Mother Blue

I photo. I take day trips. I lightsaber battle. I analyze the stuffing out of myself.

40 on 20, a Short Epilogue to the Epilogue

I don’t usually write two blog entries this close together (see Friday’s prologue, 40 on 20), but yesterday turned out to be an epilogue to the epilogue.

• • •

image

Her tree on the hillside.

We took so many wrong turns yesterday. My mother’s grave is located in one of the three cemeteries of three different sister churches in my hometown. I get lost every time I try to visit. I called my brother in semi despair. I even texted him photos of my location. “That does not look familiar at all, Kimmy.”

He kindly offered to meet me. I gently declined his offer. I was determined to find her grave on my own. I don’t go to the cemetery all that often. I have always felt that the presence of someone who was buried just simply no longer existed — in the ground quickly then out into the universe. But this being the 20th year, I felt compelled to commemorate.

After about 45 minutes of searching, I was both laughing and grimacing at the frustration of not finding my mother’s grave. I walked to the spot where I was sure she was buried. “Do they move graves here? Maybe they moved her grave.” Jack was trying to lighten the situation. We were stressed. I was a little argumentative and tense.

I got back in the car and said to Dave, “I think she is screwing with me. I know that she was buried near these damn trees!” There were far more explicatives in my rant than the few I am documenting here.

We asked for directions. We got quick answers from mourners who really just wanted to mourn. Dave suggested one more turn. And there it was. The right cemetery on a road perpendicular to the road we were just on. My brother said to “look to the edges of the road and you will find her.” After a little walk, I came upon it. I sat down in front of her name and my family left me alone with my thoughts. I started to take photos of all the things around me. I wouldn’t look directly at her grave at first. I went to switch lenses and something made me stop busying myself with tasks. I started to cry. I didn’t expect to. I think the idea of a person frozen in time got to me.

Jack wandered over next to me and sat down. He was curious about the tombstones around me. We talked about the various engravings and made a few lighthearted jokes. He was fascinated by a telephone etching on the stone behind my mother’s. I left Jack and sat behind her stone and began to talk to Dave for a few moments. Jack laid down and rested his head on his grandmother’s tombstone. He was looking at nature and the tree in front of her, much resembling the way he watches “Spongebob” or some other random TV program.

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Sitting. Thinking. Watching.

I harbor no illusion that he somehow felt some sort of deep bond with her in that moment. He never knew her, except through my stories and his questions. I think it was Jack just being Jack, a nine year old boy. I did say, “well, here is your grandma.” Without missing a beat, he yelled into the tombstone, “Hey, Grandma!!!!!!” It was more for a laugh than anything else. It made me smile. We don’t get to hear him say the word grandma all that often.

I decided to lie down next to him, mimicking his pose. My Madonna moment, I thought. Dave snapped a picture. Jack and I chatted and laughed about the bird poop that might be in our hairs from lying on the less than pristine granite. I didn’t realize Dave was still taking photos when he captured our embrace.

image

Our Madonna moment.

Candid embrace.

Candid embrace.

We went to Jim’s Drive-In. One of my favorite treats from when we were growing up. Burgers and dogs and homemade sauce. It didn’t taste exactly the same as I had remembered. We later drank some wine that had been saved from 1994. Table wine really doesn’t keep well. It tasted like Easter egg dye and salad dressing. So many things had changed. It was time to move forward.

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Jim’s Drive-In

 

 

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40 on 20

“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true

You stand at the edge while people run you through

And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.

 — Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

• • •

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Dave teaching Jack how to skip stones at the lake after Rosh Hashanah services.

 

SUMMER

What a long, temperate, and very temperamental summer it has been.

Dave and I watched Jack play with his buddies while we sat on the only available park bench. We had just emerged through a difficult winter and spring. It was the very beginnings of the summer.

Dave said something to the effect of “I just can’t do this job anymore.”

Work had been sucking the life out of him and the money out of our bank account for quite some time. Radio sales in Pittsburgh is not what it used to be. Living to work, not working to live. Stress and snippiness. The past two years had been the equivalent of running uphill through tar while wearing ankle weights.

Exhale.

The perfect blue skies of the day contrasted the gravity of our conversation. We lamented over our choices and acknowledged that as of late our lives were more focused on surviving than living. We both agreed that if he was going to quit his job, then the pursuit of happiness had to be one of our priorities. We had to revisit some of the dreams we had planted in our early youth, once cultivated by our glorious naivety. The dreams we let fall by the wayside over the past 20 years. The ones that got supplanted with more “age appropriate, responsible” things. We had to find the road where responsibility and dreams intersect. We had forgotten.

He woke up the next day, made a phone call, and walked away. Things felt heavy and light all at once.

Summer was stressed and struggling. We fought and made up and made the best of things. More stress and snippiness. We took on extra work, odd jobs, and part-time opportunities; job interviews and freelance newspaper articles and board meetings for the both of us.

Jack’s version of the summer was less tethered than ours. It was youth-filled freedom both by design and necessity. Playing outside both in and around the neighborhood. On his own for the very first time. Coming home when dinner was almost ready.

Car repairs and haircuts. Bills and expenses. Sleepless nights. Sunrises that I wasn’t looking forward to be awake to witness.

I lost sight of myself in the midst of all this change. I mistreated my mind, my soul, and my body. I gained and lost weight and gained it back again. I felt the weight of everything that laid on his shoulders and the weight that rested on mine. Were we doing the right thing? We both were working hard at make things work and their was little room (or time) for much else.

August was near its end. I sat at my sister’s kitchen table, fearful of the future. I worried about the person we created and I lamented over all of the mistakes I have made.

And right as the first leaves began to lose their summer green, tiny opportunities came filtering in.

Dave will finally be able to publish a book of his poetry. Twenty years of his work that he has long wanted to see as a compilation is being printed as we speak, all thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, his talent, and some very generous and wonderful people. One of his dream projects is on the way to fruition.

I, too, am finding more work, or new work is finding me. I am creating more things and laughing at myself and with others.

I am grateful we are slowly traversing to the other side.

 

NY24TIRED SCENES COLOR

“Tired Scenes” in color. NYC 2003.

• • •

THE OTHER SIDE IS 40

I arrived at 40 and took on a project.

It originated as my annual birthday art project. A simple social media celebration and a gorgeous reflection of my friends creativity.

I wanted to make 40 a little different than the previous years’ art.

I sent a digital message to the masses: “This year, I turn 40 and I would like to give all of you a gift. I would like to send everyone a word. The word I send to you makes me think of you or is inspired by you. You can do with your word whatever you like. You can print it out and photograph it, share it with others, write it on your arm, or maybe you just want to keep it for yourself. As I approach a new decade, I thank you for being a part of my decades… I would love to see a picture or interpretation of your word post over the next month or so: You holding your word up to the heavens or placing in front of a waterfall or on your desk or on the subway or wherever. It is up to you. It is a gift that asks for nothing in return. I may try to make a book out of your images if you do indeed decide to share them, or at least a blog or Tumblr post of all your word creations.”

I have assigned about 450 words or so out of 700. I am taking my time with this task and really thinking about words, their gravity, and what they mean both in and out of context.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress and I will let everyone know if these creations do indeed become a book.

 

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40

• • •

“Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies

Beyond the yellow brick road.”

— Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

 

40 on 20

 

It’s been 20 years since the course of my life changed. The butterfly effect of September 27, 1994. Twenty years ago, tomorrow.

I think I will visit her gravestone, even though I know it’s merely a symbolic gesture. Maybe I will lay on her stone and pose like Madonna. My mother would be slightly horrified.

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from “Truth or Dare”

I have been thinking in key moments as of late. Those key moments of life peppered in with your own versions of the actual events. A lot is forgotten in 20 years. Just the other day, my sister and I were trying to remember her favorite foods, her favorite restaurants.

I think she liked the dinner rolls at Red Lobster. I know she loved Paulie’s Lookout and Jim’s Hot Dogs.

It all starts to get a little fuzzy.

 

• • •

 

“Sweet freedom whispered in my ear

You’re a butterfly

And butterflies are free to fly

Fly away, high away, bye bye.”

 — Someone Saved my Life Tonight

 

laugh mom

Happier times. Mom and dad on their way to the Poconos after their wedding.

 

20 on 40

My inner strength was reinforced with a value meal.

She said goodbye as he pleaded to stay.

She had had enough. I think in some ways he did as well. He still wasn’t ready to admit it to himself.

I watched her stand with stoic strength and tears of goodbye that somehow, willfully, would not stream down her cheeks.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and begged her to let him stay.

The cabbie came to the door, helped him to the car, and took him to the airport.

The tears started to come, just barely, as I watched her do one of those “hardest things” we all are called to do in this life. A necessary thing. The sadness and the heartache needed to end for the both their sakes.

We watched them drive away. She picked up her dust rag and started cleaning again just like it was a regular Tuesday. My brother and I didn’t say much.

When the divorce was finalized, she showed me and my brother the legal announcement in the papers. One small line announcing the dissolution of their 23 year union. She bought us McDonald’s to “celebrate” — a meal we could afford, a meal that symbolized the future.

I could write about how difficult it was for the next three years and how she struggled to get to the life she had always dreamed of. I could talk of how hard she struggled with depression and anger and with the very notion of her kids growing up. She wanted a do over. She wanted us to be little again. She wanted us to be there forever.

But that stoic moment with the cab driver and that last embrace will always be my symbol. When life is hard sometimes you have to be harder for everyone’s happiness. Even when the tears that won’t come tell you otherwise.

• • •

To all of these ends, I am inspired by the women in my life who have taken the place of my original maternal mentor. I watch you in awe and observe you and listen to how you act and react in the world. I see how your subtle grace and sometimes roaring power encompasses you. It influences and inspires me and allows me to “Tetris” together a cohesive identity. From this Frankenstein monster creation of emotions, I become better.

 

EPILOGUE

 

I was given three words in the 700 Words/Birthday Art project.

• One by my friend, Nique. We met for lunch. We asked for chalk and then we wandered the alleyways of the SouthSide and created this.

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Compassion

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Compassion

 

• The second word was poignant given to me by my friend, Tracy. This post captures that word better than any other image I could possibly create.

• The third word is the one I give myself. It is the one I usually forget to name myself in my list of the many descriptors of me. My tribute to them.

Daughter

Daughter

 

_____________

UPDATE:

I don’t usually write two blog entries this close together, but yesterday turned out to be an epilogue to the epilogue. Enjoy.

40 on 20, a Short Epilogue to the Epilogue

Pathos

Wired Intersection (cell phone pic)

Wired Intersection (cell phone pic)

My inner monologue was spastically riffing…

They shut off my water this morning. My hands feel so incredibly dirty. Germal colonies are setting up camp on my palms. I have spent the day Lysol-ing all the present and future surfaces I have or may touch. I need disposable gloves and a nap.

I can’t concentrate without water. I can’t help but obsess over the notion of anything being removed from my life or my general convenience. This whole thing began with a gas leak in February. Three months later my street still lacks infrastructure and functioning sidewalks. Each local gas company has to repair their own lines, every water company has to follow suit. New construction type vehicles arrive biweekly. What started out as a patch job has now become days filled with gas fume hallucinations, vibrating furniture from the constant jackhammering, and gravelled sidewalks by the same result.

My inner voice is that of a middle-aged man. I am not really sure why.

Water Rations. (cell phone pics)

Water Rations. (cell phone pics)

• • •

Pathos: Pathetic lump of emotions

The stockpile of words I use in my everyday life is staggeringly limited. PATHOS is one of those words I once learned a very long time ago, probably for some English lit exam, but then I carelessly shoved it into the recesses of my brain once it outlived my 16-year-old self’s usefulness. I have been obsessing over this word as of late, much like I am obsessing over my disgusting hands. I am typing this entry with the tip of my fingernail, just to keep the molecules of degenerate filth at bay.

I came across this gorgeous sentence: “oddball art-house flights of fancy, verite sex scenes and lump-in-throat moments of pathos. It’s funny almost as an after-thought.

My newfound obsession with pathos came after watching this.

It made me stop. Simple words of unrequited love delivered by an everyman. This show wasn’t what I expected at all: If you haven’t seen this show and you love cinema and great storytelling and humanity, I urge you to watch “Louie”. Check out this scene as well.

But there it was. Pathos. The revelation of that word was like lightning rod of everything for me. The road that I have been traveling for so long, my weirdness, my quirkiness, my obsessions, my neurosis all of a sudden made sense. I have been journeying so long and so far trying to figure out just who the heck I am in waves of enlightenment, comparisons to other individuals, and epic inner narratives. If I could be something intangible I would probably be pathos. I long for pathos. I lust for pathos. Pathos is my life projection through color televisions with emotive filters. At its very best, it appeals to a selected audience’s emotions; at its very worst, it can meander in rhetoric and pathetic inclinations. For me, it simply means the raw, unmuddied yet abridged version of the emotion in a moment. It’s like a capturing a photograph.

• • •

Bird on a Wire (cell phone pic)

Bird on a Wire (cell phone pic)

I love documentaries. My digital movie queue is filled with at least 50 of them, just waiting to be watched. Just Like Being There was at the top of the list. Focused on the artists behind the “gig poster scene,” this doc was a feast of illustrative screen printed gorgeousness set to an indie music soundtrack. Very inspiring watch, but I found myself wondering in my head and then later aloud, “does the type of music we listen to determine or predict our intellect or intellectual capacity?” The artists represented in the doc were not just emotive beings, they were what I would call skilled technicians whose thinking lies on a different intellectual plane. I love music, but my musical tastes merely skim the surfaces of most genres. I listen intently to what is laid out before me, but I always find that when left to my own devices my choices are uncomplicated. I want an emotional journey filled with crescendos. I found myself wondering if the way I think is too simple, too mainstream, too surface, too rooted in emotion, or in the consumptive nature of the masses.

Maybe I am mostly comprised of emotion. My mother was a die hard “someday my prince will come” romantic  realist. She was wrapped up in the cinematic notion of life and love; the polar opposite of her actual, real world existence. As much I pride myself in my realism, I probably am a pretty similar person. I see everyday people like actors on a screen. I imagine everyday conversations like poetry, even if they are just talking about Cheetos. I imagine the back stories of the people in the supermarket check out lines. I go on my walks and I am suddenly transported to a scene in a film. I imagine the camera angles. I photograph the everyday because the position of everything literally whispers some sort of story to me. It fills me with emotions. It’s the only way I can relate to the world. Sometimes Motown sings in the background, punctuating the mood of the moment in just the right way…

• • •

A musician once transposed the noted positions of birds on telephone wires. I think of that story often when I go on my walks. My hidden monologues, back stories of strangers, and overheard conversations make me think of how so many of us are like those birds. Unassuming notes on a make shift bar staff. Part of a larger hidden song.

Morning walk (cell phone pic)

Morning walk (cell phone pic)

Maybe I am just screenplaying everything so I have some sense of control. Sometimes I write things down. Other times I repeat moments in my brain over and over again in order to commit them to memory. Sometimes the words and moments float away like ether. In most circumstances, I can’t tell if I am writing myself as a hero or anti-hero. In first or third person. Victim or survivor.

I sat on my porch last night and attempted to read. I was mulling over a lot and feeling particularly melancholy about things I felt had no simple resolution. I whispered the word “mommy” to myself. I don’t know why. My pathetic cry for help. My 39-year-old self knows it won’t make a difference. It was one of those “you can either crumble or pull yourself up by your bootstraps” moments, but I needed vulnerable for a second. And in those vulnerable moments sometimes it only feels right to be just as vulnerable as the moment dictates. Either way, it was my own version of Mayday and my own way to reboot. A large black butterfly with blue spots landed next to me, flying wildly in my face, harassing me. It would fly very close to my shoulder and then sputter away into the trees. Seconds later, it would come back. Three times it did this, then it flew away for good. I sat in quiet for the first time in a long time. It had been a long time  since I had seen a butterfly. A long time since one tried to get my attention. One appeared to me on the subway shortly after my mother had died. One landed on my windshield when I was particularly broke and lost. Maybe this one was there because I just needed to feel less alone.

End scene.

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Telephone Wires (cellphone pic)

Happy Birthday, I Know You Are Not Special

 

Happy birth.

Happy birth.

A letter to my son on his 9th birthday. 

You are nine today. Mazel Tov!

The last of the single digits; one number shy of double digits, forever.

So, I gotta be straight with you.

Look, as much as I love you, you are not special; not as much as you would like to think you are; certainly not as much as the myth that your dad and I have perpetrated to you and to the world.

The truth is that the outside world is a son of a bitch and you are a number.

YOU

ARE

A

NUMBER.

The truth is you will be nothing more than a series of numbers throughout your lifetime:

A student ID number

An employee number

A social security number

A paycheck

No matter how much I try to enhance your childhood and/or helicopter you and/or let you fail and/or fall on your face and/or get frustrated with you, you will still grow up to be an adult. You will venture out among your generation whilst trying to find your way. You will be lost. You will be off searching for meaning. You will be narcissistic and you won’t understand why the world can’t see you as the unique and beautiful snowflake that your mom and dad see in you in your daily funny faces and your very bizarre jokes.

I am a nihilist by nature. I often joke with your dad about which of the things we have done that will eventually land you in therapy. I watched “The Breakfast Club” the other day and it reminded me that we may already be on the path to becoming the parents that John Hughes once prophecized in my ear through the Brat Pack’s lips.

Pretty bleak birthday card, right? Well you should be used to this by now. I am always warning you of life’s dangers at the happiest of moments and at the most inopportune of times. It is my life’s preparatory course. But bear with me — you only have another 40 years of this.

The truth is you are a number to everyone.

To me you are 6:10 am, 4lbs 13oz, 4/3/05, 9 years

The truth is, as unfair as it is and as much as you would like to be, you won’t be special to everyone. You will simply be ANYONE. But hopefully throughout your life, you will find your tribes. The ones that tell you the truth, the ones that will have your back, the ones that will get you into epic trouble, and the ones that will make you laugh. And hopefully you will find the significant others that get you and your need for classic rock, TV commercial reciting, and varying other things. These are the people who will know you as SOMEONE. And vice versa. They will be your respite when the EVERYONE ELSES make life unbearable.

I have already seen the inklings of the grown up you. The one that sits next to a girl at the school dance until her friends arrive, just so she doesn’t have to sit alone.

The one that screams at the kid to apologize for pushing the other kid.

I have been pushing you since the day I met you. Your dad and I push you to do the things that suck. You didn’t want to go to the head table alone but I made you. You wanted a cookie but you were too embarrassed to ask. “No one is gonna give you anything unless you ask for it. So you can sit here with regret or you can make something happen. I am not always gonna be there to help you through the tough stuff.”

You whimpered all the way to the table, asked for a cookie, and wouldn’t look at me for the rest of the event. You were pissed and shot me eyeball daggers. I will deal with the fleeting hatred if it shows you what you are capable of.

• • •

I promised I would never lie to you about important things. So I am writing down these truths for you to read when you are ready.

The truth is, you know more about being a kid than I know about being an adult parent. Truthfully, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.

The truth is that I sometimes paint the world as far too bleak when I should be reveling in the moment. Your dad already knows this about me. I am desperately trying to learn how to find the balance.

The truth is that you don’t need to be special to everyone. Just your tribe. All you need to be is authentically you. Don’t lie to yourself.

The truth is that you will need to work hard. Anything worth doing takes work.

The truth is that you will need to be strong. There are a series of head tables and cookies for the taking in this life. You have to be strong enough to ask for them or figure out a way to earn them.

The truth is that you will need to be independent or you won’t survive in this life for every long.

The truth is that you will need to pay your dues. Everyone does.

The truth is that we love you. No matter what. I say it now and I mean it always. That being said, you will never be too old for hugs and kisses. Deal with it.

• • •

I drove you to school today. Your little voice sang “Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe along with me and the radio. You were belting out that tune as strongly as any person should sing on their birthday. The drive and the song made me think about you in kindergarten. One of the first things they have you memorize is your phone number and your house number.

Home.

The number you are always welcome to return to.

Happy 9th, Buddy.

 

Goofy face. First photo of 9.

Goofy face. First photo of 9.

 

I want to be a Sandwich

An exercise from a long ago desktop publishing class. 

“Make yourself a business card in QuarkXpress. Your occupation can be anything you want. Make a statement, graphically. Make it you.” 

— So and So, Journalist

— Such and Such, Designer

— Blah Blah Blah, Photographer

— etc.

One word descriptors for a career identity.

The possibilities sent my brain into overload. Over analyzing a simple exercise into prophecy has always been one of my neurotic fortes. I can take any simple assignment and somehow turned into a life plan, like I was carving my fate into the granite of my tombstone.

Jumbled phrases in my mind’s eye appeared like endless words on reams of paper from a teletype. It kind of looked like this except it went on and on and on:

WREARTISTTRTYUIOPOETBHUM

DFGHJKLUIPHOTOGRAPHERKOP

XCVGMUSICIANHJMPAINTEROLP

GRAPHICDESIGNERVYJMLGFYFLY

WTEUJOURNALISTOPSTOPSTOPST

OPSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOPS

I could not see my identity clearly. I frantically typed. I sweat over the details.

My finished card ended up looking like my mom sat down and wrote a letter of recommendation for me in crayon.

Mismatched fonts of Times New Roman italic and Garamond bold. A hand drawn stick figure version of myself, you know, to give it that professional yet personal touch.

I named myself a company. PICTURE THIS. I thought this was sooooooo clever. Photography (one of my many listed attributes) = Picture. I bet no one had ever though of such thing.

The almost 40 year me is eye rolling as we speak.

Kimberly McCarty, Graphically Designing Public Relations Journalist Photographer Artist

My professor told me that I had to narrow it down.

“You will never get good at any one thing until you narrow yourself down.”

But what if I want to do everything?

I guess I am still asking myself that same question.

I want to be this sandwich

I want to be this sandwich

I want to be this sandwich. I want to be every version of this sandwich. The one before it is bitten into, masticated and ground into something else. The sandwich of every flavor and condiment. The Schrödinger’s cat of sandwiches. The sandwich of the possible. One that can be both roast beef and braunschweiger, harmoniously.

Sigh, how do people know who they are? How do they narrow it down? I read the obits of all the greats and they find a way to make ONE thing uniquely their own.

You become great when you narrow things down. Not everyone can be Da Vinci.

• • •

Dinner time in our house is our daily catch up time. A few weeks ago, we allowed Jack the floor. We promised no interruptions. For the next 30 minutes, an Andy Kaufman-esque type dialogue combining television commercial dialogue and his own blend of witty humor and facial expressions came at us in a fast and furious delight.

We nodded and laughed and listened and asked questions.

I have been trying to be more open to giving him an outlet for his expressiveness. I am still too protective. I still don’t trust adults. I remember many of the adults around me not being very open about expressing myself when I was a kid. One time, when I was about 9 or 10, I attempted to sing the entire Annie soundtrack on my gram’s back porch, my gram begged me to stop singing.

“People are gonna think you are crazy.”

I worry about myself being a dream stifler as well. I worry about harping on him for the things that make me uncomfortable. I worry that I won’t be able to discern when I need to correct him and when to let him be a kid.

My boy is high-strung. He acts out every thought that enters his head. It is both overwhelming and delightful. I worry other people won’t get him. I get too protective. I quell his enthusiasm more than I should.

I wish I worried less. I worry that I worry. I worry that my worry is going to crush his spirit.

“What goes on in that brain of yours?” We asked this at the end of his dinner dialogue.

He laughed as he spoke. “My thoughts are crazy! They make me think so many things and want to do so many things. Like, what if I grow up and want to dress up like a marshmallow and walk down the street and give other people on the street hugs?”

Jackie Rullo, Marshmallow 

I have to figure out a way to allow him to be a marshmallow or a sandwich more often. Maybe I need to heed his vision, dress up like a marshmallow, and stretch out my arms and hug someone.

Or maybe in the most organic and healthiest of ways we should just try to be everything.

dancin with myself

Desk “Dancin with Myself”. Billy Idol. Whoa oh ah oh!

Copacetic Homesteads

I have said it before and I will say it again: I love The Copacetic Comics Company. (3138 Dobson Street, Third Floor, in the Polish Hill section of Pittsburgh).

I can barely finish the last syllable of “Let’s go to Copacetic,” before my son throws on his hat and coat and is standing by the front door. He loves nothing more than breathing in all the comic book smells (even when it makes him sneeze) and the muttery comic book chit chatter.

A short drive up Route 380 towards Bigelow Boulevard. When I have to pause at the traffic light at the intersection of Herron Avenue and Bigelow for more than a few seconds, I intuitively flashback to my younger self. Beat up car, hopelessly lost, trying to find the Electric Banana, (is it on Baum or Bigelow?) desperately hoping to find the club in time to see one of my friends’ bands, or at LEAST make it there before the last act. A decade or more before GPS,  only handwritten maps on slightly used napkins to guide us. I had myself convinced that they kept moving the location, like some sort of secret society or musical prohibition era speakeasy. As I drove back and forth with angered purpose in my 1985 Plymouth Reliant scouring the area for this dive bar beacon of music, I would comfort myself by imagining there was a guy who moved the giant banana that adorned the front awning of the building to a new “secret” location every weekend.

• • •

Copacetic is housed on the top floor of a three-story walk up with a record store and coffee shop on the lower floors. Usually when we enter the building, Jack ascends the stairs and  plops himself down just outside the indoor entrance of Copacetic. Crossed legged on the floor and focused on his own little pile of self accruing comics, he rummages through the piles of 50 cent and free comics, hoping to find a gem. When Jack finally emerges from his stash and decides to go through the main door to the cash register, the owner, Bill Boichel, takes the time to ask him about his favorite authors and book series, which in turn gets Jack even more excited about his Technicolor world. They aren’t very long talks, but Bill makes him feel a part of the scene and scenery in the best possible way. At the end of their last exchange, there was mention of a future tense possibility of a comic internship at the store, that is, “if he is still into such things as a teenager.” As if there is any doubt.

“I have decided right now, as a kid, that I am gonna be a comic book writer and illustrator… and you are gonna help me.” Jack’s declarative statement of career/occupation as we descend the stairs, past Mind Cure Records and out the front doors.

• • •

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The storefront where Copacetic used to stand, Main Street, Wilkinsburg. Photo by Misty Cauthen.

Misty introduced us to the world of Copacetic a few years ago. It is a place that became deeply rooted in her childhood back when it was a simple storefront in Wilkinsburg. A die-hard comic book fan, she would spend hours, days, etc. with her Dad at the old location. Those moments fueled her love of comics and cemented a deeply personal relationship.

She, like Jack, sits crossed legged in front of the comics. Our boys listen to her stories. My old college friend’s eyes beam with excitement when she spoke of the that tiny place of her youth that has since expanded to the little less tiny space it is now.

“Bill was always so cool. He really liked my dad because he was such a geek. They’d talk about titles forever. Bill also carried records. Vinyl. Great finds, from Jazz to fabulous imports.”

A few years ago, she gave Jack a copy of Marvel Fantastic Firsts. For several months, we read a character origin religiously every night until completion.

Comic friendships run deep.

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Our boys. Comic bliss. Copacetic.

Vintage Superheros. Misty and her daddy back in the day.

Vintage Superheroes. Misty and her papa. 1970 something.

• • •

Jack and I went to Copacetic on a whim right before the holidays. He was hoping to kill sometime before a dentist appointment. I was hoping to score a copy of “Hip Hop Family Tree” by Ed Piskor. Due to my work schedule, illnesses, small paychecks, and other acts of God and of the Universe, I missed all of the Piskor signing events. I knew this comic was gonna be a tough find due to the fact it already sold out of its first printing. Bill, who I realize now, totally reminds me of the 4th doctor from Dr. Who, told me that he would take my name down and if a copy became available he would call me. I never expected a call but I received one right before New Years. That kind of customer service is one of the many reasons I dig this place.

My new copy of Hip Hop Family Tree complete with Pirates Hat

My new copy of Hip Hop Family Tree. Check out the old school Pittsburgh Pirates cap.

• • •

I don’t pretend to be as deeply embedded in hip hop culture as the Piskor, but I have been following his illustrative process through his online posts and blog sketches since 2010 when he was an artist in a show that I guest curated. His passion for his art is the kind of passion and dedication that I see in so many of the local artists in our area. (Seriously if you have not already done it, you MUST check out some of the amazing artists of Pittsburgh.) Perhaps that was one of the other reasons I felt almost compelled to track down one of these hard to find books. I love supporting our local art scene.

Or maybe it is just knowing that the Homestead/Munhall area that Piskor and I once shared was such a huge influence on this project. Piskor is from Homestead and I spent eight years of my life attending elementary school in Munhall. Our shared regional borders of residence and education merge and blend together so seamlessly that when I was growing up I never knew where Homestead ended and Munhall began. Back then, I also never realized that the Homestead High Level Bridge was the only thing that separated us from the city of Pittsburgh. The city seemed so far away from where we were. Especially knowing I had to cross yet another bridge into my hometown of Duquesne. Either way, all of the nostalgia, the art, the comics, our roots, my dear friend, and all of our shared homesteads leads me somewhere. To a short drive over a long bridge, reminiscing:

Kickball on 10th Avenue in knee socks and plaid jumpers; Blue Bonnet bakery on 8th Avenue; The church at the end of the street where Liturgy was chanted in Slovak and in the basement there were 25 cent donuts prepared by little old ladies in hair nets; Sitting on the curb at recess while the boys played football and we listened to Run DMC and Licensed to Ill for the first time on a boom box that the nuns miraculously allowed us to have; To Another boom box in the back of our school van where the older kids played Roxanne’s Revenge, Slick Rick, and Grandmaster Flash. The older kids would sing along with the words and change the dirty ones, (I specifically remember a girl changing creamy thighs to creamy pies in Erotic City), screaming those alternate rhyming words so we wouldn’t get the boom box taken away by the van driver (not that he was really even paying attention.) We would kneel on the seat and face the older kids in the back, the cool seat. We were in awe and laughter as one by one we were dropped off to our destinations throughout the Mon Valley. Bouncing and humming and talking all the way home. Thinking on my next term paper: A Walkman, oversized headphones, LL Cool J and George Michael. A 1980s world to myself.

• • •

 A few snippets from my journey. (Homestead/Munhall/Polish Hill)

St. John's Cathedral, 1982-83

St. John’s Cathedral, 1982-83. I am the first person in the front row.

A snowy day, trying to look pensive outside of my old Elementary school. St. John's Cathedral which is now Ascension School.

A snowy day, trying to look pensive outside of my old Elementary school. St. John’s Cathedral which is now Ascension School. 10th ave.

St. John's Cathedral Church Steeple. 10th Ave.

St. John’s Cathedral Church Steeple. 10th Ave.

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The Carnegie Library of Homstead. 10th Ave. We performed several plays there as tikes.

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The Gazebo. 10th Ave.

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The Top of the Gazebo. 10th Ave.

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There were so many of these Wrought Iron fences in and around our school. 10th Ave.

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Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Polish Hill.

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Copacetic Signage

For all I know: A love letter to my friends who are turning 40

My 1990s Journals

My 1990s Journals

A few days ago, I read through a few of my old journals… until I just could not read them anymore. There is nothing more humbling, more grounding, and more “kick-you-in-the-ass, you-so-thought-you-were-Sylvia-Plath-but-you-really-were-just-a-person-who-used-too-many-lame-metaphors-for-the-emptiness-that-only-YOU-could-understand” than reading your old journals.

In truth, I was just a regular old pathetic girl searching for love in a dysfunctional life who was probably just like every other pathetic 17-year-old person in the same circumstance. I did not understand my family, my friends, myself, and I thought I knew the depths of everything and everyone. Even when freely admitting (even back then) that I knew nothing. If only everyone could be like me, this life would be soooo much easier. I still love that naive girl. But in a disembodied, motherly kind of way.

Case in point. This was the cover of my journal as I entered college, I kid you not.

My Beauty and The Beast Journal. Yes. I loved this show.

My Beauty and The Beast Journal. Yes. I loved this show. Don’t Judge.

• March 4, 1992: “I know I shouldn’t be complaining, especially on Ash Wednesday…”

• August 27, 1990: “Today was my first day as a junior in high school. I thought it was going to be fun, but it wasn’t…”

• September 2, 1990: ” He said he came back to the dance early so he could dance the last dance with me. I think I like him, but I would never say anything.”

• 1990-1992: Some version of: “I am so pissed off/confused/angry at/jealous of/insert life sucks analogy here.”

Oh and there are many, many, MANY versions of the last sentence in my early journals.

Maaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyy.

Like Twillight Saga level, metaphorically speaking, many.

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Song lyrics usually highlighted most pages. Or at least the back covers.

• • •

I finally found what I was searching for, weeding through all those angsty lines.

• September 1, 1992: “Well, I ‘m sitting here in my dorm room. This whole experience has been a lot different from what I expected it to be. It’s not like high school, but I still feel lost. This feels so weird. I can start over in a sense and just be myself. No prejudging. I can finally start working towards being who I was meant to be. I hope I like it here. I’m kind of scared. I don’t know if I will be doing this (my Journalism major) for the rest of my life. I honestly don’t know if I would want to do this forever… I would really like to try acting… I hope I like it here… I feel like I have changed… I think I am ready.”

This past New Year’s Eve, I started thinking which in turn prompted me to read the journals. As I approach my 40th year, I want to think back on all that has happened and all I have become before moving to the next part.

So I have.

I have started thinking about all the people who have brought me here.

Who grew up with me.

Who sang/lip synched/or otherwise randomly danced in inappropriately venues with me.

Who have laughed/cried with me on stairwells, in movie theaters, and in other inappropriate venues.

Who gave me my first jobs. My first internships.

Who loved me.

Who broke my heart.

Who took road trips and Greyhound bus rides with me to new destinations and  life changing trips.

Who have told me the truth in the kindest and cruelest of ways.

Who have argued with me.

Who challenged me to be better.

I am in awe of you. All of you.

I see how far my almost 40-year-old friends have come. Girls who have become fierce women who I respect and admire, doing things that make me proud to have once shared the same space with them. Starting businesses and starting over. Becoming fantastic parents, partners, spouses, and/or fantastic independent women.

People who taught me lifelong friendship, kindness, and have become my family.

Creative people who have inspired me to try something new. Who make me want to create. To put myself out there. To make art.

To those who have inspired me to be more honest and more authentic.

To the men and women who are role models for my family and for my son.

Even to those who I have lost touch with, grew apart from, who had to be left behind, I thank you for the lessons that I desperately needed to learn. I finally understand the importance of these things. The bad things. The mean things. The other things.

Yesterday, the radio reminded me of you. So here is my gift to you. (I have been singing this all darn day.) You will never know how much you mean to me. I have nine months left of 39. Happy Birthday year to us all. Here is to an even greater rest of our lives.

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Yes, I made fan art for you people. No, I do not own these lyrics, nor do I have INXS kind of money. Just a simple love letter to all of you that only Michael Hutchence could express adequately.

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Yes, I made fan art for you people. No, I do not own these lyrics, nor do I have INXS kind of money. Just a simple love letter to all of you that only Michael Hutchence could express adequately.

• • •

• February 2, 1996: “All this time I thought I was a grown up, but he hit the nail on the head. ‘You are going to be a very strong woman someday — you’re almost there.’ It never really hit me until he said it — I’m not a grown up. I’m not going to be a grown up until I get into that one thing that will make me strong.”

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Excerpt

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Kim Grows Up.

Shadows

There is a story to be told here and I am writing it as we speak

There is a story to be told here and I am writing it as we speak

I was exhausted from this week so I nodded off mid task, mid morning. “I had this dream through a vintage filter.”

These were the notes I scribbled down when I woke, my eyes still partially closed.

_________

I had this dream through a vintage filter…

Walking a long path, in nature, taking photos. Trying to figure out my Photo of the Day. The theme is shadows. My two siblings were in front, talking. We were all both very young and of our age.

We were making our way to a house. Not home, but it felt like home.

I saw an old chair under the stairs that were underneath the back porch. Told my siblings to go on ahead. Apparently my Dad was following us as well, like he belonged there, even though he had passed many years ago. He was skipping and jumping behind us. Aware we were there but not really engaging. (It has been four years since he passed and even longer since we talked. The reasons are varied and necessary.) I wanted him to go on ahead with the rest of the family. I just wanted to get my shot. Dad ignored my requests and subtle gestures. He was climbing around like a schoolboy. Skipping steps. Leaping. Singing “Dad is great, he’s a special boy, la la la.” I don’t know if he was referencing his own dad or calling himself dad. He was doing awkward splits between a stair and the armchair.

I kept moving around the room. The under the stars was both a basement and outdoors simultaneously. He would not let me take my photo due to his goofing around. When he did finally clear the shot, the original photo angle I saw was now terrible.

He somehow took the shadows away.

I kept looking at him and he was still laughing, giddily. I smiled. Then I started crying. I caught sight of my sister’s face. She was tearing up. I said in a very heartfelt way, “I’m sorry, Dad.” He stopped his playing. He looked like someone else. Like a mixture of my Dad and Pierce Brosnan. He said “Don’t be. I’m really happy now.” I grabbed his leg. He was wearing the same brown polyester pants he wore in the 80s. Business suits. The kind he wore for meetings.

Photo of the day

Photo of the day

A Reminder

It has been a while. A long few months. A lot of blank blog pages and experiences left to memory.

Here I conduct Elton John (“Funeral for a Friend” to be precise) as a Jubilant Narcissistic Captain Fantastic in celebration of everyone’s crappy or happy Wednesday.

Here’s to motivation, finishing unfinished projects, and writing more things.

xo

Cheese Touch and Backpacks

The Cheese Touch. Photo by me.

The Cheese Touch. Photo by me.

I have developed a nervous tic over the last three years. It is not one of those things I normally discuss in mixed company, but a third grader has given me… well… what I can only describe as the twitch that now resides in the back of my neck and relentlessly utters two tiny little words…

I don’t remember exactly when it started. Maybe sometime in the middle of Jack’s Kindergarten year. This small tap on my back and a whisper.

“Cheese Touch.”

I turned around to this sweet face, his blue eyes beaming with delight. He ran on the bus before I could retaliate.

Ah, Connor.

He had just discovered the joy of  “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and decided to unleash this epic battle of wills on our unsuspecting bus stop. If you are unaware of what the Cheese Touch is, it’s the childhood game of cooties modernized for the 21st century kid and immortalized in Jeff Kinney’s wonderful book and film series. If somebody has the Cheese Touch, they will be an outcast until they pass it onto someone else by touching them. The only way for people to protect themselves from the Cheese Touch is to cross their fingers. Yay for kid logic!

At present, our bus stop is tainted with much cheese funk. I think I have been tainted for all eternity.

Everyday it is Parents vs. Kids. Parents vs. Parents. Connor vs. Everyone.

My fingers have been crossed for almost three years, fused together each and every morning as if I was trying to avoid the plague. Connor always arrives at the stop later than most of the other kids. Sometimes a chain of warning cries gets passed along by my son to the other children to the rest of the stop, “CONNOR IS COMING!”; other times I have to keenly tune my hearing to the swish of his shorts or the rustle of his backpack. Sometimes he wears bright orange. Other times its camouflage. I have caught him hiding behind parked vans where his mother has warned me of his presence. Sometimes he strikes everyday, weeks at a time. Sometimes he waits weeks to strike. Three long years.

Sometimes he is almost thwarted…

I was sooooo stealthy that day. I proceeded down my hill toward the stop. I caught a glimpse of a backpack peeking out from behind a telephone pole. My heart thumped in my chest. I felt like I was in the middle of some covert operation. I cut through a neighbor’s front yard, onto their porch, and down their front stoop to reach the other side of the pole where the boy’s view was slightly obstructed. “Don’t let Connor know I can see him.” I whispered these words to Jack as he ran ahead of me towards the other kids. I approached and I reached towards him with pointed finger. And just as I was about to finally touch the tip of his hoodie, I don’t know if I took one too many steps or if Connor became aware of the other parental spectators who were desperately trying to muffle their laughter in their hands, but he ducked and covered with the expertise of a kid twice his age. We all burst into laughter at what almost could have been.

Other times he is nothing short of victorious…

I was standing by the bus line saying “see ya later” to the kids. I did not think he was going to school that day so my defenses were down. He came out of his house like a shot. I heard his familiar swish but I was powerless to stop it from happening. The world converted to a slow motion montage as I was abruptly struck. I could almost hear Adagio for Strings playing in the background. I feigned a defeated collapse in the neighbor’s yard and dramatically punched the ground. I raised my fists to the heavens and screamed “CURSES!” I swore my cry echoed throughout all of the South Hills that morning. I saw his smiling, mocking face through the bus window as he rode off in victory.

I am never safe. Once, while I was comforting my son at the stop he brushed my shoulder while I was in mid hug with my boy. He whispered those cursed words in my ear.

There is a glorious sled riding hill in the park close to our stop. We parents have joked that one day before Connor graduates to the middle school we will finally just have to have an epic “Braveheart” style battle. The children of our Avenue Bus Stop on the hillside, Connor in face paint and kilt leading the charge to the adults down below. “Freedom and Cheese!” will be their cry.

I jokingly tell the parents that one day I imagine Connor showing up at the my nursing home. My hands crippled with arthritis, no longer able to cross my bony fingers. I will be helpless. He will arrive, dressed as an orderly, brush my arm and whisper those words one last time.

And our beloved crossing guard Bob will be smiling down from wherever he is, taking it all in, and laughing at this precocious little boy, our silly games, and our little bus stop family. RIP Robert Rivet. Thank you for laughing with us and finding joy in all of us.