Tag Archives: ethics

“Make Sense of Me, Walk Through My Doorway: Don’t Hide in the Hallway!”

If you want to learn the heart of me — look at my father’s eyes.

Moreover:  If you want to know the very gist of me, the ethics upon which I stand and the beliefs with which I measure the world; if you want to predict the disappointments of my spirit when others don’t live up to the their goodness (and if you wish to summon my own aspirations to be only good); if you desire to see the shadows of my mistakes and flaws that cost me so much time and heartbreak — the stories in my father’s eyes will tell  all.

(His eyes are blue and honest.  The man lacks all capacity to tell a lie.  And if ever he discovers himself in the unsettling situation of having let somebody down — never due to his shortcomings but only circumstances — his hand comes up to rub the ridge above his eyebrows; sometimes, his chin.  He hates to be the cause of pain.)

All other loves of mine — are replicas, and I have spent half of my lifetime searching for the exceptional kindness with which my father treats the world.  In the beginning, I was meant to fail:  It takes a while to not take for granted the components of our parents’ characters which, with our own older years, begin to make us proud.  Identity compiles its layers with our exposure to the world; but the very roots of our goodness can only lead to those who gave us life and hopefully our first opinions of it.  Their goodness — is our very, and most important, homecoming.  And if I had to choose my only prayer for this world, I’d ask for every prodigal child to find their way back home, through forgiveness, wherein lies the discovery of what was missing all along.  It always lies in our parents’ souls.

(There are two folds, now permanent, at the medial edge of father’s eyebrows.  In those, he carries his concerns for those lives that he has vowed to protect.  In them, I see the weight of manhood, his duty and his sacrifice.  The endless rays of lines at the outer edges of my father’s eyes.  How easily they bring him back to lightness!  My father lives in constant readiness to bond over the common human goodness and delight.  He’d rather smile, for life, and not brace himself to witness his child’s or the children of others’ pain.  He’d rather give and then dwell in that specific peacefulness that happens after generosity — and not be helpless at relieving someone of their deprivation.)

The whole of lifetime, I can recall the never failing access to my gratitude.  In childhood, I couldn’t name it yet:  I never needed any reasons or explanations for the lightness of those days.  My adolescent years posed a question about the qualities that made me differ from my contemporaries; and when I watched my friends make their choices, while inheriting the patterns of their parents, I started wondering about the source of what made me lighter on my feet and ready for adventure.  I was different, but what was really the cause of it?

(My father lives in readiness to be childlike.  When new things capture his imagination, I can foresee the eyes of my son, when he would be continuously thrilled by the world.  Dad frowns a bit when he attempts to comprehend new things, but never in a burdened way:  So intently he tries to comprehend the world, he thinks hard and quickly to get to the very main point of every new event and person, the central apparatus of every previously unknown bit of technology and invention.  And then, he speaks, while studying your face for signs of recognition.  To honor others with his complete understanding — is crucially important to that man!)

It would be gratitude, as I would name it later:  The main quality of my father’s character that made me — that made us — different from others.  The privilege of life never escaped my self-awareness.  Just breathing seemed to be enough.

In the beginning years of my adulthood, which had to strike our family quite prematurely, I started aching on behalf of seemingly the whole world:  I wished for human dignity.  We needn’t much in order to survive, but to survive with dignity — was what I wished upon myself and everyone I loved (and by my father’s fashion — I LOVED the world and wished it well!).  And then, when life would grant me its adventures, however tiny or grandiose, the force of gratitude would make me weep.  Then, I would rest in my humility and try to pay it forward, to others.

(No bigger thrill my father knows in life than to give gifts.  They aren’t always luxurious, but specific.  They come from the erudite knowledge of his every beloved that my father gains through life.  Sometimes, all it takes is someone’s equal curiosity toward a piece of beauty — and this magnificent man (my father!) would do anything to capture just a token of it and give it as a gift.  He looks at someone’s eyes when they are moved by beauty, and in his own, I see approval and the highest degree of pleasure.

And I have yet to know another person who accepts his gifts more humbly than my father; because in life, IT ALL MATTERS.  No detail must be taken for granted and no reward can be expected.  So, when kindness is returned to my father by others, he is seemingly surprised.  But then, he glows at the fact that all along, he had been right, about the world:  That everyone is good!)

And that’s the mark that father leaves upon the world.  He never chose a life with an ambition to matter, but to commit specific acts of goodness — is his only objective.  With time that has been captured in my father’s photographs, I see his own surrender to the chaos and sometimes tragic randomness of life.  And so, to counteract it, he long ago chose to be good.

It is an honor to have been born his child.

“And She’s Never Seen with Pin Curls in Her Hair.”

It would take her years to process the truth.  Not the truth of the last moment:  Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt.  She was upping the ante, that day.  Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying.  (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)

And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years.  No, not his truth:  The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time.  So that he could continue to have it both ways.  Both women.

But how much more time could a man need?  He had already taken six years out of her life.  Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.

When they first met, she still had a cherubic face:  The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self.  Her better self:  The self before the sans six years had happened.  It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.

But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage.  It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention.  Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter.  On every loop, their faces changed.  Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other:  And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end.  In the truth of that last moment, and beyond.  After six years, she would have changed a man.  She had happened to him.  And after her happening, he had to have changed.

She failed to change him for the better.  She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice.  For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home.  She would remain a fantasy.  The Other Woman:  The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest.  The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had.  His life’s first choice.

In literature, women like her were despised.  They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues.  Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering.  They were insecure, although often very beautiful.  Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays.  They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals.  They fed themselves on leftovers of loves.  The paupers.  The self-imposed outcasts.  And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.

“A bright girl!” she had been called before.  A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot.  But it would take her years:  because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind.  Good enough to deserve love.

Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth.  Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately.  Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined:  In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself.  He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways.  That he deserved — both women.

The truth was to be found in the initial intention:  The root of the matter.  He never wanted her for keeps.  An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life.  In his chosen wife.  That was the matter:  He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman.  He deserved both.

The problem was:  She was a good woman.  A good girl.  “A bright one”.  And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her.  So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay.  To be the back-up.  He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.

And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman:  that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars.  The pauper.  The disregarded.

She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that?  So, he wouldn’t.  He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self.  And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.

But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante:  He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all.  She left him to his chosen life.

And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.

But hers — was a whole another story:

Of yet Another Woman.

“When You Got Nothing — You Got Nothing To Lose.”

I was studying the face of a good man the other night…

“You jump to conclusions too fast,” my father would have said had I told him this story.  “Too trusting — that’s your problem.”

Dad is fearful, especially as a parent; and I can’t really judge the guy for that.  History has played a hideous prank on his country and his life, and it continues treating him and his people as dispensable.  Surely, there cannot be a bigger heartbreak than that.  There cannot be a bigger absurdity.  And I can’t really blame the poor guy caught in the midst of a Kafka play.  

So, I forgive him for his limitations, his shortcomings, his imposing fearfulness.  Instead, I stretch the boundaries of my unconditional love — of my compassion — and I choose to think of him as a good man.

My father — is a good, good man.

But I would never tell him this story:

I was studying the face of a good man the other night.  I barely knew him, but not once had I wondered whether he had made his share of mistakes in life, his share of missteps.  I suppose I was certain he had.  But they mattered little in that moment.

Because I chose to think of him as a good, good man.

(I AM too trusting — that’s my problem.)

And I listened.

He spoke to me of his travels, of leaving his doubts, vanity and fears behind; and biking across the country with nothing but a backpack and a camera.

He told me about the perseverance of the body if only one could control the mind.  In survival, he said, there was a chronic juxtaposition of reflexes versus fragility.  And when confronting the most basic needs, there was a balance and a great humility.

And there was beauty in the defeat of despair with one’s courage, in the elation of that success; and in the overall simplicity of living.

“What a good man!” I thought.  “What a good, good man!”

The road threw him for a loop a number of times, but he told me about the clarity of the mind if one was traveling light.

“It’s a good thing I hit the road without any expectations,” he told me.

It made sense.

He spoke about having no possessions to weight down his choices and no expectations.  Neither were there any grudges or resentments against humanity — others’ or his own.  His journey was not a conquest:  Not a thing dictated by the ego.  So, he traveled with a lesser emotional baggage, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.

His only responsibility on the road — was his family.  He would have been a lot more reckless, it seemed, had it not been for the nightly on-line messages that he promised to send their way.  And so he would.  No matter the difficulties of the day, no matter the survivals and the defeats, the despair and the courage, he would telegraph his experiences home.  And these letters — his road journals, the confessions of a transcendent mind — were the only threads leading back to the people he loved.

(I chuckled.  I would never tell my father this story:  He’d find me too trusting.  That’s my problem.)

“What made you do this thing in the first place?” I asked.

The humble badass smiled at me as if he could read the answer on my face — my good, good face — and he said:

“Because the one thing I know — is that I cannot stop knowing.”

And so, I was studying the face of a good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

My life — was not the life of my father:  I had bigger control over my circumstances; enough control to allow myself the occasional hubris of assuming that I was a person of consequence.  I could make choices, you see.  Unlike my father — my good, good father — I could choose my situations, or even change them.  And I had the luxury of freedom:  to pursue my life’s ambitions and to continue “knowing”; to continue learning.

Somehow, I had made the choice — to be good, in life.  There had been plenty of situations that tested my ethics before.  Yet even in defeat, in shame, in pain, I could always return to the track of goodness.  I could always see my way back to redemption.  Because even though my life was not my father’s, my ethics — were indeed his.

And my father — was always a good, good man.

And so, I was studying the face of a good, good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

“But I just can’t forgive myself,” my father had confessed a number of times.  “That’s my problem.”

Alas:  That was the main difference between my father’s character and my own.  I always chose to travel lightly, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.  I chose to have the power of self-forgiveness.   And I could always see my way back to redemption.

“You See: Everybody — Is Somebody. But Nobody Wants To Be Themselves.”

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming,” he said, holding too lengthy of a pause for an effect.

What he wasn’t realizing was that the habit of breaking-up his thoughts with these loaded silences shot down any effect he was aiming for:  It deflated the importance of his statements, and any urgency in his inspirational speech — to a room full of actors — was going out of the windows.

Although, come to think of it, there weren’t any windows in the joint at all:  We were packed into a black-box theatre of a classroom, like an army of revolutionaries planning a revolt in a basement, somewhere in the jungles of South America.  Everyone was an artist of sorts; quite a few writers — and even a spoken word poetess (she was rad!).

There was a handful of newbies in the room:  You could tell by the way they surveyed everyone with their impressionable and somehow petrified glances.  (Oh, to be new to the chaos of LA!  I wouldn’t want to relive that joy.)  The rest of us — were seasoned residents of the city, not yet veterans of the industry.  But we had all been around the block by now — around several blocks, actually, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

Some seemed jaded, and they sized-up all the previous speakers while never uncrossing their arms for the entirety of a 2-hour lecture.  There were some that loved to hear the sound of their voice; so, every question of theirs turned into a tiny, brooding monologue.  An older actress from Chicago, a bit tipsy from the free wine, had been hollering from the front row as if she were listening to gospel:  Such humanity!  (She was rad!)

Pretty girls — of those, there was plenty.  That’s the one thing guaranteed in LA-LA:  Perpetual beauty that either humbles and inspires — or saddens with its dispensability.

Anyway, he was saying:

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming.” 

The guy was quite tall, slightly on the stocky side.  His non-immaculately white shirt was untucked, with its top half unbuttoned down to his undershirt, also non-white.  He wore jeans and insecurities galore.

Half way through the evening, he took over the job of announcing the speakers from the evening’s MC.

“Who IS this guy?” I caught myself thinking every time he got up, lingered by the director’s chair in the middle of the stage and hogged our time with his prolonged, miserable pauses.

Standing in the corner of a packed room, I had been studying the audience for nearly two hours.  There were a couple of faces I recognized.  A few seemed quite familiar; but then again, as a seasoned resident of LA-LA, you begin to lose track of origins.  And you catch yourself thinking:

“Do I know you?”

“Have we met in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city?”

“Have I seen you in a commercial, or in a waiting room for that commercial’s audition?”

“Or, have I simply bumped into you while we both circled around the blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots?”

A man with Jeremy Irons’ face caught my attention, in a corner of the classroom.  You don’t forget a face like that.  (He was rad!)  But then again, I’d been around the block too many times by now — around many blocks, actually — and I had long begun losing track of origins.

“So… you just gotta…” the man in a non-immaculately white shirt was hanging onto his silences, on stage.

He made some sort of a peculiar gesture with his hand.

The speakers who had preceded him — not necessarily seasoned residents of LA-LA, but definitely veterans of the industry — were quite inspiring.  Passionate, eccentric and honest, they had spoken of their love for the art — and their advocacy of the artists.  They — were rad!

It’s an unusual thing here, in this city.  Back in New York, packed into black-box theaters, one comes to expect talks about the art of it all.  Because there, we prefer to be think of ourselves as craftsmen — artists of sorts — not businesspeople.

But in LA-LA — it’s all about the business!  And in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city, we agree to collect the crumbs of information qualified as networking.

“Because you never know!” they tell us.

So, you learn to surrender.  You better!

You better surrender to the unexplainable chaos of the industry.  You better learn to accept yourself as a seasoned resident of this city.  You better let go of all expectations and stop counting the favors and the debts other people owe you:  No one owes you jack shit!

It takes time and an open mind — to survive here.

It takes a passionate heart to keep bringing the craft into the rooms full of businesspeople; and that heart has got to keep at it, despite having been around several blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

It takes discipline and humility to become a working artist — a veteran of the industry — not just a seasoned, bitter resident.

It takes a love — for the art!

And my own happiest discovery about the business is that thankfully, it still takes GRATITUDE — to persevere.

Good Woman Down — and Up! Up! Up!

Define “good”.  I bet cha you can’t.  Well, not precisely.  Not on the dot, not really.

You will grapple with your memories of what it must’ve felt like — to be “good” — but you won’t really know what moved you, to be that way.  To make that choice.  Maybe it was something your parents have taught you (or whoever made up for your parents).  But all you will manage, at best — is to spew out a few other ambitious words, or juxtapose “good” against antonyms, equally as vague and forsaken.

“It’s the opposite of that…  You’ll know it when you see it!” you conclude, perhaps impatiently.

Maybe, you’ll have better chances at recollecting memories of when “good” was being done to you:  Because it’s always easier to accept, than to give it.  Not many protest when they are submerged into someone else’s “goodness”.  (Well, at least, not until the self-loathing kicks-in, and they start splashing around in it, like a hysterical woman in a jacuzzi, making a fuss about her hair.)

Some of you will go full-fledged to religion or philosophy:  Someone surely must’ve written about “goodness”, even if they’ve forsaken it right after.  Oh maybe, poets have captured it, that wretched lot of humanity!

“I know this, I know this!” some of you will slap your foreheads and snap your fingers in space, as if trying to remember a name of an actor from one of those black-and-white movies we’ve all agreed to treat as a masterpiece.  Or that tune — “What’s the name of it?  I know this, I know this!” — and it’ll get stuck in your head for hours after.

And many of you will smile, while searching for the answers.  Yep.  Experts say it takes extra muscles to smileanother degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  Kind of like “goodness”, no?

The other day, I had frantically reached for the definition of “my goodness” to the woman, who, on this planet, besides my motha, has known me the longest.  For years, this relationship was based on having nothing to prove to each other; and having nothing to need.  No matter my own idiotic choices throughout our history, she had never offered up a judgement:  Because she is “good” like that.

As before, she took her time answering, just so she could do it precisely.  On the dot.  Because she is “good” like that!  She couldn’t have known that my urgent need for her reassurance had come from an accusation by a scorned lover.  (Oh my goodness!)  I waited for her response.

In the mean time, I went off to stumble around my day in a state of some sort of walking sleep.  I bounced between my commitments, occasionally pulling over to the side of the road to jot down lists of “good thing” — things I was grateful for; things that I was hoping to discover later, just so that I could be grateful again.

I stopped by a girlfriend’s office:  She had been missing me, she said.  Always a stunner, this time around she looked even sharper.

“Sorry, I’m such a mess,” I said in comparison, pulled up my dress, then zipped up my jacket to hide it altogether.

“Nah,” she said, chewing on the black cherries I’ve brought her.  “I dig this look on you.”

She was busy.  I drove off.  In traffic, my phone lit up with her name:

“U r always so good to me!” said the text.

I felt dizzy.  Pulled over.  Jotted down a few things.  Remembered I needed food, got myself to the closest store.  In the “Canned Goods” aisle, I suddenly felt the urge to weep:  Months ago, in the same store, in a similar aisle, my departed lover had confronted me — with goodness:

“Look at you,” he had come upon me unexpectedly.  “Smiling at strangers.”

Clutching my random future purchase, I stared at the labels.  A gorgeous girl with a headful of Grecian curls reached around me:

“‘Scuse me,” she smiled.  I smiled simultaneously despite my face feeling exhausted.  Sorry:  I’m such a mess.  I watched her choose a can of hominy beans (not chickpeas!) and smiled again:

“‘Scuse me?”

She looked back — “Yes?” — and smiled.  (Damn:  That’s pretty!)

“Your tag’s sticking out,” I said, and without waiting for her to feel embarrassed, I reached for the back of her neck and fixed it.

In my car, I took a few bites of the food:  Not feeling it.  Jotted a few more “good things” down.  Started the car, pulled out, waited for all the pedestrians to cross.  (They tend to look so disoriented, in this city.)  Started driving, pulled over again.  Got out, grabbed my lunch; walked over to a man reading a newspaper in the bushes, with a nearby parked shopping cart.

“Hey, Keith,” I said.

Keith raised his face.  Sweat was dripping off his face and onto the newspaper.  He looked unusually bewildered.

“You want this?  I just bought it.  Not feeling it.”

I unloaded my hands into the shopping cart, and without waiting for him to feel embarrassed, got back into my car.

Three locks to get into my apartment:  One down, two to go.  Matching the keys to the keyholes, I was trying to keep myself upright.

“V!” a kid stormed out of his apartment down the hall.  He always storms out — out!  around! — and he speaks in exclamation points.  Already in the midst of some anecdote, as if we didn’t have a couple of days since seeing each other last, he was making me laugh.  But I was still playing the matching puzzle of the keys to the holes.

“Where are you going?!  What are you doing?!”

I laughed.  “I gotta do some work, silly goose.”  (In truth, I was just anxious to find the definition of “my goodness” — precisely, on the dot — on the screen of my laptop.)

“Well, lemme take a picture of you!”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I’m such a mess!”

“Nah!  You kidding!  I dig this whole look on you!” — and without waiting for me to feel embarrassed, out came the kid’s iPhone.

He stormed out.  I decoded my locks.  In the darkness of my apartment, while I was waiting on my laptop, the phone lit up with a text:

“…and you deserve all the best!  All the best!”

The kid.

I smiled.  

Experts say it takes extra muscles to smile — another degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  

Kind of like “goodness”.  

Yes.