Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Community of and My Response to Them

A few days after Ebert's tweet after other sites began to share and repost from his link, a friend informed me that if you google "smile paul" the first site that pops up is actually the site "" I had discovered this name at first while learning to navigate the "Stats" feature of blogger, but until that moment I thought it was some sort of search engine or something. I am in fact still quite naive of how to take advantage of many social networking skills and tools or links and probably all sorts of resources and pages that could help me get my story out. (Feel free to share any info or advice you have, please! Consider this, an old school analog boy asking for help!)
So...I googled myself and found the link and low and behold, despite a comparatively small number of comments on my actually blog (it would seem at least, for 30,000 views!) on metafilter it turned out that I in fact had 80 comments of people talking about me, arguing about me, sharing their own dental horror stories or advice, but all in all...overwhelmingly positive and supportive. It was overwhelming to fight my way through it all on the morning of Sunday, April 17th over coffee at my friend Jim's gallery in Miami, AZ, and it took me quite a while for it all to sink in. Ironically, as I was reading through everyone's comments, the creator of the site actually emailed me on facebook offering me a free membership if I wished to take part in the dialogue.
I still have not found the time to fully browse and understand what really even is or how best to use it (see also, twitter!) but I managed to finally get out a long reply which at that time I felt was probably the most accurate description, "defense" and point of pride regarding my blog and why I began writing it in the first place. For those of you who have since watched my recent feeble first attempt at an introductory video last week, you will no doubt recognize much of my dialogue I considered to be the most important was generously lifted from this reply. I hope this may clear up and answer any questions you might have that might have been previously left out. It if probably the closest thing to a FAQ I will ever have on here, unless someone finds me some sort of widget link to create one!
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share any more info about metafilter or twitter or anything that you think might be of use to me. Here is the link to the metafilter post.

And if you wish to skip ahead and read only my reply, feel free to Choose-Your-Own-Adventure below:

Greetings Everyone. Wow, this is amazing. Think whatever you wish about me, but it is nonetheless very moving to see so many others sharing their stories and advice and opening up to strangers about what I feel is one of the most repressed and shameful issues in this country so, so many feel powerless to overcome, and scared to talk about, even with close friends or family. None of us are ever really alone. It has taken me years to learn that, and despite always being a blunt, honest person to the world, always trying to communicate as effectively and elaborately as possible my feelings and ideas to my communities, I have nonetheless always felt "silenced" for nearly two decades while trying to connect with others about teeth.

I have come a tremendous way mentally and physically in the past 6 months, and feel incredibly blessed and moved to tears daily by strangers' responses to my writing and the courage of others to reach out to me, to tell me how they made their first dentist appointment in years thanks to my story. I am tremendously lucky. I have never denied that. Nor do I in any way mean to trivialize the pain and suffering of others anywhere or treat my blog as some sort of elaborately creative entry in a "my life sucks" competition with the world. It really, really doesn't. Frankly, I feel slightly disappointed that the context in which my blog was just ushered so quickly out into the world by Ebert's tweet in a way presented it as a sob story, a charity case. "The saddest story ever." That is absolutely crazy. I am thankful for sympathy and support and connection, but...I wholeheartedly recognize how privileged I have been in so many ways. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I have traveled extensively throughout the US, during which I survived for two years off of the sales of my own art. Now I actually work full time at a day resource center for homeless and at-risk youth ages 18-25 in downtown Phoenix. Before that, I created a a tshirt screenprinting business I was the coordinator of for 2 1/2 years as a day labor and vocational training program for youth as part of the same non-profit.

It frankly, makes me a little uncomfortable to be perceived as "charity." I bare witness to poverty and misfortune and shame every single day in the stories of youth whose lives are far more incredible than mine. I am humbled and honored every day to be able to serve as a mentor to them, offering my own struggles as an example of how I was on welfare, homeless, abandoned by my parents, in poor health for most of my life. It took me 33 years to finally figure out how to flip the switch in my brain and truly begin to change my mentality and body image and self-esteem. My wonderful student dentist I lucked out with, the first one I saw in 20 years, was the first person who ever made me feel like a "whole" person. Every day is part of my healing process, every word I write, everything I do. It feels great for the first time in my life to focus my every action and all the spare time I have into this greater cause of healing myself, and being a positive inspiration to others. I have spent the majority of my life taking care of everyone else I loved, and always putting my own issues on the back burner. It's not about karma or balance or feeling like the world "owes" me anything as my mother has spent her entire life doing.

So you're right, whoever posted above. It is "my" fault, as much as it is my parents and childhood dentists fault.As much as it is all of our faults for turning a blind eye to others in pain around us each day, rarely ever reaching out a friendly hand to those who are suffering, be it friends, family or strangers. It is a cruel fucking world sometimes, and I for one try to change that on a daily basis with the way I have lived my live for years helping others, even if I never knew how to help myself. Honestly, when I created this blog, I really mostly thought of it as a way for me to finally communicate with my large community of friends in the Phoenix Arts community who have known me for years, but never known this ONE thing about me that has affected EVERY ASPECT of who I am. It was my way, as a writer, artist, organizer and well-known community member in the public eye, of "coming out" to those around me, of sharing my perspective I have my whole life been unable to get out. My blog I at first almost thought of as a mutual aid experiment to unite a community to be able to discuss their issues while also organizing events, highlighting all our skills while also helping me to raise money. The "donations" I earned first began as cookies and food I made myself and offered on a sliding scale. The "charity" that was offered, began as compassion and freely-offered talents from friends who know me as more than a series of blog posts who wished to help me in any way that they could. But as my story got out, and more strangers began to read it, people began to offer me money in solidarity and support of me trying to change my life, not out of sympathy for my crappy childhood or whatever, inspired by the very vulnerable public way I chose to share and face my darkest secret and biggest fear after all these years, and the incredibly positive changes in me that continue to develop. A doctor just the other day at the dental school I have been going to for ten appointments, where a dozen students and faculty know me by name and are grateful for my feedback and honesty with the experience in a way they rarely ever receive, last Friday handed my dentist a blank check for that day's treatment. I am certain that "pity" for my mouth and upbringing, was the LAST think on their mind when they signed their name. If that is "charity," or if it turns some of you off, so be it.


You don't have to donate. There are a dozen causes I could list that are doing amazing work all over the world that affects the lives of children without clean water, survivors of sex-trafficking, to the recent earthquake survivors of Japan, which I recently donated artwork to a local auction to raise money for. The point is, we are a global village. As long as people anywhere are suffering, we all suffer. As another of you said above, suffering sucks. Pain and infection and not being able to eat and isolation and shame and fear and having people look at you like you are subhuman if you open your mouth fucking sucks. "billy bob teeth" sold in Walmarts and the fact that there is a stereotypical impoverished "hillbilly" character on a show I have loved practically since my problems started, The Simpsons, sucks. "White Trash" is a classist, derogatory term meaning "less than" that should be forbidden in the same ways that other sexist, racist, hateful and discriminatory words are but to this day it stands as a popular joke and description of anyone poor, impoverished, uneducated or generally less fortunate than the middle class.

Suffering sucks. I am absolutely through with suffering. I am determined to finally fix this issue, so that I will be a stronger and much more capable person, to continue to help others and fight all the other struggles of the world. If people happen to be more monetarily fortunate than others, I wholeheartedly hold the no doubt unpopular belief that we as people have a dire responsibility to live in compassionate ways and to help others with whatever skills and resources we have to do so. I believe that most humans, really really are good people, deep down inside, capable of caring for one another. I believe that maybe even, the more that they do, they might just be amazed at how good it feels to give, in whatever ways they can. None of us can do everything, but together we really can make the world be whatever we want it to be. One person, one community at a time, never doubt that change is possible.

Thanks to a post I put on Roger Ebert's facebook page, inspired by his own story of perseverance through cancer and overcoming the loss of his voice to continue to be a positive and productive creative force in the world, and him happening to be moved by my first un-edited attempt at an autobiographical childhood narrative, my blog got 30,000 views in the past 2 days. I can't help but joke to myself, "Wow, if everyone who had the privilege of viewing my perspective and labor and time I put into the creation of this blog online, whether they like it or not, donated a dollar like buying a song on Itunes they can listen to at any time, I would have just payed for a mouthful of implants." But ultimately, I will think no less of any of you if you donate or not. I am going to raise all the money I need, even if I pay for it all myself with the $600-$800 a month I can currently afford while buying absolutely nothing extra. Above all, I am writing my story, to give people hope. To show people that change is possible. To show them that there are in fact amazing, compassionate dentists out there in the world that care. To show them, that it is okay to be afraid. That there is absolutely NOTHING shameful about asking for help. To show them that if a bitter, negative, cynical prick like me can learn to, after 20 lonely, painful, alienating years, finally learn to smile, and be a positive inspiration for change, that ANYTHING is possible, if you truly want it bad enough, and allow yourselves to be open to the possibilities, of you actually getting exactly what you want.

Health, happiness and love, is worth the risk. It can get better. I promise. I am living proof, and I wholeheartedly believe in you all to overcome any obstacle in front of you, though maybe with a little help from friends.

Thank you sincerely for listening, and sharing so much of yourselves, regardless of what you might think of me. I am humbled and grateful to have overnight had the chance to have my voice become so much more than a monotone mumble, capable of being heard around the world.

Paul Jones Jr.
posted by themightyhumanrace at 2:39 PM on April 17 [25 favorites +] [!]

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