Art

And Don’t Forget the Importance of Body Language

I’m in a fight!

I don’t want to talk about it.

Okay, FINE, if you insist. (You’re the worst. So nosey. God!)

I’m in a fight with a boy. Actually, a lot of boys. Every boy. I’m in a fight with every boy.

You know how on The Mindy Project every week there’s a guy that she’s pining over or that she’s making a terrible mistake with and you think to yourself, That special guest star is quite attractive; I really hope that this time it sticks and then you think Is she just going to live happily ever after with him? He has a sitcom in the works at NBC. They can’t make him a series regular. And then you think, Maybe he’ll break his contract. This is love we’re talking about, people! And then you think Well, it’s like Meatloaf says, “I would do anything for love but I won’t break a multi-platform development deal.” But maybe… And then you think And then what? No more romantic hijinks. Just brunch on the weekends and summers in Vermont? and then you think Why Vermont? and you respond Scandal-Olivia-Fitz-840x550Because if Fitz and Olivia can’t end up there, by golly, somebody ought to and why not me? I mean Mindy. Mindy Lahiri. On The Mindy Project. Not me. But also me. God, I miss Scandal. And by that time the episode is winding down and, of course, the romance has fizzled out and Mindy is alone again with her life and her co-workers and her pratfalls. My life is just like that of late. Except whereas Mindy does it while traipsing around “New York” (a soundstage in Burbank), wearing fabulous clothes (the costume department is doing the damn thing, child), I do it all from from my bed over text messages while watching The Good Wife on Hulu.

A sensible pact from the Mindy ProjectI hate it. I hate dating! I hate it! I keep having these interactions where I go on a couple of dates with someone and then after a minute they come back at me angry because they say they’ve been throwing themselves at me and I haven’t responded.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF MY REACTION

Exsqueeze?

Exsqueeze?

I gotta say, this trend has me totally flabbergoggled. You’re coming on to me and I’m not getting it? Objection, your honor. We’re not even Facebook friends. If you’re not even going to make the effort to stalk me, I don’t know what to tell you.

I mean, have you met me? I come on strong and I come on crazy. Always. I wrote a blog about a boy I had a crush on and then I sent it to him! MORE THAN ONCE. I proposed marriage to dreamboat Michael Liang at 20 til midnight in NYE. (Still no answer, but cross your fingers folks.) There’s no way you’re sending me messages that I’m not understanding, homes. You don’t need to throw yourself at me. All you need to do to express interest is pull a Sheryl Sandberg: lean in. I’m someone who takes even the slightest shift in posture as a declaration of eternal love. Clear your throat and adjust your tie and I’ll yelp “Yes I’ll marry you!”. Every time.

Look, I get it. Dating is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. Reading body language is hard. (THAT ‘S WHAT SHE SAID.) We’re both strangers sitting across from each other trying not to be strangers. But you know what? I’m one of those strangers too. It’s not the passiveness that gets me, it’s that these interactions make me feel inscrutable. I don’t think I can be with someone who doesn’t get me. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Anyway, to distract myself I’ve been throwing myself into work and into new projects and into supposedly fun things that I would never normally do.

And that’s how I ended up barefoot in a Northern Liberties warehouse with my hands clenched around a high schooler’s neck.bill cosby

Hm. I should back up.

I’ve been thinking about joining the gay rugby team. Well, I’m not really sure if they’re gay. I mean, I know some of them are gay. But I don’t know if they’re officially gay or if it’s just like one of those casual gaynesses. You know, like Aaron Schock has. (POLITICS!) I’ve been interested in joining the rugby team for a while for two reasons:

1) I once watched about 10 minutes of rugby on television and I was really into it. I was totally following the rules and invested in the actual game (as opposed to literally anything else going on in the stadium up to and including the movement of the hot dog vendors up and down the stairs in the stands. Sometimes when I go to Phillies games I try to track one guy throughout the whole stadium. It’s like Where’s Waldo, but with weiners. Also, of course, how I describe most of my third dates.) Anyway, I was really taken by rugby. Until I remembered that I had no interest in sports and abruptly left the room.

2) Every picture I see of the rugby team looks like cuddling.paul-rudd-hugging copy

So I decided to join. I waited until I had insurance again before I gave the thought serious consideration because I know that there is a slight to definite possibility that I will break one or all of my limbs playing rugby. But I don’t like to dwell on that. I choose to focus, instead, on how much fun it’ll be to wear those little shorts and tussle with other chaps in the scrum (that’s what they call the cuddle huddle). It’s going to be fabulous.

Tryouts are in February. I’m thinking of singing a number from Once on This Island and doing a Tilda Swinton monologue  from Michael Clayton. I’m a shoo-in.

In the interim, I was asked to participate in a workshop for Team Sunshine Performance Corporation’s production of Henry IV. It was pitched of four days of stage combat, sword fighting and grappling with strangers. I thought, Oh, that sounds awful. I’m in.No Thank You Please

I’m trying to find more interesting ways to get physically active. I can’t seem to get myself to go to the gym regularly. This is not my fault. I mean, I keep suggesting that the place would be full if they provided a continental breakfast and played romcoms on the TVs instead of all that basketball and news. I’ll get out of bed at 6 am for a bagel, schmear and a hilarious tale of mistaken identity and romance in a modern metropolis. But plodding along on an elliptical while striking the woman next to me with my expressive hand choreography to Beyonce’s new album? Not today, bitch.esq-oitnb-chicken

I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this workshop. I have no stage combat experience whatsoever. I did, however, play  Prince Hal in 11th grade (Yes, that’s where you remember me from. Please, no autographs.)

On my way over, I tried to imagine what lie in wait in this fake combat workshop.  I figured I should get into character. Like most people, when I think of a character that fights I think of Oprah from The Color Purple. So, when I arrived, I stood in the center of the room, squared my shoulders and recited her speech to Miss Celie in the middle of the field.

all my life i had to fight “You told Harpo to beat me!” I bellowed to the crowd. “All my life I had to fight. Had to fight my daddy and my brothers, too. I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let beat me!” I stood back, triumphant, knowing that I’d successfully set the correct tone for this band of warriors. Everyone looked at me perplexed. White people.

So, I proceeded to explain the plot of The Color Purple to them. “Before Whoopi Goldberg was a singing nun, she was an unhappy woman married to the guy from Lethal Weapon. Not Mel Gibson. And Oprah was there. This is also before she turned psychic and met Patrick Swayze. This was in the dark ages. I’m talking the mid-80s.” I took the room through the whole movie and then decided that it’d be a nice exercise for the group to reenact the dinner scene where Ms. Sofia comes out of her catatonic state after being falsely imprisoned. Let me tell you, it took about 6 hours to prepare a full Sunday meal and fully commit to Oprah at her Orange is the New Blackest, but I think it was worth it. For art!

Oh! Brilliance alert! I think the plot of Sister Act 3 should involve Sister Mary Clarence’s long lost friend, Shug, who is on the run from her ne’er-do-well musician husband and just wants to settle down in a nice speakeasy on the San Francisco Bay. I volunteer to play Squeek. Guys! This is a legitimately ingenious idea. Can someone call Hollywood, please? I seem to have lost the number.photo.PNG

Anyway, once I ceded the floor to the leaders from Team Sunshine, the actual work began. It was, legit, beyond my wildest dreams. They worked us through a simple weight shifting exercise with a partner, showing us how to simulate grappling without actually hurting anyone. I was amazed at how quickly I broke a sweat simply pushing gently on a stranger. This sounds dirty. I’m uncomfortable. Next paragraph.

We did all manner of things in the interest of finding ways to compellingly and artistically represent the centerpiece battle in the play. We were organized into a modified rugby scrum (cuddle huddle) that moved in a slow spiral as we all tussled with each other (tickle fight). We we split into two sides and taught 16 poses to hold at various points during Hal and Hotspur’s epic showdown. It was like yoga with violence!

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME DOING BATTLEgandalf

We learned how to simulate being knocked out of the way by a mace-weilding giant! We learned how to run in slow motion! Each day I left glowing with sweat, totally physically engaged and kind of amazed at what my body could do. Each morning after I woke up with that good muscular soreness that means you’re doing something right.

And so it was, on the third day, that I ended up in a grappling exercise, with my hands around the neck of a frail looking high schooler, thinking how glad I was to be out in the real world making human connections and sword fighting invisible people rather than doing battle with boys over text message.Pillow Fight

Unbeknownst to me, my experience playing a small part in the creation of Team Sunshine’s new show would be the perfect preparation for my own new work. I’m putting together a new solo show. I don’t really want to talk too much about it yet, though.

FINE! I’ll tell you. (SO NOSEY!)

It’s called Vocab. It’s an instruction manual for the son I don’t yet have. It’s a series of questions about the nature of black masculinity posed by one who, by virtue of his status as a queer person, stands outside of it but is inextricably linked to it through his physicality. It’s about the many ways one can be seen as a black man and how those complicated perceptions relate to actual personhood.

Because I wanted to investigate something I feel outside of, I decided to use a vocabulary that is also outside of my home base, which is storytelling. Whereas previous solo shows have been based in a narrative, this one is based in physical action, in dance. There is still a narrative, but its arc is smaller and secondary to what will be done with the body. So I asked my friend George to choreograph for me. Specifically, to choreograph hip hop. GUYS I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK I’M DOING.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME TRYING TO GET BACK INTO MY COMFORT ZONEbaby The Help

We met for our first rehearsal yesterday. It was… an experience. George is such a fantastic dancer. And he seems to believe that I can actually learn these hard moves (Hard as in difficult and also as in Ghostface Killah.) We stood in front of a mirror in a dance studio while he just tossed off dance moves, demonstrated them and then commanded “Now you!”

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF GEORGE KRUMPINGbeyoncesweetdreams

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF MY REACTIONwhitney child please

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME KRUMPINGcommunity-krumping1

Standing next to George, looking at his body effortlessly jump into the moves and watching my body react like I had asked it to suddenly grow feathers I got discouraged. I look like a big lumbering idiot. I reminded myself that this was just day one. Surely Catherine Zeta-Jones felt the same way the first time she got in the studio to practice the Hot Honey Rag, I thought. Yes, that’s right, when I’m feeling down I compare myself to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Don’t you?

I’m not a natural dancer. Part of this show is also an exploration of that disconnect–do I have soul? Where is it? Why won’t it teach me to dougie?

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF HOW I THINK I DANCEcliff and clair dancing

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME DANCINGRebel Wilson

It was tough. But I left rehearsal and I was glowing and sweating again. And while I was a bit less impressed by what my body could do than I was after the Team Sunshine rehearsal, I still felt more in touch with the physical, more capable, better versed in body language. I was on such a high that I actually went right to the gym afterwards and climbed on the treadmill. Full disclosure: part of this was self-preservation. The show also involves me sprinting in place while delivering a monologue and this bitch ain’t trying to die on stage.

So that was Day 1.

And it seems to me, day 1 is more than just the hardest day, it’s also the day that begins the journey. I like to believe that journey’s destination is freedom from perceptions of inadequacy and a full embrace of the process–whether that process is dating or performing or just living. And I’m in it to win it.

Fight on!Ursula The Little Mermaid Body Language

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Love

This is Just a Test…

Guys, I might have accidentally fallen in love with the guy who gave me my HIV test. What’s the proper term? HIV tester? Test administrator? Precept? Docent? Whatever. Whomever. I love him.

It really must be love because I’m not usually one to talk about my, um, sex life. And, okay, testing is actually just responsible behavior and self-care, but baby with the bathwater, I say. easyaWhile in theory I believe in normalizing regular testing for sexually active adults of all stripes, I am also a prude. Philadelphia, where I live, has a great number of sex-positive organizations, which is all well and good, but I have a long history of sex-negativity. I’m all for sex, but don’t like to talk about it, think about it, or acknowledge that it happens. I’m kind of a Puritan at heart; I’m still not convinced that The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter weren’t black comedies about appropriate responses to rips in the moral fabric of a level-headed community. My parents used to tell me that they tried for so long to have me and I honestly thought that that meant that they prayed really hard.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, my impending nuptials!

The other night, I popped into a local testing center run by a wonderful organization called GALAEI because it was time. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for two years. It ended in July and I figured it behooved me to restart my regular practice of getting tested every six months. Climb back on the horse, as it were. Okrrr?!

falling-off-the-horse

I wasn’t looking for love, but they say that’s when it strikes. Like a serial killer in a movie. The super cute scrub-clad doctor led me to the private room, pricked my finger (like Cupid!) and started the clock. All doctors are hot, aren’t they? Like physically attractive. Their faces are symmetrical or whatever it is that makes people hot. They have small pores. I don’t know what it is. But they have it. Even the ones with slightly less than symmetrical faces are hot. And it’s not just the money; it’s the confidence, I think. They’ve got that Fitzgerald Grant Alpha-personality going on. And I’m a firm believer in making all my life decisions as if I’m Olivia Pope. Live every week like you’re wearing sharkskin gloves.

I twiddled my thumbs. In previous HIV tests, I’d been ushered out to the lobby (is it really a lobby if there isn’t a concierge desk?) and browsed through old issues of Entertainment Weekly while the test developed. Clearly he wanted to keep me around.

“What do you do for fun?” the doctor asked. I immediately got confused. What was he looking for?

“What do you mean, fun?” He cast me a look askance. I was like, Gurl, don’t come for me, gurl. It’s unclear whether you’re asking me about possible risky behavior or just shooting the shit. I’m not sure whether I should answer “Well, for fun I like take home intravenous drug users I just met on the street” or if I should say, “You know, brunch.” Is this a first date or an interrogation?!

He’s like, “I was just making conversation.”  Okay, okay. Okay. No need to get snappy. Okay.

He took off his glasses, leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk. “I hope you don’t mind; this is my 14-hour day.”

I said, “Make yourself comfortable!” But in the back of my mind, I thought “Honey, if this test comes back sideways, you’re going to need to adjust your bedside manner right quick.”

We chatted for a bit. I told him I work in theater; he said he recognized me from advertisements for a show I’d done. I flipped my hurr.

pw

The conversation turned to dating. I told him I was recently out of a long-term relationship and I was surprised by how soul-sucking dates can be. We take each other apart and judge the pieces. It’s a consumer activity or, worse, a clinical one. We forget that these boys we’re assessing at an arms length are people. And then, in turn, we forget that we’re people, too. He agreed with me. “I dated someone for a 6 weeks and then he just stopped calling,” he said. Out loud, I said, “Aww, that’s terrible!” but inside I was screaming “HE’S LETTING ME KNOW HE’S SINGLE! Ooh! Look at his pretty hair.”

I asked him whether testing was his full time job. He said it wasn’t and his eye lit up as he told me about his day job working with teens at a non-profit. It sounded wonderful and good for society and totally not medical. I was shocked.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “You’re not a doctor? Why am I being honest with you?”

“Why would you think I was a doctor?”

“Um, maybe because you’re wearing scrub bottoms and an expensive plaid shirt, and you’re handsome and I want to marry you.” I mean, is it even legal to wear scrubs bottoms if you don’t have a medical degree? Can I just wear scrubs? This changes everything. Most of my dating criteria are contingent upon the question “Is he wearing scrubs?” I’m not TLC; I want some scrubs. I want all the scrubs. A scrub is a guy who can pay my student loans. He can get some love from me.

Still reeling, I asked him about how he got into testing and what the training was like. “The training was a breezy two weeks,” he said. “There’s not a lot of support.” He told me that’s why he found it so important to make a personal connection with the people he was testing. A lot of the community’s needs extend far beyond a diagnosis and it’s hard to talk about serious issues with a stranger who had only been through nominal training. It was important that when a person got tested, they felt like they were still a person for those 20 long minutes. I swooned, even as a small voice whispered in my ear, Fool, he’s just doing his job. He’s not flirting with you! BTW, do you think maybe you should maybe get a Frosty after this?

Let me just say, that voice is an asshole. And, of course, I’m getting a Frosty. What are you, new?

I have a long history of falling for anyone who is nice to me. Salesmen at J. Crew, convivial ticket-takers at the movies, bright-eyed busboys–they all made my heart go pitter patter with tiny acts of kindness. It really doesn’t take much.

Beyonce_hemyhusband

Tell me that this expensive sweater you want me to buy looks great on me and I will start a wedding registry for us at Target with a quickness.

Whether or not he was in love with me (he was) and whether or not he was actually a doctor (I’m still not convinced. There were scrubs!), his friendliness was a welcome tonic to most medical experiences I’ve had. Getting tested, even if it’s just out of practice, can be a nerve-wracking 20 minutes. And one that’s shrouded in shame. As much as we talk about sex in America, there’s not actually a lot of sex-positivity going around. I got into an argument on a first date a couple weeks ago with a guy who said he could never date someone who was HIV-positive. He said, “It would freak me out. And it’s not fair. They’ve had their fun; that’s how they got it.”

That’s the kind of attitude that keeps people out of their friendly neighborhood testing places (that and the fact that they don’t clearly advertise that there are hot “doctors” inside). The logic goes: good people do good things and that’s what keeps them “clean”. They don’t have risky behaviors. That’s not true. All sex is a risk. Morality exists in the ether; bodies exist in reality.

Dino was the first documented gay dinosaur

During the Jurassic Period, we wear pink.

At the end of my 20-minute dream date with the doctor, I told him “This was the best testing experience I’ve had in all my 9,000 years of being gay.” He laughed. “I like that, 9,000 years of being gay.”

“I’m serious,” I said. “I’ve been gay since before the dinosaurs. I used to kiki with this triceratops who would do drag at Bob & Barbara’s under the name TriSara Vaughn. Fierce bitch. She’s dead now. Ice age. When will they find a cure?”

He wrote me a reminder for my next test. 1/24/14: Our second date.

“Normally, every 6 months is a good frequency for getting tested,” he said. “But with the breakup and the likelihood of increased sexual activity, I’m going to recommend you come back in 3 months.” I was like, “Well, thank you, but you highly over-estimate my game. But okay. I’m picking up what you’re putting down, you sexy sumbitch.”

He smiled at me, “Have a good night. See you in 3 months.”

Clearly just a ruse to see me again. Guys, this means we’re engaged, right?

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