I'm not a big fan of things like "International Women's Day" (which today is) or really anything that separates humanity from being one (except for maybe sweet, all-inclusive ones like Grandparents Day. I can get on board with that.) I think Women should be celebrated every day, as all People should be, just for making it through each day in this crazy world we all share. So, in the spirit of everyone being everything, I spent a recent afternoon talking to Venice legend, Mona Webster, who said right out of the gate, "We're all totalities. Take me apart and I'm a planet with skin over it. We're all everything, but always on the edge of wanting something." Yes, this was exactly who I wanted to be talking to about all of this.
I've long been fascinated by Mona - from back when she was better known as Roger and had a ton of piercings and extra-long, Guinness Book Of World Record-style, curly, decorated fingernails. When one of them broke, it was devastating as they took so long to grow, so Mona ditched the nails and donned wigs and tutus, explaining, "I'm a pretender, but I'm an honest pretender. I pretend to be a girl - for myself." Literally everything out of Mona's mouth is interesting, and it very quickly became clear that it could not be a traditional interview with questions and answers ("How long have you been in Venice now?" - CJG "Does it matter?" - MW), so I just settled in and mostly listened, taking notes as if panning for gold for the glittering nuggets of wisdom and philosophy amid all the stream of consciousness conversation, of which there were many.
On Webster's coffee table in her modest Venice bungalow was a copy of a one-off (and beautifully photographed) book called The Amazing Story Of Sewell and Webster - And The Inadvertent Gentrification Of Venice, California. I wish there were more than one, because the story IS amazing. You see, Webster and her business partner, Tom Sewell started buying buildings in Venice in 1970, and are now probably one of, if not THE, biggest stakeholders in Venice. Many of the Abbot Kinney and Windward properties call Webster their landlord, a fact that she waved off with, "I don't even realize I have real estate." But she does. A lot. From back when there were still oil wells on the Peninsula, and the arches on Windward Avenue were lit with neon - "It was very festive, very reverent."
One of the greatest things about the culture of Venice is that when Mona shows up at Gjelina for lunch in her full regalia, though you can see the stares and curiosity of visitors and tourists, no one that knows Venice even blinks an eye. I was eager to ask Mona if she felt any responsibility for the changing of Venice into a place we barely recognize now (at least on Abbot Kinney), and was promptly chastened when she asked ME if maybe I didn't hold some responsibility, writing all these stories about how cool Venice is and what a wonderful bubble from the rest of the world we are, and how everyone should come and visit. Gulp. She went on to say, "Didn't you say you lived in Hawai'i"? The Hawai'ians have more right to be pissed off than anyone in the world, with all those hotels and golf courses built on their sacred burial grounds ... but what are they most known for? The Aloha Spirit, the most amazing spirit I've ever experienced. Where's your Aloha Spirit for Venice? Why not be a good ambassador for Venice to visitors, and let them go away with a good feeling about it here, instead of telling stories about all the pissed off locals?" Double gulp. She's right.
I feel myself getting all mad when I just want to walk up AKB to grab milk or something at the liquor store and have to battle all the airport-like, wandering walkers and strollers ... but why? They have every right to be here visiting a cool place, and we can all be happy that we get to live here. As Mona added, "You can't criticize your neighborhood and live in it too. It's like pissing in your bed. Don't squander the jewels of your insight on petty complaints, it just ruins it for everyone else. Stop trying to pave your own street, and pave the public one. Go fix the world! If Venice is something, BE IT!" Yeah.
Our conversation unfolded over hours, in the glow of Webster's "Portacle" (a combo of Portal and Oracle), a wall of about 25 big screen t.v.'s, all on different channels, all at normal volume. Even with all that distraction, I found myself riveted by the verbal pearls being given to me by Mona. Like ...
"It doesn't matter if anything is right or wrong, as long as it works."
"I'm a Preacher. Not because I do everything right, but because I suffer the same as everyone else."
"It's more interesting to be confused. If you're not, you're boring."
"If you give me 100 bullets, I could make you a picture of what life means."
"I think I'm nobody, and I think I'm everybody."
"People don't need to know where I'm from or what I did."
"When you become more People, you have more options."
"I don't like sleeping, because I don't want my day to be over. Life is too short."
"We love to see the unlikely, because it makes us feel hope."
"The last thing you ever want to be is yourself - because then you can't be changed."
"Release yourself from what others believe about you."
"Every day there's gold in your mouth, but you skid right past it."
"We succeed by realizing that we don't - Together."
"Life is still brilliant, even when things aren't going so well."
"It's working when the world gives you gifts you didn't have before."
"You have to have a tantrum ready to go at any minute. THAT is a Revolution. For yourself."
"Everything you do is a statement to the whole world."
See what I mean?! It's like bumper stickers of truth flowing right into your lap when talking with Mona, and it's plain to see why she is so beloved all over town - which isn't always the case for real estate moguls in these parts, these days. But as she also says, "You don't need real estate, there's still beautiful shells on the beach." And that is the contradiction of Venice right now. Mona calls herself a contradiction too. She owns half the town, but supports its starving artists, from buying their work to taking them to lunch. She collects the rent, but turns around and buys from the store. "I'm flamboyant, yet ordinary too. I'm a girl and I'm a boy (and is indeed straight and married, though "I'm a fetishist 24 hours a day", evidenced by the cage and handcuffs and other like tools in her living room). I'm happy and sad. I'm an optimist and a pessimist ..." and with all the disparate factions trying to live together in Venice these days, I can think of no better contradiction to emulate. Why not be everything! Be everyone!
As to International Women's Day, Mona is far more feminist than most biological women I know. She CHOOSES to dress like a wonderful, colorful, creative woman, while being a super successful, savvy, strong business person. She obviously admires women, that goes without saying, and she added that, "Lady people have a lot of influence on this world. Rosa Parks changed things, not a man." That's right. As someone who has never felt less-than to a man, this does not come as news to me. All the boys copied MY papers in school. Many more women than men in my life are their families' main breadwinners. I choose leaders based on what I think is best for my country, not whether we share the same genitalia. Frankly, there haven't been too many men I'm at all impressed with lately, so don't really get the big furor for equality - 'cause I've always felt women were the superior gender. We wouldn't need men at all if not for the fun of sex and the resulting babies - and I think they kind of know it. All of the separation is old thinking, in my opinion. We ARE ALL EQUALS, and that's just that. That's why I celebrate Mona today, as maybe our best symbol of everyone being everything, all in one fantastic PERSON.
"Venice is a mess of possibilities. You can hide here. You can believe or disbelieve something. You can talk yourself into or out of something. You can always be on the Planet Mona edge of something." And the view from the Planet Mona edge is pretty great ... because it's limitless. So today is a day not to just celebrate women, but to celebrate us all, trying to live here together in harmony.
As the light outside waned and the t.v.'s signaled it was evening news time, and we'd gone down the rabbit hole of Venice time, I gathered my things to leave. I felt better about Venice. I felt better about myself. Honestly, I felt better about the world, because as we hugged goodbye, Mona reminded me that, "Greatness never ends, no matter how much it's persecuted." We'll all be fine, if we can all just be open to each other, without fear.
Everlasting thanks to wonderful Mona Webster ... and all of the wonderful PEOPLE we celebrate every day.
Also - I love you, Venice.