theatre

Don’t Read My Lips—Read the Rest of My Body

Back in my twenties, my main day-job was as a full time worker in a place not unlike Kinko’s: we made copies, did some graphic design, but mainly made good looking hard copies of things (brochures, booklets, presentations, etc.) for the professionals of Boulder. I worked in the bindery—a big warehousey area in the back where we had one of those huge industrial blades you had to operate with both hands, comb binders, wire spiral binders, two folding machines that always did their job crookedly and with mild electric shocks to the laborer that wasn’t paying attention.

But the biggest, oldest, most intimidating monster of a machine we had back in the bindery was something called the Perfect Binder. This was a brand name, though those of us unfortunate enough to have to use it (pretty much only me and the manager), adopted the moniker Perfect for this thing as a decidedly ironic descriptor.

The Perfect Binder was the size of three clothes washers lined up side by side—basically, a huge solid steel behemoth that took up an entire side of the room. Its job was to create “real” looking book-style bindings: it would roughly trim one side of a stack of paper, apply piping hot glue, and affix a cardstock cover to same. Thing is, this machine was a relic of the Industrial Revolution, and thereby needed a human (with ear protection, of course) watching it at all times to supervise the process—why, it’s hard to say: if one got anywhere near the thing as it ran, there was real danger of injury. But if you didn’t attend to it, it’d spew out glue-encrusted abominations that looked nowhere near Perfect.

Suffice to say, the Perfect Binder was slow, painstaking, and LOUD when it was working correctly. One day, I had a sizeable order that needed to be Perfect Bound, and the machine wasn’t working right—it was getting paper stuck in its craw, and basically it wasn’t doing its thing. I got the manager, one Jamie, to come in and help me assess the issue, so he came in and put on his ear protection. We put a sample into the Perfect Binder, and turned it on. Only a couple seconds into its faulty process, the whole room-sized thing JUMPED and jammed, making an even louder, sharper, and more alarming roar than its usual, before it conked out, secreting hot glue.

Once it had turned itself off, I sort of came to and looked at Jamie and myself. I had taken a quick step back away from the machine, and I was standing there rigidly, my arms up over my chest, forearms covering my breasts, fists positioned just under my ear coverings. I looked over at Jamie, who had been standing next to me as we had flipped the On switch. He, too, had taken a big step back in a natural flight response, but he, though standing just as stiffly as me, had both his hands crossed in front of himself, covering his groin.

I looked at Jamie, and at myself, and started laughing. He asked me what, and I indicated how we had both reacted (we were both still frozen in our respective defensive positions). Once we relaxed enough to take our big headphones off and realize the Perfect Binder wasn’t going to come back to life and kill us, we marveled at the gestures and movements both of us had made, completely without thinking, in the face of danger. I was amazed at the gendered reactions—I had covered my chest, his protective hands went right to his groin—and he was more amazed at the very big, clear poses we had adopted, entirely without consciously doing so.

Now, I’ve been in theatre since I was a very small child (my mother was a dance education major at SIU when she became pregnant with me and so I always joke that I’ve been appearing onstage since *before* I was born), and professionally so since my teens. I’ve also been presiding over classrooms full of people for the past 25 years or so. I say this because, unlike most humans, speaking onstage in front of an audience is not one of my greatest fears. In fact, I’m not afraid of it at all anymore—it’s completely second nature and I do it pretty much every day.

But most people are just as afraid of getting up in front of other people and speaking, as Jamie and I were of that malfunctioning Perfect Binder. It’s terrifying for most, and for most, even if you’re a business pro that’s somewhat used to it, it will still fill you with life or death, fight or flight terror. And the big defensive postures most people will perform while onstage? They won’t have any idea they’re doing them, no more than did Jamie and I. But imagine: you’re a male executive, doing an important presentation in front of something just as scary and intimidating as the jamming Perfect Binder; say, a panel of Fortune 500 C-suites? What impression are you going to give, standing stiffly in front of them, both hands clasped over your groin?

If you don’t have the kind of training I do (and why would you, unless you happen to have undergone a rigorous training background in theatre), no matter how smoothly your rehearsed speech might be in your voice, no matter how awesome your PowerPoint slides are, your body will belie all of that. Your body tells your real story, and it doesn’t lie. It can’t.

This is why I’m bringing my wide movement expertise into the world of business—I know how to get your body to tell the story you want it to, to align the story your body is telling your audience in that lizard-brain, primal way, that no number of words can correct if it’s not right there with it. Thing is, I don’t do a one-size-fits-all boilerplate for this. Sure, there are certain physical techniques I like to share with all of my clients, but I don’t go in and “correct” people’s “wrong” postures; I work with each person’s particular strengths to align their physical storytelling with their verbal message. And it’s kind of a bonus that some of the breathing techniques I work with do in fact soothe stage fright quite a bit.

I’m an English and a Theatre professor and have been a stunt coordinator for 25 years. I’ve survived the Perfect Binder. I know how movement connects to message.

How can I help you?

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What Was I Scared Of?

“Well,

“I was walking in the night, and I saw nothing scary. / For I have never been afraid of anything. Not very. / Then, I was deep within the woods, when suddenly, I spied them: / I saw a pair of pale green pants, with nobody inside them.”

Thus begins one of Dr. Seuss’ not-so-well-known stories, found within the collection titled: The Sneetches and Other Stories.

The original Seuss illustration of the story’s climax, and…

…the 2019 Stage Movement class at Metro’s tableau imitation of Seuss’ drawing.

You’ll have heard of the eponymous Sneetches: birdlike creatures, some have bellies with stars and others have none upon thars. The Star-Belly Sneetches treat the Plain-Bellies horribly, and we hear they’ve done so for years. In the end (spoiler alert), after being bilked by a ruthless Fix-It-Up-Chappie, the Sneetches learn their lesson, and decide that “no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

What Was I Scared Of? has a similar moral: in the end the narrator comes to a worldview-shattering realization that the pale green pants were “just as scared as I,” and declares, “I was just as strange to them / as they were strange to me.”

Learning to not only appreciate those different than us, but coexist with them, seems to be a common Seussian theme, across multiple Seuss stories. More importantly: that the differences we perceive in others, no matter how disturbing they may seem at first, are really, as the narrator of The Sneetches remarks, “…so small, / you might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

I haven’t performed this story since the reprise, in 2002, of the original production, put up by me and a small number of performers I dubbed Five Funny Faces (after a favorite class-closing game a beloved acting prof used to do with us), in 2000. In 2000, we performed at Nomad Theatre, and in ’02 we were recruited for the Seussentennial celebration, at the Boulder Public Library. This is after the previous school-grant production at the now-defunct Guild Theatre in east Boulder, a couple years before, which in turn came out of my directing project at CU Boulder the year before that: 3 By Seuss.

For all these past theatrical endeavors, I had adapted five Dr. Seuss stories for the stage, and when it became untenable to perform them myself &/or with my own peeps, I began to teach this Seussian production as the final exam for Stage Movement classes. It’s a good lesson in creating elaborate sets (and weird characters) with only physicality. It’s an effective cumulative lesson of all the things the Stage Movement students are supposed to have learned through the semester.

Plus, it’s fun.

And it’s good to remind all these young people about (getting off my lawn, and) Dr. Seuss’ moral lessons, too. Especially nowadays, when it seems power is all in making the other side look bad, or feel bad, or creating an Other Side in the first place, where there really shouldn’t be one. It’s a new type of commerce for the Internet era: the trade in outrage.

I’m dusting off my own Seussian chops to include What Was I Scared Of? as an act for the upcoming Blue Dime Cabaret. I’ve recruited two

Alan, Adam, and Prof. Jenn have never been afraid of anything. Not very…

young men from my most recent Stage Movement class to perform it with me. I’m including it for a few reasons, the main one of which is that the show’s theme is Back To School / Let’s Get Educated, which means I’m literally bringing a piece of the education I regularly provide, up onto the stage. With some of my actual students to whom I’ve provided same, no less.

Also, who didn’t read Dr. Seuss as a kid in school? We all did. At least, I should hope we did. So it fits.

It should be a huge amount of fun, and I’ve placed us last, so that the audience will leave with that warm fuzzy feeling you get at the end of the story, when the narrator meets the pants quite often in his regular world, smiling and saying “hi” instead of freaking out. It’s a lovely ending.

Hopefully after enjoying the show, the audience will “forg[e]t about stars, / and whether they have one, or not, upon thars.”

Cherophobia

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.

O, the Many Glorious Things I am Up To Right Now

Whew! Goodness, lovely lurkers, what’s been happening? Yet again I realize I have been neglecting you whilst writing personal essays and memoir type stuff (read: whining a lot) under my pen name. That writing, plus the robust article needs of YourBoulder, all are keeping my wee swordfighting mitts away from here. Owa Tana Siam. (Say it aloud. It’s one of the many sillinesses I remember uttered by the Great Yendor, mathematician and magician, the wizard that was Everything Good And Pure About The Renaissance Festival, back when I used to sling steel there.)

So let’s see, what mischief have I been managing lately? Here’s a list:

Work! I’m still reaching out all my feelers in the process of this career change. Peddling Your Body Tells Your Story to everybody that needs it. Which is, of course, everybody. In the meantime, I continue to tread water with my academic work: this summer it’s an online section of Staging Cultures, which you’ve heard me discuss before. An online Children’s Lit is coming up soonish for the grad students at DU, so that one should be fun–let me know if you’d like to be an audience for my read-aloud vids; I plan on making a bunch of new ones. Haven’t heard from Regis in a while, which makes me wonder if I’ve been canceled like a Whedon franchise there. But I’ve also applied to teach comp at CCD, so that might fill in some gaps come fall if they decide to have me on.

Play! er, I mean, Plays! I’m the fight director for an all-female production of Richard III at Lost & Found Theatre, which should be a gas. I taught my basic movement seminar to the cast the other day, and will go coordinate the fighty bits next week. My kingdom for a horse… After that, my next gig of that nature that I know of will be fight directing for FRCC’s production of MacBeth, in September. Is this a dagger I see before me?

Boobies! Burlesque, that is. Blue Dime Cabaret is going strong; still the crazy be-tasseled geniuses we are, we had two shows up at Charlie’s Bar in Central City for Lou Bunch Day, which looks quite likely to turn into a yearly commitment.

Charlie’s Bar never knew what hit em…

Which is cool. For those, I channeled the late great Madeline Kahn and did my quirky Zuko version of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles. Then the very next week we were back in Boulder for our June Is Busting Out All Over show, for which I sang two numbers and also emceed. Our next show will be Back To School themed, which makes me realize I’m going to need to get myself a schoolgirl skirt. I’ll keep you posted on the date for that–it’ll be in August.

All that plus all the writing, plus divorce proceedings? I’m lucky I get to see my partner at all. Or, he is, I guess. Ahem. 😉

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll try to get back here for some Sherlockian nerdiness very soon. Ciao.

Tiamat the Destroyer

Tiamat is a dragon that’s from mythology so old she’s not really a dragon, but more of a slimy worm/reptile thing, very much like Grendel’s mother. A female, lizard-like, spawner of monsters. Her element is sludge and she will lick your ass, whether your name is Beowulf or Ahura Mazda. [edit: autocorrect changed “kick” to “lick” in that above sentence, and I have decided I will allow it.]

Of course, as anyone who knows anything about both things is well aware, when Gygax & crew constructed the elaborate role playing game known as Dungeons & Dragons in the ‘70s, t/he/y scooped up all kinds of creatures both to play as and to encounter, from ancient mythology and what I call Old Story. (And yes, of course Tolkien’s classic peoples of Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Halflings. And wizards. But where do you think the Good Don got them in the first place? Hm? Don’t @ me…)

Of course any game w dragons in the title needs must have plenty of them flying around in its world, and boy does it: Tiamat is one of the biggest baddies one can encounter in D&D. Her sex is the only thing she keeps from her ancient squidgy origins: a five headed dragon in the game, each of her heads is a different color and spews a different element, as though she’s five chromatic dragons in one. Which of course she is, kinda.

In popular play She Kills Monsters, Tiamat does indeed have five heads, but in this case it’s (SPOILERS: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want SPOILERS) the embodiment of the five adventurers our protagonist has been journeying with.

The final fight is described by the playwright as “the most incredible fight scene in history ever to be put on a stage.” No pressure. But my work on this show over at RRCC culminates not as much with my choreography, but with an immense, phenomenal animatronic behemoth conceived & constructed by the college’s robotics department. Only two and a half of the heads, plus two wings, were complete when I trekked down there yesterday afternoon but boy did it look spectacular nonetheless. I tweaked the choreography and guided the girl who’d be fighting the thing, reassuring her the while that her assessment was correct: the audience would be looking at it, not really at her very much at all. So in this case the most epic dragon battle supposed-to-be ever is more about the machinery than the dance, and that’s just fine. It’s all art. Gorgeous art, at that.

I had a slight tangent planned about Game of Thrones and my history of watching it, not watching it, wanting to read the books and not bothering, etc. in the wake of the beginning of the end apparently broadcasting Sunday night, but ehhhh. Boobs and dragons are both things I enjoy, but wars of the roses meets soft core porn I’m just not willing to waste my all too short mortality on. I’ll get the best fight scenes shared with me, put in my two gold pieces’ worth, and that’ll be plenty. And my nerd cred remains intact, thankyouverymuchindeed…

There are a few more potent (and older) dragons I’d rather revisit. LeGuin’s intimidating dragons of Earthsea, Tolkien’s Smaug, and of course The Pearl Poet’s Mom o’ Grendel. Whoever s/t/he/y was/ere.

🐲🐉

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…

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.