From “Noble Savage” to National Hero

4/20/12

Trigger warning: racism

*please note this was written in early 2012 and has not been updated*

https://www.scienceabc.com/pure-sciences/secret-michael-jordan-slam-dunks-basketball-math-physics-hang-time-jump.html

There was a moment in time in the 1990s when people believed man could fly. Specifically, that man was the Chicago Bulls’s Michael Jordan. It appeared as if Jordan was hanging in air, an action that came to be known as “hang time”. He was not in fact flying or even hanging in the air; it was an unintentional optical illusion. While most basketball players let go of the ball while they are still jumping up, Michael Jordan doesn’t let go of the ball until he is on his way down.  He also has the tendency to pull his legs up as the jump progresses so it appears as if he’s staying higher than he really is. This is just one facet to the sensation surrounding Michael Jordan. To many, Jordan is more than Black man and indeed, more than a man; he seems a phenomenon. In research for this paper I found myself getting misty eyed when watching videos of Michael and reading articles written about him. His athleticism and character invoke emotions nearly a decade after his departure from professional basketball.

For Black Americans, his virtuosity on the basketball court and his ability to parlay that into the business world has caused him to become a cultural role model for many. For many White basketball fans, Jordan’s like ability and “family man” (Michael Jordan Biography) image allowed him to be enjoyed as a non-threatening off-court presence. Second in history only to Jackie Robinson forty years prior, he is a race defying hero to many. This is proven in David Halberstam’s statement that “Jordan has given us, then, among other things, a new definition of American male beauty.” (Halberstam, David) Even in 2012, when many would say we are no longer racist (LOL this was written in 2012), it is hard to deny that there are disturbingly racist aspects to many portrayals of African American athletes in America. Often, these individuals are described almost as if they are made entirely of body, with little or no mental facilities. Michael Jordan is one notable exception to this rule.

The origins of the conception that Black athletes are made merely of muscle can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment. Jordan functions as a token of different sorts of desire for White and non-White fans to discourses of scientific racism beginning with colonial exploits to find exemplary non-White male laborers during the period known as the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophy provided for two opposing views of non-White bodies as alternately primitive  “savages” or as acclaimed “Noble Savages.” Although times may have changed since the slavery exploits in which these terms were coined, it is still possible to see the savage/noble savage dichotomy at play in coverage of Black athletes and isolated examples like Jordan.  I’d go as far as to suggest the possibility that modern commentators likewise cast his special abilities as a new sort of “missing link,” connecting not animals to humans, but humans to machines. There are also obvious connections between the idea of the “token” in Black athleticism comparable to older notions of the Noble Savage and contemporary arguments that people of color understandably desire role models.

Scientific Racism is a project that arises in the eighteenth century in order to provide data supporting the notion that non-Western men and women differed in fundamental biological ways from Western men and women. The book Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism is a work on eighteenth century efforts to prove that Africans were less than human but more than animals (otherwise known as the “missing link” theory) . The essay describes The Enlightenment as a time characterized by a progressive attempt to define man’s place in nature by ranking groups of people based on the color of their skin.

Anthropologists of the time made observations, measurements, and comparisons between groups of men and animals in hopes of understanding the unity and balance in the affairs of man and the cosmos. The anthropologists believed this would aid in comprehending the unity between the body and the mind. These observations, measurements, and comparisons were adequate to the new eighteenth century sciences but they were combined with value judgments succeeding aesthetic specifications stemming from Ancient Greece. Scientists in the age of Enlightenment attributed African American’s superior physicality to their close relation to the ape. They believed that Africans were more closely related to the ape than to Europeans. In John Friedrich Blumenbach’s “Degeneration of Species”,  included in Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism he states “The assertion that is made about Ethiopians, is that they come nearer the apes than other men”. This is the basis of the “missing link theory”(Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi).  The frequent transition from science to aesthetics is a fundamental characteristic of modern racism. Even in 2012,  basketball players are primarily described in terms of athleticism. This may seem natural because they are professional athletes but these words are the same that were once used to describe slaves. African slaves that were sold at the highest price, the “good slaves”, were the biggest, strongest and fastest.(Williamson, Samuel H.) In 2010 sports broadcaster Stacey King described Chicago bulls point guard Derrick Rose as “Too big, too strong, too fast, too good”.  The dawn of racism was fraught with simplifications of human nature, defined in aesthetic terms, wherein outward physical signs were equated with inner rationality and this theme lives on today.

The impression that Black folks are intellectually subordinate to whites, specifically Black athletes, is best illustrated by the comments made by former Los Angeles Dodger Vice President for player personnel, Al Campanis. During the interview with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s arrival into major league baseball, Campanis was asked why he thought so few Black people were in management positions in baseball. Campanis replied, “I truly believe they may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or perhaps a general manager” (Wilhelm, Maria) He also stated that Black people were not adapted to be swimmers because of a lack of buoyancy. This is blatant proof of scientific racism alive and well in 2012.

In 2001 a report was published by the Toronto Edition of “National Post” stating that East Africans, specifically Kenyans, have “built-in advantages”.  This is according to Bengt Saltin of Copenhagen University, who has devoted more than 30 years to studying muscle biology. He also explains that his research proves that in general, muscles produce large amounts of ammonia when pressured while “The Kenyan runners, they don’t produce ammonia during very intense work. In fact, when they run at maximum speed they have the same ammonia concentration as European top runners at rest.”(Mehaffey, John) These are the type of indications saying there is quite likely a genetic component that links to athletic ability. Furthermore, he attributes Kenyans unparalleled running ability to the altitude in which they are raised. Most Kenyans grow up in areas with a high elevation, around 7,000 feet , which aids in developing lungs capable of functioning in thinner air.  This is the modern equivalent to the eighteenth century concept of the “Noble Savage”.  A 2012 article for The Atlantic explains that the theory that Kenyans’ history as herders means they get practice running as they chase their sheep across the countryside is still prevalent today.

Another concept that advanced racism was the Enlightenment discussions of the “Noble Savage”. It is unclear whether or not the origin of the term comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau but the phrase was most certainly popularized after the publication of  his “Discourse on Inequality” and “On the Social Contract”. Rousseau believed that man was better suited to a life in a “natural state”. According to Rousseau, mankind is in no way benefited by civilization or modern society. He explains that because “savage” men live in the company of animals and nurtured themselves to the level that aligned itself with the instinct of — and strengthened by regular contact with the elements. Rousseau observes that a man of nature, a “savage”, has only one tool. His body, which is naturally stronger than Europeans. In fairness to the time, I will point out that novelists of the era already were pointing out the problematic nature of Westerners using inhabitants of the West to create a “feel good factor.” In Charles Dickens essay “Noble Savage” he proclaims, “Yet it is extraordinary to observe how some people will talk about him, as they talk about the good old times”. This is paralleled in the undeniable connection between the “Noble Savage” and “Black Athlete” tropes.

It is widely understood that most Black basketball players today come from underprivileged homes. This causes Black athletes to be more attractive to White viewers because they sympathize for them. Black athletes are cast as the underdog, when they make it to the top they are the Cinderella story of the era. While athletes are the heroes of choice for many children, this is especially true of Black children. Bill Maxwell argues that this may not be caused by their ability to relate to the Black athlete that grew up in their neighborhood or one like it, but actually due to peer pressure. “Because of peer pressure and for personal reasons, they are into Black things: In and out of school, they hang out with other Black teenagers, listen almost exclusively to Black music, watch Black sitcoms, talk Black and “think” Black. Thus, the overwhelming majority of their role models are Black.”(Maxwell, Bill) This is partly the cause of Michael Jordan being such a cultural phenomenon.  Both the “Noble Savage” and “Black Athlete” tokens are apparent today, although the “Black Athlete” is much more visible because it is widely accepted and not put in contempt of being outright racist .

During the Age of Enlightenment, Edmund Burke was one of the most vocal supporters of freedom and equality. This is apparent in his support of American Independence and voiced injustices of Britain’s American colonies, including his native Ireland: specifically the condemnation of the oppression of Catholics.  This is not to say Burke was an Enlightenment philosopher. He bridged the gap between the Age of Enlightenment and that of Romanticism. While the Age of Enlightenment based its racist tendencies on scientific “proof”, the Age of Romanticism based it on nationalism. Romanticism is closely tied with revolution, specifically revolution based on class, not on race.  It is for this reason nationalism is innately racist. According to Romantic philosophy, nationalism is defined as a community of people who are racially or genetically distinct. While we now know that the nations of the world consequently exist based on historical accidents and impulses, this was disregarded during the Age of Romanticism. Burke condemned inequality, and in turn racism, in his “Reflections on the Revolution of France” when he stated:

“On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order. . . . On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom, as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their terrors, and by the concern, which each individual may find in them, from his own private speculations, or even spare to them from his own private interests.” (Burke, Edmund, and L. G. Mitchell)

Burke critiqued the French Revolution, but not because of its cause but due to the practices employed. He believed the French Revolution was much too radical, while its American counterpart was more thought-out and reasonable. Michael Jordan was not considered a radical character; in fact, he was a well thought out media-machine.

His image was carefully calculated years before he received his first championship ring. In 1990 he explained “I’ve spent a life building something positive, being viewed as something positive, and I know any mistake I make could damage that for the rest of my life. People look for their role models to be almost flawless, and I guess I’m the closest thing to everything being viewed positive, very little being viewed flawed in my life. And I want to maintain that.”(Smith, Sam.) Representations of Michael Jordan are contracted by his promoters and sponsors, of which there are many. His image is carefully crafted to reflect a Black male with “family values”: a trait held in high regard during the post-Reagan era in America. His image also opposes historical and stereotypical images of Black masculinity as overtly dangerous. Michael Jordan managed to be marketable and extremely successful as a cultural symbol because he offers a rephrasing, tolerant and more marketable vision of Black masculinity due to the fact that he achieved such a remarkable level of success in culture that values athleticism more than ever. In his endorsements, he is portrayed as a thoughtful, engaging family man. This directly counters the socially constructed representations of African American men of the time as incompetent, dangerous and hyper-sexualized. Another aspect that makes Michael Jordan accessible to the White population is his lack of interest in political activism. Unlike Muhammed Ali, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron before him, Jordan did not partake in political activism, instead he created an empire and from that donated and created charities of his choosing.

It is noted that “Jordan represents the hope and freedom and ultimate escape from the pernicious beliefs and social structures that stand between African Americans and economic prosperity, as well as physical and psychological security.” (Giroux, Henry A., and Peter McLaren)  By pairing Jordan with Bugs Bunny in the “Hare Jordan” campaigns of the 1990s, he was personified as a cartoon-like figure, defying structures of race, gender and age.

Through athleticism, Black Americans have obtained economic power and, with it came freedom.  Being extremely wealthy is a new experience for Black Americans, especially in the 20th century and it is most commonly obtained through athletic ability.  Burke explains that “Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power; and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principals, tempers, and dispositions, they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.”  It is apparent that economic freedom leads to political freedom and this is especially apparent in black athletes. According to Forbes, in 2011 the top ten highest earning athletes were all black basketball players. That is in contrast to the 1991 Forbes list that stated that five out of the top ten earning athletes were black.

Economic freedom for many Black Americans comes as a result of athleticism. Unlike most industries, professional sports have provided African Americans a pathway to succeed economically. In Arthur Ashe’s book “A Hard Road to Glory: The African-American Athlete in Basketball” he explains “Proportionally, the black athlete has been more successful than any group in any other endeavor in American life.” (Dey, Matthew S.)  Even in 2011, years after retirement,  Michael Jordan was the second highest grossing athlete in the world because of his ongoing endorsement deals. He is still one of the most sought after endorsements because of his carefully cultivated image.

Years after his retirement Michael Jordan is still a cultural phenomenon because he created a cultural revolution. One could even go as far as describing him as an example of Burke’s “sublime” theory, despite the scientific racism that originated in the Age of Enlightenment and still lives on today.   Even in 2012 it is apparent that the “Noble Savage” token has essentially been renamed the token “Black Athlete”. The Age of Enlightenment proved that economic freedom is equated with power and there is no better example than his Airness, Michael Jordan.

Works Cited

Andrews, David L. Michael Jordan, Inc.: Corporate Sport, Media Culture, and Late Modern America. Albany: State University of New York, 2001. Print.

Badenhausen, Kurt. “The Top-Earning NBA Players.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2012/01/25/the-top-earning-nba-players/>.

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. London: Routledge and Paul, 1958. Print.

Burke, Edmund, and L. G. Mitchell. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Dey, Matthew S. “Racial Differences in National Basketball Association Players’ Salaries: A New Look.” JSTOR. 1997. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/25604112>.

Dickens, Charles. Dickens’ Short Stories. Containing The Detective Police. Three Detective Anecdotes. The Pair of Gloves. The Artful Touch. The Sofa. Sunday in a Workhouse. The Noble Savage. Our School. Our Vestry. Our Bore. A Monument of French Folly. A Christmas Tree; as Well as Twenty Other Stories Never before Ublished in This Country. Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson, 1864. Print.

Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi. Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997. Print.

Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Jr. Moss. From Slavery to Freedom a History of African Americans. New York: A.A Knopf, 2000. Print.

Giroux, Henry A., and Peter McLaren. Between Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics of Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Halberstam, David. “A Hero For The Wired World.” In the Satellite Age, Michael Jordan Has Become the. Sports Illustrated, 23 Dec. 1991. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1140179/index.htm>.

Hoberman, John M. Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.

Maxwell, Bill. “Color-coded Role Models.” ProQuest. 28 Jan. 1996. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/393678839>.

Mehaffey, John. “Kenyan Runners May Have Genetic Advantage: Men Dominate Sport: Critics Say It Could Also Be Their Attitude, or Their Altitude.” ProQuest. 19 June 2010. Web. 17 Apr. 2012.

“Michael Jordan Biography.” Chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Web. 17 Apr. 2012. <http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/bulls/michaeljordan/chi-michael-jordan-chicago-bulls-chapter-5,0,5427569.story?page=2>.

Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. New York: H. Fertig, 1985. Print.

“Obama as Icon.” Journal of Visual Culture. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <http://vcu.sagepub.com/content/8/2/125.citation>.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and G. D. H. Cole. On the Social Contract. New York: Dover Publications, 2003. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and Maurice Cranston. A Discourse on Inequality. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1984. Print.

Wilhelm, Maria. “In America’s National Pastime, Says Frank Robinson, White Is the Color of the Game Off the Field.” People 27 Apr. 1987. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20096143,00.html>.

Williamson, Samuel H., and Louis P. Cain. “MeasuringSlavery in $2009.”Measuring Worth. Web. 17 Apr. 2012. <http://www.measuringworth.com/slavery.php>.

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Wearing The Way

Trigger warning: mention of suicide

5/12/13

Competing Images of The Sage

Religion and philosophy have always inspired art, for many years the majority of art commissioned was for places of worship or for the ruling class. Ancient Chinese philosophy– be it Taoism or Confucianism can be found in ancient and modern art, whether explicitly or not. One of the most interesting mediums for conveying the ideas expressed in both the Tao Te Ching and is through wearable art, otherwise known as fashion. Tao is All, meaning it is art and clothing– Tao is fashion. One of the main issues a reader may have with the Tao Te Ching is that it is inherently contradictory. Because the Tao is everything and anything it can be two contrasting ideals at the same time and still be the truth. Our acknowledgement and acceptance of this conflict allows for us to further explore the infinite spectacle that is the Tao.

The father of Taoism is known as Lao Tzu. The legend goes, Lao Tzu decided to follow The Way and leave Chinese society and all of it’s corruption in order to become closer to nature when the gatekeeper of the city refused to let him pass until he wrote down all of his wisdom and teachings. The manuscript he left with the gatekeeper has become known as the Tao Te Ching or as it roughly translates, “The Way to Virtue”.  Lao Tzu did not intend to write down his teachings, he believed it was against his philosophy to learn from reading his work. Lao Tzu did not believe the Tao Te Ching could be taught or should be taught. He believed that it is an experience that comes with time and understanding. The fact that the Tao Te Ching even has a name goes against the philosophy. 

The very first passage in the Tao Te Ching reads “The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way; The name that can be named is not the constant name. The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth; The named was the mother of the myriad creatures. Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets; But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations. These two are the same. But diverge in name as they issue forth. Being the same they are called mysteries. Mystery upon mystery — The gateway of the manifold secrets” (Chapter 1.) Everything is constantly changing due to the interaction of opposites. This is depicted by the yin-yang­ symbol. 

The symbol is constructed of one circle, half white and half black. The Yang is the white side, white is symbolic of positive, male,day, active,sun, logical, hot and hard while the black is symbolic of negative, female, night, passive, moon, intuitive, cold, soft. Within yin there is also a bit of yang, and within yang there is a bit of yin.  In simplest terms, one opposite cannot exist without the other.  This means that there are no absolutes in the All, and that All is a system of interdependence.

Alexander McQueen was referred to as “one of the most acclaimed and incendiary designers of his generation” by the most highly respected fashion publication Women’s Wear Daily upon his untimely death by suicide. A little over a year after his death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art displayed a retrospective exhibit of his greatest work in honor of his artistic genius. Alexander McQueen was more than a fashion designer, he was an artist.  It is said that “his iconic designs constitute the work of an artist whose medium of expression was fashion.” An underlying theme in his vast array of collections was “contrasting opposites” and the way they balance one another in order to create something brilliant and beautiful. It is no wonder the title of the exhibit was “Savage Beauty”.  Curator of the exhibition, Andrew Bolton designed the first scene of the exhibition so the viewer is faced with two mannequins.

He explains that “the two mannequins that I think represent many of the themes and ideas that McQueen revisited throughout his career: polarized opposites, whether it’s to do with life or death, lightness or darkness, predator/prey, man/machine.”  It is unknown if Alexander McQueen ever read the Tao Te Ching or not, but his art was a great embodiment of the general principals of the Tao. Even in the construction of his creations, Alexander McQueen exemplified the Tao.  McQueen’s approach to fashion combined the precision and traditions of tailoring and pattern-making with the spontaneity and improvisations of draping and dressmaking. It is this approach, at once rigorous and impulsive, disciplined and unconstrained, that underlies McQueen’s distinctiveness and inimitably.

For his Master’s Graduation Collection from the most highly esteemed design school in the world, Central St. Martin’s, McQueen created a collection entitled “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”.

One of the looks was an “three point origami frock coat” (which became a staple in the collections that followed. There was an entire room in the “Savage Beauty” exhibition dedicated to his folded coats and jackets.

These are on display in the first official space of the exhibition. This was an understandable choice by the curator, given that Alexander McQueen began his career as a tailor before he even entered design school. The Tao is the past, present and future all at once. Although the pieces were from different collections throughout his career, they recall the past while maintaining a sense of modernity in their evolution from collection to collection. 

For example, in his Fall/Winter 1994 collection titled “Banshee”– a reference to the Irish folklore about banshees who were heard wailing when a boat sank. The way in which McQueen tailored the jacket was through a complex folding pattern, not unlike Origami art. McQueen preferred to tuck and fold fabric rather than stitch it together because he hated seams. Seams in fabric can be viewed as unnatural. Draping, folding and tucking and weaving any type of material is a more organic way to create clothing. Although the aforementioned means of creating clothing are more orthodox, they are more complex than just stitching together a few pieces of fabric.  Sometimes, in order for something to be simple, it must have come about in a complex way. Another paradox Alexander McQueen appreciated.  

In section 63 Lao Tzu explains this concept “Do that which consists in taking no action; pursue that which is not meddlesome; savor that which has no flavor. Make the small big and the few many, do good to him who has done you an injury. Lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes difficultly make something big by starting with it when small. Difficult things in the world must needs have their beginnings in the easy; big things must needs have their beginnings in the small. Therefore it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great…therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult. That is why in the end no difficulties can get the better of him.”  This sentiment is mirrored in a statement made by Sarah Burton, the designer’s long-term collaborator and now head of design of the house that bears his name. She said  “He always started with the form and knew everything about how to construct a garment, he felt he had to know everything about tailoring, everything about dressmaking. He’d always surprise us in fittings. We would tell him something was technically impossible—and in the morning there would be something amazing on the mannequin, even if he had to work all night to achieve it.”  Just because the act of creation was difficult does not mean it was impossible, in order for something to be difficult it means that it has been done, although with struggle. The difficulties (in terms of his art) did not get the better of Alexander McQueen, he succeeded in becoming great just by doing. He did not try, he did. That is not to say he did not work hard, it is just to say that he went with The Way and completed tasks. 

Another fan of his work Camilla Nickerson, the fashion stylist and senior contributing fashion editor at W magazine, worked with McQueen over the last year of his life. She recalled “The staggering thing about him was that he literally cut fabric off the bolt, folded it very perfectly on the floor, and asked for the scissors from his very attentive assistant. He would then think about it and attack the piece of fabric and hold it to the girl, and there was the dress or the jacket in place. I hadn’t ever watched anyone work so fluently and so directly.” In the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu refers to fashion explicitly. He remarks “Know the strength of man, But keep a woman’s care! Be the stream of the universe! Being the stream of the universe, Ever true and unswerving, Become as a little child once more. Know the white, But keep the black! Be an example to the world! Being an example to the world, Ever true and unwavering, Return to the infinite. Know honor, Yet keep humility! Be the valley of the universe! Being the valley of the universe, Ever true and resourceful, Return to the state of the uncarved block. When the block is carved, it becomes useful. When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler. Thus, “A great tailor cuts little.” (Chapter 28) 

Alexander McQueen cut very little, often opting to fold and tuck the fabric rather than sew.

When he did rip fabric he did it for a distinct purpose. In one of his most controversial shows, titled “Highland Rape” McQueen shredded military jackets and tore clothing in order to convey what he saw as the England’s rape of Scotland. He went on to say that the war between England and Scotland was nothing short of genocide. The clothing was torn as were the bodies of victims on both sides of the war.

He explained “I spent a long time learning how to construct clothes, which is important to do before you can deconstruct them.” Lao Tzu was an advocate for submission, but submission for survival’s sake. “I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness.  The myriad creatures all rise together  And I watch their return.  The teaming creatures  All return to their separate roots. Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.  This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.  Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.  Knowledge of the constant is known as discernment. Woe to him who willfully innovates While ignorant of the constant,  But should one act from knowledge of the constant  One’s action will lead to impartiality,  Impartiality to kingliness,  Kingliness to heaven,  Heaven to the way,  The way to perpetuity,  And to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.” (Chapter 16) 

In his “Highland Rape” collection, Alexander McQueen was not willfully innovating because he was not aware that he was innovating. He was just doing what he felt inspired by in that moment. He was constantly learning and evolving and expressing that through his art. 

In his highly theatrical Fall/Winter 1996 collection “DANTE”, which was staged at a church in Spitalfields, the guests sat in pews next to skeletons. Models wore crucifix masks, denim splashed with bleach, and mourning veils in black lace. An opening of organ music was drowned out by gunfire. McQueen explained “It’s not so much about death, but the awareness that it’s there”. When one is aware that death is going to happen, it is easier to appreciate life.

This collection is also tied together with Chapter 72 of the Tao Te Ching. Alexander McQueen was aware of death, just as Lao Tzu described in chapter 72.  Both understood that “The people treat death lightly:  It is because the people set too much store by life  That they treat death lightly. It is just because one has no use for life that one is wiser than the man who values life.”  (Chapter 72) Alexander McQueen forced the viewers of his collection to look at death and realize the reality that it will one day come. 

Themes of nature have been present in fashion in both the East and the West for millennium, but the idea of returning to nature rather than just observing it’s beauty is one of the main teachings of the Tao. “Knowing the constant, we accept things as they are. By accepting things as they are, we are impartial. By being impartial, we are part of the Nature. By being a part of the Nature, we are one with Tao. Tao is eternal, and we survive physical death.” (Chapter 16) In his later collections, McQueen used physical nature as part of his designs. In 2001, he used razor clam shells he found on the beach with a friend to adorn the fabric. Every centimeter of fabric was covered in the shells.

He explained “My friend George and I were walking on the beach in Norfolk, and there were thousands of [razor-clam] shells. They were so beautiful, I thought I had to do something with them. So, we decided to make [a dress] out of them. . . . The shells had outlived their usefulness on the beach, so we put them to another use on a dress. Then Erin [O’Conner] came out and trashed the dress, so their usefulness was over once again. Kind of like fashion, really.” Lao Tzu’s interpretation of this piece is best explained in Chapter 15. He says “Who can be at rest and yet, stirring, slowly come to life? He who holds fast to this way, desires not to be full. It is because he is not full. That he can be worn and yet newly made” (Chapter 15) Things can be used for multiple purposes, even if you aren’t aware of their use at first or 100th glance. The shells were just resting on the beach, devoid of their natural use when Alexander McQueen happened upon them and decided to include them in a dress. After the runway show, a lot of the shells fell off as the model walked down the runway and they were useless once again. So is The Way. 

Alexander McQueen evoked the same sort of message in his Spring/Summer 2007 show “Sarabanda” when he sewed live flowers onto the fabric because he was aware they would fall off as she walked down the runway. He explained that the collection, which also had a lot of mourning pieces, was about death and decay. He used flowers because he knew they would die, just as everyone does.

Sadly, in 2010 Alexander McQueen took his own life after struggling with depression for many years. Lao Tzu explains that if we follow The Way we can survive physical death. In many ways, whether he was aware of it or not, Alexander McQueen was the Tao. He was everything and anything, as demonstrated in the medium of clothing as art. A lot of the things he did were paradoxical, but that is how The Way functions and must function. Both Lao Tzu and Alexander McQueen believed that in order to move forward, opposing elements needed to interact. Lao Tzu has inspired art of all kinds even before his death in 531 BC, and I believe Alexander McQueen will inspire art of all kinds until the end of time. So it The Way. 

Works Cited

“About the Exhibition | Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.” Savage Beauty. Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 10 May 2013.

“Alexander McQueen, A True Master.” WWD. Women’s Wear Daily, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 May 2013.

“Alexander McQueen: Noble Farewell.” Vogue.com. Conde Nast, n.d. Web. 10 May 2013.

Bradley, Laura. “Object of Desire | World of Bees: Alexander McQueen Accessories S/S13.” AnOtherMag. N.p., 2013. Web. 10 May 2013.

Tzu, Lao, and D. C. Lau. Tao Te Ching. London: Penguin, 1963. Print.

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Competing Images of the Sage

Midterm

3/29/13

The Tao Te Ching

In Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, he elaborates upon the title. He explains that the Tao is the way and Te essentially means virtue. So together, the title of the book is “The Way to Virtue”. To explain the word Tao as simply “The Way”  or the word virtue is extremely simplistic. I believe that Lao Tzu is arguing that the definition of a word or phrase is fluid, ever changing and adapting, everything and nothing all at the same time. 

It is a bit ironic that Lao Tzu even wrote down his teachings because to put his thoughts into words goes against everything he believes in.  As the story goes, Lao Tzu wanted to escape the city to live a life of hermit-hood when the guard at the city wall stopped him. The guard would not let Lao Tzu pass until he wrote down his teachings. I imagine that moment was difficult for Lao Tzu. To be forced to decide going against all of your fundamental beliefs in order to go pursue those beliefs must have been such a difficult decision. I would have had to make a pro con list and even then I’m not sure what I would do.  To break down the core message of the Tao Te Ching , Lao Tzu is advising the reader to escape death. He believes that if you follow the way you will escape death. 

The Way has so many meanings, it can mean one thing for one person and something for another and still be pure truth. In the very first chapter of the story, Lao Tzu elaborates on the need for namelessness. He says “The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of myriad things” (pg. 7)  The word Tao means The Way and The Way is always changing but the definition remains authentic.

Lao Tzu is arguing that to be a blank slate or negative space is great because that means you have room for so much knowledge. If you already have knowledge of something, when you learn about a new subject your judgment will be impaired. It’s sort of like the way it is difficult to be objective about the people or the things that you love. You are sort of blinded by love and even if the person you love makes mistakes you cannot see them because love overrides the mistakes. 

A wonderful metaphor for The Way is a river. It is always moving and changing but at every place in the vast Mississippi — from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico — it remains a river true and true. It is the same river but the temperature and deepness changes, there are bends in the river where it slows down and elevation changes that force it to travel fast. All of those gallons of water are and will always be a river. Constantly changing yet the exact same because it is at all times completely pure. To be nameless is to be completely pure, once something is named it is defined and this means there are things it can not be, creating limits. The Way is limitless. 

It is everything yet nothing, the Colorado River started as a tiny stream flowing naturally with the rhythm of the Earth. As the stream gained momentum, it slowly began to carve through the rock. That little stream that was 

Lao Tzu uses a wonderful metaphor to explain this theory behind the limitless. He explains in Chapter Eighteen that 

Once something becomes specific, it excludes all other options

Words can have dictionary definitions, that is only natural in the twenty first century. Lao Tzu believes you should live like a hermit and not let yourself get swept up in things because once you do you are no longer pure. Philosophical terms are always open to interpretation but once something is named and becomes a term we will always think of that word and the definition in relation to it. For example, if you woke up one day and all of a sudden everyone on Earth said hello as “periwinkle” you would have to process the word periwinkle in your mind every time you heard it and translate it to the word hello. The same thing would happen when you came across a friend on the street and you thought hello but you translated it to periwinkle. The only reasonable example I can think of for this way of thinking is with people who are bilingual. No matter what, in order to learn one language they had to learn another. If you speak Chinese at home and English at school and you ask your father about homework you will have to translate the English word and it’s meaning you learned in the English language into a Chinese word that he interprets as the same meaning as the English word. This all seems extremely complicated and that is the exact opposite of what Lao Tzu would want. He would want us to be clear in all moments of life. I do not think he would like to read my paper. 

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Conspicuous Catholics

Cinematic Representations of Irish Americans

4/29/14

During the twentieth century, neighborhoods across the United States were often referred to by the name of the Catholic Church located in that neighborhood. The relationship between the Catholic Church and neighborhood politics has been the subject of numerous award winning films. Both Leo McCarey’s  1944 film Going My Way and Elia Kazan’s 1954 On the Waterfront won multiple trophies at The Academy Awards in their respective years. Both films examine the dialectic between church and state in the mid twentieth century in the United States but they do so with opposing tones. While Going My Way features Bing Crosby crooning “Swinging on a Star” with a group of choir boys, On The Waterfront showcases Marlon Brando pleading for his life while his older brother holds a gun to his head. Both performances won Academy Awards but the differences in the way Irish Catholicism was portrayed to mass audiences in just a decade are tremendous. 

In the process of “Making the Irish American” there has been one characteristic that Irish Americans have not yet adapted– the rugged individualism that is wholeheartedly American. As we see in cinematic representations and real life tragedies, communal loyalty comes before self service. This unwavering devotion is often cause for conflict as times change and the bonds between family is tested because of conflicting allegiances.

The generation of Catholics brought up in the 1920s and 1930s did not have the funds to go to the movies and their place in American society was not yet fully accepted. As with any immigrant group, they were not fully welcomed into American culture until the next group of immigrants arrived and they were no longer considered “fresh off the boat”. This generation mainly congregated in their neighborhoods and when they went out to work they tended to stick together. They often organized their own religious organizations that would hold an annual Mass and Communion Breakfast with a large number of attendants. It was at this time local politicians realized these breakfast’s were a great place to court voters. During this time the relationship between the Catholic Church and local politics began to flourish and their stories would be played out on screen in the decades to come.

In the decades preceding these films the church was a vehicle for culture in working class neighborhoods. Big city parishes often had dances, put on plays and had card nights for their parishioners. It was only when later generations of Irish Catholic immigrants joined the middle class equipped with disposable income that the film industry began to make films marketed to Catholic audiences. Widespread popularity of ethnic churches, specializing in one immigrant group or another, allowed for immigrants and future generations to assimilate to American life at their own speed. By maintaining strong ties to their heritage while still benefiting from the opportunities allowed to them as Americans, Catholic Americans did not have to sacrifice their culture in order to blend into American life. The Catholic Church had such strongholds over the neighborhoods they preoccupied they were a fairly untouched market when it came to leisure activities such as films.  In a mutually beneficial move on the part of Hollywood and the Catholic Church, a production code of censorship was assumed that closely resembled the standards of the Legion of Decency which was created by United States bishops in 1934. 

Ten years later Going My Way was released to massive audiences across the country. The portrayal of Father O’Malley, the lively young priest who comes to the elderly Father Fitzgibbon’s Saint Dominic’s Church is fairly secular. He dresses casually and bonds with the neighborhood children on a personal level, resembling a social worker rather than a religious devout. Going My Way is a very accessible, feel good film for any audience. The Catholic Church was happy with the film because it portrayed Catholic priests in a positive light and it was well received by non-Catholics as well. The film told the story of the tension between the modern and old immigrant world which resonated with audiences of all faiths while still maintaining a moral message. Ultimately the two men must work together in order to better Saint Dominics.  Father O’Malley and Father Fitzgibbons were both shown as the human picture of men of God. They both had their faults and in the case of both men their faults were actually endearing. 

The practical side of Catholicism was on display for the American public, one where a young man came to a struggling parish and helped both the children and the elderly priest who regressed to a child like state when he realizes he is being replaced. When Father Fitzgibbons realizes Father O’Malley has been sent to his parish not as an assistant but as a replacement he feels distraught and runs away. When he returns the roles have changed and Father O’Malley tucks Father Fitzgibbons into bed and listens to his story about his mother home in Ireland. 

 As Saint Dominic’s continues to grow it is Father O’Malley’s modern economical savvy that saves the parish after a fire. This was commonplace during this era as finances became the primary responsibility of the pastor. “The pastor’s own area of expertise was expected to be the financial management of the parish. As Garry Wills has pointed out in his evocative recollection of the pre- Vatican II American Catholic Church, the distinguishing mark of the successful pastor of that era was not personal sanctity or ability as a preacher but his acumen as a businessman and a fundraiser” (Shelley, 593). Money issues are universally experienced and yet the problems with money were not what touched the hearts of audiences across America but the way in which the problems were dealt with. With a few tweaks to the script and the film could be about any number of organizations turning over to new management but the fact that the studio produced an Academy Award Winning film about an Irish Catholic church is an impressive feat for the Irish Catholic community that wasn’t used to being represented in such a manner.

In the 1954 film On the Waterfront the story of the Catholic Church in New York City takes a completely different tone but manages to tell a similar story. As times are changing once again it is the Catholic Church that upholds morality. Based on the true story of corrupt union leaders of the longshoremen on the docks of Manhattan and New Jersey, On the Waterfront tells the story of two dedicated brothers with conflicting allegiances. The elder brother Charlie implicates Terry in the murder of a longshoreman who plans to testify against Charlie’s boss, the corrupt head of the union Johnny Friendly. It is the priest, Father Barry and the sister of the murdered longshoreman Edie that help Terry come to realize his duty to stand up to Johnny Friendly. The film diverges from the true story because in reality the Catholic Church had a hand in the shipping industry in New York City during this time. It has been noted that priests would send men down to the docks with notes in order to help them get hired for the day. 

Ultimately Terry’s conscience and his loyalty to the other longshoremen leads to the end of Charlie’s life because Terry plans to give a statement on Johnny Friendly. Father Barry hopes to inspire the men to speak out against the unlawful practices of Johnny Friendly and his goons but the men are too afraid to talk because jobs are hard to come by and they have families to support. The loading and unloading of the ships required tremendous teamwork and it was their ethnic solidarity that kept the men safe once they were at work. If the men did not get work on any given day they still had to remain loyal to their friends by not speaking out lest they lose another day’s wages or get in serious trouble with Mr. Friendly. 

The longshoremen live by the “deaf and dumb” code. Deep down they all know that they are being treated unfairly but they would be in an even worse situation if they did speak out, they could be jobless or even killed. The men are alive but they aren’t treated like humans, the industry is so corrupt they do not see any way out. They maintain the “deaf and dumb” code in allegiance to one another, knowing that if they speak up others could get hurt too. When Father Barry urges Terry to report Mr. Friendly, Terry exclaims that his life won’t be worth a nickel if he does. Father Barry then asks how much his soul will be worth if he does not. When Terry ultimately speaks out against Mr. Friendly he reaffirms the faith Father Barry and Edie have in humanity. The theme of redemption is apparent in this film as Terry picks himself up after he has been beaten up by Mr. Friendly’s men and walks into work. Although he is badly injured he makes a stand to show the other men that he is not giving up and he will stand up with them against corruption. 

In 1981 the film True Confessions reexamines the relationship between Irish Catholic brothers in the 1940s and how they deal with conflicting alliances. Father Des is a rising star in the Los Angeles Archdiocese while his older brother is a disgraced detective who is trying to solve the brutal murder of a young girl. The brothers have had an uneasy relationship for some time and are brought together when Tom helps cover up the death of a well known priest at a brothel. Father Des has high hopes for his future in the hierarchy of the church due to his business skills and Tom even jokes that he may be Pope one day. It is obvious both Tom and Des are uneasy around one another and tensions rise as Tom realizes corrupt beneficiary of church real estate developments, Mr. Amsterdam is likely involved in the murder of the young girl. The older brother Tom knows that if he brings his brother’s business partner into question he will also be hurting his brother.

The conflict between doing what is morally right and hurting the person you are expected to have the most loyalty towards comes to a head when Tom realizes he has to answer to a higher power. Ultimately his decision to implicate Mr. Amsterdam condemns his ambitious brother to live out his life as the priest of a small church in the desert far away from his dreams of Vatican City.  Both Tom and Des seek redemption for their wrongdoings and the film ends with the brothers reunited years later in Father Des’s church in the desert. 

True Confessions was written and produced three decades after the beginning of the film, unlike the On the Waterfront and Going My Way which were set in the time they were produced. Examining these films based on their representations of Irish Catholicism requires understanding of the years leading up to the 1940s and 1950s as well as the state of the United States during these eras. While social and political landscapes were changing dramatically due to new waves of immigrants arriving and war the Irish in America were no longer considered outsiders. As the Irish became “white” they never lost their unwavering loyalty to one another and affinity for team work. 

Works Cited

Fischer, James T. “On the Catholic Waterfront: Struggling for Power, Opportunity and Justice.” Catholics in New York: Society, Culture, and Politics, 1808-1946. By Terry Golway. New York: Fordham UP, 2008. 163-72. Print.

Going My Way. Dir. Leo McCarey. Perf. Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh. Paramount Pictures, n.d. DVD.

Meagher, Timothy J. “The Fireman on the Stairs.” Ed. Joseph Lee and Marion R. Casey. Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York UP, 2006. 609-48. Print.

On The Waterfront. Dir. Elia Kazan. Perf. Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb. Columbia Pictures, n.d. DVD.

Shelley, Thomas J. “Twentieth Century American Catholicism and Irish Americans.” Ed. Marion R. Casey and J. J. Lee. Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York UP, 2006. 574-608. Print.

Smith, Anthony Burke. “Cool Catholics in the Hot American Melting Pot.” The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Lawrence, Kan.: U of Kansas, 2010. 66-87. Print.

True Confessions. Dir. Ulu Grosbard. Perf. Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Charles Durning. N.d. DVD.

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Simon Says

Performed live at Serving The Sentence Fall 2019

Simon Says, Truth Or Dare, Spin The Bottle, Seven Minutes in Heaven. These are all games children play that could lead to a first kiss. Well for me it wasn’t any of these children’s games because I was barely even a child when I finally had my first kiss. I was seventeen! SEVENTEEN! & I’m not pulling a Josie Grosie in Never Been Kissed & saying like “I’ve never had a magical kiss” I’m saying I never had any kiss! I had friends having sex before I had so much as a peck but I believe my first kiss was magical and totally worth the wait. 

It was the summer of 2009 and I was in Ireland for two weeks visiting family, it was the summer before my senior year of high school. It was about a week into the trip when my cousin who a school year ahead of me invited me to her “debs” which is basically the Irish equivalent of a prom. It’s thrown toward the end of the summer and I LOVE to dress up and dance so I was all in. 

The night before the debs I went to a local pub with my family, I already had a great purple dress borrowed from my cousin and I was so excited for the next night I wore  a red lip to the pub because I was feelin myself. 

A little while after we arrived at the pub I realized my childhood crush was there! I had totally forgotten about him for years until I saw him outside with the smokers and suddenly I found myself outside. See, I spent quite a few summers in Ireland growing up and I even went to the local summer camp while I was there so I knew a bunch of my cousins classmates from that. I also spent three weeks in Ireland around the Christmas holiday my freshman year of high school and went to school with my cousin and saw their Christmas pageant. I can say Christmas and not holiday because Ireland is a Catholic country ! 

So at this Christmas pageant I saw Irish girls with crimped hair do hip hop dances and Irish step dancers and a band with my childhood crush play “Chasing Cars” that Snow Patrol song made iconic by Greys Anatomy. He was of course the guitar player and he had spikey blonde hair and blue blue eyes. 

When I saw him again in 2009 he no longer had spikey hair but in 2006 spikey hair was cool. And he looked even cooler with normal hair in 2009. I remembered him from the Christmas pageant and also summer camp where he incessantly teased me for being short when we were in second and third grade. 

So I find myself outside with the smokers and something was in the air other than the smoke because I found myself talking to my childhood crush! He immediately comments on my red lip and we’re off! It was an immediate connection over makeup. I find myself walking inside just to see if he follows me & he does! I keep going room to room in this pub just to see if he’ll follow me. I’m a little mischievous in this way. Finally I sit down and wait to see if he’ll sit down by me and my brother and he does! 

Next thing I know he’s doing magic card tricks for us and I’m calling him Harry Potter because the tricks are magic and I’m a corny 17 year old and then he’s asking me if I have a date to the debs the next day! I already had a ticket but I didn’t have a date and I thought he was asking me so I said no I didn’t have a date and he went and found me one! Not him but some guy in his class! 

I was mortified and disappointed. I really thought he was asking me to go with him. 

Fast forward to the bus ride the next day from another pub to the hotel where the debs are held. I meet my date and sit next to him on the bus. My crush sits behind us WITH HIS DATE! He keeps tapping my shoulder from behind which I of course find adorable. When we finally get to the debs we all dance as a group to stuff like “I’ve Got A Feeling” the hit of the summer– at which point my date asks why they sing “Friday, Saturday, Saturday to Sunday” like why do they sing Saturday twice. I was not impressed. 

I finally grew tired of dancing to my now favorite genre–late 2000s pre 2010 and went to the bathroom and my crush/ stalker followed me! We ended up on a couch and he asked me to kiss him and I was all freaked out so I just kissed his cheek. Which was a big deal for me. Like I said, I never played any of those scandalous games as a child and I was kinda holding out because I’d waited so long 

The day after the Debs was sad because I felt I’d rejected my crush. That evening I went on a walk with my cousin and told her about my regrets. She told me she’d casually text him and we’d try to get him to hang with us that night! 

Luckily he was chill and we ended up at another pub and he drove me & my brother home. He also had cousins in from America (chicago at that) and we all hung out that night and he drove me and my brother and his cousins home. I sat in the front seat and he held my hand, my first ever hand holding and it was magical. He was driving a stick which is normal for Ireland but not for me and every time he had to change gears he returned to my hand. I was smitten. 

When we got to my granny’s house where we were staying he walked me and my brother to the door and kissed the top of my head. I was a little disappointed but I understood he couldn’t exactly kiss me in front my brother. We planned on meeting up the next day, the day before I went home to go to his school to get his leaving cert results. 

The leaving cert is like the ACT/SAT for Ireland but it decides where you go to college. Your overall grades don’t really factor in so its a HUGE deal. So I agreed to go and he picked me and my brother up the next morning. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so excited to see him! I had never had a crush like this before. 

After a night of no sleep I put on some jean shorts and a floral top and floral underwear because I just had a feeling today was going to be special and he picked us up. 

We went straight to the school and I saw kids my age crying outside because of their results. I was so worried he wouldn’t get the points he needed to go to the school he wanted but when he came outside he was smiling so I knew he was all good. 

We decided to go to a pub and get some snacks before going on a walk to the famous local waterfall. 

As we walked to the waterfall I wondered how we’d get any alone time with my brother, his sister and his two american cousins with us but as we walked they were suddenly gone. We walked the mile and a half towards the waterfall I’d walked to dozens of times but this time the leaves seemed to be greener than ever before and I swear I saw a rainbow. 

The conversation flowed and we were holding hands when about a mile into the walk he turned to me and said in his cute irish accent “I really want to kiss you” I basically melted and then realized I didn’t know how to kiss. 

So he was leaning against a tree and I leaned over and pecked him, grabbed his hand and kept walking! We finally made it to the Waterfall and our respective families turned up and we took a photo and that was that! I finally had kissed someone! 

I went home the next day and couldn’t wait to go tell all my friends how I had had magical kiss walking to a waterfall in Ireland. Next month it will have been ten years since that kiss and I’ve had so many random kisses since, some I can’t even remember but only my current boyfriend can live up to that memory. 

I often over-romanticize things, I’m a Gemini after all and although the kiss wasn’t actually great the lead up and the whole story of my first kiss made me feel like it was worth the wait and really special. Even today, when I’m with people and the story of your first kiss comes up I always smile to myself thinking I have the most magical story. My first kiss was with someone I really liked, and it happened while I was walking to a waterfall in Ireland. Maybe I’m too old to be competitive about first kisses but I also waited until I was seventeen to kiss anyone so anything is possible. . . 

To hear more about this tale please check out the podcast “Classroom Crush” at the link below or wherever you listen to podcasts

https://www.classroomcrush.com/episodes/2018/5/1/have-love-will-travel-with-jaclyn-barker

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The Weight

Trigger warning: suicidal ideations, hospitalization, PCOS, weight gain, binge eating, disordered eating

I’m in my apartment in New York on Second Avenue. It’s Fall time in 2013. I cannot stop eating. I’ve already had dinner of an entire small Domino’s sausage, mushroom and onion pizza with extra sauce and now I’ve dug into the Dark Chocolate Digestive Biscuits. A quick Google search reminds me that a package includes 26 cookies and I had already eaten at least half the container. At 80 calories a biscuit that is over a thousand calories. I can’t seem to stop eating. It’s all I want to do. I know I’ve gained about fifteen pounds by this time, going from a size zero or two depending on the brand to at least a size six. My pants no longer fit me and I’ve taken to wearing skirts with elastic waist bands so I don’t have to remember how I’ve grown. Isn’t growth supposed to be a positive?

I guess it all started that summer before, I was hospitalized in June right after Father’s Day for Suicidal Ideations after I got drunk and out of control after my mom had told me that I was ugly earlier in the night. The next day, after my wild night my mom told me that my dad was “disgusted with me” and not for the first time I wanted to kill myself. I was put on a cocktail of medications to control my BiPolar II Depression as well as my anxiety due to PTSD. 

Most of the medications prescribed had a side effect of weight gain but Seroquel, an antipsychotic prescribed to me to help me sleep has the side effect of binge eating and high blood glucose levels. 

I was being treated for Bipolar Depression and Anxiety and the weight gain only made my Depression and Anxiety worse because my mental health issues have always been tied to my identity. I’ve never felt Good Enough, or Pretty Enough or Strong Enough. I’ve always wanted to be Great with a capital G, be the Beyonce of who I’m supposed to be but I’ve always felt that I’ve fallen short. Even when I was admitted into NYU, my dream school early admittance I was placed into the Liberal Studies Program, a two year program that focused on Liberal Arts studies and required a certain grade point average for continuing to the full four year program of my choice. 

It was like a consolation prize– you can stay if you prove yourself. Which I did but I still resent that I had to. Maybe that makes me a brat, maybe I should be happy to fight for what I want but I felt that I had already fought to get in and it was like they were telling me it wasn’t good enough. 

I had finally made it to my final year at college and everything was falling down around me. The previous year was extremely hard. My BiPolar was getting worse as I got older and my anxiety was following suit. In Fall of 2012 the first friend that I made at NYU was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and she got a double mastectomy on the day Hurricane Sandy hit New York. I evacuated with another friend when our dormitory was mandatorily evacuated but I couldn’t stop thinking about our friend in a hospital bed fighting off cancer in the middle of Manhattan while an act of nature caused destruction up and down the North East. It didn’t help that I had run out of my trusted Anxiety medication right before the hurricane and was without it the entire week we spent outside the city. I would wake up with a jolt, forgetting where I was for a few moments that felt like forever. When I did remember where I was and why I was there a wave of anxiety and deep sadness would rush over me immediately. 

When we finally returned a week later to our dorm everyone tried to pretend that we hadn’t gone through a shared trauma which seemed to make it worse for me. I needed to talk about how the storm and how my friend’s cancer made me feel but no one was willing to open up. We all just pretended everything was normal but I couldn’t so I just dug deeper into myself. I put up a shield pretending I was okay but everything around me began to crash down. 

About a month later the Sandy Hook Massacre took place and I did not leave my dorm the entire weekend until I had to go back to class on Monday. I was extremely ill with a sinus infection and I remember using my bathroom as a steam room trying to heal my infection. I would sit at the edge of the tub, steam billowing around me like a Dementor in Harry Potter as I sobbed about the state of the world.

I have always liked to cry in the shower, it makes me feel like I’m not actually crying because the water is already streaming down my face. It’s also my little secret, when you come out of the shower you’re wet and red and puffy but you can blame the hot shower. 

The previous Spring I was interning at a soul-sucking fashion label in the public relations department when the Boston Marathon bombing took place. I was about getting ready to leave and take the N train back downtown when I read on Twitter that there were threats of bombs planted in Times Square, a stop I had to travel through to get back home. I sat on the train with my sunglasses on and my headphones in and listened to Beyonce’s Halo the entire 20 minute ride home. Once again I did not leave my apartment for days. 

It was one thing after another and it felt like the world was going insane. How was it fair that my whip smart friend with a whole life ahead of her was diagnosed with breast cancer? How was it fair that children as young as five could no longer feel safe going to school? How was it fair that people running a marathon for charity were attached? 

Looking back I see this as the beginning of my Awakening to the horrors of the world. Before this I had lived a pretty sheltered life, growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 90s and early 2000s in a huge loving Irish Catholic family. I had struggled with Depression and Anxiety almost my whole life but it wasn’t until my friend got sick that my eyes opened to all the atrocities going on in the world and I took them on as my own personal issues. 

I’ve always been extremely sensitive. I would cry when a friend’s feelings would be hurt even if I myself felt fine moments before. Some therapists have called or diagnosed me as a “Highly Sensitive Person” or even an “Empath” but I don’t think it really kicked into high gear until my friend got diagnosed with Cancer when we were 19 years old. 

This is all to say that the year leading up to my hospitalization was really hard on me. I’m not making excuses for my out of control night that lead to my hospitalization but when I look back it’s easier to digest considering the circumstances. For a long time I didn’t understand what led to my hospitalization but after a lot of therapy I finally pieced together what had happened. I used to like to joke that I got hospitalized less than a month after The Office ended because I couldn’t imagine living in a world without my favorite show but now I don’t like to joke about the darkest days of my life. 

So there I am, less than four months out of inpatient and about two months out of outpatient and I cannot stop eating. I’ve always been able to eat a good amount, when I go to Red Lobster I get the Ultimate Feast which includes 6 fried shrimp, six Shrimp Scampi, crab legs, lobster tail and a side. This is all after the basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits and a side salad. I was always able to finish this feast and maintain a tiny frame but all of a sudden I have started to gain major weight. 

For the first time in my life I was majorly unhappy with my body. I began to use negative self talk about my size and shape which I have come to believe only made it worse. I believe your body can hear you when you talk about it and in a way it begins to believe what you say. So when I would say “I hate my body, I’m so fat” my body would hear that it was unloved and it just got worse. I know how that sounds, like I’ve watched The Secret too many times but this is what I believe and I know when I speak kindly about myself I feel better. 

I went from a size 2 at my largest to a size 12 in less than a year. I gained over fifty pounds in such a short amount of time that my skin didn’t have time to stretch property over my fat and I have stretch marks now that I will have for the rest of my life. Don’t think I didn’t try coconut oil and shea butter, I tried it all. None of it worked for me. 

This same year I was finally diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, basically my ovaries produce excess testosterone which is linked to higher rebates of insulin resistance which can cause you to store more fat, especially around the abdomen. At one point I was told by a doctor that I was “pre-diabetic” which scared the crap out of me! I tried to change my eating habits but until I decided to go off the Seroquel I couldn’t stop eating large amounts of unhealthy food very late at night. 

I finally stopped taking Seroquel without my doctor’s permission about six months after I started taking it and a few of the pounds did come off eventually and I stopped binge eating every night but I still was not comfortable in my own skin. I was still overweight and uncomfortable. 

It turns out that for me at least it doesn’t matter if you go up ten sizes or just six, if you don’t feel comfortable in your body you just don’t feel comfortable in your life. I felt out of control and disgusted by myself. None of my clothes fit me anymore, I had spent years creating my dream wardrobe of floral A-Line dresses and vegan leather jackets and all of a sudden they all had to be donated to my younger cousins, friends or charity. I realized that donating them to charity was less emotional for me, I hated seeing my friends and family wear the clothes I loved that no longer fit over my belly or thighs. 

Between my Bipolar, Anxiety and PCOS I felt like my body had betrayed me in every possible way. My emotions and my physical self were attacking me when I already was at my lowest. I could not control my weight or my emotions and I felt completely lost. 

As I was about to graduate I was offered a job working as a Field Organizer on a Congressional Campaign. That last fall semester at NYU I had worked as a fellow on a Senate Campaign and the job just sort of fell into my lap. I decided to take it because getting a job straight out of college sounded like a huge accomplishment and even though it wasn’t my passion I wanted to be able to say that I had a job right after graduation day.

That was the first summer of my life that I was overweight and I experienced “chub rub” for the first time. I honestly thought I had an allergy to Tennessee when I felt the burning on my inner thighs and saw the rash that came with it but it turned out that it was just good ole chub rub. 

Things only seemed to get worse from there, I was in a horrible work situation and hundreds of miles away from everyone I knew and loved. 

Through all the trauma and sadness I had lost my spark, I had lost who I was. The weight gain was deeply tied to my sense of identity and I couldn’t see a way back to my true self. I felt so disconnected from my body because I didn’t identify as a plus size woman or even a woman at all, I still felt like an adolescent but the world kept telling me I had to grow up. 

Everyone around me seemed to be making the transition from college to adulthood seamlessly, no one else seemed to break down and certainly no one had been hospitalized. I on the other hand was completely floundering. I had gotten to a point where I didnt even want to leave my home because of how uncomfortable I was with my own body. My body felt like a reflection of my insides, all swollen and covered in stretch marks from all the growing that was supposed to be positive. But I felt so negative about everything around me. It was like a sand trap, the harder I tried to pull myself out the deeper I sunk. 


I tried everything from affirmations to more therapy to meditation to more medication with the side effect of weight gain. The loss of self I experienced during these few years was a never ending cycle of weight gain due to medication then anxiety and depression due to the weight gain then more medication to treat the anxiety and depression. 

I finally began to see a new therapist in 2015 who recommended I find myself a “landing strip” for me that turned out to be Trader Joe’s. I worked there for just over two years and began to really fall in love with performing and self care. I now take the time to care for myself in healthy ways and enjoy performing improv. 

I look back at my time where I wasn’t really myself and I wonder who I actually was in those months and years. I know it wasn’t me but I also know rationally that I was still myself. My body did not get taken over by The Weight, it was just the worst version of myself. When you’re at your lowest low you can’t even look up and see the sunshine in the world, you’re stuck high above it in a grey cloud. 

I still haven’t lost even half the weight that I gained in those short six months and it has been five years now, I’ve learned to live with The Weight but I still have dark days where I hate the body I am in. I wish I could end this story in a size four, just a little larger than I was before all the medication and bad choices but here I stand, a size 8-10 lady just trying to do her best. I like to think I’ll be okay and learn to fully love my body and myself the way it deserves to be loved but I can’t say for sure. I guess looking back I’ve had some huge learning experiences in the past few years and in my new body. I’ve fallen in love for the first time, I’ve made great strides in my career and in my friendships and now I think that matters more to me than my physical shape and size. At least for now, I can pretend it does anyway. 

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Ouch!

Performed live at TenX9 August 2019

I never really wanted to go to college, until I realized that NYU existed. I’m serious. I never had any interest in the collegiate world or furthering my education until I realized I could use New York University as a coverup for getting to live in New York City for four years. I thought I would get to live like Mary Kate & Ashley–two of the many famous NYU alumni who I was excited about in 2008.

I was an orch’dork’ which is short for orchestra dork but I was also super into “fashion” meaning I wore dresses and heels to high school. I did this despite playing the cello every day first period, an instrument where you have to spread your legs to make it play unless you want to get a Charlie horse. I wasn’t into orchestra because I liked playing the cello, I was in it for the trips. My freshman year of high school we went to my favorite place on Earth at the time– Disney World and then my junior year we went to New York City. It quickly surpassed Disney World an became my favorite place on Earth. 

I didn’t even get to spend any time really experiencing New York City properly–we spent our days in matinees of Mary Poppins or playing our instruments at the United Nations and spent our nights sleeping in New Jersey. But it didn’t matter to me! It was FABULOUS–this was 2007 after all and FABULOUS was a fanciful word and not yet overused. 

So I wasn’t into college and I wasn’t into orchestra but I was into fashion–I was also super into another famous NYU alumni Lady Gaga. She was just coming up at the time and only had one single and a handful of songs but I knew she was special. She used words like FABULOUS and she looked the part of the FABULOUS POP STAR. I don’t know if I was into fashion because of Lady Gaga or if I was into Lady Gaga because of fashion but maybe both?? 

Finding out that Lady Gaga had gone to NYU made me want to go there like so bad. Like when you want to go to an amusement park as a child. You just want it so bad you’re a little delusional about it. You know it’ll be fun but you’re also maybe a little scared?

College can be scary for anyone but New York City is scary to like everyone. Especially girls from the suburbs of Chicago. 

I was in my junior year when I found a “prospective NYU student event” at a hotel in Oak Brook. I quickly signed up and was looking forward to going every day for over two months until the day finally came. 

I was sure it would be a reassuring day that would also somehow help my prospects of getting into the school? I was so young and so naive. 

It’s finally the day of the NYU event and I AM READY. I am wearing a purple (NYU’S COLOR) velvet skirt and silk shirt with a very discreet peacock print and purple silk flats. I think I look like a casual every day NYU student–all fashionable and understated in Jewel tones. 

I’m in my room sitting at my vanity putting on purple eyeliner –I’ve heard it brings the gold out of brown eyes. I also know it matches my outfit and I’m all about matching! It’s a big day I have to look my best. You also straighten your hair even if you have pin straight hair because you believe straightening straight hair makes it shinier? Idk “science”???

I hop off my seat at my vanity to go get a q-tip and immediately experience pain like I’ve never known before in my right foot. I swear I’ve been shot. That’s the only explanation for what I’m feeling. I screamed in pain and began to tear up.  I look down and realized I had stepped on my mini hair straightener. It had clamped down on my foot and was searing both the underside and the top of my foot. I quickly pulled off the straightener and with it about three layers of skin. The layers below continued to burn. It’s like when you take a steak off the grill it continues to cook for a few minutes after it’s off. 

I was in so much pain. My brother came out from his video game den and my mom ran up the stairs to see what I was screaming about. It was only then I realized I had to leave for the NYU event in about fifteen minutes. 

As my foot continued to cook and rather than going to the ER like I would later learn I should have I just wrapped it up and hobbled out to the car to go to Oak Park to the NYU event. 

I didn’t end up learning anything important about the school that I didn’t already know from their website and I didn’t get to talk to anyone important that could help me with admissions so the day was kind of a bust. 

I hobbled home and iced my foot. The next day at school I was made fun of for being like Michael Scott on The Office & burning my foot in an embarrassing way and no one cared to hear about the fact that I was still in love with and planning on attending NYU. 

I did eventually get into NYU and I still love Lady Gaga more than I love most people i know in real life but if I really think about it I do blame her for my scar on my foot that prohibits me from wearing sandals in the sun without major sunscreen. My scar from the straighter still burns like Harry Potter’s scar when I go out in the sun the way his burns when Voldemort is around. It’s a little like Lady Gaga is MY horcrux. 

I ended up going to college, the most expensive college in the nation at the time, just so I could live in New York City. And I’ll tell ya– it was worth the pain. The pain of schoolwork, early mornings, rejection, dating woes and all that goes along with college and also that damn burn on my foot when I stepped on my straightener. 

See below (if you dare!) photo from many months into the healing process

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The Black String Bikini

Performed live at Resilient October 2019

Trigger warning: menstruation, childhood sexual trauma, miscarriage, pregnancy loss 

I want to be clear that this story is about menstruation and “becoming a woman” but I am aware that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women. This is just my experience as a cis-woman.

I’m about 13 and it’s summertime. We’re a little ways into the summer, it’s about July. I’ve spent my summer doing Junior Lifeguard class at the local pool. It’s about a year and a half since my first period and I’m still not using tampons, that means I can’t go to class in the pool on the weeks that I’m menstruating. My mom has been very adamant that I learn how to use tampons and she has bought me teeny tiny “teen” tampons and KY Jelly to help. But nothing will help. I can’t seem to get one in the right way, my insides seize up when a foreign object tries to enter my body. I will later realize that this is due to my history of repeated sexual trauma as a child but on this day I just think I’ll never get a tampon in. I feel like such a failure, I have some friends who have been using tampons since their very first period, they say it just slid in and is so much nicer than a diaper-like pad. 

This summer has been very interesting. My mom is pregnant with a baby. I’m so very excited, I’ve prayed every night since I can remember that my mom would have another baby after my brother and my prayers have finally been answered. I dream that she has a girl and we are as thick as thieves. I know there will be an age difference but I think that’ll make it even more fun! We won’t have to compete against each other like other sisters do because it’ll be so hard to compare us with our age difference. 

I actually found out my mom was pregnant before she told me because I was snooping in her closet and found a pregnancy test. She told me it was “for one of her sisters” but I just had a feeling it was for her. When she does admit she is pregnant I cry with joy, I’m so excited and I begin to believe that prayers can be answered. Before this I kind of just went through the motions with my prayers at night. I recite the same exact prayer every night thanking god for my family and friends and praying I’ll get another sibling. 

I’ve always loved babies and my family has had no shortage of babies being that my mom is one of eleven kids and we all live in the same town but I want a baby of my own, I know this baby will be a sibling but now that I’m older I think this time I’ll have more responsibilities. I think I’ll share a room with my possible sister and I’m so excited! 

My mom had postpartum depression after my brother who is two and a half years younger than I am and I pray deep down this time will be different. I don’t even consider that she is now 43 and this is a high risk pregnancy because I’m thirteen and don’t know about these things.

I was always a precocious child, I remember going to my acting agent’s office around age six and declaring that I was “sexy”. She told me it wasn’t appropriate for children to be sexy and I should strive to be sophisticated and sassy. I tell you this because this summer I have made it my mission to get a black string bikini. I saw one in the Charlie’s Angels movie and I think it would look amazing on me. I have a cute frame from genetics, some rock hard abs from gymnastics and what my mom likes to call “mosquito bites” forming on my chest and I feel comfortable showing off my body. 

I would give anything to have this confidence back. 

Somehow my mom makes a deal with me that if I learn to use a tampon she will buy me a black string bikini. I set out my next period to do just that. 

After literal hours in the bathroom and an entire tube of KY Jelly and lots of tears, I finally get a “teen” size tampon into me. I used up an entire box trying to get just that one in. It’s like every time I try to put one in my insides freak out at something trying to penetrate me and they seize up and no matter how hard I push it won’t go in. I study the pamphlet that comes with the box and get instructions from my mom but I refuse to let her help me in the bathroom. I don’t want anyone touching me “down there”. 

The last one of the box finally slid in, I think my body was just tired of fighting and I was tired of trying. It did feel uncomfortable and I felt like I was walking weird but I proudly told my mom I did it! She was proud of me and happy I was out of the bathroom after hours of hogging it. 

The next day I had to do it again so I could go to Junior Lifeguard class. I was up all night worrying about getting another one in after having so much trouble the day before. I woke up earlier than usual to give myself some time to get it in. 

After a few tries I got one in and this one felt more comfortable than the previous one so I felt confident that I would be okay going forward with tampons. After class my mom told me we could go to the mall to find a black string bikini and I was full of excitement. My whole life I’ve put a lot of pressure on ONE THING like the black string bikini to completely change my life. I thought if I had a black string bikini I would finally be cool and happy. I still do this, I just bought a weighted blanket on the internet while procrastinating writing this piece and I’m convinced it’ll cure my anxiety and help me with good sleep hygiene and my life will finally fall into place. 

So that’s all to say that I put a lot on this black string bikini. I was convinced it would change my world. Excitement doesn’t even cover how I was feeling about going to the mall. I guess I also had these feelings about my new sibling, I thought the baby would change my life for the better, I would have a sister, a lifelong friend. 

When I got out of class my mom told me before we went to the mall we had to go to her doctor because she had been bleeding a little that morning. I don’t remember being worried about the bleeding–she had been bleeding the previous weekend and she seemed fine so why would this be any different? 

We drove all the way to the city to go to her doctor and I remember waiting in the waiting room for what felt like hours but was probably just 45 minutes. This was before smart phones and dozens of apps that could keep you occupied for hours and I hadn’t thought to bring a book because I thought we were just going shopping after class. 

When my mom finally came out of the examination room and into the waiting room with puffy eyes she explained to me that she had lost the baby. I sat in the uncomfortable seat and I felt the world around me crashing and spinning. I was in total shock. I didn’t know what to do so I got up and gave her a hug. I don’t remember talking a lot on the ride from the doctors office to the mall. What could I possibly say to make either of us feel better? There was nothing to say. A life had been lost. I now know that what I was experiencing was grief, something I hadn’t experienced before. 

We went to Lord & Taylor, Kohls, Dillard’s and a shop that only sold swimsuits and looked all afternoon for a black string bikini that would fit my tiny frame. We finally found one at the swimsuit shop. The day was a lot of walking around in silence. I was so excited about the bathing suit but I was also sincerely upset on the inside. I didn’t know how to reconcile these emotions. How could I feel so sad yet so excited at the same exact time? How was this possible?

I wondered why my mom was taking me shopping moments after she had just lost a baby. I wonder now why I let her. 

I would guess that my mom was using her “keep everything normal” parenting style by taking me shopping. Maybe she wanted a distraction. I don’t know and now, thirteen years later I’m still afraid to ask. It feels like an invasion, asking her about such a dark time. I have come to believe that when sad things happen you have to distract yourself and keep moving on with life. Through a decade of therapy I’ve now learned it’s important to “Feel your feels” and deal with your emotions as they arise but at thirteen I didn’t have these tools. 

I often thought about this day as I grew older, in college especially. I spent a lot of time thinking about how my body was changing and evolving. Having a period meant I could carry a baby and my mom having that miscarriage at 43 meant she could not. Trying to reconcile these facts was extremely difficult for me. We were all so excited for the baby, my mom had already asked my cousin Siobhan and Michael to be the godparents. Looking back I realize my mom was still in her first trimester and being 43 she should have been more cautious and possibly secretive with her pregnancy but we were all just so excited. It felt like a blessing. 

After my mom lost the baby I stopped saying my nightly prayers. I stopped reciting the lines I had memorized as a small child about being grateful for family and all our blessings along with the our father and an Irish prayer about falling asleep. I was still grateful but I was also bitter that my prayers for another sibling had not come true after I was so close. I wouldn’t say I stopped believing in God but I was a little more suspicious. I still went to CCD ( Confraternity of Christian Doctroine) — I had to look up what the acronym meant because we had so much to learn on Tuesday nights about our religion they didn’t have time to teach us what CCD stood for. I volunteered with vacation bible school in middle school and had my own class in High School every summer and went to church every Sunday until my brothers sports schedule got too busy for us to go. 

I’m not a religious adult. As a survivor of childhood sexual violence I find it hard to reconcile my faith being raised as a Catholic and the violent history of the Catholic Church. I’ve recently started to say my prayers again when I can’t fall asleep at night. I don’t say the part about getting another sibling but it’s comforting to me late at night when it feels like I’ll never get the rest I crave. 

I don’t know if I believe in the words I’m saying when I pray now but they feel like a hug, a reminder of my childhood and simpler times. 

The black string bikini didn’t change my life, I didn’t become cool and happy with my life. I wore it to a friends birthday pool party and a popular girl who actually had boobs was also wearing one. I felt upstaged and embarrassed by my body. I didn’t talk to my friends about my moms miscarriage and it basically never came up. 

About two months ago I went to an Aura Cleansing with my mom, the Aura Cleanser was also an intuitive and he told my mom she had two children but still held on to a third that she had lost. When she told me this tears sprung to my eyes for her loss and my own. I know that I’ll never understand her loss which is much deeper than my own but I’ve been working to understand my loss. I lost a sibling I never even got a chance to fight with, that sibling is untouchable to me in a way that my brother isn’t, he has his faults. 

I have a lot of worry surrounding my own future fertility. I’m nowhere near ready to have a baby but I “secret” that I’ll have healthy pregnancies despite my poly cystic ovaries whenever I remember to. I guess Secreting things has become my way of praying now that I’ve stepped away from religion. 

Even now as a lapsed Catholic, I still experience that good ole’ Catholic Guilt when I think about going shopping on the day my mom lost a baby she deeply wanted. I’ve come to realize that was her way of coping in the moment. By taking care of the child she had in front of her, the one who desperately wanted a black string bikini to change her world. 

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I Paid The Price For

Performed Live at Pour One Out April 2011

I had been skating along in high school, just making good enough grades until I found a music therapy program at New York University. I was interested in music therapy because I played the cello and I worked with special needs students in a class called “Theater Communications” in high school. We used theater to teach special needs students communication skills they could use in their everyday life. 

I was just trying to merge my interests. I honestly had no passion to go to college and had no idea what I wanted to study until I was pointed in the direction of music therapy and found a program at NYU. 

It was then the skies opened up for me. I knew then and there I would go to NYU no matter what it took. I quickly realized that the music therapy program was a grad program but it didn’t matter, I had already forgotten about music therapy and was fully zoned in on NYU as MY school.

Then there was the issue of price. NYU at this time in 2009 was the most expensive college in the United States. 

Luckily for me I was watching the NBA in the mid 90s and I saw a man named Michael Jordan defy the laws of physics with hang time. I didn’t know at the time what hang time was but at three years old I pointed at the tv and said “I want to be on TV like him”. It was soon after my parents got me an agent. 

I booked my first casting call and was in a Blue Cross Blue Shield commercial and became a member of the Screen Actors Guild before I was four years old. It was non stop commercials and modeling and voiceover work and I loved it. I loved going on auditions and being on set surrounded by adults. It just felt right. They always say “you know when you know”.

I was in toy catalogues, billboards, Eggo radio spots, NCAA commercials and right around my fifth birthday I was cast in a commercial with my inspiration– Michael Jordan. It was an AMC bowling commercial where children taught Michael Jordan how to bowl. I didn’t realize it then but I realize now that I had manifested that meeting with my inspiration. I had been telling people basically since I could talk that I was going to be on tv like Michael Jordan but I don’t think anyone could have guessed that I would eventually be on TV with Michael Jordan. The power of positive self talk propelled me to that audition and through the callback process and finally to set that day to meet MJ. 

It was a magical day I’ll never forget, whenever I get down on myself I remember the power I harnessed at such a young age and I know I can accomplish anything.

I realize that it seems like it was all sunshine and rainbows and though I maintain that I loved my experience as a child performer I did miss out on what my friends and family experienced as a normal childhood. 

I still did my homework and played soccer and took cello lessons but while my friends were hanging out after school I was in the car on my way to an audition or a set. 

It was a lot of early mornings and late nights learning lines and sitting in makeup chairs but I was living my dream. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I know it sounds silly but from age three to thirteen I was dedicated to my craft. 

It was the same dedication I had to get on TV like Michael Jordan that I used to get into NYU. I began to take school more seriously and signed up for AP classes and more extracurriculars. By this time I wasn’t acting anymore but I had saved all the money I had made while acting and modeling and I finally knew where it would go.I had finally had time to concentrate on my new goal of getting into NYU. 

I wrote my NYU admissions essay about my experience in my Theater Communications class and my connection with one of my classmates. Together we learned about how to convey our emotions to an audience and how to communicate person to person. The skills I had learned as a child actor helped me get into NYU even though I was not applying to the Tisch School of  The Arts to study acting because my skills as a communicator helped me write my essay in one viewing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’m serious. I sat down on a Sunday and put on Breakfast at Tiffany’s and just wrote my admissions essay about my relationship with my classmate and how we bonded over all things Disney. 

I also had to write a limerick and  describe how I would spend the day with a famous New Yorker of my choosing. I chose Vogue Editor and Chief Anna Wintour and described our day eating Wendy’s chicken nuggets dipped in a chocolate frosty. As I was applying everything fell into place. It was just like when I was a child actor. Experiences come to you when you’re ready for them and I was so ready to live and learn in New York City.

I went to New York to visit NYU and a few other schools and as soon as my mom and I got off the subway to go to NYU’s Washington Square “Campus” I didn’t even need to look at a map to tell me how to get there. It was like the wind was guiding me home. I turned left at Cooper Union and walked down Broadway until I saw the huge purple flags flapping in the fall breeze and I knew I was where I was supposed to be. Tears sprung to my eyes and I was immediately sure this was my destiny. 

Looking back I wish I still had the confidence I had as a very small child. To be able to tell people my dreams and then to will them to exist. I did will my acceptance into New York University into existence when I was seventeen, I applied early admission and was accepted on December 9th 2009.

I’ll never forget that day and the feeling I had when I knew for the second time in my life that I had willed something to happen. So many people, from friends’ parents to school counselors told me it couldn’t be done. NYU was a hard school to get into but once I get something into my head I make it happen. 

I literally paid the price to go to NYU and live and learn in New York City at the age 18 with my childhood but I don’t regret it one bit. Once and a while in therapy my former life as a child actor will come up and I’ll feel sorry for myself and the childhood I missed out on but I know that without those experiences I never would have been able to get into or pay for NYU. I made up for my lost childhood with having an amazing four years running around New York City living my best life. 

I got to do internships in the fashion industry and work on political campaigns for politicians I really believed in. Not to mention all the fun I had going to clubs and bars in Manhattan while my friends from high school went to keggers. I was really living life to the fullest, just like I had as a child. 

Sometimes paying the price is actually a good thing. Literally and figuratively I paid the price for a world class education and experience that I consider priceless with a working childhood that I wouldn’t trade for a regular childhood ever. 

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Un/Attached

Performed live at Un/Attached at Second City February 2019

 “You wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley”. That was my line whenever the subject of tattoos came up. I was a luxury car and you wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on one because that was tacky. It all changed on a whim Valentines Day 2011. I remember I woke up a few days before and decided to make my status on Facebook “Happy Free Bitch Day” with a cross and a heart emoji on Valentines Day.

If you, unlike me, are not stuck in 2009 I’ll remind you that “Free Bitch” is a lyric from Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Many would say it’s her best song and video. They’re wrong but I won’t get into that now. 

I’ve always liked to fantasize about my statuses days before. I partly did it because I’ve been a huge Lady Gaga fan since she was coming up and I knew my “Friends” would think it was cute, it was very on-brand. I also partly did it because I wanted to provoke the guy I was kind of sort of seeing, the first guy I had ever sort of seen really. Provoke him to what I still don’t know. I like thinking back to my 18yr old psyche because I honestly don’t feel connected to her, like she’s a different person. Sort of like a cousin–you’re connected through history not the present. I am mystified by her. She was a “Free Bitch” if there ever was one.

This wasn’t the first time I used a Lady Gaga lyric to provoke a boy.  A year before this I had posted the lyrics from Monster “He ate my heart, that boy is a monster” as my status and it had worked!

The boy I liked had asked me about it. Well, it didn’t exactly work because he didn’t profess his love to me after I posted it but he did talk to me! That’s all I could ask for at the time. 

So I’m in the cafeteria in my dorm freshman year and I get a text. It says “you are not a free bitch”. SUCCESS! He saw my status, he knew it was about him and he reached out! I honestly don’t think he had even texted me that day let alone said “Happy Valentines” but I was happy just to receive a text saying something rude. Being a young woman is a ridiculous experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. That’s a lie, I wish worse on my worst enemy! I wish horrible things on my worst enemy because they are my worst enemy and that’s what they deserve. But anyway it is ridiculous. We have such low expectations when it comes to men. I wanted him to text me so bad I didn’t care if he was saying I wasn’t what I wanted to be most in this world–A Free Bitch. It’s amusing to me in a way that isn’t actually amusing but is actually very sad, at that point in my life I was the Free-est Bitch I have ever been in some ways but I couldn’t see it. I had gotten into NYU and was living this fun life, taking classes in subjects I was interested in and exploring New York City with great friends but I was so insecure. It’s like when you’re a teenager and you think you’re fat but you’re actually a size two. You can’t see the forest for the trees or some shit people say that never makes sense to me. 

So I got the text “You are not a free bitch” and my thought was “I’ll be a free bitch on my wedding day!” It isn’t about being attached to someone else it’s about your relationship to yourself. So I decided there and then that I would get a bumper sticker that said Free Bitch on my wedding ring finger. (Free on the front of my finger and Bitch on the back for obvious reasons) And I would always remember this moment. About how I felt when someone told me I belonged to them. I knew my relationship to myself was the one I had been nurturing for eighteen years and I knew it was the most important one we had long before Carrie Bradshaw proclaimed it on the finale of Sex and the City. 

I decided I would wait at least two years, which would be a tenth of my life at that point, until I got the tattoo. This was to prove to myself and to others that I was serious about it. I didn’t want this big proclamation to be seen as like something I had done on a whim. 

Flash forward to two years minus one day. I’m in my junior year dorm about to go downstairs to get a car to LaGuardia to fly home to see Lady Gaga perform the 100th show of The Born This Way Ball. I get a text alert from her twitter that she has cancelled the show immediately due to health issues–mainly we will learn a broken hip that needs major surgery.

I have my whole outfit for the show planned, I’m going with my mom who has never seen Lady Gaga live before, I’m literally about to fly home to Chicago from New York to see the 100th show. On Valentine’s Day. The 100th show was on Valentines Day. In Chicago. Because she was dating Taylor Kinney from Chicago Fire.

I was so excited and suddenly so crushed. I cried for Lady Gaga and her hip and I cried for myself and the dream I had of seeing that tour. By then I had been single for nineteen of my twenty Valentines, and I’m being generous. Looking back I wouldn’t count that “valentine” freshman year of college. He said Happy Valentines Day to me and that was it. He might as well have been my dad saying Happy Valentines Day. Wait, never mind that’s weird. 

So I fly home to not go to the show but to spend time with my friends and family. On the flight home I realize tomorrow will be the day that I can get my tattoo. It will have been two years! I decided to get it on the day of the concert as a way of commemorating the show that I never saw and because I loved the idea of getting the tattoo exactly two years to the day after I decided to get it. 

 My only issue was I had been telling people since I was a young teen that you don’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley. And I’m about to not only put on a bumper sticker on but I’m about to put one where you are not supposed to put one. Your ring finger is supposed to be (especially to older generations) this sacred space you leave blank until you get an engagement ring. I kind of felt like I was shitting on a bunch of peoples traditions by doing this. But it meant a lot to me, to have a special relationship with myself first and foremost. It’s just who I am. It makes sense for me and to me. 

I quickly got over the fact that I had changed my mind about something I was so passionate about. I decided it showed growth. That I can grow and change and still have my convictions. It’s unrealistic to believe that you have the same opinions when you’re 13 that you will when you’re 20. 

Over the two years I had spent thinking about the tattoo it had morphed from saying “Free Bitch” to a Trinity knot. The Trinity knot is actually Gaelic for Free Bitch. Just kidding, the trinity is a celtic symbol that means the father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

To me personally it means a few other things, it’s the power of three. Gaga has a song called You and I, in it she sings “there’s only three men that I’ve loved my whole life– it’s my daddy and Nebraska and Jesus Christ”. I’ve always loved that line, about loving three men who all hold space in your heart in different ways. I couldn’t relate to the lyric but I dreamed one day I could. I’ve also heard three is the most balanced number and a triangle is the most stable shape. But the thing about my trinity is that it’s all curved and locked into itself. That’s me, striving for balance but having to curve my way to find it. Also, Beyonce has a Roman numeral 4 on her ring finger and if Beyonce is a 4 I’m a 3. I just know this about myself and I won’t hear about it. 

So on that Valentine’s Day that I had no Valentine, not even Lady Gaga because she decided to one up Madonna once again and break her hip I had myself and I got a tattoo to commemorate that.

At that point I was pretty positive I would never marry because I was twenty and hadn’t even really dated and I was fine with it but I said if I ever was to get engaged the diamond would have to cover my tattoo. It would always be there, under the diamond that would certainly be certified conflict free, and it would always remind me that you can change your mind, have a special relationship with yourself . And you can put a bumper sticker on a Bentley.

I took this photo of my tattoo while in Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga’s Enigma show 😉
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