Virtual Permission

by Carol Hodson, contributing editor

In May of 2011, I posed this challenge to myself…

“Consider what you feel you need permission for… and become the person that has that permission.”

That same month, I created a Facebook profile for an alternative self, Dr. Olive B. Luewing. I rationalized that, as Olive, I could fish, garden, thrift shop, and make sentimental  drawings… and these prosaic tasks would become “art” when recontextualized as aspects of Performance Art.  Within months, Olives FB profile surpassed my own in number of “friends”.

I playfully 3 set goals for my creative incarnation. Within a year,  as OBL, I would:

1) get a paid lecture gig –

Three months later, Beth Stroeble, president of Webster University, invited me to be keynote speaker for the annual faculty dinner at the Missouri Botanical Garden, I accepted and Olive joined me by large screen video.

2) find a grant/residency/exhibition –

I’m 2/3 on this one. I wrote an academic grant to “be Olive” in a cabin in the woods somewhere (near a trout stream) which was rejected because, rumor has it, there was concern that a University Professor acting under false identity could be cause for libel.

The director of The Sheldon Art Galleries offered me an exhibition and performance venue, but Olive turned it down because the “ambiance was all wrong”.

I wrote an application for the Richard Cabe Terraphilia Art Residency offered by Colorado Art Ranch, and received the following email… “The jury was split. Half wanted to offer you a residency and half wanted to offer the residency to Dr. Luewing. In the end we decided to offer it to both of you and let you figure out the sleeping arrangements.”

3) find a life partner

I need to be more specific with this goal… I met handsome horticulturalist who I was really better suited for Olive… ( he presented me with a bevy of gifts on our first date, which he referred to as a “dowry”; a luna moth (see Intymology), a deer skull, 4 interlocking deer vertebrate, an Illinois arrowhead, an intact monarch butterfly, and a purple quartz. I shamelessly accepted the gifts with the caveat that “in this culture, bugs, and bones do not represent the same level of commitment that they might have in times past”. After one more date, we had a polite parting, and though Olive suggested we hold out for a snakeskin, I decided instead to rewrite the goal to read “4) find a life partner for me.

  A few “dowry” gifts from Olive’s admirer, displayed in my studio among other collected objects of natural curiosity. 

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Each time I told someone else about my decision to create Olive, they were enthralled, asking questions about my newfound productivity, how it felt to “have the permission” I sought, and “how did I come up with the name?”. (Olive B. Luewing comes from inverting “Bluewing Olive”, an ubiquitous trout fly tying pattern, and adding a Dr.’s degree). It was evident by these enthusiastic conversations that I was in the position to empower others to grant themselves more creative permission. In a series of workshops that followed,  Olive and I set the example and proudly watched on as numerous new alternative personalities were created. Here are a few examples of “Permissioned Self” characters created by workshop participants.

M.J. Vendor, professional, licensed marijuana grower and distributor.

Mel, a male to female transsexual with a heterosexual male avatar.

Truong, child soldier.

Luna, mythological moon goddess (in full moon phase).


Dr. Olive B. Luewing with Rebel Ruben Rage

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