Over Thanksgiving, I watched a home movie of me and my family from when I was 5 years old. The scene takes place just after a Sunday dinner in the Midwest. Our teetotaling, religious Republican farm relations are paying a visit to us suburban Chicago sinners, and Uncle Paul has gathered us all in the frontyard, where the light is strong enough for his Super 8. (On these visits from Paul and the aunties, my parents hide the liquour in the linen closet.)
In the 30-second snippet of film, I am a darling little blonde-haired girl with a pixie haircut. I stand in the background and watch my 7-year-old sister Barbara turn cartwheel after cartwheel in the frontyard of our suburban home. I wish I could watch a slo-mo blowup of this movie about 100 times so I could read every expression on my face as I watch Barb perform for the camera. Maybe then I could understand what motivates me to attempt a trick of my own, a headstand.
I try so hard to perform that headstand. First try--legs don't go high enough; second try--still not high enough; third try--too much force on the pushoff and I flip over completely. Boo! I know I nailed that headstand in gym class, but now with everyone watching I'm just too nervous.
All is captured on Uncle Paul's film. I'm trying so hard to do good, but I know he won't keep the focus on me much longer, so I give up and try to stomp out of camera range, lower lip stuck out and hands tucked under armpits as I toddle off. But Uncle Paul keeps the camera trained on me, and I imagine he's thinking I look quite cute as I sulk my way off to another corner of the yard. It's a soundless film, but you can practically hear the calls of "Come back, Joycie! Joycie, come back!" as everybody laughs at me. Eventually I'm cajoled back to the family fold, where my 14-year-old sister Peggy plays with my hair and flips it into a silly ponytail to cheer me up.
I'm still pouting, though, thinking that a) I could do a gym trick just as well as Barbara, and b) if only I'd done the headstand right I would have finally won the approval of the teetotalers, who thoroughly disapprove of my mother because she has permanently lured my father into a sinning lifestyle, with children, in the suburbs. They don't need to see the liquor bottles on display to know that something is not right on Lyons Street.
Now on this most recent Thanksgiving, the teetotalers, who admittedly are fewer in number since Uncle Paul passed away, still let us know that they didn't approve. As Barb played her own jazz-inflected arrangement of secular Christmas tunes on Peggy's piano, one of our increasingly dotty aunties told her to stop that infernal noise, which was a sure sign that she was of the devil and needed praying for. The other auntie just sighed and asked Barb for the millionth time if she had found a church home yet. And where was I? Hiding, as usual. Skulking around the edges, looking for a private corner of the yard where I could relax and be my secret self. My true self.
No wonder I'm so fucked up. I've been struggling with the notion of whether I'm a good girl or a bad girl since childhood. It's my get drunk and laid on Saturday, go to church on Sunday mentality. I don't think that will ever change. The best I can hope for is that I can fully embrace my double life and not be afraid to let my dark side shine. This is why I love my Bad Girls so much, the ones who were fearless about telling the world to go to hell if the world didn't like them.
Private thoughts: Spot on chin? Must ask former Conde Nast photo retoucher friend to correct all pictures of self posted to blog. Too much forehead shine here, and corners of mouth are saggy. Must remove/smoothe over to achieve perfect image, thus winning people's approval as well as big publishing advance.
AFTER: here I am below, retouched! Nice work, but I still don't look like Kate Winslett.