Ode to Bikes

 

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On my bike ride home from work today I felt so good. There’s something about biking that makes me feel connected to my environment, to my body, to my breath. Often, as I’m coasting downhill after a long hard uphill, I feel struck with such a profound sense of gratitude that I’ll even say, “thanks,” out loud. Who/what am I thanking? Just existence. I’m just happy that random/intentional elements in the universe have collaborated in such a way to allow me to be myself, here, at this moment.

As I crossed 82nd Ave and entered the tunnel of trees that is Mill Street I remembered when Benny and I first moved to San Francisco in 2008 and what a challenging thrill it was to embrace the city by bike. After a couple weeks of public transit I tried biking and I was amazed at how it made this huge new place seem so manageable. I remembered biking to Golden Gate Park for the first time and coasting through the magical lush forest and emerging on the other side to the ocean! It was so dreamlike the way the trees suddenly fell away to crashing waves. I knew there was an ocean over there somewhere but I hadn’t realized how close I was to it, that I could bike there.

I looked through my journals from that time thinking there was probably a very detailed entry about that experience. I was surprised to find just a line or two about it, but I did find some other stuff I enjoyed reading. It was so jarring to try to adjust to city life after eight years in a small college town, and it’s interesting to see my past self needing to get to Portland. It’s a good thing I made it here.

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8.21.08

Today I decided to ride my bike from our apartment to Golden Gate Park, about five miles. There were more hills than I expected, although I’m not sure why I didn’t expect hills.

Every time I take the bike out I feel a huge sense of accomplishment and joy. It gives me the feeling that I have control not only over my environment and my direction, but also over my life. I suppose this is also how having a car must feel to most people, especially for a teenager. I don’t really remember having that feeling though, when mom and dad came home with the Corolla for me and Leah to share. Maybe because even with the car, there was nowhere I wanted to go.

 

9.8.08

I’m beginning to miss Chico now. At first I just missed my friends. Now what I miss is space, the room to breathe, the oaks and pines and furry redwoods. The cool air in the night, stars that you can see, the accessibility of everything, the way you can fall into adventure like tripping on a rock. I want some of that here. That feeling of belonging. Of knowing the best places. The sense that even though we come from different places we all grew up the same. Trust.

I miss swimming in the cold green deep rushing water in the midst of dry crackling heat so hot you fear it is literally baking you all the way through. I miss bike riding to a friend’s house on the other side of town for dinner and wine and sitting out under the moon with rolled cigarettes.

I saw the moon the other night, full and bright, as Benny and I walked down Polk Street on our way home from dinner at a Thai place. It seemed out of place here in the city, like it had lost its way. I felt disconnected from it and everything it represents: magic, nature, open spaces and connection with natural cycles. Finding your way outside in the dark, and quiet. I keep yearning for these things and marveling and how I got here, to the city.

But sometimes when I’m cruising down a fast hill on my bike, the sweat drying cold on my temples, I feel glad to be in a place of such rich art and culture, a place where people go to have adventures and pursue their dreams. And I’m getting better at moving through crowds without being overwhelmed, and I love the views and the bike ride through the park to the ocean.

But a big part of me is reaching forward to the afterwards and planning for a life in Oregon.

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Learning From My Younger Self

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Can I say what I need to say? Is it okay to say this?

I ache. Not deeply, but it’s there; like a campfire that I’m sitting a bit too close to. It’s starting to sear my knees, so I cover my knees with my hands, the coolness a brief relief- until it’s the tops of my hands that start to burn.

I savor the ache. It means something. It means I can still want, I can still write, create, yearn. It’s an ache for my past self, my wild self who I didn’t know well enough to control, who was not yet fully formed, who was still cracked open enough to allow for such a range of possibility that to acknowledge it made me dizzy.

Yet as I biked home from work today, a little drunk and speeding through the fresh cool air, blood pumping and sweat drying and my old plaid flannel shirt flapping I thought, she’s still here, she’s still in me. That kid, that 18 year old, still hungry for experience and movement and passion and life. She’s still me.

But why do I idolize her so much? Surely I’m better now, stronger, more caring, smarter, with a certain beauty from cheekbones and laugh lines and stretch marks, glimmerings of silver at my temples. Oh but that girl- she teetered at the precipice and I’ll never again know that feeling. The certainty that life was a treasure map and I had everything I needed to get to that big X and start digging. A time when desire consumed me entirely; I was just a walking want and there was no reason why I should not pursue my every impulse.

I guess I miss feeling desires, acknowledging them, pursuing them. I’ve almost all but forgotten how to want something and go after it. I miss that selfish kid, that wild girl burning with a fire that wouldn’t stop until she had consumed the whole town.

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I’ve been reading old journals again. I can’t help myself. I’m surprised how many times I can go back to them, how they are still magnetic, throbbing with life and meaning.

It’s an escape. It’s a time portal to the time in my life when I felt the most free, the most alive, the most juicy and anguished and curious and open to magic. Sometimes I look at the warped, torn, frantic, messy pages of a journal from 2004 and wonder what it would be like to pop in on that 22 year old girl in a coffee shop and say, “Hey- it’s me. I mean, it’s you, 13 years from now. I’m 35 and I’m married and have a three year old daughter and live in Portland and well, just keep writing, okay? Because this time is more important than you realize. And don’t worry about all the flings and your heart that is constantly drawn and quartered because it’s not going to last. You’re only a year away from meeting the boy you will marry so relax. Forgive yourself. Be wild, sink into it. Take notes. Cherish your friends. Ride your bike at night, gaze at the river, go to jazz night and drink your whiskey and cokes. Don’t try so hard to find love and just revel in passion.”

Reading these journals, some of the entries flow so perfectly, it’s almost impossibly cosmic the way life fit together in a chaotically poetic way at that time, people flowing in and out of the scene, entering the room as I’m writing about them- so many interruptions and experiences happening lightning fast there was no way to keep the journal up to date. But it’s there, incomplete, and just a few notes is enough to expand it 3-D in my head and heart. I feel everything when I read it.

I think I knew who I was early on in my life, not too many years of searching and doubt- so when I read back on old journals the setting is different, the day to day life has changed, but it’s the same person writing, noticing, feeling, wanting. When I read about life in 2004 it’s almost like a parallel life. It doesn’t feel far away even though it’s impossible to get to.

“I don’t like to dwell on the past,” Benny said when I was talking to him about this stuff. I agreed but I also had to point out, “I think my past self has something to teach me. It seems like a conversation. Like the past is still alive somehow, time isn’t linear.”

All my selves, past, present, and future- exist simultaneously and if I concentrate hard enough, I can access any or all of them.

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I had a moment today, suddenly as I was driving: it was a thought of how I’ve been idolizing my younger self so much lately and that’s fine I guess, but I realized just how much my present self has that my younger self didn’t. I have a self-assurance now that’s actually based on experience and not cocky ignorance. I’ve made so many mistakes that I never have to make again if I choose not to. I don’t have to just blunder my way through, day to day. I’m a grown-ass woman and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’m at a position where I could actually give someone wise, thoughtful advice if asked. I understand gratification and I understand sacrifice. I understand selfishness and compassion. The world seems bigger now- infinite. My ego is dwindling. I think I could one day be one of those older people whose eyes glow with brilliance and kindness; who have a knowing that’s come with an acceptance of not knowing. I don’t want to lose my wildness but for a moment I was fully grateful for all the years I’ve accumulated and how they’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. For a moment I felt like, if someone showed up in a time machine and offered me a ride back to my 20’s, I would just wave them off.

As we get older we have these choices, every day we have them- what parts of ourselves to keep, and what to let go. I think I’ve been reading my old journals as kind of a cumulative review- taking inventory. I like my old self but there’s a lot about her I’m not proud of, that I’m eager to discard; and I’m also clearing out some space for parts of myself I’m still working on, that I want to see get bigger. I’m realizing more and more that although I am a product of my upbringing, my environment, my culture- my life didn’t happen to me. I chose it, and every day I choose it. This is the adventure I decided on. Sure, I may miss that feeling of groping in the darkness, of careening off into the unknown, but making choices and committing to the path you’ve chosen is the real work.

The Nothing Ocean

So! Here’s another installment of what I’ve been referring to as diary comics, although I think they need another name because “diary comics” tends to mean comics about your day or at least recent past. These are memoir comics in the sense that they are memories from a ways back, but they are diary comics because they are based on actual diary entries.

For this one I chose an entry that was very evocative and poetic because I wanted to see what would happen to my style if I allowed for more expressive and abstract imagery. I had so much fun with this! I let myself get a little messy and I tried some new techniques, like using a sponge with white gouache paint for the ocean spray, a dry brush for inking the waves, and salt for rock texture.

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Leaving Ramona

You guys, I made a comic! It’s been a looong time. The drawing group that I sporadically attend sometimes comes out with a zine of anthology comics based on a theme. I missed out on Cats, Movies, and so many other good ones but for this one- Hometowns- I finally got it together.

I kept it short to ensure that I would start and finish the damn thing, but once I started it was all over way too soon. I can’t wait to get back into doing comics!

This comic really surprised me; I was having a hard time narrowing down this huge topic into one doable story until I stumbled upon a journal entry that seemed to just sum up everything about that intense time into just a few sentences. When I found that it all came together pretty effortlessly. Once again journaling saves the day.

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My Time Machine

I’ve been listening to a lot of the Mortified podcast lately. My mom got me into Mortified several years back, and since then both she and I have performed in Portland branch of the event. (If you don’t know, Mortified is a nationwide movement of people getting onstage to read from their adolescent diaries.) When I did it, I chose the time period of when I was about 17 and it’s intense stuff, losing touch with my friend group and becoming kind of a loner. Listening to the podcast, I started to get curious about who I was in middle school, and what I wrote about getting my period, my first kiss, how I felt about the first day of 8th grade. So I dug into my boxes in storage and found my 8th grade journal, delighted with the detailed descriptions of this awkward and tender time. And when I got to the end I wondered, “Wait- THEN what happened?”

So after some searching I found my 9th grade journal, and 10th (I skipped 11th because I had already gone over that recently), and then got lost in the turbulent roller coaster of 12th grade. Then of course I had to move onto my first year of college and so on. I didn’t read EVERY journal, or even one entire one, but I did a lot of sequential skimming, piecing my past together loosely in my mind. I got an urge to create a timeline of the significant events in my life.

I might still do that, but meanwhile I managed to, for the first time in my life, compile all my journals together into three sturdy boxes, labeled by time frame and arranged IN ORDER. Dang. Twenty five years of journaling, at times almost excessive. I’ve slowed down quite a bit in the last ten years, and that’s why it was so mind-boggling to find thick journals that only spanned a month or two.

Having such densely packed accounts of my experiences is such a gift; it feels like a time machine that allows me to be 12 again, to be 15, 18, 23 again. When I put the journal down I’m left dazed and disoriented, swimming in a strange stew of mixed emotions: yearning, regret, shame, confusion, wonder, joy, and also a compulsion to somehow “make things right” with people who I hurt or abandoned. There’s an urge to reconnect with people who used to be essential components to my life. But I also don’t want to get too caught up in the past, I want to move forward and create new artifacts for my future self to delight in.

In Defense of the Color Pink.

If there is a Most Hated color, it’s gotta be  pink. I don’t think any other color carries so much controversy. Especially now, in these gender neutral times, pink has even more power. Wearing it makes a statement. Refusing to wear it makes a statement. It’s almost impossible to wear pink casually, thoughtlessly.

I think I went through a pink-hating phase as a kid. Purple was obviously the superior color. Pink was my sister’s trademark. Then later purple became lame, and green was the new favorite color. But in my teens, I think sometime after my short lived Goth phase and coinciding with my punk phase, pink made a serious comeback. I came to realize that, as a traditionally “feminine” color, it had been shunned by much of society as a weak, wussy color. Boys didn’t wear it, and most girls didn’t either- only girly girls, and then it was a pastel pink. I started wearing a lot of magenta and dyeing my hair bubble gum pink. My friend Chelsea who had spiky black hair and a “Monroe” piercing liked wearing pink and red together, and she looked like a walking Valentine, singed at the edges.

Later I went through a hippie/tomboy phase, which I’m still kinda in, but I never lost my love of pink. I’m comfortable in pink, I wear it defiantly. And I’ve wondered if maybe I’m more comfortable in it than some women because I’m more masculine in a lot of ways, and pink is my way of tipping the scales a bit. Just like a man wearing pink, I feel comfortable enough in my masculinity to embrace my feminine self.

Now I have a two year old daughter. Sometimes I dress her in pink. (Admittedly, this is partly because pink clothes are often on sale.) Sometimes she wears head to toe pink. Other days she wears red and black, blue and green, or brown and orange. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t consider the public’s view of her when I choose her clothing. And the times when I feel most aware of this is when I dress her in pink. After all, I know a few moms who have actually told me, “I will never dress my daughter in pink.”

Mainly, I want people to know that I dress her in pink not because she’s a girl and that’s what girls are supposed to wear. I like to think that if she were a boy I would be just as inclined. I want people to understand that pink is just a color, a beautiful one, and choosing to avoid it is just making it more powerful. I hope they can see that I’m embracing the femininity of pink in a Grrrl Power kind of way, a backlash against all the pink haters. But most of all, I hope they see my daughter as a person first, and a girl second.

 

Beach Rocks

We spent the last week of the year at a beach house in Bandon, OR with Benny’s family. It was stunning, and the rocks kept stopping me in my tracks, commanding my attention. I loved their shapes and texture. Some reminded us of buffalo.

When we got home I kept trying to paint them. None of them quite capture them perfectly, but it was fun to try.

 

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A Long Time Coming

Art has always been a part of my life in some form or another. I’ve always made time for art alongside work and school and relationships, and oftentimes I’ve blended art into the other aspects of my life so that it becomes not a separate category but just a way of being and seeing. I remember coming home after a day at college studying Symbolic Logic, Metaphysics, and US History, and diving into my box of collage materials and reveling in brilliant, nonsensical chaos. A few years ago I took on the challenge of creating a daily diary comic, which I did for ten months (see Blog Archive Feb 2011 to Oct 2011).

So imagine how I felt when, a few months after giving birth to my daughter, I sadly packed up most my art supplies and moved my art desk to the basement. We just didn’t have the space for it and honestly, I was having difficulty imagining a scenario in the future where I might have the time, energy, and inspiration to sit at my desk and create something.

But a few months ago we bought a house, and we have twice as much space as we did before. I was able to set up an art area again. Also, Mina has been going to bed earlier, around 8:30 instead of her old bed time of 11:00. So I have a few hours in the evening to paint.

  
  

During those 18 months when I wasn’t really making art, sometimes I would  fantasize about the art that I would make if I could. I always pictured bright, colorful paintings, messy but detailed, with some white space, with little to no outlines. It’s so satisfying to see them in front of me, coming to life through my brush, these creatures that have been waiting so long to arrive.

(Side note: This blog post was written on my iphone while I lay on the bed nursing my squirmy, teething toddler so that she could nap.)

 

The Day After Birth

Remember when, the day after giving birth 
you were summoned from your room 
and for the first time 
were away from your new baby, entrusting her 
into the capable and tender care of your husband? 

You pulled your bathrobe closed, giddily waved goodbye
and followed the woman up the wooden steps 
to a room where you undressed and lay on your side, closing 
your eyes and letting your raw, emptied, blown open body 
begin to heal. 

As you lay, breathing, swimming 
in the sensation of hands on skin 
molding muscle and shaping form, your exhausted mind 
drifted and dreamed 
seeing the image of your newborn in your arms, and your hands 
on her became her hands on you and you forgot yourself 
and imagined that you were that fresh, tender baby 
sleeping in your mother's arms, that you 
had suckled and dozed, tiny stomach full 
of that first golden milk, that these were your 
first pulls of air. 

You would surface 
from sleep, remember for a moment that no, you are the mother 
and your baby is downstairs, and you realize that this is the first 
of many moments 
where parent becomes child, child becomes parent-
she, beginning to stretch 
and unfurl her cramped limbs while you 
lay fetal and wrapped in a blanket, as if still tucked 
in the dark haven 
of your mother's young belly. 

One Year Later

It was July of last year. Mina was about two months old and I had her propped up on my sweaty, milk-stained nursing pillow, barnacled to my boob as she had been almost constantly since birth. Benny was crumpled next to me on our cat-clawed green velvet couch, said cat purring indignantly on his lap. Our house looked like several art/cooking/cleaning projects had been abandoned partway through and then kicked around for good measure. I’m sure I had a hungry, exhausted, bewildered look on my face because that’s how I looked for the first six months after giving birth. Looking for something to watch, we found an Aziz Ansari stand up comedy special, who we knew from watching Parks and Recreation. We watched for a bit, chuckling now and then, and then he came out with this bit:

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We forced out a few tense chuckles, and I could feel my cheeks get a little hot.”He’s right,” I thought. “What have we done?! We have this magical little creature in our lives now, but we don’t really have ‘lives’ in the same way anymore. We’ve basically sacrificed everything for the chance that reproducing will enrich our existence in some way. Did we make the right choice?”

Having a baby does seem to reverse every accomplishment you’ve ever attained. Oh, you’ve worked hard to stay physically fit and limber, and have a carefully chosen wardrobe that flatters your figure? Well, now your body is completely different, stiff and painful, flabby and deflated, and the only thing that fits you is sweatpants and your “oversize” shirts.

So you’ve finally got in the habit of washing dishes regularly, putting clothes away right when they come out of the dryer, keeping your documents filed, bills paid, emails responded to, groceries shopped for, yard maintained? Well, now there’s no chance of keeping up on all that stuff. All you can do now is sit trapped under a nursing baby and look around your disheveled house, attempting to clean and organize it with your mind.

You finally found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with and you’ve put time and energy into building a healthy, fun, sexually satisfying relationship? Well, sorry, you won’t see him at all anymore except for a few hours in the evening and maybe a bit on the weekends. You certainly won’t have time to talk about anything besides whose turn it is to get the baby to sleep and what takeout you should order, and if you’re cosleeping forget about spooning. Also forget about sex, especially if your lady parts are still healing from childbirth, which will take much longer than anyone implies.

But now that it’s been a year, I feel a little differently. Not that I disagree with Aziz now, in fact, his words seem even more true, but I have a certain defiant pride instead of sheepish embarrassment. The thing is, when I think back to when I was deciding whether or not to have a kid, I remember that one of the reasons to go for it was that I was bored. What I mean is, I felt like I had pretty much figured out how to do things and I had reached a plateau. I had stopped growing and learning and I wanted to tackle a new project, something BIG that would challenge me and take me beyond the limits of my current capacities. That could mean a few things: I could travel to a foreign country, I could dive into some kind of artistic pursuit, I could take on a physical challenge like a long bike trip, or I could become a mother. Even now I’m not sure what it was that made me choose the last option, because the others sound pretty tempting too. I think partly it was because it was the only thing that, once I had started the journey, there was no going back. All my life I have enjoyed quitting things once they’re no longer fun, but here was one thing I did not have the luxury of quitting. I would be forced to follow this thing through to its conclusion, which meant the likelihood of my complete and utter transformation would be 100%.

I can honestly say that nothing in my life is the same as it was 13 months ago. But I wouldn’t say it was “destroyed”, even though I agreed with Aziz when I heard his views on parenting. I would say that every aspect of my life got turned sideways, upside down, inside out; still there but facing a different direction. Some things that are very important to me (alone time, sleep, art) were almost nonexistent during that first year, but now that I’m slowly starting to get some of that back, an interesting thing is happening: those things have taken on a heavenly glow, and I savor every bit of delicious morsel that I can get. I can do way more in an hour than I could’ve done in a whole day pre-baby. Time is precious, and I can’t squander it anymore. I’ve felt every minute of this past year; I think because I’m living life consciously again.

I also get how hard it is to hold onto yourself after becoming a parent. It’s hard to maintain a sense of self separate from this little being who is dependent on you, to remember that you are also an artist, you are also a musician, you are also a writer, you are also a woman. But because it’s so easy to lose that, it makes me want to hang on so much tighter. It makes me want to root for myself, to pull myself out of the swamp and rub her shoulders, hand her a paintbrush, tune up her guitar. That’s something I realized early on: taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for your child. However, knowing that and living it are two different things.

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