Saturday, May 18, 2013
With his mischievous grin and saucy wit, Joe Orton could get away with just about anything.
So when the working class 20-something Brit moved to London to try his luck at acting, nobody questioned it.
Although he was a fair actor, with impressive physique and genuine charisma, it soon became clear the stage wasn't meant for Joe. He was an incredibly talented writer and his dark, dry humor shocked and delighted everyone who read his essays or short stories.
In 1951, Joe met and fell in love with an older, middle-class guy, Kenneth Halliwell, who seemed lonely and lost. Life hadn't been very fair to Kenneth. When he was 11, he had watched in horror as his mother was stung by a wasp and choked to death in front of him. When he was 23, he woke up one morning to find his father dead from a suicide in the kitchen, his head still in the gas oven. Both incidents had left the shy kid devastated.
Joe and Kenneth felt a deep understanding to one another. Joe, being so outgoing and joyful, brought Kenneth back to life. Kenneth, reserved and observant, brought out a more serious side in Joe. It was a perfect match.
The two started writing stories together, such as Lord Cucumber and the Boy Hairdresser. Their honest and humorous accounts of homosexuality raised eyebrows but didn't get them published at the time.
Bored by their lack of success, the two young men became pranksters.
In their spare time, they stole more than 70 books from the public library and defaced the covers before returning them. For example, on one cover they drew a naked middle-aged man with tattoos. Unfortunately, the library system didn't think the vandalized covers were very funny and both men were prosecuted. They spent six months in jail.
While Joe was in jail, something about being alone in a cell changed him. He had hours upon hours to think creatively and ponder about the world. His writing started to change. It became more mature and fresh and exciting. By the time he was released from jail, Joe was a changed man.
He started publishing unique and hilarious plays, such as Loot, which were gaining national attention. Critics either loved or hated him. Celebrities wanted to hang out with him. It was swinging sixties London and he was one of the hottest figures in town.
Unfortunately, his boyfriend couldn't bring himself to bask in the success.
Kenneth grew more and more jealous of Joe's growing fame and talent. He was bitter that Joe seemed to have moved on professionally, away from him. Whatever happened to writing stories together? He felt left behind, even though he was always at Joe's side, invited to the hottest parties and traveling the world on exotic vacations.
Kenneth started taking anti-depressants to ease the pain. His sulky, resentful attitude turned off most of Joe's new famous friends, who would invite the hot 30-something playwright to parties on the condition that Kenneth had to stay home. The two men began to grow distant.
On a warm August night in 1967, Joe decided he was going to break up with Kenneth the next day. After all, their lives were going in opposite directions. Joe had already fallen in love with another guy and wanted to see where that relationship went. It wouldn't be fair to string Kenneth along anymore. Plus, Joe was on top of the world. Tomorrow, he would be meeting with The Beatles to discuss a screenplay he had written for them.
But tomorrow never came.
While Joe slept, Kenneth took a hammer and bashed his boyfriend's skull nine times. Blood splattered all over the bed, the walls, and the floor. Then, Kenneth took an overdose of pills, killing himself instantly.
Heartbreakingly, Joe remained alive in his bed for several agonizing hours, before finally succumbing to death himself. The bodies of both men were found by their chauffeur the next morning.
Today, it still remains one of the most gory and disturbing crime scenes in London's history.
And just like he feared all along, Kenneth has been forgotten. He is merely a footnote in literary history.
The muse and murderer to a brilliant mind that was simply crushed too soon.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
When I was a little girl, my parents quickly learned that sending me to my room as a punishment was, in fact, not a punishment. I loved my room. All my Barbie dolls were there.
So, when I got in trouble, they started sending me to the home office.
At first it was boring. But after rummaging around on the desk, I discovered a massive carton filled with pens and pencils.
The pens and pencils in that carton were an entire village. It was like a soap opera, filled with family drama, romantic scandals, and even a random bank robbery when an erasable pen stole a bunch of paperclips at gunpoint.
I was so caught up in the little world I had created that I started to prefer playing with the pens and pencils over my own Barbies. I would rush home from school, running straight past my bedroom, into the office and dump out the carton of pens.
The anticipation was killing me. Would Rachel, the Yellow Pages pen finally realize that her husband, the Dr. Epperdink MD pen, was cheating on her with a pink highlighter named Gwen?! Was Rick, the black Sharpie, going to get cold feet at his wedding with Sarah, the red Bic pen?
I couldn't wait to start the show!
One evening, I dumped out the carton, ready to play, when I let out a gasp.
Where was Rachel?!?
RACHEL WAS MISSING.
I scoured all over the office. How did she disappear?
I ran into the living room, where my dad was watching the news.
"Where's Rachel?" I demanded.
He looked up, perplexed.
"Rachel who?" he asked.
"Rachel, the, the, pen," I sputtered, in panic. "The Yellow Pages pen! Where is she?"
My dad stared at me.
"The Yellow Pages pen?" he repeated, blankly. "That pen wasn't working this morning. The ink is out. So I threw it away."
I shrank away in horror.
"You what?" I whispered. "You threw her away?"
With tears streaming down my face, I ran back into the office.
"Where are you Rachel?" I wailed, digging through the trash can. "I'll find you! Oh my god!"
She was nowhere to be found. I ran into the kitchen, rummaging through that trash can, throwing garbage all over the floor, desperately seeking out the Yellow Pages pen.
My parents ran into the kitchen.
"You're making a mess!" My dad roared. "You better clean that up!"
Finally clutching the discovered Yellow Pages pen, now covered in ketchup, I glared up at him.
"You killed Rachel," was all I could manage to croak.
My parents stared back at me, speechless.
Then they had a long talk in the living room.
They came back into the kitchen and told me I was no longer allowed to play with the pens and pencils.
I was devastated.
To make their point, they hid the carton from me in a locked desk drawer.
That moment marked a changing point in my life. Staring at the locked drawer, I realized that playtime was over. It was time to grow up.
I moved on.
But I never forgot.
And now sometimes when I look at a pen, for a split second, I think I see her personality stare back at me and she winks. And it jolts me back to life.
But then it fades away as quickly as it appeared.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Most of you, well probably all of you, might not know, but I am dating a member of the Sioux tribe.
Rian is a quarter Sioux and received the official recognition from the tribe a few years ago.
Anyway, Rian and I once joked that if we have children, they're going to be the ultimate hippies.
And the more I think about it, the more I realize it's true.
Both of our Indian ethnicities are considered "new age" and "sexy" in the western world. Our ancestral backgrounds have become a novelty.
Think of how many young people do yoga, consult gurus, and brag about spending a summer in an ashram, only in a desperate attempt to be cool. Or do peyote or go to rainbow gatherings, without respecting the rituals or understanding the meaning.
And then there's the fashion.
For example, just sift through photos of Coachella outfits.
While Rian's sweet little Indian grandmother spends hours carefully crafting bead work for legitimate pow wows on Sioux reservations, these 20-something girls are flaunting the native style like they own it.
And both Gwen Stefani and Lana Del Rey were called out for using Native American style to sex up their appeal in music videos.
When the videos came out, people in the Native American community were outraged. The head dress is not a fashion accessory, they cried out. It's a symbol for an entire culture. They saw the videos as a mockery of their heritage.
Meanwhile, on the other Indian side, we've had everyone from Julia Roberts to Selena Gomez wear a jeweled bindi on their forehead. And everyone from Pamela Anderson to the Pussycat Dolls waltz the red carpet in sarees.
When Selena recently wore a bindi during a seductive VMA performance, the incident received worldwide negative press and tweets from Indians who were offended. In fact, officials at the Universal Society of Hinduism insisted Selena should apologize for making a mockery of the religious symbol.
Now, I'm not saying that fashion trends or style influenced by these cultures is completely tasteless.
But I do think there's a fine line between borrowing customs for style and creating costumes as style.
I own a pair of Minnetonka moccasins. They're adorable. And I love wearing feathers in my hair.
But you wouldn't catch me going to a music festival in full headdress. I think that's disrespectful.
The same goes with the other Indian culture. I love wearing mehndi in the summer. I own a stash of decorative bindis.
But then again, I kind of cringe when I think of pop tarts using a religious symbol, such as a bindi, as a form of sexualization. Maybe I'm too critical, but that does seem culturally insensitive to me. There's a difference between making a fashion statement with respect and making a mockery of it with sex.
The same goes for any other culture.
But the line is really up to us. And unfortunately, it's located in different places for different people. What I don't find offensive might enrage a devout Hindu.
After all, nothing is black and white.
There are millions of people all over the world who genuinely adore the Native American culture and find it an inspiring influence. Just like there are millions of people all over the world who do yoga for the health benefits and pursue Hinduism because it genuinely speaks to them.
But when it comes to fashion, the line is there.
What are your thoughts on hipster racism? Is your style inspired by other cultures? Have you ever been unsure where to draw the line?