Friday, December 18, 2009

just to "be" when I grow up


My mother had two boxes of photos in the closet. One was labeled “Before 1973” and the other “After 1973.” It seemed a little overly dramatic that she would base our entire collection of family photos on my father’s death, but such was her style.

I remember wanting to be a veterinarian pre-1973. Nothing seemed (and seems) more magical to me than animals. To help them would be a privilege and an honor.

But just like those two boxes on our shelf, things were to change when my father died. At six, I became a nervous child, predisposed to thinking about death instead of animals. I read books about the supernatural and the occult. I felt ghosts around me constantly. Animals suddenly saddened me. This world was mean and I couldn’t protect them. They were too vulnerable.

I don’t really remember what I wanted to be after 1973. I just wanted normalcy, love and a happy home. Lofty goals apparently.

At some point, in high school, I wanted to be an actress. I was desperate to be noticed and the performing arts allowed for that. I wanted people to see me!

When I entered college to study acting, my dream morphed. I went from acting as a form of attention-getting to genuinely needing to express myself creatively. I became serious about my art, in short. It’s a very different feeling than performing for attention, like a love-starved puppy. It was a real birth, one I'm still proud of.

Nobody would tell me about all the miserable jobs I'd have to endure to keep my art going – the jobs that nobody wants to be when they grow up. Waiting on tables was hell from the word go. Sold vacuum cleaners door to door for a bit. (I never sold one.) Office management positions weren’t really “management” at all but servitude, basically. Shameful, dehumanizing.

Some jobs actually did work for me, at least for a little while. I started a cleaning service with a friend during college and I liked the control I felt. I worked as a stint as an erotic masseuse when I moved to the West coast. Though several people in my life disapproved (including factions of myself), I thought it was a kick. I made good money, met people and expanded my wounded sexuality.

But none of the jobs felt dead-on. Like I was "on my path."

When your childhood is fractured, when you experience neglect or abuse or trauma, you disassociate. It’s an awful, spiritual black hole of an experience. It’s like you don’t realize you exist. Or you're sleepwalking through life - though sleep implies relaxation and comfort and that’s hardly it.

Nightmare-walking is a closer comparison. Hazy, foggy, disconnected. How can you possibly identify with a career goal? You can barely identify with the fact that you’re alive. It's hard to imagine unless you've experienced that kind of profound disconnect. Though frankly, I see most people blissfully locked in that state without even being aware of it.

Well, because of maturity, because of creativity, because of work, because of spirit, because of love, I’ve been waking up slowly from my nightmare-walk. I even sense that I’m living, every once in a while. I look in the mirror sometimes and say, “Yep, that’s me. That’s Beth Mann. Hi.” The person smiles back. I’m still not whole but I’m not a hole, either.

Now, now, now at 48, I play around with the idea of who I’ll be when I grow up. And it’s still hard to utter the words…still pains me, as if an axe will fall on my head if I think them. As if I’m not still not allowed. As if I don't deserve to have goals.

So whom do I want to be when I grow up?

  • I want to be a lover and have a lover. I want to love for a living. I want to have a happy home with my lover where we have wild, soul-driven sex all the time. I want us to constantly uncover and discover one another, to constantly support and inspire each other. I want us to be family to one another, so I can experience that sensation.
  • I want to be recognized for the artist I am. It sucks that I don’t make a ton of money for who I am creatively, but I can live with that since I’m so lucky in so many other ways. As long as I have some creative peers who believe in me and toss me some accolades sometimes, I’m happy. (Actually, no fuck that…I want scads of money for being a smart artist with a unique voice. I totally fucking deserve it.)
  • I want to be a vet. Hmm....maybe not now. But how I miss having pets in my life...can one aspire to being a pet owner? Yes, yes…I want to be pet owner when I grow up.
  • I want to help. If you don’t serve, what’s the use? You must serve. You must make a difference in lives of others, in whatever way you deem fit. I hope to be a humble servant. I hope I’m a contributor when I grow up. Though I'm its a tough call.
Ugh…I still feel like I’m reaching. Please don't believe any of this! I don't. It's like I’m still trying to force some stupid plan on my life again. Why does this feel so hopelessly canned?

I simply want to BE when I grow up. Am I shooting too low? I want to experience a day. The rest is icing.

Yep, that’s me. That’s Beth Mann. Hi.

Monday, November 30, 2009

a death in elsewhen

They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity and thrill, in waking to find they have been upon the verge of the great secret.
-Edgar Allan Poe

There’s a team of beings watching out for you. But you knew that, right? Magical Beings, Divine Watchers, Angels on High. They protect you, whisper secret messages in your ears, lift you when your soul is flattened. You’ve known them forever.

There was such a team for me. They sourced my magic and fed me heavenly thoughts and wild dreams. But I seem to have lost them and I’m not sure how to get them back.

Maybe I stayed on the Dark Side too long and they tired of pulling me kicking and screaming from its depths. Maybe I ignored them and they just…left. They feed off of hope and belief. Without it, they die of starvation, I don’t know.

I do know are truly the most radiant beings and without them, I’ve lost my glow, my beauty. All I’ve ever been is a reflection of their heavenly light. Without them, I am nothing. This is what I remember about them.

The Cast of Heavenly Players

The Dark Prince. This intense being has loved me for the longest time. He’s possessive and jealous at times and its a beautiful thing. When it seems there is no man for me, he is there waiting, watching me intently. With him, there is no end our love, just waves of eternity.

He has wild, dark curly hair, burning eyes and wears a feather in his hat. I found a photo of him in a newspaper once (can you believe it?). This is how I imagine him to look:

I save this photo in a wood box. I cherish it deeply.

When I was a little girl, the Pretty Golden Lady would lavish me with her deep femininity and all-encompassing love. She nurtured completely and made me feel pure, good and wanted.

This was no easy task. I never felt much like a princess in my tainted childhood, laced by shame and unexplained bouts of sadness.

But she, she was my feminine guidance. I bowed in her dazzling presence and wanted nothing more than to be her. She put her lips to my face and passed her magic on to me so I could feel adored, even when she was not around.

It may seem silly but she looked something like this:

And it wasn’t just people.

There were Cities of Light that I’d glimpse from my Third Eye sometimes. Sparkling cities, bursting with color and light, even though it was always nighttime. I’m not sure what happened in those cities (because I only saw them from afar) but it was right and good. Perhaps you learned great things. Or you worked joyously.

Even on the Earthly Plane, you can meet Kindred Spirits. Once I met a wondrous and wildly creative man on the Computer. Our virtual connection became so great at times, I’d fall off my chair. We’d share secrets, songs and sorrow, finish each others sentences, and blaze like stars in the night. He was My Match and it was an intoxicating and blissful feeling like no other.

When I’d sign off for the night, he’d still linger around me. (You see, a computer was no longer enough to separate us at that point.)

One day, I turned on my computer and he no longer appeared. My heart broke and my belief in magic was snapped in half again.

On a bad day, he is self-created fiction to replace an ever-decaying reality. A Nobody. On a good day, I just beckon him and he’s here once again with his witty replies and happy-to-see me sighs. He climbs in my bed and murmurs dark and delicious things.

And of course, Magic Music. Songs that possess a wondrous quality that fast-track you to another place in time.

When I first heard this song on the radio…

…I was a tiny little child, sitting in a car between my mother and my father. They were laughing, happy. Then time seemed to stop suddenly and they just froze! I stared at their fixed beautiful faces and knew this time of lives would not last forever.

It would barely last at all apparently. My father died soon after this Experience.

So you see, it's energy. It can come in the form of beings, plants, animals, scents, rays of light, gestures, voices, laughter, breeze, pages of a book, ice, wood, sparkling eyes...many, many things have lives of their own.

One cold night long ago, I walked hand and hand with my mother on an empty street. There stood before us an Icy Winter Tree. It was clearly alive and quite serious. It spoke to me of very powerful things: death and stillness and the magic of the Dark Side. Its frozen branches banged against one another. The sky stared nervously at it. My mother urged me to walk faster.

The Mirror Trick. When I was a little girl, I’d look into the mirror for a long time, until I could split free from my body. It was easy as a youngster to move beyond into a heightened state of consciousness. What a complicated and magical feeling, like I stumbled onto The Great Secret that Poe mentioned. I lost myself and found myself at the same time.

My mirror trick doesn’t work anymore.

What if there was an Apocalypse on the Other Side? What if the Magic has been ruined? More likely, I destroyed it. Like I destroy things sometimes. I have been on the Dark Side afterall. I know how to destroy.
A Message to the Magic Beings,
I’m sorry
I got so wasted on other things.
I burnt and beat your beauty out of me.
Without you, I’m a hole,
ever-caving in on myself.
Without you, I downward spiral
and live in the land of severe nothing
I’m sorry
I got so wasted on other things.
I burnt and beat the divine right out of me.
Kiss me when you can. If you don’t return, I’ll rise up to you eventually. I’ll find you again. My soul just got lost. But I’d like to dance with you again, if you’ll have me.

City of Lights
Winter Tree Starry Night - Gabriele Schwibach
Ghost Glass
Music: Theme from a Summer's Place - Percy Faith
A little thank you to my friend Laura Maschal, who convinced me this piece wasn't too strange.

Monday, November 16, 2009

the dokken factor and other dating deal breakers

First dates are up there with anal fissures when it comes to fun but they must be endured. (How else do you get to the sex?) Unfortunately, deal breakers often occur during those initial encounters making any future unlikely.

Take my date last weekend…please. He was a nice enough guy. Good-looking, above average intelligence. We went for brunch at a local outdoor restaurant. Sitting in the autumn light, we sipped mimosas and looked out over the ocean. Good so far.

Then the dreaded small talk ensued. I hate small talk. Weather, current events, what-do-you-do-for-a-living crap. Deadly dull. But I know, it must be done. (How else do you get to the sex?)

“So Peter, what kind of music do you like?” I asked with feigned enthusiasm.

“Heavy metal for the most part…like Dokken.”

“Dokken? What do you mean, Dokken? “It’s an 80's metal band.”

“Oh, I’m aware of them. They’re from the 80’s and have a shitload of hair. I just never…oh never mind.”

“What? You never what?”

“I never heard anyone mention Dokken as a favorite band before. That’s all. Like, the first band on a favorite list.”

“Well, who would you mention?” “I don’t know…any band other than Dokken?” I responded with a nervous laugh.

We quickly changed subjects but somehow Dokken loomed over us the rest of the brunch. They might as well have been at the table, guzzling my mimosa and whipping their over-processed hair in my face.

While Peter and I never had a second date (shocker, right?) it got me thinking about the Dokken Factor. Anything that makes you say, “Sorry cowboy, this is so not going to work.”

Listen, I don’t think everyone should be just like me. Musically, I have some effin’ nerve. I’m a 70’s pop addict of the worst variety. Phil Collins? Hall & Oates? Toto? ELO? Supertramp? Styx? Barry Manillow…oh yeah, I’ll go there. Bring it on, bitches. No shame.

So I get it. It’s fine to have differences in taste. It adds a playful tension. But differences as great as Dokken? That’s an unbridgeable gap.

My ex-boyfriend is a huge movie buff. He began to date this chick who didn’t like black and white movies. They gave her “the creeps.” I broke it to my ex that they stood no future whatsoever. He agreed and relationship was quickly dissolved. The Dokken Factor, clearly at play.

An old friend of mine had been dating a man for a while when she confessed to me he never went down on her. He told her early on that it just “wasn’t his thing.” (And no, it wasn’t a hygiene issue. And anyway, please, as if men are some sparkling clean specimens.) Dokken factor strikes again. Au revoir, pussy hater.

After seeing a movie in the city one night, a homeless crazy dude approached my date and I, yelling and wielding a pipe. I scared him off (by acting crazier than him, my go-to technique in those situations). I looked around for my date and there he stood, curbside, applauding my performance. Applaud this, Dokken Factor.

Some deal breakers turn out to be dealmakers. I dated a Christian guy and we managed quite well for some time. As long as he wasn’t pushing his God thing, I had no problem. When we kissed, “Son of a Preacher Man” would soundtrack in my mind. The idea of sullying his Christian goodness was ultimately a turn-on…who knew?

Sometimes false deal breakers are distancing excuses in disguise. My friend Paul finds his fun, vivacious girlfriend too hippie because she doesn’t like to wear shoes and wants to “touch the earth” as much as possible. I told him that while maybe a little gross, it was not a Dokken Factor but more of a pet peeve (because they get along beautifully otherwise). They’re still dating and she’s still barefoot a lot. C’est la vie.

Clothing, while not a deal breaker, can certainly be deal altering. A man who constantly dons a baseball cap can dampen my interests (unless you’re a professional baseball player, then don away). Wearing sneakers all the time, a turn-off. With black socks? Extra bleh. T-shirts emblazoned with big logos…corporate lackey. Put out a little effort. Be my eye candy sometimes baby. 

Still, I try to stay open to as many types as possible. While I may never fall for a metal-loving pussy-hating Budweiser t-shirt wearing Christian who thinks old movies are creepy, at least I can give him a shot, right?

Because you never know what someone can bring to the table. He might like Dokken but go down on me like a champ. And in the end that’s all that really matters.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

heathlike & me

I don’t even like Heath Ledger. But there he is, kneeling over me in bed, his shirt unbuttoned, wondering what to do next. Well, I can’t be sure it’s actually him. He is very Heathlike, that’s for sure. And that is good enough for me.

We are friends. I don’t remember how or when this happened but Heathlike and I are friends. I can feel that warm and relaxed energy dancing between us – the kind old friends have. (See photo above.)

So why are we in bed together if we’re just friends? I don’t know. We want to take a chance, bridge a gap, daringly enter a forbidden terrain. I feel good about it. Life is for merging, I think, as I stare at him longingly. Longingly? I never even had a movie star crush on him! But strangely, when you're suddenly in bed with him, you feel differently.

He, on the other hand, is slightly conflicted. I don’t take this personally. He’s not conflicted about me per se. He likes me. He seems more troubled and scared of himself. Of opening up.

“Kiss me. Kiss me.” I instruct.

He nervously leans over me and obliges. I feel his reticence again. His warm lips tremor on mine.

“Ugh. What’s your problem, Heathlike? We don’t have to do this if you don’t want!”

He then shyly pulls his hard cock out of his pants, as a way to express his true feelings. He is so beautiful, he shimmers. My body desperately wants him. I know at this moment he will enter me, despite all his internal resistance.

And he does.

He enters me once, twice and then a third time. I almost die from pleasure. Pure sexual perfection. Little shafts of light and electricity shoot between the two of us. We are electrifying together, Heathlike and I. This is more than sexual. This is a merging.

Then two of his keepers enter the room to discuss business with him! How could they walk in on us right now? He’s not even fully Heath Ledger. He doesn’t need keepers. Heathlikes don’t need keepers.

Leave us alone! Can’t you see we’re having sex? I’m enjoying myself. Business can wait! Get out! I just coaxed a reasonable facsimile of a conflicted Heath Ledger into having sex with me. Can’t you just leave us alone?

I think these things but don’t say it aloud. Or do I? I try. The words live somewhere between my mind and my mouth, hurting to get out.

I wonder why Heathlike isn’t angry. He just seems like he’s trying to appease everyone. Its not the most redeeming quality but I give him some allowance. He’s just that kind of person. Too nice for his own good.

Suddenly, I’m outside with Heathlike. This pretty woman has joined us. She long brown hair with perfect grey streaks – almost as if she had them done professionally. She is a loyal person to Heathlike. She is in love with him but he doesn't feel the same way about her. She hangs in there though, trying to be his ultimate ally, trying to be indispensable to Heathlike. I don’t like her false goals.

They leave me to go into a university or a grocery store or a university that is half grocery store. I wait outside but know I won’t wait long. My dignity won't allow it. I keep occupied with surfing since a neon-blue ocean suddenly appears before me my feet.

He is still not there when I finish my session so I look for the subway, slightly hurt and angry. I see Heathlike and Grey-Streaked Hair Girl leaving the grocery store/university. He has groceries in his arms (for a meal he plans on making me.'s a secret.) I hear her talking about me, not nice things. But Heathlike won't tolerate it. He tells her to stop.

Your loyalty is totally with me, you sexually fraught cutie. But you have kept me waiting too long. You should have been more respectful. Feel my departure, Heathlike. Feel my pain!

I say or think these words.

Luckily I see a subway stop and count my lucky blessings. Now it will be easy to get home and screw over Heathlike in a childish act of revenge.

As I walk downstairs, I realize I’m on the wrong side of the track. The train I need is arriving on the other side and I’ll never make it over there in time. I’ll have to wait a long time for another one. Suddenly my revenge sucks.

The subway station is rather handsome with high, old-fashioned ceilings. And there is produce everywhere – scads of fresh produce. Not for people but for restaurants and grocery stores. Still the air is a little cleaner and the subway a little less dismal.

It will be a long wait. No dinner. No sex with Heathlike. Just me and my stupid pride and a bunch of produce that isn’t even for sale to the general public.

Heathlike – if you can hear me, I'm sorry. I would like to taste your dinner. I think we deserve time together - real time. We broke through a wall and now we’re ready to torpedo past those issues of yours, I’m sure of it. Just reach out to me the next time I close my eyes.

I think these thoughts. Or say them. I’m not sure.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Juggling for Nothing – A Social Experiment in Letting the Balls Drop

Are you the workhorse in most of your relationships?
Are you the Sister Save Us All type?
How much of your actions are based of a sense of duty and obligation?
Are you one-sidedly maintaining many of the connections in your life?

It’s a near-constant juggling act for many women. We juggle furiously, yet our audience doesn’t seem to care, or worse, have grown to expect an amazing performance every time. Our souls are being quietly sapped and toxic resentment builds. 

What if you stopped trying so hard to be liked?
What if you stopped being so damned concerned?
What if you simply walked off the stage?

It's not easy to let the balls drop. Then suddenly you’re alone and a sterile quiet settles in. The phone stops ringing and conversations you so dutifully upheld are replaced with blank stares. No wonder why you’ve been so busy juggling. You were the only act in the show!

As a half-assed social experiment, I stopped saying hello first. I stopped making phone calls. I stopped saying, “Oh sorry, excuse me. Pardon me” and all of its endless variations. In short, I stopped trying. Anyone who didn’t reach out or initiate suddenly became under a personal scrutiny.
My brother was the first to go. Since I usually greet him with a polite good morning it felt surprisingly easy to stop. Since then, no words are exchanged between us. Oh well. One less ball to juggle.

My neighbor was an easy second. She doesn’t like me and I don' like her. I used to say hello just to be civil. Now we say nothing and I like it. Another ball dropped, easy.

Romantically, dropping the balls was harder. Maintaining the connections with a few old flames offers up moments of sweetness and romance. But it inevitably exhausts your self-esteem. You know you're doing all of the work. You keep waiting for the day it will be more balanced. That you'll juggle together. But maybe they just don't have the balls.

Perhaps many of us try so hard because we secretly believe we just don’t belong here. We have to cosmically and constantly “earn our keep”. We feel guilty over small infractions and apologize excessively. We couch our words until we have nothing left to say. We spend our time suspended in a state of anxiety, wondering when they'll find out that our very existence is a mistake.

Or maybe we juggle so incessantly because we’re self-centered, giving to others so we can get one day something back. When that day never arrives and no one is there, bitterness and disappointment take over. Someone else dropped the balls and we're pissed that we worked so hard for nothing.

Or maybe we can’t help but juggle for others. Until the day we die. We’re driven to give love and support. And we assume others will do the same for us. We’re earnest but exhausted performers, wondering when the next act will begin so we can take a much-needed break.

Sylvia been clinging to the same man for over 20 years. He’s attached to his bachelor status and told her decades ago that he never plans to settle down. She brings him food, clothing, gifts. She’s moved away from her family so she could be closer to him. Yet he provides her with nothing.

When I ask her why she hangs in there, she says, “I think he’s really misunderstood. He's interesting. I get him.” I want to dump my drink over her seemingly selfless head. Decades have gone by based on this delusion. (Trust me, he’s about as interesting as dried mud.)

See, she’s been juggling for so long, her body seems slightly contorted and she looks old beyond her years. Whenever I see her, I consider her an anti-hero of sorts. She’s everything I don’t want to be. She will juggle for nothing until the bitter end.

If she stopped doing for him, nothing would happen. He would not call, he would not care. He’d only miss the free meals and free sex. She, on the other hand, would be painfully aware of his loss and the loneliness might be too much for her to bear. But isn't it there anyway?

Many years ago, I told my best friend Krissie about a guy I liked and how he began acting strangely. I asked her to interpret something he said. About midway through our analysis, Krissie stopped me. “You know what, Beth? When you’re forced to figure out someone, you’re already off-track. You kinda already have your answer. It shouldn’t b such a mystery.”

Deciphering someone’s actions or words is another form of juggling. Interpreting. Processing. Figuring out. Trying, trying, trying to understand. Relaxing? Rewarding? Is any of it the equivalent of good sex and intimacy? No, its exhausting mind play that you become addicted to and demoralized by.

I don't want to be a circus act performing for a sleeping audience. So I’m letting the balls drop around me, one by one. I'm walking off the stage and out the backdoor and standing alone in the sunlight. Maybe I’ll disappear if I try hard enough…turn into some glorious vapor where the pressure is finally off.

So try. Dare to let the balls drop. If they bounce back, fine. If they bounce away, better yet.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Small Gestures, Small Flowers

Mark Dixon's "Two Friends"

Clint came over for coffee yesterday morning.

I had just returned from a brief trip back to my hometown to see some old friends. Emotionally fragile, I tried my best to engage in conversation with them and listen to their stories, though my heart wasn’t in it. I’d become too accustomed to living on an island, where my emotional sores fester in peace, alone. Social interaction feels foreign and pained at times. 

When I returned, the house was a mess. My brother and my roommate had trashed it resoundingly in the few days I was gone. The tired Cinderella motif played out in my head, as I rushed around in the sweltering heat, cleaning up, trying to make my habitat feel like a home, even just a little.

Clint came over for coffee yesterday and my house smelled of rotten food. No one had taken out the trash while I was gone because apparently you need a fucking PhD to figure out how to perform this Herculean task. Putrefying bodies after a mass suicide in the tropics smelled better than my kitchen yesterday.

Clint came over for coffee yesterday and I knew he would. He looks forward to our talks and we're friends with similar "issues." Once he saw my truck pull into the driveway from my trip, I knew his arrival was imminent. I rushed around, trying to clean up. I want my friends to feel good when they enter my house, not nauseated.

But he got there too early and the scent was unbearable. I apologized, my face red with anger and mild humiliation. He tried to help but had to leave the kitchen at one point because the smell was so bad. Finally, trash was removed, coffee brewed and sanity restored.

(But was it? There's a price for constantly having to make things right when you're already busting at the seams. Needless caretaking is backbreaking and taxing. Nobody talks about the price-tag.)

Over coffee, Clint told me of a woman he had hooked up with the night before. This was a big deal. Neither of us have seen much action as of late. I gave him a high five for “taking one for the team” and asked for details.

He said it was awkward a bit, actually. He felt a little unskilled, “rusty.” His mind was whirring with a million thoughts the whole time.

“I used to be able to seduce a woman much easier. I used to stick my tongue in someone’s ear with confidence. Now…”

He trailed off and looked thoughtfully into the freshly Windexed table.

“Now my has a life of its own. I can’t control it anymore.”

His last words punched me in the gut, resonating with me too deeply. My paper-thin veneer began ripping. Tears filled my eyes as he continued his story. He looked up at some point. “Are you alright?”

I burst into tears. "No, no I’m not" I laughed, in that undoing sort of way. "I’m not even close to alright. What you said about your mind having a mind of its own. I don’t know what to do. I’m...falling down. I have been for a while.”

He reached out and held my hand on the newly Windexed table, the smell of deathrot slowly fading away with the summer breeze.

“It’s going to be alright. We’re going to be alright.”

His hand felt so warm and firm and good. All that was good was in our hands. Warmth and love and connection and friendship. Nothing felt better. He held my hand and let go of it at just the right moment, not a second too early.

Isn't it amazing, what a small gesture can do? Even old embedded pain or anger can dissipate in the soft breath of an instant. It's funny - you’re so sure those wounds are a permanent splinter in your soul - and yet one kind word or gesture can yank it out in a flash. It's almost a miracle.

I'm always waiting for flowers. Flowers from people who hurt me. A note or a box of candy. Or a word of love. A wise explanation. A touch of acknowledgment. Then I'll feel released. Then my spirit will rise again.

I'm always waiting for flowers. From the people who left me, who didn’t apologize, who disregarded my feelings, who didn't show up, who may have used me, who didn't honor me.

I don’t even like flowers that much. It’s the symbol of flowers I always await. But they don't come.
Clint came over for coffee yesterday and saved my life a little. He gave me the symbol of a flower. With a touch of his hand. It was that simple.

Clint and Beth, Long Beach Island, Summer 2009
Clint with small flower, Summer 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

It All Went Downhill When....

1. We Stopped Bagging our Own Groceries   
It may have been different where you came from, but where I grew up, we worked with the cashier. It was our food after all and besides, it saved time for you, the cashier and the poor sap behind you. Now people mindlessly stand there, plastic in hand, wishing she’d move a little faster. Bring your own bags people! That's the least you can do.

Implication? We’ve become spoiled, apathetic babies who will soon expect the cashier to cook our food and spoon-feed it to us.

2. Men Started Shaving their Chests   
What’s with the need to be totally hairless? I for one find chest hair on a man to be a sexy thing. Then again women have been aiming for baby-like hairlessness for quite a while so why shouldn't men experience the joy of a good hot waxing?

Implication? We’re desperately trying to escape the fact that we are, in essence, hairy beasts. Or we’re trying to become babies again. Our constant pursuit of youth affects men as well as women. Even babies are feeling ancient.

3. Vehicles Began Making Too Many Sounds
I won’t even get into the needless noise pollution created by useless car alarms or the cacophony chirps constantly going off as people try to figure out how to activate them. I’m trying to figure out when it became mandatory that all trucks go “beep beep beep” when in reverse. Why didn't we get to vote on that? Were the blind people and children getting plowed down left and right before this new form of audio torture?

Implication? Over-regulation rules and no one know how to use a rear-view mirror.

4. Libraries Turned Noisy

Our library in the summer makes a Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday seem tame. What’s next? Keggers in the church? Orgies in the classroom? Is no space sacred? Libraries used to be a sanctuary – a place for the mind to settle and focus. Now children run in maniacal circles while their parents talk loudly on their cell phone (on the other side of the library. Shhh...they don't want to be disturbed!)
Implication? We’ve have no sanctity of space. The need to spill over has become so widespread...oh and many of our kids have become undisciplined monsters.

5. Antibacterial Products became Commonplace  Clean apparently wasn’t clean enough for the anal-retentive homemaker. Germs are everywhere and this is war! If she could scour her hands with bleach, she would.  These industrial strength germaphobe products will protect her from all the dirty, invisible things out to get her.

Implication? We're control freaks and spend too much time indoors. And women need to be fucked better overall.

6.  Our Workdays Went from 9 - 5 to 8 – 6 It's a little Big Brother that our 9 – 5 slowly morphed into an 8 – 6. As if we wouldn’t notice! But we didn't, really.

Implication? We're still a slave to the man.

7.  Those Stupid Blow-up Christmas Things on Lawns
Come on. They’re not cute. They’re not quaint. They’re stupid and tasteless. I don’t even think kids like them.

Implication? We are inundated with such generic nonsense that we’ve lost any sense of aesthetics or taste.

Ho, ho ho, I'm a tasteless eyesore!

8. People Stopped using their Turn Signals
What, are they too good for you? Well, then don’t trouble those tired little fingers of yours. I’ll use my telepathic skills instead.

Implication? Turn signals indicate a sense of consideration and concern for the other's safety which we've long since but a brake on. 

9. Parents Talked on Cellphones while Pushing a Baby Stroller
The child must feel a subconsciously disconnect when this happens. Even if you don't believe that, one thing is for certain: it's not quality parent/child time.

Implication? Our cell phones have a life of their own at this point. They're stuck between our legs, plastered to our face and checked maniacally. Our need for connectivity has made us extremely disconnected. And sure, kids feel that.

10. People Used Giant Plastic Wheelbarrows for a Day Trip to the Beach
Every summer I watch men and women break their backs lugging these massive plastic wheelbarrows packed to the gills. Can anybody pack light anymore? Do you really need the effin' kitchen sink with you, bloated American family?

Implication? Dependency on stuff to a gross proportion. We all need dumped in a jungle with a compass and a Swiss Army knife.

11. Food Became Too Orange
Have you seen a Cheeto lately? It’s not just orange: it’s shockingly orange. I can pig out on snack foods with the best of them but you have to wonder how you can blithely consume something that may in fact glow in your intestines.

Implication? We’re all going to hell in a neon orange hand basket.

Your intestinal tract after too many Cheetos

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Amanda Dreams

Amanda dreams of riding undulating silver worms in the desert. She is wearing ornate filigree glasses and talks with Egyptian women, somehow knowing the language. She has wild orgies with ever-changing partners. She is suddenly a man, then back to a woman, then a man again. Body parts are made of dazzling metal, hot to the touch.

I dream I have to name all the parts of a chicken in front of a small, restless group of people. When asked what a giblet is, I panic. “I don’t know. I don’t know what a giblet is!” Everyone laughs at me. "I really like chicken liver though," I mutter. But no one hears.

Amanda has a dream that she is running from rooftop to rooftop, with neon green magical sneakers made of material that allow her to make these treacherous leaps. Her laughter echoes all around her. She feels like a superhero.

I dream I'm looking for a washcloth. I forgot to wash my makeup off and look everywhere. When I do find one, it's dirty. I figure it's better than no washcloth.

I also frequently dream of bathrooms. Hideous bathrooms. I’ve had these dreams much of my adult life. I have to go and I’m forced to walk barefoot in some abysmal lavatory that hasn’t been cleaned in centuries. There are no magical sneakers or undulating silver worms. Just shit, overflowing, everywhere.

Is my psyche dull? I seem to have a deadbeat subconscious that kicks out dreams that are as fanciful as a Brillo pad. Often they are just a boring rehash of a boring day: my car isn’t starting. The cable company is calling. I try to explain that I already sent the payment, but my voice goes dead on me and I just have to hear them yammer on.

I try to find meaning in my mundane dreams. I’m sure Freud or Jung would. Or perhaps I’d bore them too. They’d ask me to discontinue therapy because my psyche just wasn’t up to par.  “You just have a boring psyche, Mizz Mann,” said in a thick German accent. “Vee cannot help you. Call us when you have a better internal life.”

This morning I dreamt I waited in long, long line at a department store, in real time. There is a girl I went to high school with in front of me. She has more clothes than me and I feel envious that I can't afford more. I don't even really like the sweater I'm buying. When I finally get to the cashier, she is sound asleep.

Vaclav Blaha, "It's Raining Red"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Date This

Being “set up” with someone has unnerved me since my dating life began. I’ve never been open to matchmaking and probably never will. Perhaps it shows a real closed-mindedness on my behalf. More likely, I just find it to be a waste of time.

Why? Undoubtedly (and I mean 100% undoubtedly), I will not be attracted to this “ideal match.” Then I end up being insulted and hurt that my friends think so little of me as to set me up with someone so woefully unfit.

Take Clint, for instance. Last week, he dropped by with some “good news” for me. He just met with his home insurance rep and guess what? He thinks I’d really hit it off with him! His name is Wayne Krassman.

My fists softly tightened (because again, I really, really hate someone trying to set me up on a date. Have I established that?) But I tried not to show it.

“So,” I asked breezily, “Why is he such a great match for me?”

Clint thought for a second then responded (and these are his exact words, people):

“Well, he’s available, he’s your age…and he has a full head of hair.”

“How about his limbs? Does he have all his limbs?”


“Well, then Lordie, calls the preacher! I gots to get me a dress!”

Clint looked exasperated.

“Clint, if you’re going to hook me up with someone, don’t you think he should have some traits a little nearer and dearer to my heart, like say, a good sense of humor or creativity or hell, even a big cock.”

“You’re too much.”

“Okay, it doesn’t have to be that big. It’s more about the girth, anyway.”

He left in a huff. And I sat there wondering whether this issue of mine was getting in the way of me meeting someone special.

So I found Wayne online and explained that I needed flood insurance for my home. My brother and I are finally moving forward on a buyout so I can move out and buy my own home. We need the flood insurance in order to secure a mortgage loan.

Krassman seemed full of helpful information but it was a stressful call. He warned me of the myriad of ways we could be denied this loan. If I didn’t know better, he was gleaning satisfaction by relaying to me every worst-case scenario possible. There are always people out there like that - the ones happy to tell you bad news.

“But Wayne, this house has been paid off for decades. We’re applying for a loan that’s a quarter of its worth. If for some strange reason he defaulted, they’d still benefit!”

“Well, banks aren't in the home-selling business. Especially now. Do your homework. You could be in real trouble.”


My future suddenly seemed quite scary. I imagined being stuck in this house forever, spiders setting up camp in my hair, losing teeth and naming squirrels. Many thoughts raced through my mind but not for one second did I want to “hook up” with this guy. Put a hook through a cheek muscle? Yes. But I forced myself to be nice. Choking back worried tears, I muttered:

“Wayne, thanks for taking the time to explain this to me. This is all new territory.”

Then the "man of my dreams" says, apropos of nothing:

“I’m always happy to help a woman as attractive as yourself. I really liked some of those sexy shots of you on Facebook.”

I could smell the indignation broiling in my brain. Smoke slowly leaked from my nose.

“Hey Wayne. I’m actually concerned about my welfare, not some stupid pictures I posted on Facebook.”

“So who took them?”

Wow. Brass ones - dangling and clanking. Not only does he hear a potential client’s immense disapproval of his sexist comments but continues down this road, proudly and blithely.

How I wish I could tell you I stung him with some pithy one-line response. And how I hung up the phone and lit up a cigarette, blowing the smoke out like an indignant Lauren Bacall.

But I did none of that. Because I was desperate for information that may help my future. So I swallowed my pride like a load of warm cum and continued to ask the heartless and clueless cretin about flood insurance.

Humiliating? Most definitely. I lost some dwindling self-respect for the sake of flood insurance.

When I was done with our "first date", I reached for a Zombie Pill (what I affectionately call my anti-anxiety meds). I grabbed a glass of wine to enhance the mind-melt effect. (As my late great friend Krissie used to say "When the bottle tells you not to mix with alcohol, they're just trying to deny you a good high.")

I sat very still on the worn living room couch, staring out the window, waiting for the pill to kick in.

Clint stopped by a little later. In a dream-like state, I told him that I conversed with Wayne.

“Well, what do you think?”

My mind had already started its liquification. My financial worries became warm jelly and the sunset seemed particularly sunsetty, what with all its oranges and purples and red wine.

“I think I'm in love.”

"I knew you guys would get along!"

Friday, July 17, 2009

How to Ace a Job interview

How to Ace a Job Interview by Beth Mann from Beth Mann on Vimeo.

From 1999 - 2006, a group of friends and I worked on an experimental comedy show called Thrush TV. It was very lo-fi, guerrilla style videomaking. We were mainly performers or writers, not filmmakers! With that said, we had some wonderful times making our weird little program and learned so much. We produced over 100 shows. It was experimental in the true sense of the word and we laughed...alot. Above is an excerpt from one episode.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

who's your daddy, beth mann?

Paul E. Mann

Dear Dad,

Father's Day, whatever. Another day to feel amiss and discordant with the world. According to a magazine article, writing a letter to you is supposed to be therapeutic. I hope so. Because I could stand for some help.

When you left so many years ago, I thought you went to live with a another family with a superior 6 year-old girl. There must be something wrong with me, with us, I thought. And worried, what bad thing could happen to us next?

And now, so many decades later, I don't feel radically different from that sad, anxious little girl. But this routine is getting old. Time is running out. I don't want to spend my remaining years with the nagging weight of your loss anymore.

I get why it imprinted me so deeply. You were my first prince and you left me at such a delicate age. From that point forward, I felt less than. If my first prince left me, then who would possibly stay?

I want your help to shake this stale messaging completely. I'm already making some headway. I see glimpses of a better self. I'm becoming more whole (as far as fractured people go). And it feels fucking nice, Dad.

But those fleeting moments aren't enough.

I also want to be able to dream again.

When you lose your father, you don't dare dream. You just figure dreams are for little girls whose daddies stuck around. Things don't work out the same for the girl whose daddy left. A perpetual Cinderella.

So can you help me? I'm ready to dream again. Hell, I want my life to be an active dream.

I want to fall in love, maybe get married, and spend every day feeling worshiped and wonderful. I want to speak my mind without feeling stupid or ashamed. I want to be at peace, not frightened and anxious. I want to laugh hard and frequently. I want to feel safety and a deep sense of home.

You see, when you left, home left too. But I'm ready for home now, Dad. I'm ready for a new way of being in this world. Because I can't take too much of the old world, Dad. It's eaten up too much of my happiness.

The year my father left

Maybe we wouldn't even get along, if you had stayed among the living. I don't know. But I remember you being a very gentle and just man. Kind. Am I wrong? You loved nature, animals, singing, laughing. You were well-liked and humble. Mom was the dark horse but you were the jovial, peaceful one.

My mom and dad

My father in a comedy skit, with broom

And then the social embarrassment of growing up without a father. Every holiday or birthday, feeling like you were the odd family out. With mom gone, I'm an official orphan. Now I'm forced to hear people say (in this patronizing tone that only I recognize): "You can spend the holidays with us. We'd love to have you." The royal we that everyone has and I don't. Those invitations make me cringe.

So how can you help, Dad? Remind me sometimes that you didn't leave me. You died, Daddy - you simply died, like humans do.

Because I was a little kid, I didn't know how to process grief. Maybe if I was allowed to visit you in the hospital more or gone to your funeral, maybe I would have understood better. But I doubt it. A little girl doesn't understand anything other than "he's gone." 

I so wish you were here, just for a short while. I'd like to show people you exist. You see? I have a father too! A good father! I don't have to hear about your father and all of the wonderful things he does for you. I can brag about my father too, so screw you.

So Dad, do what you can on your end. You can still help me, right? Death shouldn't stand in the way of you being my father.

Until then, I'm just another butterfly on a windy day.

Love, Beth

The last photo of my father, me in the middle. He died 2 weeks later.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Surfing, Sexism and Self-flagellation

I have been surfing for about 7 years now. a long 7 years.

It's a very difficult sport to master and I'm not even close to where I want to be. But I work on it frequently. I surf because it maintains my sanity. Without it, I'm left swimming in a sea of dark mental chatter that threatens to drown me out entirely.

I bought a short board last Christmas. This is a very big deal. Short boarding is for the hotshots, the pros, the fast ones, the shredders, the rippers. Short boards are difficult to ride and require more control and manipulation. You "carve" a wave instead of coasting down it and build momentum with fast turns.

I'm 42 and female. I bought a short board that many men my size can't ride.

My first official short board (6'0) by shaper John "JC" Carper

Long boarding, on the other hand is easier. It is how many people learn how to surf, though I did not. It's a bigger and slower, experience. You can catch waves more simply. Its easier to find your center of balance. It's graceful and an art in and of itself.

In a nutshell, short boarding is like driving a touchy race car and long boarding is akin to taking a Cadillac out on a Sunday drive.

This is long boarding:

This is short boarding:

Two totally different animals.

I spent the better part of the bitter winter struggling with this board, wiping out repeatedly and spending agonizingly long moments pinned to the ocean floor in 38 degree water temps. I've been held under so long that I couldn't speak afterward, my facial muscles constricted from the cold.

Sitting in my truck, heat blasting and ego deflating, I'd wonder if my new board is simply beyond my skill level. It's just another mistake I've made. And a costly one since boards aren't cheap, long or short.

And the men out in the water didn't help. They'd paddle up to me, icy breathed, saying, "You really should try a longer board. It's easier." Of course, I knew they'd never say this to a guy. I paddled far from them and practiced. All winter. I stayed away from "the group" until I felt more confident. I didn't need their critical eyes on me, like watery vultures preying on weakness.

It's important to hold your own with other surfers. The better you get, the more you're "allowed" to surf with the good ones at the better spots. And they give you no breaks. They'll yell at you if you pull off a wave (meaning you chickened out at the last second) and they expect you to keep up with them. It's very "in club" and very competitive - male or female.

Very slowly, I improved and joined back up with other surfers. I could catch waves, drop in, make turns but still hadn't mastered sharp turns, where you use your back foot as the pivot. My board still feels like glass under my feet. It goes so quickly and my response time needs to improve. But I hold my own.

Still, the chorus of voices chant, "Get a long board, Beth."

An aerial - something I cannot do...yet!

Luckily, there is one voice of dissent: Kurt, the youngest of The Brothers:

Kurt, keeping it classy.

Yep, he's my only ally. Friends and I have lengthy discussions wondering whether Kurt may in fact be part wild. He's a highly kinetic dude. Think Spicolli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets a hand grenade. He's an aggressive and good surfer. And a real sweetheart. He believes in me. He's my crazy little lifeboat.

I surf with him the most. He's watched me get tossed about like a rag doll all winter. It sucks failing repeatedly but having someone watch you fail repeatedly sucketh that much more.

A better photo of Kurt so he doesn't kill me.

Kurt has constantly maintained that I could learn and master this board. I just had to stick with it.

He's heard people tell me I should get a long board and he gets equally defensive. "Why should she get a long board? She's good. She's aggressive. She just needs practice." I could kiss him when he says this.

Yesterday, one of the nicest local guys I surf with paddled up to me (right after I caught a solid wave and was feeling rather proud) and I could feel it, before he even said it.

"You know what you need, Beth?"

"Don't tell me, Chris. Let me guess. A long board?"

"Exactly! How did you know?"

My face froze like it did in the winter, but this time with anger. I was pissed.

"I knew, Chris, because I hear it all the time. Even though you all see me catching waves on this board. Even though I've don't even like long boarding. Even though, if I was a guy, you wouldn't say that in the first place!"

"I just see that board slipping away from you sometimes."


"I don't know. Just in general."

"Have you watched me lately? Did you see that last wave? I've done nothing but improve on this board. Besides its 7 inches taller than's not even that short of a board for my size. What, do you want me on a big, fat, pretty cruiser board? Should it be pink with ribbons too?"

He muttered something about not meaning anything by it and paddled away, looking a little hurt and feeling badly.

And so did I. I don't like snapping at people. But a girl can only take so much.

The voices inside my head began their usual battle.

"You shouldn't have been so mean."

"Well, when can I speak my mind? When can I just tell people to back the fuck off? When can I be angry?"

Of course, this kind of battle rages on, regardless of surfing. It's almost as if the more I find "my voice" the more I alienate people. And then I berate myself for...being too much myself. I can be an angry, self-righteous and opinionated bitch. And I don't see any signs of changing these traits. If anything, they are becoming more pronounced.

But then the guilt kicks in and my inner shrew shrieks in frustration.

"What do you want, Beth? Do you want to be yourself or do you want the world to love you?"

"I want both. Isn't it possible to have both?"

"No. It's not. You just aren't that nice, that likable."

"But I am. I am. I swear, I am!" the gentle, quiet soul in me protests. "I'm very kind."

I tried to be nicer to Chris the rest of that session though I was the one who felt insulted, degraded. It's the twisted way in which one lives apologetically.

"Sorry I spoke up. Sorry I got angry. Sorry I exist. Sorry I cried. Sorry I scared you away. Sorry I yelled. Sorry for my clumsy humanness. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry."

What a dilemma we women find ourselves in - or at least this woman. You either smile and hear limiting messages for the fortieth time or you finally speak from your gut and feel like shit about it afterward. I'm trying to eliminate the "feel like shit" aspect.

I'm trying to learn to short board at 42. It's very hard but I'm getting it: short boarding and telling people to fuck off.

Me on a shorter board: 6'7 last summer - photo by Laura Maschal

(Me, several years ago on a 7'2 - my biggest board and not a long board. I'm much better than this now - you'll just have to trust me!)