Old News: March 2002
Just My Type
Recently I had the soul-tweaking experience of recognizing myself as one of a type.
I was at a poetry and fiction reading, attended by people you'd expect to see at such an event: university professors, students, artists, musicians, and other lovers of literature. I spotted a woman I'd seen at previous readings and had characterized as a WOTA: Woman of the Arts. The typical WOTA is somewhere between 35 and 45, has pale skin, and dresses in dark clothes that are both chic and slimming. This particular WOTA was of the Urban Variety, having hair that's dyed a shade which she knows you realize is not from nature, cut in a Meg Ryan-meets-Auntie Mame sort of spiky/unruly style.
A minute later I saw a second WOTA, the one I really had seen at other events. So the one I'd seen first was new. Each was interestingly attractive without being classically pretty. Each had the strained look of trying to appear relaxed while worrying inside.
I started scanning the room for more of them—could there possibly be three at the same event?
It didn't take long for me to realize that there was indeed a third WOTA/Urban Variety in the room, and that I knew her well.
Through my life, I've struggled to remain type-free. In college I avoided becoming a gritty hippie-girl in flowing peasant skirts and Birkenstocks, hair braided thickly down the back. In the corporate world I gravitated to business suits, but broke out with jeans and boots when I started feeling too jet-set.
By this stage I thought I had finally grown comfortable enough with my self and sense of style that I was out of danger of typecasting. And yet here at a simple poetry reading was incontrovertible evidence that I was not immune.
I stayed away from the other WOTAs all evening, fearing that if I talked to them I'd learn that they make Dorothy Parker-style comments from the sides of their mouths, enjoy Manhattans, and laugh unmusically and too loudly at inappropriate moments. They might each have multiple containers of nutmeg in their kitchen cupboards. I didn't want to know.
Now though, I've given it more thought. If it's impossible to escape pigeonholing, maybe I should settle in and build a good nest. I could drape myself with scarves tossed casually around the neck; wear strong lipstick and mascara but no other makeup; talk dryly in a voice just louder than necessary in restaurants and cafes. It might not be original, but it beats owning a closet of peasant skirts.
Top Five Lists
The main difficulty with top five lists is the lack of equivalence: People have differing criteria for what makes the list. One person might define "top" as "best produced" while another thinks "my personal favorites" and a third "most ground-breaking." As with the lists themselves, there's no right answer as to what a top list ought to be, just opinions and preferences.
Then too, "best" can be absolute or situational. You might have "best rainy day movies" or "top books to read at the beach." Situational lists have the benefit of being above argument: Preference is all and definitions vary. Consider a list like "books that can be read without embarrassment in an airplane."
But if there are hundreds or thousands of possible top lists with only preference to distinguish them, then certainly I can have a list of my top lists. And here it is:
Best Made: In which all aspects are top-notch. The Apocalypse Nows and Take Fives show up here.
Favorite: Those works which, even though any one could be technically flawed, push all my buttons.
Would Hate to Never See Again: If I were stuck on a desert island, I wouldn't want to use precious luggage space with a movie I've seen so many times that I can play it in my head, even if it is a fave film. Instead, I'd include those I haven't seen enough of.
Most Influential: Innovative works that change the course of the art.
Make the Most of the Medium: Films that have to be made and seen as film, plays that need to be experienced in a live theater, books where the pages have character and seeing the letterforms is critical to the experience.
Of course these lists can never be static. New works come out daily, and each thing I see, hear, or experience changes my perception and impressions.
So is this list of lists static? Of course not. A number of things could influence it. I could make a list of them....