It is amazing how the smallest moments (that may seem insignificant from an external perspective) can dictate the direction of your life. I grew up in the rural Utah wilderness. The way that we lived has all but been swallowed up by the modern world. Since the beginning, people have been coming to the West, mistaking the impression of endlessness for opportunity. No one ever came to the West, who wasn’t running from something. And those of us raised here by those people were suckled on that “desperacy”. It has worked its way like a disease from one generation to the next.
The sun is fixed on life here, sucking the water from everything. There are wildfires in the summer and blizzards in the winter. Dust and cold, covering sagebrush and skin alike; and when the wind moves through the grass in the valleys and plains, it gives you more of a lonely impression of open ocean than of land, or of anything you could ride a horse across. The men here (that I grew up with) are made as callous as the hands they work with. Stripped of unnecessary flesh, by weather. Rained, and sunned and blown and beaten into a state of crudeness where all elements of mercy are lost. And the women are disintegrated. Trying to muscle up an impression of invincibility and of grace, in a place where it was better to not be born a girl in the first place. Out here, femininity is the easiest meat to feed on. It is devoured into rarity before most of us reach the age of five. So what is left, is women clinging to religion as a means to cope with the insensible cruelty. Trying to extract meaning and purpose and control out of the constant tragedy, so as to not loose themselves. To live without god here, is to live alone, as prey. Children are bred heartless and made more heartless by the poverty of their compassion, as the law of the land has always been eat or be eaten. It is true in the emotional sense of the word as well; maybe even more so.
The main streets of the old western towns I grew up in, are littered now with impermanent chain stores. Absent of a building code, it looks as if the businesses who came here, all snagged themselves on the destitution. Unprepared for the kind of customers who leave their Christmas lights on all year long. Wal-mart, K-mart, Taco bell, gun shops and E-Z Pay day loans are the only stores which have made it out here. Like scavengers they are the businesses that survive off of the misfortunate and left behind as if they were a food source. People, who would be driving cattle, growing gardens and canning their own food, are now swallowed by the wave of modern society and left behind by it. And now the cowboy, who once conquered the Native American, is conquered. Their life is being made obsolete. Now a day, they live in trailer parks, or houses falling apart on the outskirts of what can hardly be called a city. They live on cigarettes and chew and easy access television. They work in metal shops or corporate dairy farms, or meatpacking plants and sell their souls to Wal-mart and K-mart and E-Z pay day loans, because it is all they can afford to do. And so, still an infant by settlement standards (as it was conquered barely over one hundred years ago), the west is already full of a hard won, gun shot, broken history. And the kind of wounds that never heal. Life here is not gentle, it is harsh. It was even harsher when I was a child.
Today, I am driving through these rural Utah towns once again. I’m remembering how it is that I got here to this place in my life. I’m remembering one summer when I was young, when I had one of those “small moments” that dictated the direction of my future life. There was a Mormon man in town with a “skeleton in his closet”. He was one of the wealthiest men in the town. But he was also Gay. People in town pretended not to notice. His great passion in life was theatre and opera. It was the one outlet that he could use to express the truth of who he really was. One summer, he decided to put on a major production so he flew in a professional opera company from the east coast. His intention was to find them all places to live before they came. But he couldn’t find a place to put Francis (the director of the opera) and Buzz (the costume designer for the opera) because they were a gay couple and no one in town wanted “sinners” near their families. They had been together in a committed relationship for over thirty years. As it turns out, my parents were some of the only “liberals” in town. And so, eventually it was arranged for them to stay with us for the summer. I was fascinated by them. I had never seen anything like the two of them before. They were artistic and cultured and their apartment smelled so good that I would sneak downstairs sometimes just to sit there and soak in the feeling that they would leave behind when they would drive into town to work on set. Being near them, I could feel a world that was so much larger than the one I was living in.
One day, they invited me to go see where they worked. My parents drove me to the local theatre building. We walked in the door of a large room and there was Buzz, his lips pursed around a collection of pins. He waved and smiled at us and told us to have a look around. In front of him was the most beautiful woman, an opera singer. Her skin was like porcelain. Her ginger, red hair was straight and it fell in feminine wisps to her lower back and caressed the side of her face. She turned her face towards me and smiled as she held a fold of chiffon fabric across her chest. I watched the men in the room as they watched her. Every so often, they would stop what they were doing and just observe her as if spell bound by her beauty. They cherished the very vision of her. The grace of each movement she made, trapped me in a kind of suspended dream reality. Buzz told me that she was playing the part of the queen in the upcoming Opera. She nodded her head in confirmation. But to me, it wasn’t a part that she was playing. She really was a queen. I was a tomboy. My skin was tanned and often dirty; I was flat chested (as every girl is at that age). I wore clothes that my mother found for me at the local second hand store. And there she was… some kind of divine creature sent with the promise that I could be like her one day.
Buzz told us to have a look at the fabrics, which were lined up, row upon row over the top of the metal ballet bars. I watched my mother run her hand across them and I went off in another direction. I found a spool of emerald colored velvet, which like a few of the other fabric spools, was spilling down onto the floor. I got down on my hands and knees and buried my face in it and then turned over on my back, allowing the soft, royal feel of it to kiss my skin. I thought to myself “this is what I want to do when I grow up… I want to be an opera singer”. I felt safe (which was rare for me) in that beautiful world of make believe. I felt the divine feminine rise up inside me for the first time. I wanted people to look at me like they looked at that woman. I wanted to captivate and mesmerize them and wear velvet and satin gowns. I wanted to surround myself in those rich colors.
Today, when I look at the life that I lead, it is not so different from the one that I dreamed up for myself back then. I stand up on stage. I sing to audiences in my own way. I represent the divine feminine coming into its full potential and power, in a world that has been ruled by men for centuries. And my closet is full of the most sensual fabrics in the most vibrant and rich of colors. They are part of the public image that I portray when I fly around the world to put on my performances. I love clothes. I have loved them ever since that day in the opera house fitting room. In my opinion, it is one of the best parts about being a woman. I love the way that certain fabrics endorse a woman’s form. I love the way that they fall across the curves of my shoulders and breast and hips. I love that every day, I get to be like a moving piece of art. I get to use the way I dress myself to show my emotions to the world and in turn, move them into feeling. I feel like a flower that gets to choose its petals every day…sometimes several times a day.
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