April 24, 2012 § 8 Comments
Just when I thought I was going to grow up for good and let go of my, well, what was it? What could I call it? I simply did not understand it in my teens or my twenties. Was I addicted to singer Tom Jones? Was Tom my crack cocaine? I always had an innate need to understand things, and I just didn’t understand. I didn’t know what it was.
It was more than appreciating and loving the sound of Jones’ voice. It was more than being a fan. It was more than a flirtation. It was more than an attraction. It was more than a dream. It was more than a fantasy. What I learned decades later while earning a Master’s in clinical psychology is that Tom Jones played the important role of being an object of transition for a sensitive young girl who needed something, someone to help her make it through the night… and day, which turned into days, then weeks, months, and years.
Tom became my safe port in a storm of bullying, my go-to-guy from just plain insensitive people. They sent me into withdrawal which, combined with my sensitive nature, led to agoraphobia. He gave me hope that someday a caterpillar could become a butterfly; he gave me courage to do things I would do for no one else.
The Voice became my voice, expressing every emotion I felt – hurt, pain, and sorrow to love, joy, and hope. I carried it with me everywhere. I never imagined that Jones’ accessibility would lead to transitional emotional growth. He had a transformative effect on my life. That’s right, Sir Tom Jones! You grew me up in a way no one would ever dream or imagine… except maybe a therapist and object relations’ theorists.
After I put all of my life in Tomjoneville in a big brown packing box and carried it to my garage with eyes moist with tears, ready to give it all up – cold turkey – I found myself invited right back into that world. And I couldn’t say “No.” Yet, I was beginning to acknowledge, ever so gently to myself mind you, how limited that world had become. My sights were resetting and my vision of what might be possible in my future began to hope and dream beyond Tomjonesville. I could see a future far beyond what my delayed development and all that it entailed could see in those early young years. But Jones was at Knott’s Berry Farm to tape a TV special and his management liked to pack the house with fans and friends, so like a TJ Trooper, I asked Rose to join me for two nights of potential adventures.
As I dressed for the venue’s first night in my jeans and tube top – oh, hold on, I must digress! Who invented the tube top? Wikipedia, authority of all things pop culture and beyond, claims it was “invented by American World War II veteran Murray Kleid,” a womens’ accessories manufacturer in New York City. Why am I not surprised it was a man? It was a hot fashion statement in the 70s, but I wonder how in the world I had the nerve to wear a tube top? It seems like such a dangerous piece of clothing, if you could even call it clothing. It was just a small band of elastic-like cloth, kind of like a fabric cuff for breasts. The tube top fell into the small amount of attention-seeking clothes I only wore around the singer, like the hot pants jumpsuit I wore in Vegas, which was retired the moment I returned from that trip.
My ritual of getting dressed for any TJ show involved listening to The Voice blaring on the stereo, and I distinctly remember pausing when I heard Tom sing “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” (song by Percy Sledge). The lyrics, “And am I wrong trying to hold on/ To the best thing I ever had” were messing with my mind. Was I wrong in trying to hold on to the best thingI everhad?
My mother intuitively knew he was the best thing in my life for a particular period of time. I am so very grateful she knew. She knew and I survived. However, my new goals of love, marriage, and family – things I never dared dream about until after the singer provided me with a corrective emotional experience, because I was so sure I was too tall, too skinny, too undesirable, too sensitive, too fearful, too immature, too this, and too that – now fought with my life in Tomjonesville. What was a six-foot-two, eyes-of-blue, everybody-sees-this-gal kinda girl gonna do? What I always did when Tom Jones came to town. I would make myself known.
Even though my best friend Rosie and I never made it to Las Vegas like we had planned, we did manage to drive to Knottsberry Farm in style. We zipped up to Buena Park, home of Knott’s Berry Farm, on the gritty, jam-packed 5 freeway in a cinnamon-red Mercedes Benz 450 SL. We laughed out loud as we reminisced about the wild and wooly Tom Jones limo chase in our not-so-distant past (see The Tom Jones Limo Chase posts, Parts 1 & 2). And then we felt guilty and a bit embarrassed. Shame on us. I might have even sung Shirley & Company’s “Shame Shame Shame”: Don’t stop the motion/If you get the notion/You can’t stop the groove/’Cos you just won’t move/Got my sun-roof down/Got my diamonds in the back…I say shame, shame, shame, yeah shame on you. (Written by Sylvia Robinson)
I must admit some of the Knott’s Berry Farm taping is a blur because as excited as I was to see Tom Jones perform, I was also going through a deeply personal process. I remember we had good seats and a good time both nights. And the best part of being at a taping of a TV show is that there are breaks, and when there are breaks Tom pauses and chats up the audience. “Hellooo Mr. Jooones,” was my mental note to his notice, and the next thing I knew we were engaged in that typical Tom Jonesian silly/funny “Come hither, my luv” banter.
Of course, when the singer kissed me stage-side, I felt the earth move, but it wasn’t an earthquake. I felt the stars tumbling, but there weren’t any falling stars. I was still inside Knott’s Berry Farm, and I realized that being in Tomjonesville would always be exciting. My emotions ran amok. I realized this thing, this thing I didn’t understand, could go on forever. When the first night’s taping was over, Rosie gushed about how much fun it was. As usual, I was good at hiding what I was really feeling and joined in the goodtime talk even though I was completely distracted by my inner world. As we drove home in the darkness we both agreed how wonderful it was that we could do it all over again the next night. In the words of the yet unborn Britney, “Oh baby, baby.”
Sleep was a stranger that night because years of emotions and attachment to Tom Jones completely overwhelmed me. He had been like a secret companion since I was sixteen; someone I saw only occasionally, but carried with me everywhere. I actually sat in bed and read old poetry and lyrics I had collected that evoked or expressed the myriad emotions I felt about loneliness and rejection, the results of being bullied, and the saving grace of the singer who saved me. Would I ever forget “In Loneliness” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal show, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness and a silence. Jones was that voice in my darkness.
Then there was Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” which so beautifully, yet painfully, sings to adolescent angst: To those of us who knew the pain/ Of Valentines that never came/ And those whose names were never called/ When choosing sides for basketball/ It was long ago and far away/ The world was younger than today/ When dreams were all they gave for free/ To ugly duckling girls like me. Ah, the need to be known and loved.
In the romanticism of the late night hours and raw emotional thankfulness for Jones and his place in my life, I was still able to recognize I was no longer withdrawn and painfully lonely. I had begun to build a small circle of friends, genuine friends with whom I am still close to today. I had worked through some of my problems, though not all. I had conquered some fears and gained some confidence. It made me feel sad and almost nauseous, but I knew what I had to do. If I wanted to continue to grow as an individual, to grow as a woman, to follow my heart and reach for the next set of goals, hopes, and dreams, I truly did have to take the next train out of Tomjonesville. And not look back.
Being with Rosie always gave me courage; she was/is a brave and adventurous person. But on our way to Knott’s Berry Farm the second night, I realized I had to put on my emotional high-heeled sneakers and give her a good time, even though I recognized that night of Jones’ TV taping would be my final hurrah with my then unknown object of transition. So off Rosie and I sped to that fateful night, slowing only for traffic in our dashing two-seater Mercedes – because (put on your best Atlanta Housewife Phaedra Parks’ voice) everybody knows, if you want to hang with the rich and famous, you have to look like the rich and famous.
The venue was packed, and Jones was quintessential Jones – delivering on cue, exciting the crowd, and singing like the legend The Voice became. When we left Knott’s Berry Farm, Rosie had no idea I was in the throes of a TJ crisis, vacillating between wanting to stay where I was, safe and more comfortable with who I had become, or letting go and moving toward the person I wanted to become. I was thankful for the changes. I was no longer that child-like, odd-girl-out misfit. Older, happier, more independent and self-accepting, though far, far from perfect, I had reached the proverbial fork in the road.
The singer who saved me had served his purpose. With deep gratitude and a heavy – or was it a heaving – heart I realized Tom Jones, the man, was no longer going to play a part in my future. I had to detach. In the wee small hours of the morning, the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars aligned and serendipity followed. Now in the heart of Bel Air, home and stomping grounds of TJ, I had my moment. In the warmth of the balmy darkness as Tom pulled my head close to his, I found myself silently saying goodbye forever… as I kissed the singer who saved me.
February 5, 2012 § 2 Comments
I am quite jealous that the British version of “The Voice” with The Voice is currently being taped in England and I cannot jet across the pond and somehow inveigle my way into the audience. Oh, hold on! Stand down Snow White! Sit still before you go all watusi on the page Long Tall Sally! The days of inveigling your way into Tom Jonesville are days gone by. (Oops, pardon the open reality check.)
Jones has mentioned that when he was growing up in Wales, it was common practice to attach your profession to your name, and I so want to honor Jones The Voice, because he played such an important and unwitting role in saving me when I was a young girl at risk. Tall, thin, teased and bullied, I withdrew from the world and found comfort, solace, and at times, my life’s blood, through the voice of singer Tom Jones.
Just by having and sharing The Voice, Jones served a far greater purpose in my life than my teenage dreams could have ever imagined, and I know that I am not alone. Others have revealed poignant stories regarding how The Voice has affected their lives. What I didn’t realize in my youth was that it was actually The Voice that carried me through the challenges in my life – not the man to whom I felt so attached. It was always The Voice that soothed my fervor brow; it was The Voice that took me from the depths of despair to thoughts of hope; it was The Voice that led me from high anxiety to moments of courage.
I like to look through a psychological lens in object relations theory, which focuses on one developing a psyche (our conscious/unconscious mind; our ego strength, or sense of self) in relationship to others. As an infant, we look to our mother to create a safe, consistent, nurturing environment, and without that sense of safety, that infant can perceive the world as not a safe place, and can develop a hypersensitivity to the outside world. Along the way to maturity, I hit a big bump in the road, and my own natural sensitivity and already tentative sense self, or weak ego strength, was completely knocked off-kilter by bullying at school. My extraordinary height for a young girl in the 60s & 70s, and naturally thin body during a time when anorexia was truly considered a disease and not a positive fashion statement, made people feel uncomfortable. The incessant need for strangers and others to constantly comment on my physicality only added salt to the self-conscious wound.
We all need something outside of ourselves to attach to, or connect with, that can help us cope with life’s uncomfortable, or difficult, or anxiety-producing challenges. An infant turns to its mother for that sense of safety. Where do you go when you are older? You go to religion and a Higher Power, philosophy or psychology, literature, art, or music. You turn to people for comfort – family, friends, teachers, mentors, religious figures, counselors, therapists, etc. Everyone thought Michael Jackson was weird to call his son Blanket, yet it ever to gently speaks to Jackson’s deep attachment needs. What helps people calm and contain their fears and anxieties? Trust and faith in something greater than themselves. Beautiful things in which they can relate, such as lyrics or the sound of music. Some people relate to the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Some find calm and comfort in the feel good feelings that come from exercise. Others find feel good feelings through connecting to other people; some find it in tattoos or other ways to objectify their feelings.
There is an endless list of possibilities of people/places/things to which you can attach that help transition you through the good and bad times in your life. My family religion was ever-present in my life experience during my youthful challenges, but The Voice came along and gave me something that was outside of the religious realm, and became an intricate part of my personal journey and salvation. I attached to The Voice.
The Voice became my warm, fuzzy security blanket that I could access at home, in the car, and carry with me in my head. As I got older and stronger, The Voice translated into the rhythm of the beat and strength in my step. The Voice became, as I mentioned in posts so long ago, my motivating mantra at a time when I really just wanted to melt into the floor or disappear into my room – or someplace else – forever. The Voice provided me with my very own Singer Saved Me exposure therapy, which I didn’t even know about or understand at the time. It was The Voice that got me outside of myself long enough to put my mother’s goals into place, and eventually set my own goals, take the steps to work toward them, and actually achieve them. And each goal required leaving the house, interacting with people, and stepping outside of my personal fears.
Why that voice? Why did I attach to that voice? Reviewers, producers, and musicians have written, or spoken, a bazillion-and-one praises and accolades regarding The Voice, which have spanned over the course of decades. I would not presume to describe Tom Jones’ voice in a new, unique way. I just know that The Voice can take you from rock and roll to a Cappella, from to pop to blues, or from light opera to country. Jones’ voice is extraordinarily versatile, and perhaps, that is the greatest gift of The Voice.
If you are very, very talented, have a variety of very, very astute people helping you along the way, and are very, very lucky in the entertainment industry, you might be able have a long career sprinkled with peaks and valleys. It is easy to remember Jones’ peaks – the hit records, the TV show, the huge fan-filled stadiums like Madison Square Garden and the LA Forum, and the 40-plus years of packed houses in Vegas. Yet, something I found endearing occurred a long time ago in the late 80s or early 90s – I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact date. I was driving my minivan, (a long, long way away from a Porsche chasing a limousine), on Harbor Boulevard in Orange County. It’s not the nicest area, and in fact, you might find a “lady of the night” wandering around in the middle of the day, and like a diamond in a brass ring, I suddenly saw the name “TOM JONES” on the sign of a small, local club that was known to have everything from punk to metal, Willy Nelson to Hall & Oates, and a lot of local unknown singers, bands, or cover bands.
As soon as I got home, I called the venue out of curiosity. “Excuse me, Galaxy Theatre, is singer Tom Jones, the Welsh singer Tom Jones, the superstar Tom Jones, THE Tom Jones actually going to perform at your club?” The ticket person said, “Yes, ma’am.” Oh Lord, have mercy. I was in shock. Tom Jones was playing at a small, local place in the OC where mostly unknowns, sprinkled with a few famous players play? Oh Lord, have mercy. I immediately called my mother to discuss how on earth he could have possibly ended up there. I asked, “Why would he play there when he has played for the Queen of England?” It boggled my mind. How could he play there when he has played at the big Pacific Amphitheatre in the same city? It was a puzzle that I tried to piece together.
After a few days in a disgruntled conundrum, I got it. Of course, I told my mother, it is all about the singing. It had to be about the singing. I believe the reason Tom played a small, unknown venue during a valley in his career was because, despite what people think about the man who had worked for years to reach superstar status, was because the singing was more important than the ego, money, or status. If I am correct, for The Voice, it is all about the singing. Perhaps it is that love, that passion, that need to sing that is the key part in his multiple resurgences over a long, long career – he has never stopped singing.
I didn’t get to see The Voice at the Galaxy Theatre, because, at that point in time, “I” had turned into “we,” and in our lives the price of a TJ ticket was the cost of a new tutu and ballet slippers – and the ballerina in my life was my #1 priority. But, I keenly remember the shock of seeing Jones’ name on the Galaxy marquee, and keenly remember the moment I realized that Tom Jones knows who he is and what he’s accomplished – he simply must sing, as it is his life’s blood. The Voice… is the singer who saved me.
April 20, 2011 § 8 Comments
How does an ordinary young girl find her place in life after a superstar has, even in the most miniscule way in the eyes of the world, touched her life? At nineteen, being kissed by singer Tom Jones only served to solidify my purpose in life, which was to meet him. Imagine every song that memory could recall that had the word “kiss” in it, and you could imagine what was going on in the limbic system of my brain. Songs like “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” sung by Mel Carter, “Then He Kissed Me,” sung by The Crystals, and most especially, “Kiss,” sung by Marilyn Monroe flittered around in my head like butterflies. The really good ones like “Kiss,” by Prince and later covered Jones, hadn’t even been written.
While other teens were socializing, studying in college, working, partying, and living the MTV life before there was MTV, I was attending school part-time, hiding in my room, and trying to figure out how to make Tom Jones fall in love with me so that I could feel beautiful, worthy, and, well, loved. I knew there was something wrong with this picture, but it was the only picture in town, so to speak. And since life seemed so limited, and I was living this narrow life in sepia-colored hues compared to others my age, Tom Jones added the Technicolor to what was my personal version of Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Pleasantville.
But of course, in order to make Mr. Jones fall in love with me, I had to meet him. And this is where that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it,” comes into play (attributed to the short story, “Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs). Because of my genuine, but failed, effort to nominate Jones for a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, the “Tom’s Booster’s” Fan Club president asked me to be the contact person with Tom’s road manager for a “meet and greet” when he came to play at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
What? Be still my palpitating 19-year-old heart! I AM GOING TO MEET TOM JONES? Oh, my God. (That’s how we said it in the old days, when we didn’t have the modern, abbreviated version of OMG.) My first thoughts were that this is what I’ve dream of, what I’ve hoped for, what I’ve put out in the universe as an intention, and is actually my wish come true. I am going to meet the man who has occupied a good portion of my mind when I was sad and lonely, and whose voice resonated through my being, lifting me up, and sending endorphins throughout my body. Mr. Jones = Mr. Excitement = Mr. Feel Good. Not in a sleazy way – in a positive mental health kind of way.
But wait – do you hear the sound of tires screeching in their tracks? There was just one problem. At nineteen, I was still shy and afraid of my shadow. How on earth was I going to arrange a meeting a superstar? How was I going to meet him in Los Angeles, when I couldn’t even walk to my mail box or fly to Las Vegas with my mother without having a panic attack? How could I call the Hotel Bel Air, where Tom’s road manager, Mr. G., was staying and arrange a meeting when I tremble just ordering lunch at the local drive-through Jack-in-the Box?
Again, “Be careful what you set your heart upon – for surely it will be yours.” (this saying is attributed to James Baldwin). My Higher Power had to have had something to do with this, because I was just this tall, skinny kid who mostly hid at home, trying to connect with someone so far out of my connection zone that there had to have been some kind of divine intervention. Anyway, this is what I did, and what I still do when I get nervous: I wrote a script of what I wanted to say, I called the number, and when I reached Mr. G. on the telephone, I read the script. BAM! I had a date, a time, and a place to meet Tom Jones.
The shows were still a family affair and Mother and the sisters were in tow at the Greek Theatre; plus, my fears held me prisoner to driving long distances and going places without familiar faces. I was to check-in with Mr. G. on the first of two nights of performances at the Greek. We – the president and vice-president of “Tom’s Booster’s” Fan Club, and a club member from out of town and her young daughter – waited at the stage door for Mr. G. I don’t know about the other ladies, but my thoughts were racing and my heart was pounding. I was on the verge of meeting the object of my teenage desires, and what I learned many years later was also the transitional object in my teens and early twenties, the thing supporting the development of the self, my self. For babies, the transitional object might be a blanket, something they can hold onto when mommy isn’t by the crib and they need comfort. I didn’t know it at the time, but in many ways you could say Tom Jones was like my warm, fuzzy blanket I held onto when I needed comfort.
We waited at the stage door until it opened. I met Mr. G. for the first time; he was a friendly man with whom I had many contacts over the years. On our walk to Jones’ dressing room we came across a multitude of musicians, roadies, and Jones’ son, Mark Woodward. It felt like the Red Seas of my tangled, ordinary life had parted and we were walking through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, where the famous singer would fall in love with the tall, skinny girl and we would live happily ever after. Right? Another door opened and BAM! I made it to the goal, the purpose – my object. There was Tom Jones in all of his glory. He looked so gorgeous that I had difficulty maintaining my façade of maturity.
All thoughts of trying to get Tom to fall in love with me absolutely disappeared. In the words of Sigmund Freud, “Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.” One thing that threw me off when we first arrived to his dressing room was that he did what so many people do, and men in particular, which is to assess my height with the once-over with his eyes, checking me out from the top of my head and then looking the full length of me, all the way down to my toes. Do men do that to see if I am wearing high heels?
It rattled me a little. I got caught off-guard. I mean, this is TOM JONES. This is Tom Jones, man of my teenage dreams, and my singing savior from being bullied; my go-to-guy for expressing feelings and emotions in song; the man with The Voice that calmed me the moment I heard it anytime, anyplace. And here I was, finally in his presence, and I was… mostly thunderstruck.
Needless to say, Tom Jones did not fall in love with me the first time we met. Nope – not at all. I have to admit, however, I became more smitten with him despite his assessing my height. I mean most people focus on the most obvious physical characteristic that stands out like a sore thumb, so why should he be different? The backstage “meet and greet” was wonderful – the physical contact with a real flesh and blood man standing on terra firma and not on a stage added more fuel to my fire. When I look at my old photograph with Tom in ‘72, I notice that he was that smooth and handsome superstar, and I was giddy and euphoric, slightly pulling away from him, like an immature young girl the first time I met… the singer who saved me.
March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
While most 18-year-olds and the law consider an 18-year-old an adult, I still felt like a child. Like a little girl in a big girl’s body who had to hide. Someone who couldn’t cope with normal things, like driving on the freeway, going new places, meeting new people, or getting out of my comfort zone – and my comfort zone was really, really small.
And so, with much encouragement from my parents, I enrolled in college. I no longer had the incentive to see Tom Jones perform in Las Vegas, so this is the slightly twisted mental game I played with myself in order to give myself the courage to move forward in my life:
“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to get out of the house.”
“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to drive to college.”
“If I am going to get Tom Jones to fall in love with me… I have to walk into that classroom.”
Why did I need to use the idea of Tom Jones falling in love with me in order to do the things I feared? Obviously there was a lack of ego strength; a lack of confidence and self-love; a teenage self-loathing based on anxiety, teasing, bullying, rejection, not relating to “normal” kids at whatever age, being different from others, etc. The sheepish teenage girly-girl in me liked his exhibitionism and told me I needed my motivating mantra because he was handsome and must be as wonderful as my youthful hopes and dreams (projections, really).
My subconscious was sending some kind of message I didn’t know or understand at the time, and had something to do with me knowing that Tom Jones would never fall in love with the person I was. So somehow I had to become the kind of person Tom Jones might fall in love with. I couldn’t become the kind of person I needed to be just for myself, so I had to become the kind of person someone really special, someone who had a gift, might fall in love with. If someone who has value loved me… it would mean I had value… right?
If you look at ego development from Erik Erikson’s (esteemed developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst) point of view, adolescent occurs between 12 to 18, and is a time in which you find your identity through what you do, who you socialize with, how you define your beliefs, how you begin to grow away from your family, begin to move into your own social circle, and become part of society. Somewhere during the normal course of childhood development, I grew physically tall, but was emotionally stunted; my family defined my beliefs and I had accomplished none of the steps of maturity listed above.
While I did a lot of praying, I didn’t know any other ways to help myself, so I “attached” to this singer who was able to express so beautifully and powerfully, in song, every emotion a human being could feel. I depended upon his voice to always be there for me; I depended on his songs to identify or express how I felt; and once I saw Tom Jones sing live in Las Vegas I depended upon him to make me feel like a woman. I also depended upon Tom Jones to never reject me.
In Tom Jonesville I was safe. Entry into the real world as a college student, however, was challenging because I had become so withdrawn it was difficult to be around strangers (basically, anyone I didn’t know, which meant everyone). I lived in fear that someone, especially a professor, would speak to me and I would have to respond.
Thus began my secret life with my motivating mantra, “If Tom Jones is going to fall in love with me, I have to…” And though it may sound odd, this is what helped me negotiate the scary dark corners of my younger years, and yet another way… the singer saved me.
December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
As my parents and I would make our regular two hour and fifteen minute trek to a cabin in Big Bear, I would look at all of the different people in all of the different cars we would drive by, and wonder, “Why am I me, in this body, in this car, in this family, at this time… and why are you in your body, in your car, in your family, at this time?” In the throws of adolescence, I often pondered, “Why do I exist?”
From my religious training, I understood that I existed to reflect all of the good qualities of a good God who created man (and woman) in His image and likeness. We prayed over every problem, yet, when I became hopeless and helpless, my mother would ask, “Do you want to see a psychiatrist?” But, because it was the late 60s and the early 70s, psychiatry and psychology were still not really part of the mainstream. Certainly not something in which “normal” people participated. In movies and TV they were depicted as dealing with crazy people.
The mere question felt more threatening than helpful, and made me even more fearful. It led me to wonder if there really might be something wrong with me. If I saw someone to help me with my emotional feelings – feelings of fear, anxiety, rejection, insecurity, not fitting in, low self-worth, melancholy, depression, uncertainty of the future, questioning why I exist – would that mean I was crazy? I would always respond to the “Do you want to see a psychiatrist?” question with an emphatic “No!”
In retrospect, I wish I had seen a mental health expert. I believe my healing, my development, my growth into maturity might not have taken as long, nor gone down such a long, lonely path. But, I also might not have discovered the power of my object of transition and transformation – Tom Jones. Mother, who dealt with life’s problems through prayer, wanted the decision to “see somebody” to be my choice, but I was not capable of making that decision.
As I reflect upon my childhood, I might have suffered a little bit from of what is referred to as existential dread. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who led the way to 20th century existentialism, referred to the Danish word angst as meaning dread or anxiety. As it relates to teenagers, existential dread is a fear, a sometimes unidentifiable, unknown feeling that is almost paralyzing and leads to a loss of hope.
Bullying led me to hide at home where no one would intimidate me or tease me, thoughtless comments of Everyday Jack and Jill led me to hide because I hated the self-consciousness that came with every “How’s the weather up there?” or “Hey spaghetti legs!” But there was something else, something that I couldn’t describe to my parents or anyone else… It was a hopelessness, an inability to see that I had any real positive future… I couldn’t see the forest from the trees… even though I was the tallest tree in the forest.
And would go into my room, listen to “I (Who Have Nothing),” and get lost in the Tom Jones zone.
(Translated to English by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stroller from the Italian song, “Uno Dei Tanti.” Originally released by Ben E. King in 1963; sung by many artists thereafter, but made most popular by Tom Jones in 1970.)
I would hear his voice, see his face, watch him move, and my adolescent heart would sing. I would hold on to Tom Jones… and the singer saved me.
(NOTE: If you feel sad, depressed, fearful, anxious, regularly ponder the meaning of life – not in a good way – seek out the help of a psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, pastor, minister, or family member.)
November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
Sticks and Stones… and Rope
Everyone knows the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Right? Wrong! Words are our greatest means of communication. The pain of words can rip at your emotions far longer than the pain of a physical injury. While a physical wound can leave a scar, words can sear into your psyche and leave a hidden, open wound. It can damage your self-concept in a way that can stunt your development as a person, and make you question your very existence.
I remember two sisters in my neighborhood who were younger than me. They lived at a home that was only one really long block, and then a short left turn and a quick right turn to the street where I lived. One day when I was still in school and walking home from a long torturous day at school, I was walking by their house. I couldn’t walk across the street because there was no sidewalk, just an enclosed drainage gulley. I always tried to walk tall with my head up, pretending to ignore the typical name-calling that would occur whenever I walked by and they were playing in their front yard. “Hey Stick Legs” or “Where you going, Spaghetti Legs,” was always followed by loud guffawing and tittering.
This time, however, they did something totally unexpected. They ran behind me, and with a jump rope, looped the rope over my head like I was a cow they were trying to lasso, and then pulled hard on the rope. The rope pulled down on my arms, making me jerk back and drop my notebook and schoolbooks to the ground. I was shocked and shaking, but I did something even more unexpected. I grabbed the rope that was around my elbows and pulled it, with all of the strength I had, away from one of the sisters, while crying and screaming, “Stop it! Stop it!”
Maybe the sisters saw the pain in my face and heard the anguish in my voice, because they suddenly apologized profusely as I threw the rope to the ground like a dead snake, and began to pick up my books and papers that were strewn all over the sidewalk. I was so hurt and livid at the same time that I couldn’t see or think straight. I just knew I had to get my stuff, walk the rest of the block, make a left and a right, and then I was home.
Home – where I was safe. Home – where could listen to Tom Jones again and again and again. I was like Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov’s proverbial dog. Side note: He discovered that environmental events (a bell ringing) could trigger a learned response called a reflex (a dog salivating for food when he hears a bell ring). The process by which humans (teen Judi) learn to connect a stimulus (Tom Jones) to a reflex (feel good, relaxed, safe, or whatever emotion a particular song and music evokes) is called conditioning. The moment I heard his voice I was fed. Tom Jones saved me from the sticks and stones and rope, and was… the singer who saved me.
October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment
What do you do when you are young and feel alone in the world? I went home from school one day, and I stayed home. While Tom Jones’ isolation was forced upon him by TB, at the age of twelve, my isolation was by choice and withdrawal, at the age of sixteen. How do you tell your parents you don’t want to live? After crying day after day, week after week, month after month, I finally told my parents that I could not, would not go to school for one more day. It was just too painful. I remember my mother in tears, made me, in tears, go outside the next morning and tell my best friend and her mother, who were my regular ride to hell, I mean high school, that I wasn’t going to school that day.
It took my friends a while to notice that I wasn’t going back to school. How could I tell all of my normal friends that I was so not normal that I thought about driving off a cliff? How do you tell the belle of the ball, the brainy secretary of the student body, and the girls-at-lunch that I can’t see them any more because I am going to take my little self – ironically, I felt so small – and just disappear?
By the time he was sixteen, Tom Jones, was more than making up for his two years in isolation — he married his childhood sweetheart and a month or so later, became a father. Living his adolescent life by being sexually active, he took the fast train to adulthood. I have always been fascinated that he has never talked about having a wife and child at such a young age as a burden. In fact, in many articles, he has spoken of it as having made him “feel like a man.”
At sixteen, I certainly did not feel like a woman. I didn’t even feel human. I felt like a freak because people would stare at me or make comments related to my height and/or skinniness. I felt alienated because the bullies always managed to get away with teasing, even when my mother went to the school to talk to my counselor about it. I felt alienated because my friends didn’t…or couldn’t… really understand the heart-pounding depth of pain from teasing. They were just trying to survive their own teen years. And I had never fully revealed to anyone but my mother how anxious I was about life in general, so no one really understood how my own young fears were fueled by the torture of teasing. I just wanted to disappear.
And that’s what I did. I disappeared. I stayed home. It was 1969 and there was Tom Jones and his voice to comfort me. I took an adolescent girl’s trip to Tom Jonesville, and didn’t leave that part fantasy, part reality world until I… well, you’ll have to take the journey with me to see how my coming of age story turns out and the many ways… the singer saved me.
Note: Once I entered the world of Tom Jones and his legions of fans, I received many photographs taken by many fans throughout the United States via “snail mail,” back in the old days when there were no PCs and Internet. Most of these photos are not labeled with the name of the photographer. If you see your photo of Tom Jones and can remind me how/where/when this photo was taken and would like a credit, please feel free to contact me at singersavedme.com.