Some people think Social Media is a waste of time. Scrolling
through Facebook posts of funny cat videos and baby pictures, reading blurbs
about what this person ate for dinner or what that person watched on TV. It’s
true, it can certainly be viewed as a waste of time. But as humans – busy
humans with whirlwind lives and overwhelming demands – don’t we sometimes need
a break to just sit quietly and waste time before jumping back into the grind
or winding down for bed? Sure, every parent or grandparent thinks their child
is the most beautiful, special, awesome child in the world, and do we really
need to see pictures of them from every angle, in every outfit, every day? And nobody
really cares what anyone else ate for dinner. But seeing a picture of a mother
holding her baby, her eyes filled with unconditional love, or laughing at silly
cat videos, or reading some humorous quip about the absurdities of life, those
things bring us some much-needed respite from a world filled with tragedy and
horror. It’s our comic relief, the modern-day equivalent of the cartoons in the
There are also posts that are interesting and
thought-provoking. They make us consider things we may not have considered
otherwise. And educational posts – articles on medical breakthroughs, household
hacks to fix clogged sinks and banish blemishes and chase away the creepy
crawlies. Surely these can’t be labelled a waste of time, not if we’re opening
ourselves up to learning something, be it a quick fix for an annoying problem
or a new way of thinking about something.
But then there are the people who use Facebook and other
social media sites as a diary. Some find it disturbing, that anyone would tell
the world about their personal problems, air their dirty laundry as it were, be
it relationship woes, or health issues or whatever struggles they’re facing. I
think these people must be very lonely. They are reaching out to the entire
world, desperate for some understanding or interaction, or even just a modicum of
co-misery. If responding compassionately to such posts allows people in need to
feel connected, isn’t that the most worthwhile waste of time of all?
Every now and then I see (or hear) a performance that completely blows me away. Sometimes it’s a scene in a movie (like Vera Farmiga’s final scene in The Boy with the Striped Pajamas). Sometimes it’s a dance performance. Sometimes it’s a vocalist. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it stays with me, haunting me, creeping to the front of my brain when I’m trying to focus on something else. It brings tears to my eyes, not because it’s sad, but because it’s so damn beautiful.
Sara Ramirez of Grey’s Anatomy gave such a performance on Episode 18 of Season 7 (entitled “Song Beneath the Song”). I was never a huge Grey’s fan, but I had watched a few episodes here and there over the years, and had seen this one when it first aired, back in 2010. For nine years, this performance stayed fresh in my mind.
I recently took the Shonda Rhimes MasterClass on writing, and was drawn back to Grey’s Anatomy as she referred to the specifics of it and her other shows during the classes. When I finished the course, I started watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning. And when I got to this episode, this one scene still grabbed my heart and shook me. Hard.
This one episode is done as a musical, which is unusual for Grey’s, but works perfectly here. In the episode, Callie (short for Calliope, which literally means “beautiful-voiced”, and, in Greek mythology, Calliope was a muse who presided over poetry and song) is in a serious car accident. Pregnant at the time, her baby has to be delivered prematurely while Callie is unconscious. In this scene, we see Callie in a coma as Arizona talks to her about her baby, desperate for her to regain consciousness. Throughout the episode, Callie is having an out of body experience, seeing herself on the operating table, and seeing the doctors trying to save her and her baby. In this scene she sees herself lying unconscious, walks through the hospital to see her baby for the first time as the baby’s father sits by their infant’s side, and then circles back to her hospital bed where she grabs her own legs and forces her unconscious self to wake up. It’s dramatic. It’s beautifully done. And her voice is so powerful, so emotional, so heart-wrenching. Her acting here is absolutely flawless. The expressions on her face, the emotion in her eyes, the vocal performance – it’s one of the most enthralling scenes I’ve ever seen on television.
Even if you aren’t into Grey’s Anatomy, I dare you to watch this three-minute scene and not be moved.
days, social media is full of people championing the bodies of “real women” –
women who wear a size 10 or more.
who wear a size 6 not “real women”? Should skinny girls and women be made to feel
inadequate? Like they are less of a woman than those with lots of curves and
padding? It’s great that females with fuller figures are being taught to love
their bodies. But does that have to come at a price for those of us on the
other end of the scale? It seems to me that people who claim to be promoting
positive body images for young women are, in fact, shaming skinny girls. And,
whether intentional or not, that is not okay. Making someone feel badly about
how they look, when those aspects of their appearance are completely beyond
their control (ie: being skinny, having red hair, having freckles, being
flat-chested, being tall, being short…) is never okay.
always been thin by most people’s standards. As a teenager, I was underweight. There
were lots of days in high school when I would come home from school and cry. I
wanted to look like my classmates. I’d sit down in front of the television with
a big bag of chips, eating as many as I could before supper, desperate to gain
weight. My mother use to make me hot chocolate using cream instead of water or
milk, to give me the extra fat.
one day in high school, I was standing on a chair to erase the top of the chalkboard
for the teacher. As I finished, and jumped down to the floor, one of my
classmates shouted, “Timber!”
When I was
about fifteen, an adult male family member asked me if I used Band Aids for a
bra. And at the end of my first year in university, a few of the more popular
girls in my dorm did up a little presentation for everyone on our floor. They
said something funny or cute about each of us. When they got to me, they said, “What
exactly do you put in a double A Cup
anyway?” Everyone laughed. Everyone but me.
No woman should
ever be shamed into thinking she is less of a woman just because she’s not
curvy and doesn’t have big breasts.
Nature got her jabs in, too, because puberty comes late for extra skinny girls.
For me, it was three long years after
it hit all my friends and classmates. It’s hard to relate to your peers when
they’re all having periods and going on dates and growing breasts, and you
still have the body of a ten-year-old girl.
Now that I’m
middle-aged, the tables have turned. Watching as my peers struggle to lose the
extra weight they gained as they aged, I can finally see my high metabolism as
a gift. But that was a long time coming and the road getting here was full of
steep hills and deep potholes. And just as everyone’s metabolism slowed with
age, so did mine, it’s just that mine is now where theirs used to be. I can no
longer eat entire bags of potato chips and not gain weight. And it’s more than
a little irritating when people say to me, “You’re so lucky, you can eat
whatever you want.” As a teenage girl, I tried desperately to gain weight so
that I wouldn’t be teased. And now, as a middle-aged woman, I very closely
watch what I put into my body, so that I don’t
gain a lot of weight. There’s nothing lucky about any of that.
if you want to jump on the positive body image band wagon, let’s be sure we’re
promoting the importance of a natural, healthy
body, whatever the size.
I crossed paths with her before any of the scandalous headlines
that shadowed her life. Before the overdoses, the many arrests and jail time.
Before the sex tape, the bottle of wine a day, the stint in rehab. Before she
kidnapped her own son from her mother’s legal custody and crossed state lines
with him. Before all that. She was just twenty years old and on the brink of a
promising career as country music’s freshest sweetheart. She was everything
Nashville looked for. Young and petite, with smooth, bronzed skin, perfect
white teeth, and hair that shimmered like gold. And that voice!
I had just started seeing my then-boyfriend who’d done some demo
work in the studio with her. He’d also written a couple of songs with her aunt.
At the time, she was living with her producer – a big-time country music
producer who’d worked with the best of the best. On Christmas Eve day, 1995,
she extended a last-minute invitation to us for Christmas dinner. Her debut
album (which went on to sell over two million copies) was being released in
just a few months. A prior commitment prevented me from going, and I told my
boyfriend to go without me. He wouldn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I
kicked myself for not accepting that invitation. There were endless possibilities
it could have presented for me as a songwriter.
As time went on, I learned that she and I shared similar demons
in our lives. We both had strained relationships with our mothers. We both
fought clinical depression. We’d both over-dosed on prescription pills. I
remember hearing that she was in jail in Nashville, and trying to decide if I
should go visit her there. She and I had never actually met, but we had come
close a couple times. I was invited to her house for Christmas, after all. If
I’d gone and told her who I was, who my boyfriend was, maybe she would have
been receptive. Maybe I could have helped her in some way. That’s not to say
that I could have saved someone that professionals (including Dr. Drew and Dr.
Phil) had failed to save. But sometimes all you need is someone who’s felt the
same way that you do. There’s a big difference between studying depression, and actually being in such a dark place that a drugged sleep is your only
relief. But since we were never formally introduced, I decided not to go. I
figured they’d probably assume I was a crazy fan and not let me in to see her.
And even if they did let me in, she might not appreciate some stranger she almost met invading her privacy.
The only time I ever saw her face to face was right after her
debut album was released, in 1996. Tower Records in Nashville used to have
artists come in to do little shows, right inside the record store. It was a
great PR move. It got potential customers into the store, and it boosted sales
for the performing artist. The store was packed that day, and there she was,
just a tiny little thing back then, sitting on a stool, singing, smiling,
radiating. When she saw my boyfriend in the crowd (he was 6′ 5″ and pretty
hard to miss) she waved and smiled bigger. She spoke to the audience with such
grace and humility. She told them through tears how much it meant to her that
they were there to see her. She was a twenty-year-old karaoke singer from
Florida who had made it big and was overcome with emotions. It was endearing.
She and her producer boyfriend split up, and she later became
the victim of domestic abuse. In 2009, she was a patient on Dr. Drew’s
“Celebrity Rehab” TV show. During filming, she suffered a grand mal seizure. It
was powerful television, and just one more thing that we had in common. I’d had
a grand mal seizure four years earlier. Mine was attributed to severe stress
and dehydration. Hers, the result of a brain injury she didn’t know she had,
caused during a fight with her ex.
As more years passed, she became the mother of two boys, and
moved to Arkansas with the man she called her soul mate. And then, on January
13, 2013, she found her boyfriend on the front porch of their home, shot dead.
There was speculation that she had shot him during a fight and made it look
like a suicide. In a TV interview, she admitted they’d fought that night, but
denied having anything to do with his death. She cried, “He was my life!” Watching that interview, it was clear how
life had aged her. No longer the petite, shining star, she looked older than
her years, tired, worn.
On February 17, she shot her boyfriend’s dog on the same porch
where she’d found her boyfriend’s body a month earlier. And then she shot
herself. There was a suicide note saying that now they could all be together
again in Heaven. The couple’s son was only ten months old. Thankfully, he and
her son from a previous relationship were with their grandmother.
Some said she killed herself out of guilt for having killed her
boyfriend. Some said she did it because the pain of his suicide was unbearable.
Others said it was only a matter of time before she killed herself, having had
several past attempts. It was a tragic end to a life that had so much
potential, a life shrouded for years in pain and addiction and scandals.
What strikes me most about her suicide is how she did it. It’s
rare for a woman to kill herself with a gun. That kind of violence is a man’s
method of suicide. It makes sense to me that it was her choice because it was
how her boyfriend died. But the thing that haunts me is that she didn’t shoot
herself in the heart, or the stomach, or even the side of the head. She shot
herself in the face. That face, once full of sunshine and joy. I don’t want to
know what goes through a beautiful woman’s mind when she makes the decision to
shoot herself in the face.
All I can think of is the line from her debut single, “I need ten thousand angels watching over me tonight.”
I don’t remember a lot about my paternal grandfather. I had just turned nine when he died. What I remember most is how much I loved listening to him play the fiddle and piano, and hearing him sing. I could spend hours sitting in his living room as he played, the music coursing through my veins. One of my fondest childhood memories is listening to him sing and play the old Kenny Rogers song, “Lucille”. Many years later I would meet Hal Bynum, the writer of that song. He brought some homemade soup to my office in Nashville. It was the first (and last) time I ever ate okra.
My grandfather was tall (at least to my petite nine-year-old stature), thin and quiet. Sometimes he played a drawing game with me. He would start by drawing a line or shape on a piece of paper, then passing it to me to add a line or shape of my own. Then I would pass it back to him. Back and forth we’d go, co-creating a tree or a bird or a house, line by line.
He retired at the age of sixty-five, and about a week later, he died. Not long after that, I saw him. There was a child’s yellow rocking chair at the foot of my bed. One night, as I lie waiting to drift off, there he was, sitting in that tiny chair. He didn’t speak. He didn’t look ghostly, or transparent, or strange. He looked as he always had – solid, wearing a brown cardigan, a look of contentment on his face. I was not afraid. He was my grandfather.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, and never mentioned it to anyone until I was much older. Looking back as an adult, I often wonder about what I saw. Was it my grandfather’s spirit coming to say goodbye? Or was it the active imagination of a little girl who had recently lost her grandfather? Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him.