Mother Blue

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

Category: Memories

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.

• • •

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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.

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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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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)

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.

never-tear-us-apart-1

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.

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.

Night Swimming and Happy Birthdays

Jack and Max, by Cara McDougal

A lot on my mind and a lot on my plate these past few weeks. Not the least of which has been suffocating feel of time progression that seems to get faster and faster with each passing day. My blog entries become less and less even though I still have so much to say. I have got my head in the game, the eye on the prize, and yet time seems to saunter mockingly all the while running at an electric pace. Time, oh no, you have not been a friend as of late.

• • •

The other morning as I was tired from a long night of work, fumbling for my keys, and working hard to get into my car. I overheard someone getting into the car next to me say “We are young” as in the context of “Why not, we are young. Let’s just do it.” For all I know they could have been discussing the possibility of switching from diet to regular soda, or excited over staying up past 10:30 p.m. on a school night (which is usually my version of a leap into adventure). We Are Young. The words hovered in the air for a second. For reasons I did not yet acknowledge in that particular moment, I was left sideswiped and so awestruck by the power of those three little words that I opened my car door and fumbled for something to write on in my overly cluttered glove box. I sat down in the driver’s seat and wrote those words down in big bold letters on the back of a scrap piece of paper (which may or may not have been the back of my registration card.) WE ARE YOUNG…

• • •

My little boy turns seven today. This birthday is the first one where both my husband and I have admitted to feeling the real impact of the weight of his age. A friend of mine encapsulated the reasons for this perfectly. Seven means our little ones are really in the full throes of being a kid. All signs of being a toddler are way in our rearview mirrors. The slow and steady pace of the endurance test that is adolescence to the wretched middle school years and beyond has begun.

 • • •

The photo at the top of this blog was taken last summer by a good friend of mine. Jack is the one on the left. This image took my breathe away when I first saw it. To me, it is youth personified. It is exactly how I see Jack. It is exactly how he feels to me, to us. She managed to capture it perfectly. I had thought of including many pictorial representations of Jack for this particular blog entry, but in the end this photo became the only one because I felt no other image could illustrate Jack more faithfully and beautifully than this image could.

• • •

After scrawling down the words WE ARE YOUNG and tracing over the letters a few times, I turned the key in the ignition. That ear worm of a song “We are Young” came on. I laughed at the timing and the coincidence and knew it had less to do with some magical, cosmic connection with the universe and more because you simply can not turn on the radio right now without hearing it or a station fading into it within moments. I knew everything about this moment was cliché as I was living it, but age and mommihood entitles you some cliché. Not to mention on this particular morning I had completely forgotten to pack Jack’s lunch and had raced over to the school unshowered and unkempt hoping to get his food to him before his foodless panic set in. My penchant for caring about how I looked or what was playing on the radio had pretty much flown out the window in that moment. So I sat back and listened to the poppy tune. Ah youth… that song’s intent was to manipulate the listener into an anthem of experiences of his or her own youth and declarations of living life to the fullest while things are still brand new, or at the very least a vehicle for which us older folks can reflect upon. But I didn’t reflect upon my own misspent or misguided and sometimes intoxicating youth. For the first time I really thought about his.

I mean I really thought about it. He is in IT. WOW. I always knew that this was his time, but I had to remember that it is actually HIS time. He is experiencing his youth right now; not this abstract or voyeuristic perspective I have of his growing up. These are his memories and they are all coming fast and furious while I am sipping my coffee and making my phone calls. His firsts, the life of his own, as a friend of mine put so eloquently in her blog post: I am beginning to watch him run toward something else, and away from me. The stuff I now reflect upon about myself as I get older. It is his slow motion montage that will be played through filtered glasses and “edited for television” at a later date. His journey to be whatever he wants it to be as he gets older, all slowed down and subtle, with all the feelings that those moments emote. The stuff that dreams are made of and car commercials run on.

My nostalgia level is probably waxing more lately not only because of Jack’s birthday, but because I had been working on my son’s elementary school yearbook. I had been logging in quotes and memories of the past school years from the staff and students, and had been pouring over current classroom photos that will eventually meld into “what were they thinking” hairstyles and faded memories. I was seeing and reading all the talk of the “possible” and knowing they don’t yet understand the gravity and weight of their choices, their voices, and their ideas at this stage of their game.

 • • •

The Youth song faded into a muffled and incoherent wall of sound. I left the radio scan for a bit as I journeyed home. “Nightswimming” was half over but I stopped the scan there anyways. My youth began to fade into my mind. I never night swam until I was an adult but the recollections of moments came into play. The simplistic beauty of that song took me back to every first everything, to the point that this whole morning car reflection experience felt corny and overly earnest but not necessarily in a Lifetime movie way. I guess more in the movie montage way or another contrived way that sometimes actually happens in real life when you sit in the parking lot of your son’s school in ripped sweatpants and tousled hairs on a random Tuesday.

• • •

I keep finding more and more reasons to want to be. I am still on the edge of exploring this newfound lust for life that has reared its adventurous head to a woman whose realistic, responsible self usually beats the idealistic one into submission. New people to love and appreciate, kisses to give as the credits roll, hugs to random strangers. I am waiting to go night swimming again and skinny dip off the highest cliff with the ones I love. Right now I am standing on the edge, naked, ready to dive in. I am getting ready to jump.

• • •

Happy birthday my dearest, Pumpkin King. You have made me want to believe that all is possible.

Summer Skies in Winter

My Reflection in the Dirty Window on the 6th Floor

I spent most of the past year and a half looking up.

My obsession with “up” was born out of another obsession (borderline paranoid neurosis) that was born out of purchasing a home. I am an excessive roof/gutter checker, i.e. I am terrified that I will awake one day to a huge hole in my box gutter, or an even bigger one in my roof. This daily practice has caused me to look more upwards more often than most people should. This habit has gradually morphed into my neck craning skyward whenever I venture outdoors. First it was to check out everyone else’s roofs and gutters and compare their maintenance/deterioration to mine. But all this measured structural analysis led my eye drift skyward on more days. I guess I didn’t realize until quite recently how striking Pennsylvania skies can be; or maybe I just don’t remember them ever being quite as dynamic as they were this year; or perhaps there was just more pollution creating more cloud covers and wacky weather patterns; or maybe I was just paying closer attention than ever before; or maybe I just chose to look up more often.

Clouds Over my House.

Looking up into the sky reminds me of my summers working as a sweeperette at Kennywood Park. Back in those days, I loved having the 4 p.m. shift. The late start to the work day helped me to avoid walking around the park in the wretched noon day sun. And as an added bonus, if the weather was pleasant, it gave me a chance to head to the local water park with a few of my friends who also had my same schedule. We would always dash straight towards the “Lazy River.” We spent the day talking and not talking while floating um, lazily, in oversized inner tubes on this man-made “river.” We held onto the handles of each other’s tubes in order to stay together amongst the long line of tubers. Usually we ended the day happy, sleepy, and near sun poisoned. The following hours would entail sweeping up the remnants of leftover amusement park fun while nursing our pinkish skin with aloe vera, praying for the cotton of our polo shirts to stop scratching at our blisters. Ah, the bliss of young summers.

Parking Lot Sunset.

The memory of one of those “water park days” came to mind the other night. I remembered sitting on the foot of my friend’s bed laughing, joking, and listening to music before getting ready to head out. The Bodyguard soundtrack was playing in the background. As the next track began to play, my friend stopped talking, sat down on the bed, and leaned back on her elbows. She tilted her head back, inhaled and then exhaled and said, almost in the register of a shout, “I love this song.” She belted out that tune like it was written for her. She was looking up when she first belted out her tune, and then she turned her head looked directly at me and began to sing in that jokey way only close girlfriends can. I followed suit. I remember the look on her face and sound of her voice as if it were yesterday.

That was the summer before “devastatingly” serious relationships started to rear their lovely, angst filled heads; the summer before my mother died; the time when college was just beginning, before  momentum of growing up took hold. I loved the innocence of those Kennywood summers, the simplicity of lying on a bed and singing out loud with a close friend. When living in those moments were all you were required to do. I spent most of those summers looking at the ground, sweeping. I barely opened my eyes on the “Lazy River” because the sun was usually quite bright, even on the most overcast of days. I looked for the moments I could peek through and let the sunlight in, but I was often left seeing the imprints the clouds left behind when I was forced to close my eyes again.

Driving back from the water park, the car was usually quiet and listless. Sometimes I would plop myself down in the seat and rest my head on the passenger side window. I was finally able to look up and out into the summer sky without sunny obstructions and daydream into the cloud patterns. Certain clouds would catch my eye and I would stare at them the entire drive, wondering if they would be able to hang on to our speedometer long enough and make it all the way to our destination. The screech of brake dust when we arrived in the parking lot woke me from my fixation. “Sigh. Eight more hours of work.” Summer was calling…

• • •

Excerpts from “looking up”. A few unposted skies from this past year.

After the storm

Cloud that Followed Me After the Storm.

Cloud that Waited for Me After the Graduation Party.

Winter Storm 1

Winter Storm 2

Winter Storm 3

Tightrope to the Clouds.

Waiting for Batman 1.

Waiting for Batman 2.

Jack's Cloud City (reminds us of The Empire Strikes Back).

Staring into Snow Globes Makes Me Feel Like a Little Kid

The Ladies Who Lunch.

December 23rd is my favorite day of year.

In fact, the time spanning from December 20th through December 23rd are simply the most… “something…” days of the year. There is an unprecedented “something” in the air that simply can not be described. Everyone is excited. Every moment is cliché. Every emotion is extreme. Everyone is coming up romance, or regret, or worry, or melancholy. Everyone is pushing to get final projects done, or slacking from their work, or daydreaming their December away. Everyone is either making merry or bah humbugging the merry makers. And everyone outside of your immediate family is trying to get one last chance to see you before Christmas eve. Everyone is feeling “something.” And it seems as if everyone’s holiday treat has been laced with ecstasy.

I never really liked Christmas Day. It always felt like a big let down. The commercially fabricated Christmas specials, the emotionally induced high of gift giving and receiving, the spirituality, the evening parties, and all the rest of the “stuff” that was the previous month ends on that day, most likely by 10 am. In the past, I usually spent the rest of the day trying to find a way to recapture the magic 23rd.

Over the last two years, I have been gradually trying to alter my holiday perceptions. I always dreamt of hot cocoa, a holiday medley around the fire, and Vermont style inns. What I usually received was a nice holiday that never quite lived up to my unattainable Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye expectations. (My expectations often lead to excessively elaborate production numbers often involving a piano.)

This year, I have decided to try to make the best of everything that happens or does not happen. I have decided to make my holiday week a week worth remembering. I decided to fill it with fun and little expectation, and I decided to at least try to attend every extended invitation. I decided to make time for moments instead of succumbing to the pressure of the big picture.

View from the Parking Lot.

I headed to the Strip District on Tuesday to meet Sarah Wojdylak and Lisa Toboz on their lunch break. I was struck by the fact I had not really hung out in the Strip since working there many years ago. The smells, sights and sounds of that place both transports me to and makes me long for New York City. I had spent many a day eating crab cakes at Roland’s, fresh fish from Wholey’s, or devouring meatball subs while sitting on the roof of our office building watching the cars drive across the 16th street bridge. Gosh, I love the Strip.

Waiting at Sunseri's.

I saw Lisa’s plastic umbrella emerge through the crowds of holiday shoppers even before I saw the two of them walk towards me. The shape of her umbrella took me back to being a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s one of those umbrellas that takes over the entire upper half of your body when you were a kid. It was always warm inside and your voice sounded modulated from the way it bounced off the clear thick walls. I imagined it as a giant snow globe and I immediately wanted to capture it “on film.” Prior to our meeting, we had briefly discussed trying to find a weird holiday display on this lunch break (maybe even dolling ourselves up in tinsel) and photographing ourselves in front of it; like some sort of weird Christmas card homage. But there were no real cheeky, technicolor-like displays in the Strip. Lisa mentioned an out-of-the-way church courtyard that may have “something” to it so we followed. I was fixated on the umbrella/snow globe. When we arrived we knew right away that we had found something wonderful. We excitedly passed around my shabby Nikon Coolpix point and shoot camera that has truly seen better days but still take great images. Our time was restricted due to their lunch schedules. I could have shot for another hour. I am grateful for these little impromptu sessions. They always reenergize me. I felt like a little kid posing and watching them inside our makeshift snow globe. It gave me that intangible, magical feeling you only get around the holidays.

Lisa's Plastic Fantastic Umbrella.

A friend of mine once described a difficult event in his life as someone “shaking up his snow globe.” This year, mine has been rattled to the point that I am still waiting for the snow to settle to reveal the fabrication inside. I am weirdly humbled and mostly thankful for all that has happened these past 12 months because it has led me to some joy filled moments happening right now, like this one: these snow globes of abstract something. I don’t know what the rest of this week will bring, but for now I leave you with this most recent set of makeshift snow globe moments (below) and I wish you all the merriest of holidays. (Photos by me, Sarah Wo and Lisa T. Thanks for the inspiration, ladies.)

SNOW GLOBES

ICONS

LEAVING