Monthly Archives: February 2010

From the File: Valuable Life Lessons Learned in a Gay Bar

I went to overpriced midtown gay bar Therapy the other night to spend time with an old friend whom I don’t think I ever quite realized was a kindred spirit.  He was visiting from DC.

DC. Sigh.

Spending time with him was a delicious cake.  The icing on the cake was

Lavinia Draper.

Lavinia Draper describes herself as a female drag queen.  I believe she is probably a “failed” Broadway performer who has carefully crafted a dynamic cabaret show centering on her drunkenness, wittiness, and sing-i-ness.

She wears lingerie for gay men.  I’m still trying to unpack my thoughts on what she means from a feminist perspective, which is how I view all representations of women in popular culture now that I’ve finished Bitchfest, an anthology of – ding! – feminist pop culture crit from – ding! – Bitch magazine.  I’m not quite sure how the patriarchy is oppressing her, but I know that it is.

That, however, is a story for a different day.

Lavinia accosted several audience members, forcing them into a Go-Go Boy contest. And this is where I learned a VALUABLE LIFE LESSON.

The contest came down to two men. One of them – I’ll call him Brian, because that was his name  – was soooo into it.  He was grinding, gyrating, grabbing any writhing body near him and going to town, shaking his groove thing, as they say.  When Lavinia demanded shirt removal, his was the first off, and he didn’t even blink at shedding his pants.

He was so passionate, he didn’t even care when his, uh, man parts, came flopping out of the flap in his boxers, which was more than we needed, but I respect that he was in the moment and ready to give his all for the $100 prize.

The other gentleman – I’ll call him – well, I don’t know what to call him, because he wouldn’t reveal his name. He was not American, so I’ll call him Foreigner.  Foreigner reluctantly removed his shirt.  He flat out refused to take off his pants.  He allowed Lavinia to pull them down enough to show the top of what appeared to be boxer-briefs, but that was all he would give us.

Total cocktease.

He danced, but not with the vigor, the fervor, the joy of Brian.  Brian was the clear winner.  He just WANTED it so much. He was working for it.  He deserved the prize.

But when Lavinia asked the audience who should be rewarded, Foreigner won. And it wasn’t even close.  The clapping for Brian paled in comparison to the cheering for Foreigner.  I think Lavinia recognized the injustice, and she split the money between them. But Brian deserved better validation for his efforts.

You might attribute this to the fact that Foreigner was better built than Brian – but he wasn’t smoking hot or anything.  Lavinia also randomly gave them hats, and perhaps people were voting for the leopard print cowboy over the dull navy engineer.  Who can resist leopard?

But I think it’s something else.  People are drawn to mystery and coyness. Foreigner kept himself in his pants and that turned the crowd on.  He refused to give it away, and that drove them wild.  They wanted more, they wanted to know him better. They rewarded his enigmatic aloofness, his doesn’t-give-a-shit-about-you attitude.

Poor Brian. He worked his ass off.  He gave that crowd a real show. He expressed a genuine love for the dance, for the nudity. It meant something to him.

And he was slapped down for trying too hard.

I know how he feels. This is a constant in my life. Trying too hard leads directly to a giant FAIL.

So the lesson is clear.  Yet I have no ability to be coy, enigmatic, guarded.  I wear my heart on my sleeve.  If it means something to me, I can’t help but show it. I lay my cards on the table at the beginning of the game. I don’t like games, frankly.

I guess people don’t like my bluntness, my rawness, my aggressiveness. My sheer naked desire.

Turns you off, huh?

And so I will always be Brian, losing, no matter how much I give and love, no matter how much I care, no matter how badly I want it.

When your mother says, they won’t buy the cow if you give away the milk for free, she’s probably not wrong.

But now I’m going to be preoccupied by how oppressive that mentality is, and why men theoretically don’t have anything TO give away because society only places value on a woman’s virginity.  Excuse me while I go contemplate this and have a feminist stroke.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 3 Comments

What’s In A Name?

I have name issues.

It’s not my impossible last name. I don’t expect people to get that right. Spelling, pronunciation. It’s a lost cause. I’m over it.

Although I’m going to respect you if you get it right the first time. We’ll be friends.

My name issues stem from my first name. Returning briefly to semiotics – linguistic semiotics are, as I mentioned, completely arbitrary.  Humans randomly agreed to assign a sound to arbitrarily created symbols and then put those symbols together to create arbitrarily agreed upon words with arbitrarily agreed upon meanings.  Language, beautiful.

Names, they don’t have arbitrarily agreed upon meaning. “Margaret” might mean pearl according to the baby names books, but what does this have to do with me or any other Margaret? And peeling back the layers, I’m Meg. Which has nothing to do with Margaret. And has no “meaning.” Meg is meaningless.

Whoa.

So, semiotically speaking, “Meg” has no system of denotations and connotations. I have complete license and freedom to create a meaning for myself – to create a system of denotations and connotations for people to associate with me.  It’s a powerful feeling.

Except I don’t think I’m very good at it.

Because people rarely remember my name.

I think I have psychological damage from this.  I know, some people are just not good at remembering names. It’s not personal.  But…I DO remember your name, I’m good memory girl. So. I take it personally.

I am always reintroducing myself. It’s embarrassing. I’m at the point where I pretend I don’t remember your name.  It’s just easier than uncomfortably demonstrating that I pay attention. Or that you are more memorable than me.

Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve always been horribly shy and wallflower-y. Maybe I don’t expect people to remember me, so they don’t. Add this to my other layer of name anxiety:  correcting people about what my name actually is.

Meg is three letters. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Problem #1:  Margaret. In second grade, due to my bashfulness, I made my mother write my teacher a note telling her to call me Meg. I went through all of first grade hating being called Margaret, yet I couldn’t bring myself to correct my teacher. I don’t identify with “Margaret.” It is not part of my semiotic self-creation. I associate it with “official business” and my father’s wrath.  It has nothing to do with WHO I AM.

Problem #2:  Guess what.  Megan and Meg are not interchangeable. If I introduce myself as Meg, I am NOT Megan. But people don’t get my semiotic dilemma. Still being introverted and awkward, I rarely correct them.

I really do think this name issue has eroded my sense of self.  I start to think I am truly unmemorable. I wonder if I even exist.

My senior year of high school, a friend asked my crush to the prom for me (shy, hi.) I was euphoric when she told me he said yes…until I found out he didn’t know who I was.

We’d worked on a musical together. Granted we rarely spoke, as me talking to boys in high school, well, that didn’t happened. But I was within his sphere of awareness.  We had mutual friends.  Why didn’t he remember me? Do I somehow intentionally erase myself? Especially around men I WANT to notice me?

I was totally shocked the first time I heard a boy I liked say my name: it was my freshman year of college, and he passed me on the quad and said, “Hi Meg.” He didn’t ask me out. He just knew my name. And that was amazing to me.  Twelve years later, I remember that moment with perfect clarity.

As I’ve become more aware of my “conceptualization of Megness,” as I’ve grown stronger in my knowledge of who I am, I think I’ve gotten better about  asserting my identity.

But I still get Megan-ed a lot. And I just cringe and let it go.

Currently I have a crush on a boy, and still, still! at the age of 29! I get blissfully tingly when he says my name. My reflex is still giddy surprise that he knows who I am, and is willing to remember.

Why don’t I DEMAND that people remember me? Why am I so willing to be glossed over?

Maybe this is why I’m preoccupied with “making a name for myself” as a writer.  I want to get to a point where people know who I am, dammit. I want my own personally created semiotics to have actual significance. I want the denotations and connotations I’ve built around these three letters to matter.

Which is just another way I’m struggling to create meaning and purpose in my life.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 6 Comments

Redemption: A Coda

I saw Crazy Heart last week.  I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I will very cryptically say this:  there’s only so many ways a movie like this can end, and I don’t know which is most clichéd.  I was glad it didn’t end in one particular direction, but at the same time, found the way it actually ended to be almost as easy and trite.  I guess there’s a third option which also would have been a cliché, though on a completely opposing, much more tragic path.  Which would be a whole different moralizing lesson to impart.

I am, as always, taken back to Charlie Kaufman and Adaptation and the constant writer’s struggle: “Is there an original thought in my head?”  Everything’s been done. Everything’s a cliché. Ha! Even “everything’s a cliché” is a cliché.

I guess of all these obvious endings, they chose the best option.  It’s probably the least cheesy, and most truthful overall.  Because here is a bitch of a lesson that slapped me in the face while I watched:  redemption doesn’t always look like you want it to.  You might save yourself, but that still doesn’t mean you get what you want.  You might try to redeem yourself to achieve a particular self-conceived resolution, and the universe still has the power to smack you down and say, “Nope, that’s not what you can have. You can have many good things. But not that one, even though it’s the one you want the most.”

And that is a really really difficult concept to wrap my brain around. It makes me oddly sad.  I like the idea of being able to accomplish ANYTHING, as long as you work hard enough.  How American Dreamy of me.

But sometimes you have to accept that there are other redemptive, valuable things besides the ones you see as the only options.  I’m too stubborn to handle this and I hold on to things much longer than I should.  Letting go.  Yeah, that’s something to work on.  I think there is probably some redemption inherent in giving up gracefully.

Just because it doesn’t end the way you expect (or want) it to doesn’t mean it’s not good. And it doesn’t mean it’s the end either. Redemption is still achievable. Gulp – right?

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 1 Comment

With Apologies to Bob Marley: Redemption Songs

Redeem: transitive verb

1 a : to buy back : repurchase b : to get or win back
2 : to free from what distresses or harms: as a : to free from captivity by payment of ransom b: to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental c : to release from blame or debt: clear d : to free from the consequences of sin
3 : to change for the better : reform
4 : repair, restore
5 a : to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby b (1) : to remove the obligation of by payment  (2) : to exchange for something of value c : to make good : fulfill
6 a : to atone for : expiate b (1) : to offset the bad effect of (2) : to make worthwhile : retrieve

Having been hosed down in Catholic teaching since conception, I suppose it’s inevitable that I’m fascinated by the theory of redemption. However, the idea of Jesus dying on the cross to redeem us/save us from our sins does not resonate with me on any level. Jesus seems too easy, which is perhaps the point: that there is a force of love and mercy so ginormous that it doesn’t matter how bad you fuck up, all will be forgiven. It’s an amazing and beautiful idea. I just can’t buy into it.

I’m uncomfortable with things that aren’t earned.

I think we have to redeem ourselves.

I have to redeem myself, anyway.

It’s a nebulous idea to me, redemption. None of the above definitions quite nails it. It’s more than atoning for sin, or acts of evil. It’s rising above the daily malaise and fuck-up-ery that keeps me from being my best me.

Music helps me feel a sense of renewal/possibility/hope/save-ability.  Feeling out music that has a redemptive quality is an oblique process. Generally these songs aren’t directly related to salvation. It’s just a feeling I get with certain songs that makes me think, “I can be okay. I will be okay. I will make myself okay.”  It’s such a simple word, okay. But as a concept sometimes it seems impossible.

Recently, I had a moment. They always come so unexpectedly.

I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never have.

I was feeling lowly, unworthy, useless. I listened to The Avett Brothers while I walked –  a song called “I and Love and You.” I seesaw on whether it’s a breakup song or if it contains the essence of redemptive renewal. A lot of redemption songs teeter on the edge of bittersweet, but ultimately hold themselves up.

This Avett Brothers song was appropriate for my interborrough travel:

“Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in

Are you aware the shape I’m in

My hands they shake, my head it spins

Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in.”


I don’t know why this bridge crossing was redemptive.  It was dodging tourists and keeping my heels out of the wooden slats. I suppose it had something to do with the perfect blueness of the sky. A deeply richly blue sky always makes me feel that I am possible. That there is potential in my conceptualization of Megness.

This song, it’s how I feel a lot of the time. Raw. Like an open wound. I ruin things, I destroy my own potential for happiness, I sabotage myself in every way humanly possible. But I believe redemption is possible. I have to work at it. I have to focus on it. But I can do it.

I use music to buoy me up when I feel I might drown in my own failure. The only real thematic thread in the music is that of journeying, and in particular, of returning home after long travels. There is certainly a Prodigal Son vibe, which is ironic, because the Prodigal Son parable perfectly mirrors what I find so discomfiting about the greater Christian ideal:  the fuck-up who returns home and all is forgiven for no deserving reason.

A sense of home is deeply important to me.  It’s also something I completely lack.  My apartment is not home. My parents’ house is not home. I think people can be home, and I have glimpses of people who feel like home sometimes, but I don’t know that I feel like home to them, and the shutters close quickly on me.

These songs remind me that pain and struggle are necessary for growth.  When I lived in Los Angeles, I hated the constant sunshine. It’s so true that you need the bad to appreciate the good.  I don’t know why I have such difficulty translating this lesson to broader life – I get so bitter about the constant Sisyphean struggle toward success.  Of course, if one truly embraces pain, it wouldn’t really be difficult anymore, thus negating needing it to appreciate the blessings, and oh, do I smell burnt toast?

I started this “Songs of Redemption” list many moons ago, and it needs updating. My musical tastes have exploded recently, but I haven’t been focused enough in my listening to pick out a lot of alt/indie redemptively powered music.  So I’m asking you:  do you have any songs in which you can hear salvation?  What music makes you feel catharsis, like you can keep pushing up the road?

Here’s my list – so far:

  1. Save Me – Aimee Mann
  2. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Rolling Stones
  3. Blackbird – The Beatles
  4. A Sort of Homecoming – U2
  5. Don’t Look Back In Anger – Oasis
  6. Everything’s Not Lost – Coldplay
  7. Tiny Dancer – Elton John
  8. Long December – Counting Crows
  9. Learning to Fly – Tom Petty
  10. The Heart of the Matter – India.Arie version
  11. Arms and Hearts – The Hold Steady
  12. Slow Pony Home – The Weepies
  13. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers
  14. Tea for the Tillerman – Cat Stevens
  15. The Wanderer – U2 featuring Johnny Cash
  16. Galileo – Indigo Girls
  17. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles

I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from Buddha lately.  Maybe that’s where my spiritual journey will take me next.

Buddha says, “Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”

I’m down, Buddha. I’m trying.

Also: “It is better to travel well than to arrive.”

And so I travel on, attempting with every fiber of my being to focus on the journey instead of the destination.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 7 Comments

#28: Even Monster Trucks Fail Sometimes

January 29, 2010

Don DeLillo can say anything better than me. A passage about movie car crashes:

“I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the “can-do” spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last…The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on…It’s a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs.” (White Noise, p. 217-19)

This is very abridged. White Noise is the best book ever. Read it.

I can’t pretend I had a lifelong goal to see monster trucks. In fact, the reason I decided to go was because I poo-pooed them. I was elitist. But I realized there was probably a visceral, primitive joy to be had watching big things get crushed by bigger things. Why deny myself such pleasure?

Here’s the most valuable lesson I learned: monster trucks fail too.  Sometimes you fall over, unable to rise without the assistance of a bulldozer. Sometimes you have to let others lift you up, and you have to brush it off and come back ready to try again.

Of course, I’m over-intellectualizing. Honestly, monster trucks (don’t hate me) are kind of lame. At least they are when they’re in a venue too small for their monstrosity. All the trucks did was wheelies over the same four groups of cars. Not so exciting the sixteenth time. You can only be so crushed before you are the essence of crush. There is no more crush to be had.

There was also something uncomfortably American about the whole experience. I am proud to be American. To have arrived on this earth at the end of the 20th century in America is not a bad gig. I have options, movement, opinions. I’m fascinated by our history.  I think it’s all pretty fantastic.

Yet I don’t identify with the need to shout out the military, police, and firefighters before crushing things (and why don’t we call out teachers, doctors, NGO volunteers?) Why is it necessary to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before mass destruction? We don’t sing the national anthem before a theatrical performance. Maybe this is why we liberal theatre-attending elitist types are considered somehow unpatriotic.

Adding to my discomfort was the blatant consumerism. The MC encouraged the crowd to buy pennants and flags to wave, establishing them as THE craziest fan.  You yourself were not enough to be the wildest fanatic. You needed a flag to prove it.

Size does matter – and the bigger you are, the less elegant and nuanced you can be. All you can do is smash, indiscriminately and without art. This is a gross generalization but…monster trucks don’t make a compelling case for might and power embracing the beauty inherent in detail and complexity.

This lack of finesse was exacerbated by the intermission Motorcross show. These dudes fling their bodies off motorcycles midair – hands let go, or legs perpendicular to the bike. They maneuver the bikes in 360 degree flips. Nothing has ever terrified me so much to watch. It requires grace and practice and skill, unlike awkward, cumbersome trucks demolishing junkyard cars. (I think the sense of destruction would have been greater if the cars looked new, fresh, valuable.)

But the pretzel I bought at the concession stand was amazing. And I was in good company. And even if I still kinda look down on monster trucks, at least now I can articulate why.

Categories: 30x30 | 2 Comments

Tattoo #1: A Brief Lesson in Semiotics

January 25, 2010

Before you ask:

“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me…he

complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed…I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

–       Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I’m not going to explain why I got four letters that look and sound completely ugly together on my wrist.  I let Mr. Whitman speak for himself.

Let’s get into semiotics for a minute.  Semiotics blows my mind.  It’s so basic and so complex.  It’s the most important concept I learned about in grad school (thanks, Joe Martin!), yet it’s something that we all use subconsciously daily.  It’s the study of how you read the entire world around you – everything from signs and symbols to facial expressions and body language to words themselves. It’s the system of connotations and associations a symbol or word (which is in and of itself an arbitrarily but collectively agreed upon symbol) spools out in the mind of the witness.

Semiotics is the study of communal social meanings which allow us (hopefully) to communicate.  Of course, linguistic denotation and symbolism are not necessarily universally shared, being based on context, culture, and personal experience.

Tattoos are personal in their meaning.  The exact significance behind any given tattoo inked permanently into a person’s skin can never be fully understood by anyone else.

Unless you’re a poser who wants to wear the mantle of tattoo-semiotics, which could be: biker/hardcore/bad-ass/edgy/cool/bold/creative/artistic/trendy/unique/beautiful

Many people will look at my tattoo and see a flower and think: girly/feminine/spring/fresh/new/rebirth/warm/rain/love/beauty/growth

If they are tuned in enough to recognize it as a cherry blossom, the associations get more complex.  Cherry blossom trees mainly grow in Japan, so their semiotic system includes a connection to Japanese culture.  Due to the brief period that they bloom, they are symbols of “the fragility of human existence and also the perfect death, marked by indifference to the world left behind” (The Tattoo Encyclopedia, p. 45). This transience also taps into Buddhist principles, reminding us not to get too attached or emotional about things that will eventually pass. Cherry blossoms are associated with purity, and warriors/samurai, “ever appreciative of the fleeting moment.”

In Chinese culture, cherry blossoms are symbols of feminine power and sexuality.

Cherry blossoms might make Americans think of Washington, DC, where there is a festival each spring to celebrate the blooming of these flowers – gifts from the Japanese to President Taft and his wife (Thanks, Tim!) in 1912 as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.

My references are mostly random interweb reading, this isn’t an exact science.

Why did I choose a cherry blossom?

Because life is short, but beautiful, so don’t waste it.

Yes, you can reverse that: Life is beautiful, but short, so don’t waste it. But my brain aligns more with the first.

As for the semiotics of a tattoo on the wrist: that’s a bold statement in and of itself, no matter what the imagery.  That choice says, “I will never have a corporate, conservative, vanilla job.  I will always lurk around the edges, I will always take the road less traveled.”

And hopefully that will make all the difference.

For information on Daredevil Tattoo, visit their website: http://www.daredeviltattoo.com/

Guy tattooed me, and I intend to go back to him for my next piece, hopefully later this year. Check out his gallery: http://www.daredeviltattoo.com/component/option,com_gallery2/Itemid,26/?g2_itemId=175

Categories: 30x30 | 5 Comments

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