Archive for March, 2011

By the time I became conscious of Elizabeth Taylor, John Belushi had been portraying her on Saturday Night Live as a chicken-eating slob swathed in diamonds.   Eventually, I came to know her as a poofy haired perfume saleswoman and later as the wheelchair-bound gal pal of Michael Jackson.

Thus, I didn’t get the whole “mind-blowing beauty and talent” thing until I saw her as Maggie the Cat.  I only recently watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in honor of the great Paul Newman following his death.  A gal has to be darn spectacular to take one’s eyes off Paul Newman.  Liz Taylor was that brand of spectacular.

Liz’s shameless self-indulgence as a movie star fascinated me as much as her political activism made me say, “right on.”  Though I wonder about the compulsions she let ruin her legendary beauty, I also think it gutsy for her to have decided, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life being a sex symbol for you people.  I want chicken.”

When Liz passed away this week, I was in the camp mourning the loss of old Hollywood’s carefully orchestrated scandal and razzle-dazzle.  I remembered the full-bodied sensuality and intense determination to self-actualize that the actress personified in the women she played.  I agreed with the overriding consensus that there are no actresses like her anymore.  But then I came to a surprising realization: maybe we no longer need those actresses.

Sure, we’ve seen the great leading ladies of film defend their families and fight battles with the system or themselves.  But arguably, their stories are mostly about the choices we women make in our lives because of men.  Like every star, Elizabeth Taylor was a product of her time.  Her role as Maggie epitomized the cultural envelopes she was both confined by and pushed.  She was sexually carnivorous when women were supposed to be playful but docile, she wanted her own life but also longed for deep, engrossing love.  She wanted to be alive but “occupied the same cage” as her husband and could only count on him to be freed.

Women have been recognizing and fulfilling their sexual destinies for decades now and don’t much depend on husbands anymore to define their place in the world.  All of this has created a new set of challenges for men and women, especially as we continue to try to form loving, mutually respectful partnerships with one another.

So the question to me isn’t why there aren’t any actresses of Liz Taylor’s ilk, though I am bored senseless by the cookie cutter looks and lack of mystique of today’s starlets.  What I really want to know is why there aren’t more interesting, virile, smart, truly sexy ladies telling women’s present-day stories and why those stories aren’t deeper.

Do Katherine Heigl movies really speak to the painful frustration driven women feel trying to succeed in a career and a relationship?  Does Angelina Jolie’s pout and action movie bloodthirst truly symbolize the power females have gained?  Are Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway’s No Strings Attached pacts with Kutcher and Gyllenhaal the ideal expression of feminine passion?  Movies like He’s Just Not that Into You may make a light bulb go off, but geez, where’s the catharsis?  At the personal level, what do Aniston, Bullock and Zellweger’s inability or indifference to landing husbands indicate as opposed to Liz Taylor’s desire to accumulate seven?

Great artists tell us something about where we are as a culture.  Liz Taylor was interesting because she let us know what a sensually voracious, willful yet love-starved woman wanted out of life at her time in history and how she was or wasn’t getting it.  And she was lucky enough to be given meaty stories in which to reveal these deep and dark realities.

Lots of our leading ladies are wonderful entertainers.  But few of them have the psychological volume to live out our innermost truths, and that’s the difference between a fleeting star and a legend.  For this, Ms. Taylor will be missed.  But I look forward to meeting her replacement.

[Image from IFC.com]

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Nothing is more boring than people talking about their various bodily ailments.  And nothing says “I’m old and pitiful” like wasting someone else’s time complaining about your aches and pains.  But I’ve gotta tell you: my left hip’s been hurting me somethin’ fierce.

Smile lines have barely surfaced around my mouth nor have crows begun to stretch their feet around my eyes.  With the exception of a gray hair here and there, the signs of aging have yet to make their mark on my person.  More than halfway through my thirties, I still get carded and am able to shock twentysomethings when I refer to Duran Duran as the fave boy band of my youth rather than New Kids or ’N Sync.  In other words, on the outside I look about a decade younger than I am.

The inside is a different story.  My wrist now becomes achy when I write for too long.  I’m starting to hold magazines an inch farther from my face and lean in to better hear conversations.  My neck hurts when I sleep funny.  I get heartburn.

But the hip’s the worst.  Is the malfunction hereditary or the result of wearing high heels everyday for twenty years?  Either way, the damn thing feels like a loose hinge on a door.  One last screw falls out and I fear the whole structure crashing to the ground.  Last week, I had to turn down an invite to a hiking trip on account of the rain bothering my hip.  Feels like only a matter of time before I develop a fondness for Friday night fish fries and start kicking kids off my lawn.

Growing old doesn’t bother me.  Not only do I plan to do it gracefully, I’m even kinda looking forward to it.  Assuming I achieve some of the goals I’m now kicking my own backside to achieve, old age will be a time to coast.

Still, how odd it is to become aware of yourself as an older person, knowing what’s going to bring you down.  Like when your cholesterol levels become a permanent part of your day-to-day decision making or ignoring bad ankle pain ensures a future battle with gout.

I guess the hardest reality we all must face is aging, in part, because life affords endless opportunity to the young and mobile.  Of course, there’s also the fact that one day the whole show ends for good.  I’m not sure if I’m psychologically ready to accept this unavoidable fate.  But at least physically, my body is preparing me for the inevitable.

Mark my words, one day decades in the future, my family will get the call.  “Well, it seems ’Nana broke her hip.  She was walking across the yard to refill the bird feeder and the ol‘ gal just collapsed.”  I’m freaking out knowing the day indeed will come.  As old women, my marathon running friend currently stressing her joints will be Lady Arthritis while my chain smoking gal pal will one day be The Hacker.  And I shall be Ms. “That’s My Bad Hip.”

What if there are complications with my surgery?  What if I have to walk with a cane?  What if I’m forced to get one of those electric chairs you ride up and down staircases?

Actually, that’d be pretty cool.

[Image from wannasmile.com]

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Forget face creams and self-help books!  I’ve got the magic formula to help you feel young again and put some pep in the step of a humdrum life.

It came to me this week when I arrived at the end of a six-week beginner’s acting course.  I’d signed up for the class to get the creative juices flowing in a different direction after years of sitting on my tush penning novels.  But juice flow was only the beginning.

The class of ten was taught by a quick-witted sprite named Peter who led us in a variety of theater games.  In the first game, we walked around like Martians exploring everything in the room, from the patterns in the rug to the contents of a fridge in the corner, as if discovering an alien planet.  In another game, each student became an individual part of a machine, while in another we conveyed the entire emotion of a story through the mere act of knocking on a door.  As amateur actors, we fantasized ourselves passing strangers on a park bench and learned a hundred different ways to say “yes.”

After each class, I went home wondering why in God’s name this experience felt like the greatest thing to happen to me since chocolate covered coffee beans.  On the last day, I had my answer when I became fully aware of the only directive Peter had given us before each activity.  “Don’t think about it,” he’d say.  “Don’t plan, don’t try to impress anyone.  Just go with whatever comes to your imagination or stirs your heart.”

Where the hell else does anyone in life instruct you to do that?

For three hours each week, each of us students stopped playing the part of pawn in this chess game called life and became silly, spontaneous and utterly creative free spirits.  No longer were we frustrated artists, bored worker bees or stuffy corporate suits.  We were kids again, diving into the sparkling pools of our own imaginations.

Perhaps you think I’m suggesting tapping into your latent talents and enrolling in an adult education class.  My friends, I’m suggesting something far more radical:  Adult play dates.

Think of it!  We make appointments for our children to play with other children and take our mutts to dog parks to sniff each other’s rumps.  Why don’t we do the same for ourselves?  In a world of mass layoffs, natural disasters, civil wars, social isolation and everything else that makes grownup life such a hoot, don’t we deserve a few hours each week to let loose and have fun?

And I’m not talking knitting circles and girls’ nights out for the ladies, flag football games and poker for the gents.  I’m talking hardcore, get-your-hands-dirty child’s play.  For instance, get a typical household object, like a wooden spoon, pass it around with friends and imagine what else it could be.  Is it a giant’s toothpick or perhaps the artificial leg for a very small goat?

Make up words and shout them at the top of your lungs.  Pick characters out of a hat and act out their meeting on a subway platform.  Write the beginning of a story and let your friend write the end.  Eat a popsicle.  Roll down a hill.  Wear a tiara and a purple tutu.  Pretend to be a gazelle loping across the jungle with your friend, a hippopotamus, on your tail.  Do hippos even chase gazelles?  Who cares?  Now, anything is possible!

And run!  Run your little tail off.  Ever notice how kids just run all over the gall dang place, sometimes for no apparent reason at all?  Don’t they look free and happy?  Remember the feeling?  So just run without a bus, a dog off its leash or a paycheck at the end of your path.  Play TV Tag if you really need a goal.

Who needs that end-of-the-day glass of wine or even therapy when you could have a play date with a group of good friends?  So I say send the kids to Grannie’s and turn off the tube.  It’s play time.

And you’re ‘it.’

[Image from dumage.com]

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Know what?  I’m not entertained anymore by Charlie Sheen’s shenanigans and not only because he’s a cracked egomaniac who should be receiving treatment rather than accolades.  And it’s not only because I fear getting my kicks off the ravings of a lunatic who may end up dead soon.

I’m not paying attention to Charlie anymore because I’m tired of acting like guys who beat up women are okay in my book.  In his long career, Mr. Tiger Blood has shot ex-fiancé Kelly Preston (John Travolta’s wife), got sued by a college student he knocked in the head for not sleeping with him, had restraining orders filed against him by his wives and had several adult film actresses accuse him of throwing them around a room.  The reason dude’s kids were finally taken away from him last week was because he supposedly threatened to cut off their mom’s head and send it to their grandmother in a box.

Oh, Charlie, you old kook!

In most of these cases, Charlie pleaded no contest and paid a fine or settled out of court.  Though in a couple instances, the accusers never followed through with their allegations, I think we can safely assume Sir Smirk n’ Chin hits women.  But as most of those ladies were porn stars, strippers, hookers, addicts and gold-digging starlets, they seem to be considered the kinds of low-lifes for whom abuse is inevitable, perhaps even justifiable.  Thus, as a great piece in the New York Times suggests, these gals are deemed “disposable.”

I realize the futility in suggesting a serial abuser shouldn’t be rewarded with a multi-million dollar television contract and a star on the Walk of Fame.  Some of the most celebrated, even admirable, characters in the history of the world have been bastards and weirdoes.  I’ll also let someone else wonder why Mel Gibson’s stock is waning while Charlie’s is on the rise or why Chris Brown’s abuse of Rihanna cost him his career (race?  the value of a pop star over a porn star?)  All I want to know is why instances of abuse toward women aren’t more regularly met with horror.

In the same week of Charlie’s meltdown, I read about a monstrously successful online comic called Penny Arcade.  A strip about video games, Penny Arcade has spawned a massive movement amongst gamers and geeks.  However, the creators of the comic got into hot water last year for publishing a strip in which characters were repeatedly raped by “the Dickwolves,” monsters who looked like wolves and had penises for hands.

When female fans took offense, the creators issued a smartass, flimsy apology.  The notion being these ugly feminists couldn’t take a joke.  Meanwhile, male fans harassed the women online by, among other things, posting pictures of mutilated women and creating Twitter handles like @teamrape and @rapefatchicks.  The most vocal female fan, a rape survivor, even received death threats.

I love men.  I know they’re smarter and more sensitive than the culture gives them credit for.  But I don’t understand why so many of them are clueless about violence against women.

Maybe because abuse is swept under the rug when prominent people like Charlie Sheen do it.  Maybe because when women are raped and mutilated on cop shows, they’re found in “do me” poses, wearing matching lace panties and bra sets, as if violent death is so darn sexy.  Maybe because men have no idea what it’s like for us gals to live with the threat of violence every day of our lives.

Every male who walks behind you, every overeager guy hitting on you at a bar, every man staring too long at you on the bus, every creepy taxi driver ogling you in the rearview mirror, every date with a stranger, every escalating fight with a husband, every unlit street, every empty subway car, every parking garage creates a moment and place where every woman knows something horrible could happen.  Statistically speaking, every woman has experienced violence, some of them victims of the most horrible cruelty imaginable.  And believe me, it ain’t funny.

For all I care, Charlie can continue his rampage of derangement and reap all of its glorious plunder.  It’s not his fault no one cares about the women he hurts.  But I do want to live in a world where ravaging females, regardless of their station in life, is no longer entertainment or a joke.  Maybe ladies have to keep letting folks know the pain of what we go through.  Maybe one day, they’ll believe us.

[Photo of Sheen accuser Brittany Ashland from Jezebel.com]

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