Red Leigh Cooper

Red Leigh Cooper

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A "Red" rose by any other name...

     As a 9 year old I was also reading Shakespearean plays.  I loved the idea of acting; the idea of performing in front of people. The adoration of the crowd; to hear them calling my name was Dana Pooters...

     Do I need to say more considering the last name? I'm sure anyone who remembers having the mind development of a 10 year old boy can figure out the problem with that just by isolating the first syllable! The last name actually wasn't a problem until I moved to Oklahoma at the age of 12.  The kids I had grown up with previously, while sometimes made fun of me, knew who I was, and it wasn't an issue.  However, entering junior high, the time of life when kids develop their warped sense of "in" and "out," was a whole different story.  Then being the new kid on top of it?  I was the subject of much verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse. All due to the last name.  That and sometimes my Mother made me dress differently as if we were still in the 70's with polyester pants and all. While I am grateful for the friends I did have, and still do thanks to the advent of Facebook, earning the adoration of a crowd was even more important by the end of high school.  I felt inside that I just wanted to be truly loved. 

     Here is where that is all twisted, because a crowd of "fans" doesn't truly love you.  They don't personally know who you are and most never will.  They will just fill the void of the place where you have to love yourself.  However, it's hard to love yourself when getting rubber bands shot at your head by other teenagers...

     I'm a huge reality TV watcher.  I'm not sure if it's just because it's entertaining fluff or because I can look at it and go "Whew!  My life is so much better than that,"  but I find myself being truly invested in a few shows.  I was watching Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH-1 and picked up and interesting fact.  People who change their names don't like themselves. Or at least they don't according to Dr.Drew.  He's a professional.  I'll take his word for it, because yes, I wanted to be someone else.  Anyone else. 

     There is a difference between nicknames and stage names, which is what Dr. Drew is talking about.  I picked up a few nicknames in High School here and there.  Mostly derivatives of Dana, like Dani or Danie.  I like nicknames.  I find them endearing.  I also find them addictive.

     I wanted something bigger.  I wanted to escape all the torture of my classmates and ultimately of my Mother.  Remember I said that the corrective shoe deal was only the beginning of the issues with my Mother.  She could not admit to her faults or the faults of her children.  If her children failed in any way, well, there was hell to pay for it.  I eventually would never be pretty enough, sing good enough, or be smart enough to be her daughter and she would remind me of it on a daily basis.

     I left Bartlesville, Oklahoma at age 18 for good never to return. Hopefully, by now in the story, no one wonders why. 

      I spent some time in college under the moniker of  "Sondae."  This name was taken from the day of the week Sunday, of course misspelled for dramatic flair. I inherited the "nickname" originally for a short period of time in high school due to a bad joke made by a friend.  I had said that "my boyfriend called me Sunday," and got the idiotic, "well, I thought your name was, Dana?" Insert eye roll here and note to always include prepositions in my sentences...he called on Sunday...on Sunday.  This nickname turned retreat from everything I was eventually worked. It worked my entire freshman year of college.  I was free from the oppression of my Mother, of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the oppression of being that high school kid...until a year and a half later when a bad breakup that sent me spiraling back into the self-loathing world of Dana Pooters.

     Fast forward another year later and my arrival in Austin, TX. Eventually, I was befriended by Radio, Television, and Film majors at The University of Texas. My friend Dave started doing camera work on a local music show called Virtual Noize and they needed a host.  Enter my new "moniker" Dana Leigh.  Now this isn't far from my actual name, taking out the last name and inserting my middle for the last.  However it was during the filming of this show that I would discover something I didn't want and would lead to who I am now..  Excessive inappropriate attention.

     I was born blonde.  I was also born with a very outgoing personality.  Put that on T.V. and you'll attract every dude who equates blonde and bubbly with easy.  I literally could not go out without hearing, "Hey, baby; I've seen you on T.V.; can I buy you a drink?" you can't...and the thought of it makes me nauseous.  There were people who were nice too, but I was getting recognized in the 7-Eleven and for some reason, for someone who wanted adoration, I was uncomfortable with all of it.  I knew it was ultimately insincere.  Like I said earlier, they didn't know me.  I had people getting into the back of my car to talk to me when I picked my visiting Father at his hotel (he still thinks that was cool...).  It had to stop.

     I dyed my hair red.

     The response was a complete opposite from what I was used to.  People stopped talking to me even though I was still on T.V.  Apparently red-heads are more threatening.  Good. I could escape Dana again.  It was just in a different way.  Wouldn't be long though until name would follow hair.

      I credit my friend Raymond for coming up with the "nickname" Red.  We were working together, as remember this whole time while on T.V., I was also an accountant to pay the bills. And I just remember him using it one day.  It stuck, and to this day still does, with many of the people I worked with at that time as my "nickname."  you know I couldn't just be satisfied with that though.

    "Red" Leigh Cooper became my stage name. Soon after I started working with Raymond, I got married and started a band.  I had been in a few before, as Dana Leigh, but now "Pooters" was completely gone due to marriage.  Needless to say I sprinted to the courthouse to change it upon receiving my marriage certificate.  I went through variances like Dana "Red" Cooper, but in then end, it was  "Red" Leigh Cooper.  I wanted Dana out of there.  I was never comfortable with Dana if that's not obvious by now.  Then, just like I had happen back in college, a bad breakup, this time the band's, would have me burying "Red" Leigh Cooper for along time. Eight years to be exact. Two years into that eight years, I went back to being blonde.  I was so unhappy, to think of "Red" Leigh Cooper, that I willingly went back to Dana.  I went so far as to capitalize on volunteer work I had done at Austin Humane Society and plunge fully into studying to be and being a dog trainer and behavior consultant.  I was in so much pain, "Red" Leigh Cooper had to pushed far down into the nether regions of my mind and soul. 

    After about five years of being blonde, something began to change.  First, I would look at pictures of my being "Red" Leigh Cooper, and miss being her.  She was fearless. She was fun.  She was most of all confident.  She was also helpful to others and kind.  The reality is I wanted to purge all the ugly feelings about myself and really be "Red."  I wanted "Red" to once again just be a nickname and not be a completely different entity that I put on for an evening on stage.  Something else happened, too, that I never expected.  I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and realized I was beginning to look like my Mother.  As I was still dealing with the damage done there, the blonde hair would have to go.

     Two years later, I'm still redhead and loving it.  Loving it because it's fun and vibrant.  Because it matches my green eyes.  Sure, it also covers the "grays," but in most ways, I am no longer hiding behind a hair color and a name. I have a God and a husband who love me for who I am and after a lot of processing, I can accept and be Dana and Red as the same person.  I have also in my heart forgiven my Mother. I'm not sure if I'll ever go back to Bartlesville again, but you never know.

     I guess if you look at it, in order to figure out what your "starfish" is, you have to figure out who you are.  What things in your life do you really enjoy doing?  What do people often ask you to do that they don't ask of others around them? What have your nicknames really said about you?  Is it just a hair color or is there something else you are really striving to be?

   And Raymond, I still love the nickname...

Happy Fishing!

--Red (no more quotations)   



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