Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Fan Mail

Several weeks ago, I was all set to write a post about my fool-proof plan to sync my menstrual cycle with the new moon. Then I got an email asking me to please moderate some comments on mobtreal.com, a comedy site that I used to occasionally write for. Logging in, I came across a comment from last March that I'd never noticed.

It was from Danny Woodburn, an actor I'd met while I was working as a lifeguard during my last days in Montreal. Danny played Kramer in Seinfeld, and was playing a dwarf in Mirror, Mirror, an adaptation of Snow White. Danny wasn't very happy about my writing. Here's what Danny wrote.

BODHISATTVA:(in Mahayana Buddhism) a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.

And yet your accounting is rife with objectification, mockery and catty derogations, to say nothing of its falseness. You know the word is objectionable yet you still say it–for effect? I remember you saying how you worked with the disabled. This thought has now me horrified, seeing who you are in this story.

Gross.  I forced myself to click on the post he was referring to. There was an image of the seven dwarves surrounding Snow White in Mirror Mirror, and a picture of Kino Macgregor balanced on her hands in a backbends, with her feet hovering over her head. there's a quote from my piece, "soul fucking," which describes me doing a drunken version of the pose at a bar, with the assistance of Ronald Clark, one of the other actors who also played a dwarf in Mirror, Mirror. The post linked to my three-part series called, "Small Regrets." I'd titled the post "The Objectionable-word-beginning-with-M Phase."

I called the Boatman in tears and read him the comment.

"I'm a horrible person, and shitty writer. I should just delete everything. I'm not even famous. This is not worth it. I suck."


The Boatman told me to calm down and read over the posts before rashly deleting my entire online identity. He read them over too.



Snow White and the other stars in "Mirror, Mirror"
 
In Part One, "Snow White," I describe meeting Danny Woodburn at the tiny hotel swimming pool I worked at the Westin in Old Montreal. We make small talk and I'm highly excited that a celebrity who also happens to be part of a rare population. When the next customer comes into the pool, I can't wait to announce that the little guy from Seinfeld was just here. I untactfully use the m-word. This next customer turns out to be Danny Woodburn's wife.

Part Two is called "Other Dwarves." In it, I ramble away about the other actors playing the dwarves in Snow White. Somehow I can't stop myself from wondering about what a little person's penis looks like and comparing myself to the famous Erica Schmidt who is married to Peter Dinklage. I consider all the penises I have seen in my life and flesh out a very unnecessary scene from elementary school, which I am ashamed to have included.  In scenes from the swimming pool, I sit on the deck, my legs contorted in bizarre positions beneath very short shorts. I chat incessantly with Ronald, another actor from Snow White. He used to be a personal trainer. Now he rescues pitbulls on TV. He asks me for a private yoga class. 

Part Three: Soul Fucking. It was about my last crazy night in montreal and it turned out to be the only decent writing out of the whole thing. The minister who baptized me read the story and gave me a thumbs up on Facebook. He said it kept his attention the whole time.  Maybe I did made too big a deal out of the vague possibility of sleeping with Ronald and the fact that he was a little person.  At the time, it felt like an unusual and intriguing opportunity. But I went a bit overboard and shouldn't have used the m-word.  

I decided to delete Snow White and other dwarves, and the summarizing post the m-phase. As for Soul Fucking, I took out the m-word and tried to change the story so that it became more about the last night I maybe could have fucked someone other than the Boatman but missed out. Also, I tried to take out anything that would objectify Ronald more than I would objectify any other potential source of sexual gratification. Note that the first paragraph of “Soul Fucking” describes the Boatman’s bloody penis, from the first time we ever had sex. Maybe I’m unoriginal and immature, but I love writing about all kinds of sex and all kinds of body parts.

The private yoga class I gave Ronald before going to the bar probably objectified his body, however, I feel like I would have described anybody else's body in this way.  It's not often you get to be in a celebrity's hotel room and watch the celebrity do yoga.  Even so, I've deleted all of my posts on mobtreal.com in a fit of self-consciousness.

I sent a thorough apology to Danny Woodburn which I can understand if he didn't read or open.  For once, I felt relieved that I never became very famous, for the Small Regrets posts or any others.

The whole ordeal left me traumatized. Although it has never been my main objective to be tactful, I hate to be written off like that, especially after years of sincere and dedicated work with people with disabilities.  I'd like to think that if I'd taken a bit more time to consider my material, I would have made better choices. That said, it's interesting that nobody else besides Danny called me on these posts.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a review of Dan Savage's show at the Spatz theatre. To try and make things interesting, I included a couple of anecdotes about a blind woman who attended the show with her German shepherd. We had just lost the big black dog and so I made the awkward comment that I wish I could have my dog with me all the time...  It was sort of like the time I first met Danny Woodburn. Me saying something awkward. I meant to make fun of myself. The woman and her dog sat in the balcony and the woman yelled a bunch of things at Dan Savage which was mildly entertaining. I guess this is making fun of her. The moderator of montreal.com took out everything about the blind lady, but called my m-phase series amazing.

So why are little people okay and blind people aren't?  Is it because if you are already a regular size you'll never be a little person, but any one of us could become blind over the course of our lifetimes?

I recently saw someone post on Facebook that the circus in town was hiring. They were looking for -insert word I will never again type for the rest of my life. 

People don't encounter adults of shorter stature and I don't think that we are all familiar with the politically correct terms 

I read somewhere that the m-word is akin to calling black people the n-word. Wish I'd read that earlier. When I first heard the term, "little person," I thought it was a bit a bit vague and made me think of a child. But children are called children. Perhaps my excuse was lazy. Some of the other actors who I met at the swimming pool said they were comfortable with the word, "dwarf," a medical term referring to atypical shortness with a degree of disproportion. This, however, has perjorative connations for some people and is phasing out of the medical field.  Recently, I discovered that some people use the term "short statured" which to me sounds less ambiguous and more neutral. 

Regardless, being politically correct often remains vague and sometimes even inaccurate, as in the case of Canadian African Americans. I once worked in a group home where you couldn't write in the reports that someone peed on the floor. Instead you had to say they had a void accident. If they were yelling and screaming at night, you had to write they "used loud vocals." If people used too many loud vocals, they got medicated. I found this to be both bizarre and disturbing.

During my years L’Arche, a community for adults with intellectual disabilities, there was not an enormous emphasis on appropriate language choices. It was in Quebec, and many of the highly devoted caregivers I met there used the term, “personnes handicapp├ęs” regularly. The people with disabilities themselves said it. And yet, it was a much more respectful and empowering environment than the group home where I wasn’t allowed to say someone was screaming in the night.

Using the appropriate politically correct terms isn’t enough. And writing with the sole intention of not offending anyone is terrible for creativity and honestly pretty boring. A truly “Exuberant Bodhisattva” would be able to write in a way that both entertained and relieved all the suffering of sentient beings. Unfortunately, my online persona, “the Exuberant Bodhisattva” has always been somewhat of an ironic joke.  The title came from this short story I wrote in university. Danny Woodburn is the second person to find it more hypocritical than funny. It may be time for a more fitting screen name.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

The End.
Another thing I learned about the Small Regrets Ordeal is that you should cut down everything you write by at least 66 percent. In this post, I did not apply what I learned. Maybe next time.
 
Mirror Mirror Pool Friends, with Danny Woodburn and Ronald Clark 4th and 5th from the left.

Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
I Let Go, self-help book by Erica J. Schmidt


Soul Fucking
Cardboard Box
Not Separate From All That Is
 

3 comments:

  1. One actor threw it in your face. He would have been mad regardless of your name. He might have valid points about the language, but bringing up the name is a function of his anger, not a real cause. It's been a long time. I think it's your name now. Online anyway.

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  2. "And writing with the sole intention of not offending anyone is terrible for creativity and honestly pretty boring."

    I agree. I don't think you should change your name - just take the lesson and do your best.

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  3. Thank you Kyle and Robyn. It was enlightening to receive Danny's perspective, despite the angry (though understandable) delivery. But yes, maybe the name is beside the point. In any case, although I know I don't always say the right thing, I do know that there is no deep malice inside of me, and I'll remember this the next time I get fan mail.

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