Gray

So I just found out that my mom is getting out in nine months. She’s being let out on early release. This is going to sound super fucked up, but I thought I had another two years before I had to figure this stuff out.

Nine months. That’s no time at all.

I’ve been pushing off the mental headache of everything since we found out they were taking time off for a bunch of stuff. But I also thought I had two years before I had to think about it. 

I thought I had two more years. 

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It’s taken me a year but I think I’m finally understanding why I stayed in my sorority. Like most things, the benefits of a decision don’t usually reveal themselves until the end. Since I’m at the halfway point – I go alum in Spring- I’ve been weirdly sentimental lately. All this talk at recruitment practice has reminded me of the way I felt before I joined. It reminded me of all the reasons I was seeking strong female bonds.

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People will say that it’s all fake and that we’re paying for friendships. On some level, there’s truth to that. But I guess it’s kind of like being in college and then paying to go to an all girl’s school at the same time. There are events, sports, uniforms, rules, bitchy people, drama. But there’s also a deep understanding that everyone is there for the same reason: to be a part of something. Even if that something doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, embracing the present is no less valuable than working towards something bigger.

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My sorority has taught me what I stand for, who I am. Most of the time, I feel like I only discover these things when I’m being pulled against my core beliefs. I’ve learned that I am kinder than I thought. I only saw this when people weren’t kind to me. I have learned that I am trustworthy and a pretty damn good secret-keeper. I saw this when people talked shit, or revealed things about themselves. I didn’t reciprocate. I learned that I am capable of being overwhelmed by other peoples’ emotions. I learned this when I became consumed by negativity because of the chatter of complaints around me. I learned that I have more courage than most people. I’ve only ever witnessed this in terms of male relationships and once I saw this in a group setting, I realized I do speak up for what I believe in. I learned that I won’t speak up when it’s something petty and will be sorted by someone else. I learned that I naturally delegate tasks through subtle suggestion, not coercion. I learned that I do not naturally give trust easily. I knew this before, but even after a year of being surrounded by these women, I am only just beginning to feel like I can let go of some of my defenses.

Let-Go

I needed to write this so that one day when I look back and think, ‘damn that was a waste of time’ or ‘thank god it’s over’, I will also remember all the good stuff that came out of it. I am no longer afraid of women. I am no longer afraid to paint. I am worthy of meaningful relationships and I am worthy because I have witnessed those who I deem unfit, receive the gift of friendship even when they shouldn’t. I am no better and no worse.

The human condition dictates that humans crave comfort and love. The fear of being alone is so strong, we work to find peace so that we don’t have to feel that way. I know these are random thoughts, but I can feel time slipping by so quickly and I’m a senior this year and totally terrified of graduation so I can say without a doubt, I made the right choice. I picked the right house. I found my home.

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There are some changes on the horizon

It’s been a while. Then again, that cycle of summer processing seems to be upon me. In my defense, I’ve also been trying to put off processing through a few recent developments. Prop 57 has impacted my mother’s sentence, as well as a few programs she’s involved herself in over the last decade. It looks like she’s out on early release. Nine months from now actually, give or take. I thought we had another couple years.

I don’t really know how to feel about it yet. I’m not as freaked out as I thought I would be but that’s also because it feels like I’m sitting in the road watching a truck come straight for me. Obviously, that’s mildly dramatic. That truck could be a figment of my imagination.

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I think the most profound aspect of this news that has me boggled is how this will affect my art. For most of my life, my writing, art, and other coping mechanisms were populated with prison themes: time, loss, abandonment. I never had to dip my pen in different ink.

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty sick of dealing with prison themes. I never wanted to let her life choices define my own but I also couldn’t deny myself the experience of them. What a weird, tangled web I found myself in.

The good news is she’s more freaked out than I am. I’m trying my best not to have sympathy for her but I can’t help it. It’s going to be really weird for her. When she went in, dial-up was common place and people still used AOL.

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The transition process is going to be shocking to her system. She claims to be all hardened and whatnot (and I’m sure she is), but I know there are going to be a LOT of midnight phone calls where she’s crying and frustrated because something in her house keeps making a noise or she can’t figure out how to listen to a voicemail or something. I expect this.

I will also not be her metaphorical crying shoulder. I will be a helpful daughter on my own terms, with lots and lots of boundaries. I might finally be able to start throwing away some of her mail.

My sister just told me she’s been throwing her letters away. I’ve kept every single one, including envelopes, for this whole damned sentence. I sort of just want to burn them but I feel like there’s a really good art project in store for them. Hopefully with a different theme.

Does this mean that I can give myself permission to stop fixing all the broken pieces? I’ve long known I’m awesome and been grateful for the challenges she’s thrown my way but I’m still a product of my circumstances. I’m actually sort of concerned for my own children. They won’t have nearly the amount of depth I do, which both worries and delights me.

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She’s going to make it to my college graduation.

It’ll be the first graduation she’s ever made it to (besides elementary school which doesn’t really count). I’m actually really happy about it.

God, I hate writing about this stuff. It’s all so damned heavy and while necessary, I can feel myself sounding like a broken record. I’m just ready for it to be over. Maybe I’ll actually go back into my darkroom again. Maybe I’ll shoot some film again.

I swear, if she tries to bake me cookies and do my fucking laundry though I’m going to lose it.

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Weird places to find blessings

It’s been a while since I posted anything. Largely because school has completely taken over my life as it has for a long time. I never thought I would ever tire of learning and I haven’t really but I have tired of the bureaucracy of trying to get a diploma. Had you told me that it would take me this long to finish school even a couple years ago, I would’ve laughed. I’m not a patient person by nature (as much as I constantly attempt to hone this particular art form) and I don’t think I’ll be done with school until I’m well into my late 20s. Hurrah for education!

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I write because of something semi related but also completely unrelated. I decided when I started school that I wouldn’t become involved with anyone seeing as I really need to spend these next few years developing my skills as both an artist and as an individual. But of course, hormones have their own way of overpowering the spirit.

I found this guy in ceramics class who I’m not really sure why I became so intrigued by him, but I did. And this was definitely reciprocated. He walked me home after classes, texted me everyday, made plans for the days we didn’t see each other. He invited me camping post-election to escape the craziness of the whole debacle. I couldn’t go but I really wanted to. My sorority duties and friendship ones had taken up my entire weekend and I didn’t want to disappoint the three separate birthday girls I’d promised to celebrate with. Rightly so if you ask me. I’m learning how to be a reliable friend even if my every fiber wants to take a spontaneous camping trip to go shoot off rockets somewhere in the desert. Because yes, that was the event: amateur rocket launching in the desert whilst also camping with my crush to escape a republican dominated election. How much better does it get than that?

Suffice to say, I began developing feelings for this genuinely good man. He would spontaneously invite me over to make me dinner or try a new bottle of wine (which I knew he only bought for me because there’s always a ton of beer in the fridge). He picked romantic comedies when I suggested comedies or action movies (which I love so it wasn’t some sort of sacrifice or anything). We really only fooled around and kissed and I slept over a couple times just to be in his arms.

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It was really sweet and felt totally right.

But then he started getting distant, using distancing language and responding less and I couldn’t really understand what was going on. Yes, things had moved quickly in that short span of time where we started getting close but it also seemed like we were just kind of getting to know each other in a truly exciting and authentic way.

I started feeling like I was missing a big chunk of the picture and that’s when he called me his “friend”.

Nope.

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I’ve done the whole being strung-along for forever thing, I’ve done the unrequited thing, I’ve done the I-don’t-want-to-press-the-issue thing. I’ve done a lot of those and I discovered no matter the ending, they all fucking suck. My feelings are always hurt in the end and I’m not a doormat anymore. I have evolved.

So I built myself up and I totally asked him directly: “hey, so what is this?” I explained all the mixed signals and all the feelings and things I’d developed and I knew it was really early to ask these things but fuck the waiting bullshit and I sort of just became a I-press-the-issue sort of girl in that moment.

And then he told me he was emotionally unavailable and I should date someone else if they ever came around and were awesome and he apologized. I felt like a bag of crap and I definitely cried a little bit as I walked home, totally confused.

Being the gentleman that he is, he texted me when I got home (we’re neighbors by the way) and explained how he never meant to lead me on and that I wasn’t imagining things, we really did have a connection. He said we could still be friends and get to know each other better without all the intimacy because he’s still “finding himself” and all that crap.

What’s weird is I woke up the next morning, post-semi-break-up hangover and felt infinitely better. It was such a weird blessing to have that anxiety off my chest. I hadn’t realized how heavily it had begun to weigh on me. I felt all the little tendrils sort of disconnecting from my heart and even though it still stings, even today, I realized that I had taken back all the power and shoved the ball straight into his court. He wants to be friends? Fuck that noise. You want to be my friend? Prove it.

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Thus far, he’s still pursuing me on and off and it’s annoying because the second I stop thinking about him and refocusing on myself, he texts me or hits me up or snapchats or whatever bullshit friends do to let them know they haven’t forgotten about you. And everyday I think about him less and remember that my original goal had been to avoid this kind of heart hurt in the first place.


So this is my metaphorical pat on the back for standing up bravely against potential hurt and I implore you, if this ever happens to you, remember that it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER to lay all the cards on the table. Nothing can hurt you if you do everything you can. I hate reading between lines and playing bullshit games just to find out I could’ve saved myself so much energy had I spoken up sooner. Have courage! It totally pays off.

Please Explain

It has come to my attention that I am afraid of the female form. In my figure drawing class, it was the first time I’d ever drawn somebody naked. It was this uncharacteristically nonsexual sexual situation. It released from me a sense of childlike joy and as quickly as it arrived, it left me stunted and confused.

The first model was male, an older guy maybe in his mid forties. Suffice to say, it was a mesmerizing experience. I could feel my left and right brain flowing together and working to create all the angles and different bumps along each contour of the form. It was like dancing. I had my left arm raised in the air while my right arm glided across the page. From afar, I probably looked like I was going to tip over and I was using my left arm to balance.

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I came home and I traced my own body with love and care. In the mirror, I saw how the curvatures contrasted so well with the male form. I appreciated my wonderful figurative temple and I felt blessed to be so young and pretty. I knew a day would come where I would have drooping areas and skin that wasn’t quite as elastic but I didn’t care. In that moment, I felt gorgeous.

Fast forward, back in drawing class. This time, beautiful female model. Her breasts were perfectly full and round. Her nipples stood erect the entire time. Her shape was flawless (at least in my mind). I hadn’t realized what effect a landing strip of pubic hair actually did for a female. I’ve always been with guys who left a little bit of hair themselves but expressed how little they liked hair on me. I’d become accustomed to shaving entirely. I have never thought I would appreciate that particular triangle of dark hair. I noticed her soft curves and how soft every contour was and how flat her belly laid across her smooth abdominal wall. It was like watching a movie in real life.

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When it came to my drawings, my left and right brain were in constant conflict. They did not want to flow together to create a song, they warred it out in my head. My breathing changed and my anxiety rose. I pretty much hyperventilated from the pressure of having to recreate this beautiful shape across my paper. I had to take a break, step outside, and reevaluate what I was doing and I couldn’t figure it out. Then came a part where we focused on the torso and my drawing of her torso was exquisite. I mean, as good as it can get for a first time at anything at least.

But for some reason, her nakedness intimidated me.

Next class, another female model. This time she was svelter and lean. She wasn’t frail, but she was far from muscular. She had some sort of french/european accent and she wore a pink, silk robe. I had an easier time but it still didn’t work. I couldn’t look at her objectively like I could with that first session. I had trouble foreshortening, I had trouble measuring. There came a point where I was watching her there, frozen on the platform, and everything in my mind was evident. I could see the different spheres and shadows I could see it all and I knew in my mind I could draw her. As soon as I set my pencil down on the page, it was all wrong. It was like the life went out of my fingers. I stuck with it and left feeling disappointed. My proportions were wrong and everything was just wrong. It was heartbreaking.

Today we had a male model again and I danced across the page. There came a point where he started falling asleep as he stood and I had to start over several times. In those short periods of time I had left, it was like my brain could see all of the lines before I even began with my charcoal. In ten minutes, I had recreated the man in front of me. It was bewitching.

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how I can go from complete abandon to complete focus and stifling control. My brain won’t listen to itself and I end up with this stiff, small cartoonish outline or it flows together in perfection and I have this awesome sketch in half the time it took my peers to get their’s together.

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Dear Universe,

Explain to me what I could possibly be afraid of.

Sincerely,
Your student

 

These women would make ice if you let them

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            Feelings for me get pretty tricky. I used to feel them so much and so often, I had to turn them off for a long time. Eventually that would erupt into some kind of giant crying scene complete with me writing poems for hours and smudging around the ink with my tears, feeling very sorry for myself wondering how the world could have wronged me so. But then again that was fourteen for most I believe. Then all those angry years took all the tears and turned themselves into screams and broken glass from all the bottles I smashed in my alley when I couldn’t figure out what to do with all those feelings.

            It’s taken some time but I don’t really do any of those things anymore. I know part of the mess was hormones but it was also that my mom and I were learning how to grow up together. She went through a lot of passive aggressive attitudes and dirty maneuvers before she became someone I wanted to talk to. She told me I was a druggy (because I’d smoked weed and drank alcohol at a friend’s house in high school). She told me I was neglecting her because I didn’t come to visit more than twice a year – even though it’s a four and half hour drive (one way) and I was only fifteen. She called me repeatedly throughout the day to talk to me even if my friends were around and I couldn’t hang up because of the guilt I felt if I didn’t stay on the phone – not to mention the manipulation I’d be unwittingly forced to endure for days (even weeks) on end.

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            And then I she wrote me her last horrible, seven page “intervention” letter for my 18th birthday and I didn’t talk to her for a year. She stopped. We’ve both grown up since then.

            It took me a long time to visit her after I started talking to her again. I’ve been back once or twice since my 21st birthday.

            But it doesn’t fail to amaze me each time she makes me feel better when I don’t even know I’m down. Since I’ve never had a conventional mother-daughter relationship, I’ve never had one to compare myself to. I’ve seen things from a window I’ve always looked in on but never experienced. And I still don’t really know what it is that I’m a part of. It’s like a horribly unhealthy relationship that finally blossomed. I feel like our bond is kindred to tales of those old, aging sisters that live off in some secluded house on the top of a hill somewhere who spend their days making jam and painting.

            Whenever there’s a separation from someone who’s supposed to be an instrumental part of your life and they come back, there’s this awkwardness. What do we do now? How do we act? Where do I put my hands? Is it okay to laugh at this? Am I holding on too long? Can we sit in comfortable silence? What now? And even at visiting, there’s still a little bit of that. But over the phone and via letter, it’s completely washed away. Ironically enough, I feel closer to her when I only hear her voice than when I hold her hand. Because in person, she’s still a stranger to me — but her voice, I know it by heart.

            She tells me I’m a good person, that she wants me to dream big, that I’m smart, tough, strong, loved, needed, beautiful. She tells me things I’ve never known I needed to hear. My dad has always said those things (albeit sparingly, he stresses the intelligence thing, that I’m the spitting image of him and therefore beautiful, all in good humor of course) but for whatever reason, hearing it from her makes it feel a little realer. And I feel bad that I didn’t know I was unsatisfied with my dad’s validation but to be honest, a mother’s love is different. Plus, considering she’s somewhat of a hardened OG nowadays it’s even more of a ego boost than it might’ve been before.

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She told me today that she makes 15 cents an hour. That she’s happy she got a new job and took the pay cut even though she was making significantly more before (enough to support herself). She said being able to work at night and see the moon and be surrounded by quiet is worth more than money. She said it was the first time she’d been outside at night in nearly ten years. That made me cherish the moonlight a little bit more.

 

My own serenity prayer

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I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic but I’ve always been a part of AA. The thing is, alcoholism runs very strongly in my family. Actually, it’s more that addictive personalities do. My uncle was a gambler and a womanizer and just plain reckless at times, his brother too. My aunt was -for a period- addicted to crack and cocaine and she although doesn’t really do that so much anymore, she definitely maintains a steady beer buzz to this day. My grandma died of liver failure due to her alcohol habits. The doctor told her to stop and she never really did. Coupled with clinical depression, most of my family’s strongest addictive personality types have had some heavy issues, my mother included.

So definitely, yes, I worry about it. I find myself wanting to drink when I want to forget about some things, and so I don’t. I find myself wanting to drink when I have a stressful day, and so I don’t. I worry when I go out with my friends for the third time in four days and we’re drinking and laughing and not really caring if the tab runs itself through the roof or if my hangover really sucks the next day even when I have important things to do.

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But then I also remind myself that I just turned twenty-one not even six months ago and that most of these experiences are new and I can’t hide behind my anxiety for the rest of my life. I have to learn when I can and cannot have a glass of wine, or if that third drink is going to get me hammered, that water between is a marvelous idea. That I can’t mistake caution for cowardice.

When I was little, I spent most nights of my childhood at AA meetings, eating my happy meals and doing my homework, trying my hardest to stay awake as the adults passed around laminated pages and a big binder filled with codes and steps. I knew what it meant when someone got a gold chip and I played with my mom’s whenever she let me hold her keys.

I knew what all the extra birthday cakes meant.

I was never old enough to sit in and listen to their stories. My mom told me to go play with the other kids -if there were any but thank god for my sister because she would play with me anytime I asked, even if she was half asleep. I’ve been back to a few meetings ever since to listen and there’s still the same lemon cakes and coffee dispensers and the people are still telling their truths and even though I feel out of place, I can’t help but feel like it’s still a part of me.

And it only really occurred to me the other day as I was driving and thanking my higher power for making me so wise that I realized how much courage I’ve adopted and how peaceful that makes me feel and how grateful I am for every step I’ve ever had to take to get by, one day at a time.

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Spring Cleaning

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For several years it was really hard to get through all the letters. Most people relish the idea of receiving snail mail and it’s because it’s probably pretty rare nowadays to correspond with paper and pen. Now I let them pile up until there’s a decent sized stack and subsequently read through the cards, letters, and sift through the pictures I can’t display because they’d stir up too many unwanted questions.

When I used to go off to sleep away camp for those two brief weeks every summer, I checked for letters everyday. Before my mom went away, I think I got a handful over the course of 6 years, most of which from my dad.

Today, I have bins and boxes filled with letters and envelopes (because I keep almost all of them). I have hand stitched purses dyed with pink koolaid. I have really old plastic baggies of cakes, so far crushed that they resemble brightly colored cookies, from all the birthdays she sent them to me.

I have more bibles than I can ever need, all dog-earred, annotated and highlighted. She’s converted a few times so there are more than a few I don’t know if ill ever flip through. I have scripture cutouts, pamphlets, and bookmarks. More bookmarks than a Barnes & nobles. I could quite literally start making money selling them wholesale to various religious sects around town.

For a few years she sent me these plastic cups. We use them for cat food and other random tasks now but for a little while, I treasured them. They were detailed with little logos or phrases that she paid other women to do for her and in exchange she traded food or coffee or sandals. Every holiday I had to tell her through gritted teeth, which new design I’d like. I have tinker bell, surfers, cars, basketballs, footballs. I think we both ran out of ideas eventually.

I used to keep all of her clothes. My mother had a walk in closet, so there were QUITE a few items. They smelled like her perfume that mixed in with the smell of cedar like the big door framing the room. I’ve since thrown most of them out. Her old living room couch still sits in our yard, moldy from months of rain.

I have boxes for the jewelry she sends me. The only things I actually use. She sends beaded bracelets and earrings but the earrings are so big and dangly I’d never wear them. The bracelets are delicate and beautiful.

My brother doesn’t wear the ones she sends him but I keep them secretly and add them to the boxes. I never realized I’d have so much stuff I could never throw away.

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