Thursday, December 12, 2013

ulterior motives

Ten years ago today, I wrote an e-mail to an artist I didn't know.

Hi--I'm a member of the Rufus Wainwright message board. In which I go by circusgirl. Anyway, I was in Portland recently on a visit and made it a point to stop by the Froelick [Gallery] and see your exhibit.

Big Venus - Stephen O'Donnell
Wow. I just wanted to say you're quite a talent, in both aesthetic and content. I really enjoyed your pieces in person. When I peeked at the Big Venus on the website I thought it was done in oils. I think my favorite pieces are the Castor and Pollox and the Toilette of Medusa (hope I'm not mis-stating the titles). The Medusa I love for so many reasons. It's so beautiful, but the idea behind it, the significance, just goes in so many layers. If I'm not being unclear. I love the paradoxes--the mythos/mythos, man/woman, good/evil, ugliness/beauty. Very cool. Castor and Pollux I thought was just so pretty and poignant. But I liked them all. Forgive me for sounding silly, but I just left impressed enough to feel the need to call upon you and gush a little.


Yes, that's what I said. The Rufus Wainwright message board. I'm not going to tell you just how much time I spent on that message board goo-gooing over Rufus Wainwright, and I'm not going to tell you how embarrassingly old I was when I was doing this.


In my defense, the artist I was writing to that day was also a member. Steveo, he called himself. Also in my defense, being in the circus can be kind of like being in jail. A jail full of big tops and cotton candy and the laughing, happy faces of children. I'm not knocking the children. It's just that when your life is nothing but big tops and cotton candy, when everyone around you [and most of all your husband the clown] thinks about nothing but big tops and cotton candy, you get stir crazy. And when you find something you like, you grab on and hold a little too hard.

Rufus Wainwright - Detail - Stephen, O'Donnell

It was on that message board that member Circusgirl had heard member Steveo mention that non-member Rufus happened to be playing a gig in Portland, Oregon, right around the time of the opening of his (member Steveo's) art exhibit Mythos at Froelick Gallery. Steveo kind of hoped Rufus would see the exhibit while in town, but the one who saw it was Circusgirl.

I've never been a big writer of fan letters. Well, there was that one time I wrote to Steven Spielberg when I was about thirteen, but that was less about the fan letter and more about my aspirations for submitting my script for the sequel to the film E. T. Which I also hoped to star in.

Well, and there was that time, even earlier, when I wrote to Sally Struthers to tell her how much I admired her acting and her crusading for animal rights, but that time I wrote the fan letter because my cousin told me she wrote one, and I wanted to be just like my cousin.

I'd say most fan letters have ulterior motives. We want to tell the artists, writers, actors, activists that we love what they've done, but we also want other things. An autograph. To feel smart. To congratulate ourselves on our taste. To feel a connection to our heroes.

The day I wrote the fan message to artist Stephen O'Donnell, I had ulterior motives. Like that one about feeling smart. Witness the incredibly thought-out [but decidedly awkward] wording of my note. You're quite a talent in both aesthetic and content


I also wanted to find someone to talk about art with. I really did think that somehow this accomplished artist would find my comments so engaging that we might strike up a conversation and then I could talk about lovely things like beauty, symmetry, iconography. Motif. Impasto. Chiaroscuro. Whatever that was. Anything, as long as it wasn't big tops and cotton candy.

I also hoped we could talk about Rufus Wainwright. Because, at age thirty-five, I was, in fact, a thirteen year old girl.

And if I'm honest with myself, I'll say I wanted something more. A human connection that I hadn't had in a very long time, out there on the road with all that nothing but cotton candy. A human connection that maybe even held a hint of that tiny, hidden desire I felt while standing in front of those beautiful self portraits of that man in a dress.

The Toilette of Medusa - Stephen O'Donnell

A hint. I didn't need more. Just a quick, innocent fan letter was enough.

My list of ulterior motives was pretty long that day, but it didn't include starting up a quick e-mail conversation that would lead to a longer e-mail conversation that would lead to a deep friendship that would lead to my finding the guts to leave my fifteen year marriage and career and move to Portland to meet and get to know and eventually marry that artist.

But in the afternoon of the day I sent that message, Stephen wrote back.


  1. Yup, he did. Thank you, my dear wife, for making all of this happen. You're brave. I'm grateful. Beautiful post. xoxoxo

  2. i remember these pieces when you first wrote them, happy anniversary! ps i love that you wrote spielberg and wanted give him a script and star in the sequel for ET!

  3. This drink, this hat, this little flag I am holding up over here on the other side of town is to you Gigi and your writing and your ability to bring your experiences all-together so splendidly for us to enjoy and enjoy I do! You are a marvelous storyteller. xo

  4. Beautifully introspective Gigi...I have fun reading what you write

  5. Your post, and Stephilius's response, have made me smile on an otherwise very difficult day. Swoon. Love. Happiness.