People have to take a minute to digest my words when I tell them I’m a mermaid. In the age of Millennial ‘I’m a unicorn/princess/snowflake’ it’s rather easy to take this with a grain of salt. However, far from a flight of entitled whimsy, I do, in fact, work as a mermaid, and incorporate it into my stage and event performances. This isn’t some new thing to me, that overtook me in the night. I didn’t wake up one morning, seized with the need to wear clam shells on my chest, and wash my hair with sea water. The roots of this drive to swim more often than walk goes back deep into my childhood, and has been nurtured by my exceptional parents, if in odd ways.
I actually didn’t like The Little Mermaid when it first came out. My long-suffering babysitter, Allison, had taken me to our little one-screen shoe box theatre on a hot summer day to watch the film that would more or less kick start the Disney animation studio back up into something that earned it’s corn. I wasn’t moved by it. I can’t put my finger on it, but I remember not enjoying it. It was likely due to the fact that I resented having a babysitter (even though I was eight and not yet quite old enough to be solo the whole summer while my mom worked) and I took exception to going to a ‘kid’ movie. But something shifted in my psyche and I had always loved and enjoyed the other Disney film with mermaids, Splash. Seeing a realistic mermaid sparked the imagination, and gradually I made room in my heart for Ariel.
Halloween came that year, and I remember my mother asking me what my plans were for a costume with some trepidation, as I was given to major flights of fancy as far as costumes were concerned. It’s not terribly surprising that I’d later go into a life as a showgirl, really. But as my mother was not a seamstress, she WAS crafty. She always swallowed her fear of my requests bravely and did her best to accommodate. So when I asked to be a mermaid, she asked what I had in mind. I said a tail like Madison (Splash’s title mermaid), and that my friends would pull me in a wagon, house to house, to trick or treat. My mother was highly skeptical of this plan for two reasons. The first being, the best trick or treating to be had was up a VERY steep hill that most eight year olds would be unwilling to lug anyone up in a wagon, unless some very heavy bribery was going to happen. The second being that while there was a puff of life in her lungs, there was no WAY I was leaving the house in a clamshell bra and a spandex fish tail I was unable to walk in, and that was beyond the scope of her skills of construction.
We were at something of a stalemate.
I do remember she said that I could be a mermaid, but there were going to have to be some concessions. What I wanted and what I wound up with are two very different things. But I will say that my mother poured her heart and creative soul into making that costume. A far cry from my original idea, what the final product was likely why I felt so at home in later life at raves. The outfit was a neon green tube dress, with painted on scales and belly button, in dark green, puffy fabric paint. The fins were two pieces of cardboard, painted green, then covered with spray glue with dark green glitter thrown onto them. My seashells were glued to the chest of the dress. Because it was rainy late October Wet Coast weather, my mother INSISTED my arms and shoulders were covered so despite my protests to the contrary, I wore a red cape and dark green evening gloves up to my armpits. my short bobbed hair was hair sprayed into a Flock Of Seagulls creation (this was the late 80s, I should ask you to keep in mind) and I had racing stripes of eyeshadow and blush for make up. Not really what I had in mind. But the choice between being allowed out in that and not going trick or treating at all, I chose to wear the garment. I’m glad I did, because now, in my adult years, I know how hard my mom worked on it, and I would hate to think how the rejection of it would have made her feel.
But when anyone asks me why I became a raver, I will forever reference the photos taken of me that year at Halloween.
Fast forward to Christmas time and my mother asking me what I wanted. The obvious answer being an Ariel doll. Back before Disney really had grasped the gold mine of marketing, there wasn’t a line of dolls ready to go with the release of the film. There were no mermaid dolls, period. No Esty, nothing of the sort. And of course the ONLY thing that now nine year old me wanted for Christmas was a Little Mermaid doll. My mother, bless her heart, had a friend who was going to Disneyland and taking her children, whom she begged to bring back an Ariel doll for me. Apparently, they were pretty hard to locate, and there was a modest display of Little Mermaid merchandise to help promote the new film. On that Christmas morning, every other thing fell away and paled in comparison to the doll which, by today’s standards wouldn’t have made it out of the prototype marketing meeting. But holy shit, did I ever love that I had a mermaid doll at that point. Major Mom points, right there.
I later got a few gigs in my early 20s in my really ghetto tail. It was made of one leg of an old pair of black tights, sewn into one piece with a silver lame fin, and silver scales spray painted onto it. It wasn’t such a far cry from the Halloween costume my Mom made for me, except that it was sans cape and evening gloves, and my hair was down to my waist. I wore it for a few events I was booked at for at the Vancouver Aquarium where I’d lounge on rocks in the Pacific Gallery, over the fish native to my own coastal habitat. I’ve been slowly upgrading since then, and continue to collect and curate tails with which to swim and perform in.
Nature and nurture both played a part here. My mother and father have always been so good to me in regards of support for my odd ideas. Despite never walking the safe road, they have not only been there and encouraged me, but delight to see the success that I’ve had over the years. I like to think that they share in those successes, because I couldn’t have done it a lot of the time without the love that they’ve offered me. It might take a village to raise a child, but this mermaid applauds the two people who levelled up to raise this weirdo.
Little Miss Risk