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Zoe Brock ZOE BROCK was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia. She has lived in more cities and on more continents than she can count (truly, she's a model and can't count) and is currently residing in the deep fog of San Francisco. Her true home lies on the dusty plains of Burning Man where she feels safe and challenged and truly alive. Zoë once had a very popular blog on MySpace and writes everything from awful poetry to truly delicious dark satire, and all sorts of sexy things in between. She has appeared on the cover of Elle magazine, inside the pages of Vogue, Cosmo and Marie Claire, to name a few, and is working on her memoir, an expose of 'growing up model'. Zoë is also a certified yoga teacher. Yes, that means she's bendy.

Recent Work By Zoe Brock

You, Two.

By Zoe Brock

Travel

You are still a woman, at least you were the last time you checked. You check again, just to make sure. While you’re at it you admire your tan lines. Yup, doing good.

If you were the sun you’d kiss you too.

Day four.

You sleep badly but it’s of no consequence. To awake with a faceful of such beauty is almost visually jarring, then immediately soothing. Nature can really blow the socks off you sometimes, even when you aren’t wearing any, like now, because it’s too damn hot. The thought of socks makes your toes twitch. If your toes had faces they’d be frowning.

You are not alone. Your friend is asleep next to you, travel weary and slightly late to the party, but determined to make up for it. She arrived last night, an angel in a shuttle, coasting along a tar-black road on a tar-black night. The generators were down and the hotel was saturated in darkness. You’d given up waiting for her and were heading out for a drink, and you knew, the second before it happened, that when you stepped out of the shadows and into the streetlight, you’d find each other. It was so. The bus lights illuminated you, you both screamed with joy.

Kismet. Boom. Welcome to Tulum.

Now there are two.

You look around. This is, quite honestly, the sexiest room you’ve ever stayed in. You decide to stay another night, even though you can’t afford it, because life is short and there’s no use hoarding your nana’s fine china for special occasions. You’ve got to bust that shit out and let it get used and chipped and broken. The ancient Egyptians were wrong, you can’t take stuff with you when you die, and money is no exception. You think this, and you wonder, ruefully, if you’ll feel the same thing in a week when you check out your depleted bank balance.

You shrug.

Bartender!?

This morning you swim and wander, meeting people and making new friends. You run into friends of friends from Burning man and the synchronicity of everything reaffirms the right-on-ness of your decision to come here. You’re blessed to have your partner in crime with you. Her spirit helps to elevate you. She is a torch shining light upon you whenever your darker side appears. You are grateful.

You teach two people to bodysurf and watch your friend whirl topless cartwheels in the sand. This is the day you almost drown in the unforgiving ocean from uncontrollable laughter. It would not have been a bad way to go.

Day five.

At some point in the night the wind stops. At first this feels like blessed relief but soon you become aware of two things: it’s much hotter now, and, the mosquitos are coming.

Itchy, you seek solace in the ocean. You delight in confusing the swarming halo of bloodsuckers that hover overhead by diving beneath the waves and appearing elsewhere. Karma is a bitch.

The wind picks up before noon and blows your angelic crown of little devils away. Good riddance.

It’s time for a frosty beverage and you go inside to help prop up the bar. You’re selfless like that.

You hear that one of your heroes has passed away. Gil Scott Heron, ivory tickler and deep throated poet, a man who inspired you with his blunt honesty and heart stained sleeves. Gil always told the truth. Always. About his drug use, his mistakes, his lessons learned.

You drink a beer in his honor and play “Give Her a Call” before you sleep. It makes you feel sad and small and you miss the person you’ve been missing even more. You wish he would listen to that song. You wish he would really listen to it. Your heart hurts and you fall asleep with one hand on your heart and the other between your legs, holding yourself together, fearing you may break in half.

Day six.

You escape the beach and drive inland towards the ruins of Coba. You pass small villages where small statured women in bright dresses beat rainbows of hanging rugs with wooden poles and skinny dogs dart into traffic, trying to give you a heart attack and make you accountable for the portion of the car insurance that Hertz said isn’t covered by the ‘full liability coverage’ you purchased. Oh, Mexico.

In Coba you visit an ancient Mayan ruin dedicated to the honey bee. It makes you happy that an entire race of people worshipped the tiny creature you consider your totem. You hug the temple. It feels old and warm.

You ask a Mayan what he thinks about the paranoid among us who believe 2012 will be the end of the world. He laughs and says people should chillax. The world will keep on bumping along, long after we’ve killed ourselves off, he tells me. So there you go. Straight from a Mayans mouth.

Afterwards you drive to an underground cenote and jump 30 feet from a platform into cool fresh water while bats circle stalactites and small, fearless fish nibble your toes. It is quiet down there. It’s like a church. You’re in a holy place and you let the solitude and quiet envelop you until other humans come and break the peace. You leave.

The drive back is marred by the deaths of hundreds of butterflies. Perhaps thousands. They fly with such grace and beauty across the road ahead of you, and hit your windshield with such violence that it’s impossible not to gasp at every splat. Little yellow wings dot the asphalt. It’s carnage. There is nothing to do but grip the wheel and drive.

You make a pit stop at the police station on the way back to the beach to retrieve your license plate. The police have been kind enough to hold it for you after they removed it from the front of your car as punishment for a parking violation. They look so officious in their uniforms. You are tempted to do something weird so you can be thrown into a Mexican jail, just for a few hours, because you know what an awesome story it would make. Nothing like that happens. You pay your fine and retrieve your property.

Back at the hotel you are offered a cookie.

What kind of cookie, you ask.

It’s not peyote, you are told.

Seriously, what’s in it, you insist.

Everything, and nothing, comes the reply.

You eat the cookie.

The cookie messes you up.

You regret the cookie.

Bad cookie.

Day seven.

You are both awake at dawn, fuzzy-muddle-muggle-headed and confused from the night before. You watch the sunrise from different vantage points along the beach. You’re hungry and wish ceviche was on the breakfast menu. There is not enough ceviche in Mexico to satisfy your cravings for it.

Today you receive the most perfect massage of your life. You are a professional massage receiver, so this is no mean feat. You climb a ladder into a tall tree house and lay down on a bed with a view over the jungle and cenotes to the west. You undress and allow a gorgeous man with soulful eyes to manipulate your body and sing into your soul. When it ends you are happy. He is named for a holy book and for a minute you think about suggesting unholy things for the two of you to do together. But you don’t. Despite the mastery of his touch your body still feels like it belongs to another.

You drive back to your hotel to pack your things and prepare for an early departure. You watch the sun set and dream of never leaving. This place has captured a part of you. You run your fingers through the sand and find a pale pink shell. You let the shell slip through your fingers and into the foam. Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints, you murmur.


In the morning you’ll be gone, but you know you will be back. You’ve made too many friends here.

Day eight.

You rise again at dawn. The drama of the sunrise sucks a gasp from your breast as you lay beneath a light blanket on a beach chair and watch it all unfold. A scoop of pelicans flies low over the breaking waves, heading North for breakfast, and two beach dogs play and chase each other with early morning abandon. You, a golden girl, swim in a pink ocean, wearing nothing but pink panties, watching pink light dapple the clouds above.

It’s time to go. Back to reality, back to life. Back to a new job and new beginnings. It all feels strange. You are excited and replenished. You love new things but you dream of beginning again something old, of making that precious thing new and improved. You take a deep breath. What will be, will be. You are deserving of love and lust and luck. You believe in yourself, perhaps truly for the first time.

Viva Mexico, where the police are thieves, where colors heal, where there’s no such thing as “margarita mix”, and where old VW Bugs come to die.

Hasta la vista.

Gracias.

You

By Zoe Brock

Movies

YOU are a woman.

You might not have been a woman before you started reading, but for now, you most certainly are. Have fun with it, you slut.

You are a woman.

In the past several weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to reinvention. This is, in no small part, due to the fact that I’m trying to completely reinvent myself as a woman, friend, potential lover, and as a participator on this weird, spinning ball.

The Retreat

By Zoe Brock

Writing

Friday, 5pm-

I’m holed up in a grand estate in Ojai, hiding from my life, pretending to be whole and happy, beset by hovering paparazzi in whirring helicopters that dance on the evening breeze as they try to steal a shot of the movie star next door.

I’m here, in a vast and ancient canyon, inside a rambling, Gothic house, feeling insecure and shifty, wondering if I belong. I’m not alone, you see. Oh no.

There are about thirty of me.

I’m part of a gaggle of writers fortunate enough to have the funds required to reserve a bed for the weekend. Except I’m actually not fortunate enough to be one of those writers with funds. I’m a blow in, a scholarship kid, a half-price wonder. The poor girl. I feel out of my depth, stupid, a black sheep. I wear my coat of shame. I question why I came here, what I’m doing, if I can hide away or leave.

I hear laughter all around me.

I look around at the kind eyes and excited, smiling faces. I hear snippets of conversation and begin to sense a common bond. I realize I’m part of one huge, pulsating, coagulated ball of shared insecurity, hope, humor and arrogance. We’re here because we can write. We know it. Sometimes we just forget. We’re all here to follow our leaders, to dance with our muses, to sit down and write.

This might just end up being fun.

Saturday, 6pm-

All over the house we are scrunched into chairs or crowded around tables, furiously scribbling or tapping on keys. If words need to be spoken they are whispered. Apart from a heated argument over breakfast about Richard Gere that turned into a fun conversation about genetically modified gerbils born without claws or teeth to make for safer insertion, it’s been a pretty mellow affair.

When we’re not writing we’re talking about writing. Or, we’re eating. We have a chef. It’s pretty fancy. I’m high on muse and an absence of chores and dirty dishes.

Throughout the day we’ve had classes with warm and encouraging teachers who gave various prompts and exercises that were both liberating as well as providing containment within a set of rules. It turns out I like having parameters and time constraints.

I dig the challenge. I feel competitive with myself. I fly.

This morning, for our first writing exercise, we were asked to make a list of masculine and feminine attributes and jobs, then we were told to pick a job and two attributes from each list to help round out a character of our opposite gender. The idea being that a character is more fully fleshed out, funnier and real if we incorporate attributes of the opposite sex.  We were given ten minutes to write, stream of consciousness style, about our character.

I chose a vain, burly fireman. His name his Hank. He is often perplexed and emotional. Enjoy!

 

I have a huge cock.

Sometimes I think that’s the only thing right with this world. This goddamn life. Sometimes, on bad days when I’m feeling low, I  look out the window at the city and just want to fucking scream, but then, if I choose, I can look in the mirror or down at the bulge in my pants and I feel reassured. Everything is going to be alright. I’m handsome. I’m packing heat.

I like being a fireman, sure. It’s ok. Fighting fires and rushing around is cool, I guess. But it’s the babes that are the biggest perk. The whistles and waves we get when we drive down the road in Big Red. The batted lashes, the smiles, the puffing up of breasts and wiggling of hips. This uniform gets me laid, yo’. Suckers.

The thing that gets me down is the death. It happens. I don’t get it. Sometimes we get there too late. We bust down doors and find bodies, perfectly still, externally unharmed, dead from smoke inhalation. Or worse. The krispy’s are much worse. The scars, the melted flesh. It’s a nightmare. The worst thing I ever saw was the body of a woman and her baby. A gas leak got ‘em. She had been breastfeeding. They were just sitting there on a sofa like some kind of demented installation. The worst kind of fucked up nativity scene. Her tit was out. They were so still. I cried. I broke down like a chick. It was a fucked up scene and I’ll never forget it.

That’s what I see in my mind that makes me wonder about this world, this life. I see that mother and her baby, sitting there in that quiet room. I hear the sirens. I smell the death. Nothing, not even the fact that I have a huge-ass penis can take that shit away.

And that’s a crying shame.

Hank was a very illuminating exercise for me. It was the first time I attempted to write a fictional character of the opposite sex. I never play with fiction. Whatever you think of the piece itself, the prompts were an incredible tool. The ten-minute constraint was invigorating, there was just no time to mess around. The moment I understood that I would have to write from the perspective of a male character I heard those words and I was off.

I have a huge cock.

It’s good to know that while so many parts of me feel broken, they certainly aren’t dead.

If you’d like to try this exercise in the comment section below then I fully endorse it. Write a list of about 15-20 attributes and jobs for each sex and pick a couple from each list. Set the timer for 10 minutes and write like a crazy person about a character (or person you know) from the opposite sex. Have fun!

 

*** If anyone would like to join the incredible Marilyn and her lovely Writing Pad staff for the October 2011 High Desert Retreat in the Joshua Tree then please check out this link! I’m hoping to be there (and so is Hank). ***

My love affair with America was inflamed today as I sat at the bar of Margie’s Diner on the verge of the 101.

Lit up by determined, crimson letters flashing *Real Food* *Real Food* *Real Food* a man in a stained and faded hunting jacket stirred his coffee for the seventh minute and a waitress licked her lips and winked at me… and my heart skipped a beat.

I used to write. I used to write a lot. I wrote about everything that happened to me, the daily minutiae, the ups and downs and highs and lows. Hundreds of people tuned in when I posted online to hear about my sex life, my love life, my boozy escapades and narrow escapes, my darkness and light. And then one day I stopped. I got happy and distracted. I became enmeshed in a loving relationship and kept my stories safe and secret. I got caught up in caring for someone and making a home. I put writing aside. I stopped sharing the ups and downs. I held my cards close to my chest and even, over time, grew to distaste the idea of writing about my life. I became grossed out at all the TMI-ness of it all. The very thought of writing something personal provoked a Pavlovian gagging in my throat.

In the early nineties I discovered a book that changed my life and it wasn’t Little Women. There was nothing demure, ladylike or well-behaved about The Dice Man and that is exactly why I loved it. It was anarchy and it was chaos. It was life on the edge. I read it the same way that I devoured pizza at 3am with a head full of vodka: quickly and with considerable mess. When I finished it I vowed to one day meet the author and buy him a beverage* of his choosing, and, through a series of odd little circumstances, here we are today.

Please enjoy, without further ado, a conversation with George and Zoë.

*No beverages were harmed in the making of this interview.

1. Most cats are smarter than most Americans because most cats like Vegemite.

2. Mothers are always right. Getting orthopedic surgery on a body part on the same day as your partner will make for a really funny (and drugged out) 48 hours. Then the drugs will wear off, whereupon you will discover the futility and pain of trying to have sex with each other and wish you’d listened to both your mothers when they told you that you were completely crazy for scheduling surgery on the same day.

3. Drinking Smooth Move™ tea when you don’t really need to is not a good idea. Drinking two cups is a disaster of leviathan proportions.

4. After witnessing someone throw something wasteful on the ground, particularly a cigarette, it is really fun to chase them down the street and politely say “Excuse me? Excuse me? You dropped something back there.” The offending litterbugs are invariably worried about their iPhone/keys/wallet for about 5 panic-fueled seconds, then really irate/apologetic/apoplectic/embarrassed/amused/abusive. It’s just as much fun to try and guess their reaction beforehand.

5. When handing out your resume at job interviews it helps to have the right phone number included. It’s best to check as soon as you write the resume, and not after an entire year.

6. Sometimes the most counter-intuitive things are the best for us.

7. Crutches suck. There is a reason humans have two legs instead of four.

8. I don’t know what I believe in anymore. Am I an atheist? An agnostic? A Buddhist? A tree-hugging, dice-rolling, naturist?

9. Buying chocolate eclairs earlier in the day in preparation for visitors who will arrive much later is not a wise move. There will be no eclairs. None. And you will want to throw up on your guests. Try not to.

10. Not being able to see Sarah Silverman’s inspired TED talk in which she tries to destabilize the PC world by mentioning the word “retard” over and over again is going to piss me off for quite a while. The fact that TED are not putting it online makes me want to revoke my membership but has resulted in a few good emails to their ‘technical issues’ email address inquiring about “the Sarah problem”.


That’s all. What about you? Anything good?



This year, as we careen towards Christmas like an out of control 18-wheeler, I’ve decided to take my hand off the wheel, lean back with a smile and enjoy the rush of impending doom with a gleam in my eye and a trigger finger on the RECORD button. My foot is off the brakes, kiddies. This puppy is gonna hit and there ain’t nothin’ I can do to stop it.

The Kitten

By Zoe Brock

Essay

This story begins on a dark and wintry evening and involves death and hormones.

You have been warned.

I was driving home, a passenger in my girlfriend’s car, with a belly full of El Mariachi’s and a head full of girlie-talk. Something mellow and groovy played on the stereo as the backdrop to a lively discussion about life and love and pain and weirdness and all the other good things girls talk about because we can.

Outside the air was cold and dark and crisp. Almost exactly like a burnt potato chip kept in a freezer. But not.

We turned a corner and drove up my street, past old Victorians with curtains drawn and windows darkened, storefronts and lampposts dripping with blinking Christmas lights. It was a very different scene from several hours before when my neighborhood was alive with multitudes of middle aged bourgeois pushing strollers to and fro the Whole Foods market, sipping soy lattes and waiting for the sleek, black Google bus to pick them up and drive them in luxurious, techy glory to their jobs south of the city; Jonahs in the belly of a streamlined whale.

The streets were glistening wet from an earlier rainfall as we approached my house. The music crooned from the speakers and our voices and giggles trailed behind us like happy exhaust fumes in the night. Good times, good times.

But then I saw it. Not a block from my front door. Curled up in the middle of the road, dead. It’s ears clearly visible, it’s body still whole.

A kitten.

My entire being deflated. My heart broke. All sound and joy rushed from my universe in one giant vacuumed slurp.

“Oh, no.”


I can remember distinctly the first time I saw a dead creature on the road. I was about five years old on a road trip with my dad and stepmother. The cat was fluffy, orange and white. There was no blood, no gore, just an empty body on a lonely highway, eyes dulled, ginger fur blowing in the breeze. It was a moment of lost innocence, my first understanding that life can be cruel and fleeting. I cried for a long time, a broken, devastated little girl in the back seat as we groaned and rattled our way along the country roads of New Zealand in our beat up, beat down Combi van.

As an adult, I have long wondered why humans don’t build underpasses into freeways; tunnels that deer, raccoons and other prospective road-kill could use to cross beneath our fearsome, ugly slashes of bitumen. Every time I see a dead animal on the roads and highways a part of me breaks.

Some would call me overly sentimental. I would tell them to go fuck themselves.


We pulled into the driveway. My body was home but my mind was still a block away. I could hear my girlfriend talking but I couldn’t process anything. I was obsessed. I was a five year old girl again, freaking out in that van.

Some platitudes were uttered and I was reassured that life was good. We said goodbye. I was alone. Alone and hormonal.

Nothing good can come from that combination.

I went inside my happy, hippy home and turned on the lights. I sat down on the bed and felt bogged down with heavy stuff. I yearned for some okayness. I wanted this to be different. I wanted someone else to deal with it, to tell me what to do, to make it all better, but my man was away on business; my go-to person was gone.

The five year-old inside me started to panic. “It’s still in one piece. Another car is going to hit it.” My adult brain tried to soothe my five year-old self, but she was having none of it. “We have to get it off the road! What if another little kid sees it? What if the person who it belonged to discovers it when it’s just a stain on the street?” I sat down. I stood up. I calmed myself. I lost it. I found it. I tried to breathe some serenity into my body. I meditated a little, tried to find my inner yoga. I began to compose myself. I imagined some grotesque visuals. I distracted myself. I heard a car go past and thought some gruesome thoughts. Then I picked up my laptop and IM’d my dude.

Me: there is a dad kitten outside on the street and I can’t get it out of my head
dead
it’s in the middle of the road and I wish you were here

Him: aw fuck
im sorry
does he have a collar?

Me: I dunno
it’s a kitten
it’s dark and I don’t want to get too close

Him: aww

Me: what should I do
another car is going to get it

Him: he’s obviously dead?
there’s a city organization for that
they will come get him

Me: who.

Him: i do’t know their name… but you can look it up

Me: I have my period and this is not going well for me

Him: they clean up animal bodies you can try to call SF Animal Control at 650.638.9029

Me: aaaaaaargh.

Him: he’s dead.. there’s nothing you can do. he’s not in his body anymore.
that thing on the street is just matter.
breathe.

Me: k

Him: i love you.


I called some numbers, Googled some names and came up with nothing. I tried to let it go. I left the room, turned on some music, put a smile on my face and told myself that everything he said was true. It was just a body, matter, nothing alive. Meat. I pottered around and kept busy for a while but it kept coming back. It stalked my brain. I let it in. What if a little kid sees it? What if it was only injured? What if it is ALIVE?

Me: question. I am just assuming the kitten was dead b/c it wasn’t moving when I drove past. what should I do?

Him: you have a few choices re: kitteh
1.. ignore it. if its dead… which it probably is since cats don’t like to sleep in the street… then there is nothing you can do. unless you want to go out there and clean it up…

Me: call me please


By the time the phone rang I was halfway there, running, determined. I would deal, and deal alone. I would either have to scrape its little body off the street or, preferably, rescue it and make it better. My heart raced. My boyfriend, on the other end of the phone in Texas, clearly thought I was insane, but he’d seen nothing yet. I ran faster. I could see it now, a lump on the road. I got closer, something seemed different about it. Was it in a different place? Had it moved? Was it alive? What was I doing? Suddenly I was upon it. Standing over it, looking down. My heart thumped in my chest and my boyfriends voice could be heard above the roar in my ears.
‘Babe? Is it alive? What’s going on?’
I stared down at the thing on the road. The unmoving thing. The fluffy, fuzzy thing.
‘It’s a beanie.’
‘What?’
‘It’s. A. Beanie. It’s a hat.’
‘Are you fucking joking?’
I burst out laughing. ‘No. Haha.’ Relief flooded my being. ‘No. I’m not.’
‘It’s a fucking beanie!? Do you know what you just put me through?’
‘I’m sorry, but I’m just so happy!’
‘A beanie.’
‘You’re allowed to give me as much shit as you like for as long as you like.’
‘Oh I will.’
‘It was just a beanie, baby!’
‘Sigh’.

I am about eight years old in this photo. The little boy I am towering over is about four. His name is Louis. The 1950’s love-bot next to poor, distraught, little Louis is, indeed, yours truly. For the record Louis did not want to be wearing that frilly dress and bonnet, but I can be very persuasive. Even as a child I had a thing for men in drag.

When I look at this picture I feel profound joy. I smile at those skinny legs, laugh at that proud expression, and am filled with a sense of pride and love for my silly little self. I want to hug me.

There was no adult help in the conception and preparation of this get-up. It was my own creation, my own vision, a vision of a sullen housewife, perhaps, or maybe a haughty hooker. I’m not sure. I have no idea what I was thinking, but I know I loved it. I loved that blond curly wig, those red prostitute heels, that green synthetic monstrosity, those strap-on, plastic, Dolly Parton tits with their enormous pronounced, engorged nipples. I remember the hilarity that ensued whenever I donned that outfit and slunk into a room of adults. I didn’t understand why it was funny, but I loved the reaction.


It sounds like an outrageous statement to make but I’m fairly sure that in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s I had the best dress-up collection of any child on planet Earth.

I was the only daughter of two creatives. A father who dressed like an urban cowboy in constant battle with his own inner Indian, and a mother who was a fashion designer, the founder of Brox Sox (the coolest hosiery company in New Zealand), and the proprietress of a vintage clothing store.

My dress up box was the envy of every girl who ever encountered it, the bane of many a small boy’s existence and the amusement of my mother’s friends. There was never any indication at her soirees that a 1920’s bride, or a clown, or a gorilla would suddenly waltz through the living room. Many a dinner party went happily awry at the unexpected arrival of a princess, bitch, tart, actress, or whatever other slinky little personality I decided to undertake.

The contents of my wardrobe included, but was not limited to:

-Multiple wigs

-Designer gowns dating from the twenties through to the seventies

-Scarves and beads and broaches and bangles

-A silk clown suit

-Many pairs of shoes

-Masks – both glamorous and terrifying

-A full body gorilla suit, including feet

-Hats, capes, cloaks

-Bridal dresses

-Furs and fur stoles, including one with the fox head still attached

-Veils, acres of lace and ribbons and silk

-Negligees, lingerie, slips and petticoats

-Hand-sewn beauties, everything from flowers to handkerchiefs

-A strap-on plastic bosom and matching dimpled ass.


I loved those tits and ass. I still do. I smile fondly as I remember the sense of excitement, daring and masquerade I felt as I tied on those gigantic breasts, donned that curly blond wig, and strapped on my four-inch red hooker-heels. I remember practicing my walk in those heels, a practice that came to serve me well several years later.

This picture is oddly prophetic.

I still love to dress up. I’ve even made a career out of it.

I still love bossing boys around.

I still adore men in drag.

I still love to wear hooker heels, wigs and naughty negligees whenever possible, even when vacuuming.

Not much has changed.

But the more I think about it the more I wonder if my love for dressing-up was somehow tied in to my desire to hasten the process of growing-up. I never liked being little. I never liked being kept in the dark or forbidden to do things because I was too young, too small, too… anything. Being young was prohibitive for me and being grown up seemed like such perfect freedom. Looking back, grown, I love the irony.

The child in this photo had more freedom than she knew.

A little over three years ago a friend of mine in South Florida sent me a Craigslist post from a gentleman in the Los Angeles area seeking writers for a new website. The writers had to fit two criteria. They should be situated on any part of the planet, the weirder and more varied the location the better, and they must be able to write good creative non-fiction. When I received the email I was holed up in a mansion bordering a golf course on the outskirts of Cascais, Portugal with an injured leg and a bored and shitty attitude. I fit the first part of the bill, for I was definitely living in a weird and remote location, but I was no writer, oh no, never would be. Not me.

In 1988 I was fourteen years old, five-foot-nine, skinny, flat-chested and at least four more years away from any proper evidence of puberty. To compound all of this luminous adolescent joy I was also morbidly shy and horrifically self-conscious. In short, I was a child. A bloody tall child, but a child nonetheless.

My hair was long and brown, my eyebrows heavy, my cheeks full. I was so thin, and so tormented by my thinness, that I ate as much as I could to try and gain weight. I ate all sorts of crap. Nothing happened. I remained, despite all efforts, a wisp of skin and bones, stumbling when I ran, blown hither and thither by gusts of strong wind and glances from strangers. The sad truth is that I come from a family of stick insects, and the physique I would later be grateful for was a thing of shame and sadness in my formative years. Victimized and scorned, I was teased mercilessly about my stature by other children. My nicknames were, amongst others: Olive Oyl, Bean Pole, Stick, Twig, and, my personal favorite, Inverted, a name given to me by the boys in my neighborhood in honor of my invisible breasts. Humiliated by my non-existent chest, I covered my body as much as I could and engaged, whenever possible, in the bust-increasing exercises I read about in Judy Bloom books.

These were not my glory days.

As an only child growing up without television I sought solace in books and art. I wrote and drew and ate up words and pictures with my heart and mind and soul. Aesthetics and language nourished me. I wanted to be an architect, an artist, a writer, a filmmaker, a designer of things. I had dreams and ambitions that most parents would be proud of, at least any parents with artistic persuasions.

But then something happened, something my mother had known was going to happen for some time, something she allowed but didn’t necessarily want, something my father had dreaded and detested, and something I would never have expected.

Boom!

They came a-calling.

Model agents are a curious bunch—always on the lookout for young girls they can take on and “protect” and “nurture” while at the same time pushing them into a hyper-sexualized and shallow world where they will earn money for being blessed with good looks, without having to use their brains or their creativity, and where they will be rewarded for being a glorified clothes hanger who knows how to work a camera (and maybe, if they’re really good, a room).

These agents I speak of have eyes and instincts that can see beyond the shyness, the scrawny exterior and inverted bosom. They have minds that add the numbers, do the math, envision the war paint and see, through slitted eyes, the finished product.

Click. Whir. Click.

The photographer who shot my mother’s loft for a spread in Vogue Living requested to take a picture of me as I skulked in the corner in my ill-fitting, unflattering, blue-and-white checked school uniform, with ink stains on my fingertips, a snarl upon my youthful lips, and daggers in my diamond-eyes.

A vicious little virgin was I.

She took the photo and, when she left, took it with her, changing my life in an instant in ways I will never be able to digest without feeling a cocktail of conflicting emotions.

Tick-tock.

The phone rang.

Will you come down and see us?

My mother, reticent but loving, conversed with me as she would an adult. Her first mistake.

In a matter of hours we were sitting in an agency. This was nothing very new to my mother. As a designer and semi-retired fashion icon herself, she was clued in to the scene. But, as a disciplinarian, she was a tad… elastic. Either that or I was an uncontrollable hellion, given an inch and greedily taking a hundred miles.

Conversations were had. Things discussed and mulled over. The nice people who wanted to represent me were comfortable with the restrictions my mother placed on the arrangement.

I could only work on weekends, in Melbourne, and only, only, ONLY if it was a high-profile or high paying job. Considering that the majority of all modeling/fashion industry work in Australia stemmed out of Sydney this seemed like a perfectly tight arrangement. Enough to keep me quarantined while also allowing me to feel special—something a gangly girl in the art department with a funny, foreign accent had a hard time feeling in a school full of righteous upper-middle-class bitches with a knack for cruelty.

Unfortunately for my mother (and my ego), something else happened that changed the course of our lives.

I booked a job.

Two days after that first meeting we got the call.

Vogue magazine was flying their entire crew down from Sydney to work with me on an eight-page editorial. Over the weekend.

BAM.

Poor Mum.

I was off and posing, and nothing in my world would ever be the same again. Over the next few years my grades would suffer, my ego would soar, my belligerence double. By 15, I would be living in Tokyo alone over the holidays; by 16, in Paris and Milan. I would leave school. I would be hit on by vile cretins, assuming me to be stupid or willing to advance my career with sexual favors. I would be punished with no work when I didn’t play the game. I would see strange things, do even stranger things and sometimes even do strangers. I would meet wonderful people and terrible assholes. I would make lots of money and spend it all. I would look like a young girl but live like a woman while I behaved like a princess and partied like a devil. I would move on and on, traveling for the better part of twelve years, never finding a home but always seeking one. Eventually I would find it in America in the least likely of places. But that’s another story. At this point my life was still a vague, uncertain, exciting future, and I was just a kid with dreams. And, two months later, when my first editorial in Vogue hit the stands, I looked like a prepubescent, innocent, wide-eyed virgin-child caught playing dress-ups in her mother’s most expensive evening gowns and stiletto-heeled shoes.

It’s an ugly reality that those pictures appeared in a magazine targeted towards 35-to-40-year-old women, and higher. This magazine became one of my regular clients and frequently used me to sell clothes, style and a physical ideal to middle-aged women more than twice my age. Even as a kid I thought this was weird and somehow inappropriate. I didn’t understand it but nor did I question it, and I still willingly danced with and followed the piper, for he played a most enticing and seductive tune.

It’s a strange, strange world, and we’re in it.

Growing Up Model

By Zoe Brock

Memoir

Recently I was asked what I wanted.

Not what I wanted in my tea or what I wanted on my salad, but what I wanted out of life.

Ugh.

This seemingly innocuous little query dredged up tumultuous feelings inside, forcing me to realize that-

A) the things I’ve always wanted had, while I wasn’t paying attention, morphed into something
different, and

B) that I needed to have a serious rethink before I could answer definitively.

I opened a bottle of wine and had a good chug from the neck. Clarification often accompanies a good Cabernet.


There I sat, glass beside me, “writing it out”.

What do you want, ZB? I asked myself. The answer was surprising.

If I’m going to be honest with you, and myself, I’ll have to admit that I used to want wealth, fame and glory, an ugly remnant of growing up in the spotlight surrounded by people with big dreams and big lives. Teenage dreams are hard to let go of sometimes, especially when they still seem within reach.

I used to want a life filled with expensive, minimalist things and easy opportunities for adventures and madness.

I used to want an eternity of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I used to want my days to be filled with private jets, high-budget catering and make-up artists who would satisfy my craving for fuller lips by drawing mine bigger. I wanted photographers to tell me I was beautiful and designers to keep giving me their clothes. I needed those things to feel valuable and alive.

And now?

I still want the adventures and the eternity of sex and rock and roll, only now I want less casual sex with much more love in it, and even louder music.

That’s a relief.

So what HAS changed?

A lot.

Now I want babies and security and love and simplicity- I want a family, something that, despite all my beautiful relatives and their unconditional love, I never felt I had. Now I have to write to feel worthy. Now I have to create in order to feel alive. Now I have to be present to feel beautiful. All I have to do is show up.

My how things change.

The thing is, if I were to really consider it, I’ve already had a pretty big life.

I’ve been to every continent (except the frozen one).
I’ve loved and I’ve lost, many times over.
I’ve experienced death, depression, disaster.

I’ve hit rock bottom and seared my wings against the sun.
I’ve done the most glamorous things and the most sordid.
I’ve cat-walked all over the world, shot covers for Elle, been photographed for Vogue, and been forcibly ejected from the most gruesome dens of iniquity between Hong Kong and Manhattan.
I’ve lived the high life and licked the underbelly.
I’ve amused people and offended others.
I’ve been a brat and a belle.

I’ve stayed in castles and squatted in shacks.
I’ve partied with presidents, skinny dipped with rock stars, discussed architecture-politics-urination-sexual proclivities and literature with celebrated thinkers, and committed petty ‘crimes’ with unexpected celebrities.
I’ve traveled with dear friends and nursed them through madness.
I’ve done lots of crazy shit and blah blah blah seen things that would make my poor mothers hair curl if I wrote it here.

In short, I’ve lived, but I’ve never done anything, no matter how debauched, for any kind of personal gain or anything without honor and good intent.

I might be twisted, but I’m not bent.

I know for absolute certain that the life I’ve lived since I was thirteen years of age would not and could not have happened had I not been modeling. It’s a fact.

My first foray into the inner sanctum of the fashion industry was in the late 80’s, at a time when the catering budget was higher than the collective wages of the entire crew, and a time when nobody was eating. They couldn’t, their noses were too full.

I was young. So young.

And so impressionable.

The times were decadent, destructive and delicious. High camp ruled the social scene and air kisses were often a prelude to hasty sex in darkened corners. It was an irresponsible time. AIDS had made it’s appearance and we were, unknowingly, about to lose several of our finest, maddest and most creative. It would take a long time for us to slow down and grow up. We all thought we were invincible. I know I did.

The fashion industry is a strange place to grow up in. But, like anything, it is what you make of it. For me it was a hard road of misadventure and madness… a road that has come full circle and is now winding through gentler pastures with more creative scenery.

It’s pretty.

I like it.

Perhaps I’ll send you a postcard.

For the last couple of years I’ve struggled with my identity as A Writer. My once daily passion has become, at times, a chore, an onus. My dear old friend now wears an ugly hat and is rarely invited in to visit.

In an effort to change the Pavlovian responses I feel towards something that used to bring me a greater high then any drug or alcohol, and brought me more joy than the company of most people, I’ve begun to give myself exercises in writing and, much to my timid excitement, they appear to be working. Words are appearing on the screen and my face, as I type those words, seems to be smiling.

EXERCISE 1: Have a friend give you a sentence or paragraph. The weirder and more lateral the better. Read that sentence and start writing. Don’t think too much about it.

I was surprised to find a mural of the Apollo theater in his bathroom. I’d snuck away from the party when I figured no one would notice, hoping to find a quiet place to snort some coke. The knowledge of the foil wrapped gram inside my pocket was burning a hole in my brain and the intensity of the company I was keeping was decimating my confidence. I needed a pick me up, some powdered personality, a snort of self-assurance. There’s nothing worse than a room full of Nobel Laureates to intimidate the crap out of me.

Our host was a small man, forty-something, bald. His nose bulbed and flowered at the end like a strange red fruit. He’d caught me staring earlier and I’d been mortified by the look in his eyes as he accessed my brain and read my thoughts. I felt obvious. What was I doing here anyway? Why me? And where the fuck was Sylvia?

Sylvia was my girlfriend. Kind of. We’d been dating for about six months. We went to parties, screwed a lot, ate expensive food and took expensive drugs. She gave great head and liked to give it. Anywhere.

And so we went everywhere.

I took her to ball games, the park, movies, to visit my parents, Saks Fifth Avenue…. my old school. She blew me in different locations as if she was checking off a to-do list of urgent things she had to do, and places she had to do them, before she died… if she wanted to get in to heaven.

I wanted a blow-job now. A blow job, and a line of blow. I looked around, a cursory kind of look, expecting to find her nearby, but the room was too full, the people too colorful. Huge palms and brocade draperies obscured parts of the room.

I frowned. No sign of her. I took the nearest exit, a dark paneled hallway, and made for the bathroom. It was unlocked. I entered. It was a sight to behold. The walls had been painted to look like an over-sized replica of the Apollo. I was dwarfed by the scale of the neon sign, overwhelmed by the immensity of the scope, and baffled by the notion that anyone would want this kind of kitsch weirdness on the wall of their john. But that wasn’t all. It was the sight of our host going down on Cynthia while she leaned back against the towel rail that really threw me.

Our eyes met.

“Ah fuck” I said, taking the aluminum wrapped powder out of my pants pocket, opened it and tipped a hearty pile onto the marble topped counter. You just can’t win ‘em all, I thought, as I bent over and inhaled.

EXERCISE 2: Pick a word you love and imagine that you have to convince other people to love it. Put that word in a story or essay.

It’s my favorite time of day.

Well. That’s a lie. I don’t really have favorite anythings, but, right this second, as I type, it’s a time of day that has a special name, and definitely a special magic about it.

It’s the time of the day just after dusk and right before twilight.

It’s called…. The Gloaming.

The Gloaming is when magic happens. Fireflies awaken and fairies stir in the gnarled boughs of ancient oaks. Younger children are tucked into warm beds while their brothers and sisters are allowed to read on for ten more minutes, and couples throw matches into bunches of dry kindling, then snuggle on rugs while the flames flicker and groove.

The Gloaming is a time when life changes. The stars appear to be closer, the earth further away. The Gloaming is the world you see when you look into a mirror and everything seems better, different, more alive.

The Gloaming calls for bottles of fine wine to be uncorked and friends to gather around kitchens, clamoring for more food, more drink, more conversation. It is the few allotted minutes of the last hour before darkness.

As I type the darkness grows, the shadows become deeper and the last threads of the torn fabric that made up this afternoon are ushered into the realms of memory.

The Gloaming is now over.

Good night.

EXERCISE 3: Pick a moment in your life that made you FEEL a great deal of STUFF. Write a brief story of predetermined length that includes as many visual references to Place and Feeling.

“You’re the most romantic sumbitch I’ve ever met in my life.” She said.

He smiled at her fondly. “This is the seventeenth goodbye we’ve said in the last two months. Aren’t you ever going to bloody leave?”

Laughing, she conceded.

“Melted, I drip away.”

The last embrace, the last pang, the last desperate effort to burn the imprint of his skin to hers, and then nothing. They parted ways the final time.

The taxi pulled away, a yellow beast in a black night, and the rain came down like a gift from above. Wet streets and tear-stained cheeks mirrored the lights from tall buildings.

Flickering images in her brain played back the story of her last adventure… the touches, the music, the song sweetly sung in a sacred moment in a stolen bedroom in a loft in Nolita. Fingers on her back, playing in her hair. Tenderness and love and loss and the giving away of need.

Tears rolled. Involuntarily.

Bathroom passions, silent laughter. Shhhh! Giggle.

The taxi drove on.

In the darkness something shifted, deep inside a sadness lifted, a hurt stopped aching.

A smile spread over wet cheeks and a frantic, beating heart filled with peace.

He was right, and she knew it. They had done New York.

Before the dawn she would be gone, knowing that the sun would rise on a different world for her, and that everything was possible.


Lastly, remember that, in the words of the very prolific Stephen King, writers write. So don’t stop. As hard and repellent and demoralizing and disgusting as it might be today, tomorrow it might suddenly seem sweeter than a mainlined bag of saccharine in the vein of a diabetic.

Just keep on truckin’.