Have you ever been to a cattle call? It’sÂ like entering a writing contest. But I should explain a cattle call first.
When I was a model I used to go to these things the industry referred to asÂ a “cattle call,” which is when a bunch of beautiful women assemble themselvesÂ in one area for the purpose of being viewed by a client for a potential job. You could say it’sÂ dehumanizing, a demeaning process: I don’t know. The clients looked you over.Â Sometimes the client stared you up-and-down. Sometimes he or sheÂ asked youÂ to walk,Â turn around, walk again.Â Sometimes he or she frowned. Once in a while, the client requestedÂ your composite card, which was essentially aÂ five-by-seven or eight-by-tenÂ card featuring your photos.Â The composite card also included your stats:Â height, weight, eye and hair color. Sometimes a client didn’t ask you for anything, which meant you were excused. Occasionally,Â a client asked if you’d stay. That was a good thing.Â You’d passed the test. Which didn’t mean anything really except you’d hit the right client on the right day with the right look, whatever that was. Very much like a writing contest. You hit the right contest at the right time with the right story for the right judge. Also, there’sÂ a huge amount of luck involved. Unless of course you believe writing contests are rigged.Â
A young writer asked me recently if I’d recommend she enter writing contests. I said, “Sure, they’re terrible for your ego.”Â But there’s also a giant leap of faithÂ involved: you enter writing contests against all odds same way you show up for cattle calls. Clients gave me all kinds of reasonsÂ why they couldn’t hire me for various jobs: I was too short; I was too tall; I was too thin;Â I wasn’t thin enough; my boobs were too big; my boobs weren’t big enough; I was a blond: they wanted brunette; I wasÂ brunette; they wanted a blond. Modeling is terrible on your ego. Certainly it prepared me for life as a writer.Â No shit.
“Dear Author, thank you for allowing us to read your story. Unfortunately it doesn’t meet our needs at this time.”Â Yeah. I know. You need a redhead. I’m a blond. Dirty-dishwater blond. WithÂ red undertones. Doesn’t work?Â Okay. Better luck next time.
Have you ever judged a writing contest? It’sÂ hell. I’ll never do it again. You feel like shit everytime you crush someone’s dream.
I don’t wantÂ to be an editor either. I suggested on Facebook my friend, Shanna Germain, and I co-edit a collection of bisexual erotica together, but she has yet to take me seriously. Probably a good thing. I’d writeÂ mean rejection letters.Â ”I’m afraid I couldn’t get past the first word. Boring!”Â Editing is a writer’s best revenge.Â Actually, I’m not vindictive like that at all.Â
Far as memories go, I’ll never forget the time a client told me, “I’ll have to airbrush your photos if I hire you.”Â Or the photographer whoÂ screamed about the hivesÂ on myÂ chest. “Jesus Christ. Make up!” I’d getÂ nervous during photo shoots.Â Â I also used to getÂ nervous in workshop at graduate school. One of my mentors wrote on my manuscript,Â ”I thought you came here to write? This is bullshit.”Â I just cried and cried and cried. And then I didn’t write four days. On the fifth day,Â I wrote like a sonofabitch. Â
Modeling wasÂ easier on my ego. It’sÂ easier to feel pretty than smart. Until you lose your figure and get your first age spot.Â Then your modeling career is over. I canÂ writeÂ until I kill myself, right?Â
I was at a cattle call the day I discovered Gia Carengi’s composite card. That was 1991. Gia was already dead. She died from AIDS the year after I graduated high school. She wasÂ one of the first women in the United States to die from AIDS. Â She died when she was twenty-six. Gia was a supermodel in the seventies with a terrible heroin addiction. She killed herself.
At that cattle call, sitting in a waiting room, I wentÂ through this stack of shit to distract myself from all the other beautifulÂ girls in the room andÂ discovered Gia’s composite card. And then I stole it. I had no idea who she was except for what it said on the composite: height, weight, eye and hair color. She was represented by Elite models. I had no idea how old the card was. I had no idea she was dead. I slipped the card behind one of the photos in my portfolio. I still have it. A prized possession. I also have the book, “Thing of Beauty,” which is a biography of Gia Carengi. She’s my profile picture on Facebook.
I think about her a lot.
I think, why does someone with everything going for her doÂ everything possible to destroy herself?
Gia was a lesbian. Nobody took her sexuality seriously, not even her lovers. What I mean is, nobody loved her.
So many of the characters I write feelÂ they’re unworthy of love. Do youÂ feel unworthy? The world is designed to make you feel that way no matter who you are. You must show up for cattle calls. OrÂ give cattle calls the finger once and for all.Â Gia didn’t really care about being a model. She was the first to admit it wasn’t a dream of hers, she never worked hard at it, most theÂ opportunities came easy.Â But we’re talking about modeling, notÂ love.