The second in the Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes article series is called Grow a Pair. Find the original article here on Writers’ HQ, and the podcast discussion of same over here on Friend Jason’s Outrider Podcast.
I forgot to share with you, lovely lurkers: stellar intellectual podcast The Deconstruction Workers had me on to talk about the Problematic Badass Female Tropes the other day. It was a heckuva fun and stimulating conversation, and I am honored to be on their wall of Workers now on their website. Listen above, and tell me what you think (season 3, ep 4).
I had a good friend in the dregs and just out of my college days, name of Christina. She was six foot one in bare feet, ectomorphic & slender, with a glorious shoulder length of densely curly, dark orange ginger hair. She had alabaster skin and a loudly raucous laugh. She never hesitated to ask questions or to demand you clarify if she didn’t understand something—an unabashedly curious woman, always. A few of my friends (including my then-fiancé and an old eccentric I knew from high school) were all roommates with her, all of us bunked in a lovely suburban bungalow with a finished garage which is where she lived. One of our several roommates, a fellow aerial dancer in the same company as me, had a pet python (or was it a boa constrictor?)—a big yards-long female serpent named Lucy (short for Lucifer). Christina would quite often, post-shower, in tank top and pj bottoms, pace the sidewalk just outside our house, chatting on the phone, Lucy draped over her shoulders and entwined in her arms, while her bright red hair dried. I’m convinced our neighbors must’ve thought she was Eve incarnate, or some kind of goddess. They weren’t completely wrong.
It was Christina and I, in our several jaunts to the Trident coffeeshop & bookstore, who coined the phrase “literati” to denote a social date that was focused on study (and intellectual and cultural criticism in conversation). Famously, it was us whose conclusion to Kant’s manifesto was, “shut up and paint” (she was an art history major, a couple years my junior, and so was concluding her studies even as I graduated, sword-fighted, trapezed, and wrote and read still). She was my co-producer for the wee theatre company I named Five Funny Faces after a beloved theatre prof’s regular class closing game, the first time we did the Dr. Seuss show, and it was she who taught me how to eat sushi as we counted the house takings post-show each night.
What’s my point in describing the amazing Christina, when the title of this post is a particular, not obviously related, vocabulary word? Well, this imposing, snake wrangling, ginger goddess, one who worked theatrical rigging as her job when I knew her, and who went on to be a rigger for Cirque du Soleil after she graduated, had one potent aversion; a distaste strong as her. A phobia, if you will.
She hates cherubs.
Now recall: she has an art history degree. So she knows her shit around sculpture and painting of all kinds that depict the many angelic denizens of the heavenly (Christian mostly) realm. She has no beef with angels, or warriorlike cherubim with their flaming swords…all that is fine. It’s the “fat winged babies” as she puts it, that she cannot stand.
It was such a stigma (not stigmata) to her that we would give her birthday cards with cute fat baby cherubs in them just to watch her squirm and retch. Good times.
I know that’s not what this vocab word actually means, but that’s what it made me think of, and though the real meaning of the word is a deep part of my regular life, I choose instead to celebrate the beautiful and extraordinary Christina, who has a major cherub phobia.
CODA: she is now married to a Canadian whom she met during her Cirque adventures, and lives in Canada with him on a houseboat.
I need to email her.
YourBoulder has risen from the dead, lovely lurkers! Look for a bunch of my content up there starting….well, starting yesterday! I’m glad to be contributing to this fun site again.
I’ve only had red hair once in my life; it was for a play I was a lead in: I had to look like the other lead’s sister, and she was a redhead. So I got a hold of a cheap box of bright orange, and did it. My hair was long then, too—about as long as it is again now—so it actually took two boxes of dye to get it all. This was the mid ’90s, just before the Band Of Young Men and just after college. O wait, actually—I think this must have been my last or penultimate semester still in college, because I remember having pissed off the school’s powers that be by getting this part in a community show and not a school one. I could tell, too, which part in the school play (a dreary Irish drama) they wanted me for. The one I got (a singing narrative lead in a surrealist and violent play) was so very much more challenging than the Irish matriarch the people who were supposed to be educating me wanted to typecast me in. So I made the right decision, and they went ahead and cast a junior instead, who was just fine. I also had an intense emotional (and very nearly a sexual) relationship with a young man in that cast who was far too young and gay for me, but that’s a story for another post. Or actually probably not.
The big three romantic/pivotal relationships in my life were all redheads, which meant that I was not allowed to go ginger any other time. Why? It’s my hair, right? Yeah, but natural redheads get pretty bent out of shape if someone not from that mothership does it artificially. Though it’s funny—I’ve had more than one person tell me they think of me as a natural redhead. My hair stylist is one of them. I’m not a redhead! I protested, gobsmacked, when she said so. Sure you are, the sweet little psychic born-again assured me. I shook my (brown-haired) head.
That time I went dark mahogany brown, it turned out with too much burgundy in the mix. This was in the early aughts, and my ginger husband kept looking at me sidelong, until he finally had to admit he didn’t like it, at all. Those colors went great with my complexion and my green eyes, but nope. Too red.
In fact, the very first time I ever dyed my hair—I was 15—the only reason I got the balls to do it was that my best friend and bosom buddy, a bright orange redhead replete with freckles, threatened me. See, we were both in this mod-moving-into-proto-goth style, pretty hardcore. She said, “If you don’t dye your hair black? *I will!*”
Gaaaah okay okay!
Anyway, my hair loves dye: it soaks it right up and doesn’t grow back too awkwardly. That fateful day at age 15, it was a black and burgundy wedge cut. I’ve been going dark about yearly ever since (except that few months as a burnished ginger). And for goth prom a couple years ago, I’ve discovered my hair especially likes blue. Much to the trauma of my stylist. But I don’t mind. Not sure what I want to do for this year’s goth prom, except my dress is a sparkly charcoal gray. So? Dunno–maybe the copious gray growing back in is the best match.
Only a couple days after the boxes of orange met my tresses, I was standing at the bus stop on my way to rehearsal. A woman stopped me and exclaimed that I looked like a Celtic goddess with my height and my hair! I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t my natural color, or that Irish women of the time period she was talking about would’ve been half my size (let alone most likely black-haired). I just took the praise. And plugged my show.
Before you suggest it: I can’t go red for goth prom this year. The SO is a ginger.
I have a weekly tradition wherein I grab the latest paper issue of the Boulder Weekly and skim/read the whole thing, then end with the horoscopes. The horoscopes are written by one Rob Brezny, and I’ve long been delighted by their length and metaphorical quality.
The tradition concludes with me taking pictures of some of the horoscopes and sharing them via message to the select few people who are my regular recipients of same. That list includes the SO, his dad, a woman living in Arizona who we call the Raven Oracle, and a friend of mine I still call by her erstwhile burlesque name, Archimedes (what a cool burlesque name, amirite?). She’s on the cusp of Cancer and Gemini, so she gets both. The SO, too, is Gemini, and the rest of us are all Pisces.
My first tattoo I acquired in summer of 1995, in the middle of a booze-soaked, sweltering Shakespeare Festival season. I had just graduated with a BA and a BFA that December and had been living with my parents for that last semester, after two sets of roommates ended up bailing on me. So I figured, why not live for the summer in CSF housing? I was a full time employee of theirs (all year in fact, not just summer during the festival), so it was a perfect halfway house of sorts, till I could get into another, more independent housing situation.
The Shakespeare fest peeps would affectionately call the apartment complex wherein we were crammed from May through early August: Camp Shakespeare Fest, and that it was. An adult camp, with the post-work activities ranging from boozy ragers to pool parties (also boozy) to epic RPG campaigns (were the gaming sessions boozy? I don’t remember. Probably). I learned to drink in college, lovely lurkers, being relatively clean living in high school, so by the time the summer of ‘95 rolled around, I’d been drinking Absolut Kurant by the multiple full pint glass while studying, and my cocktail making skills were bar none (see what I did there), and made me something slightly more than a nonentity to the bigtime actors who actually got cast. This skill also made the apartment where I was bunked (with three other box office buddies) the host condo for most of the ragers. I partied so much those few summers in the mid ‘90s, that it cost me a good friend. Not my fault, at least not entirely, but that’s a story for another day.
At one point, in the middle of a grand party, I cornered the brilliant actor who’d been playing Hamlet in both the eponymous Shakespeare play and in Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in rep. In a brief moment of semi-mature awareness, I drunkenly asked him, “Hey Chris: how is it you can drink so much and yet still be able to act so well?!”
He was a tall young man with a mop of dark hair held in place with a bandanna (and I do mean “was”—he died in Seattle only a few years ago, not very much older than me). He stopped his swaying lumber across the partying room, turned to me, and in proper dramatic fashion, suitable for a Shakespearean actor, declared, “Like this:” and at that, he raised the full bottle of Cuervo he’d had dangling from his left hand to his lips. He stayed that way for an inordinately long time, until, lowering the significantly diminished bottle, repeated, “Like that.” And he sauntered, swaying only slightly, off to hobnob with a couple fellow cast members.
But I was talking about horoscopes, and first tattoos, and titling this post with fish. So my first sexual partner and college boyfriend’s name was Ricky. (This time I don’t mean “was” as he’s alive and well [as well as one can be with Crohn’s disease] with a beautiful wife and son in Pittsburgh and we’re still friends). He was a lovely willowy Gothy Puerto Rican, not much taller than me but much slimmer, that had such a gift of the pessimistic snark that one of our acting profs used to nickname him “Ricky Sunshine.” I can’t help but think, in retrospect, that I was substituting for the original snarkmaster in my world, Paul, since I had no idea where he was at the time. Or maybe it’s a much simpler matter of: that shit turns me on.
Side note re: Ricky Sunshine: After the first time we made love (which was my first time ever doing it), he made me Ghirardelli hot chocolate, made with milk, because he found the beverage to be a particularly sensual one, and therefore perfect for post-coital enjoyment. Isn’t that rather adorable?
Anyway: Ricky had bought me a pendant to wear: an antiqued steel thing, about the size of a silver dollar, of two fish swimming around each other in a yin-yang type circular shape. They had textured scales and looked like Japanese koi. I say “was,” because though I kept this necklace for a long time, my ex-husband ended up forcibly adopting it, and wearing it often until the leather strap broke. When I moved out of my ex’s place, he kept Ricky’s pendant.
But early that summer of 1995, I actually went and got my first tattoo. Keep in mind: this was just before the huge late-‘90s tattoo craze, till now pretty much everyone, professional or no, is inked. Back then, ink was still quite rare. I went in and had that pendant of the pair of fish tattooed on the smooth canvas of my right shoulder blade. Back then, it was still important to me to keep my ink relatively small and in a place that was easy to cover up. Yanno, because acting career. It ended up being a couple inches in diameter—bigger by far than the necklace, just because ink bleeds and it’d be impossible to make it any smaller. Though old, bluish, and smudged now, I still love it, and refuse to get it retouched.
That night of the day of the virgin tattooing was also one of the many big parties at our CSF apartment. Back then they didn’t just slap cling wrap over it and tell you to oil it in an hour or so: no, they bandaged it thoroughly, instructed you to use neosporin only, and to keep it covered for at least 5 hours before applying same. Obediently, I waited the allotted amount of time, then had the artistic unveiling at the party, right when everybody was in that particular phase of soused that I’m sure you can imagine. I had found a racer-back tank top just for the occasion, and whipped off the bandage to many oohs and aahs.
And then, one of my actor buddies lurched up to me, and, by way of celebration, chomped his teeth down directly onto the fresh ink. He basically bit the whole tattoo—it fit completely into his vodka soaked maw.
I had been admonished to keep the new artwork clean, to avoid touching it, etc., and so I was convinced this fucker had ruined my new milestone with one bite. “I’m so sorry!!” He groveled when I lit into him, “I didn’t realize it was so new! I’m sorry! It still looks fine…” to which one of my other friends pointed out that with all the alcohol in our dude’s mouth, the bite was certainly sterilized to some degree.
It was indeed, as my biting friend observed, fine. And healed fine, and is aging beautifully (fuzzy blue, as I mentioned, as tattoos do).
My horoscope the week I write this is all about an undefeated samurai. Which of course makes me think of all kinds of new tattoo ideas. Anyway, I can’t afford another one anytime soon, though I have plans for three and an addiction-like desire for a new one as soon as I can. Ah well. We’ll see.
The all-powerful samurai is a good image for me right now, though, because I’ve been feeling powerless. Like my efforts into things are for naught. So thanks to Brezny for that totem to keep in front of me, like a wiggling lure, for motivation & inspiration. And that’s not fishy.
Shikin haramitsu dai komyo. And cheers to Camp Shakespeare Fest–that real big fish tale from my youth.
P.S. I know I have a picture of that night with my fresh, sharp tatt on my shoulder, a drunk friend pointing at it for the camera like a Price Is Right model. But I can’t for the life of me find it. Sorry bout that.
The second installment of the PTMTs is live on Writers’ HQ! Do tell me what you think, lovely lurkers.
I don’t know where to start, exactly, except that I have very recently returned from my first ever trip to New York. I’m gobsmacked by my experience and really don’t know what to say. It’ll be a little word-vomit-y, for that reason, since when I wrote this I was foggy and tired from travel, and time changes, and the redeye flight, and such.
I had always thought I’d like New York, though when I graduated with my acting degree and everyone was like, so are you moving to LA or NYC? I was like, no. But I did feel amazingly comfortable there in that urban environment, and loved the sights I saw.
I realized that I would have to be quite a bit more monied if I were to live there (or even indeed to travel there again). The SO was our gleeful sponsor for the whole 3-day trip, and knew where to take me and what to show me. But that’s kind of a life theme, not specifically a New York one. I mean after all, I could say the same thing about Boulder.
No, the theme for New York, for all the things we did (beyond the bare basic fact that it was a *vacation;* a trip purely for pleasure, something neither of us do very often at all) is the image of a window and a mirror. I’ll explain:
When I teach children’s lit, we go through all the major genres of fiction in detail. Realistic fiction is described in that way: designed as either a window into another real person’s life, or a mirror which reflects your own back at you. That’s what this trip did (to both of us, I believe): it showed us this other kind of urban life, making us appreciate it, and by doing so we came to appreciate our own life choices much more than when we’re face down in the shuffle, work blinders on, and etc. Just to relax and look around was a much needed pause, and it didn’t stop our home stress momentum as much as change the points and divert it into a new direction.
(Now that I’ve used a train metaphor, I needs must relate that we actually saw a big rat in the subway. So. I mean, yanno? Other than the Statue, how much more of a New York sight could you ask for?)
Self reflection without disparaging self judgment is unusual in my world, and two things did it for me, beyond the active reflective conversations at the super cool Irish pub. One was seeing the World Trade Center memorial—as all memorials do, it makes you think. Makes you reflect on not only the lives lost, but life itself too. As they’re built to.
The other event that smacked me silly into self reflection was meeting one Emily Flake. She’s successfully doing all these things I want to be doing, and I guess am to a much smaller degree. But she’s a contributor to the New Yorker—how cool is that? And her little daughter is completely in love with
Paul, too, which was delightful to witness. It was great getting to know Emily, first simply because she’s an interesting person. But seeing the show she co-hosts and specifically talking about art and being an artist with her afterwards was pretty life changing. It’s like: this amazing person doing famous and amazing things is just like me. And Paul. Doing cool entertaining things with copious amounts of both talent and self-deprecation. And as much as my ego always enjoys the stroking of a person exclaiming, “Whoa!! You are fascinating!” it was more than that when Emily said it. It was deep, meeting her and her family. I haven’t made a fan, I’ve made a friend. Which is big, for me. The island of brilliant misfit toys is a lot bigger than I realized. (And it’s got some really cool suspension bridges leading to it).
Walking around The Met on our third and final day there, the SO and I were both struck by especially the Roman statuary—the busts of people we’d heard of like philosophers and emperors and semi-deity warriors. But there were also a lot of unnamed men, women, and children portrayed too. And two Byzantine portraits in paint that hit us for the same reasons.To look through that window, to have a clear look at a regular person, from that far back in time, is extraordinary. It’s awesome, in the most literal sense of that word. To look into the eyes (and it often really felt that way) of a human being that lived thousands of years ago. We’re really no different. And there are such a lot of us.
It’s rather paradoxical that I feel much bigger and more powerful in my life today, by being made to feel so small. Not really small, just. One of many. To feel my uniqueness by seeing the larger population I belong to. Paul too. The tribe of talented weirdos. It’s like family. Chosen family, though. That’s something else. Something more than the obligation of the biological kind.
I feel like I’m rambling and I also feel like I’m not equipped with the language to describe what I’m attempting to. So I’ll conclude my reflective ramblings with a description:
Post-museum, Paul & I found this French bistro with a window seat. We relaxed there with a bottle of excellent rioja and people-watched, reflecting on the art we’d just soaked in. There was a moment when an older couple, each of them strange like a pair of mismatched socks, ambled right up to the window and pressed their noses to the glass to look in. They were close enough almost to kiss us through the glass, but I don’t know if they saw us. Made us catch each other’s eye and snicker.
That’ll have to do, to conclude. And I did see Lady Liberty and was actually unironically moved. Which I can’t begin to understand, so I’ll just leave it at that.
The two screens facing me side by side at the sports bar are showing hockey and figure skating, respectively, in parallel. Both, obviously, feature ice skating and scoring points. But other than that, they couldn’t be more different sports.
In fact, I’d question the calling of figure skating a sport. There’s an appealing aesthetic to both movements I see on both screens, but only one of them is actually being scored on the beauty of the movements as well as the difficulty of the execution of same.
Costume differences aside (sexist, if you look at both the male and female requirements of such in figure skating), the hockey is aesthetically pleasing because of the concision and focus of the moves involved. Also if you happen to enjoy watching combative arts—the fights involved in hockey have a particular aesthetic appeal. But the points scored in hockey (and dings on the teams) have everything to do with getting the puck in the opposing team’s net. The spareness and quickness and speed and difficulty level of the moves in hockey that are so pleasing to the eye are all focused on this. (Well I mean maybe the fights aren’t that focused on that one goal, but. You get my point.)
The figure skaters also get points, though they’re competing solo. A big part of how they score points is on their difficulty level and array of big trick moves of various kinds, whether they execute them correctly, land on their feet not their asses out of them, etc. But another good sized chunk of how they score points is how beautifully they skate.
What does that mean, though? It’s not only technical prowess—the judges are looking for certain requirements done technically correctly, sure, but doing them *well*? That’s a whole ‘nother monster.
Many people, when interrogating me on my current profession, ask how I can grade all these kids on their artistic works, when they’re still learning and young and isn’t it all subjective anyway.
It is subjective, art. But I still give grades to my students.
Part of this is basic: do they have their lines memorized, did they write to the assignment requirements, did they spell shit correctly, etc. but that’s all the easy part. That’s all technique. That’s getting the puck in the net. I also grade them on how good they are, though.
Of course I take all kinds of things into account when doing so: how old are they, how much experience do they have, etc. I mean, two 18 year olds attempting to perform scenes from 1775 restoration comedy The Rivals aren’t going to cut it to the same level as highly trained 30-somethings in a professional troupe. But.
There’s still an aesthetic standard I hold the 18 year olds to, and it isn’t any different than what the 30something professionals are doing. But I have to give the 18 year olds a grade. And I really am grading them on how good the art is they’ve presented.
Postmodernists and hippy tribalists will call this unfair. Who am I, they whine, who is any one (especially white) person to dictate what art is “good?” For that matter, what is “art,” anyway, man?
I recently wrote a rant (called “Actually, Don’t“) wherein I ranted about this type of thing. I know you’re never supposed to read the comments but I did on a friend’s reshare. What I wrote rubbed a lot of people wrong, and they called me pedantic, an asshole, and how can you judge real art, man?
Thing is, you can. Thing is, you should. We should. Who gets to? Qualified people. People who know what goes into an art, and can judge based on many factors, including (but not limited to) their own (erstwhile or current) prowess in same.
Beauty is a formula: Technique plus passion. Have the one alone, you only get a certain number of points, but not a perfect 10. Have only the other, you can’t even execute your art—can’t even get it done.
Anyway, both screens are pretty.
Holy schnikies, lovely lurkers, am I about to be busy as a whole hive of bees with spectacular gigs aplenty! I mean, wow. I haven’t written anything here in quite some time, so I am going to do two things for you, to make you happy and ameliorate my wretched posting frequency here. The first thing I’m going to do is to start posting here some of the more interesting and apropos musings from my blogs under my pen name. That should be a fun way to get more of my memoir-style writing out there, much to my immense discomfort. I’d love your feedback on any of those, too, lovely lurkers, so I can continue to improve in a writing style/genre I’m unfamiliar with.
The other thing I’m going to do is go down the list of stuff that’s up and coming with me, so you can be amazed and also come to see some of this stuff if you are or will be local. So. Ahem. Here goes (in a somewhat though not totally accurate chronological order):
Other than that? The current semester ends mid-May and the summer one begins in June. I visited New York City for the first time last week. I’ve finally gotten the paperwork filed and started for the divorce that’s been percolating for a couple years now (guuhhh that’s a long time coming but thank goodness it’s finally in the actual
process), and I may be starting at Community College of Denver this Fall as an English Prof.
We shall see.
Holy good goddamn that’s a lot. I mean, I knew it was a lot before
but now I’ve written it all down? Sheeeeeeez.
Don’t applaud, just send wine.
And coffee. Lots of coffee.