Author: Ellison Walcott

Ellison Walcott is a graduate from Sarah Lawrence College MFA in Writing program and holds an MA and BA in English Literature from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. She is a writer, has been a teacher, a car valet, sometimes an assistant for visual artists, writers, and once went on an archaeological dig, and assisted in refurbishing a mosaic in Old Corinth in Greece. She now lives in New York City. You can also find her work in alternative newsweeklies and regional newspapers, as well as in The Huffington Post and on thepoliticalcountdown.com and dearcitygirl.com.

Unicornland Redefines The Romantic Comedy

Photo courtesy of Unicornland

A singles tour of love and sex into polyamory

VIA Garnet News
SOURCE Ellison Walcott, Contributing Writer  Feb 16, 2017
Everyone loves a good romantic comedy, but the new web series Unicornland redefines exactly what that is. Created by Lucy Gillespie, it’s the story of Annie, a recently divorced twenty-something, who heals herself by taking a relationship tour through the world of polyamory, where she explores sex and love with different couples.

The story originated from Gillespie’s personal life. After being divorced at 26, she had a “what next feeling,” and so to help her move on, she went looking for answers as to what went wrong in her marriage. After attending a few sex parties at New York’s fetish scene, where she spoke with couples who helped her reinvent her ideas about relationships, she decided to create the series.

In eight episodes, Unicornland, captures the current zeitgeist of sexual tourism. It’s a singles’ how to guide in what to do and not to do in a relationship.

As the series progresses, Annie finds her confidence, and she learns that chemistry is everything. Sometimes an episode ends in connection, occasionally rejection, and at other moments, it can just be uncomfortable. In the end for Annie, it’s an empowering tool in understanding intimacy and herself.

A playwright as well, Gillespie seems to have loosely borrowed the theme of naïveté to liberation from Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie.” Laura, the main character is delicate and innocent at the opening of the play, like Annie in the first episode of Unicornland. Laura’s favorite glass animal is the unicorn, but it gets dropped and loses its horn, a symbol of a loss of virtue and joining the herd.

The series celebrates social diversity with a cast that includes Trans, genderqueer and disabled actors.

This is not the first time polyamory has been explored in television. ABC’s Mistresses spent a whole season on thrupledom. The primetime series had a more deviant perspective, however, unlike Unicornland that takes this outside-of-the conventional exploration and fashions it into normalcy.

While the idea of a threesome is not new, bringing it into the mainstream is.

Gillespie’s Unicornland reminds us that love is never free, but the idea of good sex and intimacy should not be hemmed into boundaries. Rather it’s a mishmash of messiness that makes life and love more exhilarating.

Lucy Gillespie

Image result for lucy gillespie
Lucy Gillespie, Image credit: L. Gillespie

Where did the title Unicornland come from?

The working title was “Magic Kingdom,” because I grew up with Disney Princesses. Like Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, Annie knows there’s a big exciting world out there that she’s been kept from “for her own protection.” But I didn’t want to get sued by Disney (and still don’t). Unicornland felt magical, referenced unicorns–the technical term for what Annie is. But it also felt right to name the series after a place. Unicornland is about Annie, but it’s also about New York.

Can you talk about the fine line between intimacy and sexuality in the show?

Intimacy is often a euphemism for sex, but I believe that’s too simplistic. Annie is looking for true intimacy, which is a holistic attitude to relationships that also includes sex. With some couples, she finds it, with others she doesn’t, or it surprises her.

Also the line between drama and comedy?

With dating and sex, things that are dramatic or even tragic in the moment, and often comedic afterwards.

They are that way because of anxiety, expectations and the pressures individuals place on scenarios without necessarily disclosing that information to (a) partner/s. So we were hoping to strike that balance of mortifying/raw in the moment, but funny with perspective.

How did you create the world of Unicornland? I know the character was inspired by life events, but is it drawn from interviews with others?

After my divorce, I wanted to educate myself about relationships, love, compassion, communication, intimacy, sex, options–to throw out everything I knew and explore urges I’d ignored in hopes of becoming a better partner, and more true to myself in relationships… So, improbably, I joined the New York fetish scene. The couples and scenarios portrayed in Unicornland are loosely inspired by encounters there. No one is specifically based on anyone, but there are shades of ideas and observations here and there.

Through that scene, I met many extraordinary couples who skillfully navigate complicated relationships with compassion and integrity. The experience taught me how many ways there are to love, but there were also darker lessons.

The world that Annie lives in is a current trend and cutting edge, how do you see the world of Unicornland in relation to today’s culture?

Someone recently described ours as a “post-need society.” The election has forcefully refuted that statement; it is painfully obvious now what a disparity of need exists in this country. But there is something to be said for that idea. I’ve been approached by many women, friends, colleagues, friends of friends and strangers on the internet, who resonate deeply with Annie’s journey. I hope that this cultural explosion of female sexual exploration indicates that older, deeper-rooted, nastier facets of misogyny are being exposed and overthrown.

Tell me about some of the characters you’ve chosen for your stories and why you chose them.

The couples and individuals represent NYC categories that I observed: “in the scene.” It’s important to say that the series is about Annie’s journey to explore her sexual/relational needs. It’s not about polyamory. So the couples/individuals were representative of what an uninitiated newcomer might find. Some couples are very evolved and sex-positive. Others are more mercenary, and simply there to address their own needs. I wanted to expose Annie to both the gorgeous enclaves of warmth, and to the danger. No, that’s not true; Annie asked for that. She wanted the full experience. In this season, post-divorce and working through some darker emotions, she definitely pushes herself to go hard. Sometimes it’s magical and safe; other times not.

What’s the significance of Annie dating couples, being polyamorous? How do you see this as a road to healing?

As mentioned previously, she wants to explore her sexuality, which is a new challenge for her post-divorce. She wants to share the couple’s intimate connection, to see what they do in bed, and to allow herself a degree of detachment from others’ relationships; traditional dating wouldn’t work for her purposes. It was sort of surprising to me how many women saw themselves in Annie’s position.

It’s a surprise that in 2016, post Girls, Broad City, Sex and the City, Helen Gurley Brown, and Cosmo, that women still find themselves in their late 20’s or 30’s or 40’s without knowing precisely how to get themselves off, who still slut-shame, and who look down on sexual exploration as promiscuous.

And who have some sort of break up with their old selves, and go through this odyssey. But, God, it still happens. So many women are still trapped doubting themselves, judging their needs, hating themselves for feeling unsatisfied. Unicornland is less about polyamory, which is definitely not for everyone, and more about female sexual empowerment.

What are your thoughts on current politics and cultural events in the U.S.? In the world?

Probably similar to yours.

On the Unicornland website, you talk about the faltering path of being an artist, can you talk a little bit about that and why you see it that way?

The U.S. doesn’t value the arts. It values money. It’s against the very foundation of this country’s constitution to promote the arts and cherish artists. But the catch 22 is that artists cannot and should not be held accountable to money, profits, and marketability. So that’s rough. I grew up in England, where the arts, not just entertainment, are more important culturally. There are more resources for artists there, so that’s my comparison point.

How has living in America and being a writer/creator altered your emotional landscape?

I’d say I’m more emotionally mature than peers in other industries, but, by comparison, financially infantile.

Who would you say is your biggest influence?

Caryl Churchill, Shakespeare, Margaret Thatcher, and my grandmothers.

How would you like to see the world change?

We should all consider ourselves scientists.

What advice would you give to others who pursue creative endeavors?

Figure out what works for you.

Do you have any new projects in the works?

A few. All early stages.

If you could have one wish, what would it be?

Security. Or my mother’s unconditional acceptance and love, which is probably the same thing.

 Watch Unicornland here.


 Image credit: Photo Courtesy of Unicornland

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Brendan Fraser As Gunther On The Affair Is Breakout Role

While there are all kinds of rumors flying around about Brendan Fraser being cast in Showtime’s, The Affair, the truth is the character he plays, prison guard, John Gunther is a break out role; and it confirms that he is a versatile and skillful actor.  Gunther, as he’s known on the show, is nothing like the iconic heroes that Fraser has always portrayed. He is a creepy, unlikeable bully.

The low, guttural, uneducated sounding voice that Fraser uses for the character is disturbing, and an unexpected departure from the lilting charm and deliberate humor of characters like George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right.

Fraser may be uncomfortable playing such a monster, but it’s actually refreshing to see him take on such a despicable character. This is not a low point in his career. This is Brendan Fraser maturing as an actor. He has played those loveable goofballs so well for so long.

However, by the interview that he did on AOL, it would seem that he’s having trouble adjusting to the changes in his life and in the entertainment world. While pain and adversity in any form can be debilitating, it’s actually a chance for growth. Fraser should embrace the journey he is on, as it has made him a better actor. Whether he’s heartbroken over his divorce or because he’s not the blockbuster sensation he once was, he should remember that making good art isn’t primarily about being the leading man. And, it doesn’t always have to be on the big screen.

Show business and technology are evolving. If Fraser doesn’t progress with it, he will get left behind. Lots of film stars are now appearing in series on cable channels. Anthony Hopkins is on Westworld (HBO), and Luke Wilson in Roadies (Showtime), and Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are in an upcoming miniseries called Big Little Lies (HBO).

As for playing John Gunther, some of the best actors have performed in supporting roles, and it has eventually led them to the top. If Fraser plays his cards right, and chooses future parts wisely, his appearance on The Affair could be his road back to a more fulfilling career.

 

Isabella Rossellini and Patrice Cassanova – A Gathering at Hunter College

Not the usual fanfare or blasting of paparazzi flashes, no red carpets or ball gowns that you’d expect at an event with celebrities like actress, filmmaker and currently academic Isabella Rossellini, and renowned fashion photographer, Patrice Casanova. It was just family, friends, artists, and other academic junkies, getting together on a Thursday, and discussing their favorite subjects: animal behavior, Heritage chickens and photography.

The reason for the gathering: a reception for the closing of the photo exhibition, Fowl Play: Isabella Rossellini’s Heritage Breed Chickens, a collaboration between the two artists, which ended, September 10th. They were being shown at the Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery at Hunter College in New York City during the summer.

In this show, Rossellini and Casanova shed a whole new light on the splendor and grace of these feathered friends.

The show grew out of Rossellini’s commitment as a conservation activist. In 2012, she purchased a parcel of land in the Brookhaven Hamlet in New York, with a plan to lease the farmland. Concerned with sustainability and animal welfare, Rossellini believes, “There is a role for a small farm like mine to help genetic diversity – and not only of vegetables.” The interest led Rossellini to agree to raise a flock of Heritage breed chickens for some friends.

Rossellini and Casanova began the project together, when the birds were just fledglings, newly delivered to Rossellini in tiny cardboard boxes. After the first set of pictures were snapped, Casanova returned every two weeks to photograph the fowl.

Although many only know Rossellini as actress, model and daughter of two film icons, she is an anomaly in the movie industry. At 64, she continues to be offered roles for TV and film, and also finds time, in between projects, to pursue a master’s degree. Presently a graduate student in Hunter College’s Animal Behavior and Conservation program, she gave a three part presentation at the closing event for Fowl Play.

Dressed in a tunic, reminiscent of the multicolored plumage of the Welsummer chicken, she gave a lecture and showed two films, one she created, titled: Wolf Becomes Dog,  and the second, a screening of the 1952 short film, The Chicken’s, which was directed by her father, Roberto Rossellini and starred her mother, Ingrid Bergman. The films shared a similar playful tone, and in both cases, family and friends performed the various roles.

“I’m studying what I always wanted to study as a little girl,” said Rossellini. “They didn’t have these courses in Italy, when I was growing up. I’m lucky I found this program.”

At the age of 15, her father bought her a book about animal behavior titled, King Solomon’s Ring, by Konrad Lorenz. The book awakened the scientist in her.

As part of her conservancy, Rossellini has rented a few acres of her farm to cultivate crops. “They are mostly of heirloom varieties, for chefs who want flavorful ingredients that are not available in grocery stores,” said Rossellini. “You can only buy one breed of carrots or one breed of spinach in the markets.”

Referring to both the vegetables and chickens, she said, “It’s very important to raise endangered breeds that fell out of fashion. I chose Heritage chickens, because they live longer, and you might have diseases that kill all the broiler chickens, which are the ones you eat.  Then, you have others that are resistant to a virus and you don’t have to start again.”

Long known as an environmental philanthropist, Rossellini doesn’t just promote and donate; her actions speak as loud as her words. Dedicated to not only making the world a better place, but also helping the people who live in it, Rossellini also raises service dogs for the blind and disabled.  Nothing goes to waste on the farm either; Rossellini created a coop for people who have bought a portion of the products on the farm. “Weekly we distribute a share of the honey, a share of the eggs and a share of the vegetables.”

The combination of her creative and academic sides inspired Rossellini’s return to the classroom. In 2008, she wrote, directed and starred in a series of video shorts for the Sundance Channel, titled Green Porno.  The production, which stemmed from her work with Robert Redford and the Sundance Channel, is a compilation of eight short films dramatizing the sex life and mating habits of home and garden creatures, including bees, flies, praying mantis and others.

The series quickly found a following and received critical acclaim, including a Webby Award.  The Internet platform was soon adapted into book form, and then the stage. Rossellini toured the one woman show from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to theaters throughout Europe and Australia.

For many years, Rossellini postponed her academic passion in deference to doing what was expected, but in the spring of 2013, at the age of 62, she took her first course at Hunter College in animal welfare, and began the journey of her lifelong aspiration. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see an actress of such prominence taking time out for herself, and following the dream that has been held in her heart since childhood.

The photographs by Patrice Casanova

The silver gelatin prints of the fowl are taken portrait style, and Patrice Casanova has captured the essence of each subject’s personality. From a fledgling’s grey, downy innocence and vulnerability against a soft pink background, to the full grown bird in all its regalia.

Shot at different times of day to catch the changing light, the images have a playful feeling. The setup and angles are reminiscent of Casanova’s fashion days. Taken at eye level, he seemingly has a knack to bring out the model in any subject, even Heritage breed chickens.

Sometimes, the head is tilted, or the bird gives a profile or lunges forward wings spread. At other moments, as with the Welsummer, known for its lighthearted friendly personality, and as the world famed Kellogg’s Cornflake mascot, the chicken stares directly into the camera. Still, the Crested Polish Watch, has a huge bouffant of feathers, and looks like its sporting a hat, similar to the ones worn by the British royals or women at the Kentucky Derby.

The soft focus of these images gives them a painterly appearance. The colors in the birds’ coats are multilayered and seem to be brushstrokes painstakingly painted with several layers of color. There is an anthropomorphic aspect to Casanova’s photographs, and it reminds us that humans are not the only intelligent life forms on earth.

You can also find this article at: The Huffington Post

The photo at the top of this post of Isabella Rossellini, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab and Patrice Cassanova was taken by Ilana Krugole.

 

PATRICE CASANOVA
Image of the Crested Polish Watch

PATRICE CASANOVA
Image of a fledgling

Almost Normal – My Insignificant Story about 9/11

This story is dedicated to everyone, because we’re all on a journey; but especially to those whose lives are harder than the rest.

 Normal. What does that even mean, after all the tragedy that has occurred in the world?

My story about 9/11 seems insignificant compared to the first responders, who risked their lives that day to save 25,000 people, or to those who were in the Two Towers and walked down the thousands of stairs.

They are heroes and courageous people. I am just lucky to be alive, and have a story to tell. My story feels insignificant compared to the families, friends and co-workers, who lost people they loved and admired.

We all have stories to tell about what happened 15 years ago, whether you were in the buildings, or at home watching the events unfold on your television. All Americans have a narrative for 9/11.

I remember that there is no other way to describe that day other than perfect. Just like a movie, the sky was an autumn blue. I’m sure somewhere, there were children in a park or a playground. People were reading books and laughing. Somewhere someone was singing.

I didn’t want to go to work.  I wanted to stay home, sleep, read, sing, dance or write. I kept wishing my boss would call and tell me that I didn’t have to come in. My boss didn’t call, so I dragged myself out the door. I got on the L-Train at the Morgan stop, as I did every morning, with a magazine or book in hand.

When I arrived to Lower Manhattan, just beneath The Towers, there were hundreds of people on the sidewalks and in the streets, as I came up from the subway. Many had their cell phones pressed to their ears, and their faces tilted skyward. I asked a few people what happened, and most answered, “I don’t know,” or “There’s a fire.”

Then a man yelled, as if asking a question to the person on the other end of his cell phone, “Oh my God, a plane flew into the building….what?” His head dropped down, and he started pacing back and forth. The tones of people’s voices around me became more frantic, as they spoke to people standing next to them, or those on the other ends of their cell phones.

I tried to call my boss, but he didn’t pick up. I was doing contract work at Nomura Securities, located in a building adjacent to the World Trade Center.

While I was standing there, dialing my phone, paper began to flutter down like pinwheels from the sky. Then, I saw piles of clothes falling from the windows, and wondered, why people would be throwing those things out. As they got closer to the ground, I realized they weren’t what I thought. The paper was money, and the Brooks Brother’s baby pinks and blues had people in them.

Some of the people around me started walking towards the buildings. Others just stood motionless.  I fell to my knees and sat down on the sidewalk, dazed, my face hot, and tears overfilling my eyes.

I was a contributor for The Downtown Express at the time, and thought, “I should go get the story.” I got up and started walking towards The Towers, but it was as if someone placed a hand on my shoulder and held me back and whispered, “You’re not that kind of reporter.”

It was true. I covered mostly arts, but I thought I could cover breaking news. While I was, debating with myself, I heard a loud whining sound, and I looked up to see a plane fly into the South Tower. The ground shook, and glass and steel exploded from the building. Someone yelled, “Hit the deck.” I heard screaming, and watched people running down the street. There were others walking towards the buildings. I imagined they were worried about people they knew who might be inside. I called to them, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” but they didn’t hear me, or ignored me.

Not too long after that, both towers were a pile of dust, and New Yorkers were walking around as if they didn’t know where they were going. There were people covered in ash.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d been in a place when tragedy struck. Twenty years earlier, I was at the Hyatt Hotel in Kansas City on July 17, 1981, when the skywalks fell and 113 people died. Also, a year earlier on August 26th, 2000, a friend of mine committed suicide.

I’m not a stranger to senseless death, but this event, was the beginning of my unravelling. My life was about to get really messy. I’m just lucky to be alive.

I grew up in the Midwest, and my values, morals and ethics are based in that upbringing: Always do the right thing. Always be the nice girl. Don’t sleep around. Don’t lie. Be faithful. Live and let live. Work hard.

After 9/11 though, I wasn’t sure if anything mattered anymore. I walked home just like other New Yorkers that day. I kept looking back. Most of us did, with the disbelief that the smoldering steel gray cloud in the sky was all that was left of the Towers.

I arrived home to three dogs and a cat. My boyfriend of 12 years, an artist, was in Los Angeles.

When he returned about a week later, I was a shell of the person he had known. My soul and spirit were missing. Really not understanding or knowing what to say, mostly he kept muttering things like, “I want my girlfriend back,” as if I would miraculously become normal again. He didn’t realize that I couldn’t unsee or just forget the images of 9/11.

He began spending more time out of town, and because of that, I became more withdrawn, and soon we broke up.

No one around me seemed to understand either. Family and friends thought I should just be over it. That’s when I realized some people have simple lives and others have complex, and those who have never experienced anything traumatic, just don’t sympathize.

I tried therapy, and anti-depressants, and EFT (tapping your fingers). None of it worked for me. All the retelling of the story didn’t desensitize it. It just made me relive it. Anti-depressants and other prescriptions, didn’t stop the sadness or the emotional pain, or help with sleep; and tapping fingers may work for some, but it didn’t for me.

Since I’d been through a similar experience, I knew that facing it head on and the passage of time, were the only ways that I would heal. You don’t forget, but you do learn to move forward.

After 9/11, I was vulnerable, fragile and damaged. Of course, there’s more to this story, and I’m not sure if the events that followed were because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or I made bad decisions, or maybe a combination of both.

Anger and anguish need an outlet. They don’t just go away. Feeling very much as if I was on my own during this part of my journey, I was in a state of desperation to not have any more loss in my life, so I attached myself to a man who, in many ways, was more desperate than me. I ended up making him a better person, and in doing so, found out that I was stronger than I thought. There is more to this story, more tragedy and more pain, and if I had to do this last piece over, I wouldn’t. I would find another way to help me move forward, because, after him, I am truly lucky to be alive, and here to tell my story.

Fifteen years later, I am…almost normal again.

I did learn some skills that do help you move forward, and they are as follows:

1)      Most people around you won’t understand. Gravitate towards those who do. Stay away from those who want to keep you down and prefer you damaged when you start healing.

2)     Some people may avoid you. Don’t take it personal. We are all on our own journeys.

3)     Cut yourself a lot of slack, and heal at your own pace. When you’ve been through a lot, it’s going to take time.

4)     Remember, the deeper the pain you have the greater your capacity for wisdom and happiness. Every action does have an opposite and equal reaction.

5)     Distraction, not destruction of the self or others. But if you overdrink occasionally, it’s okay. However, if you get a habit, get help. Bad habits just intensify your problems.

6)     Have faith in yourself. You will make it to the other side.

7)     Have patience with others. If they don’t understand, it’s because they’ve never experienced anything like it.  Be happy for them.

8)    Consider yourself lucky that you are alive to tell your story.

You can also find this article at: garnetnews.com

 

 

Make Fun Not War – The Other Side of War

According to the urban dictionary, a War Dog is a political and/or military person who is immorally eager to encourage a people or nation to go to war. This is not Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, as Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz in the movie by Todd Philips, director of “The Hangover” series.

The movie “War Dogs” is based on a true story told in a 2011 Rolling Stone article. It’s a comedy drama about two 20-something, childhood friends, who own a small time, government contract filling, arms selling business. Their bravado gets the best of them over a possible $30 million dollar deal, and they make the mistake of trying to play at the same level as the major munitions providers – the big boys.

This film makes military gunrunning look like a giddy rush, where you’re up all night smoking marijuana, partying at nightclubs, and traveling the world. After a night out, Efraim and David hop a plane to the Middle East to drive guns held up by trade embargos in Jordan, to Baghdad, while being chased by mercenaries.

Right when, those rebels are about to creep up on their tail in Fallujah, the U.S. military swoops in like a superhero and saves them. They are flown back to the U.S. via military escort like dignitaries, after getting paid in cash. After all, they are the “best smugglers in all of Jordan,” and just “drove through the triangle of death” to deliver weapons.

Between the laughs provided by the great writing of this perfect summer blockbuster, the film is laden with deeper meaning.

Don’t run off to start a new career path just yet.  As everyone knows, war is not funny, and the U.S. military is not likely to show up in the middle of the desert, if you’re being run down by rebel insurgents.

Also, war is serious business. David, narrates the story, and at the outset says, “War is an economy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is in on it or stupid.” He goes on to say how much everything costs, including at the time of the Iraq/Afghan war, outfitting a soldier is $17,500.

Bradley Cooper and Ana de Armas help bring the story together, Cooper as a shady arms dealer on the U.S. terrorist watch list and Armas as David’s wife.

David and Efraim, while they seem unlikely, are a realistic duo. The introspective, nice person often gets taken in by the boisterous, reckless character, and they balance each other out, until the State Department steps in to investigate, and then they don’t.

You can also find this post on The Huffington Post website.