Stop telling me to smile!
I learned very early how to “turn my frown upside down.”
My family life was tumultuous at times. As an adult, I still wonder if any other families also saved their worst fights for the car. Shit always went down in our car. Maybe it was because we were all trapped together in an enclosed space or maybe it was because our vehicle was one of the few places that gave us complete privacy. I don’t know. What I do know is that no matter what was going on inside that speeding metal box, the minute we reached our destination it was time for all of us to plaster smiles on our faces. My mother was an expert at this. She could transform from a mascara-smeared-puffy-faced mess to Miss America in the time it took my dad to find a parking space. I learned that regardless of how I was actually feeling, it was more important to save face and to make everyone think that everything was fine.
I got so good at it. The morning after my parents had told me they were divorcing, I bawled my eyes out all the way to school. As soon as we pulled up to the drop-off line for Brookville Middle, I brushed away my tears, put on some Lipsmackers chapstick, and popped out of the vehicle smiling like I’d just scratched off a winning lottery ticket.
Sometimes I would even practice looking happy in the mirror just to make sure that I was convincing. I saw it as being strong. I believed that being able to put on a happy face meant that I was tough and I prided myself on being so. Plus, I had heard that no one wants to be friends with a “negative Nancy.” My upbeat attitude and non-stop jokes meant that the cool kids even let me sit at their lunch table every once in a while. Let’s be real, I was a chubby theatre-geek; possessing a happy-go-lucky gait was extremely important for my social life. So I clung to my jolly façade for a long time. Even now, I catch myself smiling for others out of obligation.
I’m not the only one who’s been ingrained with the ‘just smile’ mantra. In fact, our society sends us this message repeatedly. I Google searched “smile” and I got a steady stream of quotes that all pretty much say the same thing. “Smile. No matter what.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against being happy. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever smile. What I am saying is that I have heard far too many people apologize for not being happy. “I’m sorry” escapes the lips of a grieving widow. “I apologize for my outburst,” says the man who just got laid off. The recent divorcee’ in the middle of a mental breakdown exclaims, “Please excuse me, I’m just not myself today!”
Why do we feel the need to ask forgiveness for being human?At Rooted, this is written on the wall. Not surprisingly, I never did find it in my Google searches. It reminds me that within those walls, I never have to fake it. When I’m in the studio, I never have to “save face” or smile to make others more comfortable. When I’m at Rooted, I don’t have to apologize for anything that I feel and I don’t have to seek forgiveness for being human.