Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why Failing Is The Answer To All Your Problems

In addition to being a writer, I've worked in gyms for most of my life.

In the beginning, I sucked.

I taught a step class (gymspeak for a box-type gizmo that you step up and down on, preferably choreographed and to music) where I started out with forty people and ended up with about three. All group exercise songs are composed around an eight-count beat; in step, you "cue" the next move on the fifth or sixth beat, and then execute that move on the seventh or eighth. It's a little like spinning plates on your nose--one wrong move and the whole thing goes crashing to the ground.

That ill-fated day when I taught my first step class, the more I kept screwing it up, the more rattled I got. The more rattled I got, the more I kept screwing up. People snatched up their benches, parked them in the equipment closet and then marched out to complain to the manager about what an incompetent dumbass I was, thank you. At seventeen, you feel these failures keenly. I took my humiliation out to the car and cried until I started hiccoughing.

As a writer, I've been kicked in the teeth so many times, I'm still spitting Chiclets. If I were to tally up even an approximation of how many times agents told me to go fuck myself (agentspeak for "I wouldn't rep you if had a cure for leprosy"), it would be somewhere between 2,000-3,000 rejections. Some of those rejections were quite stinging--in even a mild perusal of those emails, the word "hate" really jumps out at you.

As a men's magazine model (yes, I was one of those, too), you are leaving yourself wide open to public criticism and some of it is pretty scathing. I did a photo shoot about two months after having my oldest son and was still a little chubby. Jesus, you'd have thought I was a candidate for lapband surgery. "Put down the Twinkies, honey," one of my more vocal detractors wrote. "No one wants to see a fat cunt like you."

Then there are the more personal failures like divorce, bankruptcy, living in your car. Having kids (I produced two) feels like its own failure because no matter how much love and attention you give them, the world is cruel and you can't protect them from all of life's vicissitudes. They don't tell you that about having kids, by the way. The anguish of not being able to throat sock the little bastard on the school bus who keeps calling your kid "retard" leaves its own scar. If you're like me, you start devising ways to poison him instead.

There were men I loved who didn't love me back when I was too young to realize that the failure to appeal to them wasn't necessarily mine to own. Most people in their twenties lead lives of quiet desperation, paranoia and misery anyway. I was no exception. Many years would pass before I'd ask myself that most important of questions: This person whose opinion of me means so much...is this someone I respect and admire? The shock of realizing that I didn't felt like a tectonic shift to a girl who assumed everything was her fault, her deficiency.

But all those psychological train wrecks, those pies thrown in my face, the public humiliations and the private ones, made me what I am today: a motherfucking badass. I wouldn't trade them for Lottery money. They were my own personal Trial by Fire. They forced me to examine my own value system. They opened my eyes to the madness of society. They made me question everything I had been brought up to believe in--the sovereignty of money, the glitter of fame. By taking one on the chin repeatedly, mercilessly, savagely by life, I became stronger. No longer did criticism level me--but then praise no longer had the power to buoy me up either.

I understand the Buddha when he says, "The fingers pointing at the moon are not the moon."

People's opinions of you, good or bad, are more a reflection of their relationship with themselves than they are a true accounting of your value.

I'm not saying I'm great and anyone who doesn't think that is an asshole. I am not great. I'm just human.

What I'm saying is that no one gets to be an authority on you. Not even you if you don't have the stones to "go there" and figure your shit out for yourself.

Failure honed the blade I use to cut through the crap.

So do it. Seek it. Fail spectacularly. Fuck it all kinds of up. Welcome the howls of protest and outrage and criticism. Let them soak into your bones. Let them forge you into stronger steel.

Because only when your lust for life exceeds your fear of failure will you ever truly live.

Are you comfortable owning a failure? I'd like to hear if you'd like to share.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Schadenfreude is Dark Chocolate for the American Soul

No one wants to bang an actress over forty.

That's the prevailing wisdom in Hollywood--in the near-pornographic intimacy of high-def, you might see a wrinkle or a deflated boob or an ass that's a centimeter or two lower than it was when that actress starred in the rom-com that launched her career twenty years ago.

Can't have that.

Meanwhile, their male cohorts begin to look like thirsty old vampires with their crepey eyelids and liver-spotted pedophilic hands pawing onscreen love interests half their age. Hey, Hollywood is the land of dreams, and dreams die hard.

We depend on celebrities to show us a wildly idealized version of how our lives should be. Not only do we need them to be perfect, we will cannibalize them for being anything less. Jessica Simpson's high-waisted jeans and five extra pounds, for instance. The dust-up over Renee Zellweger's new dermal-filled, plasticine, Jesus-who-the-hell-is-that face. Pamela Anderson's freaky McDonald's arch eyebrows and vain attempts to remain fuckable. Pick up any magazine and you will see why the most aggressive paparazzi get paid big bucks to snap a bad photo of any woman who has the temerity to be both beautiful and famous.

Schadenfreude is dark chocolate for the American soul.

But here's the thing. I'm not going to bitch about Hollywood or "the system" or even the paparazzi. I'm going to point the finger where the finger needs to be pointed, which is at us. All of us. For our ghoulish fascination with fallen idols. We build them up and tear them down with the same vicious glee, forking over money at every news stand to see Tara Reid's "shark bitten" overly-liposuctioned tummy or a Kim Basinger "tragically" looking her age. There's a low-grade resentment among women. Why do these twats get paid millions of dollars? They're nothing special. They're flawed and human, just like we are.

Our critical eyes make them desperate. We take to Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram and the National Enquirer, poring over photos--damning evidence that these celebrities aren't worthy of the attention and money we give them. And the dissemination of bad photos may impact an actress's financial bottom line. An actress caught at a bad angle may not be considered for the roles she needs in order to pay the rent.

Like Heidi Montag, (she-of-the-ten-surgeries-in-one-day), these frantic creatures resort to expensive, invasive procedures, and they do it at increasingly younger ages. Heidi was twenty-five went she got her first face lift. And what did we do? We despised her for it. We flamed her for "cheating." After all, the rules are clear: don't expect us to treat you like a god unless you are one. And anybody who resorts to surgery is a false idol.

Because of us, women in Hollywood look as though they are made of vinyl. Because of us, they down Adderall by the handful, live on sushi and cigarettes, in order to even have careers. Only the few (Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson) who are lucky enough to be both talented AND beautiful are given any kind of a hall pass. Even news anchors are pressured to look as crease-free as possible. News anchors. Think about that for a minute.

So how do we stop this Juggernaut?

First, we take a good hard look at ourselves. What itch gets scratched when we see a bald Britney Spears going psycho with an umbrella on somebody's car? Are we proud of that morbid curiosity? Every time we click on a link that promises to show us celebrity cellulite, we are encouraging women-abusing vermin to gin up unflattering photos that will prove to us, once and for all, those bitches aren't better than we are. We relegate celebrities--and by extension, all women--to a trash heap of fuckable, unfuckable, and heading in the direction of unfuckable, regardless of talent. Don't do it. Don't buy the magazine. Don't fall for the clickbait.

In the end, if we want to see better roles for women in Hollywood and better women in those roles, women need to stop objectifying women. We need to move beyond our knee-jerk habit of comparing our bodies, favorably or unfavorably, to those of the celebrities we see. Our collective attention is meat for the consumerist beast, but if we start looking the other way, the beast has no choice but to find a different way to entice us.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Life as a Big Boob Side Show

Someone asked me the other day: What would your life have looked like if you didn't have enormous boobs?

It's a damn good question, one with feminist implications and practical ones. Would I have been taken more seriously? And is that necessarily something one ought to aspire to--what does "being taken seriously" look like; what honor does it confer?

Frankly, I wouldn't know. Most people who meet me are only serious about not getting caught staring down the ravine of my cleavage. And I make no effort to hide it. Why should I? There's no pretending the boobs aren't there. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of them. They are as much a part of my daily existence as shampoo and coffee and--oh, hey, look. Boobs.

I suspect the glazed expression I see on people's faces comes from frantic cogitation. Are they real? Are they real? Can I squeeze one? Are they real? I'm sure many consider them vulgar. A lot of people burst into peals of laughter when I walk by. Last month as I was sitting by myself in Viterbo (Italy), five young men engaged me in halting conversation about whether one of them could pee in the bushes. When I turned to give a resounding no, a hand with an iPhone snaked around the corner. One of those little squat bubbles was hiding behind the stairs trying to perv footage of my boobs.

Some people are nicer to me because of them. I've weaseled out of traffic tickets and gotten into nightclubs. I've been bumped up to first class by smitten airline pilots. Mountains of cocaine have been offered to me (no, thanks) along with stern admonishments to dress more modestly (no, thanks) and people's cocked-eyebrow skepticism when I tell them I'm a writer (fuck you).

Clothes are impossible. Equally impossible--ever--is looking slim, regardless of what my weight might be. There is just too much mass to overcome. With the boobs comes a certain all-over voluptuousness anyway, something one does battle with from age 12 onward, particularly in the States where every woman, regardless of her genetics, is expected to look like a Q-tip. When I'm eighty, though, I'm going to start drinking, smoking and stuffing my face full of birthday cake. I've got plans. The boobs will probably still be there, way below sea level, but I find that guys aren't too exacting. Any grabbable handful will do.

Mostly, I refuse to be burqa'd. I don't dress to hide my boobs or try to create a more "flattering" silhouette. I left flattering about nine exits back. They're there, right there, getting in the way, knocking shit off. I appreciate the fact that those puppies made me a shit ton of money. But in real life, I never try to capitalize on their power. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'd know how. Sexually manipulating men doesn't interest me in the slightest. In sexual situations, they're nice. In non-sexual situations, those things are little more than big sweaty crumb-catching nightmares.

But it would be disingenuous for me to say that my life wouldn't have been different if I'd been "normal" (by whatever parameter we measure that). There are a thousand opportunities I wouldn't have been given, men I wouldn't have known, adventures I wouldn't have had were it not for the fact that big boobs are a sexual trigger. There is, I think, a fair amount of pressure on men to prove their heterosexuality by pretending to like them more than they actually do. Maybe I'm wrong,

If those opportunities hadn't lured me away from finishing my degree, my life would have admittedly been different. I strongly believe that I would have attracted better men and men who were better for me. Big boobs are a siren call to sexually-manipulative sociopaths, sex addicts and guys who want to "save" you and then--you guessed it--put you in a burqa. I mean that in a figurative way, just to be clear. While I object to any woman being forced to wear a uniform in order to comply with religious standards, I can easily understand why my friends who do wear one say it's oddly liberating.

Without my boobs, I would suffer a crisis of identity. This I know. I would be forced to deal with life unprotected. I hide behind them. I am very good at hiding. It has become so second nature, I am rarely aware that I use my boobs as both a cloaking device and a deflection shield. Behind them, I watch. I observe. Not unkindly, just curious. People fascinate me, especially the ways in which they, too, hide: cigarette smoke, bravado, religious faith, money. We all build a hologram. Some of us believe in it; others, like me, are a little weary of the effort it takes to maintain the illusion.

Somewhere down the line, I went from morbidly shy, geeky and book smart to having a 36K-sized personality. In a flash of insight, an old boyfriend of mine once quipped that I was determined not to be overshadowed by my boobs. I'm sure it's true. But I wonder if I would have had the courage to "come out" were it not for the protection they offered me.

In a thousand ways, my boobs have informed every minute of my life. I have never felt inadequate in this department--and I know that many women do, which to me is an unbearable tragedy. But here's the thing. It's a primrose path, this being "fuckable." It offers ample reason to suspect that the entirety of a woman's strength, purpose and power is sexual. AND IT IS--if you aren't willing to rise to the occasion of making your power felt in other ways. Which is not always easy. Taking back power requires hard work, intelligence, skill and talent. Just being fuckable is the law of diminishing returns.

True strength and true power are not predicated on your cup size or your dress size. Those conditions come as a result of not looking outside yourself for approval or for confirmation of your worth. They come from knowing who you are, what you are, of being truly comfortable inside--not just resigned to--your own skin. Bonafide sexiness is all out of fucks to give about cup size. It draws all its water from deeper wells.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Great Italian Adventure: Roughing it in the Land of Permits and Pasta

Calcata Vecchia is a land that Time didn’t so much forget as exempt. You won’t see satellite dishes here, although there is a forest of antennae and wind turbans glittering from its red-tiled roofs. You can spot them from the path that wends its way up to Calcata Nuova, the new town, that one that isn’t medieval and doesn’t sit on a rock that stretches out of the Treja Valley like an odd, clay-colored mushroom.

No car other than the occasional three-wheeled Piaggio is allowed to pass beneath Calcata Vecchia’s sacred arches, so you march—laden with heavy groceries in flimsy, environmentally-conscious bags made of corn husks—up wet cobblestones that have been made yet more treacherous by pigeon droppings. You stop halfway, wondering if it’s really that hot, that steep, and that difficult or if you’re just that woefully out-of-shape. Then you press on, hoping the bags hold up so your acqua frizzante doesn’t go rolling down the hill with you chasing after it.

You’re always happy when you get to the piazza. To the right is a 16th century church with an outrageously flamboyant priest who observes all the Catholic saints days, usually with a bullhorn. There was a situation a few years ago where a young woman stripped off all her clothes and wandered naked through the borgo. The priest was furious. Words were exchanged on the church steps—those same steps that a year later, as part of some bizarre Halloween ritual, a woman the locals referred to as “ham hock” stripped down to a bustier and 18th century farthingale. I guess it’s all in the context.

But in the piazza you will see artist Constantino Morosin’s legendary thrones, three of them, sculpted out of the indigenous stone called tufo. Sometimes a cat is there, licking its paws before pausing to stare at you as though you are stupidest person on earth for carrying groceries in this heat. Both Calcatas, vecchia and nuova, are abundant in cats. In many cases, a cat will attach itself to you, and then you are obligated to feed it, worm it, and buy it shots. Fortunately, the vet lives two houses down and makes house calls.

Calcata Vecchia has restaurants, art studios, bodegas, shops and bars. The one you see as you first lurch into the piazza while your heart rate levels out is called Opera, and since they have wifi, you might even see me lurking there in a suspicious manner with my iPhone clutched in sweaty desperate paws. Il Gatto Nero (the Black Cat) is a feline-themed restaurant behind a charming red-lacquer door. Neo is the mascot, which is fitting since he is a black cat, and a woefully misbegotten one at that. He snuck into our house one evening and sprayed a first edition George Orwell. There was hell to pay, believe me, and I ended up sprinkling the book with corn starch, tying a plastic bag around it and then shaking it like I was coating a chicken leg. Worked, too.

No one in Calcata (that I know of anyway) has air conditioning. This forces you to live a greater percentage of your life out of doors. But it sucks when you sleep in the attic with your boyfriend who tends to starfish the entire bed and you’re so sweaty and sleep-deprived you actually grab a pillow and try dozing in the clawfoot bathtub. If we owned a refrigerator, I would have stuck my entire head in the crisper, but as things are, the best I can do is the tub or the kitchen floor, two ladders down, where I sprawl comatose on an orange blanket. When we make coffee in the morning (on a hot plate, by the way—no oven here), the whole room rises about eight hundred degrees and you curse your tragic addiction to coffee, but at the same time you know that nothing in this life or the next is going to keep you from making it, especially the Italian stuff, which pretty much ruins you for anything else.

What you are left with when there are few televisions, sketchy wifi, no cell reception, no cars, and no air conditioning is each other. The Calcatese are a passionate, wildly opinionated lot, given to altercations in the piazza. There was one last night. As a local theater group came streaming up the hill after their performance, with no agenda more Machiavellian than wishing to dine al fresco in the piazza, they were treated to their own private performance of two locals punching the snot out of each other. One of them, bloody and with his shirt torn, gave a bravura performance of his own, yelling obscenities at everyone for twenty minutes until the carabinieri showed up.

For the record, the carabinieri view the Calcatese with sneering contempt. We’re artists, writers, actors, and musicians, you see. Calcata Vecchia is actually known as paese di fricchettoni, or “village of freaks.” To the local constabulary, what happened last night is just further proof that we are, without exception, moral degenerates. And to be fair, that’s not entirely untrue. Heroin was a problem here once and perhaps a couple thousand parties might have turned into one big orgiastic fuck pit. But in the severest terms I will maintain that your average U.S. Senatorial kegger is far more debauched, especially now that the American public is too busy watching Backstrom to concern themselves with the character of their elected representatives.

Is it true that from time to time someone’s car gets torched? Yes. Do the carabinieri do anything about it? No. Do certain members of the local communist party occasionally get their pricy new chompers knocked clean out of their skull by put-upon fascist youth? Yes. Do the carabinieri do anything about it? No. Do local farmers sometimes come up to the piazza to sell fresh mozzarella, grapes, and honey? Yes. Do the carabinieri do anything about it? Absolutely. They drive those poor bastards off with a stick. Why? No permit. Italians adore permits. Permits are the god and sovereign of the Italian legal system—although those three words together may constitute the biggest oxymoron of the free world, right after United States democracy.

In many respects, life is lived here much as it was five centuries ago. And it has taught me in the most uncomfortable ways that every problem that humans create a solution for just creates other, different problems. Television, cars, air conditioning and freely accessible wifi = isolation (plus air pollution and lack of exercise, etc.). Yet all that togetherness = fighting. At least it does when you’re Italian. But even the days, and there are plenty, where I could really use a little more climate control, I never lose sight of the gift that’s been given to me as a stranger in a strange land. I am living life out loud—overheated, vitriolic, and always teetering on the edge of disaster. But there’s laughter (mostly at myself) and appreciation of what is best about the old ways and what is truly essential about the new.

Which compels me to ask: what’s the one modern convenience you think you could live without? I’d be curious to know.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

More Balls Than Sense: My Love Affair with Italy

Almost a year ago, I quit my job as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, sold my blue Kia Rio, unloaded my furniture, packed what was left of my earthly belongings into two bags, and flew on a buddy pass to Rome. It sounds so cut-and-dry, I know. Make a plan. Execute the plan.

But it was I who felt as though she'd been executed. I left behind some amazing friends, a job I loved, my eighteen-year-old son who, quite understandably, had no interest in going with me, plus my daughter who was scheduled to fly over a month later. The odds of her liking Italy were slim, at best, but it was a chance we had to take. I vowed that I would not commit ritual suicide if she opted to go back home again. This was a huge move for me, let alone an adorably social fourteen-year-old girl who, like most of her kind, loved Fall Out Boys, Taco Bell, and the mall.

There's no mall in the medieval village of Calcata, Italy. There isn't even an ATM machine.

A week before leaving, I had what amounted to a mini nervous breakdown with the hyperventilating and the sweating and the late night calls to the friends I felt as though I were abandoning. There were also other, larger, issues at play in my drippy leave-taking. I had to muck around in my own psychological mud puddles, ones of trust and dependency. My love affair wasn't just with Italy, but a man I met there, a remarkable, unique, and wholly un-replaceable man. After years of flying solo, I was now rolling the dice in a way that left me questioning whether I could actually go through with this, whether I'd lost my mind, whether I had the guts (or the craziness) to walk that flimsy a tightrope in high heels and without a net.

If my past history with love was anything to hang my hat on, there was no hat to hang. My taste in men was as infamously bad as my politics were leftist. I was flying against all sense and logic by making this move. I didn't speak Italian; I spoke phrasebook. I was giving up a steady paycheck to write--what a joke! Statistically, I stood a better chance of contracting a hemorrhagic disease than making my living with my pen. And now I would be leaning hard on someone else to help me navigate simple life transactions like buying groceries or pumping gas. We would also be doing some navigation of our own as we tried to match up our emotional baggage. That gets harder as you get older. They never tell you that, but it's true.

To my face, my friends were wonderfully supportive, even admiring. Breaking out of Rikers is easier than breaking out of a comfort zone. They knew that. But behind my back, I imagine they must have expressed some justifiable doubts. In one form or another, some directly, others less so, the people I knew asked me why I had decided to leave.

Here then is my answer.

Every morning in the U.S., I woke up on the wrong side of capitalism. I loved my job, but I was working seven days a week and still couldn't pay my bills. The utilitarian ugliness of Houston's freeway/stripmall/suburb bore down on me, day in and day out, like a slow gray depression. Going to the supermarket with its bright shiny aisles and over-processed everything was like a stab wound. So were the seventy-dollars-for-two-bags-of-crap.

Nothing in Italy is bright or shiny. It's old and ramshackle. I don't hear sirens all day or see billboards the size of swimming pools. I hear church bells and roosters. Roses grow in wild profusion over crumbling stone walls. Grapes spill over trellises. The village I live in, Calcata, is fraught with internecine warfare, but we all know each other.

Returning to the U.S. after my various junkets abroad had, at one time, left me stunned and sad and a little panicky. I couldn't "land." Maybe I was afraid to. Maybe I worried, on some level, that I would get trapped there in the delicate filament wires of ease, comfort, convenience, like the victim of a thirsty spider.

In my kingdom, I was tiny queen. But I had no choice but to abdicate if I wanted to follow my bliss. It felt selfish to me, yet the alternative--to make myself vague promises of doing it later--was not only delusional, it was a lie.

Do I miss the U.S.? Not in the slightest. What's toxic about American culture is the stuff of another blog post. In fact, my native land feels increasingly unreal to me. Is life easy in Italy? Never. We freeze in the winter; we sweat in the summer. Sometimes we're so poor, we eat borrowed potatoes and not much else. Italy is never convenient. And since I write all day in English, it undermines my daily attempts to study Italian. It's a damned difficult language to learn, by the way. Italian grammar is a cross between Times Square and the Inquisition.

But ... you can't regret the things you did for love. And I will never regret this. I have been changed irrevocably, have struggled and grown and will struggle again.

I am deeply, viscerally alive.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Geeks, Boobs, and Anne Boleyn: My Life as a Truant

When I was twelve, I skipped school for six weeks and wrote my first novel. It was about Henry VIII's fifth wife, Kathryn Howard, but the point-of-view character was her sister, Isabella Baynton, who was married to Kathryn's Vice Chamberlain. It was wildly overwritten, in the way of first novels...and you're wondering why on earth a twelve-year-old would even find something like that interesting, let alone write a novel about it. Skipping school is hardly mystifying, of course, since most of us spent our incarceration there dreaming of a jailbreak.

My long-suffering single mother would go to work in the morning. I waved cheerily from the bus stop as she drove past with her coffee in hand, barely awake, barely functional, a preview of things to come when, many years hence, I was the single mother chuffing by, bleary-eyed and tragically under-caffeinated. The minute her car turned the corner, I raced back into the house and locked the door.

Any right-thinking kid--any NORMAL kid--would have rolled a joint or trawled for beer or gotten in a shitload of trouble. But I was far from normal. I was a geek. I didn't look like one, but at no point in my life has my outside matched my inside. Outside, it was all boobs and sarcasm. Inside, it was a hundred geeky enthusiasms. English history was one of them.

I knew more about the Tudors and the Elizabethans and the Jacobeans and the Stuarts than most people knew about their own family trees. I was fascinated by the idea of just bulldozing over people to get your way, whether it was a divorce, a woman, or a war. Henry VIII enclosed feudal lands, drove off the peasants, balkanized England, beheaded dissenters, and gave the Pope his stiff middle finger. He was a tyrant in every sense of the word, a despicable, horrible man, and I couldn't feed my hungry brain enough information about this period of time when women navigated by their beauty, wits, and wiles. Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife, held him at bay for six years so he'd marry her. He may have been the King of England, but Anne worked him like a meat puppet.

I'd write longhand. I still write longhand. I'd plow through my mother's records and put Bach or Chopin, something classical, on the turntable. I was insane with joy. The whole day stretched before me, hours and hours of unstructured time, time to do what I wanted to do, which was to write. When the school called, I pretended to be sick. "My mother's at work," I'd rasp. "The doctor said not to come back to school until I was no longer contagious."

Meanwhile, the novel continued apace. I never worried about school or catching up or my grades, because I didn't give a fuck. All I wanted to do was write. I had no grand expectations about "being a writer" or starving elegantly in a garret in Paris or pulling down a serious advance. I didn't even know about those things. All I was certain of was the high probability of dying a slow miserable death in social science class or by the Latina girls who liked to punch the snot out of me or on the school bus, which belched diesel fumes toxic enough to kill us all if we idled too long at a light. This is the public school experience for many of us. We are tethered to a desk, or many desks, for eight hours a day. We are forced to pay attention or suffer the consequences--which usually meant another hour after school tethered to yet another desk.

As adults, we know for a fact that we would never put up with that bullshit. Eight hours of sitting and pretending to be interested in crap we know we're never going to use in "real life?" Worse, being taught the same way and using the same techniques (i.e. rote memorization) as students were 150 years ago? Who on earth could possibly blame a child for preferring to write a novel than put up with another second of that over-structured, over-tested, out-of-touch, regressive, aggressive, oppressive, suppressive hell?

Well, my mother did, for one. When she found out (no doubt through some brazen attempt by the school to contact her personally), she didn't know whether to hug me or slap me. What does any parent do with a child who is genetically incapable of toeing the line? I was sent back to school, of course. But from that day forward, I may have been physically present and accounted for, but the part of me they wanted, the part of me they were working so hard to "get" was gone until college. In college, I was allowed to study what I wanted.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Stripping is a Lonely Gig

Stripping is a little bit like being famous. Everyone wants a piece of you, and you have no idea who your real friends are. This is especially tough on women (men, too, I imagine) who value the intimacy of real friendship. And it's hell on relationships. Not many men relish the idea of their wives or girlfriends grinding away in the champagne room, even if it is "just business." This is one of a million reasons why strippers are notorious for bottom feeding when it comes to boyfriends. Most guys pretty much have to be stoned 24/7 to achieve any state of Zen about it. Nature of.

Some strippers don't care in the slightest, or do a good job of not seeming to. "Friends" are the people you get wasted with, or whose couches you sleep on when you have a fight with the slacker you're supporting. But even they, I suspect, experience the occasional sober moment when they look out over the wasteland of their lives and sense pangs of loneliness. In the end, it's only you up there under the hot blinding lights of the stage, waging war with your insecurities, hoping you look fuckable enough to go home with at least half the rent money.

Stripping may appear to be about the Benjamins, but narcissism is its real currency. Every dollar you get is an affirmation of your beauty and desirability. It's the smack every dancer mainlines, the thing that also keeps her mojo from doing a face-plant. But there's always a wound, a big pothole-sized wound, that you're trying to fill. Somewhere in life you came up short, and it made you reel. Not now though. Not tonight. The music is pounding, and the dark lovely smell of male lust oozes thickly over the tables and chairs and the stage, all around you, and you keep trying to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirrors so you can see what they see, so you can make sure you don't do anything to dispel the illusion of your fuckability. They don't see the you that you know--the one doubled over with menstrual cramps or who zones out for days at a time watching re-runs in the same rancid tracksuit. Politely, you also do a convincing job of hiding that you know what they're all about. You pretend not to notice their desperate yearning, or their vampirish fascination with your youth--so like the youth they once had and failed to appreciate. The young are too busy comparing themselves to others to even know what they have. They live in a constant state of despair.

Later, you will go to a late-night diner with a few dancers, and you will be aware of your collective separateness from the other people who eat there. You look different, dress different. You aren't afraid. But you're still subtly competing with each other. There are still potholes to be filled. It's a sixth sense you've honed like a blade--this guy thinks I'm hot. I can feel it. That guy thinks I'm hot. I can feel it. You look in people's faces just to find a reflection of your own. You see yourself according to what they see.

It causes problems with your codependent boyfriend. Why isn't he fortifying your insatiable appetite for approval? You might even point this out to him one night, but most of the time you draw a secret strike on your inner chalkboard and keep feeding the monkey elsewhere--at the gym, at work, even walking to your car. Every minute is an opportunity for you to know that you do actually exist. You're not invisible. You matter.

Then one day you wake up. Or maybe you don't. You experience a William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch moment where you actually see the food on the fork that's being fed to you. And then the whole construct falls apart. Everything you held dear, your whole value system, collapses of the weight of its own absurdity. You can't stand the game anymore, and the olfactory cocktail at the strip club smells more like desperation than desire.

You come to terms with the fact that you're headed down the wrong road. It's a nice road in the way of any road that happens to be strewn with money, but it's taking you in the wrong direction. So you trim your sails. Maybe you get married and have kids. That's about as real as it gets. Maybe you try to get a "straight" job. But it's almost impossible to make those soul-crushing commutes and sit in mind-numbing office cubicles for less than half of what you used to pull down at the club.

None of these were things you thought about when you were wearing a pair of high heels and not much else. Every day was going to be just like this one. It was impossible to imagine any further than the end of next week. Easy money, quick money, is a hard thing to walk away from. Being on the outside of "respectable" society, looking in, is even harder. You despise those people for being such timid conformists, but you also reject the part of yourself that wants to belong.

If you're lucky, you find that the only road that takes you anywhere, that doesn't feel lonely, is the one leading you to the inner abyss of yourself.