It’s Saturday. I just started a load of clothes and took a hot shower, and had to sit down for a minute before I dried my hair. I’m going to make myself a good breakfast because I’m 13 pounds lighter than I was a month ago, and I haven’t been trying.
I thought I’d take a moment–a very long moment with many, many words–and describe how I got to such a state.
Five weeks ago, my husband and I had colds. Bad colds. In fact, we had three week colds, the ones that drag on and on, and had us sleeping in separate rooms so we didn’t wake each other up with our strangling coughing fits (which we did anyway). It was one of those colds with the cough that is so harsh, I started to feel like I was going to cough an internal part of my body right out of my body. The kind where my stomach muscles and ribs start to ache from the exertion of coughing.
Even worse than the coughing was the nose blowing. My nasal congestion (like my nose) is extraordinary. In fact it can be spectacular (again, like my nose). I have very large nostrils and very small sinus passages. This combination means I blow my nose every thirty seconds when I have a bad cold.
I was constantly coughing but mentally functional. I signed in and worked from home every day, and was thanked by my manager for not coming in and exposing anyone else to my crud. I would have sickened my team, not only with my germs, but with the sound of going through eight or ten large boxes of tissues in three weeks.
Then, miraculously, I felt better. I had an entire week of feeling better. Wearing real clothes, going to a play, working a full day in the office (where I moved into the small office, if you were wondering). I like my new small office so much, I thought, I will be in here at least twice a week now! Because I felt so good!
We were all looking forward to this past Saturday morning, when we would gather to celebrate a pair of birthdays: my grandson turning four, and my granddaughter turning one. Various aunties, uncles, grandparents and cousins were gathering for brunch and cake and presents.
And it was everything I could have hoped. I wondered if I would ever share birthdays with my NYC grandkids, but now they are my Portland grandkids, and I was there for my granddaughter’s very first birthday! Baby S was a little overwhelmed by having so many people she knew in one place, but she consoled herself by making a beeline for my arms. Whenever she felt overwhelmed, she came right back to my arms. There was cake and presents and games and paleontology kits for the three older kids. A terrific time was had by all.
I mean, it just tore through us. And of course it did, because there were five small children there who go to daycare, and everyone knows a daycare child is a germ vector, an adorable zone of contagion.
So on Monday, after a round of texts to establish that yes, we were all either sick or expecting to be very soon, I worked from home. That evening, I entered a fugue state of high fever and running sinuses so intense that on Tuesday, I actually took a sick day. I called in. And that was a good thing, because I couldn’t get out of bed. I had spent the night somewhere else, somewhere strange, a land of fever dreams and body aches, rolling around trying to get comfortable, getting up for a few wrenching and violent sessions over the toilet, unsure of where I was and maybe who I was.
I eventually got myself up, took my heart pill, and made a cup of coffee, which I consumed with a view to taking a coffee nap. Here’s an explanation of what that is and why you should try to take one when you’re exhausted: Coffee Napping.
After I woke up from said coffee nap, I felt well enough to collapse on the sofa in front of HGTV. There, for approximately 14 hours, I stared at reruns of Fixer to Fabulous. This show features Dave and Jenny Marrs, who fix up homes for people in the Bentonville, Arkansas area. So, lots of Wal-Mart and Tyson money. The home price is usually in the 600K-700K range, and the Marrs often have budgets of 200K to work with. They do very nice things within that budget.
You can learn a lot while staring at the same people for hours on end in a semi-conscious state. Things like, Dave Marrs is faster with a tape measure than any other person on TV. The instant Jenny has an idea, he magically has a tape measure extended up walls and into corners and across windows, just instantaneously. He also has an enormous barn that is actually his workshop, where he has every tool, saw, press, torch, clamp that exists. You name it, he has it and will use it to cut or fabricate or conjoin any given material in any given way to make any sort of thing.
I thought these people were Christians, but no, Dave Marrs is a Wizard.
One thing I enjoyed through my haze of fever and illness is how much the Marrs seem to like each other. Sure, they love each other, whatever, but they also like each other. If you’ve ever tried to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like you, you understand how nice it is when your partner does. The Marrs are respectful but playful, and there is laughter and collaboration.
This seems to inspire the same from the clients they work with. There is no bickering or contentiousness among these Southern couples with money. In fact, a man might say, “It’s important to my wife that…” or the woman might say, “My husband has always loved…” and go on to describe a feature they’d like to see in the remodel to make the spouse happy. This seems sincere. It’s nice break from the manufactured marital conflicts of “House Hunters” and “Love it or List It.”
This show is also a good place to go to understand some particular Southern values. Like, homes will be fancier, as in a little fussier. And if a family is racially mixed, that will have happened through adoption. There will be expensive plantation shutters indoors a lot of the time that should never be removed (I agree). And all women will be very well presented, and often blonde. Very blonde. Sometimes platinum blonde. And almost always barrel rolled.
I understood this a little better when the Marrs did a home for Jenny’s hairdresser, who is a blonde of the platinum and barrel rolled variety. When they showed a photo of this pretty woman and her daughter, the daughter was similarly coiffed. Then Jenny talked about how her own blonde, barrel-rolled hair, as well as the hair of all her friends and family was at stake, so could they please get this remodel done right. I saw how one woman’s aesthetic could influence my impression of an entire town.
Such deep thoughts, that day on the couch.
Gosh, I saw a lot of commercials, collapsed on the couch with my late mother’s comforter piled on top of me, comforting me.
There were mattress commercials, which ranged from the bespoke and cloud-like to the supremely technological. I’m obsessed with my own sleep and comfort. The simple act of lying down for a night’s sleep is so fraught, and has been since my forties, that I watch these commercials eagerly, hoping to see the magic bed that will cure all my sleep ills. I have no idea what would work, but I would try anything at this point.
Speaking of high tech applied to simple things, I also saw technological water commercials. I’m put off by these. I watch them with puzzlement because water is not a fraught topic for me—we drink water from the tap. We are on the Bull Run water system, and it’s as good as it gets.
Sleep and water, so basic, and yet, so complex.
I am made intensely uncomfortable by two advertisers on HGTV. One is LL Flooring. They do the commercials where people writhe around on their LVP floors. I thought the first of these commercials I saw was stupid, and weird, and made me think about how dirty you’d get if you writhed around on my own floor. I expected these commercials to go away, bad idea, call the agency, next. But LL Flooring unveiled these are part of a rebrand, so I think they doubled down. The floor writhing continues, and now it’s all I think of when it comes to LL Flooring, instead of “I wonder why they changed their name from LUMBER LIQUIDATORS?”
I’m also really uncomfortable with Home Goods ads. People sliding down streets and dancing with lamps. It’s all strange and uncanny and I actually like going to Home Goods, but these commercials unsettle me.
Predominantly I saw commercials for prescription medicines with names like Kelvida and Sylvestri and Contrisa and Bellatrix. I have no idea what the drugs actually do. I just watched a lot of normal looking people doing pleasant activities at a slightly reduced pace while the sun was shining. Over these lovely images, a disembodied voice listed possible side effects, like suffocation via swelling airways, pulmonary blood clots, heart attacks, severe edema, colitis, kidney failure, strokes, paralysis, and other symptoms that were severe enough to make me wonder, if those are the side effects, what the heck are these drugs treating, and isn’t this worse than the original condition?
I also saw many commercials for pet products. I was worried that pet commercials would make me want to have another pet, especially in my weakened state. I always loved how my little dogs would tuck themselves around me when I was sick, so seriously and carefully, like it was part of a canine plan to nurse me back to health.
But I had a revelation about the function of these ads. They are not there to make us want pets. They are there to inspire severe anxiety in people who already have pets.
Is my cat eating right? Is my dog happy with his food? Will my cat get fleas? Will my dog get heartworm? Will my cat find her litter box sufficiently pleasing enough to use it? Will my dog be lonely and destroy the house while I’m at work? And so on.
It turns out I had nothing to fear from the HGTV pet products commercials. Nothing about those commercials made me want a pet. They just stressed me out.
All the cruise lines have ads on HGTV. All of them. From the Viking river cruises I’d love to take but can’t afford, to the Carnival cruises I am too old and fussy to endure, to the Holland cruises I am still too young to take, to the Princess cruises that use the song from the old Love Boat show so I will never take a Princess cruise, to the Norwegian cruises I happily will take because we have rewards there! I watched them all.
I considered my options. One of those commercials had the best reason to take a cruise I’ve ever heard. “Unpack once!” Ah, you’re playing my song. I smiled as the happy silver haired couples had the onboard times of their lives—looking at glaciers in Alaska, watching shows, and then best of all, she’s coming down a stairway wearing a wrap dress and carrying her special little evening purse! What a great combo, the wrap dress and little purse! Do I need to pack one of those? I think I will!
I thought a lot about what I might pack for our next cruise while sitting on the couch in my spotty purple bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, shivering under my mother’s comforter.
I decided, while breathing through my mouth and blowing my nose, that some of those same silver fox cruise couples were on ads for ReBath. This is a cheap way for older people who know their bathrooms are dated to get them updated without a lot of money or fuss.
Dated bathrooms are now a form of social leprosy, one from which I suffer myself. After the fire, when the house was rebuilt in 2006, I didn’t realize I was supposed to choose luxury finishes for the rooms where we take showers, brush our teeth, and use the toilet. I mean, I was never expecting a spa-like experience in the crowded little bathroom off the main bedroom in my house. I just wanted a shower, so I went cheap and common and serviceable.
As a result, the rooms were rebuilt in a dated way. My bathrooms look like 1996, but I cannot bring myself to care deeply. So be warned that if you step into my half-bath, you should be ready to travel back into the nineties. Think of it as a time hop. (and by the way, I’m thinking of all the bathrooms I’ve used in all my friends’ homes over the decades, and most of them were dated. Some drastically. And I never cared. I was happy for toilet paper, a functional soap dispenser, and clean hand towels. We’ve been fed a bill of goods by HGTV. It’s just a BATHROOM.)
I resisted the allure of ReBath, but I was just about ready to sign up for Balance of Nature vitamins by the end of the day. Which shows you how far gone I was. Because I honestly couldn’t relate to a single spokesperson for those vitamins. Not the doctor with the sculpted hair, not the recovering stroke victim who seems to be manipulated by her caretaker and/or her small dog, not the the wrestling coach doing handstand pushups, and especially not the 51-year-old doctor who announces her age to the camera with a smug expression of “Can you believe it?!?!?!” because she doesn’t think she looks 51 (she does), but she’s so deluded about that, so incredibly pleased with her self-perception that I just want to pat her and say something like, “Honey! You look 35!” (she doesn’t).
I watched so many commercials, staring blankly at the screen while ads for exterminators and hardware stores and paint brands and other HGTV shows attempted to penetrate the fog of my illness. The only show that got through was Renovation 911. This is a new one, and I have to avert my eyes from this commercial because it shows homes that have been gutted by fire, hit by cars, struck by lightning, and flooded. If you’ve ever had the experience of seeing your home after a fire, the trauma doesn’t go away. Ever.
But then I would have to peek, because the sisters who host this show have hair that seems to sympathetically echo the state of the devastated buildings they enter. It’s up and down and sideways and twisted. It’s tornado hair. Jenny Marrs’ hairdresser has never been anywhere near these women, and it shows. I could not look away.
One of my daughters went to the doctor and had a swab, because she is new to her job and needed a doctor’s note to be gone for three days. The test confirmed that we all had Influenza A, whatever that might be. The disease was truly awful for me on one day, but I’ve been able to work from home the other days. I have stayed productive and away from the TV for the rest of the week.
Evenings, my fever kept spiking, so I spent them reading Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson. A wonderful book to read when you’re feverish, I mean it’s a perfect read for a fever, like a combo of “The Gilded Age” and “Peaky Blinders,” with seamy nightclubs, secret liaisons, double crossings, shocking setbacks and big reveals. 10/10.
My nose is almost clear, I slept last night, I have no fever. The disease is ebbing from the family. Some have completely recovered. Some of us are getting there. The party continues.
And you know what? The birthday party was so fun. We gathered, and drank coffee and ate brunch, we watched the kids play, there was cake and candles and two rounds of singing, one happy birthday song for each birthday child. Presents and games and cousins having fun together. And the memory of this flu will fade, but I will always remember those kids in the front yard, intently working on their paleontology kits (“I got a TOOF!”), and the babies in the grass, and the sun shining on everyone’s faces.
It plays in my head like a prescription medicine advertisement, one with a voice over that said, “This birthday party may cause high fever, vomiting, nasal congestion, and a lingering cough. Consult your doctor for more information.”
In this case, the side effects were definitely worth it.
I haven’t seen one of my dear friends for over six years. I’m not sure of all the reasons, but none of them have a thing to do with how much we value each other.
She lives in Tacoma. I met her when she started dating a friend of mine. She enchanted me. Yes, she was intelligent and beautiful but there was something else about her. Something deep and dark, a resonance that is difficult to put into words without sounding a little ridiculous. She had a calm, low speaking voice, the kind that has rivers running in it. Even her laugh was gorgeous.
When I first stepped into her subterranean living space, it was full of treasures. Ornate screens hung with jewelry, candles in sconces, bead-trimmed satin pillows. The walls were hung with framed prints of fantasy and pre-Raphaelite art.
They were all mermaids.
I was a senior in high school in Yakima, Washington, in what passed for an advanced Spanish class. We were playing a game called “Loteria,” like Bingo played with picture cards. My teacher would display the card and enunciate the name of whatever it showed. El Diablito. La Dama. El Borracho. La Sirena.
I looked up, my interest piqued. I had always loved a mermaid.
Ah, the mermaid. She was singing, as mermaids were once thought to do, luring sex-starved sailors to their deaths with her breasts, her siren song. Odysseus lashed himself to the mast to resist the songs that lured his sailors to their deaths, navigating between Scylla and Charybdis.
Those songs were sung by mermaids.
Growing up, I had a children’s edition of The Little Mermaid illustrated with photographs of posed dolls. To my young eyes, the dolls were beautiful, as were the props around them, especially the sea-witch’s undersea lair. The coral, the cauldron…the photos were wonderful enough, but the book also featured a lenticular panel on the cover. It gave a 3D quality to a photo of the mermaid herself, swimming underwater.
The photo pages alternated with text pages, some of which had line drawings in black and white. One of those showed the mermaid right after she’d traded her voice for a pair of legs, lying on the beach unconscious, her hair flowing down around her naked body so discreetly.
As a child I was fascinated by this drawing. I remember so clearly taking my colored pencils and with a few adjustments, moving her hair to reveal a little of her derriere, giving her blonde hair, peach skin. I promise, it was tastefully done.
After I started writing about mermaids, I went on a hunt for my old book, the one with the posed dolls. I saved all my childhood books so it had to be around here somewhere. It took some looking but I found it. I turned to the page with that drawing I’d changed and found it untouched. Had I simply longed to change the drawing so much that I thought I had?
Memory is a strange thing. As mutable and misleading as a mermaid. And this isn’t the first time a mermaid led me astray in my memory. It happened with a present I gave to my mother, who was notoriously hard to please with gifts. If the gift was wrong somehow, it disappeared, or sometimes she just handed it back.
This isn’t as bad as it seems, not to me, because I get it. When someone gives me a “wrong” gift, I feel like they don’t know me. I don’t feel seen. So with Mom, I never took it personally, but a correct gift felt like a triumph.
One birthday, I gave Mom this Danish plate with a line drawing of the Little Mermaid statue. “Oh!” she exclaimed with tears of delight. “I’ve always loved her, sitting in the bay, her eyes out to sea.” She hung it on a wall, so touched.
That plate was a hunch, a six dollar Goodwill gamble. It’s a beauty, but it’s a collector’s plate, and not the kind of item my mother gravitated towards at all.
I wondered why my mother loved it so much. I wondered what she saw when she looked at that statue. I wondered how this particular mermaid made my mother feel seen.
In my memory of the plate, the girl has legs. So I thought she was in her human form, looking out at the ocean, missing her sisters and her life in the underwater kingdom. She’d traded away her tail and gills along with her voice. She was stranded on land.
But I have the plate now, and photos of the statue like the one above make it clear that I was wrong. Look at her lower half. She does have legs and feet, but she also has fins of some kind. And she’s bare-breasted, so she’s definitely in her mermaid form. This means she’s watching the waves, pining for her prince.
Mermaids are supposed to be dangerous, but once they’re lovesick, they’re only dangerous to themselves.
Sometimes, mermaids are less woman and more fish. They are scaly creatures of the deep. I’m okay with that. Last year, I read a scathing book by Lydia Millet called Mermaids in Paradise. Imagine you were on your honeymoon at an inclusive resort taking some silly snorkeling excursion and you saw mermaids. Real ones. Imagine what might go on. The collision of greed and conservationism. The danger and collusion. This is a strange and hilarious book, a book like no other.
But there are mermaids. And they are real. And they are creatures.
I found Something About a Mermaid in a thrift store back in the 1990s. It was published in 1978. My oldest daughter has our copy, treasured and worn and hopefully to be read to my children’s children.
Like many books from the seventies, the book tries to teach a lesson about harsh life events a child might encounter. This was new in the seventies, writing books about bullying or divorce or other painful realities. Historically, books for children were didactic, but more instructive. Like, eat wisely and be obedient and clean, versus, how to deal with the fact that your parents don’t love each other anymore.
It’s difficult to strike the balance between fanciful and didactic, but this book does it. This little mermaid is wild. What a sweet, otter-like face she has. She doesn’t talk, or sing love songs. Her song is one of yearning to be set free. She is a creature. A wild thing. This book asks children to accept that wild things should be left wild.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
I moved to Yakima, Washington with my boyfriend in the fall of 1975. We stayed at the Motel 6 until we could find an apartment. There was a pool and he had nothing to swim in. “Let’s go to a thrift store!” I suggested. Despite his rough hippie exterior, he’d never been to one—he came from a prosperous family—but he was game.
We went to the Salvation Army thrift store on Main to hunt for a pair of jeans he could cut off. I scanned the shelves, as I always did, and saw a rough little clay statue of a mermaid. She lay on her stomach in the waves, faceless and crude, a student effort at best.
It is hard to believe that once, representations of mermaids were so rare that I paid a quarter for my little clay mermaid, just to own one. What’s even more difficult to believe? I still have her. Especially since mermaids are common, now. They are used as a motif in children’s rooms. They adorn shower curtains and word art.
The decor mermaid is sweet and cartoonish. She has no teeth, her breasts are modestly obscured by clam shells. She holds no threat. Once, on a cruise, I saw a grown woman wearing a t-shirt, claiming to be a mermaid.
I know my mermaids. And you, madam, are no mermaid.
I’d read my childhood version of the tale to my oldest daughter many times before I took her to see Disney’s “Little Mermaid” with its charming and goofy Ariel. I sat in that darkened theater and I was terrified. I knew how it ended for the Little Mermaid. Voiceless, endangered, flinging herself at the groom’s feet, begging him to understand that she saved him, and now he must choose her or she will die. Her sisters arrive with a sword and a choice.
This didn’t happen in the movie. The happy ending was a surprise. Wrong, mind you. But a relief. Speaking of Disney movies, I didn’t like the mermaids in “On Stranger Tides.” They were underwater vampires. I do love a vampire, but this mermaid seems to take the masculine fear of seductive women and make it justified. I suppose that started back with Odysseus, didn’t it.
It shouldn’t surprise me that female creatures born of male sexual longing have the capacity for destruction. I didn’t see that capacity for destruction in “Splash.” That sweet, hapless mermaid had no teeth. “Splash” set The Little Mermaid fairy tale on its ear. They could never be happy on land, so he leaves it behind and becomes her companion under the sea, completely dependent on her.
We had to wait for a merman in “The Shape of Water,” to show us how powerful and dangerous a mer-creature born of romantic longing could be. Maybe because women know men are dangerous, whereas men only fear that women are dangerous. Del Toro’s creature was far from toothless. He was a god, after all.
I forgave him for eating the cat.
Most children today know the Disney version of the Little Mermaid. They are unaware of the old version with the sword and the choice. I wonder if my daughters remember the original at all. I still wonder about the sword. Shouldn’t we tell our daughters about the sword? I’m still asking myself that, though my daughters are grown. They have already fallen on it.
One of my first published poems is called “Ariel.” It was published by Goblin Fruit, a fantastical and defunct online magazine. Here it is:
I settled for so little, for so long,
rotting muslin instead of a wedding dress,
wet pebbles he bestowed like pearls.
He kept me as a pet, and I let him,
my hair gone seaweed round my shoulders,
my voice bartered away, leaving me
with half-mad shrieks, porcine grunts and
clumsy gestures that amused him
until I performed my frantic pantomime
at the feet of his new bride,
flopping and heaving as if I still possessed
that column of scaly muscle I traded
for the legs I’d hoped to part for him.
Certainly it mattered that he was killing me?
While my secret gills closed in pink-edged grief,
the priest cried demon and the horrified court stood by,
wheezing with scandal, faces puffed and popping
like those furtive, skimming creatures
on the darkest floors of my father’s house.
My three sisters came to save me, and
they wore the shorn heads of disgraced daughters.
They handed me a sword. The story says
I had a choice, to cleave him as I was cleft,
to find within his sundered trunk
my own salvation.
I ran myself through instead,
but not for love.
(Today’s post is from a prompt, “The Class.”)
In 1970, we’d left South Dakota for Minneapolis, and we were expected to adjust. My sister made friends, but it was hot outside. I don’t do hot, not now, not then.
I was perfectly happy to stay indoors watching “Dark Shadows” and playing a cutthroat version of gin rummy with my older brother. Darkened rooms, vampires, intense card games–there was no such thing yet, but we might have been Goth forerunners.
You’d think our contented happiness would have counted for something, but Mom was not a fan of our housebound state. She announced that she’d signed me up for a children’s theater day camp at a local school.
For one thing, this day camp was at a school and I hated schools. And this was an activity, and I didn’t do activities.
Also, I thought my mother liked me.
Furthermore, my mother had never in my short life signed me up for a thing besides swimming lessons at the YMCA in Aberdeen, and we had to wear swim caps and mine gave me my very first migraine at age seven so I was excused from further classes after I vomited in the pool gutter, sobbing and blinded by auras.
I’d hoped that debacle was enough to excuse me from any further activities that weren’t mandated by law, but Mom was firm. “You’ll enjoy it,” she told me. That was less of a reassurance and more of a command.
Whether or not I wanted to go, I would.
This honestly was not like my mother. I think she’d been unduly influenced by my (then) stepfather (soon to be adoptive father). As I’ve mentioned before, he had a good, solid, Minnesota upbringing, replete with standard childhood activities, which he had enjoyed.
I blame him. He must have told my mother I needed to get out of the house more.
At any rate, I’m not sure how she heard about this program. I’m even less sure how she thought it would apply to me. As a child, I was either silent in social situations, or funny. Like, really funny. This “really funny” side was an elaborate coping mechanism for crippling shyness. I hadn’t perfected its construction at age nine or ten. I tended more towards silent, with my mute introversion misinterpreted as either standoffishness or stupidity.
Children’s theater didn’t seem promising.
But, Mom said, so off I went. My expectations were as low as my mood.
We met in the gym. I hated schools in part because they contained gyms.
Anyway, on the first day, the teacher passed out a script and explained that we would be building sets, making costumes, and putting on this play. I don’t remember the title. I’ve done a little googling, and turned up nothing. Maybe this play is lost to the mists of time. Maybe she wrote it, because the gender ratio was just right. There were many more girls than boys in that class.
The plot was simple. A King and Queen decide that the Prince has to get married. The Prince enlists the help of a wily Wizard to find him a bride. The Wizard interviews a bunch of princesses, who present themselves for inspection/rejection based on attributes contained in their royal titles.
I don’t remember their actual names, and I don’t remember how many there were, but the idea was straightforward. There was a vain princess, something like Princess Always-Looks-In-the-Mirror. Another was clumsy, so her name was something like Princess Falls-Down. Various attributes, like silliness and greed and gossip, would be mined for the hearty laughs Midwesterners reserve for character flaws. I looked through the roles and knew I was destined for one role.
I remember her royal title very clearly.
I wasn’t lazy (well kinda) but I was tall, taller than all the boys and a few of the teachers at age ten. I’m sure sitting in the house had left me more than a little stocky, too.
I knew my fate. I’d be the large, slow, sleepy princess who would be just one more reject as the Prince made his way to Princess Perfect-And-Definitely-Not-Me.
The teacher retrieved the scripts, and that was that.
This is an aside. I’m not sure why–perhaps the plenitude of strapping Norwegian women in the Dakotas–but there is a marked preference for petite women in the Midwest. If a girl is small, she is exclaimed over in a sort of low-key way that alludes to her not being any bigger than a minute, and oh my she can’t be any bigger than a four year-old, even though she’s eight, and she’s never going to outgrow that little bike, and so on. There is general admiration for being small.
I mentioned this in front of a South Dakotan cousin recently, and she confirmed that being petite (she is, quite) had been a bonus growing up. Conversely, being out-sized carried a penalty. Large is embarrassing and unwelcome. I was treated as a mentally challenged adult from about second grade onward, slow but certainly capable, forever left in charge when teachers left the room. I was also awarded every out-sized role (The Tallest Christmas Tree!) in any skit or play.
So yeah. Big and Lazy was in my future.
Mom wouldn’t have let me.
The first week, we did various acting class exercises, and worked on set design and construction (surprise! we made a CASTLE). We didn’t start learning the script, because no one knew their roles. We wouldn’t be auditioning. Our teacher would assign the parts, so I’m sure she took that first week to learn who we were, and which roles we would be right for.
To my own surprise, I was having enough fun that I could ignore the looming specter of Princess Too-Lazy-to-Move and immerse myself in the process of putting together a show. I came out from behind my wall of silent shyness, and let my campmates in on my sense of humor.
I was enjoying myself. Really. Despite the fact that I was in a school gym, and despite the fact that I knew what role I’d get, I had fun.
The fateful day arrived when the teacher would announce our parts. I sat there, that sick resignation settling in my stomach, enduring the wait until my stupid part was called. I was determined to live through the humiliation, carry on, and have fun anyway.
I didn’t have long to wait, because mine was the first name called.
She’d assigned me the Wizard.
I was shocked. Okay, he was male, that wasn’t ideal, but he was the Wizard. He was in every scene. He conducted every interview with every Princess, and he announced the winner. He was the lead, and every boy in that class had announced his intention to play him.
We made his hat and wand in the class, but I was in charge of my own robes. I commandeered my mother’s royal blue velour hostess robe and attached stars and moons cut from aluminum foil around the hem. I learned my lines, practicing day and night, possibly adding an ad-lib here and there.
On the day of our performance, my family watched from the audience as I brought down the house as the Wizard.
This is not a story about how acting broke me out of my childhood shell to become a happy, popular child in a new city. My time in Edina was fairly rotten in most regards.
This is also not a story about how a drama camp launched me into acting. I did take acting classes in college and loved them, but I was not drawn to being onstage.
I gave birth to an actor, but I’m not one.
This is just a story about how once in a while, the very best thing happens, instead of the very worst.