I’m Not Pregnant

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(I’m Not Pregnant -or- YES, I’m SURE I’m Not Pregnant -or- The Thing I Most Want to Punch in the Face (After Jennifer Worick))

This post is a long time coming. I just have to let this out.

I went to karaoke this past weekend at a local bar. I love singing and karaoke is one of my favorite ways to socialize and express myself.

After a couple of drinks, I had to go to the bathroom. When I came back into the bar, this woman motioned me over to her table. I am a friendly Midwestern gal at heart, so I happily obliged.

She immediately put her hand on my stomach. She told me how talented I was, and how brave. I had no response, but to say a curt thank you and return to my seat.

Lady, I don’t know if you were drunk, or confused, or rude, or any combination of the three. But don’t put your hand on a stranger’s stomach. It’s not okay. And I am NOT PREGNANT.

I’m assuming that’s why she put her hand on my stomach, right?! That, paired with the combination of her telling me that I was so “brave.” After I sang my next song, she came over to my seat, teary-eyed and pointing to my stomach. I stared at her blankly, just daring her to ask how far along I was. I was ready to let her have it.

Possibly sensing my hostility, she backed off and instead made a comment about how much she loved my skirt. I smiled and gave another curt “thank you.”

I am sad to say that this isn’t the first time that this has happened.

Three years ago, I was at a local recycling center, dropping off trash and recyclables. One of the employees there started a conversation with me.

“How far along are you?” she asked, looking at my stomach.

“Um, I’m not pregnant.”

She slowly scanned my body from head to toe, pausing grandly at my stomach.

“Are you sure?” she continued.

WAS I SURE?!??!?!!??!

Yes, I was sure I wasn’t pregnant.

Later that same year, as I was walking in Capitol Hill, a man passing me on the sidewalk looked at me, stopped, and said:

“You’re pregnant, right?”

“Um….nope,” I said softly and quickly, never slowing my stride or meeting his gaze.

Here’s the thing: It is NEVER okay to assume a woman is pregnant. This is not a conversation starter. I don’t care if a woman has a shirt on with an arrow pointing to her belly and fondly caressing onesies at Walmart. Nope. Still not okay.

And it’s also NOT OKAY to touch or point to a stranger’s stomach. It’s rude.

Dear reader, if you have ever experienced a similar situation, I am so sorry. Please do not let it depress you or lower your self-esteem. Your body is perfectly fine, just the way it is. Your body, and, more specifically, your stomach, is not a public landmark for strangers to explore or comment on.

I would encourage you to reframe the experience as a reflection on the other person’s narrow expectations of what a woman’s silhouette should look like. And how sad for them to have such a limited view of what feminine beauty “should” look like.

I experience this all the time. I recently auditioned for MFA programs in Acting. I have a ritual of buying a new dress for each important audition I attend.

On a brisk January afternoon, I approached the Alderwood Mall as if I were preparing to go into battle. Because shopping for clothing is challenging if you have a belly that protrudes, even in the slightest.

I have everything in my closet from a size medium to a XXXL. My dresses range from size 12 to size 20, and everything in between. Normally, I prefer to shop at thrift stores, as they tend to have a funkier selection and a wider range of sizes than traditional department stores. But this audition meant a lot to me, and so I wanted to purchase a brand-new dress for this special occasion.

I started at Nordstrom Rack. There were some cute and affordable dresses, but most of them only went up to a size 14 (and a VERY PETITE size 14 at that.) I was in the store for less than 15 minutes before I realized there wasn’t anything for me there.

I went to every major department store at the mall and I couldn’t find a damn dress. I must have tried on at least 50 dresses. Most stores had a variety of dresses, but the (for lack of a better word) “normal” dress sections stop at sizes 12-16. If none of the sizes in the “normal” department fit you, you are relegated to the plus sized section.

In most stores, it’s in a completely different area of the store. There was one major department store where the plus sizes were relegated to the basement. THE BASEMENT.

Dear department stores, let me tell you how this makes me, the consumer, feel:

It makes me feel like crap. It makes me feel like you think my body is inferior to the bodies that can fit into the “normal” dresses. It makes me feel that you think that people my size should only wear shapeless neon sacks with a plethora of ruffles.

What I WANT from you, dear department stores, is for you not have a separate plus sized section. I want the dresses to range from size 0 to size 24 and beyond and I don’t want a different style of dress. I want the same dresses as the “normal” sized women get, only in a bigger size.

I want to stop having interactions with smug saleswomen who dismiss me and say voice-fried condescending things like “Well, I think what you’re looking for is on our Encore section. It’s in the basement.”

Bottom line: I am sick of feeling that I shouldn’t or don’t exist for you as a customer. Because that’s how I feel, when I get to the end of the rack of dresses and realize that my size doesn’t exist in your store.

I do feel more comfortable shopping at Torrid or Lane Bryant. At these stores, everything is my size or bigger. The salespeople are often modeling the clothing themselves. They are kind. I feel more at ease. I enter the store with the confidence that I will leave with something that fits my body.

I have to say, though, I feel that stores like Torrid or Lane Bryant are more of a short-term solution than a lasting one. I sincerely hope that traditional retail stores can evolve to the point where any woman can walk in and find an outfit that makes her look and feel beautiful.

And while we’re at it, could we please expand our cultural opinion of what bodies are considered beautiful?!

As I mentioned before, I am an actor. I love to perform. I’ve been doing it since I was two years old. There is an old picture of me as a bald, awkward two year old in lavender overalls and a white turtleneck. I am dancing with so much vigor that my arms are blurry. This is what I love most to do in life: to perform.

Acting is not for the faint of heart. It involves a lot of rejection.

But what I wish it didn’t involve is costume designers making me feel fat.

Dear costume designers:

I was talented enough to be cast in a role in this production. My body is what you have to work with. It may not be the physical ideal you had envisioned for the role, but my body is the body you have to work with. I would so appreciate it if you took my measurements without comment. I would appreciate it if you didn’t say things to like “well, you’re a bigger girl” or “you’re going to be difficult to costume” or “I just don’t know how I’m going to find something that will fit you.”

IT IS YOUR JOB TO FIND SOMETHING THAT WILL FIT ME. THAT IS WHAT A COSTUME DESIGNER DOES: FINDS COSTUMES TO FIT ACTORS.

I gone into costume fittings feeling ashamed about my body before the measuring tape is ever unfurled from its holster. I have started conversations with costumers with “Of course, I’ll bring in some of my own clothes—I know I can be hard to costume.”

And I’m done doing that.

You can have all the opinions about my body and what you think it should look like. We’re all entitled to our opinions. But please refrain from the desire to express those opinions to me.

Also, dear costume designers, please ask yourself: would you make the same comments to a male actor?

My body is MY BODY. Sure, my weight goes up and down (as it does for most people.) But I love my body. I love my stomach. It is hungry, just like I am. It desires sustenance and new things to try. And I don’t care if you think it’s too big. I don’t care if you think I’m too big.

I just want to be a kind person, have good friends, eat tasty food, and make a lot of art. Those are my general life goals. Having a flat stomach is not on my list. If it’s on yours, more power to you. We all have different priorities and that’s one of the things that makes us unique as human beings.

So, to close:

No, I’m not pregnant. And what’s more, you probably don’t need to ask that question to me or any woman, for that matter.

Let me officially release you from the obligation of judging other people’s bodies.

Your opinions on bodies that are not your own are no longer needed.

The Road to URTAS: An Actor Prepares

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Airports are my ideal writing environment. As I write this post, my flight from Seattle to San Francisco is currently delayed by three hours, due to high winds in the Bay Area.

When I bought my ticket online in October, there was no way of knowing about the storm. It seems fitting, though, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m flying to San Francisco to audition for graduate programs in acting. The auditions that I’m attending are commonly referred to as URTAs, which stands for the University/Resident Theatre Association. URTAs allow theatre artists interested in pursuing graduate studies in acting, design, directing and stage management to audition for or interview with many schools at once instead of flying out to different campuses.

As Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods. Photo by Jim Carroll.

As Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods. Photo by Jim Carroll.

As I mentioned before, I made the decision to attend these auditions in October. I had just opened a production of Into the Woods at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. I was playing Little Red Riding Hood, a role which combined three of my favorite things: belting Sondheim, throwing tantrums and eating pastries onstage.

Sometimes, actors are lucky enough to receive accolades from audience members. After our opening night performance, we had a post-show reception in Zech Hall. I was approached by a woman I didn’t know. She came up to me and explained that her granddaughter played the role of Little Red in Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s production of Into the Woods.

“Have you auditioned for OSF?” she asked. “I think you would be great there.”

I warmly thanked her for her comments and replied that I hadn’t auditioned for OSF, but hoped to in the future.

Driving home that night, I thought about what she had said. Her words had a profound impact on me. Her words inspired me to revisit the idea of researching MFA in Acting programs. As soon as I got home, I visited the URTA website and made note of the San Francisco audition dates on my calendar. By the time we had closed Into the Woods, I had registered for URTAs and booked my flight.

Office Space

Remember that scene in Office Space where Peter recalls the exercise of asking someone “If you had a million dollars, what would you do?” How you decide to spend your time if money were no object represents what you’re most passionate about.

If I had a million dollars, I would spend the rest of my life in theatres. Acting, directing, writing plays, marketing, fundraising, engaging audiences, teaching students–that’s the dream. That’s my dream.

Of course, I’m working on a more eloquent answer than this for potential graduate programs. My audition is on Saturday morning. I’ll arrive at the hotel where they’re being held around 7:45. Orientation is at 8:30, and then at roughly 9:17, I’ll have two minutes and thirty seconds to perform two monologues and 14 measures of a song.

My preparation started in November. I pulled together a list of potential monologues and songs, some that I had worked on before, and some of which were new to me. I enlisted actor, playwright and Hedgebrook Executive Director Amy Wheeler to be my audition coach.
DanceHallOn Wednesday night, we worked on my pieces for two hours at her house. Her wife, Kate, renovated the 100-year old dance hall they call home. (An amazing story around which Kate let me create an original solo performance piece.) At one end of the dance hall, there is a stage. When I arrived, red velvet curtains framed a single chair placed at center stage.

 

 

I have a lot of amazing memories about this space. It was on this stage that I performed the roles of Dot and Blaine in Amy’s play, Wizzer Pizzer. Close by is the sofa that I sat on while reading the role of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in a draft of Kate’s screenplay about Seneca Falls and Women’s Suffrage. Next to the sofa is the chair I sat in next to Gloria Steinem at a staged reading of Amy’s new play, Atomic Agape.

But on Wednesday night, all that was on that stage was me. And I felt overwhelming gratitude. For Amy’s coaching, for that woman’s comments on opening night, for my middle school math teacher and her family for letting me stay with them while I’m in the Bay Area, and for my supportive parents who realized early on that I loved acting and drove me to countless hours of rehearsals and attended dozens of performances.

If you’re reading this and have acted with me, directed me, or seen one of my shows, I’m also grateful for you. You have helped to shape me as a theatre artist. It’s because of you that I have the motivation, courage, and gumption to attend these auditions.

Thank you.

 

 

Demure Demitasse

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Your sexy frugality
disciplined
my greedy tastes.

Now, I delight
in brewing
a single cup
of coffee
at home.

The world
is contained
within
my ceramic mug.

Whether the roast
is robust or
without fervor,
it remains the
most delicious cup.

Its simplicity.
Your simplicity.
Our simplicity.

More sensual than steam.

Outpost

The thoughtless
resilience
of young minds
drives home
the villain’s
dagger,
perforating
the space
between
arteries
like an awl
grinning
through
leather.

(Remember when she said
you were “lovely” and
meant “convenient.”)

You cannot win this fight.

This meager artillery
has betrayed you
yet again–next time,
assure yourself
of ample ammunition.

Your strength lies
in lines of demarcation.

Each frontier,
each horizon,
each extremity
holds the promise
of gaining

higher ground.

What If

(A guest post written by Renaissance Woman Sheila Weidendorf.)

while wandering in the forest or by the lake I never went back to my life
but rather, crawled beneath the sumac and hazel
crept down amongst the bracken and dock, released, bit by bit,
my tenuous shell of bone and flesh into the loam, put on a new mantle of leaf and moss and twig, festooned myself with berries and briars or maybe,

tumbled low out of the Earth’s crevices, liquid,
poured myself into the waiting arms of the deep waters,
floated alongside the upturned faces of the water lilies
awaiting their turn to bloom or, instead, let myself sink to the bottom,
a pebble or weed, to lay with the silt, silken, and be rocked gently, gently
by the motion of the Earth beneath the waters

and what if, in doing this, I found myself to be no more
than a leaf, or a pebble, no greater than the lily or the fern,
but also, and certainly, no less.

Lionheart

Loneliness
is the giant chasm
between what you thought existed
and what actually is.

Take comfort
in the resilience
of the human heart.

Four chambers of strength
pushing you forward
with each beat.

Heartbreak is a misnomer.

The heart is not fragile.

The heart is tenacious.

The heart endures.

It endures until
we pass on
to the next
great adventure.
Claim your lion’s heart.

Its roar will
snarl and echo
through the chasm
of your loneliness
and summon a passion
greater than
the smallness
of other people.

Hostess

The hostess stands at her station.
She is wearing a tight black t-shirt
that scoops just shallow of her
young and lovely breasts.

The close-fitting red tartan
miniskirt hugs her hips
the pleats flirting
with her thighs.

Her thick black liner
betrays her eyes as she
looks down into the
short black apron
framed by the skirt.

(She has hidden
her cell phone inside.)

Her eyebrows knit
and her chestnut ponytail
whips angrily.

Although she greets guests cheerfully
she is waging war with a remote enemy.

I witness her surreptitious
maneuvers and tactics
in between
sips of
Jameson.

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