Be A Baby


One week ago I landed my dream job. After years of thinking about going to hair school, and then actually going to hair school, and then passing the licensing test, I got an interview at my top choice of salons in the city and was hired after performing a “technical”- basically a hair audition where I had to demonstrate my knowledge of some different services on actual people. Great! This is all happening! Just like I planned! Incredible! And then I thought, Oh shit, here we go… 

I had one brief day of training where I just met the manager and we chatted about hair products and whatever else. The next day I had my first real shift. I had mentioned to my manager that color and bleaching services were my weak area and he promised he’d just have me do haircuts for the first few weeks until I learned more about color. So imagine my surprise when my one client for the day was booked as a “bleach/tone/haircut/style.” Way to kick things off. My client walked in, a tall and spindly man in his 40’s with shoulder length bleach blond wavy hair with about five inches of grow out. With the discreet help of one of my coworkers, I mixed up some bleach and painted his roots. After that processed I washed it out, toned it to a pale silver, gave him a trim and some layers, dried it, and flat ironed it as per request. He was out of there in three hours, glamourous and satisfied. Afterwards I felt wrecked but proud, amazed at myself. I had not for a moment let myself dwell on the possibility of failure and it was only later that I realized that I had actually never done that particular service before at school. I felt extremely lucky that it had gone well. 

The next day I got to work and looked at the schedule. I had six clients for the day- one long cut and five short cuts. Phew! No color. The long cut was tricky because her hair was very long, thick, and tangled and I spent about 20 minutes detangling it. I had to be fast because I had one hour to cut her hair and then my next client was coming in. I finally managed to brush it, trim it, throw some layers in it with my feather razor, and blow dry it before my next client. 

Next up was a nice older man whose wife had been pressuring him to get a haircut before their vacation. After his haircut I had five minutes before my next client, a man who was pleasant but nit picky about his hair because it was thinning on top and he was about to leave for a friend’s wedding. Next I had an 11 year old boy who told me he wanted his hair short all over but leave some bangs, which I thought was weird because he had a very short forehead. I kept looking to his dad on the bench for input, who was completely uninvolved. When I was done his dad looked at him and all he said was, “You sure you want your sideburns like that?” 

My next client was a tall man in his 30’s with thick sandy hair. I had to have him slouch so that I could cut the hair on top of his head. My arms were tired from having to reach so high. My last client of the day was a guy who had a buzz cut on the back and sides and about nine inches of hair on top. He just wanted me to shave the short parts and take about half the length off the top- easy. But when he asked me to put in a clean part with my trimmers (in a U shape!) I hesitated then said, “Honestly I’m pretty new at this and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it perfectly, and I really don’t want to screw up your hair.” He said, “Oh…ok. Thanks.” 

Every haircut I’d done that day, I felt like I was making it up as I went along and I was truly surprised each time when it turned out looking okay. It seemed like I’d been blessed with some amazing luck that might run out at any moment. Driving home that night through the wild streets of NW Portland and speeding along rushing freeways, I felt lonely and disoriented, homesick, thinking how incredible it was that at the end of my journey there was a sweet warm family waiting for me. 

Yes, I felt proud of myself for getting through a challenging day but the bigger feeling was one of doubt, of inadequacy. I knew I had done a decent job, of course it was hard- it was only my second day. But I couldn’t shake the nauseating feeling of being not good enough. I felt like I was cowering in the giant wave of all the years of practice that it’s going to take to feel like I have a handle on this. 

I don’t have good tools yet, just the basic stuff they give you in school. I’m not tall enough to cut hair comfortably, I have to strain and tiptoe through every cut. I’m older than my coworkers and yet have so much more to learn. And most of all, this isn’t school anymore. It’s not a delightful surprise that I have some talent- it’s expected. I have an intuitive sense about hair but my technique is still so lacking, especially because a lot of what I learned in school is not how it’s done in salons. 

I felt seized by a sickening dread, the thought that I was going to have to go back there the next day and do it all over again. But this is my dream job, this is what I’ve been striving for all these years. It’s finally here! So why am I filled with dread? Suddenly I realized, it’s because I want this so much that I’m dreading it. Because I know I have to continue, I have to go through with it, no matter how uncomfortable it is. In the past, starting a new job has always been difficult but I have a mantra I can usually fall back on to lessen the anxiety: “This doesn’t really matter to me.” There’s always a nice little buffer of detachment, keeping my real self slightly separate so that I don’t have to care too much. I noticed myself start to do that with this job and I had to stop and say, “Uh oh. This does matter to me. I do care about it. I have to, hokey pokey style, put my whole self in.” This is a hard thing, and I can’t not do it. I have to follow through. 

And then I realized that people all over the world since the dawn of humanity have had to face this, often to a much more drastic degree. The Native American going through a coming of age ritual. The actor starring in his first stage play. The doctor performing her first surgery. The new kid starting Freshman year in a different country. The professor teaching her first college course. Your education and training can often take you only so far, after that you just have to take the leap and embrace the crushing discomfort at being a beginner, at the bottom with so much mountain to climb. 

After two days at my dream job I felt so envious of my past self, the one who just worked at Guero and spent time with her family and barely left her neighborhood. “Why would I ever leave that comfort to pursue this difficult thing??” I couldn’t imagine. Oh yeah, because I love it. Because I want to grow. Because part of being an alive human is pursuing challenges, strengthening the weak parts of yourself. Is that what they call “grit”? That ability to get through something tough, to come out stronger and smarter. To know that it will get easier. To realize that it’s the most cowardly part of you that resists growth and change- the fear of the unknown stiffening your reach, slowing your feet, closing your eyes. 

Then I heard another voice gradually become louder. “How cool, you don’t know that much! That means you get to learn all this new stuff! That means you get to experience that amazing feeling of growing and changing every day of your life! That means your senses are alert and you get to stay young and you won’t get all dry and stale from not taking any risks! Savor the tender, raw delicacy of it! Savor your ignorance, your fresh wonder! The world is cracking open for you, let it crack you with it! Be broken! Be lost! Don’t be in such a hurry to find yourself! Be curious! Be unpredictable! Be open to possibility! We’re all babies in some way or another! Be a baby! Be proud to be a baby!” This is what the wise old Buddhist in me shouts. 

89 Collages

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March 22, 2020. It was a week since I’d lost my job at Guero. Five days since my school had closed. Two days since Mina’s school closed. I felt stunned, disoriented, reeling. After seven months of being incredibly busy in a tiring but fulfilling kind of way, steadily plowing my way through Cosmetology school to get my haircutting license and working two to three days a week, I was suddenly back to being a stay at home mom. But this time it was much more challenging because, 1. Even during my stay at home mom years I’ve always had a part time job that I can escape to, 2. No libraries, 3. No playgrounds, 4. No OMSI or Children’s Museum, 5. No trips, apparently? and 6. NO PLAYDATES!!! I was trapped at home with my kid, indefinitely, with nowhere to go. How long was this going to last?? Why hadn’t I made her some siblings?? Why did we not have a backyard??

I knew that now my days would be now be filled with Mina: playing with her, reading to her, coming up with craft projects, taking her to the park (but dear god, not the playground), building with Legos, getting something educational in there somewhere- and then just regular stuff like making meals, housework, and other chores. I knew I was going to need something to keep my independent, creative self alive.

I had already been thinking about doing a collage a day since I spent February committing to a write-every-day challenge. I wondered if I could still find time to write if I was doing a collage a day, and it seemed unlikely that I could do both, with my busy schedule. But now that I was quarantined it seemed a good a time as any to start a creative endeavor.

I decided to make it real easy on myself. I chose a small spiral bound sketchbook to make collages in. I kept a cardboard box filled with scraps and magazines, tape and glue, by the kitchen table. “I will make a collage every day until quarantine is over,” I said to myself. And I began.

3.22.20

I found that I tended to do my collage in the late morning, in the hour before lunch. After Mina and I had played or read books for a few hours, we would get dressed and then have art time. I tried to include Mina on the first few collage sessions but she lost interest pretty quickly. I decided that my collage time could be her educational video time. I made this collage while she was watching a video on tornados. I included the line, “even whole houses can get blown away.”

3.27.20I wasn’t trying to make collage about the experience of being quarantined during a pandemic, but sometimes my reality was very evident in the finished piece.

3.31.20

Sometimes I would create a collage that I consider a “breakthrough” piece. These would happen when I was in a specific state of mind. I had to be relaxed, open, aware. I had to be willing to be patient with it, letting it come together in the right way when it was ready. This one I made when I was alone in the room, Mina and Benny playing video games upstairs. That was when I knew I couldn’t do these collages with my family around me; I needed to remove myself for the hour I was making art.

4.4.20

But apparently it took me almost another week to take action. This was the first collage I made at my art desk, with the specific intention of staying there, focused and uninterrupted, until I was done. Sometimes I would get help watching Mina from my mom or from Benny who by this time was working from home. So I was able to extract myself and say, “I’m going to go make my collage. Bye!”

 

4.10.20

8306BE1E-09E1-4793-9496-93886BA88A72Collage became my meditation. For one hour a day I would commit to be being present with shapes and color and images, and present with myself. I would listen to the subtlest of impulses, connect deep in the hopes of making something true. I would turn off my thinking by listening to a podcast, keeping my left brain occupied. I would dip down into my subconscious.

This is another one that I consider a breakthrough piece. I had been looking for how to make a collage simpler, with less elements, and still feel complete. This one felt like it was on another level. By using the discarded element from a previous collage, I had created an external frame and also an internal frame using negative space. This one also has an echo of another technique I discovered later on- collaging on top of photos.

4.14.20

 

Breakthroughs were rare, though. Most days my collages came out fine- not great, not bad. Not that I was necessarily in it to make “good” art, because I don’t even know what that means, but I was looking for something specific in the process and outcome- I was searching for harmony between elements, evidence that I had been present with the art and in touch with my intuition. Once in a while I made a collage that I almost hated, the result of feeling rushed or uninspired. This is my least favorite collage. I almost can’t even look at it.

7B3B20BC-0C26-4B9C-9312-BD58C8A2788DThis is another one that clearly conveys how I was feeling at the time without specifically intending to. I felt lonely, missing friends, sensing that other people were getting together for “distance hangs” but I was home with my family like always.

4.20.20I kept looking for ways to make the collages simpler. I had started following other collage artists on Instagram and I noticed I was drawn to collages with a lot of space. Minimalism. I wanted to let it breathe, be calm and gentle. 4.27.20This one is one of my favorites. It was one of the few where I started out with an image in my head, of a hand reaching out and zapping something. I’d had sort of an electrifying day and it came out in the collage. What a thrilling moment when I was flipping through my magazines looking for the right kind of hand and there it was. I almost never look for a specific image. 5.2.20I’m not sure what led me to this impulse but one day I grabbed one of the old black and white photos I have in my scrap box and decided to collage over it. I’ve had these photos around forever and they always seemed too special to use. On this day I thought, “to hell with it. You’re going in.” I also kept getting a mental picture of a wrapped up package, something bundled and contained. I kept thinking about a pen pal my mom used to have when I was a teenager, who would send incredible collaged mail art, covered in green tape and string and had packages contained inside other packages to the point where unwrapping it was a long and strange process.

5.8.20This one was fun. It was so gratifying to make a teeny tiny collage- it’s only about 2 by 3 inches. And then I had some nice little scraps left over. 5.10.20One of my favorites in the photo series. The colors have kind of a tropical feel to them. Silent and bold is an interesting combination. 5.17.20Back to the impulse to wrap something up, mail art style. There’s still a photo in there behind everything. After thinking more about this desire to package something, I realized there is some symbolism there- in quarantine, you’re contained, enclosed, your edges defined. And of course packages are even more a thing these days- getting your groceries delivered, buying things you need online, and hopefully, exchanging letters with friends. 5.21.20This is the house where Walt Whitman grew up. I like the earthy colors in this one. 5.26.20I had a little trouble covering up the woman’s face in this photo, so I compromised by letting her body show. I like how when her face is covered her body becomes almost an abstract shape. For a while I was just using the photo technique for the purpose of having a frame, a focal point. But at this point I started using more of the photo image.  5.31.20Then came George Floyd and the wave of protests against police violence and systemic racism. These issues were on my mind when I made these collages.

118B8E99-0A05-4073-8C20-915DD1E4ABE66.26.20On June first my hair school reopened, with many new guidelines and restrictions. I started going back to school three days a week. By that point I had been making a daily collage for ten weeks. Quarantine still wasn’t over so it didn’t feel right to end the project but I decided to cut down to four collages a week, one for every day I wasn’t in school. My new vow was, “I will keep making collages until it no longer feels necessary.” 7.4.20Lately I’ve been doing one of my favorite things- making a big collage and cutting it up into smaller collages. I wanted to make some postcards to mail to friends so I did this one day and then couldn’t stop. It felt like a relief, after all that careful arranging of images in a harmonious composition, to just glue everything down haphazardly and then cut it up into satisfying and simple mini collages. 7.5.20This is the most recent one I’ve made. 7.12.20All my life art has been a fun hobby; this was the first time I felt like art really saved me. My daily collage practice has been a life raft and an anchor- keeping me above water and also tethering me to a spot so I don’t float away. In such a time of shifting realities and ever changing facts, explosive change and toppling systems, I needed this one consistent thing. A small chunk of time that I could look forward to every day, a space that was just mine, where I didn’t need to do anything but flip through magazines, cut out pictures, glue, tape, paint, breathe. And then sharing the image online made me feel somewhat connected to others, in a time when I felt so distant.

My collage practice has been feeling less necessary. I have places to be now, reasons to be outside the house and interacting with people other than my family. Times are still chaotic and uncertain, but I’m feeling the pull towards something else to keep me well- after all this sitting still my body wants to move. I need to make more time for yoga and exercise, so that will be my new phase of daily practice.

You can see all the collages on my website Serra’s Art Site  Click on the tab titled Collages.

My Collage Secrets

I love a good daily creative practice. I recently started a daily collage challenge, to continue until the end of quarantine. It’s only the fourth day, but I already feel like my love of collage has been rekindled. And as I was making these I realized that I’ve been a collage artist since childhood and in these past 30 years I’ve accumulated a good mix of techniques and tips for getting the most out of a collage experience. And I’d love to share those with ya’ll!

Paint the background first. This is one way to just get started and defeat the intimidating blank page. You might end up covering the whole background with your collage or it might show through.

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Draw a shape, then collage inside of it. This is a relaxing way to collage, it’s like coloring in a coloring book. Just fill the shape, la la la. It can produce some surprising results. It’s also satisfying to see the chaos contained in this way.

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Cut something out, then flip it. Displays a predictable form in a surprising and surreal way.

Layering. I would argue that layering is essential to collage. Ways to do this are using translucent paper or transparencies, tissue paper, netting, watered down paint, etc. My favorite technique is using (usually white) watercolor or watery acrylic paint on top of the collage when I’m done, allowing some images to come through more vivid, and some more subdued. It also gives the whole shebang a nice cohesiveness. It really ties the room together.

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Try different ways of cutting. Fringe, weaving, confetti, open a window.

Find your focus, then work around it. Find one image that speaks to you, that you know is a necessary component. Let everything else support it.

Find a starting point, then discard it. Sometimes an image pulls you in and then later becomes unnecessary. Nothing is sacred. Let it fall away if it’s holding you back.

Consider your composition. Pretend you are a chef in a fancy restaurant. The plating is as important as the flavor of the meal. Make it exquisite.

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Images of people and text: use with caution. A person or a sentence included in your collage can be distracting. It can become the focus and overwhelm the overall feel and meaning of the collage. Since I gravitate towards abstract collage, I don’t want to be telling the viewer what it’s about. I want it to be open to interpretation. Which leads me to:

Try not to “say something” with your collage. Let it speak to you. Your collage will show you what it’s about, if anything. When you’re stuck, ask the collage what it needs. Usually it will tell you.

Stay connected to your intuition. Wait for that internal click that lets you know things are how to want them. Listen for the “no, no, no, no, YES.”

Don’t just look for images. Also collect colors, textures, words, shapes.

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When you do choose an image, don’t always cut along its outline. You can also just use a piece of the image.

Let it breathe. Allow for space.

Use a variety of materials. Go beyond magazine pages and use different kinds of paper, pages from old books, discarded art, photos, scraps, trash.

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Places to get good materials: thrift stores, used bookstores, re-use stores like SCRAP, yard sales. My favorite resource is old National Geographics, especially ones from 1930-1970. These can be hard to find and expensive, but they’re collage gold.

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You may have impulses you don’t understand or even agree with. Go with it. Let it be weird. Let it be ugly, uncomfortable, let it be beautiful. Try not to get in the way.

 

Okay! Now I want to show you my process for the collage I did today:

Here’s the page I started with. I painted this on a different day so it was already dry.

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I was really drawn to this page of the blurry pink stuff, so I cut a few shapes from it to see how it looked against the background.

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Since I had some woven pieces I’d made for this demo, I tossed that on to see how I liked it.

IMG-8445Pretty cool! But it was getting pretty geometric and sharp. I need something round in there to balance it out.

IMG-8446Not bad, not bad. But not quite there yet. Suddenly, I came across this nest.

IMG-8447Oh yeahhhhh. That felt really right. Plus the woven sticks in the nest paralleled the woven collage bits. I’m cookin now.

Once you have things more or less how you want them, start gluing. Don’t wait until things are perfect to glue because you’re going to have to disrupt everything anyway to get the glue underneath.

IMG-8448After I glued it down I went over it with some subtle blotches of watercolor, and of course some splatter paint because why not.

IMG-8451A couple of final touches and it’s done. I often like to add fragmented words that you can barely read, I think it adds a nice texture.

IMG-8456And there it is. I think I spent maybe 30 minutes on this one. Quick and easy. I don’t usually name my collages but I named this one “Exploding Nest.”

Well, I hope this inspired you to get into collage!

A Month of Writing Practice

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One month ago I vowed two things: I would not look at social media for a month and I would write everyday.  I did this because of Austin Kleon’s “29 Day Challenge” for February. Austin Kleon is an artist and author of some great books, including “Steal Like An Artist” and “Keep Going.” My mom printed out four copies of the chart and we all chose a thing we would do for every day of February.

I knew immediately that I wanted to give up Facebook and Instagram for a month. I don’t like the way that I compulsively check my phone and sometimes spend more time than I want to mindlessly scrolling. I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t have a reason to spend a lot of time on my phone. But I also knew I didn’t want to just take something away; I needed to add something too. I was struggling with writing a memoir and I was only sitting down once a week or two to tackle it. I decided to choose writing to replace my phone addiction.

I don’t have a lot of time in my day so I realized I would have to make some time to write. I often fall asleep when I’m putting Mina to bed at 9:00 so I decided to wake up at 5:00 every morning (except for twice a week when I work late the night before). That gave me almost two extra hours a day.

I predicted that I would write more, read more, be more present, feel more grounded and alive. That all came true but to an even deeper extent than I expected. I also thought I would stop wanting to check social media about two weeks in. I was wrong- I never lost my urge to check Instagram and often I would pick up my phone to check my email and then I would just Google dumb stuff or look up images of cute celebrities. Apparently there’s a part of me that just needs a mindless escape. I wish that weren’t the case. I was surprised that I still spent some much time on my phone even when there was nothing to do on it.

Another thing that surprised me was how much I wrote. I gave myself permission to only write one sentence if I didn’t have time that day or if I was feeling uninspired. But writing every day became its own addiction and I always had a lot to write. After a week I started to effortlessly fill pages when at first I would lose steam after a paragraph or two. The act of writing, of spending regular time with my journal in the quiet of the morning, was satisfying in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

Here are some excerpts from my journal during that month.

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2.3.20

A girl walks by in a long hot pink coat, sleeping bag-like, with yellow hoodie underneath, tote bag and blond hair piled in a bun on top of her head. I think, maybe someday I can wear my hair like that. I’m starting to make the movement of tucking my hair behind my ears. 

2.4.20

Woke up early this morning and read “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp where she talks about routine and daily practice. I miss social media but also not. Without it there’s a lot more time in my day. 

The other day at work Ben picked me up, just lifted me into the air when I went in for a hand shake, he moved towards me and swooped under my arm and I was up above everything, surprising me and him in a way that felt like a tear in the space time continuum, like a portal to another reality had opened. I didn’t realize it was a possibility to be picked up like that. I don’t think it’s ever happened to me before. 

2.3.20

Opening the curtains this morning with Mina she looks outside at the dark and gray rain (how it’s been for the last few months) and exclaims, “A beautiful summer day!” “Indeed!” I reply. “Not a cloud in the sky!” And we both collapse with laughter. 

2.7.20

I was talking to Emma last night at work about writing my memoir and I said how it’s been hard to write anything of apparent value. I said I feel like I have to have some new experiences to help me connect with the old memories. When I sit down at the computer and try to write with my brain it just feels flat and dry- I need to get moving, be outside, be in touch with my senses. I don’t want my brain to write the memoir, 

“I want my body to write it, through my brain.”

She looked a little confused when I said that but it struck me that, that’s it. That’s what I want to do, whatever that means. 

I picture myself alone in the woods for a week, maybe in a cabin by the coast. Hiking every day, drinking fresh stream water, eating wild mint, scribbling nonsense. 

Or walking the bouldered hills around Ramona, inhaling sage and dust, getting scraped up by scrub oak, remembering the land I grew up on. 

Or spending a day by the creek in Chico, watching the emerald water glide over stones and feeling the life I lived there. 

Jumping into a mosh pit, playing the songs I wrote as a teenager, walking the streets of SF, Seattle, San Diego, Eugene. 

The body remembers what the mind forgets. 

2.8.20

I feel juicy with energy from the past. Last night I found myself playing old songs I wrote on the guitar: Mr. Friday Night, Vintage Life, Plum Folly, etc. At The Station, which always makes Benny tear up. 

Today I just want to bust out old journals, type up excerpts. I’m always unsure how to use journals, whether to take directly from them or just as a trigger, a prompt, a fact checker. 

2.10.20

I like this, this writing every day. Scarfing down broccoli pasta after yoga and Zumba, felt so good on my body. When I exercise I often think of it as time away from my real priorities, art and writing and music- but I thought today of how I want to move my body as a way of reconnecting to the past, a way of tuning in to the writing. Taking care of my body serves the art. 

I feel relaxed, centered, clean, fresh, open to deep breaths. The sun is out. Spring seems close by. 

I observed the feet of the man in front of me in yoga. He was about 60. His feet were clean, smooth, dry. His skin had that shiny quality that I recognize from my mom’s feet, maybe’ dad’s too. Worn smooth from age and use, like a river stone. 

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2.11.20

Sitting by the fire, cold feet, dressed in black, full of Thai food. Mina humming “Eleanor Rigby.” Benny making a buck-toothed LEGO creature. Reading Twyla Tharp I’m jealous of her commitment to creativity and the assuredness in her life’s work. Her willingness to work tirelessly. 

2.12.20

My early morning time was a bit thwarted today- I had a bad dream, the first one in a while, the kind that make you jolt awake and your whole body is tingling. My mind dwelled on it for a while until my silent 5:00 am alarm went off (just vibration) and as I reached to turn it off I saw Mina’s little head up and looking for me, she had had a bad dream too. 

I cuddled her and told her a story of a beautiful baby dragon who could sing and the five year old girl who befriended her. She fell back asleep but just as I was about to get up Mochi strutted into the room yowling, stepped all over Mina and stood on my stomach. Eventually I got up and it’s worth it for this, just these few previous minutes. 

I keep wondering how to make the memoir smaller and more manageable, or how to give it a “spine,” as Twyla says. An original driving idea that you can come back to when you feel lost. Not the story, not the theme, but the secret scaffolding that gave it its original structure. 

I keep thinking I need a retreat, time away from my real life to loosen up my brain and get weird. I kind of want “get weird” to be the motto of writing this memoir, since Jenny Slate’s weird writing was what inspired me. She was in my dream the other night- she had the same wallet as me, the vintage green one with the gold clasp. I thought it was an amazing coincidence, she didn’t think it was that unusual. What is a wallet? A way to carry your richness, what’s important to you. I thought mine was unique and original, she knew it wasn’t. 

2.13.20

I slept hard last night, as if drugged. Lots of dreams. It was difficult to get up but I did after a couple hits of the snooze. 

Yesterday I sent an email to old friends (Amy, Diana, Tyana, Emma, Cadence, Thomas) inviting them to a virtual writing group. I think that will help me with getting to some good stuff. We will write one 15 minute prompt per week and do short responses. 

2.16.20

Hard to wake up this morning, my silent alarm was going off for a while before I heard it. I was dreaming of a dark wooden saloon, drunken men, guns, sex, a race for the bounty. A man named Loyal who was tricking them all by offering free drinks so he could find the money. 

But even when I have trouble getting up I still do because I love this so much. This quiet alone time. 

Fridge humming, green tea, the fire dancing behind glass, robe, slippers. I didn’t write in here yesterday but I did write a page of guidelines for the writing group that will start Monday. So far Amy and Cadence are for sure in, the others are less responsive but still interested I think. 

2.18.20

Had a dream the other night that I was taking care of someone’s baby. I took it to a tattoo shop and got it a neck tattoo- a pair of fanged jaws with the word FANGZ (our friend Alex’s artist persona). Immediately after I was horrified at what I’d done. Now this baby was going to have an ugly neck tattoo her whole life! When the mom returned she was appalled. “Is this a real tattoo?!” “Yes, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.” 

Later in the dream I was getting a back tattoo, a huge pastel colored skull, delicately shaded with a lot of detail. Mark Ryden comes to mind. The tattoo artist said it should have some kind of phrase or mantra with it but we couldn’t think of one. 

“Maybe you could just put ‘Party on Wayne’ and ‘Party on Garth’ somewhere in there,” I told her. 

Why these vivid tattoo dreams? A tattoo is a permanent mark, a label, a visual manifesto of one’s identity. I labeled a baby (new life, project, endeavor, adventure) but it wasn’t mine to label. My own tattoo was bigger than expected, beautiful. I was worried about the cost. I didn’t know if I wanted words with it. Funny, since I’m so into words these days. 

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2.20.20

Wow. Been reading this incredible book called “The Wander Society.” All about a group of people who have made wandering a kind of spiritual practice, a way to be present and aware and open to the magic of all things. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about with my writing- I keep feeling like I need to get up and move, be outside, connect to nature, and that will lead me to insights about my writing. I had the sense that if I get more in touch with the present it will help me write about the past. 

I’m honestly not quite sure how to fit more wandering into my life but now that I’m aware of it I can look for spaces in my day to wander. In the book they say you can even wander sitting still because it’s more of a mindset, an openness, an observational quality. They encourage you to allow yourself to be bored. This also coincides with my efforts to use my phone less. 

I might have some time to wander today. I’m skipping school to go to a haircut demo hosted by Bishops. So maybe I’ll get to that neighborhood early (Alberta) and wander around. 

Windy outside- it will be another sunny windy day. I breathe deep, feeling alive. I can already feel my feet moving, my blood pumping. Wandering gives you a reason to explore a street, a meadow, a bookstore. Sometimes I feel pulled to a place but think, I have no reason to be there. Now I do have a reason- to explore, to be curious, to be open, stray. 

(Later, same day)

I’m at Proud Mary, a brunch spot on Alberta, a beautiful open space with cement, wood, plants, skylights, rough-textured ceramic bowls. I just ordered a cappuccino and sardine toast. The cappuccino is thick and bitter and incredible. 

On the way here I listened to a This American Life episode on delight and it blew my mind in a similar way as the Wander Society book. There is a man who spent a year searching for delight, chronicled his daily delights, studied delight, went deep into his own delights and what delights him. 

I thought, I could combine wandering with a mission to find delight, be open to whatever might delight me, and take note of it. Almost immediately I was delighted by several things:

A restaurant on Killingsworth called Ole Frijole, a concrete building painted an electric, sizzling red orange, intensified by the bright sun and blue sky behind it. 

And on Alberta, a person crossing the street dressed entirely in yellow, even pale yellow round glasses, taking pictures of a bus stop. 

And an adorable tiny pale green cottage by a bar. I tried to figure out what it was and all I saw was a sign in the window advertising Portland made kilts!

I love the idea of always being ready to notice, appreciate, welcome delight. I think sometimes I allow a flicker of delight but quickly move past it. I’d like to practice savoring delight, lingering in it. Feel deserving of it. 

When my food came I closed my journal, I didn’t pull out my phone or a book. I was fully present with my meal, taking in the environment, eavesdropping on conversations. Being present and open and grateful is a state that’s been missing from my life for a while. It feels like my natural state, who I really am, and I’m happy to be finding my way back. 

2.21.20

My wandering experiment turned out great. I felt so open and alive, allowing myself to be pulled by this or that, going into shops not to shop but to see what I might discover. I was more talkative with strangers, made more eye contact. Gave $1 to a woman who asked me if I could help her get something to eat. Signed someone’s petition. Let my gaze linger, paid attention to background music, let things be symbols. It was like I was in a new city, interested in everything. Or on mushrooms, open and ready for anything, ready to be affected, enlightened. I was vibrating. When I got to work Charlotte asked me how my day was and I said, “Oh my god. I had such a good day I feel like I’m on another level of consciousness.” 

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2.23.20

I have to tell you, twice lately I’ve been stunned by my own beauty. The other day when I was taking myself out to brunch and I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and then yesterday in the bathroom at school. My longer hair is just gorgeous- I love the curly wild texture, the darkness of it with hints of silver, the way it frames my face. And my face looked flushed, awake, sparkly, strong, mature, alive. My skin is healthy and pink. This has been a somewhat transformative month for me in general. 

2.25.20 

Yesterday when I walked Mina to school we tried to spot signs of Spring. “Daffodills! Sign of Spring!” “Cherry blossoms! Sign of Spring!” And then of course she made it funny- “Trash on the ground! Sign of Spring!” “Dog barking! Sign of Spring!” 

2.29.20

Hi, it’s me. I’m here. It’s dark and quiet early morning and there’s Mochi purring on my lap and I hear a little rain outside. This is my last day of the write-every-day challenge and I know I will continue. But I can allow space for other things like visual art. 

I feel tired, internally windswept. When my alarm went off at 5 I set a new one for 6 and tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. 

Wind makes the house crack. Mochi gets up. I don’t know what else to write. It’s probably time for another wander soon, somehow. 

Hi, it’s me. I’m here. My eyes feel dry and bleary. My neck and shoulders are sore from 45 degree haircuts and shaking cocktails. 

I’m here and I’ll keep being here, I’ll keep showing up. I’ve begun the long process of re-meeting myself, re-committing to a creative life. I have this, I have my mornings, I have my journal and my writing group and my wander society. Every day I will try to show up for myself however I can. I know that it pays off, I know that I need this. Even if it’s just to sit here in the still-dark and hear the sound of my own breath and say to myself, “Hi, hello. It’s me.” 

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The Year We Grew Up

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It was a snowy Friday in February early this year, Mina had preschool that morning and Benny picked her up. He was unemployed after six years of working on stop-motion movies at Laika and was the main stay at home parent, receiving $400 a week in unemployment checks. That combined with my income from working four days a week at Guero was enough to live comfortably, and we’d been living that way for about nine months. By our calculations we still had three more months of unemployment checks, an amount of time that made us nervous but there was still hope of Benny finding something decent.

I was out running errands and found myself at Target picking out bedding for Mina, in hopes that if we made her bed more inviting it would be an incentive for her to actually sleep in it instead of with us in our bed. I selected a rainbow comforter and lightning bolt sheets and as I joked with the cashier I looked out the windows and admired the magical sight of falling snow. The snow is one reason I remember this scene so well; the other reason is because I was about to receive some shocking news- news that would make buying fun bedding seem terribly frivolous.

When I came home Benny approached me slowly in the living room. “My unemployment money has run out.” He was calm and serious when he told me and I responded calmly and slowly, letting it sink in. I waited for thoughts to come to me, options and ideas, and “okay then, we’ll just ____________.” They didn’t come. I didn’t know where to go from there. “Benny has no income.” The thought was on repeat. My stomach churned with panic. I felt like I was trapped against a wall, or falling down a hole.

I went to work. I felt so low and miserable and I couldn’t snap out of it. This was unusual for me- I’m so good at regulating my emotions, detaching or reasoning my way out of a bad feeling. I couldn’t do that with this, I couldn’t see any path out. We couldn’t just keep sitting around, waiting for Benny to be offered a job. We needed a plan, but what? Whenever we’re in a tough financial spot, Benny’s first thought is always, “We need to sell our house and get a cheaper place!” To me, making such a drastic move when you’re already on shaky ground seems crazy, but I didn’t know what else we could do. I started to think maybe he was right.

I got home late so Benny and I didn’t get a chance to talk. Moving through our dark and silent house I was struck with such gratitude and fondness for our home that offers us comfort and warmth and shelter. I was filled with sadness that maybe we would have to move out, unable to make the mortgage payments. Life at that moment seemed small and tight, locked up like my anxious chest. “Let us stay here please,” I found myself pleading in my  head.

I opened at work the next morning, still feeling sad and queasy. Mario asked me, as he always does, “Como estas?” (How are you?)

“Mas o menos,” I said with a half smile. (More or less, meaning “good and bad.”)

“Por que?” (Why?)

“No dinero.” (No money)

When I said this he simultaneously threw his hands in the air and rolled his eyes as if to say, “Is that all?!”

“Tienes salud!” he practically shouted at me. (You have your health!)

“Si,” I said. “Y, el nieve es bonita.” (Yes, and the snow is pretty.)

“Si,” he agreed. For some reason, Mario rolling his eyes at me was the first moment I started to feel some hope.

After work Benny and I had a good talk with my dad and he had some good advice, including the assurance that selling our house would be a terrible idea, and to try temp agencies. Benny got on that and I also applied to some jobs, thinking that if I could get another part time job that could help if he didn’t find anything. The following Monday he started hearing back from some temp agencies and was offered a job at Bob’s Red Mill, packing flour, graveyard shift. That was encouraging but we couldn’t see how that schedule was going to work. He would basically be unavailable 6pm-2pm every day, even on his days off if he wanted to maintain his sleep schedule. I heard back from Sugarpine Drive-In, a cute restaurant in Troutdale on the bank of the Sandy River. After an interview I was offered a part time job, two or three days a week. If I could have gotten more hours at Guero it would’ve been great, but they had no more hours to give me. But even if I worked full time Benny would still need a part time job and it would have to be flexible. He started looking into Lyft and also applied to the Postal Service.

Also at this time we were looking into grade schools for Mina who would be starting Kindergarten in the Fall. This meant researching schools and attending as many open houses as possible, registering and filling out paperwork. Also making sure Mina was up to date on her vaccinations and health check ups, vision and dental.

I started work at Sugarpine. Benny worked hard applying to jobs and going to interviews at places like Target and Fred Meyer. He was also doing one day manual labor temp jobs like unloading trucks. Every morning entailed logistics meeting with the three of us- Benny, me and my mom- coordinating childcare and transportation. Benny and I share a car so often he would need the car and my mom and I would coordinate the use of her car. Because of our ever changing schedules, each day was different and required different logistics. Everyone was stretched thin and stressed out, no one getting what they needed. These scheduling talk were torture to me and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t just use a car whenever I needed it. The Suburu used to be my personal car (the first and only car that I’ve ever claimed as just mine) but after Benny’s car was rear ended (and somehow deemed “totaled”) a couple years ago, it became our car. I started to feel resentful of how enmeshed and dependent our family network was becoming, even at the same time I was so grateful to my mom for her gracious assistance. I even invented a new word- scoobadoop– to use instead of the word ‘schedule’ because I just hated how that word sounded coming out of my mouth.

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Another factor was that it had been my plan for several years to start Cosmetology school as soon as Mina started Kindergarten. I couldn’t wait to start on this new career path that would mean moving away from food service and towards a craft that I was truly passionate about. But if Benny wasn’t working a full time, dependable, well paying job, could we even afford it? Starting school would mean me working less and having to make tuition payments. I stubbornly kept making steps towards it and hoped I wouldn’t have to further postpone my plans.

I also started to develop a new fear, a fear of being poor. I could clearly see a future where, instead of moving forward and upward- building a savings account, paying off debt, being able to take vacations, buying a second car- we take a downward route. I saw us both working low paying jobs, living in a shack in Gresham, toiling away for years without making much progress. My panic was very real and I expressed it by trapping Benny into little “pep talks” about dreaming big and taking this opportunity to “create” his own future as opposed to choosing from the available options. Benny never responded to these talks well as to him it sounded like I was being critical. I was trying so hard to be supportive but underneath it all I felt like he could be doing more, should have been doing more all along. When I found out his fellow Laika ex-coworkers were having just as much difficulty finding work I became a bit more accepting.

About a month after the unemployment ran out, Benny got a job with the Postal Service. We were all thrilled! We were so stoked that he got a solid, well paying job, and as a mailman! I quit Sugarpine but kept my four days at Guero. He went through a month of training, and then started routes. Unfortunately, the way it works is they put the new mail carriers in wherever they need coverage, which means you have no set schedule and no set route. Benny tried his best but kept getting feedback that he needed to move faster. But it’s hard to become efficient when every day is a new route. After a few weeks of this he came home dejected, telling me that he had been “forced to resign.” His mailman days were suddenly over.

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Through the temp agency, Benny found work bottling sauce at a factory for minimum wage, mostly sauces for Panda Express. The job entailed heaving forty pounds bags of sugar and other ingredients and emptying them into enormous vats. When he came home after work his boots always attracted ants which earned Benny the nickname “Daddy Sugar Shoes.” It was tiring work but not the worst because he had a boss who was appreciative and respectful, unlike his superiors at the postal service. He worked alongside some interesting characters, many who had spent some time in jail.

Our friend Pete was between living situations and was sleeping on our couch. We decided to offer him a room- Mina’s room- in order to bring in some more income. Mina wasn’t sleeping in her room anyway and, although it was a little sad to give it up, it was a great decision and has been a big help for us and for Pete.

Then we had a stroke of luck- Benny told our friend Alex that his mail carrier job hadn’t worked out and Alex mentioned that his full time nanny was quitting and would Benny be interested in a job doing childcare? Alex and his wife Amisa have two daughters- Mazzy, age four, and Trini, one year. Our daughter, Mina, and Mazzy get along great so we figured it was a good idea. Plus it meant that Benny could be on dad duty and be getting paid at the same time, meaning that Benny and I could both be working at the same time. Benny was a little wary about watching three kids at once, but since Mina and Mazzy keep each other busy, they kind of “cancel each other out” as Benny said.

The first week of his new gig went well. Sometimes he took Mina to their house, sometimes they dropped the kids at ours. The kids got along great together and Benny felt like he was getting the hang of it. Then he heard from Refuge, an animation and editing studio that he worked for briefly a couple years back. They needed him immediately for a project, but they couldn’t tell him how long the project would take but it would probably be a week. We sat down and had a scoobadoop talk about how this could work. We decided he should take the opportunity and I would step in to help out with the kids. We didn’t have time to give them notice to find someone else, plus we wanted to keep the gig for when Refuge work dried up. I remember saying I could help for a week, but Benny only remembers me saying I could help. What ended up happening is that Benny and I juggled the nannying job for a couple months.

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Usually Benny would go to work and the kids would get dropped off at our place around 9:00 am. I would watch the kids until 4:00, and which time Benny would come home and I would go to work at Guero until 11:00. Alex or Amisa would come pick their kids up around 5:00. Some days Benny had them all day, some days I had them all day. The fact that there were three kids meant that we couldn’t take any trips in the car. Most days we walked to the nearby park with Mina and Mazzy in a wagon and Trini in the carrier. My mom helped out a lot too, hanging with the big kids while I got Trini down for a nap or coming with us to the park.

On one hand it was great because it meant that for a couple months we had three incomes and we tucked quite a bit into savings. On the other hand, I was losing my sanity. One day I went to work and a coworker asked me casually how I was doing. “Pretty good,” I said, “except I’ve lost my will to live.” There was a day when I was on the verge of crying all day and it was also the day of a big storm. Pete said, “it looks like the sky wants to cry,” and I wished I could release everything with winds and rain and lightning and I felt jealous of the storm. When I got home Benny was still up and we had a good talk and I was able to cry. All these feelings of being trapped by circumstances, suddenly becoming a nanny in addition to being a mom and food service worker, feeling like I wasn’t making progress with my goals, like Benny will never have a solid career that enables us to be financially secure and plan for the future in any significant way. So weary of our shifting situations always, logistics always at the forefront and if we let up on it everything falls to chaos.

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Benny got home from Refuge one day in July and announced, “I got rolled off today,” which means no more work. I was caught off guard and all my feelings of prosperity that I’d been quietly cultivating threatened to just drop to the ground. We had savings but I wanted to hold onto it, keep it as a long term cushion. “What next?” I asked Benny and got a vague, tired response which frustrated me. “It’s your attitude that bothers me,” I told him. “You’re so passive, just waiting to hear back from people. I want to see some fire, some motivation, some kind of PLAN.”

And I realized soon after, what this is- he’s used to this uncertainty, he grew up with it. To him, this is normal. To me, it’s not normal so I feel panicked, wanting to fix it quickly and permanently. But this is common for Benny’s line of work, this might just be how things are now. We were lucky before. For so long I kept waiting for our troubles to be over, for things to go back to how they were. When I look back on the beginning of the year, I was so whiny and resentful, wanting my freedom, wanting to get away from my family and all the stress that being around them brought. I kept feeling like I was a teenager again, dying to get out of the house and be independent, but before I could do that I had to come up with a plan, run it by the family, work out car logistics, be back by a certain time. Measured freedom. But now I understand that my family is here to help me, they want the same things for me that I want for myself. We’re better at working together than we ever have been. Benny and I learned a lot about functioning as a team, and how to look at things from each other’s perspective and be appreciative of everything the other person is doing. I learned how to stop bitching about making decisions in a group, how to breathe, and do the next thing that needs to be done.

We gave up a lot during this year of survival. We passed up hangouts and parties, we didn’t really see family, we were as frugal as we could be, we kept our focus narrow and moved with purpose. But we still fit in a lot of good times- trips to the river, playdates in the park, berry picking, swimming at the pool, one camping trip, dates once in a while- life didn’t stop because things got challenging. I’m starting to realize that this is what real life is, and up until now I’ve had it pretty easy.

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We haven’t solved all our problems. We’ve made some progress on some things, Benny has lucked out with work through hopping around a variety of studios, and I was able to start Cosmetology school. Mina got into the school we were hoping for, and she loves Kindergarten. But Benny has some health stuff we’ve been looking into and medical bills are expensive. Our cat is close to death. But this year has helped me stay positive when everything isn’t perfect, to notice for a moment what’s going right and to treat those around me with kindness because we’re all going through hard stuff. I’ve learned to plan ahead and also to try not to freak out when tomorrow is such an unknown there’s no way to plan ahead. Keep moving through the fog, hoping elements will align in your favor, and influencing those elements whenever possible.

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote recently:

Eating a big, round, shining

pink apple I realize

what a lucky coincidence-

That this apple is perfectly ripe

and ready to eat

at the same exact time

I am ready to eat it.

 

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A Gorgeous Education

 

In two weeks I’m going back to school. Not a University, not Nursing school, not Art school. I’m going to Beauty School. Part of me still can’t quite believe it. Because on one level, that fact is not in sync with the person I am, or at least the person I’ve always thought I am. Even though I’ve been cutting hair for over 20 years. Even though I love cutting hair as a hobby and I’ve even starting charging for it. Even though my current idol is Jonathon Van Ness, the hair styling fairy godmother from Queer Eye. There’s a little voice in my head that sometimes whispers, “In a world that is literally crumbling, is that the best you could do? Is that truly your highest ambition? To become a hairdresser?”jvn2

The lovely Jonathan Van Ness

In 2008 I was 26 years old, working at a breakfast restaurant in Chico called The Sin of Cortez. It was a fun place to work, hip and edgy with Mexican inspired brunch and good coffee. Although I’d been a barista before, this was the first place where I had started to get good at latte art. I liked my coworkers and my boss (although the kitchen staff was a bit sketchy). A good multi-tasker, I knew I was well suited for this work, even on the weekdays when my job included hosting, cashiering, serving, and busing in addition to my barista position. But I remember one day when I vowed to myself (and to a nearby coworker) that this would be my last food service job.

My boyfriend (soon to be husband) and I were on the verge of moving to San Francisco to start a new life and see if we could make it somewhere else. I was excited about the move and saw it as a chance to pursue a different line of work. I had been working in mostly restaurants and coffee shops since I was 18, and it seemed time to move on. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be moving on to but I had always been an artist, musician, and a writer and I thought I could pursue those hobbies with more intensity and maybe something would come of it. My sweet boss at “The Sin” offered to write me a letter of recommendation to land a server or barista position in SF but I didn’t take her up on it. I was done with food service so I wouldn’t be needing it.

Once we moved to SF (cramming ourselves into a basement studio in a five floor apartment building in the “TenderNob” district) Benny immediately went to work at Cinematico, an animation studio he had connected with by a Computer Graphics Professor at Chico State. He was thrilled to be freshly graduated and already working a job in his field. Me, I graduated with a BA in Philosophy so I had no set path to follow, only some artistic interests and the ability to think critically about abstract ideas.

One month, two months, three months went by and I hadn’t found work. I knew I had to find something soon if we were going to make it. The rent for our cramped studio was more than the entire three bedroom house (with backyard and fireplace!) that we had been sharing with Benny’s friend and brother back in Chico. I don’t remember what kind of work I was even applying for, but it wasn’t long before I was darkening the doors of nearby coffee shops and restaurants. I applied to Peet’s Coffee and was hired at the 3rd and Mission shop.

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Tuesday Tie Day at Peet’s. Not sure why I was compelled to appear so demonic for this photo.

It turned out to be a great job. My coworkers were a rowdy, creative bunch who reminded me of my Drama class pals in High School. The pay was higher than I was used to, I got sick pay and vacation pay, and I enjoyed getting better at espresso drinks. But a part of me felt defeated- new city, same job. I remember once a younger coworker being surprised that I was 27. “I thought you were younger!” she said, and I snapped back in a sort of jokey way, “Oh, because I work at a coffee shop?” I was sensitive to the fact that I was in my late 20’s and still doing the same work as my first job. (My first job was a coffee shop called Pannikin down the street from my dad’s apartment in San Diego.) I was smart, creative, and had a good work ethic- why couldn’t I find a “real” job, something more grown up?

Along the way I made half-hearted attempts at my pursuit of more creative work. I applied to work as an arts and culture writer for The Guardian, a free weekly paper in SF. To do this I had to submit several examples of my work so I wrote a personal essay on folk music and attended a few art and music events and wrote reviews of them. I interned at an art gallery doing things like making the little title plaques that go next to the art and other things… I can’t really remember because that place was so unorganized and somewhat abusive (I got yelled at a couple times for doing things wrong when even though they were never clear about what I was supposed to be doing) that I was there for only a few weeks. After moving to Portland I tried two more internships. One was for a wedding magazine called Oregon Bride and my job was, incredibly, to feature a weekly pair of shoes and match them with a wedding venue (???). As someone who has never worn a pair of heels in her life, I was totally at a loss. My other internship was for a culture website called BePortland (“Don’t just live here- BE Portland”) where I had assignments to go to cultural events, music and art shows, plays, etc., take photos with my nice SLR camera, and after the show go home and compose a well written review/description and upload my edited photos. This was a pretty cool way to get to go to free shows and have an incentive to stay until the end (I had a bad habit of leaving shows before the headlining band because I was sleepy), plus it was rewarding to see my article posted on the website the next day. However, there were downsides to the internship (besides the big one of no pay) and I only lasted a summer.

“Well, I guess my only other option is to get a Master’s in Creative Writing and teach at a community college,” I said to myself. I was working the cheese counter at a specialty foods market when I started my first term at Portland State University, as a Postbaccalaureate since I hadn’t officially made it as a Grad student. I didn’t want to teach necessarily, but I liked writing and reading and knew I couldn’t count on making a living as a writer. Kinda funny that, after not finding meaningful work with a Philosophy degree, I decided that my fall back would be an English degree. I took three terms at PSU and enjoyed my time there until I discovered that there were a lot of flaws in the school system and I didn’t think I wanted to be part of that. Also, after reviewing my peers’ papers, I realized that being a writing teacher would mean reading a LOT of bad writing.

I quit PSU and instead took a 9 month course at the Independent Publishing and Resource Center (IPRC) on Comics. Prior to starting at PSU I had been committed to drawing a daily comic which I had managed to do for ten months until school and homework got in the way. I had missed comics and I wanted back in. “Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” I thought, and it was certainly a thrill to be assigned comics to read for homework and drawing exercises in class. I hadn’t taken many art classes at Chico State so it felt too good to be true.  At this time I was working at Lardo, a sandwich shop downtown.

The comics class was going really well and I started to wonder if it might become a career down the line. But one night the IPRC had a showing of Cartoon College, a documentary about comics and cartoonists. Many of them, even the big name cartoonists like Chris Ware and Lynda Barry, spelled it out very clearly: you cannot make a living as a cartoonist. That, and the terrible idea that I’d had to sell calendars featuring my drawings of Portland scenes (nobody bought them so I was $800 in the hole and had an embarrassing amount of them stacked around my house), cemented it for me. I would keep my creative life and my work life separate. As separate as possible.

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Aaaand then I had a baby. That solved everything. I’m joking, but I’m also kind of serious because it did, for several years make the whole question pretty pointless. My priorities became 1. Take care of this baby, 2. Make money however possible, and 3. Make art if there’s any time left. I had taken time off from Lardo, but a few months after giving birth I was back there a couple shifts a week. When Mina was three I started at another restaurant called Guero which was a big improvement. The people there feel more like family than coworkers, the food is delicious, the space is beautiful, and even the customers are lovely. However, most of my coworkers are younger than me, some even 15 years younger. And, as is the case for almost every restaurant worker everywhere, they’re just working there for now because they’re on their way to somewhere else to do what they really want to do. Food service jobs are a limbo zone, they’re a placeholder. Maybe that’s not so much the case in really nice restaurants, where serious chefs aspire to be. But in places where I work, people are always moving on to something better. I wonder what it would be like to work in a place where people are there on purpose, because it’s their dream, because they worked hard to get there.

I don’t want to be 40 years old and still in limbo. So I’m moving on too. Maybe it’s not the biggest and best thing I could be doing. But the truth is, I’ve never been a big dreamer. I’ve never been attracted to the idea of “making my mark on the world” or “leaving a legacy.” I’ve never wanted to be famous or important. I’ve never been selfless enough to be a savior of humanity, or a pioneer for a purpose. I’ve never had that one thing I just have to do. But I like to cut hair. And I like the kind of conversations I have when I’m cutting someone’s hair. The kind of conversations where things are said, and then there are long silences where I’m just attending to them, touching them lightly on their heads and neck, brushing hair away from their foreheads, trimming carefully around their ears. I like the casual intimacy of it, and the way people are changed before my eyes. I like when they close their eyes and say, “It feels better already.” I like how a weight is lifted. I like at the end when they go into the bathroom to see themselves in the mirror and they call out, “It looks great!” I like how I can be creative and skillful and be helping people at the same time. Maybe I’m right this time. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

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Try To Remember

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After a long hard day, Benny comes home from work and gives me permission to escape while he does bedtime. Mina is tired and clingy, holding tight to my leg and crying as I’m trying to rush upstairs, a beer in one hand. As I write in my journal I hear her sobbing desperately, “MAMAAAA!! MAMAAA!!” and try to resist the urge to go and comfort her.

I write a page and a half, then stop, a few tears spilling down my cheeks- wishing that writing was still fun and fulfilling, that I had exciting things to breathlessly write about, like when I was younger. I put the journal aside and rummage around in a box of old journals, which is what I do when I want to remember what it felt like to be young and free. I find an entry that was part of a timed writing practice I used to do in college that was led by my favorite Philosophy professor, Terri Elliott. Sometimes he would grab a book, flip it open to a random page and point to a sentence, and that would be our writing prompt.

9. 28. 2002

“Keep going, you’ll end up in your mother’s womb.”

Womb. Mother. Keep going. My mother. I was a cesarean birth. My mother, holding my naked baby body by the armpits- her long hair, my short soft fuzz on big baby head.

Keep going down that road, searching for a way home and all you’ll find, all you’ll find is where you began, curled up, eyes closed and slowly grasping fingers. The way back to the beginning.

She hears me,  I think. She listens for my heart and when it’s tender and bruised she calls me- she gently prods and quietly asks, and my tears flow, my heart blooms and embraces hers.

I am grateful.

Her art on my walls, her careful splatterings of paint and collage, words, little books that describe her day, her thoughts, her wonder of my life and my doings, of my love… Her ways of expression so similar to my own- as are her ways of sorrow and her ways of confusion. Her joy. Her joy, my joy. For her I am grateful.

And I hope for now, for my womb to remain vacant. I hope for my maternal ways to be reserved for loved ones and myself. I wonder about children and what strange things they are. Childhood, how that was not you and is not you and yet you know it was and is, and you wonder of your parents and their lives before you were born and it’s hard to imagine until you reach the age that your mother was when she got married.

I dream of my parents, of their meeting and falling in love, I see and feel through their eyes, as if memories can be passed down to your children, I think they can. We all have these previous lives hidden within us that we take for granted, but at one time it was your only life.

Think of your mother, pregnant with you, sitting in a chair at home. Alone, silent, gazing out the window, or at her own hands. Imagine her there- her young face, her clear eyes, her thoughts of life, her fear, her quiet love for you, resting inside of her. You are a womb yourself. You carry your own life inside of you, clusters of sweet jewels, a gleaming pomegranate. You forget sometimes, why you are alive. You forget what has lived before you. Take time to sit still and you will remember- the knowing of it pure and solid like a warm stone in your lap.

 

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Note to Self

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Dear Serra,

Remember when you used to do that thing where you would say “Hi Serra” out loud sometimes when you found yourself alone in a room? It always spooked you, to acknowledge verbally your own undeniable existence. To confront yourself as you would another.

You have always loved yourself. You have always been your own best friend. You have always needed long stretches of time alone to reconnect, to establish a self independent of others, to remember and review and recollect. To renew. As a child you would spend time alone in your room listening to music, drawing, looking through your microscope, carefully going through the treasures in your special cupboard- keys, stones, coins, toys, shells. You had friends at school but would sometimes tuck yourself away- in a tree, in the gazebo, behind a book- to be alone.

You have always felt strong, solid, stable. Even in your wildest years, your hardest hurts, your deepest longings, at the core of yourself you are unbreakable. This is what you’ve always known. As a teenager you would experiment, break rules, get drunk, make out with strangers at music shows, get lost, explore. But always come home to your journal, your guitar, your family. You knew there was always a safe place to return to.

All your life you’ve loved naps, time away from the world, time where you can be silent and invisible. Time where you’re not seeing yourself through anyone else’s eyes. Time to be internal. So many solo walks, solo bike rides, solo hours collaging, painting, writing. So many solo trips to the movies, to the beach, down the trail. Hours spent with only the feel of your body moving through the world, the sound of your own breath. You were often lonely. Solitude at times felt like a crushing weight, like a cage.

At 23 you fell in love; at 26 you married. And at 32 you had a baby, a child who looks like you and your husband, who loves drawing and music and jokes and climbing trees, dinosaurs and dragons and unicorns. Having a child changed you, transformed you, almost broke you. She almost broke you because, for the first time, you were taken away from yourself. You no longer were able to sit down daily with your journal, with your art. You were held back from following your instincts and desires. You had to learn how to want something and not get it. After a while you all but forgot how to want. You lost almost all your independence, something so necessary for you that to lose it was a total loss of self. Although your daughter is five years old now, you still struggle with this every day, how to carve away some time for yourself, how to keep the core of yourself strong and real, alive.

Today you turn 37. In three months your daughter will start kindergarten, essentially giving you your life back. I admire the work you’ve done so far as a mother, raising your child and doing as much as you can to care for yourself and husband as well. You have given more of yourself than I would have thought possible. I know it’s been hard, and has taken you to the extent of your capabilities. Your self is still there, although you haven’t spent much one on one time with her in a while. I know you’re tired, I know sometimes you feel sad and hopeless, and miss parts of yourself and wish for certain times of your past. I know life pulls on too many parts of you. I know that much of the time your jaw is clenched and your shoulders tight, your mind spinning. I know sometimes you feel guilty when you want things, because so many people have so little. I know all this and I wish for you to breathe, loosen, sing. Please know that you’ll have your time, you’ll get yourself back. For most of your life, what you wanted came to you easily. Now you know what it’s like to fight for it. Keep fighting. Keep wanting. Keep being thrilled by color, shape, sounds, smells. Be tender. Be alive every day, whatever that means to you. Embrace it all, even the hard stuff. And remember to say stop by and say hello- don’t be a stranger.

Digging In

 

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I’m working on a piece of writing and it feels big.

It started the other day when I was reading a memoir by Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent and I Love Dick- both radical, feminist, paradigm shattering TV shows. Their book is called “She Wants It” and it’s about their journey as a TV writer and director and how it’s tied in to their journey to find out their identity, sexuality, and voice.

I was reading this and thought, “Hey, I have a story like that too. I wonder what my story is. I wonder how it ends.” It occurred to me that my body has a story. I thought about what the story of my life would be from the perspective of my body. Luckily, I had the luxury to slip away not long after being struck by inspiration, and tap out a beginning to my story. I decided to write it on the computer, not in my journal, so that it already felt special and more like actual “writing.” That night after my family went to bed, I continued.

I’m using writing to explore my life in terms of identity, gender, and consent. The words are coming easily to me, that feeling that the thoughts are rushing at me faster than I can type. I think I’ve been preparing to write this for a long time, I guess my whole life. It’s the first time I’ve written memoir with a purpose in mind, a question.

My question is, who am I? Who am I in context of my family, my friends, my society? What does it mean to be a woman? Am I a woman? I like the term “non binary” but do I want to adopt that term for myself? What is consent exactly and what has been my experience with knowing what I want and don’t want and communicating that? How do I teach my daughter what wasn’t taught to me? What does it mean to have a body in this world? What does your body and how you use it say about you? What about me is the same throughout my life, and what has changed? How do I protect myself but also stay open and vulnerable? What does it mean to live authentically?

I’m not cracking open old journals yet, just drawing on memory and my recollection of my writing, but I think as soon as the words run out I’ll start looking back for entries that focus on identity, body, and consent, to fill out the writing and give it even more truth and detail. It started out as a blog post but it’s turning into my life story.

 

New Year’s Realizations

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This New Year’s I had a lot of resolutions floating around in my head. Things like, check your phone less. Make more art. Call up friends more. Drink less. Read more books. Keep going to the gym. Make some goals and come up with plans to follow those goals.

But lists and charts seemed lacking. Instead I wanted to make a “vision board”: a collage filled with images of your aspirations, the people you want to be, the concepts you want to invite into your life. I wanted to see what my goals might look like, what color and shape they would be.

My vision board became a vision box. Which is kind of great because I was looking for an image that represents opening to reveal myself inside. I envisioned an open mouth or a cave maybe. I didn’t find it but realized later that a box is the perfect symbol for that.

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Making a collage is about noticing what you’re attracted to. Feeling for that twinge, no matter how slight. Waiting for that moment when the pieces fit together in a pleasing way. Trusting your impulses- Cut this face in half? Seems weird but ok. Completely cover up this image that minutes ago, seemed essential? Sure. Glue the fish on sideways? Whatever you say.

I noticed that I was vibing with yellow. And women. And water and mountains. Some images just looked good to me, and some I chose for their pure symbolism: dancing woman, drawing woman, reading woman. Old woman. Mountain goat. Singing bird. Arrow in the target.

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In yoga class yesterday the teacher said, “Lead with your heart.” The pose felt amazing, and vulnerable- chest out, arms back- but I also thought, what would life be like if you always led with your heart? Not “follow your heart” as people often say, but slightly different. Lead with your heart is more active, intentional, decisive. Heart as a flashlight, a steering wheel- not a leashed dog pulling you around.

I don’t have very specific goals and I never have. I’ve always just been drawn to a certain kind of artistic lifestyle without any real idea of how to get there. When I was a kid someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, “happy.” But I realized recently (well, really my insightful mom suggested this theory) that it’s maybe not a result of a lack of imagination or a lack of drive, but from a kind of guarded protection against desire. Sometimes I have a desire or a goal and I immediately shut it down for one reason or another, the excuse often being, “I’m not the kind of person who does that.” Which is total bullshit. I don’t let the want get big and substantial enough to gain momentum. Because if you have no real desires, you’re not vulnerable. Desire can have a kind of power over you. But isn’t desire the strongest kind of power? It can be if you have the resources, the persistence, the smarts to get that thing you want. Otherwise you just have the want and no path to it; you are at its mercy. Easier to just not want it.

I think that’s what my brain has come to believe, for some reason.

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Well, I’m going to practice wanting. Big things. Seemingly impossible things. I want things of epic proportions. I want to live in Switzerland in a little chalet, and eat exquisite fresh cheese for breakfast and learn to play the violin. I want to be a professional illustrator and be best friends with Carson Ellis. I want to bike along the West coast, from Canada to Mexico. I want to be a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. I want to make all my own clothes. I want to be an expert gardener. I want to weave. I want to go surfing. I want to write a memoir. I want to go on a road trip and visit all my friends and camp in Yosemite.

I want half of my income to come from art and writing, and the other half to come from barbering. I want to have enough money. I want Benny to have a job he loves. I want to live in a clean, uncluttered house with a porch and a studio and a yard, and a big enough living room that it feels easy to invite people over. I want to be wild and colorful and giving and gracious and loving. I want to be loose, warm, open, alive, uncalculating, free.

I want to cook beautiful flavorful food. I want a spiritual awakening. I want to learn to tap dance. I want to feel connected to people without being afraid that they will take something from me- my time, my energy, my attention, my freedom. I want to be willing to work hard for something I want. I want to grow my hair long and wind my hair around my fist like power. I want to be remembered. I want to be admired. I want to be humble. I want full days to myself, days where I never have to speak or make facial expressions and I can be completely internal, or just forget myself entirely and become what’s around me.

I want to be Prince. I want to float in water at night, looking up at the stars. I want to destroy my phone. I want to sleep in a tree house. I want to swim with a whale. I want to walk through New York City. I want to understand the workings of things. I want to make things out of clay. I want to meet again everyone I’ve ever loved- including my mom, dad, sister. I want to remember my own birth. I want to know my ancestors. I want to live to an old age. I want Mina to outlive me. I want to accept people as they are. I want to take risks. I want to feel possibility as a tangible thing in my hand. I want to soften.