Here we go!
#TBT/FBF to one of my favorite things I've written. I miss you, True Detective Season One.
When Brandi McManus asked me to come up with a color scheme for this year’s senior prom, my first response was: I don’t give a fuck. However harshly worded, the statement was true. You don’t join Art Club to fuck around with dance committees. But Brandi was a nice girl who had tits like the tops of two fresh-bought Slurpees in the Louisiana sun. Tasty. Tipped in cherry red. Not long for this world.
Back before the brutal murder of Bayou High’s Most Likely to Succeed, Brandi McManus was just a Twinkie shell of humanity force-filled with an aerated blend of sugar, spice, and everything nice. But that fluffy core, so light and sweet on the tongue, was really a toxic concoction of desires based on biological imperatives and ideological conflagrations set on a collision course since conception. Brandi had a preacher for a daddy and a hard-on for God. She wanted the arms of a savior to wrap her up in salvation promised to her every Sunday for a thousand years. But she also wanted earthly pleasures. Natural desire as filtered through sins of the flesh. Rough trade.
As an example of the male brain at its finest-or at very least most Advanced Placement, among Bayou High’s student body- I can attest to the power of self-discovery through sexual exploration. Sure, we dress up the quest for carnal knowledge of our own and others’ bodies in the moth-eaten sport coat of “dating,” but there is nothing “going steady” will teach us about our own basic instinct to enter the flesh of another and restructure it as our own that can’t just as easily be learned in dark parking lots and back rooms at parties. When it comes to fucking, love and redemption aren’t part of the deal. The chimera of intimacy is just the contact high given off by banging. You can pin a girl but not pin a girl. You know?
Who’s to say if Brandi did or didn’t. But like most girls at Bayou High, she went searching for a savior and found a pimp. What she didn’t find was his money in time for whatever endeavor he intended to use it for. That, or words of warning to her so-called “loved ones” before her tete-a-tete with certain death.
I must disclose that I have shared many a chili cheese fry with the deceased.
As far as human beings can misinterpret their dependence on over-processed food products as love, Brandi loved chili cheese fries. “This is real soul food,” she would say, every time we went and got them on the pre-sexual rituals most of you in the room refer to as “dates.”
That shit she called soul food, hell, that shit we call souls, is solely full of shit. Both are jacked full of synthetics to make them seem authentic. And who can tell the difference anymore? The rotten from the whole? Who cares? The truth and the lie taste the same. As long as it goes down easy, bon appetit.
Now, I guess since I was the last person to have sexual intercourse with Brandi in the flimsy context of romantic love before she was beaten to death in the backwoods by a pimp I had honestly only begun to suspect was an integral element of her secret sexual life or at least financial lifeline since her daddy cut her off for associating with, and I quote, my “fucked-up verbose ass,” it falls to me to eulogize her at the fucking prom she fucking planned so fucking perfectly.
We all claim to have words in the event of some dark tragedy. A magic fucking spell to undo the inevitable track of time, cutting through the bullshit of our lives sure and steady as a scalpel on the skin. But man ain’t magic. The only spell we can cast against time is our own denial. And Denial is more than a river in Egypt, but it’s less than what’s needed to turn back time. Still. If words were time and time were magic, I’d say to Brandi and all the crazy pussy like her: If you’re looking to get saved, you’ll only be stolen. There are thieves in the woods, little red. Not to mention wolves.
Enjoy this final color scheme from beyond the pale, my dear. Blood red for your memory. Shit brown for reality. Like pizza. What is prom but a poisoned pizza party, before the candy binge of college, then a long slow shuffle into mediocrity, marked finally and unremarkably by a quiet, fat man’s death? It’s “your” night, friends. Have the time of your lives while those of us who understand it’s unrelenting destructive power opt to indulge in psychadelics to manipulate it in hopes of buying more, doubling back, getting to those woods in “TIME.”
It has occurred to me, and several less dynamic members of the dance planning committee, that this material may weigh a little heavy on the crowd tonight. This is “your night,” after all. A grotesque pageant where colt-legged youth play at being grownups, wasting their lifeblood on a doomed dance floor of-
I’ve prepared some jokes. What do you call cheese that’s not yours?
What do you call cheese that is a primarily synthetic byproduct of something initially intended in its organic state as nourishment for same-species young, stolen from inoculated mothers and mutated into a neon-orange condiment Americans use to drown arterial function and over-salted tortilla chips?
I’m going to detective school. Have a great goddamn prom.
Here are some things I want you to know about me:
1) I do not like it when people say to “keep positive!” when bad things happen or are happening. I think this phrase is about as helpful as someone looking at a fatal wound and loudly telling the wounded “You should really go to the doctor!”
2) I have, as most are having or have had, a lot of elements present in my rich, full, wonderful life that would cause many people to not know what else to say but “uh...keep...positive?” That’s fine. It’s a default phrase of comfort and we are encouraged to share default phrases of comfort with one another when we a)care and don’t know what the hell else to say b) don’t care and don’t know what else to say.
3) C) What I really don’t like is when people start believing the default phrase of comfort and feel like they are doing something bitterly wrong by not following the edict of the phrase “KEEP POSITIVE!” You can keep your head on straight without keeping blisteringly, impossibly, brightly positive. The only people I tolerate the latter kind of positivity from are very young pop stars or survivors of body-wrenching diseases who have found new freedom in wearing silk caftans and rubies to brunch. At midnight.
4) I grew up on the final, forest-preserved fringe of the Chicago Southland, before it turns into farmland or Car-and-Coach-Bag-Selling Metropoli, about twenty miles southwestish of where we are now, where the main roads are lined with trees and the dead. The only thing more prevalent than tiny split-levels and cemeteries in my hometown are woods, so. This is my inherent visual default metaphor. Little Red Riding Hood is my fairy tale. Woods tempt and terrify me, as they likely do us all.
5) When I was a youngin, I read a book about making it out of the woods that stuck close with me. If you haven’t read it, I’m going to ruin it for you, but in the best way because if you haven’t read it by now, you never will. Sorry.
6) I really want to call the book Girl Hatchet. This is not to confuse it with Boy Hatchet. Boy Hatchet is really called “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. Girl Hatchet is really called “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” and it’s by Stephen King. Girl Hatchet and Boy Hatchet are both stories about survival, in the face of immense physical and emotional danger.
In Boy Hatchet, a 13-year-old boy has to figure out how to survive with naught but a hatchet his mom gave him and his wits, after the pilot of the little Cessna he’s on dies of a heart attack. The boy is lost in the woods of New York or Canada, where he crash-lands the plane into a lake, and figures out how to use his trusty hatchet to kill a bunch of woodland creatures and make fire, all while dealing with the divorce–and his knowledge of his mom’s secret affair. Tough break, thinking about your mom being an adult who has different drives/depths/darkness than maybe she ever expected, while you have to kill slugs to survive. But, spoilers, the kid lives at least long enough for two more survival books to be written about him.
In Girl Hatchet, what I will biasedly also refer to as the Hatchet of my Heart, a nine-year-old girl is traveling with her mom and brother after their parents’ recent divorce in the woods of Maine. The girl’s brother is hotly angry about the divorce, and can’t stop arguing with their mother about it. Our girl hangs back to avoid jumping into the fray, takes a quick pee off the beaten path, before promptly sliding down a ravine to her possible doom. Who can’t relate?
She is lost in the woods for 9 days, with her Walkman and her trashy snacks. Her hatchet, so to speak, is her clear head, and her imagination. When the going gets really tough for our girl, she imagines she is being watched over by none other than her crush and sports idol, Tom Gordon, a real baseball player who played for the Red Sox at the time the book came out.
By hallucinating the dreamwatcher “Flash” Gordon, and being smart about divvying up her last rations of Twinkies and Surge and calling on her memory of a Little House on the Prairie book to follow a water source to civilization, our girl might just survive...until, of course, she either hallucinates or realizes she is being hunted by either a bear OR something called the God of the Lost, a creature built of bugs and death and craven hunger for humans wracked with fear. The logic of the God of the Lost follows that, the more scared someone is, the tastier they are.
Our girl does, spoilers, make it through, but only by fully accepting what she cannot, logically, accept: that the world is not only just dark and full of shadows, but it is also full of her mom and brother, real and imaginary Tom Gordon, a rescue team that may or may not give up the search for her at the exact moment she expires, and real and phantasmagoric killer bears.
She acknowledges the truth of this, the great duality of all things, and ultimately, smacks the darker of those things out to eat her up, dead between the eyes with a Walkman she pitches like a baseball.
She closes her game strong not by “keeping positive,” but by keeping her wits about her, and her eyes clear, even though she’s scared shitless and, at this point, fresh out of Twinkies and Surge.
Once she’s dealt with the God of the Lost-slash-standard-issue-actual bear, she’s also sort of rescued by a passing hunter, who doesn’t quite believe his eyes. In a wikipedia article I hastily read while writing this, since I read this book once in 8th grade and remembered everything but the order of the ending, that “even though the hunter helped her, she knew she earned her rescue.”
I wish our default phrase of comfort could be “you will earn your rescue” instead of “keep positive.”
I wish our default response to people in trouble, to people breaking down due to their own design or that of good ol’ Disease or Life or Fate, would not just be, solely, “sorrrrry” or “yikes” or “focus on the good things.” In addition to those, or instead of that and “just have faith” “trust” etc” that we could add to the comfort phrase stable the following, and really believe what we say:
I hope you are clocking your surroundings.
I hope you’re charting your responses.
I hope you’re taking stock of your supplies, and that if you’re pinned under a tree, you are using your mind and my mind and everyone around you’s mind to figure out how to Macgyver the last of them into a crude pulley system to free yourself, or at least the part of yourself that needs freeing most immediately.
I hope you’re numbering your strengths.
I hope your Walkman is charged.
I hope you’re swinging your hatchet. Or your Twinkie. Or your Game Boy. Whatever it is that keeps you sharp, I hope it’s sharpening you.
I hope you’re picturing your Tom Gordon by your side.
I hope you know the only way out is through–if you make it out at all.
I hope you make it out.
I hope you close the game strong.
7) I hope you earn your rescue.
This short play was first performed as a puppet play for a Bowie tribute night at Strawdog Theatre, starring Katie Johnston-Dean as Larissa and Craig Badynee singing. Later, it was performed for the Nerdologues Last Five Years show at The Hideout. Jen Ducharme played Larissa, Craig Badynee sang, and you can watch the whole thing at the 44:35 mark here.
Thank you for coming out tonight! I’m Larissa. I’m honored to be part of this big celebration, and I drew my inspiration from the “Five Years” theme directly from David Bowie. And I wanted to prepare this wild performance in honor of him with an impossible light show and mini LED lights and puppets and everyday objects that I would keep hidden in my outfit until I needed them, and hide intergalactic prayer cards in your coat pockets when you weren’t looking so at the end I could say something like, “pray with me, love” and you’d reach in your pocket and be like WHAAAA MAGIC.
But then I had to pick up another shift at Starbucks and I had no real energy because the world is a trash fire and it was all I could do to just show up tonight.
BUT! I had already committed to doing this, and had already asked my friend Craig, over there, to play the whole spectacle out with a song, so here we are. I will now do the next-best thing to giving you a mind-bending display of impossibly possible magic and wonder to inspire you in this darkest timeline, and instead will tell you a story about myself.
And David Bowie.
But first about myself.
Oh, and before you get excited, no, I did not memorize this story. I wrote it down with the power of voodoo-who do?- you do!- what?
hopefully audience says “Remind me of the babe” but if not it’s okay, it might even be better if they don’t because it will be painful
With the power of writing. I wrote this story with the power of writing. Here we go.
reading from story
I grew up in Midlothian, Illinois. It’s a blue-collar, super working-class suburb just southwest of Chicago. I like to say it’s a town from a Springsteen song, minus the factory. It is definitely a town minus any aspects of a David Bowie song, unless you count the rough parts from Life on Mars.
When I was growing up there In the late 80s and 90s, it was a place that cottoned more to closed-mindedness, Irish-Catholic family legacies, and subpar high school football than to anything sensitive or artistic. As an adult, I know that was less due to a primal evil being slowly leached into the water source, and more because everyone was so damned overworked and underpaid. Still, Midlothian is and was “The Town That Pride Built,” not the town that crybaby art kids built.
And I was DEFINITELY a crybaby art kid. I was my town’s Billy Elliot, but like a Billy Elliot who wasn’t good at dancing. I was the Billy Elliot of having feelings. Feelings I wanted to share with everyone around me, to trade and gather, like POGs. Feelings I thought could build a bridge between me and us and everyone, commonalities running through us all like gold seams through mountains of adversity.
This is not what happened.
Instead, most of the kids in my town did what any kids worth their salt would do when they detected this kind of epic level raw nerve in their midst.
They poked it. Hard.
The result was spending my tender youth crying literally everywhere a human being could cry, at almost all times, to the infinite frustration of well-meaning friends, family, and school mental health staff. The silver lining on this fat black cloud holding court over my youth is that I got to retreat into the age-old sanctuary for sensitive, artistic children everywhere: The Movies!
“Meeting” David Bowie in the movie Labyrinth in these formative creative crybaby years was key in my development of a strong sense of curiosity and self. When my best friend (also a crybaby) and sister (not) and I first got our hands on Labyrinth, I felt that frisson we all feel when we meet someone important to us. That feeling where you just know someone is going to matter to you. Also, at first I thought He was a She. A godmother scaryish lady witch with killer hair and makeup. Jiggling codpiece and questionable moral compass notwithstanding, I took David Bowie for a female role model. A power weirdo I could look up to, emulate, and one day, become.
Then my mom told me: “That’s not a lady, Larissa. That’s David Bowie. “
Okay. So the beautiful, scaryish witch lady was a man. A man that seemed like he came from another planet very far from my tired, tiny, overworked little town. A power weirdo I could look up to, emulate, and one day, become. Ish.
Flash forward to Crybaby Art Kid: Teen Years. Less crying. More eye makeup. I am confident. I am sassy. I am a seventeen-year-old-wannabe-filmmaker who is smarter than everyone and works at Chuck E. Cheese. Where once I found my power source in raw feeling, I now find it in writing in my journal, laughing with my friends, making out with my boyfriend, and spending my Chuck E Cheese money on gas and Used CDs. I am better than everyone in Midlothian and I sing along at the top of my lungs to Ziggy Stardust to prove it. I use my infinite power of introspection to realize I am a unique space flower, and unique space flowers do not get watered in Midlothian, Illinois. I am confident now, and use this confidence to claw my way out of my hometown and into outrageous debt and prestige at New York University.
College is the first place many people who think they need college to develop self-confidence really develop any self-confidence. It’s where they learn they are talented, skilled, sexy. They make some of the truest friends they might ever have in life. They get on a career track that leads them to satisfaction and gainful employment.
I did all that, and then, I choked. I was now surrounded by people who never had to fight to be confident. They just were. Far from my blue-collar brethren’s disdain for frivolous things like art and feelings, I was suddenly surrounded by kids of the rich and famous who got rich and famous for being artistic. I went from feeling like the special-est space flower on the planet to a common space weed. And a very poor one at that.
Until I started having sex dreams about David Bowie.
Again and again, night after night, Bowie gave me orgasms- and life counsel.
We hung out in his moon Jacuzzi and talked about matters of life, art, my friends and enemies. He told me not to worry that I was poor, and that my goals felt impossible to achieve. Then he licked the hell out of my ear. He had a breezy, seen-it-all, fuck-it-and-carry-on attitude that was so unlike mine at the time, that I think there was some element of me tapping into his subconscious in these little sex n’ chats. I know it sounds a little wild, but a girl can dream, right? Har har.
These dreams made me feel a little brighter. A little more in charge. And when I woke up, I took that afterglow into my days. I got dream-screwed by David Bowie, and my non-dream self’s head screwed on straight. Confidence, be mine!
Then one day, I ran into the man himself. Not in a dream, but on Broadway somewhere between Canal and Houston. My friends and I were walking to school, when I saw Iman.
I was distracted by her statuesque beauty, and sort of body-checked the man who looked like David Bowie walking with her. It was only after I apologized and the man said “It’s alright, hello,” in a British accent, did I realize that the man who looked like David Bowie actually WAS David Bowie.
When the shock wore off, about a block further up and away from them, one of the New Yorkiest things to ever happen to me was accented by another of the New Yorkiest things. A group of construction workers who must have also run into David Bowie leaned over their fence and yelled, “That was David Bowie! DAVID BOWIE!” My friends and I shouted back “David Bowie!” And a group of strangers built a little bridge between each other by joyously shouting “David Bowie” into one another’s faces. Since the man was only just a bit south of us at this point, we were all treated to the sound of him faintly laughing as we walked away.
Body-checking David Bowie on the streets of New York was a big moment for me. A magic moment. Not because it was a celebrity encounter, but because it was a celebrity encounter with David Bowie. It made him a person, instead of an alien. Instead of a rock god or Goblin King. He was a living, breathing, human being who slept and woke and ate and cried and farted. Probably.
But, he was also David Bowie.
I think of that moment a lot these days, so many years out of college. So many years spent actively trying to be the Bowie-est version of myself. I’ve had some successes, sure, but I’ve watched so many friends far eclipse me with their own. I’ve never made any money. I’m still essentially working at Chuck E. Cheese, and as thankful as I am for my current job and all its taught me, it’s a far way off from paying from my own artist lab or Moon Jacuzzi. And when it comes to art, I make it, but I haven’t made it. I’ve made a lot of attempts, and maybe wasted a lot of time, and maybe it’s more out of vanity than any desire to grow or change or succeed. So many of my friends are like that, too. And in a time where art making seems important, and maybe a way to communicate ideas that make everyone bristle and shut down or shut people out, it also seems silly. There’s so much else to do, so why pour so much energy into the weird things you happened to be good at when you were a kid? We all have to turn and face the strange. Time may change me, but I can’t trace time. And that.
puts paper down, visibly upset. Back to paper
Maybe that's the gift of Bowie, though. Knowing he existed, and existing during some of the same time he did, gives us the pleasure of trying to be as Bowie as we can be, even if we are all just crybaby art kids who are doomed to fail. Thank you.
Now there are puppet Bowies
What? Who said that?
ALADDIN SANE BOWIE:
HALLOWEEN JACK BOWIE:
Well, we did, if you want to get technical.
ALADDIN SANE BOWIE:
But he’s a more, um, temporally unified version of me. Us.
HALLOWEEN JACK BOWIE:
We’re earlier in the timeline, you see.
And I’m the main Bowie to you, babe.
HALLOWEEN JACK BOWIE:
Because he was your first Bowie.
I can’t believe you thought I was a bird. Flattery!
Oh my god. Aladdin Sane Bowie is trying to talk sense to me.
HALLOWEEN JACK BOWIE:
Halloween Jack, darling. I know you’re sad but don’t add insult to injury.
Sad doesn’t even begin to cover it. Jesus, do you sound dispirited. I was only ever this down on myself when I was out of my head on cocaine. Are you on cocaine?
ALADDIN SANE BOWIE:
…Have you any cocaine?
HALLOWEEN JACK BOWIE:
I’d quite like some cocaine!
I don’t have any cocaine!
Then there’s no need to be so upset.
THIN WHITE DUKE BOWIE:
Did I hear tell the girl’s got some cocaine?
She hasn’t got any bloody cocaine! What she’s got is a bad attitude.
general dismay from Bowies
I don’t have a bad attitude. I’m just being realistic. We can’t all achieve our dreams the way we once thought we could, it’s just not possible!
general pish-poshiness from Bowies
Sounds like you think you’re at some magic age where you ought to have it all done and sorted, when really, that’s no age at all.
Unless you know death is imminent. And you live just long enough to release a final masterwork before expiring.
The day after you-
The day after your birthday. Yes.
Oh right, don’t let’s be smug about it. These versions of myself, yeah? They all thought they were IT. Until they just…weren’t.
ZIGGY STARDUST BOWIE:
Until it was time for the next thing.
ALADDIN SANE BOWIE:
The next costume change.
Yeah but all those versions of you…were still rock-god versions of you. I’m no rock god.
I’m no bloody god.
Well…Yeah, but. Look. People forget about how many times their gods and that cocked it up. And bloody hell, I cocked it up. People forget failures and worship glory, and doom themselves to diamond dust when they could be a diamond dog, scrapping it out in the thick of it just the same. Don’t you remember? I was a fascist for a year. All the cocaine. I talked so much nonsense on television. I made that wretched video with Mick. I never wrote my memoirs. I named my kid Zowie, for chrissake.
And you tried to do that internet thing.
Bowienet, yes, rub salt right in the wound. But this is all part of it, love, the failure and the struggle and success is all part of it. That’s life. It’s beautiful. And it’s yours. The only way you can waste it is to pretend the highs and lows of it belong to somebody else.
Somebody like…the gods.
Gods or other, more successful people. Yeah. Look. Life is what you do with the glorious afterglow of failure. The success after that. Then you fail again. Then succeed.
It's all water for space flower, babe.
It’s all water for the space flower.
That’s the spirit!
Life. A familiar pattern of win, lose, win, lose- shot through with moments of glorious release.
THIN WHITE DUKE:
Or a song.
Craig sings "ROCK AND ROLL SUICIDE." Brings house down.
END OF PLAY.
When I was little, my sister and I grew up next to some boys close to us in age. Their names were Joey and Alex, and I can’t remember which name belonged to which boy, only one was Danielle’s friend and one was mine. And I say “grew up” next to loosely, since the boys likely only lived next door to us for a year. Still, it was a year or a season in a time when we were all young enough to still be small, but big enough to have a little freedom to play undisturbed in our backyards and shared driveway. Small enough to not think each other had cooties, big enough to break rules, trap frogs, pick flowers, and be simultaneously fascinated and afraid of the beautiful woman who was a bona fide witch who lived next door to the boys. She was named Storm, and had a cat named Midnight. Storm was one big thrill of many small ones on our street, her main competition being a creek under the railroad tracks we were strictly forbidden to play at, and a terrifying across-the-street neighbor who got drunk in his front yard and liked to show off a tattoo of a rabbit he had around his belly button.
I’ll let you figure out what part of the rabbit’s anatomy the belly button stood in for as I try to get back on track to these boys, these wonderful boys at the edge of my memory and at the root of every close friendship I’ve had with a man.
I used to have more memories of these boys, crystal visions of things they said or the way they laughed, and now I mostly just remember little images of us and them, and an overwhelming, general feeling of completeness, comfort, and adventure.
These memories, in and of themselves, are likely mixed with other peoples’ stories, all crossed and wrong and mix-matched, but the true ringing thing is the feeling of being known and facing the unknown, Together. The kind of Together only children seem to manage easily- or at least, without being so afraid.
I don’t often go “aw yiss childhood dawww” but this little window of it is drenched in the magic hour of memory and the envy of a time when little minds let themselves hitch up to other little minds to create a big one, a sparkling miniature network of imagination and collaboration, something borderless but individual all the same.
I wish I had some concrete example of What It Was to point to, but instead there is only a flash of me and My One quietly picking violets (weeds), Danielle and Her One playing on our swing set, the sound of them distant while me and My One tried to spy on Storm.
And as an adult sometimes this feeling has rushed through me, during a conversation or event or memory in the midst of being made. It is a dawning feeling, with certain friend-men who let themselves float in a perhaps childlike space of tenderness and play, sensitivity and brashness, goofy, quiet, fun adventure, men who give the gift of relaxed respect and vulnerability to their friends and hopefully themselves, though it is so much harder to do when you’re not small.
I am thinking of those boys I lost, but find again sometimes, without even looking. TBT Y'ALL.
This piece was performed for The Nerdologues Presents: Your Stories in June 2016, in partnership with Breather and Common Threads. You can listen to it here.
I think a lot of us first learn how to love our friends and partners when we first start to LOVE love our friends and partners: when we are moody teens.
For me, this was also the time I first learned to love music. So much of the teenage years involve self-discovery by way of self-definition and self-proclamation. I love this, therefore I am this. Close friends, boyfriends, and oh, say, David Bowie, Morrissey, Belle & Sebastian, and the Cure album Show gave me the blueprint to being myself. I knew who I was because I loved what was me, writ large but small but large across the south suburban roads I would endlessly terrorize with my best friend Jaime, the cd player I would mercilessly abuse with whatever emotionally charged glam rock or sad/Britpop I could find at the used CD store, the backseats I would fall in obsessive, gorgeous love in again and again and again.
Being a teenager is lot like being a toddler, only you have the added benefit of being able to french kiss and write Smashing Pumpkins lyrics in bubble letters on your backpack. You are discovering your body does cool stuff for the first time, in a conscious way. You are discovering your heart feels things, in a conscious way. You are discovering music that no one has before, ever, and it is awesome in the truest sense of the word, and it is yours, and you are infinite, and everything you feel and love is yours yours yours for this moment and forever and you breathe, it, eat it, sleep it until, you know. You discover the next band. Or bestie. Or boyfriend.
What is easy to forget about Teenageland versus Adult Town is that discovery is not necessarily the be-all, end-all of human love. Being endlessly, inextricably wrapped up in anyone or anything else is fun, for a time. But after awhile, you need to come up for air.
Some point along the passing of the torch from the last generation of olds to the current one, I think we confused the old teenage way of loving someone (breathlessly, consumptively, obsessively) with the RIGHT way to love someone. Yes, we pay cultural lip-service to being our own person, keeping a balance in friendships and love relationships, but who out there among us doesn’t feel a flush of “yeahhhhh” when we experience the punchdrunk madness of being part of a “squad”? Having a “ride-or-die”? Finding “true love” and abandoning that when you find an even truer love that makes you feel even more giddy and alive?
I refer to this as the Lisa Frank Stickerfication of Emotionally Regressive and Nihilistic Mad Maxytimes. It is a self-destructive, self-limiting set of behaviors. I don’t want the best way to love a friend or lover to be dictated by an idealized version of the way I did so in the 11th grade.
But when I was 25ish, I met a friend who made me feel like I felt about best friends in the 11th grade. And I was hella Lisa Frank Mad Max-y about it. She was my ride-or-die. She made me feel understood, defined, infinite, beautiful, powerful, un-alone, known. I think I did the same for her.
An immediate click of personalities and sensibilities, we did everything together. We ate, breathed, dreamed each other. We spent all of our time, all of our energy, together. She was married, and I was single. I often wondered why it felt less like we were composed adult friends and more like we were kids, but didn’t care enough to investigate it. It felt too good, having this perfect, no-space, no-breath friendship. I never had to feel alone.
Until she had an affair. And a divorce. And I knew almost every step and every slip down the road to ruin she was running, and I tried to take on all I could until I just…couldn’t, anymore. Or wouldn’t. And as much as I hated to admit it, she had taken on the human role of the Cure’s Show album in the 12th grade: something I loved to death, but just didn’t want to listen to anymore.
I wasn’t outright cruel about this.
I was heartlessly cruel about this.
I downshifted my role in her life as she upshifted into a new group of friends I became alternately wildly jealous of and thankful for. I needed a break, but lacked the emotional wherewithal to say as much clearly. The silence and breath––that had never existed between us––began to last for hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Until a year had gone by, and all I knew of her was gleaned from distant internet stalking. Until all I shared of hers was a past. Until the truest mark of our ride-or-dieness was me not talking as much shit about her as anyone else, because I loved her more. And missed her more. And needed her. Because part of me was her.
Because as bullshit as the ideal of obsessive friendship and love is, it is usually born out of a sense of finding your tribe. Someone who speaks your language. Someone who you get, and who gets you. Who makes you better, or makes you want to be.
David Bowie doesn’t stop being David Bowie just because you’re tired of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.
Katie hadn’t stopped being Katie.
I hadn’t stopped being me.
What I had done, in our year apart, was grow. I learned what it was to make new friends, less obsessively and more healthily. I made so, so, so many mistakes and bad calls. I had my own affair. I fell in love, and out of it. I learned what it was like to be abused. I learned what it was like to stop being abused. I learned what it was like to rebuild myself from scraps out in an emotional desert of my own making. I learned how to follow through on myself, and create my own self-esteem not tied to the love or brain of someone else. I learned what it was like to leave the nursery.
It just took so very, very long to pack up my little backpack of self-actualization and reflection to head back to Katie’s for a sleepover party in our souls.
When we finally reconnected after our very long breather, rebuilding our friendship felt like brutally re-breaking a bone so it could knit together properly.
I would like to see the set of Lisa Frank stickers for that.
I am better friends with Katie now not because we are ride-or-die-bestie-sister-bffs-squadgoals-til-the-end-bitches, but because we are our own people.
Because instead of needing breathers, our relationship has breathing room. Instead of nonstop conversation, we have meaningful ones. A lot of the time they are about boys and UTIs, but the rest of the time they are about our own separate goals, and some shared ones.
One band I grew to love as an adult has a song that goes “Be my head, and I’ll be yours.” I think of that lyric now a lot when I think about what Katie and I share, and even in a lot of my friendships, or about love in general. I like the sentiment. You take a load off for awhile, and I will shoulder it for you. Then you can do the same for me when I need it.
But you can’t be someone’s head for them unless you keep your own. You can only keep your own if you are less ride-or-die and moreso ride-along-side-while-both-being-alive-and-enjoying-the-experience-along-with-a-multitude of others.
You can only do that if you know the complete blueprint to being yourself is not locked up in one other person alone. It’s scattered like the best used clothes and CDs, in bins and racks all over the damn place, and you will spend your life finding it. You can only be someone’s head if your own is clear.
If you find the next, grown-up way to love someone.
And if you breathe.
This tale was performed at the International Tom Hanks Day Your Stories event, presented by The Nerdologues, in March 2016. You can listen to it here.
I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say most of the people in the audience watched their first Tom Hanks movie when they were a kid. And, since we were all likely between the ages of six and twelve when we first caught The Burbs or Big or Sleepless In Seattle, Tom Hanks first appeared in our individual and collective subconscious not as the young, affable movie star he was in his first heyday but as someone kind of…old.
Boyish, sure. Charming, yeah. But old enough to be a young dad. Or young detective. Or young vague sort of businessman. He was young enough to have what my middle-aged fifth-grade teacher mysteriously deemed “presence”, but old enough to wear suits, buy plane tickets, have sex, and be mad at his neighbors. Plus, he was the cinematic embodiment of something rarely existent in movies, or even life today:
The reluctant but reliable romantic.
Could you count on Tom Hanks to pull out all the stops on a first date? No, but you sure as hell could count on him to pull together a really winning montage of eleventh-hour, get-the-girl romance once he pulled his head out of his ass and realized this. Was. IT!
Because of the cinematic antics of “young” (old) Tom Hanks, we pre-aughts kids knew at least what the movie version of grown-ups did or ought to do. They were funny and grumpy and did big things for love when it came down to it- while wearing a rumpled, slim-fitting grey suit.
Sometimes there was baseball. Sometimes there were mermaids. Often there was Meg Ryan. But always, always, always there was Tom Hanks being the good guy, the real guy, the old-enough-to-be-your-dad guy.
Tom Hanks was the face of adulting when adulting was just called being an adult.
And, when we were all kids, we knew it would take us sooooooo super long to become our version of Tom Hanks-level grownup. By the time we did, we’d probably own two houses with the love of our lives (one in New York and one in London), and all be successful marine biologists with a rainbow tie-dye fashion sideline. When we weren’t also being an actress. And a writer. And an independent but effective private detective. Who owned ponies.
Yet, here we all are.
Tom Hanks was a movie star in the prime of his youth, and we…
We are all in the subprime of our youth.
People freak out about this.
Yet a unique group of people tend to freak out about it this in what is an at best, entertaining, and at worst, teeth-gratingly obnoxious way:
If you are or have met a creative type, you know a fortunate-slash-unfortunate side effect of being one is an impressive but soul-sucking desperation to leave some mark, any mark, of yourself and opinion on the face of the world forever until the heat death of the universe and perhaps beyond.
By the time you’re 25.
When this in all likelihood doesn’t pan out, said creative types can turn to strange outlets to achieve some semblance of satisfaction in the search of their fool headed goals.
One of those outlets is the Internet. More specifically, Twitter.
And before I get into the meat of this, I want to let you in on a little secret. I, myself, am a “creative type.” One of my best friends, Katie, is as well. And though we may look not a day over 18, we are in fact more than a smidge older than 25. We don’t own houses. We don’t own ponies. We don’t own our own independent but effective detective agency or rainbow tie-dye fashion sideline.
But what we do own and did, even in the early years of our friendship, is an endless love for each other and an endless desire to make something of ourselves.
And what we did own, along with a few other creative type friends of ours a few years ago, was a shit-ton of free time to make fake Twitter accounts.
It started as a bit between the two of us in 2013. A bit is what comedy folk call a joke, but the joke is usually only funny to the ones making it. But this bit went a bit …beyond.
In 2013, I was running an afterschool program and Katie was an assistant to a millionaire asshole. We carried out both jobs with mixed satisfaction, and a running joke for us both was our love of the movies of our youth and her fanatic devotion- and sexual attraction- to young Tom Hanks. One way or another, we ended up each creating a fake Twitter account. Her, one as Young Tom Hanks. Me, one as Young Meg Ryan.
There are few ways more bizarre or satisfying than acting out your own deep but platonic same-sex friendship than by role-playing as young Tom Hanks and young Meg Ryan on Twitter, and we played this oddity to the hilt. At first, our playful Nora Ephron-esque Twitter banter just struck our friends as “another weird thing Larissa and Katie are doing to amuse themselves.”
The tweets mixed “real” reality with movie reality, and our Young Tom Hanks and Young Meg Ryan fell in the same strained and sassy sort of love their characters did again and again onscreen. Until Young Meg Ryan met Young Dennis Quaid, of course.
Until other “Youngs” started adding themselves to the conversation.
The bit between Katie and I became a bit between a small group of our friends…we thought? We didn’t know who anyone was “playing,” and our Twitter notifications became a surreal blast from a past we never actually lived as Young Julia Roberts cropped up. Young Keanu Reeves. Young Michael J Fox. Hell, even Young Eric Stoltz showed up. And Young Teri Garr. A panoply of movie stars who were young in the 80s/90s of our youth were suddenly young again, and on Twitter, talking about getting stood up or coked up or traveling back in time.
It was a strange- very strange- fever that was spreading throughout a group of twelve or fifteen of us. It went beyond a shared bit quickly, as people “chose” their “Youngs” because they matched some aspects of who the tweeter was, or wanted to be. People “played” multiple “Youngs,” as well, and I found myself falling in love with my own creation of a Young Chris Walken, who tweeted odd non sequiturs and pointed observations when he wasn’t showing off his tap skills. On Twitter.
I found some small part of myself becoming the awkward man with a dancer’s body and psychopath’s brain I have always suspected lives inside my own awkward human woman body- and I was loving it.
Other people were loving it, too. The shy friend who found ease and grace in being a witty Young Robert Downy Junior. The bigger guy who got to be handsome Young Chevy Chase. The private, remote friend who got to weird it up as Young Keanu Reeves. The loveless lass who got to tear up the night as Young Teri Garr, banging her way through The Old New Young Hollywood. On Twitter.
In the dead of night, before the real people went to sleep, in the pink of morning, as we all groggy and giggling checked our phones, in the lunchtime crunch we all started to feel less alone, less not-so-young anymore, together.
If it sounds like I’m talking about a cult, it SHOULD sound like I’m talking about a cult. Whatever strange fire burns in the hearts and minds of cult members just before they drink the Kool-Aid or put on their death Nikes, Katie and I and our friends were feeling our own. We weren’t just pretending to be the young old young versions of our childhood movie stars anymore.
We were becoming them.
Until the Twitter feds shut the Young Tom Hanks Twitter account down.
Before the collective “Youngs” could recover from the shock, so, too, Big Brother struck down Young Meg Ryan. Young Val Kilmer caught some static, too, but really. What surprise was that?
The real surprise was that a handful of joke Twitter accounts with nay but twenty followers between them really posed a threat to any of the real celebrity brands we were co-opting. The fever to “free the Youngs” now supplanted our fever to be “the Youngs.”
We hashtagged #FREETHEYOUNGS, we at tagged, we begged the nameless, faceless Powers That Be to spare our dreamtweet versions of ourselves.
And perhaps, within two weeks of this strange phenomenon of feeling like we were our childhood movie heroes born again, some ageless legends returned to roam the Twitter-earth in full guts and glory…
…The fever broke.
And we weren’t The Youngs anymore.
We weren’t fake famous. We weren’t fake in love. We weren’t fake legends.
We were just real.
Boyish, girlish, yeah. Charming, sure. But old enough to buy plane tickets. To wear suits. To be mad at our neighbors. To have sex. Reliably. Romantically. Old enough to be funny and grumpy and do big things for love when it came down to it.
To leave that of ourselves, at least, on the face of the world forever, until the heat death of the universe, and perhaps beyond.
Hashtag Free the Youngs.
Thank you. Goodnight.
In 2008, near the time Obama was elected, he stopped into the bookstore I worked at in Hyde Park. I didn’t notice the security sweeping the store because I was covertly reading a young adult novel at my post. A gravelly voice made of smoked honey dreams asked me to be let into the bathroom. It was kept locked and you had to escort people in with the store key. When I looked up into the face of Barack Obama, I audibly yelped and even more audibly dropped my young adult novel. I tripped all over myself letting him into the bathroom, and when he returned to order a very impressive, title-lost-to-memory book from me I nervously asked him, “just one copy, or two?”
He smirked (not unkindly) and said, “Just the one.”
He gave it a second and added, “For now.”
And he smirked again and bought about twenty books for his children. I think of this every time I listen to an interview with him, or am painfully awkward with someone.
So I guess I am never not thinking about this.
Here’s a witty thing that will save the world
Here’s a witty thing that will show I’m cool
Here is a baby
Here is a cat
Here is a baby goat
Here is a meme
Here is a politics
Here is a baked good
Here is a recipe
Here is opinion
Here is proof I am better than everyone
Here is proof I am lonely
Here is proof I am Doing It
Here’s photographic evidence I won’t die alone
Here’s photographic evidence I am dying, I am lonely, I am happy and joyful and nervous and scared
Here is the small glowing altar I pray to with my thumbs
NOTE: This piece originally appeared on my Tumblr in 2015, and all of the photos I posted have been lost mysteriously to the sands of time/the vengeful ghost of Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright was a piece of work, and if he is reading this from some great Taliesen in the sky, I hope he thinks I am a piece of work, too. -LZ
Frank Lloyd Wright is often regarded as the greatest of all American architects. He could also be regarded as the greatest jerk of all American architects.
If you know anything about architects, that’s saying something.
If you know nothing about architects, you may still know Wright’s work. Jerk or not, he’s the brains behind The Guggenheim Museum. Fallingwater. Unity Temple. The Robie House. The Graycliff Estate. The Johnson Wax Headquarters. Many FLW buildings still stand all over the United States, just waiting for you to Instagram them!
Wright was a huge proponent of the Prairie School style of architecture that originated in the Midwest at the turn of the 19th century, which developed as a reaction against mass production as well as the overwhelming, hyper-intricate Victorian architecture that ruled the day. Equal parts geometric and organic, FLW’s long and low designs look like something as mid-century modern as a Mad Men set- only they first hit the scene in the late 1800s, sixtyish years before the original Mad Men were hitting bottles on their lunch breaks.
Fancy, Simple Shelf with Fancy, Simple Chair in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, IL
Frank Lloyd Wright worked with his team to create homes (and later, super fly office and municipal buildings) that blended beautifully with their flat-as-all-get-out environs. It may seem like a no-brainer now that architects would attempt to create some harmony between nature and their designs, but at that time this concept was as fresh as getting your groceries delivered by a drone.
And just like the inevitable George Jetson-ing of groceries, Frank Lloyd Wright’s design ideas caught on like wildfire. As did his ego. Known for being a wildly brilliant man, he was just as known for being wildly vain, controlling, intimidating, manipulative, selfish, cruel, and into wearing capes.
Maybe part of his jerkiness stemmed from the early recognition everyone had for his genius. Frank Lloyd Wright was so ahead of his time, it’s almost like he was being played by Christopher Lloyd using the power of time travel to build groundbreaking, fancypantsily simple architecture for the super wealthy and powerful. Christopher Lloyd Wright. Just saying. It’s a time travel trilogy I’d watch.
See Frank Lloyd Wright’s real bed- But do not touch it! You will be scolded if you touch it.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s real (and simply fancy) arched hallway.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s real toilet. Still simple. Less fancy.
A real baby in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio who could care less about being in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio.
The studio that puts the “Studio” in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio.
A protege of that other great sass of Chicago Architecture, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright followed suit in expressing a tireless work ethic behind his studio doors- and also beneath his mistresses’ sheets.
One of his most famous paramours was Mamah Cheney, a (married) high-society feminist who took up residence in a home FLW built expressly for living in sin in Wisconsin. The pleasure palace was called Taliesin, a name now forever associated with Welsh poets and tragedy. One day, an angry employee of the couple burned the home down- after hatcheting Mamah, her children, and other employees to death. The killer later died after a botched suicide attempt by way of drinking hydrochloric acid, that ultimately led to death by starvation.
Lifetime still has not made a movie of this.
Let’s just look at this beautiful gingko tree outside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park and try not to think about axe murderers.
Frank Lloyd Wright must have saved his originality for his architecture, because when he rebuilt Taliesin he named it Taliesin II: Son of Taliesin. When it, too, perished in fire, he rebuilt his home again. Never to be daunted by public opinion or murderers, he named this iteration of the home Taliesin III: Days of Future Taliesin. However, he spent most of his time at a residence of his in Scottsdale, AZ- named Taliesin West.
Stork ornamentation outside the Oak Park home and Studio. Each stork is named Taliesin.
The Oak Park home and studio is where FLW lived in his pre-Taliesin days. Before he walked out on his wife and six children, FLW did a lot of work and entertaining in Oak Park. Accounts state that Wright loved to use design to intimidate friends and clients. He purposely built doorframes lower than normal so he could watch his poor guest dum-dums rack themselves when they misgauged their clearance. An architectural genius for creating rooms within rooms using alcoves and furniture design, he was a frontrunner in jerkitectural genius by further discomforting his guests with ultra-straight, high-backed chairs they couldn’t get comfortable in. Windows in his meeting rooms and studio are high up, bathing these work areas in light but guarding from spying eyes.
No one in space can hear you scream, and no one in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio can hear you cry after he takes credit for your contributions to his designs.
Dry your tears, Tim. The sun can’t do it for you. Not down here. In hell!
But…But I drew the plans and I-
Quiet, Tim. Let it go. You’re his now.
You could have a pleasant conversation in Frank Lloyd Wright’s library.
But you who would believe you?
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park runs tours seven days a week. If you’re in Chicago, get inside the mind of the Kanye West of American Architecture here.
Mind the doorframes.
There’s nothing like a stroll through a fancy cemetery to remind yourself that life is short and you don’t have enough money to build yourself an obelisk.
While strolling through Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, you have to wonder how many illustrious folks from the city’s past would scoff at you for daring to dream so small.
“Obelisks are cute. My tomb’s on a private island. ”
-Ghost Daniel Burnham
What Ghost Daniel Burnham failed to mention about his final resting place (aside from how he earned it by being one of Chicago’s biggies of architecture and urban planning) is that it’s located in the bosom of Lake Willowmere- a bosom that is decidedly Almost A in comparison to Lake Michigan’s Double D.
Graceland was founded in the late 1860s as the ultimate gated community for Chicago’s high-falutin’ dead. Still active, this home-for-bones has more than lived up to its mission. Chicago architecture and industry bigwigs fill Graceland’s rolling lawns and elaborate crypts. Louis Sullivan, Martin Ryerson, Mies van der Rohe, Marshall Field, and George Pullman are just some of the old salts resting in peace in a landscape designed by H.W.S. Cleveland and O.C. Simonds.
If such names mean nothing to you, don’t let their spirits hear you shrug. These guys and their families dropped serious cash constructing monuments to their own legacies. And pyramid huts don’t come cheap.
Potter and Bertha Palmer, two of Chicago’s highest of old-timey rollers, take the cake with their funerary finery. Known for once owning and pwning most of State Steet, the Palmers are laid to rest in a pair of neoclassical sarcophagi. Three generations of their family line are laid to rest in the floor beneath them.
Rule number one of being part of a dynastic family: come first, or it’s floor graves for you.
George Pullman, another poppin’ P name of Chicago history, has a pretty swank grave himself. My friends and I ate chips on it.
Pullman is famous for designing the Pullman sleeper car and a company town from hell. Three years after a messy strike motivated by Pullman’s anti-labor practices in said town, Pullman died of a heart attack. His family worried that retribution for Pullman’s extortion and cruelty might cut the “P” from the whole “R.I.P.” thing, so they lined his casket with lead and double-dipped it in concrete before topping it with a gloriously expansive memorial bench and- you guessed it -obelisk.
3 Ideas for Family Fun at Graceland Cemetery
How many masonic society symbols can you spot on the graves of Chicago’s forefathers and mothers, foreaunts and uncles?
Find the Awkward Sphinx
Though a cemetery that is still accepting applicants, many of those laid to rest in Graceland were buried in a time where ancient Egypt was all the rage. A very prominent Chicagoan seems to have chosen to have his face etched onto a sphinx. Can you guess who it is?
Eat Chips on George Pullman’s Grave
Just be sure to clean up the chips when you’re done.
Enjoy your visit. Plan your obelisk.
It’s apparently the 12th anniversary of the last episode of Buffy. That’s a weird anniversary to celebrate, but celebrate it I shall, with fan art!
I watched Buffy lovingly and in awe when I was in high school, on a faux-wood-paneled TV the size of two hundred MacBook Airs strapped together. I don’t think I was technically allowed to watch Buffy because a) I was the kind of teenager not allowed to do things on a regular basis and b) it did look pretty edgy and occult-y in TV spots at the time. Still, I would switch over from the acceptable-to-watch Gilmore Girls to this scandalously smart show where the characters talked like my friend Jaime and I did, and were also Interesting and Hot.
“Conversations with Dead People” was one of my favorite episodes, and largely responsible for me not being able to write anything fictional without also thinking- could I squeeze a wisecracking ghost into this?
The episode is broken into vignettes, unlike most other episodes of the show, and Buffy has an unexpected, Breakfast Club-like chat with a guy she went to high school with who has recently died and gone vampire.
The mood of it struck me as so strangely adult. Buffy was ancient to me at the time, being a grown woman of 20. She had a calling, she had sex, her mom had died, and she had a sister/plot device to care for. This was a far cry from my teenagerly responsibilities, but the tone tipped in ends and regrets caught my eye and ear. Buffy and her classmate quipped about inferiority, superiority, secrets, and shame…and then they fought to the death!
It was maybe one of the first times the idea of being in the eye of the storm registered with me, albeit on a fictional level. We know what’s coming, it isn’t good, but we go towards it. With wary eye, sassy mouth, wooden stake drawn.
The guy was pretty cute, too.