Saturday, March 29, 2014

Just Be Like Jennifer Lawrence!

"If you looked and acted like Jennifer Lawrence that might work." On how my girls could be okay with my existence.

I rarely thought about my appearance until I realized I was fat. This epiphany occurred when I arrived in San Diego for college. After four exhausting years of starving myself I never actually achieved any sort of self-validation concerning my looks. I did, however, receive a great education.

This is me, the afternoon my chosen field of study held an honorary lunch on my behalf ^ ^ ^ I graduated top of the class. I wore a turtleneck in 85 degree weather because, well, I thought I was fat. It was all downhill from there.

Moving to Los Angeles to begin a career exasperated my weight issue given I now weighed 90 lbs, but felt like an elephant. Why was everyone so insanely thin, tan, tall and blemish-free? Fortunately for me I was somewhat articulate, so when all the girls were in hot tubs with various actors, I would be having conversations with the people that kept them employed. I quickly drew a line in the sand between me and them. Those tall, lithe, beautiful girls where magic things happen when they take their shirts off and me, where I had to work hard to make anything happen.

Those gals really go places. ^ ^ ^  Not that I haven't been to St. Tropez, but, yeah, kind of different.

Anyway, I threw myself into my work and by my mid 20's had gotten past cheap exteriors and the abundant superficialities of life.

But this is ancient history, or so I thought. Years, careers, accomplishments, dreams and marriages flew by.

Now I have girls. I had them later in life, or not in my 20's, and had already experience motherhood, so my approach to raising them was not exactly helicopter style. I'm more "let them break an arm" parent.

How else are they going to learn?

The girls  (Twin A & E) are now 11. I understand the mother/daughter dynamic all too well, have written extensively about this. But somehow I didn't think I would fall  prey to the daily, harsh criticism from my own daughters. Just because I thought my mother was the most un-cool, unattractive person ever certainly would not give reason for my girls to think the same. I'm mean I'm awesome. Right?

My mother horrifying me ^ ^ ^ ^   The man on the sailboat is Charles Manson's psychiatrist. They stayed together for ten years until one of his ex-wives dumped some placenta on their doorstep with a sign: EAT IT!  Well, it was Marin County.

Now---it's my turn to navigate these tricky waters and very carefully, because if I suggest that saying unkind things is well, unkind, E will run off in full hysteria mode.

E: OMG! I knew it! You think I'm mean and awful and I am. I should just run way. What a horrible excuse for a  human.

Her sister, A, a master diffuser, will assure her that it's mom, not her. I am the culprit. Then they hug and are okay.

So I've learned to not react, engage, respond, no matter how much I am tested, teased or disparaged, no matter how cruel the insult, how deep the wound. I have an excellent poker face.

BUT, what I was not expecting was a throwback to my college days where I thought I was fat, ugly and retched.

I had already learned and worked through how having children can re-ignite all sorts of old wounds. Nonetheless, I'm  human and there is only so much a person can take.

Despite their dads constant compliments, kindness, lovely gestures, none of this matters. I need my daughters approval, dammit. But I'm not going to get it. Ever.

But, I also am not exactly pure. I instigate a lot of this nonsense.

Me: So who DO you find attractive?
E: Why do you need to know? I thought those things didn't matter.
They look at each other as if to prove I'm full of shit.
E and A:  Jennifer Lawrence. Too bad you don't look like her.
Me: Well, I'm old enough to be her mom!
E: So.

Later we go shopping. They take a picture of me in the dressing room as if to dissect my entire face.

Your typical sadistic fitting room mirror with fluorescent lighting. ^ ^ ^ E starts to make a list. I buy three T-shirts.

We go to lunch. Sometimes I throw E a curve ball. Why I do this is for another time and ensuing psychotherapy sessions.

Me:  E, see that lady over there?
E: Yeah.
Me: Would you say I am smaller or larger than she is?
E: Hmm. You're just a little bigger.

The woman in question. ^ ^ ^  only in Beverly Hills.

Me: Honey, she's huge.
E: Mom, that's mean! What does it matter?  And you asked. You're about the same size.

She examines my face for a reaction and I give none. So she continues.

E: Your eyebrows are all fuzzy. Plus why is your face blotchy? Plus, you should brush your hair. You look like a  crazy person. Also brown isn't your color. You can whiten your teeth you know.

(This Hollywood veneers epidemic is really problematic. The girls actually believe teeth are supposed to be white-out white.)

SHE GOES ON! Pretty much covers the list.

We walk by a news stand.

E: Oh, Mom, you look like her.
She grabbed a magazine with Cate Blanchett on the cover.
Me: I do? She's beautiful.
E: Oh, you don't look like her.

I must have looked crestfallen. They both shook their heads in unison.

E: Mom! I'm a kid. Jesus. Why do you even listen to me?

Then A chimes in.

A: Mom, you're really pretty. PAUSE. Can you spot me ten bucks? Spot? Is she going to Vegas? Who are these girls? Maybe I should have paid more attention to them growing up.

Later, I read the list.

Negative Mom Stuff.

Scraggy hair.
Bad jokes.
"The rabbit hole!"  Why quotes? Is this a subject of such constant discussion it's earned quotes? She's referring to my suprasternal notch; which is known for it's love qualities whatever that means.
Spine showing.
Blotchy skin
Dirty bathrobe.  Okay, it's white, and impossible to keep clean when you have kids. Just sayin.
Embarrassing laugh. I actually relate, used to hate my own mother's laugh.
Very Wise. Wow. How did that get in there? And Caps.
Weird funny. I will take it.
Flappy P.J.s  Am I supposed to wear a latex body suit to bed?
Bad food judgement (AKA PB on a bagel?) I happen to think that's delicious.
Random spaz attacks.  This is my favorite because really she's referring to when I start to laugh and can't stop.

After I read this, I gave her a huge hug.  I happen to know she is kind to people, just not me. And she is extremely sensitive dramatic. So, this is all a test and I am determined to pass with flying colors.  I will not react. I will not react.

My job is to continue helping them keep their heads above the insidious waters of unattainable perfection and beauty; an ideal that remains in our society, one of the failures of feminism as Cheryl Strayed so elegantly pointed out. Of course much has been written on the subject, yet everyday we pass another American Apparel pornification ad. It's worth a look to read about NYC's Girl Project.

However, so far, so good. They put much more importance on the feeding and caring of their 30 reptiles, being the best at roller skating, or Girls on the Run, or soccer, or art, cooking, sewing etc, than they do their on their looks.

But I know it's coming. Girls self-esteem starts to take a big dip at age 12 and typically lasts until they are 20. So when E asked to have her  hair cut like Ellen DeGeneres, along with pierced ears shaped like a dragon, I'm gearing up.

For today we are baking cookies, laughing at my bad jokes and I'm still wearing my flappy P.J.'s and filthy bathrobe.

Rhonda Talbot on parenting girls, the influence of the media, objectification, self-esteem and bad jokes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Installation Sex

My latest story published through the wonderful lit magazine Literary Orphans. Orphans is worth your checking out. Mike Joyce and Scott Waldyn did a phenomenal job in creating something unique and beautiful, filled with provocative writing, stories, poetry, artwork and more.


Had I known I’d be rigging electrical wires to Franklin Franklin’s scrotum studs I may have reconsidered San Francisco. Yet the trip would prove to be critical in my relationship continuum.
Fixing men was something I was good at, a self-appointed job that gave me an additional sense of accomplishment and validation.

My first success culminated in a pregnancy followed by a Vegas shotgun wedding. Though the marriage was short-lived, the boy child was worth my efforts. I had decided the relationship didn’t work out because he was simply too old at 35. Not moldable.

My next efforts were set on a handsome college lad; the plan was to shape him into a presentable young man with enviable potential. Using my hard-won work contacts, he would become highly employable; after which we would marry, perhaps a destination wedding. He also seemed perfect material for a stepfather. Not only was he an enthusiastic collector of Pokémon cards but also skilled at table tennis.

After a few months, the boy left me. He apparently had his own ideas and though I thought nothing of our 12-year age difference, his mother took issue. She carried more weight in all matters regarding his future plans. I was stunned, hurt, and nearly lost my will to live.  Somewhere in all of my cultivating endeavors, I had fallen in love with him. This took me by surprise.

My own accomplishments indeed meant nothing. I put no credence into my diligent efforts to make good through education and hard work, to break away, this hauling up of one’s bootstraps. Loves wounds would override any sense of actual achievement. I blamed all of my self-loathing on my looks, my mother, and her deep gene pool of hillbillies. If only I had been born entitled, beautiful, lithe, the Amazonian kind of girl that grace the pages of Victoria’s Secret. Men would never be an issue. I would be in high demand, have endless options, and therefore be free to pursue my goals without the added relationship angst and the time often involved within the angst matrix.

It was in this state I met Franklin Franklin, a renowned artist, both of us wandering around a chic hotel lobby after a private film screening.  I was wearing a sexy, turquoise Betsy Johnson number I slipped on whenever invited to fancy outings.

We shared a standing table eating cold shrimp on toothpicks. I felt an unexpected surge of lust when I looked into his eyes, shattered emeralds, chaotic and in need of reorganization.
“I have to go to San Francisco tonight. What are you doing?”

Despite all of my work obligations, this was my Holly Golightly moment. Adonis had invited me for the weekend without any prompting on my part, solid markings of a true prospect. This look we shared was not one-sided. He was the real deal. Maybe being overly cautious had been my problem all along. Finding a fixer-upper was not the answer. Here stood a peer, and this is how they acted. Maybe what I lacked in airbrushed beauty could be supplicated with exciting spontaneity.

“Let's do it.”
“I’ll be at the Fairmont. Call me when you get there.”

I raced home, threw my most expensive lingerie into an overnight bag and flew up to San Francisco. Franklin was not in his room. I waited in an adjoining room until after midnight, and then he called.
We strolled the crooked streets of the city, his strong, tattooed arm clutching me with such possession I felt boneless. We spoke in bits and shreds. The cold, icy ground beneath us sounded like grinding teeth as we trudged up a hill.

He had a passion for igloos and frozen oranges but nothing brown or gold.
I told him I liked the words bone saw and superfluous.
He didn’t respond. I soon understood he liked quiet so I stopped talking altogether.
Then he pinned me to a concrete wall; my head went static. Time dissolved and all the things it’s meant to define.
Far away the fiery slit of dawn was poking through the fog.
“Let’s go. Perfect lighting.”
We were in his suite.
“So, take off all your clothes. I love the long lines of your body. This is ideal.”
I was excited, thrilled and cocky all at once. With great flair, I tossed my clothes onto the floor without considering my imperfect thighs or flapjack breasts.
Franklin was lying naked on the bed, tanned, well toned and hairless. Then I saw his scrotum was festooned with silver studs. Dozens of thimble-sized studs.
 “Like my jewelry?”
I thought it was odd, even creepy.
“Sure. It’s that real silver?”
The best I could do was offer up my metallic-shaded pedicure I thought was incredibly edgy. But I was not prepared for Franklin. I noticed a camera situated atop a tripod positioned in front of the bed.
“Wow. How many studs do you have? Don’t they hurt?”
“Nah. It does for a second when you do it. But I need you to do something.”
He handed me a bottle of olive oil that he pulled from his backpack.
“Slather this all over your fist, then ram it up my rectum as far as it will go.”
He inserted ten electrical wires into each stud, and then fastened them to a nondescript black box that sat on an end table. Ten small hooks lined the exterior of the box.
Franklin attached the wires from his scrotum studs to the hook and eye ordeal on the black box, and then climbed on all fours facing away from the box, so the wires were beneath him.
I noticed the camera has been recording the entire time we were in the room.
“When I say go, ram your fist.”
I was oiling my hand and arm up to the elbow, too scared to say no, still wearing my carefree-girl persona.
“Ready, and go.”
He body lunged forward, the wires still attached to the box, but now completely taut, then an electrical charge caused the black lid to pop open, revealing a pink-cheeked ballerina twirling to the Smith’s song Handsome Devil.
“And cut.”
I was horrified but still smiling.
“That was perfect. Seamless. We got it in one take. Thanks.”
I realized there would be no further sex forthcoming; the foreplay was simply foreplay for whatever the hell Franklin wanted on film. But I needed to keep my fantasy going for fear I would simply fall apart.
I told myself I did this exotic thing, perfect. He was a brilliant artist and me his muse, like Helga Testorf and Andrew Wyeth. No one needed fixing. My nerve and acceptance was his aphrodisiac. I was sure he had fallen for me.
I lay down next to him to cuddle. I needed to shower, but was afraid to disrupt our love nest.
“That was intense. I’d love to see more of your work sometime.”
He abruptly pulled away to get dressed. I needed him to know I was more than a prop.
“I work with a lot of film people. I bet we have friends in common. For example, I know Julian Schnabel.”
“Cool. Hey, it’s getting late. I have a show tomorrow. I’m not trying to be rude, but you should go.”
He climbed on top of me and held my face in his strong hands.
“Thanks again, babe. No way would this have gotten done. It’s part of a bigger installation and I’m on the chain here. Most girls would never do this.”
He pressed his soft lips against mine, an empty kiss; a sucker punch into my heart.
“No worries, I’ll edit out your face.”
Wrapping myself in the sheet, I did a kind of sway-walk toward the bathroom and then leaned against the door.
What the fuck? I turned on the faucet, tears plopping into the marble sink. Seriously? His muse? Covering both arms in soapy water, I scrubbed them nearly raw. The familiar dread of self-loathing was rising up from my stomach like bile choking me, compromising any further hope of playing Ms. Golightly. Prostitutes had probably turned down this deed.
I thought about my options as though I had any. But I did. Stop crying. You are not that needy, idealistic girl with romantic notions. You’re exhilarating, mysterious, blasé. You’re Holly! I was not done with Franklin.
Now dressed, I leaned on the edge of the bed watching Franklin put away his gear. It was slightly baffling to understand how he walked around with all that hardware on his testicles, particularly tight jeans.
“So, let’s get together when we get back to Los Angeles.”
“Of course.”
When he didn’t call, I called him. And called some more, until his wife answered. Yes, it was degrading and you would think this charade would end.
But it didn’t. I would invite him over or sometimes he would show up at my house unannounced. My jeweled lover and I would play out this grim scene a few more times, ride it down until the rubber burned and the rims scraped the pavement. Then he was gone. And somewhere our actions live on display in various installations that culminate in some kind of gender-bending sex meets technology meaning.

But the experience was a turning point. I was literally shocked into a state of self-discovery, a journey into finding my own self-worth and respect.

A few months later, I went to one of Franklin’s exhibits with some friends at a local museum and saw the entire scene unfold on film, climaxing with the sad rosy-cheeked ballerina.

My girlfriends and I by now all had many degrading stories of sexual escapades with men and I told them what had happened. I was the pathetic ballerina spinning and spinning. At first they didn’t believe me; after all, I’m a professional, untarnished, an accomplished single mother. It hardly made sense, but then how was this any different than agreeing to partake in a little S&M or a threesome? We all had our stories. And we all seemed to grow up, right there, in the museum.

My friends:
I mean I get it. He’s hot. I didn’t understand on any level the artwork though.
The ballerina?
Dancing to the Smiths?
I love Morrissey.
And that was that. We all knew we had to make our own art, own music and find our destinations that included reclaiming our confidence that somewhere in our lives we had lost or thrown away as though it were unwanted clutter.

We knew we didn’t need to be blithe, dark, bewitching or daring or even in a relationship.
My self-confidence grew with time and persistent inner-work and though society will fight against me, it’s unlikely the uncertain girl searching for validation will ever return.


Thanks for reading. And remember, even Holly Golightly didn't stoop this low.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on men, women, sex, love, confusion, growth and priceless art.