Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Beauty Breaks Free

I stood there crying at the polling place. It was 6:07 a.m. And as usual, I looked bedraggled: clean wet hair, no longer dripping; sun screened face, gleaming makeup free; glasses, shielding my tears.

You might think welling up befits a woman--weeping may be because I am a woman witnessing a woman's name on a ballot for president. That is my gender. That is the backdrop; I can't dismiss it. But that isn't what caught my throat.

Beauty draws out my tears.

And what about beauty this year? Where is it? Where has it been? Here. All along.

Beside, in front, and behind me were neighbors. I recognized very few. I'm new. I wouldn't even say I have roots yet. But they knew each other. Back slaps, good mornings, asking personal questions of each other. Here were humans. I found them. It was so strange to see a face not illumined by a blue light. Strangely beautiful to see eyes looking into eyes. This was beauty.

Then I saw a Beauty.

A woman held herself two steps from the bottom of the staircase. She was in her 80s maybe 90s dressed, not like me. Cherry red tam and matching coat, crisp pants that broke at the shoe, as they should. Her cane may as well have been a scepter. Regal. Erect. A queen, gripping the banister.

A woman offered her a chair and another waved it away and said, "She prefers to stand."

She prefers to stand.

This woman, her age, her gorgeous skin tone said she knew a time when she could not vote, when laws prevented it. Have you been full-hand slapped? Had the tears knocked onto your face? This was a slap of a thought. That was reality. And here she was resplendent.

My feet walked down each of the piano key stairs. My community surrounded me. Each of us there, at the core of it, for the same reason: to make something because we can.

We vote to say we are human. To say we are here. To say life matters. To say others matter. To say we have free will. And then to prove it.

That moment. That coming together was transcendent. A chorus. Holy. It was a sight to behold. Even though my eyes bleared it.

I don't know what will happen next. How it will unfold. But you can't snatch humanity out of a heart. You can't shrink down what a person is, who they are, how they live. No matter what the votes say and the power it grants. And if they try? Well...

I prefer to stand.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Consider Claiming Halloween, Feminists

I was better than Beyonce.
What a fun sentence that is to write. But, it's true. Last year, I was hands down better than Beyonce and her Halloween costume. While she has more money, fame, and skin pigmentation (so jealous of that last one) than I do, her version of Frida Kahlo paled in comparison to mine. I can prove it.

Her Frida Kahlo:
Photo credit: US Magazine
My Frida Kahlo:

I look fierce and pale as my skin is, I otherwise nailed it. The surprising things about this was people's reactions. First, the majority of people did not know who I was (sad), and presenting myself to the world with atypical beauty (a lot of facial hair) made people uncomfortable: staring, staggering backwards, not looking at me when talking. It was quite the experience.  I wasn't fitting their mold. 

And it made me remember what Tina Fey said in Mean Girls and reminded me of Community Season 1 "Intro to Statistics" episode:

Annie: Oh Britta! You look adorable.

Yes, I do know. Do you?

I've been thinking about it and the expectation that women will wear a sexualized costume on Halloween is wrong. To be sure, women can be all the things: smart, funny, cute, strong, sexy. 
But October 31 feels like a messed up Neil Armstrong quote:

That's one skimpy costume for women, One giant leap backward for womankind. 

As a woman I want to be taken seriously. I want to be able to work and be paid the same as my male counterparts. I want justice when people harass and abuse me/us. And yeah, I want to look sexy, but for me, I want to do that on my terms: my own time, in my own way, not on a specific date with a costume from a bag that frankly should involve more cloth. 

So, I submit to you an idea:
If you're a girl, reject the Halloween costume industry. Here are some reasons why:

1.) Education & Appreciation
I was a famous historical noteworthy woman who everyone should know. It was a little discouraging that people didn't know who Friday Kahlo was, but that makes it all the more important to educate them on WHY she's a big deal.  

2.) The Whole Enchilada: Brains, Beauty, and Creativity
You won't be dressed like anyone else because you thought of it yourself. No hiding in the bathroom for you. You can proudly say you thought of your costume yourself, made it and are owning it. Those are pretty hot.
American Girl Dolls

3.) Living It Out
This year, I dyed my hair red on a whim. It was late at night when my inhibitions were down, but in the morning was embraced as Kimmy Schmidt---my favorite role model for resilience in 2015. By being like her, by committing to the role, I felt stronger. It came at a good time, because I was feeling more brittle than unbreakable. 

4.) Womanhood
Think of the future. I want to use this holiday from here on out to be someone notable and praiseworthy and to inspire other women to do likewise. Who knows, maybe it can propel us into a better place. Maybe that way our daughters won't understand or be able to understand Mean Girls. Now there's a thought. 

Who will I be next year? Brene Brown? Marie Curie? Not sure. But I can promise to keep the bar raised high and my hemlines low. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Warning: Coloring Club Brings Out Inner Child

Coloring and coloring books designed for adults is an ongoing new trend. It's a way to unwind and let go of the day. The difficulty in relaxation via coloring is you let your guard down to being yourself. The self that I am, I discovered, is a competitive take-no-prisoners coloring champion.

I know this because when someone jokingly asked me if I was feeling competitive I said,
"Yes. But I'm competing against myself and clearly I'm winning." 
Then as proof I held up my artwork. I was not joking; something had come over me.

I'd been looking forward to City in a Jar's first Coloring Club Night for a full month--RSVPed, blacked out the evening on my calendar, etc. Even though every correspondence stated Blick Art Supplies had generously donated coloring pencils and crayons (and they sure did!), I wasn't leaving the evening to chance. I carried in my own 48 crayons conspicuously bulging out of my purse.

I can say it was a little intimidating walking into Urban Chestnut knowing no one. High school cafeterias sprang to mind. I credit the communal tables. The 48 crayons, at at that point of the evening, made me feel a little too overeager and sheepish as I scanned the crowd. I saw no other 20/30 somethings toting personal boxes of crayons.

After checking myself in and locating the gorgeous artwork by Julie Hill Drawings, I had to find a spot.


I'd sniffed out between checking in and getting the art, this was not a roll in stag sort of event. People came in alone and united with friends. They were in tight clusters of 3 to 7, which made it necessary to utter the dreaded words,

"Can I sit here?"

Thankfully, I got a "yes," as an answer, and got to tuck into some great coloring.

Later, when someone walked up to my table and asked if she could use some of our crayons, I felt a little too good. I immediately gave myself a pat on the back for being prepared. I'd scooted down and told myself I would share, if she sat next to me, but in between back pats the other table members said "No."

She was forced to either 1.) steal the crayons** or 2.) walk away. She moved on, and I realized our true selves, our inner children (as promised) were coming out, and apparently, they don't like sharing.

So, what did I learn at coloring club? 

1.) Go it alone (if you can't locate friends to come with),
2.) Come prepared; it can't hurt. 
3.) Reign in your inner child: share and scoot over
3.) Soak in as much as possible. 

Really, I haven't changed very much from childhood to now.

Want to share my crayons with me next time? Let's be friends and go together. RSVP here, and don't wait too long. Tickets are limited.

**I may need to write a short story about an adult who steals the crayons at coloring book night and the fallout that occurs because of it. Spoiler alert: it will escalate quickly.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Words Escape Me

Well hello there. I've been breaking the first rule of blogging lately, which is blog.
That was profound. Maybe you should write this down:

Rule #1 of blogging: Blog.

I haven't been writing lately because of my other rules: be positive, don't complain, work through your feelings first before telling others. Truth is things have been downright exhausting, hard, and sad lately.

To keep all of my rules, I'm not going to go into it as yet. Just know that 2.5 weeks ago I intended to write a plucky piece about other things you can make when life gives you lemons. And I wanted to make this phrase viral:

When life gives you lemons, make lemon curd. 

Curd is such a gross word; it fits.

Here were the pictures for the positive post that I didn't write. This picture symbolized the things going wrong:
make lemon curd

This one represented controlling the "lemons" and making them into something useful and pretty:

bunt those lemons!

Shortly after taking this I almost keeled over because I was taking them on my back porch and overheated. I fled to Target to use WiFi, drink water, and get Advil. (I couldn't go inside my apartment because...it was filled with an asphalt smell. So much lemon curd to be made!)

At any rate, things have been difficult, and one thing I know and learned was after a lot of stress a person's higher level thinking skills (including creativity) plummets. It's simple brain chemistry. My brain was/is trying to help me survive.

I can fight. I can take flight, but unfortunately, I couldn't write. The thoughts were too visceral too raw, more meaningless onomatopoeias than words. It felt so unlike me that I wondered if I had brain damage. I asked friends if I seemed somehow altered, dumber, to test me, to be honest. But really it was my brain on cortisol over far too many days.

I think I see a glimmer after today of finding words again, which is a relief because I need to write to earn my keep.

For me, health and writing are linked, and they come only with quiet, peace, stillness and being alone. Are you that way?

I sat in silence for hours and hours driving. Hours and hours at home all alone. Hours in silent exercise in nature and another hour getting a massage. And I can hear myself writing now in my head.

So today I learned:

Until I am composed, I can't compose. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Open Swim (not Sink) St. Louis

I wish you could have been there.
I wish you could have splashed in the water.
I wish you could have seen the dazzling smiles the spectrum of skin.
I wish you could have moved aside for children scaling the perimeter, unable to touch bottom, unable to swim...yet.
I wish you could have heard the collective joy and music rippling around and through the scene.
I wish you could have helped strangers offered to fix their goggles, to find their mom.

I had those pleasures and more at our Pool Party.
It was a sight to behold: neighbors, friends, and strangers-- a jubilant jumbled buoyant mass
Knotted together.
As it should be.

Happy to be together.
Happy to claim a new season.
Happy to swim,
St. Louis.

*Special thanks to everyone who helped make the Marquette Pool Party  an event I cherished. That means you, Cara Spencer, Blank Generation, Sleepy Kitty, Black James, Southside Forever, Mayor Slay, and Parks Department,

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Overheard in St. Louis

Not so long ago, I was walking to a coffee shop in a suburban-ish neighborhood. I was approaching a group of three workmen getting ready for their day to begin. Two had perched themselves on the trailer bed full of equipment. One was facing them and the homes. I could hear what they were saying from 15 feet away because of the quiet hour.

As I approached, I saw one of the men look up into a yard. He made a glottal noise- a mix between a grunt and scoff.

"They have a 'Black Lives Matter' sign."

I stiffened and felt my pulse quicken. Instinctively I was preparing myself for whatever he was about to say next. Trying to anticipate it, so I could respond.

Then I heard...

"Black lives do matter." 

One of the man's partners spoke up. Simple. True. Stated without anger by an African American.

There was no response. Not a rebuttal or effort to refute. It was so unlike what'd I've seen unfold online. No splitting of hairs. No, "But all lives matter," retort.*

Just, "Black lives do matter," and silence. It was beautiful, really to see and hear. It said it all.

*If you hadn't noticed already, this is an axiom leveled to negate the point of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Both are true. One needs to be said more and lived out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

We Are So Fragile

Maybe you have to know darkness before you can appreciate the light. 
Madeline L'Engle

Sunday was like any other. I was running late and to my car, 1/2 my makeup on the other 1/2 in my bag as I locked the front door and turned to dash down the stairs. That's as far as I got. The back window of my car was bashed in. I took one look, said "Oh" and pivoted to go back inside.

This was dangerous -- not the circumstance itself. I knew it would be costly and cumbersome and rain was on the way. Those weren't the dangers. Those were the facts. My danger was emotional, knowing that one random act of violence could set off a chain reaction in how I see the world. How I would respond. How it would strike my thoughts and could shatter my emotions. This isn't the first window I've had busted out, so I knew. The first time I convinced myself it indicated a coming lifetime of navigating the world and it's problems alone, unsupported, and vulnerable. It was damaging train of thought triggered by broken glass. Since it happened again, what would follow?

That past reaction let me knew I needed to proceed with caution. This isolated act of destruction could destroy something far greater, if I'd let it. I started the mental list and the calls: police, insurance, glass repair, car dealership. I studied the weather and reached out to a few friends.

Then I started to catalog and collect things of the day the good things. I knew the stress and heightened sensitivity would allow me to remember vividly, so I tried to shore myself up attending them rather than my feelings.

I remember things like:
The black cat chasing robins in the lawn;
The cashier's "I'm New" badge;
A bird that pooped on my hand (Ok, who wouldn't remember that?)
That my neighbor drank chilled white wine on her porch;
Someone left a frying pan on top of the dumpster.

Those were just things, but good happened too.

My friend drove his car around a marathon to help me buy groceries.

The sun came out.

All of the neighbors clucked their tongues and shook their heads.

Passers by looked at the scene in a horrified way, revealing what I think to be true, that this is not normal to do or to see.

Just when I thought it was impossible, I got those blasted UMSL parking stickers off the window after all. (P.S. UMSL, I still want my money back.)

In addition to the good things I observed, I learned a few things I maybe wouldn't have. And for me there's something inherently thrilling about learning things.

Things I learned: 

1.) Bricks can't be dusted for fingerprints because they are too porous. (I don't believe this, but that's what the dispatcher told me.)

2.) The police department when filing a report takes down (seemingly) irrelevant information like birth date, marital status and ethnicity before they ask you what's wrong. I get it! I'm single in my 30s and white, okay? It hurt my feelings.

3.) I like motive. I want to know the motives behind people's actions. The thrill of destruction was too foreign  a reason for me in this case.  Instead I decided the person had a vengeful dislike for Ernest Hemingway. Therefore, I learned I shouldn't have 3 Hemingway novels in my car at any one time, since it evokes an irrational brick wielding wrath.

4.) I'm sensitive. (See number 2.) I didn't learn this, just confirmed it for the zillionth time.

5.) I want to reason with people and set some ground rules. So you're going to destroy my car, okay. Please do it in a somewhat controlled and considerate way and heed these:

  • If you're going to throw a brick in a car window, then don't do it on a Saturday night. Every repair place is closed on Sunday.

  • If you're going to throw a brick in a car window, then don't do it in April. There's so much rain to contend with and it will be a mess.

  • If you're going to throw a brick in a car window, then make sure they have a garage.

6.) My neighbor gives good hugs. She unhesitatingly took me into my arms and said, "This is such a violation." Then she let me use her garage until I got everything fixed up.

7.) The support of others makes a world of difference.
STL Heart Card

Thank you to everyone who helped me. You reacted with protective compassion when I needed shielding.