not fear as they walk the streets alone.

Each home has its own design and character, inspired by different historical fashions. The landscapes of each house are eloquently designed and maintained daily. I see the gardeners working in the yard of a house erected from the colonial South, with its tall, thick pillars guarding the entrance. I can see the horses and the slaves now. Only now it’s a Mercedes and a gardener. I guess not much has changed.

The only cars around me are pristine, shiny and new. Mercedes. BMW’s. Porches. I feel like a pitifully disguised spy, in my dirt-painted 2002 Accord. I see two girls my age getting out of a Mercedes. “They have no idea how lucky they are,” I think.

I’m not saying that they are lucky because they own a beautiful home and drive luxury cars. I’m saying they’re lucky because regardless of how smart they are or how hard they work they will, statistically, be rich and successful their whole lives. As for me, no matter how hard I work, statistically, I’ll be poor, or at least severely underpaid for someone of my intelligence and passion, for the rest of my life.

Michael Carr, the co-author of a 2016 study  showing social mobility has decreased in the last thirty years, said, “It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end.”  While yes, I would like to live in a home not infested with cockroaches, and a neighborhood where I don’t have to worry about being robbed, I would also like to live in a society where my potential is in my reach, or at least equally as in reach as anyone else’s.

“The American Dream” paints the illusion that anything is possible, for sons and daughters of all castes and creeds, with blood sweat and tears. It just turns out that some of us end up bleeding, sweating, and right out weeping a hell of a lot more than others.

Think about the intelligent, empathetic, hard-working people, who went to college, but still barely make enough to afford their shitty apartments. Many working two or three jobs, working seventy or more hours a week at jobs they hate, because it’s not fulfilling, and the pay is shit. Imagine the tax on one’s physical and mental health. Not only are you stressed about money, about bills and food, about stretching every penny as far as you can, but your life becomes a meaningless ritual. You become stuck in a time loop, watching less equipped but more fortunate people rise, while you sink like quicksand, taunted by the ghosts of your potential.

Imagine the tax on one’s physical and mental health. Not only are you stressed about money and meeting your basic survival needs, but your life becomes a meaningless ritual. You become stuck in a time loop, watching less equipped, more fortunate people rise, while you sink like quicksand, taunted by the ghosts of your potential.

“The Broken Bridge and The Dream” by Salvador Dali. Photo courtesy of http://art-dali.com

Ten years ago, or even two, I would have said, “One day, I’ll own a car like that, a home like that, a gardener like that.” I have quite the unrealistic, optimistic view of the world, but every now and then reality sinks in, making a sieve of my thick skin. When that happens, and I look at these houses and these people, I get angry. I get jealous and depressed, realizing the chances of me even getting invited onto the premise of one of these gorgeous estates, let alone own one, are very low…unless I’m landscaping.

If you asked me where I saw myself ten years from now, when I was sixteen, or twenty, I would have said I’d be a doctor. I would have said I would earn my Ph.D. and my M.D. and be a neuropsychologist. I would have done it by twenty-five, having earned an Associate’s degree at nineteen, and being on course to earn my Bachelor’s in psychology and neuroscience at twenty-one. If you asked me today where I saw myself in ten years, the answer would be that I have no idea, I just hope it’s more fulfilling than this.

What better proof that “The American Dream” is very much alive would there be than the story of a young, lower class woman facing unspeakable horrors in childhood, only to work her way to the top through hard work and perseverance!? Unfortunately, this is not my story. While this is someone’s story, I believe it’s disproportionate to the amount of determined, intelligent, and talented poor people there are in the America. We should be hearing these stories far more often than we do. Why is that? There are many reasons, and one of the reasons I made this blog to start talking about them. But in short…

The game is rigged, and we are all in.

 

“You got to tell me brave captain,

Why are the wicked so strong,

How do the angels get to sleep, 

When the devil leaves the porchlight on.”

-Tom Waits