Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Positive from Negative

When I was in high school, I was confused to discover that so many great writers suffered from bad choices of one sort or another—alcohol, drugs, affairs, etc. What was up with that! Coming from parents who taught that good people have good lives, I was left with the conclusion that I was studying the works of bad people! I was wrong, of course. And so were my parents. Perfection is not a fertile goal in people or lives.

First, the definition of a good person or a good life is controversial. I had learned a good person never breaks the traditional rules. We don’t seem to honor such goodness in real life, if we ever truly did. Consider the secret sex lives of the Puritans! In fact, often misbehavior results in benevolent, empathetic people. I think of Danny Trejo, a convicted felon. FINDING YOUR ROOTS (S9, E4), disclosed that he was helping deal drugs by age seven before he joined a gang without seeing much choice around him. What I didn’t know was how he became an actor. Once out of prison many years later, he got off drugs and alcohol by his own choice. At the request of an actor he was sponsoring, he accompanied him to a film set to support his sobriety. When Trejo’s rugged face and tattooed body caught attention, he was asked, “Can you act like a convict?” He said he was a professional, and he ended up in the film—the first of many. He stumbled into a lucrative career by helping someone else. He has continued helping now that he has resources.

Later, I watched the bio-pic RESPECT about the life of Aretha Franklin, reputedly the Queen of Soul, starring Jennifer Hudson. When Franklin was only ten, a guest at one of her famous preacher father’s parties entered her bedroom and raped her. (The image of a pregnant ten-year-old was sobering.) She survived, but her self-respect was permanently damaged. Singing was her only voice. (No wonder she could sing “Respect” with such vehemence.) The next portion of her life was as confused and full of upheaval as she was, as she married an insecure, abusive husband, buried herself in civil rights activism, and eventually became bitterly dependent on alcohol. The appeal of her music was described as being due to the unfettered, all-powerful heart and soul behind her unique singing style and arrangements. She sang her pain. Her shadowy days helped her discover the value of unconditional love and community embodied in her new husband, her family, and her reinforced faith. Her greatest album, according to sales, was Amazing Grace, which she dedicated to gospel music and God. She was able to lift people she would never meet.

Condemnation is popular these days, going as far as frequent massacres of people who are deemed unsuitable. The assumption is that there is a high level of being and behavior we can demand of others, regardless of where we might fit on the perfection scale (i.e. “I may be a loser by most assessments, but at least I’m…white, native-born American, straight, officially Christian, male, etc.). The fact remains that great acting, music, art, or literature arises from a deep interior experience, one that is inspired and informed by hard times and self-reflection. Life is based on learning and learning comes from coping with difficulties. Some would say the only reason we’re on this earth is to learn and grow. Jennifer Hudson could play Aretha Franklin beautifully because she has a gorgeous, malleable voice supported by her own life tragedies. When we advance morally, emotionally, and/or intellectually from our misfortunes, they change emotional valence to become positive influences.

3 comments on “Positive from Negative

  1. Frances Sullivan
    January 28, 2023

    Beautiful writing and inspiring message as always. Hope you are well. F

    • I’m doing well, working on the second draft of my novel RETURN TICKET about a man and his life after an NDE. I’m waiting for the first feedback now. When it’s more polished, I’ll send you a copy via email, if you wish.

      • Frances Sullivan
        February 2, 2023

        Wonderful news! I would love that. Thank you!

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