Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oh What a Wonderful World of Art

I’m going to do something very brave. Join me, won’t you, on a journey through time. Back to 1991. The year the Soviet Union officially dissolved, Nirvana released Smells like Teen Spirit, Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture, Dr. Seuss died, and a million jokes about Paul Reubens were launched. I was sixteen years old, away from home for the fun-filled week of campfire singalong debauchery known as ... Artsworld.

Artsworld was a statewide summer arts program for high school students and as far as I know, it’s still hosted annually at a local college. You could be nominated to attend a variety of program strands, including music, dance, visual art, writing, scarification, and so on. I’d been nominated to attend the writing program by an English teacher, which came as something of a surprise since she’d done little beyond grunt in my general direction before that. Last night I came across some photos of the event, and I thought…why not share them with the world?

So here we have the entire writing group. Wow, what a bunch of creeps. Can you spot me? If you guessed, “The girl with the maxi pad stuck to her head, a horrid case of lockjaw, and ankles weeping for socks and a change of shoes,” you’re right! I’m thinking I chose the white headband because my forehead didn’t look enough like a satellite dish from 1983 without it. God, I wonder what’s happened to my fellow scribes. Who knows … maybe some of them blog! If I focus really hard, maybe they’ll get my message and do a Google search containing the terms “Artsworld … 1991 … Lakeland College … Bea Arthur … chicken in a bucket” and “hanging sneeze guards,” which was a recent Google search that led an unsuspecting restaurateur to my blog.

Let’s see…to my right was the resident science fiction writer. I’m pretty sure she was really 67 years old. Those tight-rolled, acid-washed jeans weren’t fooling me. To my left is Mary, the girl I shared a dorm room with for the week. Poor Mary had terrible allergies, so the thing I remember most about her was the constant nose-blowing and wads of Kleenex in her pockets. Behind me in the blue sweatshirt and white shorts is Megan from Whitefish Bay. Megan was tiny, cute, spunky, and athletic. Basically, she was all the adjectives I’d never see in print next to my name.

Her raised fist is concealing the cutest guy in the program. I don’t remember his name, but I remember a line from one of his short stories about a family member who was hung like a buffalo. The instructors hooted and raved about it, after they stopped arguing over the right way to write a novel (Male Instructor: "You must outline key plot points and character arcs! You must know your climactic event and denouement before you begin!" Female Instructor: "Just start writing and let the story unfold organically!" Me: "Shut up and let the cute guy talk about balls some more!")

I don’t remember much about the other people, but I do remember the name of the other guy in the class. Daniel. He's standing next to a girl from Cuba City (middle of the top row) who reminds me a little of Sara Vowell. Though her head is nearly microscopic, I think you can still tell she didn’t really have the "Geeks on 'Roids" spirit.

Large, unwieldy sunglasses? Check. Hair gelled and teased into misshapen helmets? Check. Shirts tucked in and then fluffed out for that flattering dumpy waist effect? Check. Long, ugly shorts held up with unnecessary belts? Check. Pasty white legs exposed at strange angles? Check. An idea as to the names of the blond girls on the end?


But the girl in the middle was one of my three Jodies. I befriended her because she was wearing a “Can’t Touch This!” t-shirt, which was something I looked for in a friend back then. Incidentally, if you can't tell which one I am, don't worry. Neither could my husband. But if he thinks I'm the kind of girl that would tuck a white t-shirt into black spandex bike shorts, he can sleep on the couch for awhile.

Here I am with Megan, Daniel, and a girl whose name escapes me. Oh, was Megan cool. Just look at her: she’s wearing a lanyard for God’s sake. I just learned what a lanyard is, like, two years ago. We are acting out a scene entitled, “Awkward teens that will never speak to one another after Artsworld.” Here’s how I imagine the scene unfolding.

Photographer: “Hey! Pretend you’ve spent the last decade of your life inhaling diesel fumes!”

Me: “What a great idea! I’ll get a stick. First, let me make sure my belt is holding my shorts up as high as possible. They’re almost up to my armpits, so we’re all set!”

Daniel: “And I’ll smear cryptic green symbols on my cheeks and chin, then hunch over and pantomime the time my Dad caught me reading a bad magazine!”

Megan: “I’ll squat and extend my hands like I’m a huge duck! Quack quack!”

Blond girl: “I’ll tuck my green sweater into my white shorts and punch you in the face, Megan!”

Artsworld. Where creativity is nurtured, geeks commune, and photos you'll want to incinerate but instead post on your blog are taken.


  1. Anonymous9:45 PM

    OMG. 1991. You are so forgiven for the headband, everyone was wearing them.

    I am so glad there are no pics of UW-Whitewater Theatre Camp, 1991. So. Glad.

  2. Who knew that someday you would be an authority on Bea Arthur and chicken in a bucket? :)

  3. Oh honey, just you wait: I'll be posting a picture of me and my now husband at my senior prom, circa 1986. Mark your calender, May 26th!

  4. Oops, wow... 1988, I meant. Holy crap, like I need to make myself any closer to 40.

  5. Anonymous11:34 PM

    Ok you captured that time so well! i was a tad younger but yeah the shirts untucked the headbands....oh oh so sad. hehe! sounds like a fun camp though!

  6. Is that Megan girl in the last picture doing TAI CHI?!

  7. ROFL!!!

    That was great!

    Maxi pad head! Bea Arthur! Flattering dumpy waist effect!

    omg...yes...1991 was special. Thank you for that trip down memory lane.

  8. Oh Jess, hasn't anyone told you by now that we geeks have inherited the earth? I'll take one from you and your maxipad head over a hundred from some ex-jock who peaked in high school. In fact, I'm well on my way!

  9. Just when I was trying to forget 1991...
    I don't know about you, but I actually thought I looked cool back then. I was mistaken.

  10. Anonymous7:13 AM

    Are you wearing loafers without socks? A classic.

    I love how you are all posing in every single picture. Like your shenanigans can distract from the fashion crimes that are being committed.

  11. Anonymous7:56 AM

    oh wow.

    did you ever use a scrunchee to tie off the side of your hypercolor t-shirt in a little ponytail?

    do you remember the scent of aquanet sizzling on your curling iron or CRIMPING iron?? actually...i preffered Vidal Sasson. (Because honestly...if YOU DON"T LOOK GOOD, WE DONT LOOK GOOD)

    And I didn't have Artsworld. I had VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL. I would have taken your Artsworld...any day over singing along to 'Joshua fought the battle of Jericoh'.

    great post jess.

  12. Well - it is all revelealed, now isn't it?

    Crud - in 1991 I was already MARRIED and had a JOB, and I think also had the maxipad hairdo...and the t-shirt scrunchie thing, because back then I still had abs. Oh dear, I'm so very very old...

  13. Or, maybe it's just all "revealed"

  14. Love it!!! As always, you have me rolling!

    1991...where was I??? Still in Chicago, husband was in college...I seriously cannot remember what I was doing in 1991. Must have been a fun year. :)

  15. *regains composure and picks up child that accidentally slipped off lap while Mom was cracking up*

    Oh. My. God. That was hysterical. I FORGOT the belt thing. I wonder what the hell happened to all of mine? I could never wear the headband thing because, uh, it would've interfered with my Stiff Stuff'ed hair. I only felt comfortable when I, too, looked like a helmet. Flat hair in back, and high hair on sides and top. Yeah.

    1991 was actually a pretty cool year for me.

  16. Whoa. I have some pictures that look a lot like these and all I can say is, you were very brave to share these with the world! ;)

    Thanks for that blast from the past. I think we must've shopped at the same store!

  17. *Wipes tears from eyes* As much as I adored your captions for the last picture... what the hell were you guys REALLY doing?

  18. oh. my. god. i remember that exact time period. I was 14-15 at the time...oh god. the clothes. the clothes! dreadful.

  19. Fun fun fun. You're the only person I know who could write about something this dorky and leave me wanting more!

  20. Hilarious pics. Now picture those clothes on a 27 year old law student. That would have been me. Did you know that my undergraduate degree truly is in painting? Yup. Watercolor. And I was a thespian.

  21. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Did people really dress like that in 1991? Say it ain't so.

    Must also note that my word verification word is "xyated". Yeah, I'd say these pictures were xyated, all right.

  22. Jess, whenever I am in need of serious gut laughter, I click on to your blog. I am sooo glad I know you in person or else I'd spend my days WISHING I could meet such a cool chick! xo

  23. Gah! Did they even have anything like thatin Texas? Somehow I doubt it.

  24. It's been a while since I've laughed so hard I cried, but this post fixed that problem. Why on EARTH do teenagers at weird camps do these things? I have more than one "cheerleading stunt" photo of myself and other kids I can't remember from THEATRE camp. Not cheerleading camp, because that would make too much sense. What about theatre camp makes a bunch of 15 year old girls decide to do a shoulder stand? But enough about me. This is outstanding. Maxi pad on your head? Genius!

  25. I owned a "Can't Touch This" shirt! Holy hell Jess! Thanks for the reminder.

    The hair is painful - it really is, kitten.

    But, you were still bee-u-ti-ful.

    And the talk of "clmactic events" and "endowment"? Oh, "denouement"! Still, what kind of camp was this REALLY?

  26. Hi again. Thanks for popping by my site yesterday. You cought me with my shameless self-promotion pants down, didn't you? You are so on with that martini, dude. I'll impart all my sneaky wisdom.


  27. Wow, I looked at the second picture and almost spit out my coffee. I looked exactly like the girl with the "Can't Touch This" t-shirt in 1990. shudder

    Btw, what's wrong with tucking an xtra large t-shirt into spandex shorts?

  28. I'm sorry Jess but that really does look like a maxi-pad stuck to your head. lol

  29. Anonymous11:27 AM

    this was awesome...the post could have been called, "Awkward teens that will never speak to one another after Artsworld."

    Your styles made me thin I gotta dig for some pics this weekend. Yeah, teh pulling the shirt/sweater out of the pants for that unflattering bump? Oh, and I wore docksiders w/ no socks too.

  30. Anonymous12:42 PM


  31. Those pictures are pretty awesome. They remind me of the early 90210 days. I long to be compared to David Silver.

  32. Anonymous5:28 PM

    I'll see your Artsworld portraiture and raise you my several outings (and resulting photo op nightmares) with the Rotary International District 510 exchange student program, Jess Riley. Hellllz, yeah.

    I recently came across a few of my belts from that era (I had the, erm, privelege of working at the Gap in 1991 - year of the palindrome, btw - and purchased many, many belts - "cinch it!" that I apparently couldn't let go of until last year during the great pre-baby purge of 2005). I tried one on that I thought still looked cute and semi-wearable, and that's when I realized *just how high* those suckers used to sit. and how incomparably low our pants rest these days.

    p.s. you think the white t/spandex combo was bad - how about the spandex *under* the ripped-up/faded levi's cut-offs? topped off with a gigantic pink Body Glove sweatshirt and pink bandana binding the giant Mariah Carey hair?

    yeahhhh. can't touch *this*, alrighty.

  33. OMG. No really O M GOSH. LOL. I am so glad that you are so brave because these pics made me crack up.

    Oh and I totally would have made friends with a girl that wore a "Can't touch this" t-shirt.

  34. Anonymous9:02 PM

    I thought I recognized myself in those pictures which threw me because- well I never went there. Then I realized it was just the hair and fashion. Why when I had the best waist I would ever have did I blouse out my shirts? Why?

  35. At least the maxi-pad on your head didn't have wings. Now that would've been weird. Because all the rest of it is perfectly normal...

  36. LOL.
    Yeah sometimes I'm grateful for my bad memory!

  37. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Oh man. I had my very own Artsworld -- Syracuse University Precollege Program, summer of 1986 (summer before my senior year.) The fashion faux pas, the strangely posed photos -- so familiar!

    I am SO going to dig my photos out. I shall dedicate that post to you, my maxi padded friend.

  38. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Oh, that looks like such a blast! It actually brings back fond memories of similar things I did at that age.