Lets face it: blondes have a huge credibility problem.
So of course, in high school I longed to be described by words such as, “sophisticated,” and “intellectual,” and “eccentric,” rather than “dizzy,” or “dumb,” which were then the only acceptable modifiers for “blonde.”
When I was in college I smoked a pipe for awhile just so people would get the idea, but it wouldn’t stay lit and it smelled pretty bad, so I went back to cigarettes. In those days, cigarette-smoking was the accepted—even necessary—habit of movie sirens and literati alike.
I longed to be different from the crowd. I thought it would be nice if I were older. Or thinner, or bustier, or less hippy, or more graceful—and possibly brunette. So much more mysterious than blonde.
When I was little I wanted to be the usual things: nurse, movie star, famous chanteuse, princess, prima ballerina, or (if all else failed), perfect wife and mother.
I thought perhaps being independently wealthy might be nice, or at least having a Jaguar convertible. Red. No, too flashy. Black. Sophisticated.
I’d have to do a wardrobe makeover. It wouldn’t be proper to be seen driving my black Jag in my old rags—the handmade clothes my mother lovingly made for me.
The eccentric part came after I attended a reading of Edith Sitwell’s poetry. “Still Falls the Rain,” she intoned, funeareally. She was wearing a turban, a long black cape, long silk draperies, and large, ornate rings on every long bony finger. I was enchanted.
It might have helped to create the mystique if I could have invented a glamorous and shady past, but I had to admit that I was neither a consistent nor an artful liar, so there was nothing left to do but try to make the truth more interesting.
To this end, enrolled in modeling school in San Francisco when I was a high school senior.
About the same time, I decided to become a dancer. Managing to parlay five year’s worth of ballet classes into a part time job in a local chorus line, I stuck with that for three years—long enough to achieve a certain cachet in the eyes of my peers.
But then I decided I really did want to be an intellectual, so I had to lose the chorus girl persona.
For my intellectual incarnation, I would need to enroll in college and declare a major—nothing too taxing, though it had to be artistic.
I decided on Drama. This had three advantages: It would allow me to be a lot of other people and have a legitimate reason for doing so; I could
fake my way through a Drama major for a few years before anybody caught on to the fact that I had little acting talent; and I could meet a few other interesting pretenders and do a lot of hanging out in coffee houses, looking terribly intellectual in black tights and large horn-rimmed glasses.
Alas, I discovered Drama was not even close to being my forté. I changed my major to Language, but this proved too difficult when I found that I was expected to not only speak French, but to read and write it as well.
Quickly realizing I had little desire to read Madame Bovary in the original, I did the prudent thing and moved on.
Art proved to be just the ticket. As an art major, I could go to class in paint-spotted jeans and braided hair. I could indulge a few eccentric tendencies and nobody would think it odd. I could still hang out in coffee houses, and if there was nobody to hang out with, I could pretend to sketch.
I was able to coast through my last two years of college in this manner, but then a new problem loomed. I needed a job.
Everybody knew artists did a lot of starving, but I was much too fond of food to consider this an option.
I decided to become a teacher.
This had two advantages: I would be able to get a “real” job when I got out of school; and I would be able to stay in school at least one more year, which would allow me to hang out in coffee houses with other perennial students and pretend to be an intellectual.
So, still working the Bohemian angle, I taught Art and (more or less incidentally, English). This strategy gave me a wonderfully legitimate reason to sketch, doodle, and play in clay.
The English classes were less satisfying.
I expected my students to write. Daily. I gave essay tests, which were universally unpopular. “You expect us to think?” asked one of my Sophomore English students, exasperated.
With way too much work to do, I was often so distracted by the volume of homework that I was not as prepared as I should have been.
One day I lost my thought in the middle of a lesson. “What am I doing?” I asked rhetorically.
“You’re pretending to be a teacher,” said my favorite student.
She had a point. I was a fraud.
Still searching for something arty to do, I decided to try Interior Design.
This was a profession I could profess while wearing silk suits and hanging out with my clients (should I have any) in fancy restaurants.
That turned out to be nearly as much work as teaching, but at least I had some good meals and got to sleep in more often.
And during that time, I began to seriously pursue a vice I’d practiced secretly for years but had never admitted to anyone: I loved to write.
Now any fool knows you can’t make a living as a writer—especially
these days—so there’s no pressure to actually succeed. I’ve even started admitting to a few trusted friends that I do it.
Besides, this allows me to hang out in coffee houses a lot, wearing black tights, horn-rimmed glasses, and outrageous jewelry.
I look sophisticated. I look intellectual. I look eccentric. And if there’s nobody there to talk to, I can always pretend to be writing.
About Mary Lynn
Causes Mary Lynn Archibald Supports
Battered Women's Shelter, SPCA, Healdsburg Animal Shelter, Nature Conservancy