My corner of the ‘curtain is Homer, Texas, an unincorporated community about twelve miles outside of Lufkin, Texas off of Highway 69-S, on the edge of the Big Thicket National Preserve. Homer is an interesting place. It was once the Angelina County seat, and was thriving and poised for growth until a major railway chose Lufkin for its main route in the 1800s.
Its history includes brawls and bloody feuds, at least one of which is said to have left haunted energy on the land my family still lives on. Even further back in history, there were “panther tales” and “wampus cat” stories of wild animals that roamed the thickets, hollers and ponds. Homer, at least my part of it, is still wild and on our land alone, there are still wailing big cats, sly foxes and an army of feral pigs. (And yes, all of our pets are indoor pets!) There are woods on our land that no one goes too far into.
This print is based on a photo of my grandmother, probably in the 1940s, and probably when Homer was a little more energetic than it was when I was growing up. But even in my time, it had a busy little shop strip offering candy/soda/BBQ, a hair salon and other sundries. It was torn down in the last decade or so, and the operating family replaced it with a big space to sell their handmade woodcarvings, stained glass and other beautiful art. The matriarch passed, and then the eldest grandson, and now all of that is gone, too.
It’s a place the contains multitudes in ghost stories and love stories, church hymns and redemption songs. When I write or create art about my home, no matter where I am, this is home to me. And while it’s not perfect, neither am I.
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” ― Bob Ross
There is so much room for JOY in art, something that I too often mentally push to the side, overpowered by the daily details and challenges of being an artist and owning an art-centered business. But, when I step inside my studio, see something amazing at a museum or gallery, or discover a new artist whose work speaks to me, even if I’m low on motivation or inspiration, joy appears.
Recently I discovered a local artist’s blog. They write about their studio time, commissions they are working on, sketchbooks and inspiration. No monetization links or newsletter subscription pop-ups, no “thought leadership…” just a working artist who likes to make art, write about art and share their art. How much more simple could it be? But how compelling it is! As soon as I see that the artist has posted a link to their blog on Twitter, I click to read it. This person is not an art influencer in any sense of the word (and that’s a compliment) but I so love to live vicariously through them. And they have inspired me toward a different perspective.
Writing and art. Thoughts. Ideas. That’s what it is, for me and for you and for everyone who creates online, really. These are your creative treasures, don’t reduce them to “content.” And it’s important to remember that just because you create something doesn’t mean you have to to attach a performance metric to it.
But like many other creatives making their way in this digital world, I find that those are hard habits to break. For me personally, it’s hard to pursue an interest or new project without immediately thinking “can I monetize that?” “Can I build consulting services around it?” Which is great for the business side of my life, but not so much the creative.
At the end of last year, I thought that 2020 would be a “sabbatical year,” and well, you know, LOL to that. I picked a word for the year in March and then just didn’t do anything else. And, it’s fine, mostly. But there are still a few months left in 2020, the world still spins (for now!) and I can still add something positive to my life.
My husband continues to work from home and the kittens still live with us, so I’ve been doing a lot of hopping from room to room with my laptop, phone and reading glasses throughout the workday. One goal I have in the spirit of art bringing joy, is to spend more time in my studio not only as a place to make art, but also just as a place to be; to work and write and enjoy life. It’s small and messy, but it has big windows and a comfy couch, and I should be in here more often, if only because being here makes me happy.
The kittens are too little to be invited in, but my little house panther wants it so badly! He bangs on the door and one by one, pulls down the stack of books I’ve placed in front of it to avoid seeing his paws and face in the crack and feeling guilty. It is like being in the panic room of a horror movie when the goblin is bashing its way in. I do see his paws and I do feel guilty! But too bad, Beans! I’m claiming my space and tuning you out, or putting you in the cat room for a few hours. Your sister, too, because you both cry when we separate you. Sometimes it’s okay to redirect distractions, not to be more productive, but just to be happier.
I just love art, and it started to feel silly and disconnected for me to approach my personal art, experiences and thoughts as only things to build a business around or market my work through. How about building a joyful, creative life, which is really what we artists and art lovers long to do? Regardless of the subject matter (not all art is joyful, of course) we love our happy little art accidents, the game-changing breakthroughs and successes, the inspirational discoveries we happen upon and the communities that we work in. Why undermine those joys just because we also want to support ourselves?
Going back to my new favorite art blog; the artist recently named their studio, and I’m inspired to do the same. It’s a fun thought exercise, and really helps add to the sense of place. I haven’t decided on a name yet. In my very early days, I was MollyPop Studios(RIP). I’m not sure that fits anymore.
For the next little while, as I create and read and think, I think it will be fun to consider, not necessarily in regards to a business name attached to the art itself, but as the physical place where I work from. A word or phrase that resonates with me as an artist. A place that feels like home.
Like the rest of the world, I had a hard start to 2020, made harder by the fact that my house was empty of kittycat feet for the first time in nearly 18 years. I missed Molly the most when I was home in a quiet house, and the pandemic made for a lot of that, even when my husband started working from home in March.
I’m not a dog person, and definitely not a kid person, but I am 100-percent a cat person, in case that isn’t obvious. I missed Molly so much, and so many other changes coming after her death just made it harder. Everything was different. At Christmas we had a Molly, I had a career that was going somewhere. James was working from his office, which gave him the social interaction that he needs, and me the necessary time and focus to successfully work, write and create. We had planned a year full of travel, fun and forward motion. And then, of course, it stopped. And while we still have our health, most of our income, and the basics and many extras of the life that we enjoy, we have lost a lot, too. We both lost close family members in the first part of the year, and even our neighborhood still looks weird and a little bleak after the tornado that blew through in October 2019.
Molly was my first cat, so I hadn’t been through this process before. I still missed her so much, but over time, was also opening up to the idea of bringing something good into the still too-quiet house. But, had enough time passed? Would I be able to love potential kittens for who they were, or would they be “not-Mollys,” which would be unfair to them?
A few weeks after Molly died, I was out with friends when James got home from work, It was the first time that he had to experience coming into the silent house without me or Molly in it. He was greeted by a little black cat, a House Panther, who approached him, scratched a little bit on the welcome mat and then walked away. We had not seen this cat before, and have not seen it since. But James felt, and I agreed, that maybe it was an intermediary, sent to tell him that Molly was okay and that there would be more cats in our lives, and that would also be okay.
When we started putting “cat vibes” out into the world, I didn’t care what the kitties looked like, where they came from, if they had three legs or one eye or anything like that. I just wanted cats that were healthy and didn’t hide, and I wanted two, so that they could have more companionship than Molly had, especially as we plan to resume travel in the future.
We jokingly began looking for kittens under bushes and in ditches on our evening walks, and I even had a song, “Where are you, Kittens?” set to the tune of “Where are you, Christmas?” that I’d sing around the house.
And there’s a song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Our House,” that I’d listen to and feel so sad. “With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy because of you…” I wanted easy. I was ready for it. In my world, I felt things would feel “easy” when the cats came, because the noise and the feedings, playing, misbehaving, all of that would make the house feel normal, and normal was close enough to easy.
So, in early May we went to East Texas for my Auntie’s funeral, and I got a lead on some cats. On my birthday, the 15th, we decided it was time to choose two, and the next weekend, we met my mom, cousin and aunt in Athens, Texas and picked Bonnie and Beans from a huge cat carrier where they were lounging with their siblings.
Beans is a black kitty, a House Panther chosen not only for his expressive face, but also because he reminds us of that little kitty of hope that visited James in January. Bonnie’s bright eyes and “fairy ears” charmed us immediately. Being Texas cats, they have Texas formal names: Bluebonnet, and Bosque Coffee Bean. But Bonnie and Beans for everyday.
Now everything is easi(er). Easy? No way. We are still in a pandemic. James is still set up on his laptop in the middle of the living room while I carve out a few hours here and there to try and pick up the pieces of my career and creative practice with the ground still shifting under my feet. Covid is still raging and now it’s in my home community in East Texas, which is scary because there are many fewer resources there, and the population skews older and more fragile. I don’t know when we will travel again – we have planned trips and canceled them at least three times in all this, and I’m really sad that I won’t be going to LA this September to see the beach and art adventure, and to see my old friends, and meet their new baby.
But we have the kittens, and with them, a routine. Kitten food, play time, naps, more food and TV time before bed. They don’t know anything about a pandemic, they just explore and romp and play. They are fun to watch. They’re lap cats who love toys, unlike Molly, who was of course still perfect in every way. Having two, it’s fun to watch them interact. They take turns tossing a toy mousie around, and they love to be carried from room to room in what we refer to as “the royal procession.” Sweet Beans has attached himself to James, and Bonnie runs around chortling like a delighted banshee. They are happy cats. It’s nice to feel like we are doing something right. When things feel so hard, it’s nice that something is easy.
While I haven’t written a Pine Curtain Storyin a while, they’re always on my mind, waiting for the right time and way to be told. I know they’ll be back soon. I think about those stories all the time. Not because I’m living in the past or wish to (no thanks!) but because I feel they’re important and timeless; both the smaller focus on my friends and I, and the larger focus on what it meant and still means to have been a teenage girl in a specific time and place.
Like any good daydreamer, I have a list of songs that I would choose for a soundtrack to my future Pine Curtain movie. It evolves, but it’s mostly eighties and early nineties alt-rock. The latest addition is Rickie Lee Jones’ “Satellites,” which to me perfectly describes the relationships in Pine Curtain Stories.
“So you keep talking in many languages/ Telling us the way you feel…”
When we were younger we had so many creative “languages” to communicate in – folded notes, made up stories, prank calls and other outward expressions, even collages and cartoons and of course, the treasured mix tape. If we could think of a way to express an emotion or idea, we did, even if it was weird, risky or poorly-executed.
And that goes away.
Now there are text messages, emails, social media…meetups and video calls and viral videos…and all of those things are clinical and ultimately dilute the message for the sender and the receiver.
And yet, we are satellites. Some of us are in touch more than others and we are all busy and scattered, at the same time we are bound by those years we spent together. I can think of something that happened in 1991 and immediately feel exactly how I felt then, and remember who was there and what their voices sounded like and what style of clothing they were wearing. If it was nighttime, I can hear the cicadas or wind blowing through the pine trees. I can remember what was playing on the stereo and the sound of car wheels on gravel when we pulled over to socialize on the nights we cruised endlessly between the local mall on one side of town and the Sonic drive-in on the other side.
Satellites homing in on a shared constant.
I wish there were more songs that brought to mind early friendships. Most of the songs on my “future soundtrack” are pretty angsty or about boys. But as the heroes of these stories, we need an anthem just for us. This is a strong contender.
Looking back, I wonder if my hometown school system was inspired by the game Pick-up Sticks. Order, chaos, order, repeat.
Kindergarten through sixth grades were at small elementary school campuses across the city. In seventh grade, we were shaken up and thrown together on a huge campus with a residential street running through it. (Inspired by Pick-up Sticks AND Frogger?) After a year, just enough time to get our bearings, we were spit up again into two junior highs, East and West. An “Us vs. Them” division perfect for sports team rivalries, petty factions and bullies looking for a reason. For our final three years, we were all flung onto the single high school campus to try and get along until we graduated. Quite the social experiment.
Prior to the seventh grade, my friends had come from three groups: church, my mom’s friends’ kids, and kids who had been seated near me from kindergarten through sixth grade. Until I was twelve, my friendships were mostly “you get what you get” situations.
So, I was overwhelmed on my first day of seventh grade at the big Dunbar Intermediate School from the moment I stepped off the bus into moving traffic. I was immediately lost in a sea of kids who not only didn’t go to my church, but who I had never seen before in my life. Who were these people? Had they been in Lufkin all this time? And they were all supposed to be seventh graders? Teased hair, acid washed denim, puff painted sweatshirts…in my memory, those kids looked like 30-year olds. At least compared to me, in my long skirt, button-up blouse and red scarf tied “nicely” around my shoulders. Dressed from bow-head-to-squeaky-loafer in Wiener’s finest that was chosen by my mom, likely with some input from my great-Aunt Lucy, a saleslady there. Thus ensuring that my only school friends would be the lunch ladies.
I don’t think I blinked once that entire first day, and maybe not the day after, either. Getting from class to class was a wild-eyed obstacle course. I kept tripping over my skirt. I regretted all previous life choices almost immediately. My elementary school friends seemed gone forever.
But then came Computer Science class, or what passed for computer science in 1988-89. I remember two things from that class: one, that I met Valeria and two, that she taught me to say “I love you” in Spanish. (Don’t get excited, she wasn’t saying it to me. She taught me so that I could say it and impress some pre-teen twerp who didn’t care.)
This is important, because Valeria was the first friend I ever made on my own. I came from the rural “bubble” and she lived in town. I was an only child and pretty isolated. My life advice until that point came mainly from people who were raised in the 1940s. Valeria had a big, busy family and lots of neighborhood kids to play with. So, we were different in some ways but we still clicked immediately. Even when we were too young to fully articulate it, we looked around this bisected city block full of future “*Lufkin bozos” and wanted so badly to fit in, and also wanted so much more than what we saw. And neither of us had any idea how to be anything other than exactly how we were, which was mostly braces, eyebrows and imagination.
We tried so hard. We passed notes by the hour, updating each other on the highs and lows of the day, a cycle of plotting and rehashing that has continued for 30 years. (Now, we text and Instagram message.) We were on the newspaper staff and made a whole column about who was dating who, who broke up, and what we thought about it. (Strangely, our sponsor never actually published this.) We made up unflattering, permanent nicknames for, well, pretty much anyone that so much as looked sideways at us. (Sorry, Hobbit Man. How are the grandkids?) We were each others’ biggest fans.
Valeria was not my only friend in seventh grade, but in general, I struggled to fit in. I ran for student council but was disqualified because I mixed up the date and passed out my campaign materials early. I was targeted by a group of “devil worshipers” who were going to “get me” at the mall. Groped in Science class. That sort of thing.
And there were other little dramas, some that I instigated, and right or wrong Valeria was there to egg me on or pick me up, whichever was called for. We have seen beginnings, endings and entire story arcs over the course of our lives together. She was there when I finally got a boyfriend, and she was standing at my side when he walked out of a school dance and broke up with me instead of inviting me to the dance floor.
At our ten year high school reunion, she was next to me when he approached us, recounted that day down to the detail. “I made a left out the door, and there you were.” He said it was something he deeply regretted. He blamed the whole thing on a mutual friend who had died in the 90s and could not defend himself, and implied that another shot would be pretty cool. I knew he had a wife at home. I never liked her, but I wasn’t going to do that to her either. Anyway, if you didn’t want me with my unibrow, then you don’t want me, mister. Valeria and I laughed it off. Our feet were hurting in our class reunion heels. (No more Wiener’s finest for me! I had since discovered Nordstrom Rack.) We were eager to go to Sonic and talk about all the people we’d seen. Maybe some new nicknames were in order.
Between seventh grade and our class reunion, Valeria and I did get the things we wanted from life, even if it hasn’t always gone how we imagined it would. But does it ever? We both muddled through junior high and high school, friendship mostly intact but our paths diverged a bit as friendships often do. She went to Nashville and I went to Austin. We found each other on Classmates.com sometime in the late 90s and resumed our “note passing” almost immediately. She eventually moved back to Texas. She got married in an actual castle! We were in each others’ weddings, our husbands get along and I saw her a few months ago with her baby. She has a little girl and twin stepdaughters who are in college. I look at them and know they will have great lives because Valeria is their mom.
As I said, Valeria was my first chosen friend. This is important because growing up in the “bubble,” it was implied that people outside the bubble were scary, and possibly even mean. Valeria was proof-positive that this wasn’t true. Meeting her, finding our commonalities, our shared goals and humor – this was the first step for me toward something different than was being handed to me. I have had someone to figure things out with since 1988 and that has been priceless. It was the first step in making my world bigger, in trusting myself a little bit, in seeing that maybe it was okay and valuable to trust in and care about things that I had to cross the street to get to. Valeria wasn’t mean – I am much meaner than she is – so maybe others wouldn’t be, either.
If not for my friendship with Valeria, I would not have had the courage to form close friendships with Courtney, Michelle, Mallory or others who came after.
Earlier, I used the term “Lufkin Bozo.” It is a given that any time something weird is in the news, it will have a Lufkin connection. Second only to “Florida Man.” The most recent “Lufkin Bozo” is the Blue Bell Ice Cream Licker. Our hometown crime blotter is famously weird. Valeria and I are fanatical about the adventures of the Lufkin Bozo, texting constantly when they appear in the news, mapping any possible connections to us, our family or friends. We know that but for the grace of God, etc.
What would have happened if I hadn’t met Valeria? Would I have erased all my eccentricities, or completely devolved? If she hadn’t met me, she would still be just fine. If nothing else, she had a pretty, popular, older sister that has no problem making people correct themselves. But I had an echo chamber. An echo chamber that cared for me, but an echo chamber nonetheless.
If I had not met Valeria, I wonder if she’d be somewhere in her life reading online about a new Lufkin Bozo, because they are definitely created in echo chambers. Or if this Lufkin Bozo would have ever had the courage to be seen at all.
Do young people have social dances any more? I don’t have kids, so I honestly don’t know. But before cell phones, texting, social media – all the things that make it easy to plan for yourselves and/or socialize without leaving home, the dance floor was THE place to be. My church hosted one every few months, and in between, there were school dances, Teen Nights at grown-up clubs, dance parties at the Episcopal church…we were dancing nearly every weekend. We definitely could not relate to the anti-dance histrionics of “Footloose,” because our parents knew that if we were all thrown together in one room, a chaperone in every corner, a few stationed along the walls, and one weaving through the crowd to move errant hands, then a dance was the safest place in town.
As I have mentioned before, my social group was largely unchanged from kindergarten on up. I made other friends at school through the years who I loved just as much, but as far as Saturday nights went, I was with the same ten kids, give or take a few for disciplinary groundings, etc. So that’s who became our dance partners.
Our parents: “Tired of seeing this kid? Too bad, you’re dancing with him. No, there are no other options. This one’s a known entity. You can dance with him or you can sit down over there.” More or less.
Anyway, the pickings were slim. There was a group of nerds who clustered together and did the “California Raisin” dance to every song, and there was my mortal enemy who spent ages 6 to 35 trying to take me out, Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner style.
So that left “Eric.” He was taller than me, which was a plus. Good-looking, but I didn’t “like” – him – like -him, so there wasn’t any hormonal weirdness to contend with. He wasn’t caught up in the raisin dance and he wasn’t trying to throw dynamite at me. A catch! And an easy, low stakes dance partner.
But off the dance floor, things were harder for Eric and me. He was a part of the cool group, and I was in a… different group. I had it bad for his best friend, who thought I was an irritant at best and treated me accordingly. So, Eric was my friend away from school, and in school, he was something else. Meaner. Sharper.
But for some reason, at the time, that was okay. I didn’t know any better, and accepted it as the way things were. After all, if “Wile E. Coyote” could destroy my belongings, hurt me and be invited back over to do it some more, then what Eric did was nothing.
Anyway, I loved him. I still do.
After the drama of high school, we settled in to an easier, more friendly rapport.
But as some of us went on with our lives, learned about the larger world, made other friends and got a better sense of how relationships worked, Eric stayed the same. The last time Courtney and I saw him together, he took us to see where his trailer had burned down. He’d lost everything in an electrical fire, and was living in a half-finished shed behind his parents’ house. He did okay for a while. Proximity to his family was a good thing.
I saw Eric once more after that, in the late 90s. He was the last person I dropped off after a night out, and invited me to stay and catch up a little longer.
We sat in his parents’ garage into the wee hours, talking, smoking cigarettes, listening to the radio. Sometime just before sunrise, “Love Hurts” by Nazareth came on. Eric stood up and extended his hand to me. My old dance partner and I shared one last song, slow and even then, bittersweet.
In 2013 a friendly acquaintance and the object of many a schoolgirl crush was arrested on live TV, tackled to the ground in his driveway, charged and convicted with trafficking exploitative images of minors. We couldn’t believe it! Him? He was so nice! His family was great! You think you know someone.
Within a year, in a separate case Eric would be arrested, charged and convicted for a similar crime. Unless something changes, we will be in our sixties when he’s released.
When he was sentenced, I went down an internet rabbit hole and found five other familiar names in his prison system, for the same type of thing.
Maybe we don’t really know anyone.
It was hard to absorb. Even with all of his challenges and volatility, we always felt safe with Eric, at all hours of the night and in all situations. He had never laid a non-consensual hand on us in violence or otherwise. Maybe other young women had different experiences. I don’t know. I believe victims.
I won’t speculate on guilt or innocence because Eric was tried and convicted by a jury whose job was to do that. I’m not going to describe what he did or ascribe motive, because it’s not my story to tell. To say more would be disrespectful to his victim and the families involved.
But I can tell you what it did to me.
When you’re fourteen and someone says “this is your friend. This is your dance partner.” You don’t question it. “This is my friend,” you think. Once before a duet at church, Eric shared that his bestie had called me a “butt ugly b*tch.” (I was no such thing, not that it matters.) I bounced a peppermint candy off of his face, then we went on stage and sang our song. Beautifully. “This is your friend,” I had been told, my whole life. The implication was “Forgive him. Love him.” So that’s what I did.
I assumed that was just how it was, with certain types of friends.
My in-laws live in Houston, and when we drive there from Dallas, we pass the state penitentiary. I “wave” to Eric every time. Maybe that seems flip, but I don’t mean it to be. My husband doesn’t get it. How could he?
Every now and then, I think of sending a letter. Eric’s brother died by suicide when we were in junior high, the first domino to fall in many ways, for both of us. For years, Eric and I would leave notes on “Charlie’s” grave for the other to find. I’m not sure why, or how it started, or even if it was appropriate. But Eric and I had always found a way to communicate. It’s too hard now. I know my husband wouldn’t like it, and what would I even say? Even in offering love and friendship, I can’t absolve, which is different than forgiving. I certainly can’t forget and I know I can’t be part of Eric’s life anymore in any real way. It’s not just one thing. It’s all of it.
Looking back on the situation, I try to connect the dots to see if the way he treated me had anything to do with his choices as an adult. I’m sure there is some commonality, in terms of respect for women, respect for boundaries and the lack of consequences in our fairly insular culture, but I know that it’s more complicated than that, too because not every bully grows up to break the law.
All this to say: Love hurts? It’s not supposed to, not really. If someone’s not your friend in all situations then they’re not your friend. If someone punches your boyfriend, it’s like they’re punching you, and they know that. I know that now, too. Love them anyway and forgive them, but only if you feel like it. Set better boundaries. Put the best of your love somewhere else. Life is long and bigger than your dance floor. YOU choose your partners. There’s plenty of people out there happy to break your heart, in ways you can’t even imagine. You don’t have to break your own.
*I struggled a lot with whether or not to write this. I still am in touch with Eric’s family who are wonderful people and have been dealt an unfair hand. And as I mentioned, I still love Eric. But at the end of the day, he chose to do these things and it’s public record. I’m not speculating, editorializing or really adding anything new to the story. It helped me to write about it, and maybe it will help others who are in complicated situations, to know they’re not alone. Names have been changed, details lightly fictionalized.
I turned 43 this week, and that milestone paired with a head-spinning run of funerals and news of ill friends has me thinking about my purpose, specifically how it relates to my art and what I want to express through it, and how it can outlast me and hopefully help others.
I’ve been an “artist” consistently since I left my last corporate job in 2016, starting as something to occupy my mind between obstacle-course technical interviews and spur-of-the-moment airplane trips. So, in the beginning, I just drew what I liked, and mostly still do. But I’ve struggled with my “why” and “how much to share.” Many of my friends and connections are people from my hometown, or people who know one side of me – the good side.
But the more I think about it, the stories that I really want to tell – my stories and the stories of my peers – aren’t all good. But they’re so powerful and interesting.
There’s a trend lately in TV and movies about 90s nerds, but I don’t see my experience there. Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely a 90s nerd. But not the funny, madcap type who solves everything by senior prom. I made horrible choices. I hurt people and prioritized people who hurt me, and honestly, at 43, I greatly miss the former and hardly even consider the latter. It wasn’t all roses, and it wasn’t an experience that can easily translate into “cringe humor.” And by that, I mean, sometimes young people died. I was flying without a net. There weren’t always happy endings, and there was no playbook for what my peers and I wrestled with, and in the era of the anti-helicopter parent, we were left to figure it out for ourselves, mostly. At sleepovers, our parents would throw pizza into our rooms then leave us alone to do whatever until sunrise, as long as no bones were broken. Like a “purge” scenario but make it alt-rock and landline based.
I have wanted to tell these stories, but haven’t known exactly how to do it. When I was in high school, I drew comics which have long been lost or tossed in my parents’ house. I think I had more nuance and bravery in my writing between 18 and 25 than I do now, for sure, and I hope I can get there again.
I am compelled to tell these stories now and it’s vitally important that no one gets hurt in the process. To address that, and to avoid the “you/she/I didn’t look like that” comments about the art, lets just say all this is “inspired by.” Names will be changed, along with major identifying characteristics. And, I promise, no one will come across worse than me in the telling.
So, the opening painting is “someone like me” in 1992 in a Babydoll dress that “an Auntie” made, knee socks and a cigarette. Yes, I’m putting a pearl-clutcher out there early. I smoked. And I loved cigarettes. My favorite were cloves, which tasted like Christmas as they shredded my lungs. Also, I was a truant.
My junior year of high school, I was on the newspaper staff and yearbook staff, both of which allowed us to leave campus for “ad sales” and honestly, half the time I’d just stay gone. Where I spent my time varied, but sometimes, in my infinite teenage wisdom, when my Dad was working the day shift, I’d go home and just hang out, forgetting that my house was surrounded by retired family members with a direct view of our garage. I’d smoke in my car and skip school and not think twice about anything beyond how cool I must look.
A few years later, my grandfather was coming out of surgery anesthesia and asked my mom if I still smoked. “Smoke? What are you talking about?” She thought it was funny that he would get that idea. I agreed. “Yeah, Poppa sure was out of it. Me, smoke? Hah. The rantings of an old man, for sure.” (For context, he was probably in his 60s at the time. And of course, his rantings were correct.)
And that’s the kind of stories I want to tell. Stories of being given just enough leeway to make my own decisions, and some of those decisions being stupid, and then clawing back from them successfully or less so. The stories of getting caught up in things you’re too young for and figuring it out on your own, and of outcomes good and bad. The thrill of discovering life, real life, for the first time. The joy of sleepovers and church dances and how it feels when the 90s hometown heartthrob who looks like a young Julian Sands meets you again in your twenties and how that goes for everyone when it’s real life and not a rom com. What it’s like as an adult to know that the person who called you names and tried to punch your high school boyfriend in order to hurt you is incarcerated for acts way worse than anything he ever did to you. What it’s like to look back in your 40s and realize that your frenemy, your biggest nemesis to date, is – plot twist – also the person responsible for many good parts of the life and perspective that you enjoy now.
I titled this post “Living in Oblivion” because of the 1990 Anything Box song. It was the first non-Top 40 music I had ever heard and in many ways, learning that there was music beyond what I heard on the radio opened the gate to everything that came after, in music and in life.
To sum up a very long post, these are the types of stories I’ll be telling in my art and words for a while. Motivational quotes are good and so are dress drawings and I’m sure I’ll be back to those soon enough. But this is who I am and why I am, and however complicated, this is what I am bringing to the table.
So, if you’re still with me, and I hope you are, please pull up a chair.
Our drive southwest was supposed to happen last year.
reserved weekends twice, and hotels twice over the course of a few
months. Each time, we were derailed by my father-in-law’s illness, which
started out stressful but manageable, but steadily declined until he
passed in July 2017. That seemed to kick off eight months of chaos, and
when we finally planned our third attempt for travel, we did so holding
our breath, afraid that this trip was just cursed, forever derailed by
something confusing and awful that we could not control.
morning we left, our anxiety lessened as we drove further away from
Dallas. By the time we arrived in Santa Fe, we had fully relaxed.
For the most part.
only did we lose my father-in-law last year, we also lost my husband’s
bestie – the Pinky to his Brain, the mastermind to his sidekick or
vice-versa depending on the day and the task at hand. Combine those
devastating losses with the fact that I left my last full-time job in
2016 and just recently made the decision to start my own business after a
year spent on airplanes going to stress-filled interviews for jobs I
only kind of wanted, and you can see how vacation mode was still a bit
out of our reach.
But we were happy. Our hotel room was amazing, quiet and private. We could walk to most places. We were in the tea house and chocolate shop district (apparently). Everyone was nice. I mean, REALLY nice. It was good.
was just after Easter when we visited the basilica, and the sanctuary
was filled with flowers and beautiful colors: symbols of rebirth common
across many religious calendars at this time of year.
As I made
my way through the sanctuary, I noticed in a statue in the corner that
was festooned with purple ribbon. This was something I hadn’t seen
before, so I stepped in for a closer look.
It was Mary Untier of Knots (aka Mary, Undoer of Knots),
and each of her ribbons was attached to a prayer. There were so many!
The words on the cards were private, so I didn’t look at them in any
detail. But on one, the words “please don’t let him die” were visible in
“Please don’t let him die.”
impossible to tell if the writer was male, female, young, old, or where
they were from. It was just their prayer, their “knot.” This time last
year, it could have been written by me. This time next year, or next
month, or next week, it could be written by any of us. In
researching Mary, Untier of Knots, I learned that she is invoked when we
can’t solve things for ourselves, when the knots are too tight. When we
ourselves do not see any solution.
Regardless of our spiritual
beliefs, we can agree that there is something powerful about letting go
of an impossible burden. That was the beauty – and the clarity – of my
personal experience in the basilica.
We hope someone will get
better, but can’t guarantee they will. We hope our professional lives
will stabilize, but who knows really. We hope our family and friends
will be happy, but there’s no magic wand for that. That’s reality. But
there’s a solace in the act of tying those hopes to a statue and walking
away from it, even for a moment. Thank you, Mary.