We made it!
We’ve entered a new year full of hopes and dreams. With that, I wish everyone a very happy, healthy, joyous and prosperous New Year!
Last year, I started a new adventure by writing blog articles, based on my show, It's Only Lipstick. Each story was meant to encourage and inspire, while hopefully, giving a few laughs along the way.
I was having so much fun; and the feedback I’ve gotten has been so encouraging to me. As I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable, you’ve encouraged me by letting me know how my stories have touched you. That means the world to me.
Then, I discovered there is such a thing as writer’s block.
I would sit down to write; and NOTHING!
I was going into panic mode. I’d been writing articles once every one or two weeks for a year. I was beginning to wonder if I had any ideas left.
I was putting so much pressure on myself.
I got frustrated. I went for long drives. I prayed.
Then, something happened on New Year’s Eve.
I didn’t go to a party. I didn’t spend time with friends. I went to a movie.
My chiropractor, who is Italian and lived in Italy for 20 years, suggested I go see the movie, The Green Book.
I like to think I’m up-to-date on current movies; but to be honest, I wasn’t aware of The Green Book.
He said, “This is probably the best movie I’ve ever seen.” Really!?! He said, “Because you’re Italian, from New York, you’ll get it.”
So, that’s what I did on New Year’s Eve.
EMBRACING WHO YOU ARE
I’m an Italian-American who grew up in Brooklyn, NY.
Think of every stereotype you can…YES!
We were three generations and ten completely different dysfunctional people all squeezed into three tiny apartments under one roof. What fun!
My grandmother, Rose, owned the house.
She was as tough as nails and would do anything to keep the family together.
She had many unlikable qualities; but the one that really stood out to me is that she was the female Archie Bunker.
She and my father would often come to blows over her bigoted attitudes.
Unfortunately, this was very much a part of the environment in which I grew up.
This brings me to The Green Book.
I didn’t know what to expect from this film. I soon learned that The Green Book was a book that detailed segregated hotels and restaurants in the South.
This film is based on the true story of world-renowned jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, and his unlikely friendship with Tony (Lip) Vallelonga, who was hired to be his driver during his concert tour throughout the South in the early 1960’s.
Dr. Shirley is played by Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Tony Lip is played by Viggo Mortensen.
Before I go on, I think this film is brilliant in expounding how important it is to see each other, not through the lens of prejudice, but as individuals. It is a phenomenal portrayal in how we can grow and learn from each other, despite our differences. It is one of my top film picks of 2018.
As I started to watch the film, something strange happened.
It has been over 30 years since I left Brooklyn and my Italian-American roots. Yet, throughout the years, I have tried to distance myself from the neighborhood that was so much a part of my life.
My family was a combination of blue collar and white collar. My father, Ralph, was an architect; and my Uncle Teddy was a butcher; and my grandmother was a seamstress in the garment center. There were a lot of differences; but there was a lot of love and my family was hard working and law abiding.
The neighborhood, shall I say, was “protected”.
I grew up near Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
86th Street, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
We used to order from Lenny’s Pizza. You may recognize the store front from Saturday Night Fever, where John Travolta bought 2 slices.
Bensonhurst is, also, where 10 infamous “mobsters” conducted business. There were “hits” and a lot of other unsavory activities that made my skin crawl.
Even my next-door neighbors were involved. One son-in-law wound up in Leavenworth Penitentiary; and another was run down and killed on the strip in Las Vegas.
There were always shady dealings going on out of their garage.
Throughout my life, I have been so turned off by Italians being depicted as uneducated and “mob” types.
In the film, Tony (Lip) Vallelonga was the embodiment of everything I distanced myself from. Yet, watching the characterizations and Italian-American traditions, it felt so familiar.
I was able to put aside my own personal prejudice toward my ethnic upbringing because I was captivated by the story and the relationship between Dr. Shirley and Tony Lip.
In two hours, I came face to face with embracing the totality of who I am.
COMING FULL CIRCLE
I’m amazed at how the simplest things in life can teach me major life lessons.
I had no idea that going to this film would allow me to discover a truth that has, most likely, been holding me back in exploring the depths of my soul and freeing me up as an actress.
By taking a hard look at myself, I’ve come to understand that there was so much richness growing up in my dysfunctional, stereotypical Italian-American family in Brooklyn.
The Green Book has helped break off the chains that have prevented me from exploring my own history.
My family came to America with nothing but the dream of a better life. They had the tenacity, drive and heart to go after all that America represented to them.
I spent my lifetime divorcing myself from what I deemed was the ugly part of my culture.
My better life was moving out of Brooklyn, getting an education and climbing the corporate ladder.
Yet, I can’t escape the truth that I started out in that crowded house in an unsavory neighborhood which was the foundation for who I am today.
I am a first-generation American who took on the good qualities of my immigrant family. I embraced my family’s hard work ethic. Nothing is free! From my family, I learned the heart of love. The integrity and honor I witnessed through them are deeply rooted within me.
My grandmother once said I was very much like her. I fought that idea my entire life.
Now, I recognize I have her tenacity to fight for what I believe in and to dream BIG!
Did growing up in a “protected” neighborhood impact my perception of life? YES!
Did it cause me to become prejudiced toward my own ethnic culture? YES!
Am I grateful I took on my father’s world view that everyone is equal? YES!
Yet, a movie opened my eyes that I am a part of the intricate tapestry that shaped my life. The back of a tapestry is full of knots and bumps; but the front of the tapestry is a beautiful display of art. I find this revelation to be such a gift to close out one year and start the new with fresh eyes.
I may have been looking at the knots and bumps for way too long.
I now can look at the tapestry through a new lens and see the richness of every aspect of my life.
Everyone must grow and find their own way. And, if I've learned anything, I can now laugh at those things that I found so distasteful.
I guess I’ve come full circle.
Embrace the richness of who you are; and remember…it’s never too late to go after your dreams!