not a pretty girl

i recently attended a friend’s wedding. i really looked forward to the event, and i helped her with a few wedding and honeymoon details. she was really appreciative, as was her fiancee and her mom. she told me that her mom expressed a lot of interest in finally meeting me after hearing so much about me. (we spent last year as teaching partners.)

on the day, i was so excited to see my friend in her dress and give her congratulations that i didn’t realize i passed her mom. there was a quick exchange between her and another korean teacher next to me. i saw that i got the once over and before i could react, i missed the chance to say a formal greeting in korean. her mom left the room. later i tried to get her attention (mostly through eye contact) to perhaps get another chance to say hello, but it didn’t happen. i can understand it. a wedding is a busy place.

however, during the picture taking portion of the ceremony i saw that my friend’s mom sought out my friend’s current teaching partner; a lovely girl who hasn’t always been the most supportive and responsible of partners. they shook hands and what i heard translated was, ‘nice to meet you. you are so pretty.’

what i further interpreted was, ‘oh, you will be a lovely addition to our daughter’s wedding photographs. being pretty excuses the fact that you arrived with only a few minutes left in the ceremony. we will also overlook that you will jet off to the buffet before the traditional portion of the ceremony even begins.’

i’m not a pretty girl. i’m a cute girl.

i’m short. i’m roundish. my face is fairly symmetrical. my eyes are largish. my face is round and freckled. my skin is mostly unblemished. i have expressive features. i have a sort of ‘cabbage patch kid’ nose. i’m told i look younger than my age.

sure, there are worse things. taking the time to digest all this and write it down may be seen as whiny, and i might be whiny. i think maybe my sensitivity to these issues has grown while living abroad. i’m far from people and places that are familiar with me. i lack context. ‘pretty’ seems to build an instant and more desirable context than cute.

the problem from the outside

humans (in general) think that babies are cute. if we didn’t think babies were cute then we might be inclined to not put up with dealing with the difficulties of child rearing when it gets unbearable. basically, thinking that babies are cute insures the propagation of more humans. we will take care of cute things. but i’m simplifying.

a study in cute

what wikipedia says

the anthropological/ biological drive to care for cute things means that i’ve gotten help from unlikely sources.

(for those of you who aren’t familiar with entertainment technicians, there is a lot of rough exteriors and machismo attitudes. there’s a high level of camaraderie that must be earned. ) a friend and i were on a work call. we were still in college at the time and we were working a professional call. there’s always a sense of apprehension when crews are mixed, and college students aren’t inherently trusted. the professional crew would roll their eyes at us and pick us for their crews like unwilling captains in a high school dodgeball game.

my friend was assigned to lighting, and i was assigned to the sound crew. one of my tasks was to run a sound cable. there was a truss hanging a couple of feet off the floor. to make sure the electricity didn’t cause interference with the sound equipment, i had to put it higher than the lighting equipment, well out of my reach from the floor. the ladders were being used by other crews. and the lighting equipment on the truss made it too difficult to walk on. i felt like i was being watched. ‘go on hot shot. . . whatcha gonna do?’ the other sound techs worked on placing large heavy speakers.

efficiency was important. not making a fool of myself was important. finally, i pushed a road box up to the truss and climbed on it with the equipment i needed. i tied the points up and rolled myself along the truss on the road box casters. i’d given myself a rolling ladder. i was making pretty quick work of it when a tall rigger approached me. his crew was mostly on break (they had to wait for everyone else to finish before they could do anything else.) there was still a lot of work to do with the lighting but he came off break to help me. he fed me the cable and helped me roll along.

i remember thinking it was odd. i remember that at that point, i didn’t need help. i had figured out how to get the job done and i was going to finish quickly. he (and no one else on his crew) popped up to help any other crews. it even seemed that the other sound techs could’ve used a hand moving and hanging the large and heavy speakers.

i got two different reads on the room. the first, i’d been giving a pretty crap job and it had been laughable that they’d asked the shortest crew member to do it. maybe they had thought i would whine about it. . . or that i’d just look around and beg for help till someone took pity on me? but i didn’t. i put together a decent solution and put it to work. test passed. i’m not a total waste of a hired position. the second, someone thought that i shouldn’t have been left to that task alone. someone felt the need to care for me.


we hit a sizable dichotomy here.

i’m often given large responsibilities, rather quickly. . . and somehow i’m rarely taken seriously. yeah, i know, it doesn’t make much sense.

being cute rarely instills confidence. (do you ever ask a baby for advice?) maybe it would help if i wore a little make-up.

made up

i was often asked to lead crews.* i found that i got the best results when i didn’t have to vocally direct much but lead by example . . . with a dash of guilt.

when i checked in on a project, a crew member might ask what i thought. my mouth would say, “that’s one way to do it. are you gonna leave it like that?” and my eyes would say, ‘sure, electricity will run through that. the lights will light up when we want them to. there’s nothing really wrong with your wiring except it looks like something the cat coughed up. do you need me to show you how to make it sexy?’when the project was refinished, there was pride in it.

people i worked with like this took me seriously.

part of the same job was to attend production meetings. i spoke up when i had a thought or a concern.

once i commented on our holiday schedule. i noted that, since we did so many productions each year, it might ease the schedule and the budget to have an annual holiday show during the christmas season. (it made sense to me. i lived in boston, where there was more than one production of the nutcracker each year. both of them sold well. i lived in san francisco where there was a holiday solstice show each year that did well.)

i was shot down pretty hard by the same man who put me in charge of the electrics department. without taking a minute to consider it he went on about how boston and san francisco had a large base population to fill the seats. i agreed but argued that many people went to see the show year after year as a tradition. (hell, we even sit around and watch things like the macy’s thanksgiving parade, a miracle on 34th street, what a wonderful life, a christmas story year after year.) i was quickly assured that nothing like that would work in the area we lived in. . .blah blah blah.

several years later i heard from friends still working at that theatre that they turned ‘a christmas carol’ into an annual show. they change the setting around a little each year, but it’s become a tradition running for several years now.

the problem from the inside

i’m rarely black and white. if you ask me how to get from one place to another i would answer, ‘you can go this way,’ because. . .you can. i can tell you the route i’d rather take, but it might not be to your liking. so i try to give you a choice.

when my lighting students asked me about using specific lighting instruments, i got the feeling that i frustrated them. ‘sure, you can use that unit there. . . but you might not get the effect you want. also, it’s not the most conventional use of that light for that position. . .but you can do it. if you want my opinion, i suggest you try this one.’ not the most direct answer.

nearly all things i do are steeped in this ambiguous trait; choosing a place to eat dinner, choosing a movie to watch, or picking a train route. the scales don’t seem to tip one way or the other for me. i feel non definitive. i rarely feel like i speak with any authority. or perhaps, it’s just that no matter how i speak, no one really reacts as if i’ve said it authoritatively.** (gets difficult to tell if the problem is from inside or outside.)

one caveat. when i really do want something. you will know it. but then i feel like i come off as nag-ish for pushing for my choice.

own it! work it! . . . feed it?

i can’t say i haven’t taken advantage of this from time to time. for a long time i wore my hair in pig-tails. first, for safety. i had to keep my hair out of the way of table saws, drill presses, welding arcs and such. also, my hair wasn’t long enough for a pony tail, so pig-tails it was. it worked more for the outside world than my theatre family. the staff at a wood working shop, hardware store, electrical supplier would come to my aid (usually with a little condescension.) ‘can i help you with that, little lady?’ ‘what’s a girl like you need with 300 feet of romex?’

however, it had it’s more serious applications.

i had a mentor who was completely uncomfortable around me. (i had questioned her authority, angered her and whatnot.) however awkward it was, i still needed to interact with her regularly. the problem was that she had become completely skittish around me; dropping paperwork, knocking over her coffee. her nerves and behavior would detract from the things we needed to get done. as a quick fix, to get through a meeting with her, i would take a passive position. if she was standing, i’d sit. if she was at her desk i’d hand her my paperwork and kneel down next to her desk to point things out. i did it unintentionally at first, but then noticed the difference it made and continued to do it intentionally.

surely, you jest

this is a problem i can live with. “sexy, hot, and pretty” are not part of my context. there are worse things.

a final thought as you scoff off my complaint. (because why would you take me seriously?)

think back to a graduation, a confirmation, a funeral or wedding, some pivotal rite of passage thingy. how were you approached? perhaps a hearty pat on the back, or a generous hug, maybe a firm and proud handshake or even a ‘gosh darn it’ shoulder punch?

on several occasions i stood with others in a line of reception. i watched as teachers, priests, loved ones, co-workers walked down the line and gave out hugs and handshakes. i received many of both, and then i received something that no one else got. i got a head pat. yeah, that’s right. you know that thing you see a dog owner do when their dog brings the stick back?***

‘here, here girl. what’s that you’ve got there. what’s that? hunh? what’s that? is that a diploma? ahhh, good girl. gooooooood girl!’

kinda makes me feel like shitting in someone’s shoes.

*i have a theory on that too. i just read in a wired magazine that a quick way to gain trust is to exhibit self control, be on time, and come through with what you say you will do. HA! i had that nailed from early on. quick trust

**funny, one of the biggest criticisms i got, over and over, while writing my thesis in grad school, was that i wrote too passively.

***sure, i guess it’s also lovingly done to young children. the tousle of a child’s hair after they’ve been a little rapscallion.