Art in Austin: Before I Die…

Before I Die AustinSitting in a nook where a quiet residential street turns to meet the lively chaos of South Congress Ave in Austin, Texas, is one of Candy Chang’s Before I Die walls. Unless you happen to drive through the neighborhood, or walk back that way to avoid the crowds, it would be easy to overlook. It sits in a spot where domestic life, business, and recreation all intersect. The location is a perfect symbol for the wall’s message.

If you’ve never seen a Before I Die wall, go find one ASAP. It’s a fun and truly profound piece of interactive art — just a large black and white chalkboard that asks you to consider a seemingly simple question: What do I want to do before I die? The playfulness of the presentation drew me to the wall, but the question brings me back time and again.

In the interest of full disclosure, while I visit the wall regularly, I have yet to write on it. I read it – laugh at the funny or deviant entries (there are plenty of those), smile at the profound or thoughtful ones – and then quietly walk away. I bring others to the wall and encourage them to write, but I just watch. The simple straightforwardness of the question causes me to freeze. It’s the worst kind of writer’s block… it’s not just about words; it’s about articulating desire and action.

before-i-die-austin-5I don’t know what to write. I want to do a million things. I want to do everything. I want to never die; I want to never grieve another loss. But, Candy Chang’s project, born from her own grief, makes me stop and face the fact that my time is limited and I have living to do. These walls are amazing because they look so innocent, so simple, but they hide in them a complex understanding of the human condition: our lives will end. Are we living them? The wall asks us to look inward.

I love reading the wall. Of course, I’m drawn to the humorous entries. My husband’s checked off desire to write on a giant chalkboard, the person who randomly wanted to slap Taylor Swift, the one who wanted to kiss a dragon. My son drew picture of Maleficent because he had just seen the movie. He is seven. He doesn’t need to worry about what he wants to do before he dies; he lives fully in the present all the time.

There are entries that are moving displays of community, of strangers trying to heal each other’s hurt. One entry read: Before I die I want to be skinny. Skinny was crossed out by another visitor who wrote happy next to it, and under it yet another wrote, You’re beautiful. The wall helps us see inside each other.

before-i-die-austin-2Maybe I can’t think of what to write because I’m already living the life I want. Or, maybe I’ve reached an age where I know people, have known people, who were given the deadline. I held my breath and watched them scramble to fill in all the blanks at the last minute.  Or, the most likely answer is that I’m just a big pain in the butt who overthinks everything. Whatever the reason, Chang’s wall does what art is supposed to do – it disrupts. It forces me to stop, to look, to think, to act. It forces me out of the comfortable monotony of my daily rhythm. Its complexity is hidden in its simplicity, and that is what makes it so great.

If you flip the question, if you ask me what I want to do while I’m alive, then I can write a hundred things, a million things. I want to write a book, an episode of Doctor Who, be on the Muppet Show, attempt stand up, travel the world, wake up in every time zone, and on and on. But when you ask the question the way Chang has, when you ask me what I want to do before I die… well, suddenly a whole lot of things seem less important. Everything is valued differently. Playing with my son, holding my husband’s hand, feeling loved, all suddenly top the list. This board is brutal; I walk up wanting to play with chalk and walk away contemplating the human condition.

before-i-die-austin-4There it is, right? The point. In black and white. You step up to the chalkboard, and it doesn’t matter what your skin color is or the chalk color you use, when you fill in that blank you are the same as everyone else. You can write a joke, a fear, a wish, but whatever you write, you do it with fragile human hands. Like everyone else who comes to the wall: you are alive, you will die. Candy Chang’s Before I Die wall is a gentle nudge then, a playful reminder whispering in my ear – you are here now, pay attention, and go fill in the blank.

The Before I Die wall I visit is located at 206 E. Elizabeth St. in Austin, Texas. Find a wall near you or view pictures of walls around the world here.

Candy Chang will be a speaker at the Texas Conference for Women on October 15, 2015. Register to attend and be inspired by her and other amazing speakers here.

9 Favorite Nursery Rhymes With New Clickbait Titles

Clickbait is everywhere. It’s annoying as hell. So, logically, I felt that the best thing to do was to add some myself. I’ve taken the liberty of converting nine favorite nursery rhyme titles into click tempting teasers. Oh, and I added a bonus limerick just because.

(in true clickbait fashion, each title is clickable and will take you to a page to read the nursery rhyme)

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater

Jack Sprat

There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

What Are Little Boys are Made of?

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Jack and Jill

Three Blind Mice

Hush Little Baby

Monday’s Child

And Bonus Dirty Limerick:

I did a ridiculous amount of thinking to come up with these… I think I might have permanently messed up my brain.

 

What’s in a Name?

If you were born in the last few years you will probably write Ava on here.

If you were born in the last few years, this will probably say Ava on it…

My name is pretty neat: Ava Love Hanna. Hanna is my married name. I only recently added that part after my son was born. For most of my life I was Ava Love. It’s a cool name. It stood out. It was unique.

Ava is a family name. My grandmother and my great-great-aunt were both named Ava. But, when I was a child, I must have been the only Ava around. I know this because no one ever got my name right. I learned to just answer to anything: Anna, Ana, Eva, Eve. Sure, why not. It was easier to just say mmhmm when someone butchered my name, than to spend five minutes going back and forth and trying to get them to understand that it was just three letters and that two of them were A’s. On the rare occasion that people did get it right, they would ask, “Oh, like Ava Gardner?” and I would shrug my six year old shoulders and say, “I guess so.” I had no idea who this Ava Gardner was and I started to develop an irrational dislike for her because every time someone actually got my name right they asked about her.

I also knew that I was the only Ava because any time I came across racks of customized items, they never had my name. Oh how I longed to be a Laura, Stephanie, or Amy, and have a thermos or a tiny bike-sized license plate with my name on it. The Amys got everything. I was once in a class that had seven Amys in it. SEVEN. Talk about feeling left out…

My once unique name has now surged in popularity. Because of course it did. Because now that I love having a distinctive name, my name is not only popular, but one of the most popular baby names of all time. Ha! Take that Amys 1 – 7!

It’s weird. I grew to love being the only Ava. Now, everyone is named Ava and it’s freaking me out…  Also, I don’t quite know what the deal is, but it seems like only really grumpy parents are naming their kids Ava, or this new crop of Avas are acting like real jerks. I spent a week at Disneyland recently, and I almost developed a permanent tic from jumping every time someone screamed my name.

“AVA STOP IT!” “Ava get over HERE!” “Damn it, Ava!” “AVA!!!!”

It was so bad, that at one point my husband wondered why a random suburban mom was screaming at me.  When you’ve always been the only Ava, you’re used to responding when you hear your name. I nearly choked on my mickey-shaped pretzel when the lady came up next to me shouting at her errant Ava who happened to be one seat over.

So listen Parents of New Avas: you seriously need to chill out. I can’t keep getting freaked out because I’m thinking that you’re yelling at me. Also, stop screaming at your kids. Take a parenting class, count to five, I don’t know, but just stop. And to all you new Avas out there wreaking havoc: come on man, act right. I’ve been holding down the Ava-fort mostly by myself for 40 years. Don’t screw this up for us.

Honestly, the fact that my name is so popular now feels weird. I feel a little violated, or something less dramatic, but still like that. I can’t quite describe it, but it feels like something that was really dear to me has been taken away, or at least fundamentally changed.  My unique name became an integral part of my identity. At some point in my life, I accepted that it was okay to be different and I owned and embraced that difference. Now, I have to accept that my name – something that feels like a part of me, when it actually isn’t – is not really mine. It’s just a combination of letters and anyone can use them.

I’m sure everyone has had to deal with coming across someone with the same name. “Oh you’re named Susan? So am I!” And you both laugh and move on, but I had to get used to being the only Ava in a sea of Amys and now the game has changed and I’m struggling to feel okay with it.

I’ll get over it, I have no choice. There is an army of Avas now who are apparently scream-at-your-kids-in-public-worthy and I’d prefer to stay on their good side. So, I guess I’ll just sit here sipping coffee out of my new “Ava” personalized mug, or go put this tiny “Ava” license plate on my bike, and console myself by trying to predict what the next hip baby name will be.

Live Fast, Die… Eventually and Only if Absolutely Necessary

[ I read this essay at The Story Department in October for their From Beyond the Grave show. ]

I grew up in Houston, Texas. If you’ve never been to Houston, I can describe it for you like this: just imagine any dystopian movie and then replace all the crazed brain-eating zombies with crazed brain-eating conservatives and there you go.

To be fair, Houston’s come a long way lately, but when I was growing up there, it was the late 80’s/early 90’s. And Houston in the 90’s certainly wasn’t known for its picturesque parks, art scene, or lesbian mayor. Houston in the 90’s was largely known for its suburbs and its malls, neither of which I felt particularly drawn to. I knew there had to be more to life than to grow up, live by a big mall, and then die.

Eventually, I started college, which helped my mood. Despite my loathing of the suburbs, I was terrified to leave home and to brave the mega highways into downtown, so I went to a small school in the suburbs. I was a theatre major and in the first week of a technical workshop class, I met a handsome punk boy. He was so different from everyone I had ever known. He was hot and aloof and so very… not into malls. For some reason, he liked me too, so we started hanging out… this cool punk boy with his oxblood Doc Martins and me in my white Keds.

Since we were in the suburbs and we both lived at home there wasn’t much to do other than drive around. One day out of boredom we stopped by a big graveyard near campus. It was quiet and pretty. I was barely 18 years old, all of my grandparents were alive, and I had never been to a funeral, so for me, a graveyard was just a quiet place to hang out with my hot boyfriend. We had this genius idea to buy individual bottles of orange juice, empty them halfway and then pour in vodka… because then no one would ever suspect we were drinking! And that’s how we spent our days, wandering around a graveyard drinking super cheap vodka.

May 1993 all dressed up for a drama banquet. We moved in together a few months later. (I no longer shopped at the Gap.)

Over time, the punk boy’s coolness started to rub off on me. Black skirts and tights replaced my Gap jeans and Keds, and I was now into poetry and Bauhaus and so naturally, we kept hanging out in the graveyard. We took pictures of cool tombstones, hung out, got drunk. I found a photo in an old album the other day that had me leaning near a super ornate Vietnamese tombstone (orange juice bottle in hand) and the caption read “Dead Vietnamese Lady with her sidekick drunk living girl, Ava.” I was so very young and dumb. I had no concept of death then. I had never lost anyone. I’d never had to grieve.

That hot punk boy and I moved in together a year later. We moved to Austin and had lots of fun things to do and didn’t need to hang out in a graveyard for fun. Years later those days are all but a distant vodka soaked memory.

Recently my husband, (the same hot punk boyfriend from college) told me he had found a small graveyard hidden off the main road near our house. It was an old Masonic cemetery. I wanted to go see it, so we drove the street over and marveled at what seemed to be a very old gate. We walked in, my 6 year old son’s hand in mine. I was excited to share this moment of discovery with him. I wanted to look for really old tombstones, feel the quiet, sit on a bench with …. Hmm. Something didn’t feel right.

I looked down at my son, so full of life – his blonde hair, the light in his blue eyes. Holding his tiny hand, I felt a wave of sadness nearly overwhelm me. My legs felt weak. I looked around at the names nearest me Brodie, Cannon – Austin names – names that are part of a legacy. And, out of nowhere I thought, this is it. This is coming. For everyone I love. For me. Whether I like or not, this will happen. It won’t be optional this time. I will now be forced to spend time in graveyards in one way or another.

As an adult, I am now uncomfortable with the idea of death, it seems. It is an unwelcome specter hovering around the edges of my days.  Unlike that naive 18 year old girl, I have now been to funerals. I’ve hugged sobbing mothers burying their sons. I’ve been assigned to interview cancer survivors for articles, and then been asked to craft memorial articles when they unexpectedly lost their battles. The grown up me has seen the reason for graveyards and they no longer hold any appeal.

Now, when I see tombstones I can’t help but think of the people resting beneath them – people who had feelings and opinions and families – people who told funny stories to their friends – people who drank orange juice.

So, I’m not as cool as I used to be. I dress a bit better, but I’m not as aloof about death. As I’m reaching middle age, I can’t afford to be. I have less time to be aloof and I have people who need me and people for whom I want to stick around. Now as a adult, when I should be accepting death as an eventuality, I am shaken and uneasy. It’s too close and I’ve seen too many people fall away too soon.

Dylan Thomas begged his father: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” That is NOT a problem. I have no intention of going quietly.  Live fast and die young? Yeah, not so much anymore.

How about: Live fast, have a nice life, and die at a really old age with no complications or weird diseases that make you lose your mind or hunch over or anything and you’ve found peace and are totally okay with it because you’re like 100 and you just go in your sleep.

Or live fast and science cures aging and death, so let’s all hug.

These are my new mottos. Because, I no longer have the luxury of time and youthful ignorance – I’m less oblivious… I’m also less prone to drink cheap vodka, so in some ways I guess you take the good with the bad. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Because I could not stop for death he kindly stopped for me.” Screw that. If death comes near me, he better be wearing a cup, because I’m going out kicking.

Rainbow Connection

ava-love-hanna-rainbow-connectionThere are eggs cooking in a pan.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?

The notes drift into the kitchen and I feel them in my chest, know them by heart. There’s a special joy in unexpectedly hearing a song you love right when you need to hear it; a little gift from the universe. Serendipity. He heard it too and runs to me; his 6 year old hands outstretched, inviting me to dance. I move the half cooked eggs off the burner. Breakfast can wait, my dance partner can’t.

This is our song. The one I have sung to him nearly every night of his life.

The first night.

I looked at the tiny person I had made and felt such overwhelming love, deep incomprehensible love… and fear. I had absolutely no idea what to do next, no clue how to actually be a parent. I looked him over, saw his soft vulnerability, his total dependence and realized that I’d never really thought past being pregnant… Oh crap.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?

I took a breath, kissed him softly on the head and then suddenly I felt it rise up from somewhere deep inside my chest and head – an instinctual urge passed on in the genes of motherhood, a connection passed throughout the human race. I didn’t know how to be a parent, but I knew what to do right then: I sang to him.

I was surprised to hear the confidence in my voice, but it was there and I knew that meant I would be okay. His head on my heart, we melted into the rhythm of the song, connected as mother and child in those first new moments.

What’s so amazing, that keeps us stargazing, and what’do we think we might see?

I danced with my father to this song on the day I got married. It’s our song too, but I don’t know if he knows that.  Growing up my father and I were far too much alike to really get along, and our relationship always felt stifled, uncomfortable. Neither of us was good at showing affection, it meant being too vulnerable or feeling dumb. Hugs were rare and often done quickly with one arm… But, we both loved the Muppets, so we had that. I remember hearing him singing this song while walking through the house. It was my favorite memory of him and I knew it was the only song we could dance to.

At my reception, as the first few notes made their way to the dance floor, my father, a shy man who hates to be the center of attention, who always shirks the public eye, grabbed me and spun me around the dance floor. We danced while he sang so loudly and enthusiastically that I couldn’t stop laughing and crying. It’s one of my favorite moments, seeing him so happy, and briefly feeling a comfortable connection between us.

All of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic…

Now, I am dancing with my little boy. His small hand in mine, I spin him around the room, sing loudly while he laughs and holds me tight. I feel our connection… parent to child to parent to child. I never really understood the lyrics before I had him, but here it was, the rainbow connection. It is this song, this love, these moments that connect our generations, our hearts.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name…

I’m still trying to feel like a parent so I listen for promptings from ancestral connections that taught the parents before me how to connect to their children, the ones that lie sleeping in my dna. I let those whispers guide me and I sing to him every night. Sometimes, he sings with me, other times he curls into my arm and falls asleep by the third stanza. I finish the song anyway and then lie next to him and listen to him breathing. I still don’t know exactly how to be a parent, I still don’t know if I’m doing it right, but I feel the strength of the bond growing between us, feel the connection that binds us to each other forever and fall asleep to the rhythm of his breath.

… the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

Saints and Starbucks

So the other night I had this dream that I was somehow entangled with religious fundamentalists and I was told to gather a few things that were really important to me before we all climbed onto a big tour bus. So there I was, crying and clutching my wedding ring, a manila folder full of papers… and a coffee maker…  That sounds about right, I *do* love coffee (and manila folders).

lovehanna_aprtestify

Reading this essay at Testify’s “Coming Clean” Show – the first time I’ve ever spoken publicly about my Mormon background and leaving the church.

But I feel bad talking about my love of coffee; I’m not supposed to like it. While it might be a normal part of your day and there’s a Starbucks on every corner, I was raised Mormon and coffee was strictly off limits. It’s a part of the Word of Wisdom, a dietary code for Mormons that forbids coffee, tea, alcohol, and drugs. You know, all the fun stuff. Heck, I only tried coffee for the first time a couple of years ago, and maaaaaan is it awesome. But again, I feel bad. It’s the Mormon thing. I wasn’t just raised Mormon, I have profoundly Mormon roots.  My ancestors were pioneers who left Scotland to travel across the country and build the temple in Salt Lake. I’m even related to a Mormon prophet.  I tried being Mormon as an adult, I really did, and it just didn’t work for me. Our ideas on things are just too different. So, sometimes I feel okay that I tried to be Mormon and it didn’t work out, and then there’s other times that I know I’m disappointing people and that makes me feel pretty bad…until I have another cup of coffee.

To be honest, I never really fit in as a Mormon. I often felt like I was putting on an act. I’m a performer, so I fell into that role. I wasn’t Ava I was Mormon-Ava… and it was exhausting. I was unhappy all the time and felt restricted. I like to wear jeans, not skirts, and I like to cuss. I felt like I was always trying not to say fuck. One time I’m pretty sure I said bitch in front of the bishop and he pretended not to hear me. It takes a lot of energy to image manage all the time… mistakes will be made.

I discovered the joys of coffee in grad school. I was the mother of a small child and was working on my Master’s thesis – in poetry, because I apparently hate the idea of having a career that makes money- and I was as anxious and depressed as…. A poet. I started therapy and talked about my ocd, my exhaustion, my inability to concentrate. We discussed the possibility that I had untreated ADD and my therapist recommended I try a small cup of coffee. Huh? Ok. I went home and announced to my husband that I was going to Starbucks. I ordered a salted caramel mocha Frappuccino… I know, right? It’s just a caffeinated milkshake, but it was coffee, real coffee. I drank it nervously and waited. Aaaaaand, it was awesome. I wrote 10 pages that night and felt calmer than I had in years.

I don’t know the exact science of it, but for some reason, coffee calms me down and reduces my anxiety. It got me through my master’s degree, it makes me a better parent, a better person, and it helps my high strung type A personality find peace. It has enriched my life without needing more therapy or having to resort to psychiatric drugs. It also has made me feel like a grown up for the first time in my life. Allowing myself to drink it was like a rite of passage.

Coffee had become a symbol for me of all that is mature and grown up. But, I’m still new to it, and I’m paranoid that other people will see that. When I’m at the coffee bar at Whole Foods, I feel like I’m being watched. I try to act nonchalant as I add half and half or casually stir in sugar, but inside I’m thinking Is this right? I feel like maybe there are these unspoken commandments of coffee that were delivered to everyone else by Juan Valdez and his enchanted donkey when he magically appeared in a field of coffee… vines? trees? bushes? Look, I don’t even know how that stuff grows.

The first time I tried to order coffee through a drive-thru and the server asked me how many sugars and creams I wanted, I almost started crying. It was a Chick-fil-a (don’t judge me; I was in the middle of nowhere and I was willing to momentarily ignore their views on gay marriage in order to get coffee.) I told the kid I wanted 6 cream and 7 sugar, because that sounded like a reasonable number… but then I hear him frantically whispering to a coworker, she wants 6 cream and 7 sugar!! Can we even do that?? Seriously? I felt like an idiot, and I still don’t know what the deal was with that number. If anyone can tell me the magic answer to that question, I would appreciate it because I DON’T KNOW and pretty much avoid drive-thru coffee.

Drinking coffee was a point of no return for me.  I remember sitting and sipping a cup at home before anyone else had woken up. It was quiet and I was feeling happy and proud of everything I had done that year, of who I was becoming… when I suddenly had a pang of sadness. I looked at the cup in my hand and realized that it meant that there was no going back, not this time. Coffee is non-negotiable in the Mormon Church. It was becoming normal to me, a welcome part of my morning, and yet I couldn’t talk about it, which felt odd. Something so ordinary was illicit. I couldn’t share this part of my life with people who had previously been important to me, people who had been at my wedding or had been there for the birth of my son. Willingly disobeying the Word of Wisdom meant that I was no longer temple worthy and that I risked alienating family and friends because of this one thing. Yet, I wasn’t willing to give it up… and I wondered what that said about me as a person? I had various Jack Mormon friends over the years who would attempt to excuse an occasional glass of wine by joking that hey even Jesus had turned water into wine (in one of his coolest party tricks ever), but sadly, I couldn’t justify this choice the same way. Jesus never turned anything into coffee, or at least no one wrote about it.

In the Mormon culture there are a couple of different subsets of members. I come from both kinds. My mom is a convert. Being a convert in the Mormon Church is a bit like coming from Muggle parents. Often time converts are pretty cool because they bring with them memories of what it was like outside of the bubble. My mom drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, and had a whole other life before she met my dad and joined the church. On the other end is my dad’s side: pioneer stock, born in the covenant, always been Mormon types, whom I affectionately refer to as AlwaysMorms and who have never in their entire lives strayed from the Word of Wisdom. Imagine dealing with a staunch AlwaysMorm Bishop who has never tried coffee. Try explaining to him how it helps you with OCD, depression, and was even recommended to you by both your doctor and therapist. He either won’t or can’t understand and sees it simply as disobedience. And while I applaud his ability to strictly abide by his chosen code, I knew there was a danger in allowing myself to be led by someone who had no possibility of ever relating to me.

I try to avoid conflict, especially when it involves big life altering things and existential issues, so I did nothing. I just stopped going to church. I don’t say that I’m Mormon, but I’m not Not-Mormon. I never un-became Mormon, there’s a process and involves writing letters and talking to people, and I’m just not up to it, so I basically just stopped going to church and started drinking coffee… and this is the first time I’ve ever really spoken publicly about that, aside from a few accidental facebook posts. And I think maybe that’s the most passive aggressive way that you can leave a faith is to start doing something that’s against what that faith believes and then just make a mention of it on facebook. And that’s where I am. I don’t know what I am. I certainly don’t make Mormons happy, but I’m not Anti-Mormon enough to make people who have left the church happy. I feel hopelessly caught in the middle all because of a cup of coffee…

Wait, no, not because of coffee, not really, right? Coffee is just a symptom of a bigger issue.

I got tired… tired of never feeling good enough, of being told what to eat and drink and wear, of being warned that my failures or my disobedience would lead me to be separated from my family in the afterlife. I stopped pretending to be perfect and I stopped believing in God, or at least that version of God. I just stopped.

So that’s where I’m at, and I’m either a really really bad Mormon, or just a normal person who drinks coffee… it depends on your perspective really. And so that’s why I’m talking about this. I’m tired of hiding who I am. I’m tired of feeling like a disobedient child. I want to claim my life and my adulthood. I’m coming out so that hopefully I can leave behind the people who will judge me or shun me based on their preconceived ideas and standards of acceptable behavior. Instead, I want to welcome in people who will get to know me, the real me, based on the choices that make me healthy and happy and I can welcome those people into my life and let them accept me fully… coffee breath and all.

It’s Poetry Month!

I’m a poet. I always have been. And even though my writing of late has moved towards essays and magazine articles (money), I will always be a poet.

I love to talk and will spend hours chatting away in person, but when I write I am minimalist, I want to conserve words, I want crystallized moments to explode off the page in just a few sentences. I love the power of poetry. I love its beauty and its truth. And on days when the world seems ugly and gray, I remember that human beings can write poetry and how amazing that it is, and I am filled with hope again.

Despite April being the cruelest month (T.S. Eliot, anyone?), it is also National Poetry Month, so I’ve made a poster of fun ways we can celebrate poetry and share its beauty with those around us.

A high resolution printable pdf of this poster is available here.

alovehanna_poetrymonth

Bad Parents

This is where I’ll be on Wednesday night. Part of the FronteraFest Short Fringe, Bad Parents, will be at Hyde Park Theatre on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at 8 pm.

The show is hilarious and was written by the über talented Max Langert, whom I met as an Austin cast member of Listen to Your Mother last year. He and Tristan told touching stories about their mothers, while I was sharing one of my finer parenting moments: The Vagina-Mommy Incident.
badparents

You can read more about the show and FronteraFest here: Bad Parents at FronteraFest

Riding the Carousel

He wanted to ride the carousel at the mall. He’s five now, so I got on with him intending only to help him find an animal and climb up. The carousel was old and small, and wobbled as everyone climbed aboard. I put him on top of a brown horse with a flowing mane and wild eyes — It was a good fit.

He grabbed onto the pole with both hands, leaned into it, trembled a bit and looked at me with worried eyes as he surveyed how high he was and felt the wobbling of the ride before it had even begun. He looked up and noticed that the pole was at its low point and asked me if it would go even higher.

He is awake now, this little boy. Aware. He struggles with the lankiness of his legs, tries to understand his changing body as he faces growth spurt after growth spurt in an unrelenting parade. He is no longer an over confident toddler who charges into battle, he sees the world around him and senses danger, feels overwhelmed by noises, is trying to find his place.

I decide to stay on the ride and stand next to him. I put both my hands firmly about his waist, lean in to him and whisper, “It’s okay, I’ve got you and I won’t let you fall.” His eyes meet mine and I feel his body relax, feel his tension fade. “Look at how pretty the carousel is” I tell him, and he does. He loosens more, looks around and points out the paintings, the mirrors, the old round light bulbs.

hanna_carouselFeeling him trust me so completely moves me. I feel it deeply in my chest and I lean in and kiss the back of his head so he won’t notice that I’m tearing up. Good tears, “happy tears” we call them, but I don’t want him to have to ask me about them. I want him to stay in this moment. The ride starts and he grabs a little tighter to the pole, but is still relaxed, my hands still around his waist. He knows I won’t let him fall.

That’s my mantra as his mother. It’s the banner I wave as I march into this battle every day. I have him, I’m here, and I won’t let him fall. Look around, enjoy the world and don’t be afraid, I have you.

I am someone who knows what it’s like to fall, to wobble and look around for a guiding hand. I am made of worry and fear. I am often overwhelmed, scared, and then shut down.

I remember when I first discovered I was pregnant. At first, I was elated… but not long after, I curled up on the edge of the bed and sobbed as I remembered the loneliness and fear of my childhood. I knew that I had the potential to damage another human being forever.  I was already afraid I would fail this tiny person who was still in the process of being made.

In crowded places, I look down and follow my husband’s feet, I stay focused on just getting through – I often miss the beauty of the place, the time, the moment. But, at least I have those feet to follow.  I was fortunate to find someone who would hold me and make me feel safe, but I missed so much before I found him.

But this isn’t how it will be for my son, not him; he will know that there are hands gently but firmly around his waist. He can climb onto the highest, craziest looking horse on the carousel and I will stand next to him, I will lean in as the ride starts, and I will let him look around and enjoy the moment – I have him and I will never let him fall.

Contemplative Ennui at the Blanton Museum of Art

I am standing in a museum surrounded by marble statues of people from worlds long gone; they are echoes of some other unreal time. History is like that to me, it never feels real.

I pick a bench in a sunny, windowed corner to sit and write. I’ve come here to try to dispel the dark clouds that have been chasing me this week… to try to numb the swollen ache in my heart. I thought the art might help, that it would give me something to look at so I could get out of my head for a little while. Maybe, it would ease some of this ridiculous pain. Instead, I feel every piece. It’s like they’re all playing on the same vibration as this depression; each one feels like a thumb pushing on a deep bruise.

I am mourning an inexplicable loss, something that doesn’t exist, has no resolution, and I am powerless to make myself feel whole. I’m a control freak, so this kind of thing sucks. All I can do is wait it out.

Is it her? Is that what they like? I compare myself to every woman who walks by and every piece of art. Notice how imperfect I am. I have a thing for perfection, or rather for being perfect.

Recently, I started to people-watch and noticed for the first time in my life how men will stare at certain women. Grown men will slow their cars to watch a young woman in shorts cross the street, a woman in a dress walking past the entrance to West Elm causes a conversation to halt while the three men crane their necks to watch her walk by. It is creepy, this level of unabashed focus that I’m seeing men devote to a woman who is merely crossing their path. I’ve never paid attention to it before, and now I can’t unsee it. It’s everywhere and I feel like I’m losing a competition. I’m pretty enough, but my strong suits have always been humor and intelligence… not the kind of things that random men notice when I walk down the street.

The modern art made me sadder. I can’t really explain why. I stared at the replicated cardboard box, sleeping bag, pack of cigarettes, marble sculpted trash bag. A marble trash bag… that’s what I feel like sometimes… a waste of materials and talent.

I can’t let go. The sky is divided – filled partially with angry sun and heavy, dark clouds. They tease rain, but won’t let it go. It is both sunny and potentially stormy, I’m caught in the tension.

The statue in front of me has no head or arms, and is missing its legs from the knees down. Incomplete or damaged, I don’t know. It’s only a replica, so I feel nothing when I look at it; none of the artistic energy of the real one is there.

I whisper to the universe, If you ever loved me, let the rain fall.

What about that statue, the topless one. I wonder if they prefer the curve of her breasts; if she meets the standard. I wonder how many would turn to look at her in a crowded restaurant or bar.  Even minerals are my competition. I stare at her breasts and feel a sense of loathing for her – for her perfect breasts, their shape and lift, for her look of contentment. I feel an alliance with the male statue across from her: poorly endowed, exposed, and forced to stare forever at her ample perfect chest.

I am not enjoying marble today.

I leave and enter the calm quiet solemnity of the masters – perfect imperfection – ample bodies and vacant empty stares. I stand for a long time in front of a Flemish portrait of a man with a curved mustache. His look is so sad; he’s pale, anemic. He stares at me while I examine his facial hair. It’s so realistic; I can’t even see the strokes. I want to climb into the painting and touch his mustache.

It’s cool and dark in here which matches my mood. All around me are paintings of saints and sinners. I’m stuck, standing still in front of The Visitation. I think it’s about the Virgin Mary but all I can focus on is the donkey in the corner staring at me, upstaging everyone else. He’s looking at me as if to say, “Pfft, I know, right?” I nod. I like this room, everyone in the paintings looks like they’re rolling their eyes.

I walk a few steps, but I’m stuck again, this time in front of another portrait of a man with sad eyes and a mustache. Maybe I stop here because he’s looking at me, while everyone else is looking off to one side – like they know they’re in the painting, but want to act casual. This guy though, he looks right at me, and I can feel his hurt or maybe he feels mine… or maybe his collar is too tight.

I leave the dark cool space and find myself in the hallway, assaulted by sunlight. The clouds look like they are giving up and the sun is claiming the sky. I feel heartbroken by the brightness, I turn and give one last look at the donkey who still gets me, scoff warily at the giant reproduction of a milk carton near the entrance, and head towards my car to find that despite the sun, one cloud – one persistent cloud – waited for me, and gives rain to blanket my path.