by Augusta Monet
“Gender, like the medium Ovid works in, is fluid and poetic, and purposeful.”
Art and Recovery:
Meets A Bathtub Haircut
Art and Recovery #6
by Jeremy Lewis
A small part of me had had difficulty approaching this Issue’s theme of the “Joy of recovery.” Thinking back on my own highs and lows in this past year, I could hardly call it joyful. I felt embittered by my experience, and grief stricken. I didn’t feel I was recovering from my year in isolation. Yet, the more I reflected on my own journey of recovery, I came to the realization that I am a truer version of myself than in the past. Perhaps a lot of the distress we’ve all experienced since the start of the pandemic, is the result of suddenly having some time to think. In my specific case, there were a lot of events that had happened to me that were unexamined. We tend to throw ourselves instead into work and passion-projects to avoid this sort of examination. During this time, reading through Ovid’s Metamorphoses taught me that our collective recovery in the arts can be as painful as it is joyful. That pain is, in some ways, essential to moving forward.
With the absence of work, memories I had locked away seeped through to my conscious mind. As little as I wanted them, not thinking about it meant they festered as I carried them unknowingly with me through life. During this time, at the suggestion of a friend, I started reading Metamorphoses and began viewing my transformation in a different light. I began thinking of how we can view loss as a natural and necessary change, and tried harder to appreciate the worst moments for their inherent power in overcoming future challenges.
“In Ovid’s world, a metamorphosis is marked by a slow, painful, but necessary transformation.”
Change is a funny thing, because how do we know where it ends or begins when it is constant? As I return to Ovid’s stories of changing bodies, it’s hard not to wonder what my own personal metamorphoses are, or were. In Ovid’s world, a metamorphosis is marked by a slow, painful, but necessary transformation. It’s described in detail: skin becoming scales or bark, limbs or teeth lengthening. Of course it would be painful, after being one thing for so many years. There is an inevitability to the change, and a lesson is always almost learned. The joy found in these transformations come from two typical facets: the poetic nature of the change, or its cathartic nature. Catharsis is a term Ovid would have been familiar with—the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions. As humans we are natural storytellers, and can find meaning in the change and the release. Essentially, I started asking, “What are my metamorphoses?” The answer came to me in a haircut, my first in many years.
I had been threatening to get a mullet for quite some time, before they were trendy, but had never been able to commit. My usual reason was that, being an actor, I didn’t want to pay for new headshots; this was true, of course, but there were perhaps more insidious reasons.
Art and Recovery #5
by Jeremy Lewis
I had an extremely complicated relationship with my hair, as I used to with the rest of my body. From the age of ten, I refused to cut it flat out. Being a light blonde, I had gotten compliments for it frequently. As nice as the remarks were, and as someone with a burgeoning eating disorder, my hair became the one thing I liked about myself. Growing it out felt like a small act of rebellion: the one piece of me that I was in control of. I couldn’t give that up.
In Ovid’s poems, women who fixate on a certain aspect or their overall beauty are punished. And I was similarly fixated on my hair, as it grew to reach my hips. Even at this length, the hair was praised still, but it started to rankle me in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. It also invited lewd comments, men coming up and telling me how they love women with long hair: never ever cut it, baby. Even with the tangles and the leers, I couldn't cut it. I couldn’t lose the first part of me that felt like mine, because who or what would I be, then? So did it matter if I didn’t like it myself? I started fantasizing in secret about bowl cuts and the aforementioned mullet.
Consequently, this comes back to the topic of gender. Like with Ovid’s stories, gender is often a reflection of the time we are living in and what we value. Conceptions of gender also change with society. Like with the many ways of change, gender can happen through metaphorical transformation, literal transformation, or external perception. Gender is another malleable identity and is often, for better or for worse, how we navigate society. Gender, like the medium Ovid works in, is fluid and poetic, and purposeful. Or at least it's merely an identity, and metamorphosis is all about the search for that identity, perhaps as Rome struggled with its own.
Metamorphoses also fixates on there being a reason for everything. The society Ovid lived in had a reason for certain birds, certain trees, changing seasons, sexless women, effeminate men, Trans and intersex folklore beginning with trysts in pools and magic snakes.
And in a way it’s compelling to see something, almost like you, that far back in history. Knowing that despite how gendered Ovid’s society was, perhaps there would be a place for me there too. And in a way it's diminutive and reductive, as I’m sure Ovid wouldn’t understand what we now describe as being problematic. And in a way it's still othering, still perpetuating a specific slot this third gender fits into. And am I like them? We probably wouldn’t be able to recognize each other, but I can’t seem to shake the thrill of those brief mentions of gender fluidity in the text—like recognizing a face from a dream.
"Change is a funny thing, because how do we know where it ends or begins when it is constant?"
Recovery often involves letting go of vestigial things, things that hold you back. I’ve always understood this, but now, as an actor, it felt even more crucial. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, my hair was not actually in my control if I was doing it for others. Theatre school, as it turns out, does an excellent job of telling you to treat your body as a commodity to be bought and sold. If people liked my hair, then it could stay. There was something else, too. The hair was the only thing connecting me to femininity in a classical sense, and I was scared of being disregarded and out of work should I choose to lose it. If I did, would I still be a woman?
Art and Recovery #3
by Jeremy Lewis
Ovid’s Rome, on the brink of collapse, was one society that needed to give meaning to violent transformation. Ours is, arguably, quite similar. So on the personal as well as societal, how do we look at the areas that hurt most and realize what we have to let go or (even worse) endure? I had a feeling halfway through my rashly-decided DIY haircut, while dissociating in the cracked bathtub, that this might be so hard for me because it was a necessary and overdue change.
Coincidentally, a theme throughout Metamorphoses is how we, as a collective, experience not only change but also trauma.
The more I read, the less I thought about the myths themselves as opposed to how we interface, interact, and add to the myth. Each addition is a timestamp of our culture. Because in many ways Metamorphoses covers the scope of the human condition with its extreme highs, stomach-turning lows, and above all: change. And so in repeating these stories and understanding them not only through the lens of Roman culture but also our own, we add to the story.
“Theatre school, as it turns out, does an excellent job of telling you to treat your body as a commodity to be bought and sold.
I don’t know what I am these days. Usually in The Metamorphoses, a person is changed into something new in order to explain its origin: Narcissus and the flower, the eyes on a peacock’s feather, the beautiful Hermaphroditus (an androgenous combination of Hermes and Aphrodite). I have to remind myself that they, too, felt new and terrifying at first. Recovery is similarly new and terrifying. It’s harder sometimes to let go of aspects that no longer serve you. It is my hope the arts community loses outdated features too, as they re-emerge, to be more accessible and inclusive.
Ovid taught me recovery is often more painful than anything, but on the other side of that pain lies a deeper joy. I would argue the joy we feel comes from the painful and joyful ritual of recovery. This is a testament to art’s ability to help us understand our own stories and experiences through others. There is beauty in transformation, and in the rigours of cutting out a part of yourself. That lightness we experience afterwards is cathartic, purging us of our former selves.
I had been stagnating on who I was, I thought, as I looked in the mirror afterwards. My next thought: Why didn’t I do this years ago? In the thick of this transformation I thought again of catharsis, as the hair I had coveted for so long fell to the bottom of the empty tub with Parks and Recreation playing in the background. It was odd, there were no tears as I had expected. Instead my body went limp and I laughed hysterically, barely registering anything other than the weight leaving the back of my neck.