Personal Essay

Oscar Wilde and I in Leadville, Colorado

IMG_0483Between classes in Salt Lake City and Denver, Colorado as part of our ballet master class tour, my partner and I decided to take a small side trip through Leadville, Colorado, which looms large in Wilde mythology. In all honesty, I decided to take the small side trip and my partner had little choice as I make the travel plans and do the driving. We did not, however, have the kind of schedule that allowed me to leisurely stroll and imagine the places Wilde must have walked. I did, however, make time to snap a picture outside the Tabor Opera House where Wilde famously lectured.

IMG_0495The main drag of Leadville appears not to have changed much since 1882, with the exception of replacing silver mining with tourism as its industry. Even so, I found it hard to call up and image of Oscar Wilde on the street. It is hard to imagine much of anything at 10,000 feet above sea level. My dancer friend seems to suffer more from altitude than I do for whatever reason, and his kindly disguised discomfort was foremost on my mind.

IMG_0478At its peak on the road up the mountain we reached 13,297 feet. You go over this peak and then head down a bit to reach Leadville. This altitude overlooked some sort of ghost town, an industrial building of some sort with abandoned dwellings around it. I assume this was related to mining. We didn’t delve, but wondered at a pair of young bicycle riders who turned wheelies while waiting for their friend. Our bodies felt heavy and we could not imagine biking up the mountain, much less having extra energy to burn off.

The 1997 film Wilde opened not in London but in Leadville. It is always depicted as a rough and tumble working town. The juxtaposition of the famous aesthete with the cowboy movie set sparks the imagination. Leadville historians describe the Tabor Opera House and their town at the height of the silver boom a bit differently.

“By 1879, Leadville boasted the biggest opera house west of the Mississippi, thanks to Horace Tabor’s wealth. The venue attracted national and international performers, actors and orators, along with Leadville’s new rich in attendance. And while there were some “cheap seats” in the upper balcony, most miners and other hard-working types found their musical satisfaction in one of the many dance hall saloons,” wrote Kathy Bedell in Leadville Today.

Or, as Michele Mendelssohn put it in Making Oscar Wilde, “Leadville had a clutch of genteel folk who wanted to show that their town could lay claim to being just as refined and courteous as any other.”

Of course, the courteous and genteel folk do not make for sensational copy, and the papers of the day were more interested in the possibility that Oscar Wilde might be murdered and that he said he’d bought a gun.

I was interested to read in Michele Mendelssohn’s Making Oscar Wilde that the poet suffered from altitude sickness.

Located more than 10,000 feet above sea level, Leadville is the highest city in the United States, and sits at about half the altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

This is how people like me get their tourist information: biographies of Oscar Wilde.

Standing outside the Tabor Opera House, my partner’s first thought was that it would be hard for an opera singer to sing in this town. (He once had the experience of dancing in Quito, Ecuador, 2 miles above sea level, and having his backstage supplemental oxygen stop working.)

Although we had arrived just in time to make the last Tabor Opera House tour, I knew I could not impose it on my dizzy, tired traveling companion. We went back to the hotel where my partner tried gamely to be a good sport about my bringing him all the way up this mountain to look at an old theater. Although I tried not to show it, he knew I was disappointed in his lack of enthusiasm for Leadville. He offered to stop on the way out of town the next day and snap a couple more pictures before getting the hell out of Dodge.

IMG_0497…I started writing this travelogue the day after we descended from Leadville. I think I intended to write something about Wilde’s famous report that he saw a sign in the saloon in Leadville saying “Don’t shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.” It is interesting that in Mendelssohn’s book, the line after the passage on Leadville reads “While in the United States, he had planned to write another book of poems but quickly discovered that his hectic schedule made that impossible.”

 

 

 

 

IMG_0491I never finished this article. The hectic schedule of touring, and a new city every day, got in the way. It is possible to write on the road. In fact, parts of Oscar’s Ghost were written that way. It is not ideal, and from what I know of Oscar, he was happy to take advantage of any excuse not to write.

I would like to have experienced more of Leadville, and I could have embellished the moment to make it seem more colorful than it was. As it is, I think Leadville could be worth visiting, if you have a bit of time to enjoy it, and you’re not too prone to altitude sickness.

 

 

Northern Exposure and Nostalgia for Places You’ve Never Been Before

 

 

Yesterday, on our travels, we had the opportunity to stop in Roslyn, WA where the exteriors of the television series Northern Exposure were shot. The famous mural that the moose strolled past in the opening credits is there, as is a preserved KBHR radio set, and The Brick. The facade that served as Dr. Fleischman’s office is now a Northern Exposure-themed gift shop where you can pick up a walking tour map.

The final episode of Northern Exposure wrapped up with Iris Dement’s melancholy “Our Town,” suggesting that the fictional Cicely, Alaska was the real star of the show.

10391758_233868150947_1219663_n Northern Exposure was a fresh new show at a time when I, like the viewpoint character Dr. Fleischman, had moved from a more urban area to a northern town in order to start what I then thought would be my career.

I was the afternoon drive announcer on WKJF FM/AM in Cadillac, MI.

Unlike Dr. Fleishman, who, in spite of himself, became central to a community with its own culture and habits he did not understand, I was mostly isolated. I never found a community outside of work, and the life of a radio announcer mostly consisted of being the only person in a building talking to the air. I watched Northern Exposure every week, and it provided a fictive community.

Cicely, Alaska was not a typical small town. It was a place where the entire community would turn out to witness a philosopher-turned-DJ engage in performance art. Although it was isolated and rural it was diverse, thanks to the Native American population, and a spiritual dimension– a mystic searching for meaning–permeated the place. The drama came from the quest to figure out what it means to be a human being in the world living with other human beings.

While I was playing music programmed by a “clock hour” and index cards (pictured above) and later by computers, Chris in the Morning was playing an ecclectic mix of different genres as his mood and his sermon of the day dictated. It was an ideal of local radio as the voice of the community in all of its human unpredictability.

In the years that have passed all three of the local radio stations that served as the setting of my career have gone out of business. Local radio has been largely homogenized and replaced by huge media companies with nationally syndicated content.

A few years ago I returned to Cadillac, Michigan. I wrote:

Early in my radio career, I lived in Cadillac. (I was the afternoon announcer at the now-defunct WKJF AM/FM, “Your Light Rock, More Music Station.”) Cadillac surrounds a lake, and each shore of the lake has a distinctly different feel. My house was on the non-tourist side. It was then one long highway of mom and pop shops. (An appliance repair shop was one of the prominent businesses.) It seemed to have changed little since the 1950s.

I lived in the town for half a year before I even knew the resort side of the lake, with its hotels and restaurants, was there.

There is a lot to do in Cadillac for the person who enjoys hunting, fishing or snowmobiling. I was more of an indoor girl…

Something has happened to the town-side of Cadillac. Most of the mom and pop operations have closed down and been bought up by chains with their plastic facades and bright colored logos. The 1950s era businesses that remain, which once had an untouched charm, have been made shabby and out of date by the juxtaposition. Cadillac seems somehow both more built up and more run down than I remember.

The radio station building where I once worked remains, although it is a lifeless, automated router for another station. The “Incredible Broadcast Machine”– a decidedly credible Winnebago painted with the station logo– has driven (or been towed) into the sunset. Half of the office space (which was once home to Muzak) has been given over to H&R Block.

A few years after that I revisited my second radio station, WFRA and Mix 99.3 FM (“The best mix of today’s hits and great oldies”) in Franklin, PA.

 

 

That’s me as the midday voice of the station in the early 1990s, and on the right is what the station looked like a couple of years ago. The door with the station logos and the empty rooms may be gone by now leaving no trace of the place.

Last year I learned that the house in a residential neighborhood that housed my last radio station WAGE AM in Leesburg, VA was up for sale. I might have bought it if I’d had the money.

The death of local radio is a metaphor for something larger, the loss of the community voice, the separate, quirky local cultures. As Chris in the Morning put it in this clip “The total blitzkreig towards isolation.”

In the Roslyn gift shop, a friendly woman handed me a map of all of the sites in the town that had been used in the show. On the wall were large photographs of all of the show’s cast. Something about them felt off to me, because it took me back to the fact that what had taken place there had been a television production. But I had not come to see a film set, and that was not what I had been feeling walking down that familiar street.

I came to see a place that I had once belonged, which I thought had vanished like so many other places of my past. In Roslyn, that magical place, and all of its possibilities, re-appeared like Brigadoon.

Cicely, Alaska was fictional and Chris in the Morning and all the others were fictional. They never lived there, and they will always live there.

 

“Me Too” Stories and Thoughts on “Vulnerability”

The “Me Too” campaign is about abuses of power in the workplace, but it brought an episode from my past to mind.

In France they have a word for a man who takes sexual pleasure in rubbing against people in public places. He’s called a frotteur. I didn’t know that when I was sixteen.

I was an exchange student in high school. I lived in a village outside of Paris. It was a short train ride and a metro line or two to get to my favorite place, an English-language bookstore on the Rue de Rivoli. I often went into the city on my own, and bought Smash Hits Magazine to look at pictures of Simon Le Bon and INXS.

One day I was in the metro, riding back to the train station, when a man took the handrail beside my seat. He stood close, and it seemed odd because the car was not that crowded. There was someone in the seat beside me, and I inched closer to him to make room for the standing stranger. As the car began to move, I felt him rubbing against me. My first thought was that it was the motion of the train that was causing him to bump me, and I scooted closer to my neighbor’s lap. The man in the aisle continued to rub against me, and I soon realized it had nothing to do with the motion of the train. He moved in waves, emphasizing the motion of his pelvis. I had never had sex, but I understood the motion was sexual. I curled inward towards the man on my other side, catching a glimpse of the stranger out of the corner of my eye. He had a sickening, satisfied grin on his face.

My stop was a ways down the line, but as soon as the car stopped moving I bolted for the door and ran to another line. I didn’t know where I was going– just away. As the next train arrived at the platform, the man came around the corner. I got onto one of the cars, hoping he had not seen me, but he followed, still grinning. I took a seat and began to cry. The man looked at me, surprised. He seems to have believed that I was enjoying his game. When he saw my tears, thankfully, he got off the train and left me to find my way back to my route in peace.

I never told anyone about the incident, but not for the reasons you might think. It was shocking, upsetting and gross but I did not feel humiliated or ashamed. I knew the pervert was the one with the problem, not me. I was just taking my train home. The reason I kept it secret was that I was afraid that if I told anyone I would not be allowed to go to the city by myself any more, which was something I liked doing.  I was afraid that because I had been treated in an abusive manner I would lose my freedom.

“In our society, we socialize women to be aware of threats, especially from strangers,” wrote Sally Raskoff in the Everyday Sociology blog. “Girls are kept closer than boys when they are playing outside. Women don’t tend to go out alone at night, and there are a host of other protective behaviors that constrain what they do on a daily basis. We are taught these things to stay safe. In general, men don’t learn these things and they don’t grow up thinking about how safe they are at any given moment.”

How often have we heard the expression “vulnerable women and children.”  We’re trained to think of ourselves as at risk, and that it is our primary duty to stay safe.

When we are victims, we are often blamed for not doing enough to protect ourselves. Why were you in that neighborhood? Why did you go with him after midnight? Why were you wearing that dress?

I once told a boyfriend about an unwanted advance I had received after having a couple of drinks with some friends and he said, “You silly girl.” (I didn’t stay with him long.)

These questions are posed by people who want to believe that if they do the right things violence will never happen to them. Avoid drinking with male friends. Avoid drinking. Avoid going out on your own. Avoid being out at night.

School authorities think they have to train girls to dress modestly. Girls are vulnerable and boys cannot be controlled.

Jennifer Drew had this to say on the British feminist site The F Word:

There is a buzzword circulating the legal, media and societal systems, and it is being used to deflect attention away from male accountability and responsibility for men’s violence against women and girls. What is this word? Why ‘vulnerability’, and we increasingly hear this word being used by judges when sentencing men convicted of raping or murdering women and girls. Prosecution council too depicts female victims of male violence as ‘vulnerable’ creatures. The media, politicians and society in general are all claiming acts of male violence are ones perpetrated upon vulnerable women or girls. But rarely have I heard or read male victims of male portrayed as vulnerable victims…women survivors of male violence are victims of the crimes these misogynist males commit. Therein lies the difference – not powerless victims but victims of crimes men commit against them…

This is something different from how we treat men and risk. If, for example, a young man decided to take a year off after high school and drive around South America on his own, he would be taking a risk. If something bad happened to him on that trip, it would be seen as unfortunate, maybe tragic, but it would be much less likely that he would be asked in an accusatory tone “Well, why did you go to that South American village anyway?”

Young men are encouraged to go on adventures, and the stories of some of their foolhardy and ill-fated adventures become dramas. Women, on the other hand, in the same period of life when men are being encouraged to take risks and experience the world, are constantly reminded of our vulnerability. The orientation at my college dorm was almost entirely about not getting raped.

This is all a great advantage to men when it comes to careers and life experience. They work on fishing trawlers, hitchhike across Europe, go mountain climbing. They have great stories to tell and our culture values them as more interesting people. They’re the subject of most of our fiction. They’re who we think of when we imagine people who do things.

You may be interested to learn that men are more likely than women to be victims in every category except for sexual assault. So you could say that with the exception of one particular category of violence, men are more vulnerable than women.

Sally Raskoff analyzed the threat of sexual violence and she concluded:

…Adult males are much more likely to be raped or assaulted by strangers while women’s threat comes primarily from their intimate partners. Considering this data, do we socialize men and women appropriately?

If we socialize girls and women to suspect strangers and people outside their families, does that work effectively to protect them since most of the real threat comes from people they know?

If we socialize boys and men to assume they are safe from outside threats, are they adequately prepared to protect themselves in childhood and adolescence from people they know and from strangers when they are adults?

 

I kept my secret. I’m sorry that I felt I had to stay silent to protect my own freedom, but I am glad that I didn’t miss out on more afternoons in Paris.

What Do You Expect Me to Do With Your Disapproval?

AngelLargeSquareToday I attended a books and authors event at Leon & Lulu, a great shop in Clarkston. There were 30 writers there showcasing their books and I met some wonderful people.

I brought along only one book, my first novel Angel.  (The cover image here is actually the one for the audio version.)

Angel, of course, is the story of a minister whose sense of identity, his worldview and his relationship to his community are challenged when he becomes attracted to a young man.

Most of the people I talked to about the book were positive and friendly even if it was not something they thought they would like to read.

Towards the end of the event, however, there was one woman who asked me about my book. I told her its theme and she set the book down quickly and said, “I’m certainly not reading this one. I don’t approve of that.”

I was not upset by her reaction. You would have to live under a rock to be unaware that there are people who feel that way. I was, instead, interested in why she felt it important to share her disapproval with me. What exactly did she want me to do with that information?

Feel ashamed? Not likely. Think more highly of her? Also not likely.  Change my point of view in deference to a stranger?

There are a lot of things that characters do in books that one might disapprove of. In fact, there are few books that contain characters that do nothing worthy of disapproval or there would be no drama. But imagine if I had said, “My book is about a corrupt politician.”

You would not expect someone to respond by saying, “I am certainly not going to read that. I don’t approve of that.”

Imagine a conversation that went like this:

“What is your book about?”

“It’s a romance novel.”

“I’m certainly not going to read that. I don’t approve of romance novels.”

This would come across as inappropriate and obviously rude, would it not?

I have to assume that my visitor was not really trying to tell me anything about homosexuality. She was trying to tell me something about herself. “I am the kind of person who does not approve of that.” Not approving of homosexuality is part of her sense of identity.

Some time ago I wrote an article here called The Lifestyle.  It dealt with some of my thoughts after a similar conversation with a friend.

Disapproving is more than not liking or opting out.  It assumes, in essence, that your opinion matters.  It assumes that you get a vote.  You can really only “disapprove” from a position of power and security and the assumption that society is on your side.

In general, we do not welcome the views of others when it comes to our “lifestyle choices.”  How would you feel about someone who said she disapproved of your choice of religion or how many children you had or what you did on the weekends or how many hours you worked or what kind of career you had or how you spent your money?  These are all “lifestyle choices.”

Would you thank such a person for her thoughtfulness and concern for your well-being or would you instead reply with something along the lines of “well who asked you?”

I did not reply with “well who asked you?”

Unlike the stranger, I did not feel compelled to voice my disapproval. But I have been giving a lot of thought as to why.

Davy Jones: My Imaginary Friend

This post was written in response to a writing prompt from The Daily Post. The prompt suggests writing about your childhood “imaginary friend.”

davy-jones-the-monkeesMy imaginary friend when I was a girl was a real person and yet he was not a real person. Already half himself, a fictional creation bearing his own name, he was transformed in my child’s mind into something even more magical. He was my own creation. A figure I could weave into my own stories.

I don’t remember the stories in which Davy Jones starred. I know the Monkees album played on my Winnie the Pooh record player in the background and that I cast stuffed animals in the other roles. There was a lot of dancing involved.

Later, during the 1980s Monkees revival, when I was in high school, I would discover an affinity for Peter Tork as I grew into an attraction for the 1960s counterculture. In case you’re of the mind that knowing a person’s favorite Monkee or Beatle tells you all you need to know about her, these are my answers: Peter Tork, John Lennon.

As a little girl, though, I somehow knew (from fairly tales probably) that being in love was the most powerful force in the world and the most transformative thing that could happen to a woman was to “fall into” it.

Davy was “the cute one.” He was presented as the one girls were to love, and dutifully I did. This is not to say that my affection was not real. It was very real. I remember coming upstairs (my playroom was in the basement) and announcing to my parents that I had something serious to tell them. I was in love. With Davy Jones.

My father laughed. I was crushed.

I have a diary that I wrote at this time. I filled every page with hearts and variants on “I love Davy Jones” and “LL + DJ.” This, I assumed, was what people in love did.

As I fell in love with the comic mop-tops the Monkees sang about “creature comfort goals” in “status symbol land” and how decisions were no longer easy there were “only shades of gray.” They even sang about suicide (see below) all topics that went over my 7-year-old head.

Incidentally, the one time I met Micky Dolenz, singing autographs at an auto show, I asked him to clarify some of the lyrics to this song, which I hadn’t caught. (This was before you could look up lyrics on the internet)  He said it was “I’ll give you three, I’ve been down nine, I’m going down just one more time goin’ down.” I looked at him with a blank expression. “You know,” he said. “Nine lives. A cat.” I said, “Oh,” and thanked him. His hand was so tired by that point that his signature read “Wing Dog.”

I also managed to get an autograph from Davy Jones too, although I seem to have lost it. I had the chance to see Davy in concert in the 1970s during what I would subsequently learn he called his “alimony tour.” It was a very small bar with tables and I was there with my parents and a couple of girlfriends. We went and stood by the door next to the stage waiting for the Monkee appearance. When he came out on stage we ran to our table. I screamed. I thought that was what you were supposed to do at a Monkees concert– it’s what they did on TV. A woman in the club said, “Calm down girls.” I think I might have cried seeing him in real life. Yet even as a child, I somehow sensed that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t quite as joyful as it was supposed to be. This tiny hole in the wall was a huge comedown for the boy whose 16 Magazine image had graced a million lockers. During the performance while dancing and holding up a piece of toast (his backing band was called Toast) he split his trousers. Looking back, this had to have been a low point in the life of the real Davy Jones.

After the show my friends and I waited by that same door and the “calm down, girls” woman took paper for us so Davy could autograph them. She asked my name. She must not have heard it right. The autograph came back “To Nora. David Jones.” I treasured it– until I lost it.

Davy Jones, and all of the Monkees, represented layers upon layers of illusion. Somewhere behind the masks were four real performers. They played comic characters who had only the most superficial relationships to the actors and musicians they were, and yet confusingly they had the same names. Peter Tork, who was an intelligent and sensitive musician seeped in the excesses of the 60s counterculture played the character of Peter Tork, also a musician, but an innocent and ingenuous dimwit.

They had been cast to play the roles of musicians not necessarily to be musicians. The two actors, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, had little trouble with that. The two musicians had identity crises putting their own names on other people’s music and becoming famous for it. Like all artists the four wanted to be taken seriously and they found the loveable-mop-top image constraining.

I have since read quite a bit about these men in various articles and biographies. I get the impression that these four might not have gotten along all that well and that perhaps charming, cute Davy was the most difficult to get along with. In life the cute boys are often the most assertive and strong-willed as they overcompensate for the child-like impression created by their faces.

I am not sure my life was improved by reading the biographies. The real men who made up the Monkees were not my Monkees. The real Monkees were the imaginary friends they created on television. They were the best of friends, each member distinct in his own way, but they operated always as a unit. They were always struggling to get a gig and pay the rent but their money woes had no real-world consequences except for occasionally triggering a Monkees romp. The real Monkees were the ones who lived in a “groovy pad” with a mannequin named Mr. Schneider who spouted aphorisms when you pulled a cord. I think my idea of a dream home is still the Monkees groovy pad.

(Davy Jones’s idea of a dream home is for sale apparently.)

Performers are magical. They create new beings. The Davy Jones I loved was not the actor David Jones who married and divorced and re-married, who was forced to go on the road at the low point of his fame in order to pay the alimony. That man was connected to my Davy Jones in some way, but my Davy Jones was real and he was his own person. He was born from the images the actor David Jones created and the way the character was received in my mind.

It is common to dismiss these fantasies of childhood, to laugh at the puppy love and to pack it all away, but I believe my ability to take fictional people seriously is something important that I carry with me to this day. It is part of what makes me a writer.

—-

While I have you here, I would like to invite you to learn a bit about my forthcoming novel Identity Theft. It explores the theme of celebrity infatuation and fantasy. There is only one week to go in the Pubslush crowdfunding campaign to make this title a reality. Your advance order of $15 for the print book or $10 for the ebook will help make its publication a reality, not a dream. Thank you for your support.

Promote What You Love Instead of Bashing What You Hate

I was in something of a discouraged mood when this post from Soulseeds came across my twitter feed. I decided to follow this advice and put together a list of ten things I love– big and small. (It’s not all inclusive, so if you’re a person and I didn’t list you– you know I still love you!) It has cheered me up quite a bit, perhaps not quite to the point that I want to dance around my room like Julie Andrews singing about whiskers on kittens, but quite a bit.* I hope you will join me and make a list of five or ten things you love on your own blog. Spread the love, man!

1. Valery Lantratov

DSC06952Valery is the real deal. When I first saw him on stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He has that thing. We met for the first time in 2002 and have been partners for about ten years touring America teaching teaching ballet. When we were first on tour together, with another company, he didn’t have much English but whenever a problem arose he would say, “Don’t worry, easy.” He has much more English now, but he continues to help me not to worry. When he is here and we’re touring we are together 24 hours a day and we only occasionally (when very tired) get on one another’s nerves. I can’t imagine wanting to spend that much time with pretty much anyone else.

2. Being on the Road

IMG_1741Yes, touring is exhausting. I don’t think we could hold up for more than the three months we do in the summer (and two in the winter) without taking a break. It’s a new city each day most of the time, lots of travel, lots of logistics, too much time in the car but sometimes you get to see crazy things like this storm out west that arched over the highway like a door.  We get to meet people everywhere we go. Few people have the chance to experience so much of America, and even though we don’t do much sight seeing, we really do get a feel for the country. I feel most myself when we’re on the road. I don’t know what day of the week it is, I am focused on the thing in front of me, and time passes at a different pace. You measure time in unique experiences, and when we look back at our time on the road, one week is so packed with novelty that it feels like one month. I think being on the road means we experience a longer life.

3. Writing in Flow

I don’t have a picture of this. When you write in flow, the world falls away and you’re focused entirely on what you are doing. You’re not over-thinking it or worrying about it, you’re just doing it. Most writers lives are divided into two kinds of time, writing in flow (not a lot of time) and fretting over not being in a state of flow (most of the time). Another one of these experiences is when you have been working on a novel or proposal and you’ve given up on it and then suddenly, two years later, your subconscious delivers up the solution to your writing dilemma and you finish the thing in a mad dash and wonder where that came from. That’s how my novel Angel got made (except it was ten years).

4. John K King Books in Detroit

JohnKKing-3John K. King Books is one of my favorite places in the world. Four floors of shelves like this, and book smell and the joy of discovery. Heavenly. I used to go with my late father, and we would leave with armloads. So not only do I love the shop, it has memories of love inside. My favorite spot used to be the third floor reference shelf where I’d look for trivia books. Now I would haunt different floors. Tastes change over time.

5. Will Hoppey

If you haven’t heard him, you should. Full disclosure: He’s a friend, and I used to help him with some bookings years ago, but that is because I am a fan. So press play and see what you think.

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

06.08.2005Edinburgh is the most beautiful city I have lived in. With all of the news lately about Scotland, I have been nostalgic for it. I lived in a shared flat above a bakery on West Maitland Street and worked in a Wimpy (fast food restaurant.)  I was young and at my most beautiful. I had international friends who I met my first days there in the youth hostel. I was open for adventure. I remember it very fondly although in truth I think I was miserable a lot of the time, as I was often miserable in the “best years of my life.” Edinburgh is home to some really wonderful, warm people.

7. Birmingham Unitarian Church Rummage Sales

rummageYou will notice a trend– I love places where you can find treasures. I also like hard work. I love coming in on Monday and seeing piles and piles of unsorted stuff, feeling like it can’t be done, and knowing that it will. I like having a particular task to accomplish. I love the camaraderie. It is amazing how much can be done with teamwork. It’s a great thing. This year’s sale is October 2-4.

8. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnels

IMG_2780I especially like the double tunnels of Blue and Kittatinny Mountains.  When I was a girl, we used to drive from Michigan to my grandparent’s house in New Jersey on the turnpike, stopping at Howard Johnson’s at the rest stops to get pistachio ice cream on the way. I have a certain fascination for the bypassed tunnels of the turnpike. At one time I did some digging into newspaper archives to read about the accident at the now bypassed Laurel Hill Tunnel. Eleven men gave their lives to complete the marvel of modern engineering, but it outlived its usefulness after only 24 years.  I wanted to know who the men were.

9. The Michigan Hand Map

5Nmcn7MFFWJxIf you ask someone from Michigan where he lives he will instinctively raise his right hand, hold it as if it were in a mitten and point to a spot on the palm. This amuses people from outside the state, but it is actually useful. The other day, I was watching Orange is the New Black with my mother and a character was supposed to be from Michigan. “Where are you from?” “Muskegon.” “Where is that?” She did the hand thing, pointing to the center of the hand. My mother and I both turned to each other and said, “That’s not Muskegon.” Michiganders know where they live on the hand. They also know where other cities are on the hand. You can’t just point at random. It’s a real map. If you dig the mittens pictured to the left, by the way, they’re from a company called Michigan Mittens.

10. Melcat

Mel is the Michigan Electronic Library and Mel Cat is their online catalog where you can order books from a network of all of the libraries in Michigan. Thanks to Mel, there is rarely a book that I want to read, no matter how obscure, that I can not have in my hands in a few days. I think it’s amazing.

So there you go. I have promoted some things I love. What’s your list?

*The Sound of Music is a thing I love. Julie Andrews is cool.

When the School Does the Shaming

ImageI don’t often post personal stories on this blog. I prefer to talk about ideas than to talk about myself. There was a story today, however, that brought an event from my past back into view.  According to Raw Story, a public school in Utah has photoshopped yearbook pictures of female students so they will be dressed more modestly. “There have been no reports of male students having their photos altered,” the article said. The action was in keeping with the school’s dress code, a school official said, “In that sense we can help kids better prepare for their future by knowing how to dress appropriately for things.”

How to dress appropriately for things…

There are not many days in my 45 years of life when I can recall exactly what I was wearing. There was the day I graduated from High School in a gold cap and gown, there was the poofy, shiny blue dress I wore to prom, and the sleeveless, floor-length gown I wore to my brother’s wedding, and then there was the outfit I was wearing in January 1991 when a school administrator called me to the office in the middle of a video editing class.

I was wearing a white turtleneck paired with a black skirt of a floaty layered material.  (I’ve never been much of a fashionista so excuse me that I do not have a better description of the fabric.) I wore nylons and a pair of black flats. My hair was styled, and held on top with a barrette with gold-colored baubles. I didn’t think of the outfit as particularly sexy or provocative. I was not on my way to seduce anyone or attract special attention. The pieces and accessories came from the clothing store where I worked part-time as a sales associate. I was heading there straight from school and my job required me to dress in the merchandise. I thought I was wearing something generally flattering, youthful and up-to-date but serious and respectable. That is how thought I was presenting myself, how I wanted to be seen by the world.

I should also point out that I was not in high school. I was a 22 year-old college graduate. After earning my B.A. in theater, and finding that the major theater corporations were not lining up to offer me jobs with great dental plans, I had decided to get some additional technical training in order to pursue a career in radio. It was a six-month course, if I remember correctly (there are so many details I remember much less clearly than what I was wearing that day). Most of the students entered the program straight from high school. The school catered more to these students than to adult students with college degrees. It took a stance similar to a high school– it felt it had to offer a certain amount of remedial education in behavior and how to present oneself professionally.  They had a dress code, and they explained in orientation, in a joking way, that if students came to class in something that was not up to code they would be “sweatsuited.” That is, they would be given a sweatsuit with the school logo on it to wear for the rest of the day.

I didn’t think anything of this. I was a shy kid. The sort who does not get much notice socially. I had graduated from my high school with commendation. I earned advance placement scores that allowed me to graduate from college early. My senior year of college I had worked five different part time jobs around my class schedule in order to pay for a post-college trip to the UK. (I traveled there on a student work visa.)  I had never been given any cause to think of myself as anything but respectable.

Not until that day.

I had no idea why the administrator was pulling me out of class. When I got to the office, she had a sweatsuit waiting for me. She told me that she had seen me on the video monitor (we were doing some news reading or something for the video class) and that my skirt was too short, not up to code, and I would have to wear the sweat pants or leave the building.

I felt my face go red and the tears welling up in my eyes. I did my best to fight them back. I became aware of my body, my physical presence, in a way I never had before. I was being judged sexually, and I had never intended to invite the administrator to look at me that way.  I felt humiliated, diminished and infantilized. She was telling me that I did not know how to dress myself, and that I was presenting myself as a slut. The way I was dressed was shaming the school.

I refused to go back to my classroom and face the stares and laughter of my peers in the scarlet letter of those sweat pants. I chose, instead, to give up my perfect attendance record and leave the building– to take my shameful self far from view.

I don’t know if the girl who found her yearbook image censored felt any of that; if the girl who donned her favorite tank top to look nice in her picture felt a twinge when she realized someone had viewed her as an object of lust and implied that she had intended to present herself that way all along.

The events I just recounted must have been no more than 10 minutes of my life. I am sure the administrator who was defending the dress code has no memory of it at all. I can’t say that this event changed my life’s trajectory. I finished the course, went on to work in radio (usually wearing jeans), and then to publish 15 books, tour the country with an international artist and to write for corporate CEOs and foreign heads of state. I have no reason to think of myself as anything but respectable. And yet, 23 years later, when I remember that moment, I can still feel the shame.