I’ve been having "conversations" lately with a month-old baby who lives nearby. I at first tried singing lullabies to him, but he’s too feisty to lie still and listen–he flails his arms, he kicks his legs, he burps, he poots, he poops.
I’ve found that this new baby likes to listen to me talk to him. I look right into his eyes and smile as I verbalize, and sometimes he coos back to me a little, trying in his own small way to join in the conversation.
He’s just starting to smile a little. Smiling is one of the very first social skills we learn and we learn how special it is when someone smiles back at us.
I’ve always thought that a smile is a formidable tool. I often smile at strangers when I walk around Los Angeles and I find that, unlike New York, people are likely to smile back at me here. In more sophisticated cities (Paris included), people think you’re slightly deranged if you smile at someone you don’t know, but I find LA pleasantly open in this way. You can even speak to a stranger in a store or restaurant here–something that is also rarely done in Paris or New York.
People are obsessed with smiles–think of all the words that have been written about Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile. I think this is because it was our first way of communicating, once we stopped relying on crying and wailing to express our desires and complaints. We all eventually learn (most of us do, anyway), that you can "catch more flies with honey," i.e. that a smile and a nice request will often get us more than screaming and yelling does.
Some people take advantage of you when you do this, however. We were having some trouble with a neighbor who seemed to think that our communal laundry room was hers alone until Whitley went down there and chewed her out one day. She had been so mean to our poor maid that she even changed the day she comes to us in order to avoid this woman. When Whitley came back upstairs to our apartment, he said, "Some people only respond to intimidation." Alas, I’m afraid this is true–to some folks, being nice is the same as lying down on the ground and saying, "Please walk over me."
Despite the "street smiles" I exchange with people out here, in business most of them seem to function that way–if they’re in the movie business, anyway. I guess it just costs too much to be too "nice," but it does get tiresome at times: The emotional battles you end up fighting can wear you out.
You know, the way this baby functions provides a lesson for all of us. He’s just started to "wake up" to the world around him, but he’s full of life. Although he can’t do much yet, he does everything she can. This reminds me that even if we haven’t been gained many abilities, we can still use what we DO have to the max.
For instance, I regularly throw one of these diaries out into the internet ethos, with no idea if anyone reads them, or remembers them for more than a few minutes if they do. I sometimes wonder why I do it, and have vowed many times not to write any more of them, especially when they elicit a few nasty comments. But no comments at all is an even worse situation–there’s nothing worse than being ignored.
Yet I’m still compelled to write them on a regular basis, and I can only think of one reason for this: Because I CAN.