Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Rather Risqué Requiem

So, I'm getting pretty tired of blogging about my own drama lately.  (Who knew that was even possible?)  And so, this week?  I'll blog about someone else's drama.

Besides, it's officially the end of an era.  This past weekend, The Randy Dandies had their last show.  Ever.  And if that's not more important than my personal life, then I'm not sure what is.

If you don't know who The Randy Dandies are, you're unfortunately not going to be able to find out now.  But let me explain.

In short, they were my favorite burlesque troupe ever.

In slightly less short, they were a comedy burlesque group that focused on sketch comedy, rabid pop culture references, and returning characters.  In seven years, they ran the nerd gamut from comic books to science fiction, unemployment, summer camp, museums, Game of Thrones, Into the Woods, heist movies, and so much more.  Hell, they even had a Prairie Home Companion parody show.

I've had the honor of being at many of their shows, and (more lately) at helping out.  I've sold merchandise, I've been a prop, and I've always loved dressing up for the theme of the show.  When I've gotten burned out on burlesque, I never quite got burned out on them.

From last year's camp show.
Photo by Insomniac Studios.
They were made up of... well, a bunch of nerds, really.  If you didn't guess that by the above description of themes, I can't help you any further.

They were made up of nerds, of people who wouldn't quite fit into the stereotypical profile of "classic burlesque performers," of actors who never once took their clothes off, and of my friends.  They had the after parties that legends are made from.  They made obscure nerd references that half the audience never got.  They told terrible jokes, and laughed at them too.  They sang dirty songs while playing ukelele.  They had a cello-playing Chewbacca as a guest performer.  They were a wonderful hot mess whose mics often didn't work, but they kept going anyway, because that's what you do in live theatre.

Above all, I think their greatest gift was the ability to not take themselves too seriously, to roll with the punches, and, finally, to know when it was time to call it quits.  Seven years is a hell of a good run, and I'm very glad I was there for the not-so-bitter end.  The final curtain call may have been bittersweet, but I know that it's not truly the end for any of these performers.  Even if they never take off their clothing on stage again, I'm more than confident that they all have something up their sleeves (or lack thereof).

And I can't wait to see what that is.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Defining Myself

What defines us?

That's been a pretty big topic of conversation recently, at least around St. Louis, following a truly terrible St Louis Business Journal article/photo shoot supposedly celebrating local successful businesswomen by asking them what pair of shoes "best described them."

Overlooking the obvious sexist overtones of asking a group of highly successful women to describe themselves with a pair of shoes, I'm actually more offended by the fact that anyone could be asked to describe themselves with something so superficial as an item of clothing.  "Please sum up your success, interests, beliefs, and personality by showing us something you wear sometimes so we can adequately judge you."

Now, to be fair, I love shoes.  I have a lot of them.  I have flats, kitten heels, stilettos, platforms, and sneakers in all colors and styles.  They currently are spilling out of the closest I (unsuccessfully) try to keep them organized in.  But I would never say I'm defined by or described by my shoes.  Or by my equally overflowing wardrobe.

I realize this may sound a bit hypocritical, as I do call myself The Pretty Vintage Girl.  If that's not describing myself by my look, then I'm not sure what is.  But my look isn't what defines me, or even what "best describes" me.  It's a description, sure, but not, I hope, the be all and end all of my personality.  I would like to think that my clothes and my shoes only just scratch the surface of who I am.

My look is actually very much a uniform.  It's what I wear to feel confident, comfortable, and yes, most like myself.  I have an affinity towards modern looks across the board, after all, not just in clothing.  I'm drawn to the music, the furniture, the art, and of course, the fashion.

My clothes and my shoes might very well be an expression of who I am.  But that's not what describes me.  And it's certainly not what defines me.

So what does?

People are constantly defined by countless things, most of which are as superficial as a pair of shoes: our past, our jobs, our friends, our lovers.  We're defined by where we grew up, what high school we went to, or what socio-economic group we are a part of.  We're defined by our illnesses, by our accomplishments, and by our failures and regrets.  We're defined by our roles as parents, as children, as married or as single.  We're defined by our expectations for ourselves, or by someone else's expectations of us.  We're defined by how much we weigh, or what music we like, who we're attracted to, or what we believe in.

We let ourselves be defined by so much that it's hard to know what it is that actually defines us.  Who are we, beneath all the layers of judgement constantly heaped upon us?  Are we what others say we are?  Are we the names we have been called?  Do we fit in the cookie-cutter shapes (or shoes) that society tries to shoves us into?

Are we even allowed to define ourselves?

I say yes.

And I have to believe it's true.  I have to believe that I am the only one who can truly define who I am.

After all, haven't I been blogging for a year now about who I am?  I've been slowly reclaiming my voice and my self over the past two years.  I've been fighting back against what I thought defined me, and against those who tried to define me.  There's no pair of shoes on earth that can describe that process.

On Monday I took part in a photo shoot as part of a response to the St. Louis Business Journal shoot.  The project is called Undefined, it involved over 30 local women, and it had nothing at all to do with shoes.  We were welcome to bring a tool of our trade (or to remain undefined by either shoes or tools).  I brought a laptop as a nod to this little blog.  Because if there is a way I define myself, it's through my words.  I've always expressed myself best through writing, and never more so than since I started this blog.

The photo shoot wrapped up yesterday, and I can't wait to see the results.  But I love a group of women took the initiative and opportunity to show other women defining themselves by whatever means they chose.  I love that there are people out there who get it, who get that we aren't defined by our clothes or by our circumstances.

We define ourselves, in the end.  We have to, because there are countless people out there who will be only too glad to do it for us.

And that shoe definitely won't fit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It's My Life... I Thought

I've been operating under the impression that I am an adult.

There is even actual evidence to support this.

For example, I've paid all my own bills for the past two years.  I've held a job for seven years, and am on the second year of my current job.  I work during the week and on weekends.  I go to work even when I don't feel like it.  I'm a stepmom-in-training, and am generally trusted to be left on my own without supervision (except possibly in a bookstore.)

Plus, I've only killed two houseplants in the last year.

So I'm having a hard time understanding why some people feel the need to so often question my decisions.

Granted, I have in the past made some rather epically terrible decisions.  I fully admit this, and have done so often.  But, to recap: I'm a thirty-one-year-old who is regularly entrusted with thousands of dollars of photography equipment, not to mention my fiance's car.  My marriage was nine years ago, and I've been divorced for two of those years.  I haven't even had a perm in over ten years.  You can't say that my track record hasn't been slowly improving, and I honestly like to think that I generally know what's best for me.

Really, if I don't know what's best for me by now, I'm not sure who does.

And yet.

And yet I still find it difficult to make a decision without dissension from the peanut gallery, or without someone questioning why I'm doing something that I enjoy or believe in.

Will I ever just be happy with one dog and stop fostering?  What do I do with Thunder when I work such long hours?  Why do I want to live there?  Or there?  Why can't I drop everything and do this or that or the other thing?  Why?


Maybe, just maybe, I'm a little... overly sensitive to this topic.  Maybe I no longer exactly tolerate the subtle judgements and nudging attempts to get me to go along with what someone else wants me to do.  Maybe this is because I decided that, after seven years of that treatment, I was done with it.  And maybe, I've gotten fond of making my own life choices.

To his great credit, Mark does not at all tell me what to do.  (Or, if he does, he's so good at it that I don't even notice, to which I would actually be impressed.)  He knows by now that I'm going to do what I want to do, and it's best just to trust me if he wants to stay in a relationship with me.

And it's not that I'm not willing to have a conversation about my choices.  I'd love to tell you about why I foster dogs instead of adopting one.  I'd love to tell you that I do all I can to make sure Thunder is as happy and well-adjusted as possible.  Genuine curiosity and conversation is more than welcome.  And if you don't agree, that's fine.  You don't have to.  It's not your life.  But telling me what I should be doing is really not the best idea and generally doesn't garner the best results.

I could also be a little more sensitive lately because I'm more than socialized out.  My calendar is far too full for my tastes, so the additional stress of feeling judged and pressured pushes me a bit into the bitchy realm.

In the end, I just want to live and want everyone else to let me live.  I like to think I show everyone else this same courtesy.

By all means, if I'm making another catastrophic mistake along the lines of my first marriage (or dyeing my hair platinum blonde), please do speak up.  But as for the little things that don't affect anyone besides me and my little family... please don't.  We'll all get along much better that way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I'm No Expert, But...

Back in college, I once wrote an entire 20-page final paper on Jane Austen in three nights.  This was, not uncoincidentally, also the first time I ever drank coffee.

I was supposed to be working on the paper throughout the entire semester, turning in a section at a time for critique.  Well.  I turned in my first two sections, got miserable feedback, and promptly stopped turning in sections.  I continued reading the books, making notes, and doing research, but as for actual writing?  I didn't do it.

Suddenly, the deadline was looming and panic (naturally) set in.  So I and three other girls in my class spent three nights sitting at Starbucks till two and three in the morning, drinking coffee and writing our hearts out.

I finished the paper (just in time), turned it in, and waited with none-too-high hopes.

The professor, the regrettably late Dr. Lila Kurth, was always a hard grader.  She gave me my only C and often wrote "trite" in the margins of my papers.  But, when I went to go pick up my Jane Austen paper, she handed it to me and then told me she needed to give me a hug, because my paper was "beautiful."

I'll never forget that moment.

It was also the start of my realization that I truly do function best under a deadline.

This has not changed.  Most of my blog entries are finished just under the wire.  And months ago, my friend Jessica asked me to write something for her upcoming wedding.

Why she did this is mostly beyond me.  It seems unusual to ask the (more-than-slightly cynical) divorcee to write something about love for a wedding.  I didn't write anything for my own wedding, much less love poetry about my ex-husband.

And, to be honest, I didn't exactly write much for her wedding until very recently.

(Please, Jessica, don't think I didn't work on this over the intervening months since you asked me.  I did, honestly I did.  I have scraps of poems and ideas all over the place, from notebooks to my phone to the bathroom mirror.  But nothing solid and certainly nothing finished.)

But, thankfully, deadline panic strikes once again (with the help of my now long-time friend, coffee), and I have a not-quite-love poem ready for a not-quite-conventional wedding.

I do wonder if I could have written a love poem while I was still married.  My last marriage was where my writing went to die, after all.  When I did write, it was dark and lonesome words which I still uncover from time to time and which always remind me of how secretly miserable I was.

Divorce, as brutal as it was, gave me something I hadn't had in a long time: the freedom to have my own voice.  I know I talk about this a lot, but as a writer, it's still important to me.  Without my voice, what am I?  Certainly not a great writer.

Not that I'm that confident in what I am at the moment anyway.

The other week, Mark intercepted a text from Jessica asking me if I were a published author so she could put it in the wedding program.  If it were up to me, I would have hemmed and hawed about the answer.  I honestly don't feel that simply being published in my college magazine a few times and once in a local literary magazine really count as my being a "published author," but Mark disagreed and told her so.

And so the decision was made: I'm a published author.

Maybe they're right.  I might not feel that I'm a properly published author, or that I'm the best choice to turn to for a wedding poem, but I've always been my own worst critic.

So while I'm certainly no expert, I'm also no longer mute.

Give me a deadline, some coffee, and a blank page, and eventually?

I'll come up with something to say.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Biggest Mistake

Nine years ago, I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life.

I knew it was wrong.  I knew it wouldn't last.  I knew I wasn't really in love.  And I knew the wrong person was going to be waiting for me at the front of the church.

I knew all of this.

What I didn't know was one little thing: how to get out of it.

I was too proud, or too ashamed, or too stubborn to tell my parents I no longer wanted to get married.  Everyone was in town.  Everything had been paid for.  I wasn't Julia Roberts.  I wasn't a runaway bride.  I didn't feel like I could ask for help.

And so I went out the night before the wedding (nine years ago this very day) with some of my best girl friends and got drunk.  I outlasted my three bridesmaids, drank til I threw up, drank some more, and got back to the hotel room at 4 in the morning, 12 hours before the actual wedding.  I had been sick for a few days before, but that night cemented the almost complete loss of my voice.

And so I got married: hungover, sick, terrified, and barely able to talk.

Looking back, it wasn't just the literal loss of my voice.  That day was when I started losing my figurative voice as well.  I lost the ability to be honest and became an increasingly secretive person.  From the moment the wedding was over, my life also felt like it was over.  My new husband was depressed, suicidal, and violently angry by turns, increasingly demanding, and went through money like water.  He hid our debt and secretly ate his way through the money in our account.  He couldn't take care of himself or hold a job, and yet was jealous of my paycheck and authority at work.  We fought in the car, we fought at work (fights which I never won), and yet I was shocked when my boss told me my husband was abusive.

One of the first steps to being to being abused is to believe that the person abusing you isn't capable of doing so.

And now?

I suppose it's valid to say that I can be a little outspoken about my life.  There is the matter of this blog, after all, and the fact that I'm more than willing to tell you what you want to know (and often more than you wanted to know).  It's my story, my voice, and my wonderfully imperfect life.  I've slowly been getting it all back, and I don't want to lose it again.

So now here I am.  Nine years out from my first marriage, a year after wrecking my wedding dress, and engaged again.

The more things change, as they say...

Sometimes I think I must crazy to get married again.

Other times (most times), I think I'm so unbelievably lucky to get married again.  I get a do-over, a second chance, a whatever you want to call it.  I get a man who knows me and all my flaws better than any one else ever has and still wants to marry me.  I get someone who feels more like home than anyone or anything else.  I get the relationship I never believed in.

I get a fiancé who comes home, lifts me up into the world's biggest hug, and then says, "We need to talk."

And then, a few seconds later, he allows my heart to start beating again by finishing, "... we really should narrow down a wedding date."

But that, I believe, is a story for another blog.