Saturday, May 30, 2009

Speaking of Celebrity Crushes

“Ewan McGregor? I love him.”

We were seated on the top story of a double decker bus, not red but covered in adverts, nestled into a seat at the back and overlooking Oxford street. She was my roommate, accompanied by her boyfriend, and I was her father’s old friend’s Canadian daughter. We were discussing the theatre.

“I thought you would say that you liked him, or that he‘s a good actor.” She laughed, turning to her boyfriend for affirmation of her wit. “But no, ‘I love him,’ ‘we are meant to be together.” She spoke in a deadpan, having the good grace not to attempt an imitation of my accent. I laughed along side her, feeling slightly intimidated by her quick tongue, which was an uneasy feeling I carried throughout my time abroad. Whenever I tried to join into the gentle, observant jabbing, I ended up coming off harsh or obvious. Bless her, they’d say, she’s Canadian.

Ewan McGregor, who was not Canadian, was starring in a production of Guys and Dolls. Working in London’s West End, I walked past the posters daily. The many theatres nestled into that tiny stretch of Soho attracted American stars, like Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer, and the lesser David Schwimmer (who my spell check insists does not exist). I thought this was interesting, and it made me feel like I was part of a time and place which might someday matter, to someone, at some distant point in time, like I regard flappers today or others think of hippies and California or old New York. My current situation would pale in comparison, but it was nonetheless an exotic feeling of cultural relevance. Wheatley, Ontario, my home town of eleven-hundred, made no such worldly claims.

Adding to this feeling was my employment, which was as an usher for Mary Poppins, an up-and-coming musical, based on the novels and the Disney movie, which had premiered that year to great reviews. Eventually, the show would be exported to Broadway, where I would see it on the Tony awards and scoff at the actress playing Mary, who paled in comparison to Laura Michelle Kelly, whose voice was more angelic and overall form simply…better. The original cast was spectacular.

I had applied to all the theatres, and shudder to think of where I might have ended up. Ushers, or front-of-house staff, as we were called, were expected to sit in for a portion of the play to ‘observe the audience’ and keep an eye out for things going horribly wrong, as things will tend to do. This inevitably exposes the usher to the play itself, over and over again, eight times a week, until you find yourself knowing every word and intonation, every understudy, and picking up bits of choreography. The songs of Mary Poppins were catchy and thus repeated nonstop in my head, but the musical experience, even on its eightieth viewing, was never completely dull. Death of a Salesman, playing down the road, couldn’t make that claim on its opening night, and I wondered how the ushers there survived, and if they were all depressed, and if they were, at least, paid a better wage for their labor. Mary Poppins was truly a godsend.

The only place I’d have rather worked would be Guys and Dolls, playing at the Piccadilly.

The theatre was smaller, dingy and cramped compared to the majesty of the King Edward and all of its red carpet glory. Because Mary Poppins was new and exciting, our audience played host to a throng of celebrities, from Britney Spears to Michael Jackson and the Israeli Prime Minister, though most before and after my employment. Guys and Dolls, older than time, would not have attracted such crowds, despite the prestige of its cast and its equally rave reviews. So, the lure of the theatre was questionable at best.

Objectively, I knew, Mary Poppins offered a better working experience during my time in London, and a conveniently quintessentially British one, to boot. Guys and Dolls offered no such perks, and even as I entered the doors of the theatre, and I saw the dark, jaded eyes of the ushers there, holding their velvet rope, I didn’t doubt it for a second. Ewan McGregor was in that theatre, and thus that theatre was the best place to be.

Getting to see the production was no easy task. I worked every evening and on afternoons for matinees, and so the only available performance was a single, weekly matinee which did not happen to overlap with Mary Poppins. Also of concern was the fact that I could not afford a ticket, which could be gauged at up to fifty pounds apiece. The only solution was to line up outside at six a.m.. Each day a row of seats for that afternoon or evening’s perform was released, at a heavily discounted rate, for those who were willing to brave the fatigue and the rain. The seats were usually considered undesirable, in rows with a limited view, and I accepted this with undeterred enthusiasm - a squinted, half-formed view of Ewan McGregor was still a view of Ewan McGregor. I waited, patiently.

A fellow Canadian coworker had joined me on this journey and, as we waiting in line, for hours, we recited the entirety of Mary Poppins, in off-key tones and imitated accents. This probably annoyed those around us, but it wasn’t as if we had a choice. The musical was our white noise, never stopping in its circulation and expanding to fill any idle moment, perfectly, intractably, until we really couldn’t help but burst into song. Besides, at least one person ahead of us had cut in line - this was their punishment.

Eventually, the doors opened, and my friend and I stepped inside and acquired our tickets, which informed us that our seats were situated near the centre of the very first row. Over a lunch of chips and spotted dick, we squeaked with glee and then told ourselves, stoically, to prepare for the worst. Front row seats are often terrible, especially if the stage is too high; the view can be cut in half or completely obscured for shorter audience members, and any use of on-stage fog leads to complete oblivion in a cloudy nightmare. I wondered if Guys and Dolls would need fog, but couldn’t be sure.

After lunch, I feigned nonchalance as we made our way back to the theatre, biting the inside of my cheeks in eager anticipation.

Arriving at our seats, we found that the stage was not too high - in fact, it was unusually low, granting us the perspective of sitting, cross-legged and stooped, directly on stage. Below was the orchestra, tuning their instruments, and I gulped. Don’t be too excited, I cautioned myself, it’s only your one chance to see the love of your life, in person, two feet away from you… Eeeeeee!


Perhaps I should interject here and explain myself, or at least provide some clues. My admiration for the Scottish actor nearly twice my age began with the film Moulin Rouge, a film which I happened to watch at least once a day, on my laptop, while studying for exams during the previous university semester. His character in the film is, essentially, the perfect man - the only flaw being a certain puppy-dog passivity which was easily ignored in the name of good looks, a Scottish accent, and singing ability whilst standing atop an elephant.

A short while later, after the end of exams, I discovered Trainspotting, and felt a similar desire to view the film repeatedly and let its every moment seep into the deep recesses of my subconscious. Trainspotting is far more disturbing than its musical bohemian counterpart, and despite Nicole Kidman’s death from tuberculosis, I’d never considered Moulin Rouge to be anything but a happy film. Trainspotting was not a happy film, or even a not-unhappy film, but it kept me watching, again and again, caught up in its masterfully artistic folds. Ewan McGregor was not solely responsible for the beauty and intrigue of either movie, but at the same time he could not be separated out - there is no Trainspotting or Moulin Rouge without him. His ability and commitment to his roles can, and one day will, burn down a house. The man is that good.

Admiration does not equal undying love - a love that was born with the reading of The Long Way Round, which was the co-authored memoir of the actor’s journey around the world by motorcycle with a friend. Everyone I know who has read the book has come away with the same thought: Ewan McGregor is really a great guy. Down to earth, friendly, personable, without a slimy layer of smarm or sleaze. A man who loves his wife and kids. A man who challenges prejudice, sometimes, and really just likes riding his bike into the sunset. Really, truly, the perfect man. Love.

My love is laced with tragedy, for I will never be with Ewan. Even if we were to meet, which seems unlikely given our differing social circles and continents, there would be no chance of mutual attraction. Ewan has made out with some of the hottest women of our time, and he remains deeply enraptured by his wife, who in his book he calls simply ‘my Eve.’ And even if lightning would strike, and we were to meet, and he were to find my short stature and big ears oddly alluring, still the love could never be. Ewan loving me would make him into an odd, philandering, lesser man, and I could never do that to him. Alas, my wretched, wilting heart, alas.

The closest I will ever get is staring up from an audience as he exists, enveloping Sky Masterson, in a different world two feet away. And perhaps that is close enough. I swear, during a long moment staring at the crowd, he almost looked right at me.

When we galloped back to the King Edward to get ready for that evening’s show, our fellow ushers asked us about the play, about our seats, and about the performance of Ewan McGregor. “So, basically, when he was onstage, you were within spitting distance?”

“Yes.” I beamed, proudly. “Yes, I was."

Goodbye, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Last night, a new coworker shat all over my dream of going to Ireland to seek out and acquire a husband.

“They're all so conservative,” she stated and now, knowing her heritage, I could catch the Belfastian lilting drawl. She mentioned how everyone, inevitably, knew of each others families, and she mentioned the pervading and everyday influence of the Church.

I sighed, the sigh one sighs when their dreams are shattered into bits and pieces so small that it’s hard to say if they ever really existed. Of course the Catholic church, or god forbid the Protestant church, is a domineering and suppressive entity in the lives of Irish citizens. Of course that translates into a great deal of social conservatism. Of course that a nation composed of very old, small towns results in a national mentality which somewhat resembles an old, small town. The evidence seemed damning.

And the fact that I didn’t know if I would marry at all seemed perfectly clear, in the way that one experiences gravity, or the eventual implosion of the sun. I was comfortable alone, and made life plans based on the eventuality of always being alone. I would be a single mother, and a single foster mother. I would breed puppies in a country home. I would write novels under a pseudonym which the New York Times would think were charming, insightful, and endlessly witty. And if perchance some blunt and especially stupid soul should wonder at my wizened, contented, perpetual singledom, and ask why I never married, the answer that awaited them would be obvious and ready: Well, my dear, I simply never possessed the inclination.

And sometimes, my dear, that is true. And occasionally I melt under the wistful drawl of a foreigner from the Emerald Isle from which I acquired my redundantly patriotic name. My father’s heritage is that of a proud Irish Catholic, diluted through years of United States since the age of the potato famine. He would proudly tell of beatings by nuns, a formative experience tying him to generations past in the old country, of which my brother and I sadly missed out. My mother’s heritage is one of more recent immigration - never has a woman from my maternal line married a Canadian, as far back as I care to tell. My mother’s father was Scottish, my mother’s mother’s father was Irish Protestant, and though I never met my great grandfather, she speaks of him fondly.

“He was Irish,” She’ll say, in a tone meant to dismiss my father’s so-called Irish heritage, which she sees as sullied by so many generations of habitation in a mere colony. There is also a hint of nostalgia, of distant longing for a man with a moor and an accent.

And when I imagined a husband, in the quiet recesses of imagination where I allowed myself to think of such things, he had an accent, and a rich cultural heritage, and that heritage may or may not have involved potatoes and cabbage. Sometimes, I think he’d ideally be Indian. The reasons for this are mostly genetic, and for the sake of my (inevitably gorgeous) future children, and sometimes the reasons are purely due to hunger - I savor the possibility of a mother-in-law with a tandoori oven where she would bake me naan. Indian men themselves are a somewhat attractive means to such ends, but Irish men, I admit, are an end unto themselves.

So, goodbye, Liam, and goodbye, Connor, and goodbye, strapping but hairy Finn. I will miss you, and your beer belch, and your stereotypical manly ways, and I’ll settle now into a dreamt future where you can’t exist, and maybe never did.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Me of the Day

Current Mood: Seething with the wrath of a burning monkey with anger problems

New Arch Nemesis: Poison oak

Close Second: Life itself

Lessons learned: When gathering bamboo in one’s backyard, it is unwise to rub one’s upper arms against an innocent-looking but poisonous bush which will cause a severe bulbous rashes of itchy disgustingness. Also, leaving the house is a risk that is often not work taking.

Also of relevance: I hate work. I hate not having money. I hate the consumerist nature of life and the non-consumerist nature of life....or, I hate life. I hate everything.

Conclusion: …WHY?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Selling Babies: A Profitable Industry in Any Economy

Parents of the World, Please Stop Exploiting Your Children

When identical quintuplets were born to a poor, French-speaking family in rural Ontario, the government smelled a hit. TV wasn’t around back then, but they did have zoos, and one was constructed especially for the girls who, dressed identically with perfectly curled hair, would play in front of audiences, surrounded by a cage. Six thousands visitors arrived each day.

The parents did not agree to this - the quintuplets were taken from them when they were only four months old, their exploitation a work of the Ontario government in the name of the tourist industry, all but lost to the Great Depression. The Dionne Quintuplet museum remains today, in place of the original nursery, and if you’re ever in Ontario, you can look at the barbed wire fence and sigh…the methods back then were so old school.

Today, we understand that camera crews make the process less invasive, and cable shows attract far more audiences than any single tourist site. And parents will sign up for all of it, given the right incentives, or so I’ve heard. This is the tale of Octomom, of Britney Spears, of Brook Shields, and the tale of the Gosselin sextuplets.

And here I must admit…I was a fan of Jon and Kate Plus 8.

Jon and Kate Gosselin, if you haven’t heard, had twins and then sextuplets, and then a show on TLC. The show started small, but their kids were damn adorable, and the audience grew until the show became one of the most popular on the network. Tabloid fervor ensued.

Today, we are all in the eye of a very public shit-storm.

(In case you’ve missed out: Jon is living above the garage and sneaking out at night to visit his new girlfriend, who is a young teacher. Kate apparently agreed to this as long as they keep on filming, and wants another two seasons and may be willing to enter marriage counseling to make this happen (though she‘d prefer not to). Also, she may or may not have been sleeping with her bodyguard while doing a talk-show tour while Jon was home with the kids, have fired over 40 nannies from a local agency, and generally been caught up in this golden cash calf of her own creation. But I feel for Kate, because most of this tabloid news is coming from her own parents, brother, and sister-in-law, which is simply horrendous. Now you know.)

As the marriage implodes, I inevitably feel responsible. I feel responsible for a lot of things that have nothing to do with me, but in this case, I feel like viewers everywhere were integrally complicit. We loved the kids. We loved the marriage. We bought every line, and every line of merchandise, and we turned something small and maybe-okay into something enormous and rancid with a life of its own, raking in $25,000 to $75,000 an episode, invading privacy, destroying homes.

We turned our little moppets into child stars, and inevitable casualties. I can’t imagine a future for the kids I’ve grown to love without one of them dying of an overdose in a bathroom stall, and another entering rehab at thirteen. (Please not little Alexis, or Mady…or Leah. Oh, or Colin, or sweet little Hannah. I guess…you can have Joel, little sweet baby Joel…My god, I’m a monster.)

And so, to the Gosselins, I’m sorry. I got caught up in your little feet, and your tiny smiles, and it wasn’t okay. I hope that, very soon, the world will start to right itself, and I’ll do my part. I won’t be watching.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Me of the Day

Current Mood: Surprisingly good. Happy...almost.

Arch Nemesis: Dandelions. This weekend, I spent five consecutive hours on my hands and knees, trying to rescue a small garden plot from the scourge of the weeds, and I'm pretty sure I failed. The root systems went down four feet, some traveling horizontally to connect all the individual plants into a single, hive-mind network of botanical horror.

Other pursuits: Tried to make my dog Mustard wear bobby-pins so that I could see his eyes, which normally hide behind a curtain of adorable puppy bangs. Unfortunately, puppies do not seem to enjoy the wearing of hair accessories. He now stares at me suspiciously and with mild contempt.

Plans for the foreseeable future: The purchasing of scalp lotion, the brandishing of a miniature Eiffel tower from bamboo (growing in my backyard), in what I hope will be a statement on cultural diversity and modern immigration trends in the Western World, or at least look moderately pretty. I hope to use this Eiffel tower as a trellis for my back-yard peas, but that may be unnecessary, depending on how the war with the dandelions goes.

Plath, Angst and Irony

A nervous breakdown is not a subject which is easily broached.

Adding into this is the fact that nervous breakdowns, according to modern psychiatry, do not exist. People may suffer from mental illness, sometimes acutely, and psychiatric problems can certainly lead to a culminating event, but ‘mental illness’ should not be confused with ‘nerves,’ and human beings are not cars. We don’t break down.

Nonetheless, the concept persists in society, and since that’s where we all live, we might do better to address it directly.

This is best done when curled up in the fetal position, sobbing, while a worried friend or neighbor stands on the opposite side of a locked door, trying to coax you into putting down the bottle of pills, or knife, or whatever instrument of self destruction you happen to have on hand.

In my case, I wasn’t wielding any instruments of death, but had spent the better part of my evening preparing to hang myself from the belt of my coat, if only I could find the perfect secluded tree. I had finally called a friend (who had made me promise to do so in such an event) and that friend promptly arrived at my home. The above standoff ensued.

I remember distinctly, bowing my head into my tear-sopped knees, that there was a warm, dissociative quiet that existed, calm and safe, which encapsulated me from my rapidly eroding world. Since that time, life has somewhat improved, and feelings of dystopia have ebbed and flowed, but I have never felt the safety and peace of that mild oblivion, and I wish I could return there. I hope that’s what death will feel like.

Now that I’m writing more regularly, I proudly brand myself with the Sylvia Plath effect, which states that writers have been found to be especially prone to mental illness.

I have attempted to hang myself, from the closet of a dorm room, with a green, decorative scarf. The only point in the room I felt certain could support my full weight without breaking was the handle of my closet door, so to cut off circulation I had to stoop down, sit, and let myself strangle there. I felt the weight of my body being translated into cutting fabric, and my cheeks swelling with trapped blood, and I knew my eyes would bulge and my tongue might swell, but I’d been crying anyways, so it wasn’t likely to make a huge difference.

I wanted to die, desperately, but the decision was laced with anxiety. This method appealed to me because it was instantly retractable; I simply had to stand and the scarf would loosen and I would be fine. What worried me, hanging there, was that I would want to stand and find myself unable, to desperately want to live in the final seconds of my life, to have wasted it all and to realize the folly of suicide in the grandeur and magnificence of the world. This epiphany never happened, and the grandeur of the world continues to elude me. However, I did stand, this imagined fear enough to allay my attempt for another day.

Five seconds later, a phone rang, and I went out to dinner with a friend, where we talked about movies and laughed.

The following day I admitted myself to hospital, mostly because I felt that, as a peer support counselor who trained others in suicide prevention, it was my duty to lead by example. A psychiatrist there asked if my failed ‘attempt’ the previous day had provided me a sense of relief.

“No,” I responded, confusedly. “I still have to live.”

I have overdosed on pills that a doctor warned could stop my breathing. They did not. I have considered jumping off a bridge into water, and then decided against it when the night was cold and I imagined the water would be freezing. (Jumpers often are still alive when they hit the water, but break enough bones that they cannot swim and consequently drown. This in itself is a compelling reason to find another way to die.) I have tried to cut my throat, my hand shaking hard and surprisingly weak, the skin and muscles of my neck surprisingly strong, and after two minutes the tension simply too much to bear. I dropped the razor and shakily cried.

During another stint in the hospital, I met a young woman who had lost both her daughters to an ex-husband after a botched suicide attempt. Her leg and hip were broken in the fall, and she told me the location of her jump with the sad words, “nothing works.” I never took this in until I passed the site, a year later, and noted that the drop was more than five stories and should have been enough to kill.

This saddened me more than I know how to explain.


It seems that, in an irony that is not especially cruel, every time I write about suicide I end up in an intense conversation on the subject the very next day. In this latter conversation, I do my best to talk a friend out of killing him or herself, all the time aware of the role reversal and how much a difference a year can make.

The rationale for most suicide interventions in wrapped up in the concept that people who attempt do not really want to die. This is often true, but when it is not it creates a chasm which is not easily crossed or understood. (Oh. You really do want to die. Well…crap.)

My best rationale is that those I have seen want to die, including myself, are in such a state of extreme distress that the ability to make such a weighty decision is surely impaired. Suicide is a big decision, and one which should never been made in a state of panic, pain, and tears. This logic probably falls apart somewhere, but it’s the best I have.

And for those I've talked to, I really do believe that, if you can manage it, to please keep trying. The world is a better place with you in it.