Carmen Electra’s “genie bottle” redux

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Photo by MORAN on Unsplash

What do girls want? Carmen Electra wanted to be a drummer, a dancer, or simply, a star. When I was 18, part-girl part-woman, I watched the Baywatch babe open her door for MTV Cribs; the camera followed her to an “exotic” space, behind a shimmery curtain. I never envied Electra for her looks or her confidence, but I envied her pillows, and from that moment on, I wanted what she had — a room where a girl could “be by myself and be in another world.”

Cribs will return to the US in early 2021, after a decade-long hiatus, but the reality show stayed in the collective conscious of Millennials, since its premiere in 2000. We remember Missy Elliott’s Ferari-shaped bed and Mariah Carey’s 11,000-square-foot TriBeCa loft. Architectural Digest’s Open Door series is just one example of the many see-how-they-live formats Cribs inspired, and its popularity has soared during the pandemic. When YouTube recommended the Hilary Duff episode to me, I started wondering about Carmen Electra. What happened to her? …

When you stop taking self-portraits for yourself

six photos of woman with shaggy hair
six photos of woman with shaggy hair
my corona shag selfies

On my head, at this moment, is a hairstyle I’m calling “my corona shag.” My pixie cut grew to shoulder-length, in the last six months. I pretend the unruly mess doesn’t bother me. The too-long bangs. The mullet shape that tapers across the back of my neck. When I go outside, I pretend the mask hiding my face also hides my identity — also hides my ugly mop.

You might be thinking, No one cares about your hair. But in fact, they do. I shaved my head, and I found this out. …

He knows how to spot friendly faces in strangers’ windows

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Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

My partner has a special skill, and I’m not sure what to call it. He offered “spatial awareness” but that’s too vague. “Pattern recognition?” he asked. No, this is very specific: My partner sees dogs and cats in windows.

Maybe this sounds unremarkable to you. Is “seeing” a skill? Well, yeah, I think most artists would argue that it is. But simply seeing an animal in a window? What’s the big deal? Anyone can do that.

Yes, anyone can see a black cat, perched next to a television set, sitting perfectly still. Anyone with decent vision would be able to recognize the distinct feline silhouette, pointy ears and all. The question is, do they see it? …

What is the cost of speaking more than listening?

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Photo by Ilias Chebbi on Unsplash

No spoilers ahead, if you haven’t watched Michaela Cole’s HBO series I May Destroy You. I just want to look at one line, spoken by Arabella’s therapist, in the episode “Social Media Is a Great Way to Connect.” Here’s the line:

The business models of these networks incentivize us to behave in, in certain ways, in ways that promote speaking often, at the cost of listening.

I heard that line three months ago, and it stayed with me. I’m not active on social media, but most of my friends are, and as a result, I miss out on their posts. …

To explore, to create, to transform

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Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

There’s a word that keeps popping up lately — on the radio, in my email inbox, in books. The word is permission. And each time the word is used, it’s about a creator of some kind. Writers and actors, mostly. People who want to share their story and bare their soul.

When something shows up three times, we humans recognize a pattern, and this particular pattern keeps swirling in my consciousness, so I’m writing about it now, in an attempt to distill its essence.

Here are three examples of recent “permission” stories I heard:

Kurt Vonnegut wanted to write about his experience as a prisoner of war. For years, he told friends and colleagues, “I’m writing my war novel.” But why was it taking him so long? …

From books, movies, and television series

mannequin with face veil
mannequin with face veil
I took this photo in 2016. Try not seeing it with a pandemic lens.

It’s hard not to see the world through a pandemic lens right now. Like, doesn’t it unnerve you, in the new Saturday Night Live episodes, when the cast members get in each other’s faces? You have to remind yourself — they follow strict protocols.

Remember when Season 3 of Westworld aired earlier this year, and you saw near-vacant streets, alongside masked crowds? That was odd, considering they finished filming long before the coronavirus arrived. The futuristic dystopia looked like the present, predicted in the past.

Apparently, we were all watching Outbreak, weeks after our own outbreak. I don’t think people were being masochistic — we wanted to face our fears. …

On Medium

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Siobhan O'Connor asked, Why do you read?, earlier this week. If you asked me, Why do you write?, those questions would have the same answer. Language is a lifeline for me, and I prefer the written word.

Sure, I’m an introvert, but the preference for text-over-speech goes deeper than that. I grew up, silenced, again and again. Whether I was in my pastor’s church, in my father’s store, in my boyfriend’s truck, I often couldn’t say what I really wanted to say.

The word lifeline came to me, in therapy last week. That’s the word I used when my therapist asked me, “Is that why writing is so important to you?” It’s the same conversation we’ve been having for years. About how my shoulders “turtle” up when I talk about relationships. …

Eavesdropping is still a thing, even at home, in quarantine

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prospect park, brooklyn, celebration of presidential election results 2020

If you were outdoors, in New York City, last Saturday around noon, you heard cheering and honking. If you were indoors, you heard it, too. We were celebrating the presidential election results.

I heard the noise from inside my apartment, and then I ventured out, to the farmer’s market, to the park, to the streets. Dancing, music, jubilant glee ensued, for the rest of the day. Walking through Prospect Park (photo above), you could hear the cheers in waves, washing over the trees from west to east.

It was a shame we were all wearing masks — we couldn’t see the smiles on our neighbors’ faces. We resorted to clapping and raising our arms instead. I couldn’t see facial expressions, but I could hear voices, and I remember three…

Advertisers tell us there will always be more of what we want (or is it what they want?)

What has changed, culturally, since 1990? If you consider that Tim Berners-Lee released the “WorldWideWeb” prototype 30 years ago, you might say a lot has changed. In America, we’re familiar with the internet, and we use today’s technology to get what we want. Food, information, entertainment, products.

Television had the same original premise as the internet. Both were conceived as educational tools, designed to connect people and ideas. Monetization came later, in the form of advertising.

I was 7 years old in 1990, and I remember most of the commercials from this YouTube compilation.

Ads for Slim-Fast, American Express, Burger King, Coca-Cola. But seeing them now, in 2020, I noticed certain themes. There are doubles, everywhere. And there’s an explicit agenda to promote a product as “real.” …

For starters, your body is yours

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Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Does this ever happen to you? A celebrity dies; you hear the news, and you say, “Oh, I thought they were already dead.” See, you forgot about this famous person, once their name disappeared from headlines. They disappeared from the spotlight, and in turn, they disappeared from your thoughts.

But you were wrong about them being dead. For years, they went on, living their lives, making plans, in private. A smaller set of people were aware of their existence. And for those people, this celebrity meant a great deal. They continued spending time together, until the end.

This happens to me, all the time. I’m reminded of a person’s life, at the time of their death. And I’m sure it happens to you, too. Maybe you didn’t think they were already dead, but maybe you are hearing about them for the first time. You read the news, and you learn about their accomplishments, and you might even pick up their book or watch a documentary about them. …


Melissa Toldy

Writer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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