culture

The Meaning of His Douche Canoe

Number 4 in Friend Jason’s podcast series on my Problematic Badass Female Tropes is ready for a listen!

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The 2019 Denver PCC, Starring ME!

If you were wondering whether to go to Denver Comic Con (now called Denver Pop Culture Con) this year, wonder no more! Why? Because I will be presenting four (4!) different times throughout the weekend (plus one small intellectual lightning round)–all different fascinating topics, all of which you do NOT want to miss. Here are the deets:

Friday, May 31:

Noon pm, room 603: Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I’ll be running down all 7 of my Problematic Badass Female Tropes that you’ve read on Writers’ HQ and have listened to me and Friend Jason blab about on the Outrider Podcast. Come listen and ask me questions afterwards. And buy me a DPCC beer and rail with me against the patriarchy.

Saturday, June 1:

Noon pm: Light Speed Academia (Room TBA)

I’ll have 5 minutes to expostulate and lecture in depth on a topic of my choice. Not sure what I’m picking yet–come see and be surprised and intellectually stimulated by me and my fellow nerdy academics.

3:30 pm: Three Rules For Protagonists (Room 504)

I did this very talk last summer, to a surprisingly packed audience. This talk goes over the Monomyth and the Three Rules (or questions) For Actors, and discuss not only how the two systems are intimately related, but also how they’re an easy and foolproof formula for powerful storytelling.

–I’m going to Goth Prom with the SO that night, so I will not likely be available for socializing after, but will be hightailing it to go get gussied up.–

Sunday, June 2:

3pm: Pop Culture Portrayals Of Trauma, Care, and Survival (Room 507)

I will be chairing this panel, as well as presenting my own section called “Sex and/or Violence,” in which I will talk about my work in Stage Combat and intimacy coordination for stage.

4:30 pm: The Fight is the Story (Room 607)

This is a presentation I’ve done almost every single year since this event has existed. In it, I discuss the necessity for fight scenes to be an essential part of the story they appear in. I discuss the Three Rules For Actors, and I also dissect, Ebert-like, a few different good and not so good examples of fight scenes.

Put these down on your schedule for that weekend, and I hope to see you all there! Now I gotta go edit some slides….

Red

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!*”

The mod kids are mod. This would have been right before her threat and my subsequent first dye job.

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.

Breakin’

Or maybe it’s Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. I couldn’t decide which. And now that I have, I must admit that I don’t remember if there were actual songs called that, within the soundtracks of those movies. Welp, too late—the title is chosen, and no I can’t be bothered to research those delightful pieces of ‘80s dross. Which are still so bad they’re gloriously good. Thanks anyway.

I was big into break dancing back in the day, being the daughter of a dancer, and wildly admired Michael Jackson’s incredible movement skills (it wasn’t break dancing, what he did—I’d call it a self-stylized form of jazz). One summer, at age 12 or 13, I took a break dancing class and concurrently, a jazz dance class that focused solely on the big dance number from Thriller. The album and subsequent music videos had just come out, and it was all the rage.

Still is, to an extent. Except. The recently released documentary on the horrifying activities that were regular occurrences at Neverland, plus #metoo, combine to make it not so easy to separate the artist from his art. The pedophile, I mean. From his art.

I have this discussion with most groups of my students: is it possible to appreciate and enjoy a work of art when the creator of same was a monster? I mean, beyond understanding the mental illnesses of some, like Van Gogh or Pollock. For example, can you enjoy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, knowing its author photographed little girls in the nude? I happen to, but then I first fell in love with Lewis Carroll’s wonderful oeuvre of nonsense when I was myself a little girl of just the age he’d reportedly erotically fixate upon. I don’t have a correct answer to this issue, but as far as anyone knows, erotic obsessions aside, Dr. Dodgson never raped anybody. Not that that particularly helps.

There’s a mighty dance battle towards the end of She Kills Monsters, the play I’m helping RRCC with, and as I chose music clips and dances to include in the battle, of course I went right to including the iconic moves from Thriller. But then it hit me. Can I do this, anymore? Does this dance elicit joy? It used to—even as recently as last year, the Thriller dance was a go-to for iconic moves of the 1980s, and Halloween dance flash mobs were still joyfully doing it down the streets. But now?

I discussed it with the young students who would be performing the dance battle, and they concurred amongst themselves that the work is bigger than the man. But it bugged me, and when I brought it up later to the SO, he averred it was a bad idea. Putting that dance up on stage will not cause joy to an audience in late April 2019; it will cause discomfort at best, triggering at worst. Maybe in time we’ll be able to appreciate Michael Jackson’s art again, at a farther remove, but we really can’t now. Not anymore. So I removed the Thriller section from the dance battle.

And hey, maybe more time won’t heal those wounds Jackson caused. If they don’t, is that such a bad thing? Is the loss of a brilliant body of work worth the healing of the way too many survivors that are trying to live good lives in the aftermath of a nightmare? I’d say so.

Anyway, it’s high time we stopped praising the monsters for their art while waving away their wrongdoings. I’m looking at you, Woody Allen. Too long.

But that’s not why I titled this post Breakin’. It’s because I was breaking in these new boots at the time of this writing, and was feeling it a little, after a couple days straight of wearing them. I’m wearing them today again, to go teach the finished dance battle, sans Thriller, tonight.

Not nearly such an exciting topic, eh. Whatever. I’ll allow it.

P.S. Look at that photo. Talk about a Band of Young Men, amirite? And, yes, they’re about to enter into a dance battle. I mean, OBViously…

Ode to a Grecian Urn

One of the coolest things I saw at The Met whilst on vacation was also one of the first, in the first room I entered. It’s a vase (like an amphora? An urn? I don’t recall the term for the particular type) depicting Perseus’ decapitation of Medusa, and Pegasus emerging from the wound.

I mean, this is one of the most well known stories of all time. It’s been told and retold countless times; and even though you may not know the actual story of Perseus and Medusa, or the weird way Pegasus was born, you definitely know what a Pegasus is. You most likely also know very well that Medusa has snakes for hair and that her gaze’ll turn you to stone. There’s even a strong likelihood that you know (even if you didn’t remember the hero’s name) Perseus cut her head off by using his mirrored shield so he wouldn’t have to look directly at her, and that after her defeat he wielded her severed head as quite the effective weapon.

Like I was mentioning before about the window/mirror concept of stories, this is an example of how astonishing it is to look down a time tunnel so long: this vessel has that story depicted on it, clear as clay. And it’s, like, two thousand years old. And yet I can look at it and go, Oh yeah: that story. I know that story.

I have been a scholar of what I call by the collective noun Old Story for a very very long time. Most of my remembered life, in fact. In my teen years I discovered Joseph Campbell’s studies that came before mine, and his powerful works of synthesis (revolutionary for his time) excited me very much. Still does, actually, especially because I myself in my own works and studies thereon have expanded it beyond heterosexual masculinity in a way that honors Campbell’s work, doesn’t butcher it like so many feminists do whose scholarship isn’t as rigorous. But that’s a rant for another time. Don’t “at” me, c’mon: I’m a feminist myself. But just take two seconds to look up the actual etymology of the word “history” to understand why the current term “herstory” irks me so.

There are many reasons why I’m excited about the monomyth, and why it makes plenty of people uncomfortable. But it comes back to the way I always describe it, particularly to my writing students: we’re all skeletons underneath. Strip me of my clothes and flesh and do the same to the most different looking person to me, and stand our skeletons next to each other. Odds are you won’t see much of a difference, if any. Maybe one of us is a little taller, or if you know how to look at bones, you’ll notice our assigned sex might be different. But the differences are minuscule, really. Put our flesh and our skin and our hair and our clothing back on over them, and that’s where we’ll begin to show our differences. The base, though, the skeleton? Pretty much the same.

That’s what makes those old stories so potent, and (I would aver) is why we keep telling them, over and over. They’re our base and inner structure, our skeleton; they’re what keep us standing upright.

Did you know that there’s a version of Cinderella in every single culture on earth? Every one. No exception. Fun fact. And we haven’t stopped telling it.

Perseus and Medusa aren’t as pervasive, you say? So tell me: which of the My Little Ponies has wings? What was the main conflict in the second Harry Potter book? And isn’t there another YA series with Percy and a bunch of Greek gods?

The Greek gods are like the ultimate reality show, or soap opera whose drama never ends. And why should it? It’s what keeps us going. What keeps us standing.

Fish Heads n Tatts

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.

Reflections of New York

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

The KGB Room, and Nightmares Show. Immensely entertaining.

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.