Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"You know I'm bad, I'm bad, come on"--Michael Jackson

I am rapidly ploughing through Ariel Gore's book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead and enjoying it immensely, though my own desire for "famous" has lessened since my youthful obsession with celebrity and infamy, and I'd be sated and in nirvana with "known," "respected" or "established."

First, I must get my gush over with--I was once referred to by an editor as a "hip mama" and I glowed for days, so chuffed to be labelled with the moniker coined by Ariel Gore, when I thought my hipness had expired the day after our second baby was born or when we'd resettled in a middle class urban neighborhood in Portland after moving from Seattle's Capital Hill (where I'd lived above a gas station and could lean out the window to see who was parked outside the lesbian tavern down the street, before deciding what to wear).

I expect that there will be much to say about Ariel's book in the days to come, but this is an aside after reading page 81, where there is a listing of words with their cultural/geographic origin, and she has listed "Bad comes from an old English word meaning homosexual."

Excellent! I thought smugly. Because just around the time I came out at 19, I changed my name.

Not only because it was the lesbian thing to do in that era (I'm not sure I knew anyone who went by the name on her birth certificate), but also to instigate a witness protection program for myself from my fairly malignant father, who would lose his ability to find me and eventually die of drink a few years later in Harborview Hospital after being found naked on his apartment floor with acute liver and kidney failure.

I changed not only my mild-mannered first name, Laura, for the name my mother wanted to give me, Berengaria (wife of Richard the Lionheart), but changed the whole damn thing, creating an ostentatious name I thought would look good on paintings and book jacket alike--Berengaria Ariadne deMotier, aka, B.A.d.

There have been times since that I've reconsidered my brazen choice, and wondered if something less flashy would have been better, though I chose the last name from a family name and the middle because I associated Ariadne with the spinning of tales. In retrospect I wonder if I chose it because she helped someone escape the minotaur--the monster--or because I was so fond of Agatha Christie novels, including her Ariadne Oliver character. Or that I really wanted those initials.

Twenty-five years later, I am delighted to see in Ariel Gore's book a rational reason for my choice--my new initials were an old English name for homosexual! Just the thing to give oneself as a coming out present.

For others who would like to become a famous writer before they're dead, Ariel Gore is giving a class on that very topic starting in January!

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