(environmental effects)

August 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm (art, culture, drawing, interesting, painting, personal)

We’re back after a really quick trip to the beach for a few days. The beach – actually, the whole town surrounding the beach – was really nice. The Jersey shore has changed so much from when I was a kid, when there was either wall-to-wall amusements on the boardwalk and constant noise, or absolutely nothing to do. Where we stayed in Long Branch, there was a nice combo of shops, restaurants, and things to see – enough to keep us occupied for a few days, but without the constant drone of other people’s kids hyped up on sugar and screaming their lungs out.

What was strange about the trip is that we stayed, for the first time ever, in a Bed and Breakfast. Since we were only going for a few days, why not splurge on an extra-nice place, I thought. So instead of going for the cheapo motel option we normally choose, we sprang for the fancy B&B as a “treat.”

I have to say that looking back over the last few days that I can’t think of a place that I’ve been in that has made me more deeply uncomfortable than the B&B we stayed at. Don’t get me wrong – the rooms were clean and decorated in what we come to think of as “good taste” (think, Martha Stewart) and it really did look like the photos I saw before booking the room. It’s just that there’s something about that kind of taste, the let’s put bows on everything! doilies, too! aesthetic that makes my skin crawl.

I had actually forgotten how bad my reaction to a place like this can be, mostly because it’s been so long since I’ve stayed at a place like this. But I just find it… horrible. And I know it’s me, it’s my problem, my hang-up – but still, it’s undeniably there. I have been struggling to articulate just what it is that bothers me so (the amount of “fight or flight” anxiety I had to deal with while there was out of control) and I think that in part, at least, this is it: That sort of way of decorating refers to a kind of femininity that deeply repulses me. This is at least partially due to the fact that I know that I will never quite be a part of it whether I want to be or not. And feeling automatically excluded from the broadest of clubs is pretty humiliating.

We sat eating breakfast in the morning and tea was served to us in pretty little china tea cups, and they just made me feel huge – less like a linebacker and more like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float. I thought way too much about those tea cups and what they “mean,” and way too much about all the other little touches here and there throughout the place. I had to talk myself down a million times just to get through the days we were there. I reminded myself over and over that intelligence and kindness and all that good stuff were as “feminine” (and for that matter, “masculine”) as stupid kitschy flower pictures and ruffles on anything. It helped a little, but mostly I just had to get out of there.

I’ve been thinking about this experience in relation to my work, since what I make is so often referred to as being “feminine” – and given that it often incorporates pictures of little girls, butterflies, and the color pink, I have to agree. But it’s a certain brand of femininity that I actually have a lot of problems with and that is part of the tension I think I’m exploring in my work.

Anyway. I’m still coming down from it, if you can believe it. I sat today and started cutting out a million tiny pieces that I’ll need to finish my book and it was a relief to be back home on our comfy couch with our comfy cats. And yeah, I’m never staying at a B&B again.

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