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Part of a child’s “charm” is his honesty.  There are a myriad of shows, videos, bloopers, and posts centered on a little kid who utters sentences void of any decorum or etiquette but ripe with observation.  Take the movie “Kindergarten Cop” as a case in point (I know I know – The Governator sucks but bear with me).  In a clip, 5-year-olds tell Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character things about their Daddys.  The kids respond with sincere descriptions such as, “My dad can’t wear any hats because his head is too big”; “My dad doesn’t do anything since the crash”; “My dad lives in New York and drives a taxi.  My mom hopes he dies real soon”; and a set of twins who synchronize: “Our mom says our dad is a real sex machine”. 

Funny for Hollywood.  Cute for the observer.  Hilarious if it isn’t your own kid.  But I’d like to discuss the dark side of a toddler’s empirical evidences – when it isn’t funny, when it isn’t cute, and when it is your kid. 

I was gone all weekend painting cakes downtown for St. Louis’ “Cakeway to the West” public art display.  My three boys had school yesterday and I missed them immensely.  My youngest, 3-year-old Samuel Jude (my puppeteer)  was home today so I made our time together all about him.  I said, “Hey, Sammy, wanna play horsey?”  “Yeah!!!” he screamed as he lumbered atop my back.  For a 3 year old, Samuel is off the pediatric charts for height and weight.  He is a solid mass of boy so I can only slowly crawl around our living room with his grip choking me out as he wailed in delight like I’m a fucking go-kart. As I circled around the coffee table, he told me, “This is more like riding a rhino”.                                                                           Image

I’m not sure how he knows what a rhinoceros is but you certainly don’t equate that animal as having the graceful qualities of a horse.  You describe linebackers as rhinos. Not a game called “Horsey”.  And not your mom. I’m pretty sure Samuel isn’t a Persian prince swinging into an ancient Roman territory in an attempt to usurp control by intimidating the residents through a dramatic rhinoceros-riding entrance. And I’m pretty sure I don’t share any DNA with a dinosaur’s cousin.  Knowing, however, that my girth is akin to that pre-historic like animal, can only mean that Samuel is calling me a fat ass.  Which isn’t entirely false since I’ve gained 30 pounds while grieving the sudden death of my papa. (I blame this “food = comfort” mentality completely on my mother who, after I would inevitable fuck up during piano recitals as a kid, would assuage my self-loathing by suggesting we go to the Parkmoor and eat a Belgian waffle, cause, you know, that will make my failures okay. But a mother’s guilt trips are for another story…)

During my period of mourning, I’ve also been crying a lot just out of the blue.  Coming off of one such 3-day period of total depression, I finally decided to try and shake it off – starting with taking a shower.  First of all, because I literally needed it (it had been at least 3 days) and secondly, for the metaphorical benefits of washing away the emotional dirt and grime.  Samuel, ever present, sat and waited for me on the bathroom floor, talking the ENTIRE time about who knows what.  As I appeared from behind the glass doors and into the steamy room, Samuel said very matter of factly, “Mommy, you’re broken”.  My head whirled with guilt assuming he was referring to my broken state of mind.  How have I not been meeting my kids’ needs? How needy and selfish have I become?  How have I been failing as a mother lately?  How have I failed as a mother in my entirety? 

As I put on my robe, Samuel goes on to explain, “You’re broken because you don’t have any balls. Ha ha ha!  You have a ‘gina!”.  Sweet relief!  I don’t have to send my kids to therapy – they can go when they can pay for it themselves!  But hold up. Wait a minute. What the fuck did you just say?  I’m BROKEN because I don’t have a penis?  I understand that living with 2 brothers and a father would naturally lend itself to a penis majority mentality.  But it doesn’t mean that not having a penis means I’m lesser, which is what Samuel was insinuating with all of his innocent observations.  

Then I just got pissed. In my bathrobe, I told my 3 year old, in no certain terms, that having a penis does not equate superiority.  I said to him, “I grew up with three brothers and know how to clothesline you so you better watch your mouth.  Plus, you came out of my ‘gina…by the way…it’s VA-gina….but you’re just a baby so don’t know what you’re talking about.” He retorts, “I’m not a baby. I’m a big boy.” His selfish, apathetic response to my threats coupled with his insistence of me being wrong in any capacity started to infuriate me even more.  So I said to him, “Well, if you’re a big boy, then you can go get a job and wipe your own butt”.  Ever the one-upper, Samuel responded, “I don’t have to because dad will do it”. 

Rather than continuing this inane argument, I got dressed into my rhino mom uniform of black knit pants and black t-shirt, muttering defeat about our bullshit patriarchal society. So when you go to Target and see a mom with greasy hair, 2-day old eye makeup smeared on her face, and kids pulling at her for EVERYTHING, know that she’s already been reminded by her children how she hasn’t met some innocuous standard of living predicated upon a child’s barometer. Have compassion for her.  She’s not a hoosier – she’s a mom. And she will fuck you up.   

      

 

  

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I love to cuss.  When I say “love”, what I mean to say is, “Sometimes cussing is the most effective way to get your point across”.  There are infinite possibilities to communicate simply by placing any variety of “fuck” to a noun or verb.  It’s the Baskin Robbins of curse words! With a BA in English/Creative Writing, you’d think I could come up with more clever alternatives of expression.  While I’m not lauding my cooth, I am touting my straight-forward manner.  For example,when I become frustrated with the Sysphenean act of cleaning my house, I could say to my husband, “The ratio of time I spend cleaning up after you versus the time I spend proactively making improvements on our home is wildly unbalance and therefore, I feel as though my intelligence, time, and purpose are under-utilized”.  I COULD say that.  Instead I say, “I’m not your fucking maid”.  But do more words used in a convoluted sentence make me a better communicator?  I may sound more proper but who gives a fuck about that?

I come from a long line of intense orators.  Back in the 60’s, my grandfather, Otto “Doc” Rieke, spent days calling the Vatican (and was charged all of those pre-cell phone long distance minutes).  Doc wanted to let the Pope know that he, a dentist living in Jefferson City, MO, disagreed with the church’s decision to modernize.  Although the Holy See never actually talked to my grandfather, a Cardinal did.  Doc proceeded to inform the Cardinal that he was a  “Goddamn blasphamer for allowing the dogmas of the church crumble underneath pressure from goddamn non-tradionalists”.  The ironic choice of Doc’s curse words within the context of his argument didn’t phase him; Doc was simply expressing his frustration with the Church.

I should point out that I could be lying about this conversation.  I wasn’t there but this is how it was retold to me. Over and over and over.  So it’s not that I’m lying, I guess, but I’m retelling a potential falsehood.  I’d like to clarify since the whole point of this story is using precise language.  But my grandfather DID call the Vatican. Over and over and over.  And he DID eventually talk to a Cardinal.  And he DID tell the Cardinal off.  

Similarly, when I was studying in Dublin, Ireland, I would get a bi-weekly phone call on a pay phone from my parents.  In April, my dad called me giddy as hell. “Weasel (that’s his nickname for me), you wouldn’t believe what a goddamn fiasco this house has been.  We had a storm come through here and blew a fucking…ahem…sorry…a tree on our roof.  And SOMEHOW these stupid fucking…a sorry…these newsfuckingpeople came here with their cameras to ask us ‘What happened?’.  Well what the FUCK do you think happened? A goddamn wind blew a fucking tree on our roof.  End of story!  But they want to prob you to make themselves feel important.  So when this idiot asked me what I thought about this “tragedy”, I told the sonofabitch, ‘This is why it’s called Mother Fucking Nature and not Father Nature because women are evil, wicked, and unpredictable’.  HA HA HA!!! That sonofabitch didn’t know what just happened to him!”

“Dad, well, did they put that on the news?”

“Hell no!  Like I want to be on some goddamn news station pointing out the obvious.  Here’s your mother”.

Discount the sexism, and my dad had a point.  It WAS stupid and pointless for the journalist to ask “What happened?”.  And when it comes to stupidity, my clan has very little tolerance or patience to explain stupid away in a congenial manner.

******************************************************************************

Two weeks ago I took Samuel and Aiden to the Goodwill – after going to the DMV.  At 34, I should know myself well enough that these two excursions done back-to-back with a antagonistic 5 year-old and an iron-willed 3 year-old would put me asunder emotionally.  But I had a half hour to kill in between the DMV and the beginning of Aiden’s school.  So do I chance going home where I know they will take their shoes and pants off, lose the items somewhere in the disasterous abyss of my home, grind crackers into the carpeting, and leave someone with a head wound?  OR, do I keep them out in public where there’s a greater chance that they won’t take their pants off?  I opted (poorly) for the latter.

Since becoming potty-trained, Samuel has begun taking advantage of his “big boy” status.  Shopping carts are for babies, he told me.  And, in case I hadn’t noticed, he is no longer a baby. I “explained” to him that I didn’t want him in a shopping cart because he’s a baby –  but because he’s crazy.  “I’ll be a good boy, Mama”, he retorted as he batted his big blue eyes.  He knows that shit makes me knees weak.015

“Okay.  But if you start running around and acting like a loon, then I’m going to put you in the cart”.  Within 5 minutes of entering the store, he was punished by being placed in the cart. Which made him scream.  Which made people stare at me as if I was abusing my child.  Which made Aiden tease and chide Samuel with his freedom to roam.  Which made Samuel scream even more.  And when I wasn’t looking, Samuel crawled out of the cart.

I have to point out that it’s not really my fault Samuel can crawl out of the cart.  It’s Goodwill’s.  I get that they are a donation center and give their profits to charity, but come on. Can’t you buck up for some carts with belts on them?  I kind of feel like I qualify as a charity case.

The boys immediately ran to the toy aisle, found some big Tonka trucks, and started racing them while I looked for a new pair of painting overalls that I never found.  I did find a brand new 5-piece bed set from Target that was marked “Salvage” for 15 bucks, though.  With items in my cart, I bellowed to Aiden and Sam to “Get here NOW! and put those trucks AWAY!”.  Their pleading and whining commenced.  Refusing to reward their bad behavior, I told them both that if they had been good, then I would have shelled out 2 bucks for the trucks they wanted but because they acted like crazy people, they weren’t going to get them.  Aiden understood I was serious. Samuel did not.

As I checked out, Aiden took his truck back. When he returned, Samuel was still playing with his, now, illicit, truck. Being the older, more “responsible”, and stronger of the two, Aiden grabbed Samuel’s truck from his cold dead hands.  As possession of the second-hand toy was ripped out of Samuel’s clutches, he fell to the ground in a dramatic last attempt to get what he wanted.  Aiden looked at him and stated matter-of-factly, “That’s what you get”.  I rolled my eyes and looked at the cashier like, “Let’s hurry this up, alright?”

With Samuel still bellowing on the ground, a couple of shoppers gathered nearby to witness (what I can only assume to be)  the highlight of their day. I glanced over my shoulder at them with an expression that meant, “I know. I’m sorry.  He’s being ridiculous.  I’m almost finished checking out so the reverberations of his screams will only impair your glorious Goodwill shopping experience for another 3 minutes”.  But as I indicated in the beginning of this story, circumnavigating honesty with platitudes is rarely effective.

An old rag who looked like she had been living underneath a McDonald’s fryer for 4 years must of agreed with me because she parked her cart full of FUCKING SHIT next to me and said very loudly to an equally disshelved man adjacent to her, “This is what’s wrong with parents these days.  They don’t punish their kids with pain.  If you want to punish them, then they need to feel it”.

I’m not above swatting my children’s butts or flicking them in the head when they are being out of control.  But I AM above doing it in public.  And this octogenarian made it clear that if I wasn’t beating my screaming 3 year-old for being a tired, stubborn little boy in front of her, then I MUST be an incompetent mother.

To which I replied to her, “Hey, if you think you can raise kids better than me, then you fucking try.  And I have one more boy.”  Because she looked like she couldn’t do math, I added, “I have three boys.”

She snipped back to me, “I raised 5 kids.  I should have raised eight!”.

I quickly deduced that she must have lost 3 children as infants.  Which made me feel sorry for her.  But not THAT sorry for her because I replied, “Then you should know well enough to keep your goddamn mouth shut and quit being such a fucking bitch”.

The cashier, who was printing up my receipt, turned to her co-workers and exclaimed, “EEEWWWW….No she di’n’t!”

Without missing a beat, the hoarding grease ball of a woman locked glaring eyes with me and sneered, “Takes one to know one”.

She then slithered towards the 1991 prom dress aisle with her head held high like she had really stuck it to me.  And she kind of did.  Rightly so.

I gathered up my bundle of second hand items along with my crying boys and walked out feeling defeated because I hadn’t gotten the last word.  As I drove home, I thought about the poignancy of her attitude.  I don’t like being the receipant of judgment.  However, if the shoe were on the other foot and I was 130 years older…eh…I can kind of empathize where that sad sack of skin was coming from.  In a weird way, we bonded…over thrift store crap… because we were apparently similar ilk  who happened to have run into each other at different ends of the spectrum.  Regardless, that woman can go ahead and fuck herself.

Disclaimer: To my beautiful mother-in-law: I don’t really talk like this and this never really happened. 🙂

In the words of Christian Slater ala “Heathers”, Greetings and Salutations.  I use these words because this is being published posthumously.   Let me outline the events leading up to my death.

Upon Carmen’s untimely demise, the monkey owners decided 5 chickens just wasn’t enough.  So they got two more baby chicks.  I didn’t even have time to peck on them before the Chicken Whisperer “accidentally” dropped one and broke her neck.  Thus, the pet cemetary had to be expanded, once again, for another plot.  At this point, I started thinking that maybe these monkeys were keeping us for some kind of survivalist experiments.  Instead of them being conducted scientifically (with a thesis, hypothesis, controls, variables, and data), however, these experiments are performed on a whim.  It’s like they say: “I wonder what will happen if I push the baby chick off of the table?” If she survives, the next experiment is performed: “I wonder if feeding the chickens cheese will kill them?”. You get the point.

Regardless of my mounting suspicion, I was happy with the introduction of yet 3 more baby chicks after that little one’s death.  Even though it was getting a little crowded in the coop, Carmen’s passing softened my edge.  With my nemesis buried 3 feet under, life just seemed less fulfilling.  I tempered my ego and pride and just decided to take care of the newest members of our family.  And I have to admit – with no man around these parts eliminating any possibility of conceiving, having these babies around got my maternal juices flowing.  I realized this would be the only time I would get to act like a mother.  So I did.

Shadow, Beaker and Vader, however, were less than thrilled about our growing brood.  Being beta bitches,  they felt immediately threatened – thinking the fresh blood meant theirs would be spilled by the monkeys.  They hadn’t learned what Carmen’s death should have taught us all – to live in the moment and fuck all the “what if’s”.  I had been so busy trying to maintain my position as head chicken that I hadn’t even taken the time to know Carmen’s good side.  I regret that.  Once Carmen’s body was disposed of, I vowed to never let my pride stand in the way of accepting chickens for who they are.

Anyway, so these chicks had only me on their side.  I loved them.  I tended to them.  If they didn’t have water in their bowl, I brought some over in my beak to share.  I kept the Three Bitches of Andrews, who wanted to peck at the little ones, away from them.  I was growing into the chicken I was meant to be.

*********************************************************************************

It was a gorgeous spring day when I heard this yelping coming from somewhere yonder.  I had heard this noise before but never this close.  It sounded like an ineffective car alarm and it kept getting closer.  And closer. And closer.  The source of the racket revealed it’s ugly self: furry, long tail, 4 legs, big snout, and lots of white sharp teeth.  I stepped dead in my tracks to make eye contact with this creature.  She and I settled into a staring contest with both of us taking on warrior poses waiting for the other to make the first move.  I heard the woman monkey call out and the beast left.

“What the fuck was THAT?”, I asked Shadow.

“I don’t know.  I’ve never seen anything like it before”.

“It kind of looks like a scary cat”, Beaker chimed in.  “I wonder if this thing is going to stay here – or maybe it just wandered in on its own”.

Vader lurked out from the corner of the run.  “It’s a fucking dog, you morons”.  Vader, who barely speaks, especially to  me, used words only to pass on factual information as means of communicating a point. She didn’t speak of emotions or fodder.  I knew she was right.

“A dog??” we all asked Vader.  I had heard of these creatures but didn’t know anything about them.

“When we were still at the hatchery, I was born a day before you all”, Vader went on to explain.  “During that time, a man had walked in with this furry mutt on a leash.  He came into the store about 5 paces before the dog started barking and jumping up at all of us in our cages.  The owner ran out from the back room because of the commotion and shouted, ‘Get that damn dog out of here. He’ll kill all of our chicks!’.  The man, startled and apologetic, took the dog away.  He came back, got some of my birth mates, and left.  I’ve never seen or heard from them again.  I can only assume that filthy dog did, indeed, kill them”.

We all stared at Vader in disbelief.  It must be true – that dogs will try to kill chickens – otherwise Vader wouldn’t have said it.  But WHY would the monkeys bring in a hired gun for us?  Were they getting ready to perform a mass murder on us?  Were all of my suspicions about the monkeys coming into fruition?

Needless to say, we were all on edge the next couple of days.  The Chicken Whisperer continued to feed and water us.  He gathered our eggs. He played with the baby chicks.  He still played with us.  If there was a plan to kill us, this was a great ploy to distract us….until that fateful day.

We were minding our own business, as per usual.  Out of nowhere this beast came up to our run.  She leapt on top of our roof, her body weight concaving it to the point of breaking.  We ran into the backyard.  She followed us from atop and eventually found a weak spot in the roof.  Knowing she was close to breaking in, I ordered everyone into the coop.  The baby chicks couldn’t move quick enough before the beast had pounced on top of Emily.  She grabbed Emily by the neck and tossed her into the air like confetti at a wedding.  Her little body richoceted off of the roof and came crashing down. Emily remained there still – and lifeless.

Having already seen too much treachery in the past couple weeks, I put myself in between the beast and the rest of the chicks while the Three Bitches of Andrews went high in the coop to protect themselves.  The beast nipped and bit my wings and my ass.  She pulled out feathers.  I started bleeding.  Then I heard a scream which caused the beast and I both to stop.  The woman monkey came running to our coop, waving her arms, screaming something inaudible but frightened the beast enough to cease completely.  I laid there, beaten but not broken.

*********************************************************************************

After that episode, the monkeys worked tirelessly to put up a fence so that mangy mutt could no longer get close to us.  Out of guilt (or spite), they expanded our run – giving us and the baby chicks the entire plot of land to roam.  I’m not sure it was worth Emily’s death, but it certainly felt good to spread my wings.  I had two blissful days in there.

On the night of my murder, I had heard scratching and rustling coming from all sides of the coop.  No one else heard it.  It sounded like it was coming off from the woods yet it was eeriely close, too.  Thinking I was dreaming, I jumped down from my roost.  Listening into the darkness, I knew the sounds were real. And frightening.  I initially suspected it was that stupid mutt again but these noises were different than hers.  They were calculated, intentional, and becoming more sinister.

I knew these were my last remaining minutes.  I’ve heard that a sense of euphoria and peace passes through you when your soul knows it will be laid to rest.  But not me.  I had anger, resentment, and lots of fight left.  As Dylan Thomas suggested, I did not go gently into that good night.

I stepped outside of the coop and saw two tiny reflections of the moon right above me.  Moving further into the moonlight, I noticed these glowing orbs were embedded into thick, furry, blackness which was darker than the night and offset only by gleaming, razor sharp teeth and claws.  As I peered into those eyes, the body crept steadily above me revealing it’s entire hideous self – a small masked dog with a big striped tail.

It smiled at me and asked, “Are you ready to meet your Maker, Amanda?”

I straightened up so we were nose to beak with only a thin veil of chicken wire separating us. “Are you ready to fuck yourself, Beast?”, I retorted.

“Aaahh, a feisty one!  I shall enjoy your slaughtering more than the taste of your blood on my lips.”

“Go ahead and try it.  I’m prepared to peck your eyes out and leave you scarred as a reminder of your soullessness as you must surely be the Devil’s spawn”.

“Silly chicken.  I am neither Devil nor God.  I am a raccoon.  I am what I am and have no guilt about what I’m about to do.  Likewise, you are a chicken and, as such, shall serve yourself up to me”, the Coon sneered.

I walked directly underneath the Coon and got so close that I had to readjust my vision to focus.  I didn’t want any peripheral vision to deter the Coon from my words that he needed to heed. “You may think of me as a lowly chicken but I am the Queen of this coop.  These are my sisters and I will fight to the death for them.  I serve myself up not to you, but to them for their protection. A bastard such as yourself knows nothing of loyalty or family and justifies your behavior because of biology.  If you had any brains, you’d know you could become more than what you are born as.  But I guess you’re nothing but a cock sucker”.

Smilingly, the Coon said, “Make that a cock killer”.

I don’t need to go into details about those last bloody seconds.  All I know is that I scratched and fought to protect my sisters and adopted babies.  It was an unfair fight from the beginning but one that I would willingly do again.

******************************************************************************************

After I scooped up the remaining parts of Amanda, I started thinking this whole chicken-raising experience was getting a little too real.  I felt like I was playing trial and error with death being the consequence.  It’s not fair to the chickens.  Not fair to Amanda that we didn’t build the roof stronger or close up the coop at night.  But she did protect the other chickens. So what could have been a massacre was limited to a single casualty.  I think I might have a lot to learn from these birdbrains.  RIP, Amanda, you great big fat double-yolk laying chicken.  You’ll be missed.

Being Amanda: Part II

I cannot believe the events that have just unfolded.  As I wrote previously, the bitches and I were starting to go talon to talon.  For the past two weeks, Carmen has been implementing, “Operation Make Amanda Go Crazy”.  

She and her peons have been shutting me out from our water supply by encircling the bowl with their fat asses so I can’t get any.  They drink all of it before I’m able to have some.  You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal – you’ll get some water next time”.  Well, the problem is that my species can’t digest food without water.  We need water in order to help food pass through our gizzards.  Without water, I get as backed up as a nursing home with one toilet after Texas Chili Night.

Factor in that I also lay eggs.  Big eggs.  So I have had to endure a gullet full of food plus the pain of having a harden 3 oz. rock inside of me.  My system has been out of whack leading to uncontrollable diahrreha with no relief and terrible gas.  Which, of course, was Carmen’s objective in the first place.  Let me also remind you that it has been unseasonable hot.  I thought I was going to die.

But I didn’t. Carmen did.

On Tuesday morning, the Chicken Whisperer came in and fucked with us like he does every morning.  This particular morning he brought us cheese as a treat. Having my system already blocked up, the last thing I wanted to eat was cheese.  But not Carmen.  She snarfed down that yellow piece of rubber and wouldn’t share with anyone else.

Now I’m not criticizing her on overeating because, let’s be honest, that’s my hobby.  But I’m not a leader.  I’m in this thing for myself.  I don’t have a troupe of minions chomping at the bit right behind me. She’s such a selfish bitch!

About 3 minutes later, ol’ girl’s indulgence and egoism caught up with her. She withered and writhed trying to gasp for air.  That human food got lodged in her throat and she fell down dead. She had eaten herself to death.

I can’t say that I’m happy about this because I only wished her dead figuratively.  But rooster oh rooster, when you start being an asshole to chickens, maybe Life starts being an asshole right back.  Karma’s a bigger bitch than Carmen was.

R.I.P.

Being Amanda: Part I

Let me just start by saying that I’m the head hen of this roost.  I was the one who, before the stupid monkeys inserted a heat lamp in our home for the winter, kept all these skinny bitches warm.  Everyone wanted me around when they were cold to snuggle up against and steal my heat generated by my incredible mass.  They were all like, “Mandy! Come lay with us!” or “Mandy, don’t leave!  We need you!”.  How quickly they forget.Image

Now that the weather has gotten warmer and they don’t need me, they pretend like I have the bird flu or something. And I think that bitch Carmen is the little mutinous ringleader.  

It all started with the new addition the biggest monkey built us.  He added a backdoor and fenced in a backyard for us so we could spread out a little bit.  In doing so, though, it created two separate playgrounds.  Well, the dumb fucking monkey didn’t measure the new door properly and made it too small for me so I can’t even go into the new yard.  Those bitches know it, too, and purposefully go into the backyard with their skinny asses easily hopping through the house and out the door.  

I heard them talking about me the other day.  They’re so stupid they don’t realize they sound like a bunch of geese looking for Canada.  I heard Carmen say to Beeker, “Did you SEE her egg?  I mean, it was just so BIG and OBLONG.”  

You know what?  It’s embarresing. All these bitches lay these cute little single yolk eggs.  A couple of times I’ve dropped a doozey.  I can’t help it.  Sometimes I just get all backed up and I have to release – right there and then, ya know?  But Carmen, she thinks she’s so god damn special because she lays BLUE eggs.  Well, fuck that.  She’s a mutant.  Then on top of being an asshole, she corrals all of her dumb followers to shitting in my yard.  Like they can’t do it in their space.  

Oh it’s game on, Carmen.  You better watch out or one of these days, I’m gonna peck your squinty little eyes out.  

spalding

Last week I watched a documentary about Spalding Gray – an actor, writer and monologist.  Despite his creativity, intelligence, and amazing story telling, Spalding decided to take his own life by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry in 2004.  He was the brother of my favorite professor, Rockwell Gray, at Webster University.

I took my first course with Rocky in 1998 called, “Literature in Exile”.  The course depicted writers who, for mainly political reasons, were exiled from their home countries and wrote about their tales.  During this time, I read autobiographical accounts from Hoffman, Nabokov, Gass, and Santayana to name a few.  Like his brother, Rocky was a great story-teller.  He often staccotoed accounts of his life that pertained to the literature we were reading.  Moreover, he used GRE words in everyday vernacular which left most of us egotistical collegiate students wondering how in the hell we were even allowed in this man’s presence; No one word could encapsulate the breadth of Rocky’s love of words.  And he imparted that passion onto his students.

By the fall of 1999, my graduating semester, I had become obsessed with Rocky.  He wasn’t one of the most well-attended professors at Webster because he taught esoteric classes such as “Reading and Writing Autobiography” and “Essay Writing” that didn’t garner the sex appeal of “Modern Poetry” and “Social and Political Philosophy” that liberal college students gravitate towards.  Regardless, my friend Eric and I were disciples of Rockwell Gray – outcasts following an unheralded rebel.

As with every Creative Writing major, I had to do a senior thesis which required a professor to oversee the progress of the student.  I, of course, chose Rocky.  Not only had he captivated me for a year and a half with his extensive knowledge of the OED, but he legitimized the genre of non-fiction as something modern and exciting.  Ergo, my senior thesis was about growing up in my household.

No big deal, right?  Just talk about yourself.

For four months, Rocky and I met routinely at Kaldi’s on DeMun scratching out pages upon pages of crap that I had written.  We had therapeutic cups of coffee relegated by old wounds and new scabs.  He taught me how to be a writer and a protagonist.  He taught me the struggle of creation.  He taught me objectivity.   He helped synchronize my self-perception with self-expectation.  No professor’s salary paid him enough for all of this.

At the end of the semester, I took my unfinished manuscript consisting of 40 wishy-washy pages to the English Chair, David Clewell, the former Missouri Poet Laureate.  (This sounds like name-dropping but I mean it as like a, “Holy shit – I’ve had some pretty incredible teachers!”)  In the final oral examination about my thesis, David asked me what I thought about it.  I told him: “It’s unfinished.  It sucks.  I only had 4 months but I see now that I need 4 years.  I only have 40 pages but I’ve deleted like 50.  I’m proud that I was able to write this but I’m not proud of the finished product”.

David replied, “That’s what writers say.  You get an A”.

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Back to the documentary on Spalding.  Watching it made me feel really bad for Rocky in losing his brother.  The objective part of me made me miss reflection.  For the past couple of years as I’ve been delving into painting, I realize that I haven’t done any personal reflecting that writing mandates.  I haven’t created any plot lines, any characters, I’ve had no heroes or anti-heroes.  Painting has given me the luxury of recognizing my emotions and philosophies as they happen.  I don’t bring my past into my paintings.  I don’t bring self-perception into them either.  I am the consummate observer in my works – the outsider once again.

Like doing my poorly written senior thesis, I don’t know how to meld all of my Self into my work.  What is my “work”, anyway?  I had a great conversation with my Uncle Mark, an artist, the other night.  I told him I was getting bored with painting but this journey has solidified my self-perception as innately creative.  This sounds so fucking egomaniacal I want to throw up.  But what I mean is that I am happiest when I am exploring and creating.  I’m happiest when I’m learning.  I’m happiest when my house is clean and my kids are asleep.  Seriously.

Regardless of which path I walk to get to the shore, I’m in the Creative Boat for the long haul.  I’m happy to be the deckhand or the sous chef.  Both feet are on that boat and No, I won’t take them off.

Me Like John Cage

In a couple of days, I will be installing 6 new paintings at Tavern of Fine Arts – a hip new restaurant in St. Louis.  Unable to create without some thematic or philosophical structure, I racked my brain to come up with some concept.  As I perused my bookshelves, I saw my copy of “Silence” by John Cage and dug in.

During my days at Webster University, I took one of the most influential classes of my life whose lessons I’m still trying to embrace.  It was called “Discoveries of Attention”, based on my professor’s dissertation.  The class was an incorporation of Eastern philosophies, religions, poetry, and music.  The point was to observe and absorb these components daily by paying close attention to life and living in the moment.  As a senior in college vying for my future to begin, worrying about exams, waiting tables to make money and just being 21, quieting my mind and being totally present was a struggle.  It still is.

We learned about John Cage and his famous 4’33” musical composition.  In it, he sat before a piano, lifted to cover off the keyboard, and just sat there for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.  My first reaction was, “Seriously?  This is some avant-garde bullshit”.  After my professor described the meaning behind it was to pay attention to the natural music around us, I cursed myself for being so stupid.  Duh. That’s brilliant!

“When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic—here on Sixth Avenue, for instance—I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound […] I don’t need sound to talk to me.” – John Cage.

Cage wrote poetry in fragmented phrases with gaps in between them. Those gaps mirrored the Silence of his music.  In between the cacophony of his words, there is still poetry in the blank spaces.  I’ve often quoted his phrase of “purposeful purposelessness” and have mustered the courage to embrace this, finally, onto my canvases.

I worked with unframed material clamped onto my garage door.  If I were to begin a process of this magnitude the way I’ve begun all my paintings (fully wrapped canvases), I knew I would get stuck into my old habits of being conscious of creating.  But with the material dangling, I painted cognizant of composition and color, but somehow freed from the perimeters that a frame imposes.  I slapped watered-down paint I put into empty shampoo bottles to further remove myself from my comfort zones.  I went back and edited with my standard palette knives and globs of paint – redesigning the free-falling paint into something cohesive.  I used my entire physical being.  I used my entire mind. The resulting abstracts seem completely random but they aren’t.

"Each something is a Celebration of Nothing". 29x53 Acrylic on Canvas

This whole process made me reevaluate my intention as a creative person.  Although I’ve had many accolades and have been accepted into some mind-blowing exhibits, I still feel like a fraud. I realized the reason is because I know what I am NOT, but not what I AM.  I know I don’t want to be an “ar-teest” – those self-righteous artists who have everything figured out with nothing left to learn because their art is about their egos.  They are the equivalent of elevator music.  I know I am not a painter’s painter – someone who has the patience to recreate perfect proportions, shadows, color and depth like a photograph like Caravaggio or Vazquez.  Although dramatic and technically immpecable, they don’t draw me in.   I know I don’t want to be an emotionally serious painter because I like to play, tell bad jokes, cuss and drink.  I know I don’t want to be a part of David Letterman’s “Elephant or Artist” segment.

These past few weeks, working within the perimeters of John Cage’s influence, I’ve learned that I have some talent beyond my ability to make some kick ass crafts (which will come in handy during this Giving Season – who doesn’t like a handmade pot holder?).   Moreover, I’ve been reminded that being fully present in the moments of my day, although difficult when I’m perpetually looking forward to my kids’ nap times, is truly my happiest state.  So if I can continue to create and live like this, then hopefully, eventually, I’ll figure out what I am supposed to be since I’ve resigned to the fact that I’ll never be a fat, black, soul singer 😦 .