SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.
Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.
Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.
But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.
If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.
Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.
Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.
While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!
In the words of a comedic band I didn’t want to admit were aging as I beheld their greying, mutton chop-less visages at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, “The city is alive, the city is expanding, living in the city can be demanding.” I’m sure having travelled from the sheep-shearing, Hobbit-roving bliss of New Zealand to all the major cities of the United States, Flight of the Conchords delivers this message with the same heartfelt sincerity that every city dweller employs when they stick their head out a bedroom window and yell, “SHUT UP!” It’s such a commonplace notion that it’s hardly worth stating, but cities are loud and generally don’t come equipped with James Stewart’s euphonic pianist and soprano neighbors in Rear Window. On top of this corroboratory fact, city noise always amalgamates into the same nerve-wracking din no matter how disparate the individual components nor how varied the population size.
At 8 o’clock this morning, I was jostled from a sickbed completely surrounded by flu remedies (including DayQuil, NyQuil, Ricola, Emergen-C, and Sex and the City season 6) by a mariachi album set to full blast, a barbershop quartet of dogs who might have been hyperventilating through their barks, and a car alarm that could easily alert its owner from the middle of the sea. This early symphony–coupled with a daily opus of ever-celebratory fireworks, 2am basketball games, and rival ice cream trucks distinguishable only by their repeated children’s song of choice as they circle the block at least eight times a day–may be specific to my new neighborhood, but downtown Los Angeles is not alone in its incessant emanation of sound. Nor are LA’s outer boroughs, such as Culver City where my boyfriend’s next-door neighbors are constantly regaling the whole neighborhood with drunken arguments at the nightly parties they seem to throw and the entire family downstairs might be diagnosed with Tourette’s.
In a much smaller city on the opposite side of the country, the noise may come in a different flavor but barrages your eardrums with the same torrential force. During my last year in Savannah, Georgia, I moved from a quiet, woodside dormitory where the introverted inhabitants avoided eye contact at all costs, let alone uttered a peep, into an apartment that might as well have doubled as a palace compared to the cubby hole I occupy today. The only downside to Heaven on Montgomery was that it was on Montgomery–one of the busiest streets in town, especially when your block resided in “downtown.” Rather than illegal fireworks and ever-festive mariachi bands, this corner of Montgomery and Alice hosted a cast of noise makers that verify the zaniness John Berendt immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
First, there was the “Ey” Man, an older gentleman consistently dressed in what the 1960s would have deemed “the nines” who walked down Montgomery looking pleasantly dapper and intermittently calling, “Ey… Ey… Ey…” Then there was the late night serenader: a young man prone to slowly pacing up and down the street after dark, singing the latest R&B hits at the top of his lungs as if wooing the city itself or simply shouting to hear his voice over headphones. Along with these and several other vocal individuals like an infamously impolite mother, there was a weekly congregation of people who spent hours cackling at the tops of their lungs like a coven of witches while ironically mingling in a church parking lot. And we can’t forget the honk-happy populace eager to lay their entire body weight on the horn at the slightest hint of inconvenience, a far cry from the Oregonians who take extreme offense if you timidly tap the horn by accident.
Immersion in this incessant cacophony from the east to the west can make a girl miss her childhood home in the mountains, where yards that contemporary suburban developers couldn’t fathom separated everyone from even the slightest noises their neighbors might make and any hillbillies keen on disrupting the peace with a blaring horn were hindered by the shoddiness of their rusting trucks. After leaving this quiet respite at the age of nine, you’d think spending the majority of my life amidst the endless hubbub of sirens, babbling passerby, screeching tires, and Savannah’s garrulous night birds, I’d have grown fond or at least accustomed to the soundtrack of city life. But lately if there’s no Enya playlist to drown out the racket, all I can do refrain from leering out my window at the ice cream man is wistfully dream about pattering rain showers, ocean tides, or a future ranch in Montana complete with a team of middle aged corgis to keep me quiet company.
Despite the cultural ballyhoo that inflicts a mere calendar date with a barrage of black cats, shattered mirrors, and ladder-strewn walkways, both my sister and I are in agreement over the fact that nothing earthshaking has ever plagued us on Friday the 13th. In fact, we quite often find find ourselves accruing fortuitous luck on said ominous date. But the cultural obsession with a day that condones the old wives tales of yesteryear has got me thinking about another day that’s amassed some bad juju in the past couple of years–and thinking further still about how these negative stigmas manifest in the first place. Are people so smitten with the notion of an unlucky day that they’re personally responsible for aligning the negative cosmos in their lives? Do my sister and I enjoy Friday the 13th simply because we’ve always concentrated more on the positive aspects of what’s most likely nothing more than another average day?
While Friday the 13th produces feelings of trepidation, birthdays are calendar dates that operate on a more subjective level, and from my experience, people either love their birthday, hate it, or (for the family and friends keen to celebrate) are aggravatingly apathetic towards it. As a child who bore her fair share of witness to the birthday cynicism of parents inching towards middle age, I’m well accustomed to what it means to dread that extra candle atop a seemingly mocking cake. But to the fortunate contrary, I’ve always enjoyed my birthday, just as any juvenescent child, egocentric teenager, and party-savvy young adult should. Recently, however, I’ve begun to feel slight disdain towards a day that’s supposed to celebrate life, and now that it’s right around the corner from what is proving to be another unremarkably peaceful Friday the 13th, I feel an explanation is in order, if to at least appease the gods of fate and cure me from what may very well be a birthday imprecation.
My birthday blues have absolutely nothing to do with the typical thanatophobic fear of getting one step closer to death. While I’m a day dreaming idealist in many facets of life, realism pervades whenever the subject of death comes up: my parents taught me well, I have no delusions of immortality, and I quite look forward to the day when I can officially call myself the female equivalent of a silver fox. So instead of stemming from a Friends-esque terror of the “decrepit” age of thirty, my birthday nerves relate to personal anecdotes enveloping my last two birthdays.
Everyone and their grandma looks forward to their 21st birthday in this country, the age when the whole world (sans the rental cars needed to get you there) becomes your playground, a number that officially resonates with adulthood, and a tradition that’s been kept up since 21 connoted the physical strength necessary to bear the weight of armor and achieve knighthood. While our values may have altered greatly from the honorable intentions behind donning 110 pounds of hindering steel armor to attempt to rescue damsels from evil sorcerers and the likes, even people who aren’t in the market for a good 21st birthday shwasting still look forward to the party that commemorates their transition into liberating adulthood. Rather than living it up with my compadres and relishing the act of showing my ID to every waitress, bouncer, and unfortunate passerby, however, I spent my 21st birthday in a hospital. And no, it wasn’t because of the expected culprit: a wheelchair was in order before anyone had time to consume any alcohol.
I turned 21 while enrolled in my junior year of college in Savannah, Georgia, and despite the mild flavors of small Southern city cuisine that this Northwest foodie always complained about while living in Savannah, I wanted to round up a large group of friends and celebrate in chic, indulgent style. Thus, we met up at the slickest (and only) tapas joint in town, prepared for an evening of jazz and pampered taste buds, and anticipated enjoyment that was quickly snuffed by a hostess who refused to seat us due to two late guests, a waitress prone to sneering, and the insatiated hunger pains of a primarily male entourage when we were served the smallest tapas plates I’ve seen to date. So, to salvage my reputation as a good host and to simply revel in the summer air that persists well beyond late September, I suggested we walk down the block, buy some big pizzas, and revive the merriment that had been quelled by our disappointing (and jazz-less) tapas experience.
On the way to the pizza place, we passed through Ellis Square, and despite my newfound adult sophistication (and supposed armor-bearing prowess), some deep southern magic in the autumn air evoked the overexcitable ankle-biter in me, and I was compelled to turn on my heel, disregard the snazzy attire I’d compiled for tapas, and run straight through the dancing fountain that’s made Ellis square a hotspot for many a mother in need of respite from her clinging children. Rather than chuckling nervously and continuing onward to Americanized-Italian goodness like some of them probably wanted to, my friends followed suit, proving that inebriation is not a requirement for being a nut in a fountain. In this way, the evening was ushered along by splashes and shrieks of laughter for some time, when suddenly I turned and saw one of my friends outright sprawled on the concrete between multicolored columns of water. I knew it in that split glance: the joyousness was over.
Turns out, several of my friends had taken to outright sprinting through the fountain instead of practicing the careful little pansy hops I’d been performing all night, and rather than merely slipping on the wet concrete like I’d feared, two of them had collided into one another–at a sprint. The less fortunate of the two now lay drained of color on the concrete with a tooth broken in splinters and a possible concussion. Fortunately for my injured friend and my completely shocked self, the more levelheaded party guests took charge and organized a trip to the hospital, during which I sat completely stunned, friend’s tooth in my palm and tears tending to whatever mascara hadn’t been affected by the fountain water.
While I hate the fact that my nerves seemed to be jiving to the tune of, “it’s my party and I’ll cry it I want to,” for the rest of the night–disabling me from the mien of strength and reassurance I should have adopted for my friend–I can’t eradicate the memory of how terrifying it is to see someone you care about devoid of color, toothless, and practically unconscious. On top of that, I felt entirely at fault and still wonder to this day, if I hadn’t been drawn into that fountain like an eight year old failing to masquerade as a 21-year-old, how peaceful that evening of pizza would have been.
Flash forward a new tooth, a new year, a new E-Learning schedule from home, and another birthday. While turning 22 is about as societally exciting as scheduling an optometrist appointment, I was looking forward to the first birthday celebration with my family in three years with a reinstated sense of optimism. And just as I expected, the day started out wonderfully.
I’ve stated it before, but my sister might as well be a conjoined twin with the amount of adoration I feel for her, and while my father was at work and my mother across town, I was looking forward to a whole birthday of my sister’s company like Charlie looking forward to his rendezvous with the chocolate factory (pre-Gene Wilder’s psychopathic tunnel song). And boy howdy, does that girl know how to show you a great time. We started out the downtown celebrations with lunch at the swanky Heathman Hotel where I was buried in an avalanche of gifts that I still overwhelmingly can’t believe she doted upon me. Because one of the presents was a weighty gift card and because one of my favorite past times is trying on ridiculously embarrassing things with my sister, we figured when in the market, shop!, and proceeded to the shopaholic enclave that is Pioneer Place.
Our excursion began like any other as we thumbed through racks of things we coveted and, more importantly, things that would look hilariously heinous when donned on in the dressing room, and even though this statement plays right into the hands of cliché feminine tropes, I honestly thought it was a great way to spend my birthday. But that was before I realized my sister was no where near me, and I was shopping alone, an activity I take very little pleasure in because once the jokes stop flowing and camaraderie dissipates, the fluorescent lights, pushy crowds, and superficial floor staff make for a nightmarish ordeal.
But I wasn’t too put off by my sister’s sudden absence. I allowed logic to coerce me into the reassurance that this store was only two floors tall with few visible obstructions beyond five-foot tall racks and hordes of nattering women. So I went about my shopping, aura of birthday bliss intact. When I’d acquired a stock worthy of changing room scrutiny, however, my sister was still awol, and without the desire to relinquish full feedback privileges to a mirror, I decided it was time to initiate an active search. I can’t tell you how many times I went up and down those stairs, back and forth through various partitions, and in and out of the changing rooms to call her name, but by the time the stairwell was beginning to draw a sweat and phone calls had only connected me to her voicemail, I figured I might as well just try on my accrued ensemble in silence and hope she magically manifested on my way out.
When she didn’t, my sweat became more a product of panic than physical exertion. Because this store really wasn’t that big, and because several more trips up and down those stairs still weren’t yielding any results, the nervous wreck in me assumed the obvious answer must be that someone had abducted her out of this crowded, security guarded shopping mall. After all, the phenomenon of just missing someone by a millisecond when you comb every inch of a store only happens in crappy rom coms like Serendipity, right?
After an hour had passed, I gave up on the hunt, invoked my inner “stay in one place” boy scout, and sat down on a couch, my now purchased parcels around me as I blinked back tears of near-hysteria and envisioned an array of serial killer investigations involving the cheap fashion acolytes of Forever 21. She still didn’t pick up her phone or appear out of a rack of ponchos singing, “Jokes on you: you’re on Candid Camera!” and by this point I was too incoherent with worry to ask a sales person to conduct an all-store page for “the girl with flaxen hair.” So I sat there and waited for quite some time.
Obviously, this story ends happily, because if anything had happened to my sister this blog would have had a much darker tone since day one. Instead, she came bounding up to me almost two hours after her initial vanishing act, laden bags in tow and a bright smile on her face that was clearly miles away from the Ted Bundy and Ed Gein visions that had been tormenting me to the beat of the store’s hip playlist. To be angry with someone clearly so euphoric about the prospect of a larger wardrobe should be a crime in itself, but I was furious, and whenever I try to express my upset sentiments to my sister, she gets twice as furious. Thus, the rest of the day was spent in boiling conflict and pathetic bouts of tears until my dad arrived home and asked, “Who wants cake!?”
To fear that the negativity of birthdays past might affect birthdays in the near-present and future makes me no better than the worry mongers who think the number 13 was devised by Satan, but I can’t resist the cultural lore that bad things come in threes. While I should be ecstatic that this is the first time I’ll get to celebrate another year of life with my boyfriend (not to mention turn 23 on the 23rd, for all you old wives out there), I can’t help tainting thoughts of the oncoming date with some sense of foreboding. Yes, I’m well aware that dwelling on the negatives (like we’re practically taught to do on Friday the 13th) can’t produce much in the way of positivity, but with that uncontrollable accident in Ellis Square and that unusual solo shopping trip at Pioneer Place, one can only guess if the third time’s truly fated to be a charm.
When I was still a tiny little thing small enough to lift my weight doing every last pull-up you’d dared me to, I lived in the mountain town of Oakridge, Oregon, an equally tiny city where the only activities beyond whittling bear statues and getting pregnant included mountain recreations and mingling at the local Dairy Queen. Coming from a family that spent most of their time alfresco, secretly avoiding people, outdoor recreation proved to be the obvious choice, and merrymaking ensued around winding dirt trails, up the sides of snow-peaked mountains, to the tops of waterfalls, and down the medium-level ski slopes where six-year-old girl pile ups only got in the way of real skiers. One of our favorite hobbies was venturing to bodies of water, as if the Moon in us was trying to get back to overseeing the tide. We spent the majority of our recreational time vacationing on the Pacific, donning on water socks to trapeze our way across the crystal clear Willamette (before it cascaded down the mountains into the city sludge that comprises the Portland waterfront), doubling up on jet skis at my uncle’s houseboat to ride the wake of speed boats and inevitably flip over three times, distracting ourselves from the nude old fogies at the hot springs by squishing sulphuric mud between our toes, and spending the day paddling around Oakridge’s many reservoirs, our skin getting browner and our locks bleaching in the sun.
One of our favorite spots on the reservoir, just a few winding, cliff-side miles from town, was CT Beach, a little inlet that looked upon an enormous picturesque lake where fishermen could deposit their boats and outdoorsy families like mine could lay out a picnic and then dive in. On one such outing, my family towed in a big inflatable raft and oars from my dad’s rowing days, and we set sail against the slight chop the wind picked up across the water. A beautiful day beamed down on the Moon-Wood family as the two little daughters paddled themselves in circles, when all of a sudden my dad–like all young dads before their children hit puberty and refuse to be amused–decided to shake things up and flip the boat.
Everybody flew from the raft shrieking through mouthfuls of water, angrily splashing my dad, and groaning, “Daaaaaaaddy!!!,” but I was far from able to unleash my juvenile wrath on anyone because I was accidentally tied to the boat. Upside down, fully submerged, and struggling against the little bounds I’d gotten myself caught in, I stared down into depths I would later discover looked like a cavernous mud vortex winding down to the center of the earth (that you could hike!) when they drained the reservoir. I couldn’t see far at the time because the water here was always thick with green silt, but I could imagine the life flourishing just out of view. Looking up was no better, as I beheld summer sunlight pirouetting across the undulating surface, reminding me that I was down below, in this dark, oppressively silent world.
This story clearly has a happy ending, as young athletic dads with a penchant for peevishness also tend to be very good at saving kids from overdramatized accidents, but a life experience like that changes a girl, and soon, little water baby Emily Moon was terrified of the element that had previously brought her so much joy. But that didn’t mean I immediately holed myself away in a desert trailer, turning on faucets with my eyes closed. When you’re an older sister, your entire life revolves around maintaining a facade of bravery for the little one’s sake, even when “the little one” is twenty years old and your “bravery” is put to the test simply catching the spider she’s screaming about.
With this sense of faux strength inflating my sails, I spent the next sixteen years approaching large bodies of water with a weird amalgamation of terror and domination, eager to beat back the aquatic threat that had done me no greater harm than instilling my irrational phobia. There were times when I almost lost the battle against the big blue drink–like the numerous times the stormy Pacific waves tried to beat me into a pulp against the sand below; the time a deceptively beautiful river in Westfir began to drag my wild-eyed, fervently paddling Shoobie away in its current and my dad–ever the aquacade hero–had to dive in and rescue her; and the time my cousin Mahina tried to leap from the houseboat deck to to my uncle’s boat, undershot it, and I experienced the cinematic cliché of gripping her hands while she begged me not to let her fall into the black, nighttime river below (fortunately, everyone’s parents came running before my clammy little hands resulted in Willamette folly). But in my relentless crusade to save face, I usually win, engaging in daring stunts just to thumb my nose at fear. Included in these reckless behaviors are swimming far out from shore by myself in Kauai, to the depths reserved for surfing the combers that break over the encompassing reef; swimming for hours on end at night, off of Tybee Island, when the world is black and the fish are feeding one state up from shark-beset Floridian waters; and pausing on the shore to listen to the sound of something big and lumbering, splashing through the water only feet away on a strange southern night when the beach fog was so thick you couldn’t see six inches in front of your face. While I’m none too eager to repeat the idiotic behaviors of my past, at least I can rack up the points against my phobia, limbs still wholly intact.
I don’t make the fight against fear easy for myself though. While harboring nightmares of the deep, I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by bodies of water: researching aquatic creatures–pelagic or otherwise, exploring multicultural mythologies bent on explaining away the sea, writing numerous stories that enveloped seafaring in some way, and squirming through every episode of River Monsters I could get my hands on, too distracted by the idea that freshwater’s teeming with terrifying things like pallid, Spanish river dolphins to admire my oldest man-crush to date: extreme wrangler Jeremy Wade.
Thus, it’s a strange, masochistic love affair I’ve got going on with water. On the one hand, water has chaperoned most of my life and provided me with some of the fondest memories I can summon to this day. Sure sharks feed at night, but lying there in a black bed of oscillating seawater while staring up at an enormous white moon was one of the most serene moments of my life. And declaring Monkey Head Rock officially seized while the tide swiftly began to close in was exhilarating. On the other hand, all this risky business I conduct to prove my “might” may very well lead to me straight down to Davy Jones’ locker on the Flying Dutchman Express.
Perhaps if I can surmount this fear of mine though, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing… At least there’s always the Bill Dance bloopers my dear Greta James introduced me to to get ya rootin’ for water!