First, let us say we have thoroughly enjoyed what other bloggers involved in this challenge have written as precursors to their actual blog! The inspirations, the motivations, the circumstances that brought them to post. It’s really cool and great. We have not shared those types of things because our experience is so diverse and always changing that we can’t say “it was this…” or “this always inspires.” But today, for this blog, we will tell you that the words of our beloved (and we mean beloved) Aunt Tommie have been swimming in our souls and head for awhile. And it is how she defined the word “ugly” and thereby encouraged us to use it similarly. Hence, this blog.
Aunt Tommie always said, “Pretty is as pretty does.” She probably stole it from someone else, but her sincerity in saying it carried a wallop. And she would have gladly attributed it to the original speaker had she known who said it. She was like that. But the real point is, if we called our sister names, or acted out with the intent to harm or hurt, to make ourselves “look” better or superior, she would pull us aside and say that phrase, “pretty is as pretty does,” and then add, “Please don’t act ugly.”
Being a kid, we weren’t quite sure what she meant, but we knew it brought a look of concern and sadness to her face when we name-called or gloated over someone else’s misfortune that we didn’t like. We never asked her about ugly, but we sure figured it out when we became the recipient of someone else acting ugly towards us. We cried and cried to her at the cruelty and the injustice of it since we didn’t know what we had done to warrant such hatred from the person. She listened quietly, had us go over our day step by step at school before we were attacked verbally. Aunt Tommie was so very wise. What it came down to was we had won the award in our class for having had perfect spelling test scores for a month straight, beating out the competition (which by the way, we didn’t know we had, much less cared about) and being slandered as soon as class was dismissed and we were all out on the playground. We heard “teacher’s pet” and “you know she had to cheat to do that well because she’s so stupid in other subjects” and such comments. The comments were agreed upon by the person’s minions who never passed a spelling quiz–but who cared? They beat us out in times tables. To each his own. Aunt Tommie’s comment when this had been nailed down? “People act ugly when they are embarrassed. Or sometimes when they know someone else can do something they can’t. Instead of being happy for someone else, they act ugly to make you look ugly. Isn’t that sad, honey? Such a pretty and smart girl to act so ugly to you. That girl needs a friend to show her how NOT to act ugly.” And she shook her head sadly. We were young enough to understand what she was saying. We could see the ugly she was talking about. And we had not had hatred and vengeance take root in our young lives yet. It made us aware, wanting to avoid acting ugly at all costs.
We grew older, saw more, experienced more. We saw ugly take many shapes and forms. We rarely thought of “pretty is as pretty does” until it was thrust upon us in our teens. Suddenly, everything was about being pretty, looking good, being in style, hair done according to current styles. It was EXHAUSTING! We were skinny. We wore home-made clothes or hand-me-downs. Our knees were always sporting scabs, we chewed our nails down to the quick, and our hands had callouses from yard work and housework. In short, after almost a whole school year of trying to “look good,” we resigned from the pretty group, never having been included anyway. With our particular circumstances and home life, with us being a we, it was just not feasible and became unimportant. And one of the reasons why was because we had other ugly things in our lives to contend with. We had been sexually abused, so we were “dirty,” i.e., ugly. We had been repeatedly told we were “stupid.” Phrases like “you’re as useless as tits on a boar hog” were hurled at us. Once more, we qualified as ugly. Being used, called stupid, never being good enough–yeah, we felt ugly–we knew we were ugly. Regardless that the words were sent to us via ugly acting people. Still, we picked our battles. And with Aunt Tommie’s words coming back to us now, so much later, we weren’t angels, but we didn’t try to return ugly for ugly. And so being “pretty”? Not a priority to us.
We so ignored being “pretty” that we rarely were in pictures, for a number of reasons. We never recognized ourselves for one thing, and it was so much easier to just be invisible, not be noticed, just retreat into learning and reading and our love for animals. We had a natural affinity for those who were considered “ugly” by the world’s standards. As we got even older, we would hear people talk about how ugly someone’s new baby was–and how sad. Sad? We could look on the newborn, misshapen or flawed and honestly smile and say, “Oh my gawd how precious!” Because every newborn human or animal is precious! We dare you to say otherwise! While others gossiped and acted ugly with their petty judgments, we did, we do see beauty. No, we aren’t saints–but why slander a defenseless child or animal? No need to act ugly.
Aunt Tommie died. We know she is reminding us to not act ugly, offering compassion instead. She was a love child and hippie long before we were! But we were discouraged with the state of affairs, a bad marriage, our children suffering at the hand of their father and were up late, watching the movie, “The Green Mile.” John Coffey is facing execution and Tom Hanks, playing the senior officer, asks him if there is anything he can do to make it easier as he knows John is not guilty and will die unjustly and unfairly. John says, “I’m tired boss. I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.” It had been years–literally YEARS–since we had heard that said aloud. The tears rolled down our cheeks. We were tired, too, John. Tired of people being ugly to each other.
Now, we are coming full circle–ergo, this long blog. We who avoid having our picture taken, were caught up in the joy of an afternoon exploration of an older part of a city, feeling free to let our people enjoy every bit of being with a trusted and loved companion, and allowing our picture to be made with her. Later, still basking in the absolutely wonderful feelings, she posted the picture. We were aghast. We had to see how old we were, how awful we looked, how this couldn’t be us! But it was. It is. Full circle? “Pretty” had not been on the agenda for eons. We saw the ugly physicality of our body and wished to be invisible again. We were embarrassed for our friend, having us wander with her, and her never seeming affected by our ugliness. We emailed her, thanking her for allowing us to be with her out in public and apologizing at the same time. She responded our body is not what she loves, but us. We can believe her, in that she doesn’t lie or placate us–she is too honest to do that. And we thought about how and why we joined Writers of Kern. It was not to be seen physically, but to have our words read, heard, and be a part of something that doesn’t look for a pretty body, but rather an open mind and beautiful words expressing the mind and soul of another. But we’ve not always measured up as we have forgotten to dress appropriately to different events there and have caught the eye of those who are conscious of such things. It was not intentional but it happened. So we have laughed to ease their discomfort, disparaging our lack of style/dress to put them at ease and cover our embarrassment at thinking the writing was more important than the presentation physically. We have to accept that we are old and to the world, ugly. That will keep people from seeing us or hearing us–the true selves we are. Our selves have been judged for the DID, for our dress, for our sensitivities, for our speaking out. It’s okay. And now we have to live with the added judgement that we appear old and ugly, when inside, we have empathy, caring, and love to give immeasurably. Ugly outside is not ugly inside.
We understand. We get it. But we will not harbor ugly thoughts or actions. We are not color-blind. We are not unaware. But we see the little girl who is “pretty” being talked to while the filthy little girl with the stained and torn clothing, the disheveled hair, is avoided. Which is truly “pretty”? With children–probably both have kind hearts and beautiful souls. We think about this. We are sad for the surface world we live in. So why blog about it? Because we are “ugly” physically and we will hide behind our thoughts that are not ugly as we write, hoping you will not just see the body. Yes, John Coffey, we are ever so tired of people being ugly to each other. And ever so grateful to those who see and care and will always be beautiful.