Stephen Mosher On The Mosaic
I recently posted a photo of myself on the Facebook machine. It was the last headshot taken of me when I was acting. It was 1985 or 86 and it was, in fact, the only time I ever had a headshot made of me for my acting career because a few years later I decided to stop acting. It would be nearly 20 years before I would have a headshot made again, for the author flap of The Sweater Book, and by then I had no hair. In this photo of me, however, I had long chestnut colored hair that swept back off my forehead and cascaded down to my shoulders. One rather indelicate person commented under the photo that it was a mullet. This outraged me. Not that I give a damn about mullets – it’s just that it took me a long time to grow out that hair so it was all one length. And I would spend hours with a blow dryer and a big round hairbrush, curling it under so it would land on my shoulders just right. You see, I just had to look like Jamie McGregor.
I was 19 years old and trying desperately to figure out who I was. Growing up gay in the 70s, landing in my bachelor pad and at college in 1982, I was very much aware how the world saw homosexuals and I was determined to hide myself. I had grown up ostracized and teased for being effeminate. I had been told by many people, from family to school kids and even by teachers and other adults who knew me, that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t masculine enough, wasn’t enough of anything to be worth anyone’s interest. So I would have to make myself into a person who WAS enough. And the only way to do that was to remake myself in the image of the people I read about in books and saw in movies. I had read both the plays Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and developed what I considered to be a perfect Henry Higgins taught speech pattern. I made every attempt at teenage couture so that I could be like the characters in the Sidney Sheldon novels I read like The Other Side of Midnight and Bloodline. I made limited teenage attempts at edgy fashion photography after seeing the movie The Eyes of Laura Mars. I became a runner so that I could be like Joe Pendleton in the film Heaven Can Wait. And I had styled my hair after the character Jamie McGregor in the TV movie Master of The Game because he (as portrayed by Ian Charleson) was the most badass motherfucker I had ever seen. And his luxurious hair was the most beautiful hair I had ever seen. I even adopted expressions that I heard in movies or read in books, freely plagiarizing other peoples’ writing to create my general conversation in real life. I was a walking mosaic of the arts and artists that I loved.
I was a mess.
And as time passed it dawned on me that people knew that I was a mess. If I was going to have a happy life I would have to discover who I was, really and truly, and let him out. I would need to strip away the false shards of armor I had put on and reveal what was underneath. I was going to have to allow myself to be vulnerable in order for people to really like me. And that is exactly what I did. It took everything I had to do it but I did and what emerged was an original. Then and only then did people accept me for myself and it has worked out for me for the last three decades.
Mind you, it was a process. And even though there are things that I did dismiss as not being authentic to myself, there are other things that I had adopted that did fit so well that I hung on to them. Sometimes just an expression that fit me so well that I might have said it in the first place – like in Somewhere In Time when William Robinson tells Elise McKenna to be ‘excess within control’. It perfectly sums up what I think great art is and I still use the phrase today. Or like when I saw Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman and fell in love with the popped collar on her winter coat. All these years later I still wear my collar popped — I do it because it suits me and I always think of Clayburgh when I do.
We are all a tapestry, a mosaic, made up of the threads and the pieces of experiences and people that touch us along the way in life. And that is fine. As long as those threads and pieces are securely attached to a real person, a living and breathing organism, a unique individual, an original. You see the world worships the original and if you aren’t an original, you’re nothing but a copy.
And this original never ever ever wore a mullet.