Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Money + Evil = Bad Girl$

As we know, money is the root of all evil as are wicked women. This is why money and Bad Girls have always gone so well together. Bad Girls have been poor, and they've been rich, and rich is better!

When I mention this to people, it seems to make them nervous and uncomfortable, and that of course leads me to believe that I'm on to something here. Let's face it, one of the gorgeous things about having a lot of money is that it gives you an opportunity to get totally absorbed in your personal goals and become even more self-obsessed than you already are.

Plus, if you have lots of money of your very own, it buys you power, which is another way of saying freedom. Madonna is one of my all-time favorite examples of a Bad Girl who's really good around money.

And please don't call me a capitalist, when in fact I'm a left-leaning believer in a social welfare state and regulated markets. The real rich capitalists of which I am not one just love it when poor working folk stay ignorant and fearful about money matters because that way the fat cats can retain possession of the world's wealth.

I just can't stand to see women get the short end of the stick when men are left in charge of their finances. And Bad Girls are good at doing cool stuff with their money once they've got enough of it. They buy houses for their boyfriends (Catherine the Great), they milk goats (Mai Zetterling), they back heavyweight prizefighters (Mae West), they adopt unwanted children (Bessie Smith and Josephine Baker not to mention Madonna and Angelina Jolie), they tour the brothels of New York City and hand out birth control (Victoria Woodhull).

In that spirit, let me tell you about my favorite charity, which I give money to whenever I have a few extra bucks lying around. Trickle Up is a microgrant program that gives seed capital and business training to make individuals self-sufficient in Third World countries, including Africa and Brooklyn. Oh, and P.S., about 80% of the money goes to WOMEN, because they're better at handling money than their men, and these women set up little market food stalls and sewing circles and savings clubs, and the money they earn goes to cool stuff like feeding their children and educating them.

That is all. Happy hols & see you in the New Year. Love, hugs & kisses, Joyce

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My Struggle to Be Bad

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.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Here's Exactly What I Mean: A List of Bad Girl Traits

When I began chasing after the bad girls of history, I started to keep a list of the personality traits that appealed to me about them. Some women who are traditionally viewed as bad girls, like Marilyn Monroe or Calamity Jane, didn't feel right to me. Marilyn was sexy but a victim, and Calamity wasn't a victim but she wasn't sexy, either.

I've never claimed to be a bona fide historian or a feminist scholar. The list of traits that struck a chord with me as I searched for bad girls was completely idiosyncratic and personal to what I was going through in my life, which was getting a divorce and coming to terms with having no man, no baby, no home, no job and no money. I was pretty pissed off, yo.

I needed inspiration as I rebuilt my life, and I found it by studying Bad Girls. The idea was that having essentially been a nice girl, a "good girl," my whole life had brought me to a place of nothingness. Maybe going in the extreme opposite direction from goodness would help me find a sense of equilibrium. That said, I started to form a personality prototype of who my Ideal Bad Girl would be and I started to write down those traits, like a checklist.

And so now, I present for your delectation the raw list of bad girl traits that I jotted down as I read about the wild women of history. Here we go:

· Came from a disadvantaged background, was ambitious and struggled for success
· Youthful misfortune or indiscretion changes life’s path
· The inciting incidents: A bad and/or arranged marriage in youth (Catherine the Great, Victoria Woodhull, Mae West). Divorce (Elizabeth Chudleigh, Lola Montez) might be the inciting incident that changed her life. (Divorce was common among the bad girls, in an era when it wasn’t common at all.) The incident also might be poverty (Bessie Smith and Skittles), death (Ninon), a chaotically strange family (Isabelle Eberhardt, Empress Theodora), or too much bad sex (Empress Theodora).
· Prostitution might be the inciting incident, or the inciting incident swiftly led to it.
· Experiencing the worst fate for a woman at an early age—the sort of fate that women of her era dreaded and avoided at all costs—she lost her sense of shame when still young and learned to use this to her advantage.
· Despite these shortcomings, a Bad Girls’ big ego saved her: if she wasn’t born royal, she assumed the role, so her youthful suffering was not really an obstacle
· powerful personality with skill of persuasive speaking
· an agile mind, sharp wit, a love of gossip and figuring out the pecking order and where she fit into it—with an eye for rising in position (Empress Theodora, Elizabeth Chudleigh). Used intelligence to judge people, to climb socially
· However, some Bad Girls used their intelligence to carefully observe the social order in order to understand how to escape it. Often, these girls were writers (Mae West, Isabelle Eberhardt, Ninon de Lenclos)
· A Bad Girl could be tremendously charming when she wished.
· vain, beautiful, and if not beautiful, riveting, a face you were drawn to
· girliness: feathers, headdresses, costumes
· knew she shocked & offended people, and this only fueled her rebellion
· did not submit to authority
· lived to please herself
· liked sex
· used sex to achieve personal fulfillment
· had loads of love affairs with men and saw no harm in using them for material gain--often would remain friends when the affair was over
· enjoyed dressing like men, or decided to “live like a man”
· didn’t like other women & preferred the company of men (where the power and the sex were)
· capable of falling deeply in love, but avoided it if she could
· still, every one of these girls had One Great Love of Her Life, l’homme de sa vie
· independent, self-contained, actively resisted becoming too dependent on others
· self-discipline and work were the source of freedom,
· caused apocryphal suicides in sensitive young men, some of whom turned out to be their sons
· motherhood did not define them. Often, the bad girl never carried a child of her own & not interested in demands of motherhood. Though often she would take on nurturing roles with younger lovers and other people’s children.
· was drawn to young people and young people were drawn to her
· she had to have fun, otherwise, why bother?
· either didn’t know about or ignored feminism. made no apologies for being a woman. She was what she was, and that was it.
· Eventually made her own money – lots of it. These girls may not have been feminists, but they were practical. Having known poverty, once they got their hands on some assets, they would never turn them over to a man.
· surrounded by men yet living alone, these women inhabited overwhelmingly lush living spaces that are an extension of their personalities, like Mae West’s boudoir and Skittles’ house. In the case of Isabelle Eberhardt, the vast dunes of the Sahara became the space she inhabited.
· she often shunned alcohol: Ninon de Lenclos, Mae West
· though Bessie Smith, Isabelle Eberhardt were most certainly alcoholics. Elizabeth Chudleigh, possibly
· did not hold back her opinions & could be hurtful
· was the boss of her own show and abused her position,
· some bad girls were physically violent (Lola Montez, Bessie Smith)
· traveled extensively and restlessly,
· inspired people with her passionate nature
· finding religion – spiritual side – usually later in life, though often signs of spirituality in youth. Sexuality as spirituality.
· was preternaturally healthy even as she aged,
· the majority of bad girls live well past the life expectancy of their era, many of them dying in their 80s
· The Bad Girls outlived their critics, and in later life often became adored public figures. In most cases, a bad girl never paid for her sins.