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17 Pieces

March 12, 2014

I thought I was going to have something profound to say today, but my therapist brought so much profundity to our session on Monday that I don’t think I need to bring it here. He referred to the events that occurred late on the night of March 12, 2010, as an avalanche that still hasn’t quite settled. So I decided to write something rather quotidian instead. A list. A chronology. An accounting of pros and cons.

Four years ago I fell down the stairs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plus: I hit my foot instead of my head on the wall at the bottom and therefore I didn’t die.
Minus: I broke my heel bone.

Two weeks later I had surgery.

Plus: I had a great doctor.
Minus: My husband and his family left me alone in unbelievable pain in the hospital for two days.

I went back to my log cabin in Vermont.

Plus: Puppy dogs and pussy cats.
Minus: Stairs into and out of the house, snow, a wood burning stove (with the wood being outside), and total solitude. All on crutches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree months later I moved to LA.

Plus: I was finally going to live in the same city as my husband.
Minus: I had to pack up the house and get the dog, the cat, and my luggage to the airport. All on crutches.

Two months later, my doctor gave me the go ahead to start putting weight on my left leg.

Plus: Over five months of using it exclusively, my right leg had gotten really strong.
Minus: Over five months of not using it at all, my left leg had gotten really weak.

I started physical therapy.

Plus: I needed physical therapy.
Minus: My insurance wouldn’t cover it so I had to stop after three weeks.

For the next 13 months, as during the five previous, I was in 24-hour, 7-day a week pain.

IMG_0118Plus: I studied and got a certificate in personal training so that I could figure out how to rebuild my body without PT.
Minus: My husband resented me.

My husband left, citing my accident as one of the ways I was “holding him back.”

Plus: I realized he’d never been truly attached to me and he would have left eventually, so it was good that he did it before we had kids.
Minus: I realized he’d never been truly attached to me.

For a year, he punished me legally, financially, and psychologically. I wished I had died when I fell. I prayed to God that I would die.

Plus: There is no plus.
Minus: It was all minus.

IMG_0398In the middle of that, I decided I had to go to the doctor and get physical therapy even if I had to go into debt to do it.

Plus: I got physical therapy.
Minus: I had to go into debt to do it.

Ten months ago, I started writing for HowlRound. I kept writing for Ms. I got published by XX Factor, Bitch, and The Atlantic. I started writing for Ms. in the Biz.

Plus: I love writing.
Minus: It’s not full-time and doesn’t involve directing or teaching.

I let go of the friends and family that could not deal with my physical and psychological pain. I got hired to direct R&J this summer in Maine. I developed a national reputation as a feminist media critic. I realized that the friends and family who have stuck with me through it all are the best parts of my life. I made a jillion new friends in the LA theater community, in feminist Hollywood, and in activist networks advocating for diversity and gender parity in theater, film, and TV across the country. I got cortisone shots and orthodics.

Plus: These are all plusses.
Minus: There are no minuses.

IMG_075817 pieces of bone. 7 metal screws. 3 years of non-stop physical pain. 2 years of emotional pain. 1 year of coming back to life. I have a different definition of pain than I did four years ago and a different definition of love and attachment. I may have less money, but I also have less fear and no need to be accepted by anyone but me.

Minus: I have no idea what’s going to happen next.
Plus: What could life possibly bring that I can’t handle?

A Holly Jolly Christmas Story

December 15, 2013

photoI have always been a very nostalgic person. Therefore, I love the holidays. The holidays are all about nostalgia. It’s the same songs every year, the same movies, the same beverages and foods. I do not get bored; I do it all over and over again every time.

Now, when I say “the holidays,” keep in mind that for me the holidays begin in early October. In some ways Halloween is my favorite because it’s all about the costumes. Sometimes I think I became a theater director so that I could always be doing dress up. Then there’s Thanksgiving, and everything is pumpkin flavored, and there’s cider, and hopefully a little nip in the air. Then there’s my birthday, which usually involves some kind of celebration involving food and friends and drink.

And then it’s Christmas. And it’s peppermint and chocolate and more family time and more food and more friends. And more drink.

When I was a kid we kept the Christmas decorations in the attic, and, curiously, we didn’t keep anything else in the attic. So the only time of year we went up there was to get the Christmas decorations. Even the opening of the attic, the pulling down of the ladder, the gazing up into the darkness–every moment was magical. Then there’s opening the boxes and rediscovering all of your favorites. In the years since, I have literally never let my mother throw away a single ornament. We still have ornaments that are those baked, glazed cookies that you make in pre-school. They’re all chipped so it’s impossible to tell if it’s a bell or a snowman or a reindeer or what. My parents still have them all.

Not surprisingly, over about fifteen years of my adult life, I amassed quite a collection of my own decorations. Some I bought in New York for my tiny little apartments in Hell’s Kitchen and Washington Heights. When I moved with my then-boyfriend soon-to-be-husband to a log cabin deep in the woods of Vermont, I started collecting decorations for all three holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. At Christmas I would decorate the tree, the windows, the kitchen, all four bedrooms, and the bathrooms. There was even a little fake tree in the basement where I worked out. We hosted several Christmases in that cabin– sometimes for my husband’s mother and my parents and his sister, sometimes just for us and my parents. We spent our first Christmas as a married couple there just the two of us. One time his sister, his mother, her sister and her husband, my parents, and my neighbors were all there for Christmas eve. There was snow and icicles and sleigh rides and wood stoves with blazing fires. It was pretty great.

When we moved to LA I brought all of the decorations–several boxes–and to put that in context, I only brought one box of kitchen things. That’s how important the decorations were to me (and how unimportant the kitchen is). Then two years ago, my husband spent Thanksgiving in China on a tour of a play about freedom of the press, which was pretty cool, but I missed him. So when he got back I started planning my birthday–I wanted to have his cast and my cast (I was directing a show that we were co-producing) over for a cocktail party. But five days before my birthday, I came home from rehearsal and he announced that he’d decided that it was unfair to him that he had had to help me out when I was hurt (I had fallen down a flight of stairs and broken my heel, was on crutches for five months, blah blah blah), and he said that I wasn’t making enough money, and he left.

I will spare you the details of that holiday and of the two years that followed. Suffice it to say that a lot has changed. When he moved out of the apartment we shared in Brentwood, I made him take the Christmas decorations. I knew that it would be impossibly sad to open those boxes the following year, but I couldn’t bear to throw them away myself. So I made him take them. They were the last thing he took the day he moved out. So that was that.

Then last Christmas I got a little sad that I didn’t have any decorations, and divorces are expensive, so I didn’t have any money either. As any modern person will do when faced with a problem, I turned to Facebook. I told friends if they had any stuff they weren’t going to use this year that I’d love some hand-me-downs. My new landlord responded, “I think I might have what you’re looking for.” Very mysterious, right? So, I went over to her house and she told me to go up into the attic.

I pulled down the ladder, and headed up, inhaling that familiar attic smell and feeling that familiar draft of cold air hit my face. Then there was that moment where it’s really dark and you have to find the light and balance on the ladder at the same time. But I managed it, and I discovered that the prior owners of that house had left two boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic. There were garlands, a stuffed snowman on a swing, an adorable penguin-box-thingy with a scarf. And of course, lights. And they were perfect.

One of the things I have always loved about Christmas is the fact that early Christians decided when to have Christmas based on the fact that most pagan societies celebrated the Winter Solstice with like a really big party. I can just imagine the church elders going, “So, how can we win people over to our new super-awesome religion?” And one guy’s like, “Well, they have this huge party every year around this time, and maybe we could like figure out a way to throw an even better party at the same time?” And the other guys were like, “Yeah, that oughtta work.”

So yes, for Christians like me, there’s a birth that we celebrate, a gift from God that, even though it probably happened in April, would forever change human history. But it’s not a coincidence that the story of this gift’s arrival is linked to the presence of a really bright light. In the midst of the darkest part of the year, we humans have always celebrated with a big, bright, blazing party full of light. And every year we are reminded, Christian or not, that there is good in the world. That even in our darkest moments, we can find reason to celebrate.

I have a lot to celebrate this year, and I’m super grateful for all of it.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Where Have you Gone, Sarah Connor?

July 6, 2013

Holly L. Derr


Originally posted at Ms. and Bitch Flicks.

Remember Linda Hamilton (playing Sarah Connor) and her guns in “Terminator 2″?

Summer always makes me a bit nostalgic for childhood. I remember fondly the excitement of being out of school, the long days with nothing to do but read and the cool refuge from the hot Texas sun provided by a matinee of a summer blockbuster at the local movie theater.

Unfortunately, this summer’s action movies have left me nostalgic for more than the air conditioning. Only a few of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer feature more than one woman, and those women are primarily co-stars, not leads. After Earth and World War Z have wives who stay behind while the man goes on the adventure. Elysium co-stars Jodie Foster as a “bad guy,” but from what little information has been released on the plot, her weapon…

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Is Wonder Woman Too Muscular For the Silver Screen?

July 6, 2013

Come follow hld6 at http://hollyderr!

Holly L. Derr

She Hulk comic cover

Originally posted at Bitch

This is a dark summer for geek girls. Though superhero and comic book-based films are all the rage these days, it’s male crime-fighters who get all the attention: there are no films starring female superheroes on the horizon.

Take the whip-smart spy Black Widow, for example. The Avengers member will co-star in Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, but the buzz around a film in which she is the titular character all but died out in 2012. Likewise, every attempt to make a movie focused on Wonder Woman has failed to overcome the Hollywood “prevailing wisdom” that women action heroes don’t sell.

Frankly, that argument is hollow.The Hunger Games, starring deadly archer Katniss Everdeen, took in $687 million at the box office. In comic book world, the women in the X-Men have become so popular that they now have their own comic

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Something Special Happened in Texas

July 5, 2013

Hey hld6 friends and followers! I’m now publishing on my non-anonymous blog, Hope to see you over there!

Holly L. Derr

The reason the sky is bigger here is because there aren’t any trees. The reason folks here eat grits is because they ain’t got no taste. Cowboys mostly stink and it’s hot, oh God, is it hot…. Texas is a mosaic of cultures, which overlap in several parts of the state, with the darker layers on the bottom. The cultures are black, Chicano, Southern, freak, suburban and shitkicker. (Shitkicker is dominant.) They are all rotten for women. — Molly Ivins

I have a ghost in my computer. This poltergeist spontaneously shuts my laptop down whenever there’s anything important happening. On Tuesday I finally broke down and took it into the shop for an exorcism, so as Wendy Davis filibustered SB5 in the Texas Senate, I could only follow what was happening via the Twitter app on my phone.

Refresh refresh refresh refresh.

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Who Should Play the New Lara Croft?

July 5, 2013

Holly L. Derr

trassaultIn the midst of a dark summer for geek girls (sorry USA Today, one lady per movie does not constitute a good summer for women), a ray of light has finally broken through. MGM has announced it plans to reboot The Tomb Raider film franchise, and they’ve hired a female screenwriter: none other than Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire fame.

The Tomb Raider game–one of the few with a female protagonist–was rebooted earlier this year, and its new incarnation garnered it’s share of criticism as well as praise. Before it came out, executive producer Ron Rosenberg announced that Croft would be a victim of rape and encouraged players to protect her. Amidst backlash, the development company, Crystal Dynamics, walked back the statement. But when the game was released earlier this year, the controversy flared again. The violence that Lara Croft suffers at the beginning of the game is…

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January 25, 2013

of sparkling apple juice and scotch

January 24, 2013

I cannot pinpoint a first memory of my Aunt Bettie and Uncle Gene Campbell because they didn’t come into my life, they were always there. Bettie and Gene were my parents’ friends before I was born; in fact they were the only non-blood relations at my parents’ wedding. Mom and Dad chose to do something small, in the chapel of our church instead of the sanctuary, and only their parents and my dad’s brother’s family were invited. Bettie and Gene, it seems, would not be kept away and they crashed the ceremony. I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t mind.

As a little girl, the nights that the Campbells came over to our house were always special. We got dressed up, we had hors d’oeuvres and special drinks, we ate in the fancy dining room. I got to drink sparkling apple juice out of a tiny wine glass. Gene and my Dad would drink Scotch, and to this day the smell of it reminds me of those nights. The women smelled wonderful, too–these were nights for perfume and fancy makeup and staying up late.

My parents traveled with the Campbells, so many of these nights consisted of after dinner slide shows, complete with portable screen and an old school carousel projector. Though I didn’t sit through the slideshows, I used the time when the lights were out and no one was looking to flit from room to room, absorbed in fantastical adventures inspired by the castles of Scotland on the screen.

Going to dinner at the Campbell’s house was even more magical. I think it was the gold flecks painted into the ceiling in their den that made the place sparkle in my little girl’s eyes. I remember at least once classical music playing on the stereo inspired me to dance from room to room, using the architecture of the sunken den to execute a number of fancy leaps, while the grownups sat and talked. The back room contained a number of treasures close to my heart and every visit involved a rediscovery of them: a music box that played “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” A wooden duck that could be pulled on a string. Book after book of Peanuts comics. Over successive visits I read them all.

When most of my Christmas and birthday presents were still toys, the Campbells started giving me books. The What Katy Did series filled my desire for more Little House books (eight is not enough!). They gave me Pride and Prejudice long before I knew who Jane Austen was. Bettie also has a knack for picking the perfect piece of jewelry for me. When I moved to New York they visited me there. When I started my own theater company, they donated to it. When I got married Bettie and Gene throw a brunch for the wedding party. When I got divorced they took me out for Mexican food. (What can I say, they know what I like.)

As I write these words, I realize these things sound so quotidian. But the smells, the light, and the words of those books take me back to those nights in body and spirit–in everything but actual time–in a way that assures me the memories are important. I think that because of Bettie and Gene, it is written on my brain that having friends with whom one shares an entire lifetime is a good thing, an important thing, a thing defined not so much by what you celebrate, but that you celebrate together. It’s a thing to get dressed up for. For lifetime friends, you get out the fancy glasses.

The wonderful family that survives my Uncle Gene is a testament to the fact that he lived a wonderful life. Today I call myself aunt to a number of children who are not my biological relatives. If I can ever be anything like as important to them as Bettie and Gene have been to me, I’d consider myself to have done alright.

Thanks so much Uncle Gene for all the books and all the magic and all the love.

what’s in a name?

January 22, 2013

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood announced that it would stop using the term “pro-choice” to define their efforts towards creating and securing reproductive autonomy for women. Though this has led to lots of great discussion about how we should ourselves going forward, Planned Parenthood does not actually intend to replace the label with something else. Any label, they say, would discount the “complexity” of the issues.

As Ann Friedman points out at New York Magazine’s The Cut, the “pro-choice” label came into being in response to the use of “pro-life” by anti-choice activists: Somewhat ironically, it was not a word that the movement chose to define itself.  Over time “choice” has, in the general parlance, come to be too closely associated solely with abortion, and therefore does not convey that we are advocating for more than the choice to have an abortion or not. We are advocating for total reproductive autonomy for women, from access to birth control to abortion, IVF, and treatment for STDs to coverage for these things under insurance. The whole shebang.

But we shouldn’t forget that to a certain extent, this widening of the movement was also a reactive move: As anti-s have become more honest about their desire to eliminate not just access to abortion but also to birth control, advocates for reproductive autonomy have had to engage in a conversation connecting the dots between those things in order to debunk specific anti-choice arguments. When Personhood advocates started claiming that the morning after pill is an “abortion pill,” our response was to explain that though in theory the morning after pill could prevent implantation, that’s no reason to outlaw it. It was months before somebody clarified that no, in fact, even in theory, it probably can’t. By then, no one was listening.

We now have the opportunity to define, in our own words and as specifically as possible, the terms of the debate and to improve our branding. Though general terms like “freedom” and “liberty” do broaden the debate to include more than abortion, I am wary of generalizing too much. As cultural catchwords, these broader terms already have connotations, and the right to own a gun or believe in God is very different from the right to bodily autonomy. The prospect of trying to shift people’s thinking enough to where they also identify these terms with reproduction seems to me like rolling the wrong stone up a very steep mountain.

We should instead choose language that expresses what it is that these myriad complex issues that the movement is advocating for have in common. Yes, we are advocating for the right to be free from government intrusion in our private lives, but it’s not intrusion into our property or our speech with which this particular movement concerns itself. We’re arguing against government intrusion into our bodies.

I am also wary of being too wonky and movement-specific. While I can happily spend an afternoon studying the implications of Personhood laws on access to in-vitro fertilization, we cannot expect to win the larger public debate solely by painstakingly delineating the complicated relationships between a broad variety of issues. Nobody signs up for a movement that says, “You’re gonna have to work really hard to make any of the things I’m talking about come true.” They sign up for “Yes, we can.”

Though it’s still a bit clunky for branding purists, being multi-syllabic, I like “pro-reproductive justice.” It both specifies which rights we’re talking about, and–as do labels like social justice and economic justice–includes reference to the fact that simply having rights in law does not always mean having rights in practice.

Then again, if we have to go broad and catchy, I’ve never quite understood why we don’t just retake the higher ground and call ourselves “pro-living.” I am pro- women who want to have children having them. I am pro- women having the freedom to live their lives without children if they don’t want them. I am pro- women living life without fear and being able to have sex without contracting a disease or getting pregnant when they don’t want to. I am pro- living women taking their own health into account before that of an unborn fetus. I am pro- children who are born having a chance at living. I am pro- vaccinations that prevent women from getting STDs that might lead to deadly diseases. I am pro- these things for all living women regardless of their ability to pay for them. I am pro- defining our understandings of pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing according to real life instead of antiquated, patriarchal social values. I am pro-living.

Internet Dating: A Play, Part One

January 11, 2013

Part One

A Woman leans against a bar, drink in hand (gin martini, dirty, extra olives). Other Women and Men mill about, flirting. Man approaches. He speaks with an Italian accent.

Man: Hey there … (peering at her nametag) … TK421. Wishing you a very lovely beautiful day as you are.

Woman: Okay. Thanks.

Leans in to kiss her. She leans back. Awkward pause.

Man: Have fun and enjoy!

Moves on. Man 2 approaches. He is a bit nervous.

Man 2: Hey there … (peering at her nametag) … TK421. I think you have such a beautiful smile and eyes and that I love them.

Woman: Huh. Wow. Thanks.

Awkward pause. Man 2 moves one. Man 3 approaches. He poses several times in bicep-enhancing positions.

Man 3: Hey, rockhardabs, here. I value knowing oneself. Hard work. Accomplishing goals.

Woman: Yes. Sure, me too.

Man 3: Right on. (lifts shirt, reveals abs, points at them) Am I right? Am I right?

Woman (muttering into her drink): (Answer privately).

Awkward pause. Man 3 moves one. Man 4 approaches. He is really sweaty.

Man 4: Hello there … (peers at nametag, then just stares at boobs) … you ladies looking for a (does boob juggling gesture) threesome?

Woman: Nope. Not. Nope. Move along. These are not the droids you’re looking for.

Man 4: Hey, that’s –

Woman: Nope. Not. Too late. Move along.

Awkward pause. Man 4 moves on.

Woman: I don’t know if this is going to work. Maybe I should update my profile.

A Bartender appears.

Bartender: What can I get for you?

Woman: Guys who like girls, Ages 30–50, Near me, Who are single, For new friends, short-term dating.

Bartender: Would you date someone who has smoked a cigarette in the last six months?

Woman: Well … smoked one cigarette? Just one? I mean I guess no, I don’t want to date a smoker, but once – it could have been for a show. Or just one night out or something.

Bartender: Yes or no.

Woman: Okay, I guess no.

Bartender: Would you consider yourself extremely honest, sort of honest, or not at all honest.

Woman: Umm, I’m pretty sure honest is a finite value, so you can’t really be extremely honest, you’re either honest or you’re –

Bartender: A, B, or C?

Woman: Jesus. Extremely honest.

Bartender: Coming right up.

Man 5 enters in workout clothes, sweatbands and all. He holds a sign that says, “tightbuns” as he passes in front of Woman. Man 6 does the same; his sign says “cute4x4guy,” but he is not wearing a shirt and is using the sign to obscure his face. Man 7: Uncle_Bob. He looks exactly like your uncle. Man 8: “Stud_27″ is wearing a gray unitard that covers his body and face.

Woman 1: Okay, okay, this is really not working.

Bartender appears.

Bartender: Perhaps if you answer more questions.

Woman (sighs): I don’t know. Why would anyone want to date me anyway. I mean look at me, I’m sitting here, friendless, helpless, hopeless, unemployed in Greenland.

Collective inhale of shock from everyone in the room. They cease flirting. Freeze.

Bartender: Hopeless!!!

Woman: Oh, no, I’m not. I was just quoting …

Collective exhale. Unfreeze. They resume flirting.

Woman: Wow. Good kinesthetic response.

Drums her fingernails on bar. Sips drink. Tries to fish olive out of glass but it keeps slipping out of her fingers. Finally puts her mouth to the edge of the glass and uses fingers to spoon it in as she slurps up the remaining gin. Man 9 approaches. He looks like a totally normal, very cool guy. Woman spits olive and gin back into glass as she says,

Woman: (Skip question)!

Awkward pause. Man 9 moves on.

Woman: Oops.

The other people in the room are coupled off now, making out like they’re on a nighttime soap opera (open mouths but no tongue, moving their heads too much side to side, running their hands up and down one another’s backs). Except for one couple. The Woman spies them, lights focus in on them, all the other couples freeze. They are speaking to each other in low tones, looking back and forth from one another’s lips to eyes. She laughs and brushes her hair back. He inhales – you can see the effect of the pheromones on him. She touches his hand casually. He traces a line down the side of her bare arm and rests his hand on her knee. She whispers something in his ear. Again you see him smell her. During all this the Woman has been unconsciously inching forward, closer and closer to the couple. She is too close. Suddenly they notice her, she realizes where she is, the lights change back and the other couples unfreeze.

Woman: I am so. Sorry. How embarrassing. I didn’t mean to intrude. It’s just that–you seem so real. I mean, I don’t know, this bar, you just like really … wow. Yeah. Sorry.

Starts to walk away. The man stops her.

Man: Hey, it’s okay.

Long Pause. Woman stares at them again. They smile.

Woman: So you did it! You actually found each other this way!

Man 10: Sure! We’re a committed couple looking for a playmate. You interested?

Awkward pause.

Woman: (Softly) D’oh.

She walks slowly back to bar. Resumes position from opening. Collective inhale.

Blackout. End Part One.

… to be continued on the next Internet Dating: A Play.

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