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Performance

Arborite Housedress by Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan

Thursday / Mar 23 / 95
8:00 pm


Music Gallery
179 Richmond Street West
Toronto

Co-sponsored by A Space and the Music Gallery

Arborite Housedress
By Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan

Prologue

This is about a domestic love-affair between myself and advanced interior decorating technique. This is about the in-between of my placement, of my desire. Me, in-between: wallpaper valances, contrasting trim, kitchen islands, ferns.

This is about me, trying to make the look work; me, wanting it to all hang together; me, giving it that je ne sais pas; and me, getting the details right, the little things, the finishing touches.

Oh, oh and that feels so...hard.
Oh, oh, oh, and I'm so very...pointed.
Oh and yes and oh...I think I'll... clean up a bit.

 

Introduction

I am so clean! I am so white! I'm so up, pro, up, pro, up on life!
'Cause I've got a contract, a done deal, signed (clap), sealed delivered
And I'm his.
I've been chosen for the whitest, brightest smile.
I've been saved, because sin won't stick to me.
I've been taken and it's about time, too.
I've got this contract,
This marriage contract, signed (clap) to him in the big white robe,
Signed (clap) over to his slightly crucified but still attractive son,
And signed (clap) again on earth with ink on paper making me third-hand goods,
A-signed (clap) to a man in the flesh who mows the lawn.

There are so many things that I know, because he says so.
And he should know because he makes them happen.
The weather, that's him.
American foreign policy, that's him, too.
Natural disasters, prime-time programming, he does it all
His way.
A real self-starter, a self man-made
In his own image:
The weather, American foreign policy, natural disasters, prime-time programming,
And me.
Not bad, eh?
Not too shabby.
Kinda scary!
I mean, I wouldn't want to get on his bad side, no.
Because the dark side of good is really bad.
I know, because I'm so good.
I'm so clean! I'm so white! I'm so up, pro, up, pro, up on life!

Marriage

Marriage is a lot like driving a car. Let's say you're going on a little trip, just the two of you. You pack your bags, jump in, and go. Now, how many of you are sitting behind the steering wheel? How many of you are actually doing the driving? That's right, only one of you. There's only room for one person in the driver's seat. And what does he do? He controls the direction and speed of the vehicle. He indicates which way he'll be turning and he toots the horn. In short he carefully maneuvers the car for the good and safety of all of the passengers. But that doesn't mean that the co-pilot isn't very important, too. When there's two people in the car, she reads the map, finds the best radio station, provides pleasant conversation, and passes snacks to the driver. She has a very busy job, but she is not driving. In fact, what would happen if she reached over and grabbed the steering wheel? What would happen if she suddenly decided it was her turn? The car would go out of control, wouldn't it? Even if she just leaned over to flick on the headlights, even that would startle the driver, and he might get into an accident. This shows us a very important point. When people don't do what they're supposed to do, when people don't stick to their jobs, they end up hurting not only themselves, but others as well. Let's take a look at Adam and Eve in the garden. When Eve took that apple, who was in the driver's seat? And where did she end up driving them? You know where. Down a one-way freeway straight out of paradise. Eve took a wrong turn. But her big mistake was taking the wheel in the first place. Not only did it have serious repercussions for her, her family, and the entire course of human history, it also made Adam feel bad. Not only was it an extremely dangerous thing to do, it also hurt Adam's feelings. And that's not very nice, is it? It's not very nice, and it's not very smart. Because the driver can get in the car alone, and still start it up and make it run. He might get a little lost, he might not get any snacks, but he can still get up and go. Whereas the co-pilot, when she climbs into the car by herself, ends up spending a lot of time in the driveway, just reading those maps.

Bridge

The dark side of good is really bad.
I know, because I am so good, so clean, so white
That every dirty thought shows up bright-
Ly on my immaculate construction.
Every dirty thought can be read like an open book
Spelling what I want and how I want it, when.
Words you see scratched on bathroom walls.
Words you're embarrassed to know.
Humiliating, needy words
Show up
On my complexion.

Romance Novels

My fantasies exist between the pages of paperback novels published every four days in fourteen languages for an average cost of $4.95...Canadian.

Reading Windswept Summer, Nurses' Folly, or Indiscretion at Midnight
In Punjabi, Cantonese, or Cree
Is the only reason I can think of for bothering to learn another language.
Those foreigners, the way they speak,
It's as if they're always yelling.
But I'm sure that those languages wouldn't sound so bad
Tripping from the lips of
Clark Cowell, Troubled Millionaire,
Whistled from between the teeth of
Flint Blackwell, Brilliant-But-Lonely Surgeon,
Or whispered by
Jon (that's J-O-N) Johnson, International Explorer, Oxford-Educated, Hunk-A-Burning-Love, who has a Six-Figure Annuity and has Never Really Loved Before.
I know this is awfully liberal of me to admit
But if Jon Johnson was willing to take me
To his ancestral castle in the south of France,
Make love to me for hours every day,
And ask me what I think from time to time
I wouldn't mind if he spoke Lebanese, or Zulu, or...French.
I really wouldn't mind too much.
I wouldn't mind a bit.

Fantasy #1 - Border Town Romances

Fantasy #1: Border town romances (twirl).

What makes border town romances so...special?
The meeting of culture? The mystery of difference?
The preciousness of each and every moment?
Or is it the pain of longing? The difficulty of talking?
The disapproval of one's family and friends?
Perhaps it's that they only exist in the present.
You probably won't have time to discover each other's personal habits.
Taking out a mortgage together just isn't in the cards.
And across that border you have a better chance of being shot, than of getting pregnant.
It makes sex seem less risky.
It makes sex seem more fun. 
It makes you feel that the border doesn't really exist.
Your love is stronger than its walls.
Your love transcends all obstacles.
Your love is absolutely, positively unique.
While it lasts.
Oh, you know it can't.
It's impossible. It's insane. It's...O.K.
You have an out. An escape hatch. Fine print.
Because forever is really an awfully long time.
Forever takes too long.
And it all becomes the same after awhile:
On and on and on without end.
So, if you're lucky, it'll be tragic.
It'll be epic, yet it'll be quick.
Your love will be spectacular from start to finish.
And afterwards you can cry and cry, grieve and remember.
You'll live with your memories
And you have more time to shop for other things.

Bridge

My fears in life are few and far between:
Saturated fat,
Communism,
And GRAVITY.

 

Sagging Flesh

A woman's foundations are exceedingly important in an increasingly gravity filled world. This sneaky phenomenon -- gravity -- this downward pull that threatens my very concept of up and down, replacing it with lower, lower, lower; this force is actively conspiring against us for no other reason than spiteful adherence to some banal law of physics. It's a bit of a downer, to say the least. As I find my flesh collecting in puddles at my feet, my nipples lolling in hard to find places like corners, under beds, beneath bric-a-brac shelves, constantly getting stuck in the hose of my vacuum cleaner. But the real problem is not the extra housework that these downwardly mobile body parts entail. I hesitate to admit it, but it's true: my very real concern is that parts of my dangerously sagging self might end up in bad neighborhoods. And what then? How could I fight? There's no bleach strong enough to save my shimmering self. I could scrub and scrub and rub and rub, but those streets, those people will never know sparkling, lemon fresh, central vac, and snow white appliances. How could they? Their ways are uncertain and unsafe, not even aware of the dirt under their nails, the bacteria populating their surfaces, their skins dark and shadowy. They may be happy in their ways, but how could I manage among them? Surely no better than they among us.

These are the thoughts that keep me awake nights worrying, that stain my dress with rings of nervous perspiration throughout the day. For it seems not improbable that bits of my body might end up there, on the wrong side of the tracks. And therefore to continue to believe that the line between "me" and "them", "same" and "Different" is firm and perky would be naive. Especially when the stretches and wrinkles in my skin illustrate how fluid my own borders are. So perhaps it's alarmist, and perhaps it's not, but I cannot sit idly by and await this prodigal fate. I must women my defenses and women them well; batten my hatches, and buckle and snap myself into underwear that binds and separates, having painfully evolved from lingerie to veritable architecture.

Bridge

My fears in life are few, it's true,
But my fantasies can't be counted.

Fantasy #2 - The List

Fantasy #2: achieving everything on my to-do list (twirl).

As I suck dirt into my waiting bag of empty, clean space
As I fill the interior of my open-plan, decorator-deluxe hollowness
I think of curtain stays,
Grid suspended pot racks,
Self-feeding electrical cords,
And other time-saving restraints.
I can't get enough of this dirt.
Frankly, it's just not dirty enough for me.
But I'm trying to make do, trying to make out
Tiny specs that have fallen between my cracks
That I can come to on my hands and knees
And rub and scrub until I slip in the grease of my own elbows.
The dust and the grime of this house are mine
Traces of my body that I massage
With brushes and sprays and an entire array
Of highly toxic germ fighting solutions
To the problem of "a woman's work never really being done."
It sounds like a small thing to get excited over -- dirt --
But then we are expected to get excited over little things.
And this proof of my untidy, ever-exfoliating self
Tells me I am here
I am real in this world of gloss
The mess I feel is real.
I know it -- it is of me -- and it knows me
Well.
It knows my flesh.
It knows, and it holds me there,
Bent over sinks,
Arms deep in toilets,
Crawling across floors
Wanting the dirtiness of dirt.
Wanting to take back the dirt.
Take back me.
Take it in.
Suck it in.
Lick it in.
Be in dirt.
Be in me.
Come in me.
Dirtily.

But I want it, I want it, I want it. All. Instead of this scary get-down, show down, between none other, is there anything worse, than saturated communism, and sneaky, pinko fat?

Marriage Quiz

One: Question. What makes marriage so attractive?
Two: Bigger student loans? A good excuse to move out of your parents home? Wedding presents?
One: No. I mean, why did you marry? What led up to your decision to join together in holy union?
Two: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
One: But haven't there been benefits to being a married woman?
Two: Could you repeat the question?
One: Let's try another one. When I say, "To have and to hold...," you think of....
Two: Strangulation? Suffocation? The correlation between ownership and theft?
One: When I say, "'Till death do us part...," you feel....
Two: Homicidal? Suicidal? Resistant to the concept of reincarnation?
One: You're not trying very hard. We'll try again. Question. What does marriage mean to you?
Two: Infinite compromise. Sacrifice. Selflessness. Losing oneself entirely.
One: That's better! And who is the most important person to remember in a marriage?
Two: Me! Him? (pause) God? (bells and whistles)

Fantasy #3 - Lesbian Nation

Fantasy #3: lesbian nation (twirl).

Being a domestic goddess isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Have you ever noticed that you can wash the floor in the morning, by nightfall it looks just the same as before you started? That you can do all of the dishes, and in a matter of hours someone has gone and dirtied them again? That children are little grime magnets, picking up all manner of stubborn stains and bringing them home again?

Well, I've been thinking. If I could get rid of my family, it would effectively cut my work load by 60%. And then I would finally have time to devote myself more fully to being a homemaker. Then I could start to get ahead in the domestic world. Make something of myself. Achieve those far off goals. Perhaps move up to a ranch style. Without PTA or connubial duties getting in the way.

And you know, I bet I'm not the only one. I bet there are hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe even millions of women who would also benefit from the absence of men and children in their lives. As it is now, think of all the wasted human potential. Think of how clean it could be, if we were all freed from the inconvenience of those to whom we are joined by blood and marriage. I, for one, would have more time to devote to the common good. I'd gladly spend a half-hour vacuuming the boulevard, and afternoon dusting a jungle-jim. I, and others like me, would getup our gumption and get out of the home to make the entire world a spic-er, span-er place. There's no end to what we could acheive together. We could tidy up toxic waste sites! Redecorate urban decay! Sew some shoulder pads into the economy! Why it would be paradise! It would be sparkling! It would be the first lesbian, separatist nation!

Bridge

I'm so clean, I'm so white
I'm so crisp and hard and still and right
That every twitch and tremor I make turns out left or wrong
Proof positive of a strong predisposition toward voluntary hysteria.
I slice my palms on the creases of my dress.
Everything is so well pressed.
It's a problem area.
I am a problem area.
This is the problem:

Conclusion

I am a domestic alter
Location of discipline, receiver of guilt
My lipstick (kisses palms) glows bloody
The wound in my side a testament
To the persistent pain of splinters
Chaffing me each time I try to move
In this bungalow that never fit
Right?
In the first place
There was Eve
Experiencing for the first time the downward pull
The long fall from grace to graceful A-lines
In no-stick, hi-gloss, easy-to-maintain finishes
To a place where everyone has the same blood-type: clean
And whiteness and Godliness
And might and right
And home and family
All tidily equal up
In a divine floor plan
Three bedrooms, sunken living room, patio off the breakfast nook,
Repeated over and over and over again
Tomorrow is another day
-Ly bread, our kingdom comes
Unlike me
In this straight jacket against desire
Where passion plays on TV
And we only communicate in clichés
Based on stories that only end badly
For me.

[ Special Presentations ]

+ Shawna and Lori's website