With only a few episodes remaining on this season of Ru Paul’s All Star Drag Race, it’s time for all of the contestants to ramp up their game. In addition to a little extra sparkle (and a tight tuck), I think they could really gain from taking a peek at Alice Munro’s new collection of short stories,Dear Life, which hits bookstores this week.
Here are three tips from the grande dame of North American letters to the divas of DVR.
1. Get Your Shit Together
The best drag performances pull together distinct references to combine into a dynamic whole, providing a fully realized portrait of the performer’s unique identity. Munro's stories, in showcasing pivotal moments of revelation and desire, demonstrate with cunning ability how to pull your shit together and make it work. How? Read "The Train" — the story's entire structure hinges on one sharply defined moment that then repeats in different forms. It begins with a brilliant description:
Jumping off the train was supposed to be a cancellation. You roused your body, readied your knees, to enter a different block of air. You looked forward to emptiness. And instead, what did you get? An immediate flock of new surroundings, asking for your attention in a way they never did when you were sitting on the train and just looking out the window. What are you doing here? Where are you going?
This moment, its impulsiveness, expectation, and disturbance, defines precisely how the character has set about living his life. While the act of jumping off recurs again and again, the skill of Munro’s description makes the nuance of that first jump resonate throughout. Translate this same technique visually, and you have yourself an outfit that would impress Santino.
2. Sing Your Life
Another lesson the queens could take from Munro is the particular sense of continuation that arises from the way she tells stories. With Munro, one always has this sense of moving forward. She's never content to remain in a single moment; her characters are always glimpsed at in different stages of their lives. In "Leaving Maverley," the cop who walks the daughter of strict, religious parents home at night after her shift at the theater sees her again years later grown with children. The story of a woman who almost marries the doctor in "Amundsen" is told from the vantage point of years later, when she's in a small quarrel with the husband she's been with for years. Not only does this create a sense of fullness in the lives of her characters; it succeeds in implying that they endure beyond the end of the story. If, when lip-synching for her life, a queen can pull off a sense of history and hint at where she's going, convincing us that the performance goes beyond the stage, then she’ll truly be an All Star.
Munro knows how to put down a good line: "Up until the time of the first baby I had not been aware of ever feeling different from the way my mother said I felt." ("The Eye") "Nothing changes really about love." ("Amundsen") "A relief out of all proportion, to remember her." ("Leaving Maverley") Then again, RuPaul's no slouch when it comes to coining a phrase: "Gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best woman win!" "Shantay you stay!"
Or my personal favorite, and I'm sure Ms. Munro would agree: "Don't fuck it up."