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A young Norma Jean Baker in the early 1940s. Many a Penny Pentecostal would still be rocking this same suit style well into the Carter Administration. (Source)
My latest Audible book streaming through my headphones is "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" by Donald Spoto and narrated by Anna Fields.
Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by stars who, despite talent, money, fame and beauty, were downed by the suffocating weight of their own inner psyches. Perhaps it was a weird fascination for an elementary school student, but it was there, and only grew as I got older.
If I had to guess as to why, it probably had something to do with my mother's severe depression. She was (and is) my first exemplar of femininity and beauty. She was a star in my mind, gifted with a lovely soprano singing voice that at times verged on the operatic. She drew, painted, sketched and did calligraphy. She made music and art. That was beauty. She was beauty.
She was also acutely depressed, and at other times, quite anxious. Before giving birth to any of us kids, she had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown that left her hearing an array of voices that so frightened her she stayed in bed with fits of tears and screams interspersed with prayers to God for relief.
I learned of this episode in my mom's life fifteen years later, when I was 8, from her mom during a summer visit. It scared me. So horribly scared me that I had reoccurring nightmares about it for years. It also launched in me a desire to understand why. Why had Mommy, with a speaking voice not too different from the soft, childlike one Marilyn affected in many of her films, lose it? And how did she regain it, enough to have us three and become the neighborhood Kool Aid mom? Would she crack again? Would I, one day, also suffer a similar fate?
I read about Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, and of course, the patron saint of the troubled star, Marilyn Monroe. There was a lot to sift through about the Blonde Bombshell- the affairs, the failed marriages, the glamour and the barbiturates. Beyond that, there was a very sad childhood with an absentee mother, an unknown father and foster homes.
While listening to "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" this week, I learned something about her early years with her first foster family that I hadn't known before. Something that my mom had in common... something that I had in common.
We all spent some of our most formative years belonging to Pentecostal Holiness churches.
Let me pause here to say, most definitively, that growing up a Penny Pentecostal is NOT a one way ticket to Crazytown. Millions of people have and are fine.
This information sticks out to me because it's like I found another former member of the club that shaped me so- my childhood, adolescence and even on into adulthood. What makes this information ever more startling is how Marilyn came to embody so much that many Pentecostals stridently abhor- the makeup, the cut and dyed platinum coiffure, the tight clothes, and all that jewelry. All that unGodly glamour in a shapely 5'5 package.
Over in the Entertainment section of "How Stuff Works", Susan Doll recounts: "
Norma Jeane's mother, who most often used the name Gladys Baker, placed the infant Norma Jeane in the care of Ida and Wayne Bolender of Hawthorne, California. Life had not been particularly kind to Gladys. She had had two children -- Berniece and Hermitt Jack -- by her first marriage to Jack Baker, but he had taken the children away from her and moved to Kentucky prior to her marriage to Edward Mortenson. Supposedly, Baker had left a note for Gladys that read, "I have taken the children, and you will never see them again." The absence of her first two children caused Gladys great pain, and her inability to take care of Norma Jeane added to that heartache and stress. Gladys's family had a history of mental instability. Both of her parents, Otis and Delia Monroe, finished out their lives in mental institutions, and Gladys's brother, Marion Monroe, suffered from a problem diagnosed at the time as paranoid schizophrenia. Gladys battled demons of her own and spent much of her adult life in institutions. ... Ironically, perhaps, when Gladys boarded out Norma Jeane to the Bolenders 12 days after the baby's birth, it was because of financial difficulties -- not mental ones. Gladys went back to work at Consolidated Film Industries, paying the Bolenders five dollars per week to look after her baby. Each Saturday, Gladys would take the trolley to Hawthorne to visit Norma Jeane, who remembered Gladys as "the lady with red hair" rather than as her mother. A devoutly religious couple, Wayne and Ida Bolender lived a comfortable existence in Hawthorne, a less-than-fashionable suburb of Los Angeles. Wayne worked as a postal carrier and was fortunate enough to remain employed throughout the Depression. In his spare time, he printed religious tracts.Here comes that Old Time Religion...:
Marilyn would later remember the couple's devotion to their religion as one that approached zealousness. She claimed that as the young Norma Jeane, she had to promise never to drink or swear, she had to attend church several times a week, and she was repeatedly told that she was going to Hell. Norma Jeane quickly learned to hide from the Bolenders if she wanted to sing, dance, or act out a fantasy life "more interesting than the one I had." Though Norma Jeane regularly attended church with the Bolenders, she was taken by her grandmother, Della Monroe, to the Foursquare Gospel Church to be baptized by the flamboyant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Della, a devout follower of Sister Aimee, had her granddaughter christened "Norma Jeane Baker."By the way, if you're unfamiliar with Aimee Semple McPherson, who had an altogether fascinating career that mixed Hollywood theatrics with preaching the Good News, check out this "American Masters" episode:
Spoto takes great pains to link Marilyn's early upbringing in holiness- which demanded a certain form of outward perfection to exemplify supposed inner godliness- to her later years spent chasing a level of flawlessness that fed her anxiety and depression. Of course, only Marilyn knew if that was true, but it's an interesting thought to ponder.
"Breast cancer and chemotherapy
Took away her crownin' glory
She promised God if she was to survive
She would enjoy every day of her life, oh
On national television
Her diamond eyes are sparkling
Bald-headed like a full moon shining
Singing out to the whole wide world like, hey"
- India Arie, "Brown Skin"
On Wednesday evening, I walked into the bathroom, slid open the medicine cabinet, pulled out a small pair of scissors and paused for about five seconds. I took a deep breathe and cut a large hunk of my hair off on the left side. In less than ten minutes, the sink was full of fro. I was done.
I had decided a long time ago that I'd rather get a hair cut before receiving the chemotherapy that is part of the complex Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation. The staff at Northwestern Memorial let me know from the jump that I'd lose all my hair. Unlike with many chemo treatments prescribed for patients with cancer, the use of chemo here will be so intense that the hair wouldn't just thin. I'd look like a honey brown cue ball within two months. No ifs, ands or combovers.Not wanting to resemble a 2016 female version of George Jefferson when clumps of my afro begin to drop out, I planned to go to a salon and get my first real, professional haircut since college.
But plans have been failed aspirations lately, and with less than a week before I'd be back in Chicago to finally get the transplant, and not wanting to spend any additional cash on strands that wouldn't be around to greet the Summer Solstice in a couple of months anyway, I got my Edward Scissorhands on.
Zoe doesn't like it. Not in the least. She wants my "old, better hair style back". K... well, he's said he likes it, but only did so after I asked him straight out. So, yeah.
I like that I haven't had to do it since I washed and styled it that first night. But I feel a little... I'm not even sure. Unfazed? I thought I might've gotten a bit moved by it all. I now have the shortest hair in the house.
My husband, with his shaved, two-strand twisted fauxhawk, has longer hair than me. And still, my emotional reaction could be depicted like this emoji.
I've thought about it and I truly believe going natural while pregnant with Zoe pretty much took the sting out of this. I heard some of the nastiest comments when I let go of the relaxed locks. My appearance, value, sexual appeal and femininity were all questioned and even ruled quite lacking based on the texture of my hair. Why worry now when I barely have any? In those people's eyes, I've been ugly.
I cried then, but their taunts toughened me. There I was, in my last year of my 20's FINALLY getting it. My value is not in my appearance, and certainly not in the capricious opinions of others on said appearance. As India Arie sings, I am not my hair. I'm not my skin, either. I learned that lesson quite well as I got scar after scar from IVIG treatments, medicines, and surgically implanted ports.
I don't have breast cancer, but like the woman in India's song, I've done my praying and have decided to enjoy each day, "Bald-headed like a full moon shining".
Friday marked the third anniversary of my sister Joscelyne's death.
Around 8AM, I pulled the black and white photo of her, ensconced in a shiny, mirrored frame, off the bookshelf, and placed it in the center of the piano. I set out a couple of candles, and searched through a closet for the least tacky plastic flowers I could find. I wanted fresh lilies, but due to a sprained ankle I've been nursing for three weeks, that didn't happen.
I found some pink and purple ones, part of a bouquet that she had purchased in 2011 for our mom that wound up in my possession. They surrounded the candles, which I lit and watched flicker. Their light could barely be seen because it was bright in the living room. November 20th of 2015 was sunny, unlike the gloomy and overcast 20th of 2012....
Z and one of the butterflies.
Before seven this morning, I sat down on my couch, flipped open my laptop and read.
I heard the tiny fluttering wings of the butterflies I ordered for Zoe as a science project. There were five of them in an enclosed habitat, and at my movement, they started up, zig zagging against the white net that held them together....
About twenty minutes after leaving the graveyard where we laid my father to rest, I stood in line at the nearby Starbucks. It's "my" Starbucks, the one I spent hours studying in during college, where I took part in Bible studies, discussed matters of importance and frivolity with Joscelyne, and of late, just go to get my order and split.
When it was my time to order, I got my usual- a venti soy white mocha- along with a frap for my nephew Justin and a chocolate milk for Zoe. When the friendly barista asked my name, I said, "Larry's Daugter". She repeated it back to me with a slightly quizzical look on her face....
So I am totally being lazy in the Soren Kierkegaard class I'm taking. Assigned to read Plato's "Euthyphro", I haven't been able to read more than a few pages before having my brain scream "Nope" and start daydreaming of how cute K would look in a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.
My daddy passed away today a few minutes after one P.M. Defying expectations, he survived over two days off the respirator, which makes perfect sense knowing how big his heart was and how powerful those lungs, which powered a loud booming voice, were.
I want to thank everyone who's reached out to offer sympathy, prayers and condolences. It's truly appreciated. Please continue to keep us in your prayers....
We sat today, waiting. Waiting for my dad to die.
He was moved to hospice this week, and a little after 11 this morning, they shut off the respirator.
My grandmother, cousin Velvet, her husband Mike, cousin John, brother Joe, his wife Jenny, stepmom Kathy, her sister Monica, K, Z and I all sat vigil. Prayed, sang, talked and laughed. Streamed music through an iPad and sipped coffee and tea.
I was visited again today by Friend 2 from last week. Repeatedly throughout her visit, the conversation veered into some of the more difficult areas of life- illness, breakups and death. I kept responding to her frustrated statements with, "But I can't control that" and "I cannot make people do what they do not want to do". She would agree, only to turn right around and then go into complaints. Exasperated (and my voice going screechily high pitched), I finally declared, "Don't you get it? We aren't really in control of many things in life!"
I said control so many times I started to hear the Janet Jackson classic in my head.
A drawing of Soren Kierkegaard I did yesterday.
I haven't been sleeping well the last few nights. My thoughts, during the day and night, are on my daddy, who's been on life support since last week. We- the family- know, but are still grappling with the reality that we are nearing the end.
Jay-Z in "On the Run" (Radio Lab)
It's been a long, long day. Rainy, gray and layered thickly with foreboding. A real walking in "the valley of the shadow of death". I'm not being dramatic, it's just really been that kind of day.
This morning I began "Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity", an online University of Copenhagen class offered through Coursera. It's totally free, so if you're a nerd, and cheap, like me, you can still register if you like. In the "About" descriptor:...
Today's hotest video features Kanye West, but it's most definitely not Yeezus approved. Before I continue, if you're sick of me mentioning Mr. West so much during these Lenten posts, my apologies. He keeps popping up here because, dagnabit, these dude is making headlines like Lindsey Lohan circa 2007. It's kind of hard not to talk about him. Still, if you've had enough, come back tomorrow, kay?