My Blog List

Friday, December 30, 2016

Legally Changing My Name In NYC

Just like the girl in Mamma Mia, I grew up hearing about how I had three possible Dads. Yep, my Mom got around.  So when I was born, I was given the same last name as my unmarried mother for obvious reasons. To make matters more complicated, that last name wasn't actually her family (aka maiden) name. Confused yet? 

The story goes, my mother had gotten married at sixteen years old and changed her last name. The guy turned out to be crazy, and ended up becoming extremely abusive to her. She left him a few years after, and at one point he showed up and put a gun to her head telling her he would kill her if she didn't go back to him. My mother says, she told him to go ahead and shoot her-but he didn't. She never saw him again. 

That relationship ended in divorce a few years later in the late 60's, but my mother never changed her last name back to her birth name. When I was born many years later, I was assigned that last name from her first husband, which was completely meaningless to me family wise. 

Growing up, I would often try to come up with different last names that I liked better. My diary entries as far back as age seven show me signing my last name in over eight different variations. It was very, very obvious that from a young age I was unhappy with my name. Growing up, I hated always having people ask if I was related to so and so who shared my last name, and always having to say no and explain my awkward situation.

By the time I was a teenager I had decided on a few different "stage name" options, but had never thought about legally changing my last name. The process seemed daunting and expensive. So, just like my mother had for so many years, I lived with this last name which had no connection to me.

I did eventually get to meet my real Dad in my early twenties before he passed away, but I didn't feel the relationship was strong enough to change my last name to his. And since I am very against the patriarchy of women changing their last names at marriage, that was never an option for me to look to in the future. 

So there I sat, over thirty years old and still pining away with this last name I hated. 

Through my years of searching for a random last name to replace my own, I had never found anything that fit or felt just right. The day my new name finally came to me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was going to change my middle and last name to become Renée Nicole Gray. 
Gray felt more right to me than any of those other last names I had thought of replacing mine with over the years. Because Gray is my actual blood family. My grandparents on my Mother's side were Gray's and it was my mothers birth last name. I had been looking everywhere for something that was right in front of me all along. I knew that if I ever make a mark on the world it would be most meaningful to me to have it be with my actual family name. How had it taken me so long to figure this out? 

Because my old last name was a variation of Nicole, everyone had mistakenly called me Nicole my entire life. Heck, I even answered to it sometimes. It felt natural that I would replace my middle name with Nicole since it already felt like my name, as well as an homage to my old one.

I started using my new name on social media and non legal documents for about six months prior to making the legal change. In an odd way, I felt like "me" for this first time in my life. I finally felt proud of my last name because it actually belonged to me. I could finally say, "MAYBE!" when someone asked if i'm related to a Gray. I was also happy to find that the email, Twitter, Website, Instagram etc were all available with my new name. Something I didn't even have with my old one.

So after my six month trial, I knew I was ready to make things official.

I gathered all of my documents and made my way to Brooklyn court where I submitted my application to the clerk and paid the fee. Changing your name in NYC courts is exactly what you would expect. The staff is rude and doesn't give a crap, so you have to be patient and make sure you have documents you think you might not need. There were a few things needed like utility bills for proof of address that they did not list on the website as requirements. I had brought it all just incase. The clerk actually seemed disappointed and annoyed he couldn't send me home like he had the four people ahead of me. The big surprise was, I thought I would be told to come back weeks later, but apparently in NYC seeing the judge happens immediately. I nervously sat in the court room for about an hour waiting for my turn. The judge glanced over my paperwork, signed it and handed it to a clerk for me to sign. I didn't even have to answer questions. My application was now stamped and approved by the judge. But of course the process couldn't be just that simple. There were a few more hoops for me to jump through before I could legally be myself.

The next step was going to a clerks office to submit my judge approved papers. The clerk gave me a list of five places I would need to send certified mail notifications of my name change to (including my mother, The DMV, Passport and SS Office). I would also have to pay $35 to publish my name change in the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. Once this was all done I would need to come back with the photocopies as proof. This would make my name change legal.

I immediately went to the newspaper office across the street to get the ball rolling. While waiting, I met a young man who I had just seen at court. He was overflowing with excitement about his new last name. He told me that his family was from Egypt, but since 9/11 they had suffered extensive discrimination because their last name sounds Muslim. He was only 21 but said he had trouble getting job interviews just because of his name. He told me he was sick of getting pulled aside every time he flies. When I asked him what his new last name was going to be, he beamed and said "Lucas. Because I love Star Wars and it sounds very American." After finishing our paperwork, we wished each other the best with our fresh starts and went on our way.

About a week later, I hurried back to court with proof of all of my missions completed. A few lines later I was sent to another floor to get my certified name change papers which I would need to change my Passport and all ID's. I had survived the many levels of bureaucracy and was finally officially, legally a part of my own family! 

But it didn't end there, the next few weeks of more bureaucracy to change things like my insurance, bank account, Social Security number, license and Passport were also tedious, but very worth it.

When I look back at my 2016, being handed those papers with my new name was by far the most memorable moment of the year. For the first time in my life, I can say that my last name matches my blood, and I now write and say it with pride and meaning.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Secret To Carrie Fisher's Famous Hair Buns

As we say goodbye to beloved icon Carrie Fisher, the one image which we have been seeing the most is that of her as Princess Leia in Star Wars, her most famous role. 
Not only will her image live forever in film history, I don't know if I can think of a single more iconic hairstyle in film than Princess Leia's hair buns. 

When asked about the inspiration for Leia's look, George Lucas stated; "In the 1977 film, I was working very hard to create something different that wasn't fashion, so I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico." 
"A Hopiland Beauty" 1906
You've probably never heard of the woman who turned George Lucas's hair vision into reality, but her name is Patricia McDermott. Sadly, she isn't even credited in the first film, but she continued as the chief hairstylist for Return Of The Jedi. 

Upon first glance, the famous Princess Leia hairdo is something many people think they can recreate by splitting the hair into two pigtails, twisting it and securing with bobby pins, but that is anything but the case. 
Typically when done with real hair the result looks more like a mini donut than the voluptuous hair we see in Star Wars. It is practically impossible. In order to accurately replicate this hairdo, a woman wouldn't just need thick hair down to her knees. She would need a lot of fake hair. This is because every Princess Leia look was created with human hair hairpieces. These were two of many hairpieces seen throughout the film. 

Let's take a closer look at Carrie's famous hairdo. 

And a snapshot of Carrie's actual hair on set: 
Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in Star Wars
Carrie Fisher's short hair during filming
As someone who styles wigs, my complete theory on the creation of the buns is this:
The buns are made of perfectly matched human hairpieces to Carrie's natural color. Her hair was parted and secured, with the long pony tail piece attached at the base of the elastic, possibly even clipped in for extra support. Each bun piece was probably close to three feet long to account for the width, and extremely thick for volume. As the hair roll continues to build clockwise, many, many pins would be used to secure the buns into her natural hair giving them a sturdy support network. These woulds then be sprayed with wig net for extra hold and shine spray to help blend the texture of her natural hair. And there you have the secret to Princess Leia's famous hair buns. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What I Learned At My First Protest

As I watched the election results roll in on November 8th, my emotions went from optimistic, to hopeful, to completely speechless and horrified. A thick sense of dread came over me when it was announced Donald Trump was officially our new President-elect. It felt like I was drowning. I cried as I watched Hillary's supporters stream out of the NYC Javits Center, glass ceiling still intact. I hardly slept that night. I felt like I was watching the death of the America I love. I woke up the next morning blearly eyed and hoping I had just had a nightmare. That I would wake up and everything would be normal again. But that wasn't the case. My fears about this inexperienced man who had done nothing but incite fear, sexism, violence and hatred came crashing at me like a ton of bricks. I felt physically ill. George Washington once wrote in a letter, "May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under own his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Donald Trump and his followers had already succeeded at doing just the opposite of that. Making Americans fear and hate each other. 
When I heard about the first anti Trump protest being held in NYC the day after the election, I knew I had to be there. I ripped up a cardboard box that was lying around and hastily made a sign. It said "Love Trumps Hate" on one side and "Not My President" on the other.  I had never been to a protest before & I was the farthest from a "professional protestor" but with everything I love about America at stake and my heart breaking, it was the only thing I could think to do. 
Still decked out in my "i'm with her" pin from the day before, I tied an American flag scarf in my hair and rode the subway to Central Park with my small sign in hand. As I got to the meeting area, it was raining slightly and I could already hear the voices in the distance, chanting their hearts out. I followed the voices until they grew louder and louder. I walked until I was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of like minded people, a sea of faces of every color shouting exactly what I was feeling in my heart. Their brave voices united and rose up as one into the night sky. It was such a beautiful thing to witness. It took my breath away. 
As we began to march through the streets of NYC to Trump Tower with rain falling around us, it felt like the universe was crying too. People stopped what they were doing and came outside on balconies, fire escapes and sidewalks to witness this massive stream of humanity rising up. They cheered along with us, gave us thumbs up, beeped car horns, and applauded. Some even cried. The energy of the crowd was contagious and palpable.  I felt like I was living history. I walked for almost five miles chanting my heart out until I nearly lost my voice. As we approached Trump Tower the march came to a halt. Some silently held signs and many continued the protest chants. The protest that night was extremely peaceful and I saw no violence whatsoever. There was a mutual respect between the police and crowd. The media likes to portray all protests as violent but that was anything but the case.

My first protest gave me hope that the majority of Americans will fight for good over evil and slightly restored the faith in humanity I had lost the night before.  When I headed home that night I was still grieving over the results, but all the yelling had sure as hell made me feel better. I felt proud to have used my first amendment right and freedom of speech to stand up for what I believe in. A freedom that my own father served to protect in the military. I am aware that change doesn't happen from a single protest, but it also doesn't happen when you sit on the couch and attempt to normalize an incredibly screwed up situation. Donald Trump's America is not great. It is already giving hate, Antisemitism, bigotry and racism a stronger voice than ever. 
Change starts small. It may take years. America may never be the same, but we will overcome, and I'll continue to use my right to peacefully protest as long as this nightmare continues.