While the feature photo was taken in Chicago, Illinois, the words edited and published out of Portland, Oregon, much of what’s spelled out was written ‘in-flight’ to Honolulu. I began my curiosity of how genuine other people’s smiles were after noticing my own disingenuous smiles in old photos. And the more I looked back at historical photos and how most individuals before the 1940’s didn’t smile, I figured there had to be deeper meanings behind their serious faces. Today, we smile for almost anything, especially to confirm, or reaffirm approvals from people we could care less for. But at the end of the day, before we rest our eyes, what did we smile for? Did we smile on purpose, or by habit? I don’t think everyone has the same ideas of a smile’s function, because only recently in time it became much easier to do so….Furthermore, here I share the story of my smile’s purpose. (Photo by Deyen Smith)

August 17, 2018

smiling because it’s a photo, or because the world should know?

Let’s see.

A smile goes a long way—it’s how I got here. The direction of many smiles often end up in good places; whether it be in the city, or a place in your heart.

So I heard Mo’ Pitney singing about where country resides, and it’s just a smile away to feel that southern comfort. As if the warm liquor down your throat embeds like sweat. How comforting, right? Because that’s all you’ll do in the south—sweat.

Like an overwhelming smile bringing out tears of joy, well, that’s another way to excrete sweat… Isn’t it all the same stuff? But it makes you think, what’s your smile worth? Does it depend on the eyes of the perceiver?

I find smiling to be a luxury for those who know best, and are genuine at heart. Deep smiles are hard to truly express, as most of us do it anyway for the camera [phones], and for the people they share joyous moments with. A smile strongly proves attractiveness, otherwise, most of us wouldn’t be friends.

Moments, however, are what matters most. You determine whether a smile is appropriate to express to the world or not. It’s your world!

A smile can be nothing more than a break in this painful life, and maybe the vain of existence. We recognize the ‘dropped’ face as a form of expression for people who’re settling back into their normal state of being; and, to blindly live in hope for the next breaking smile. It’s a bit like life being an overcast day, as we await sun breaks to shine on us momentarily.

Or is that just an Oregon thing?

From top left to bottom right: Jesse Joe, Ellen Joe-Washington, Bobby Jean Ridgeway, Mary Lee Joe-Stoglin, Charles Lee Joe, Dorothy Jean Malone – c. 1930s – Jonesboro, LA

In the photo on above, the camera captures a moment of existence, and after asking myself why for their lack of smiles, you best believe I thought about it.

I think a lot.

With less smiles back in the day, it tells a story of what life was experiencing—life being my kinfolk who ain’t showing teeth. From dawn to dusk, their conditions were far from any millennial’s desire to touch with a ten-foot pole.

Today, we capture numerous moments smiling, and I was challenged to think about the circumstances that would prevent a family from smiling during their portrait set. My uncle says the walk was hot, their feet ached, so if you get it by now, the car wasn’t their’s either.

I mean, I woulda’ asked for a ride too…But I get why they show zero teeth. (someone said no…)

My assumptions weren’t far off. I was told there wasn’t much to smile for anyways. Entertainment was sparse, kids played but it wasn’t like today’s playful smiles with each other, and the future felt like never.

While history is told through the candor of portraits, today, I’m told it’s the roots of mine’s too. Although these are much different times, my smile once lacked depth, girth, and teeth.

By becoming the creator I am, I found the broken pieces and fixed it with life’s tools. Out of perspective from my uncles and aunts, why not carry on from their roots of subtle projections. If it weren’t for their hardened faces, my strengthened smile wouldn’t exist.

My mother’s words were the spark to a reinventing lifestyle. Through her journal I read in 2013, written in 1986, I was shown the value of my smile when I first came into this world. From there I had no choice but to smile during life’s turbulent episodes. It made me realize I couldn’t end my journey due to financial burdens and other people’s choices.

I wrote more about this Journal in June: Sky’s the Limit 

As a result of this smile, it put me six figures above the burden.

It seemed easier to smile than giving up. As each smile became a checkpoint in life, it was a world renowned—considering for years I thought I’d never see it again.

This is why I fall back on my failures—suppression is in my roots. You all just happen to have the blessing to see me on the yonder side of life.

In writing this, I’m flying over the Pacific; to be specific, heading to Hawaii and reminiscing the time(s) I couldn’t comprehend my complex life. As a smile once forced because it was easy, but taken for granted, unveiled itself as easy.

Easy got me happy. Easy got me to smile. So if the universe mistook my deceitful smiles for joy, I’m repaying everyone back with teeth so deep!

It would be arrogant to hide it. A lie of omission not to share it. And as black excellence goes, ‘…I’ma let em’ see! (Jay-Z)

Back in Jonesboro, LA, I trust that my smile shines as bright as the descendants of Joe, and Mixon’s if you truly know our story. As each our smiles fade further into our souls, tears emerge from the dirt out our body—salty as the seas within us.

“…and when the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, it is you who belongs to this land.”

– unknown (Native American)

Maybe it’s why some of our ancestors jumped back in on the way…

Doesn’t matter, I smile for them too. I doubt I would’ve envisioned smiles on the other land.

Fortunately today, I join those who made it with a, “yes we can smile,” by choice. But more importantly, I smile with intent, on purpose and in faith. And I say it’s easy, because at first it was fake.

What’s real, however, smiles are how most of us got here.


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