I live in a beautiful New England town that was basically built by super-rich white people, back in the day when super-rich white people felt like they were responsible for building up the town that facilitated their richness. The library, churches, railroad, parks, the YMCA, town hall, and a whole host of other things in my town were built by a single family. It’s filled with old buildings, re-purposed mansions, and factories, idyllic looking ponds and stone bridges. It’s the real-deal New England. When we first moved here we would tell people, “When you get to a town that looks like Norman Rockwell painted it to life, you know you’re here.”
I am seriously grateful. I send a prayer of thanks to them everyday. I can’t help it, it is so damn beautiful.
I am a giddy freak for history, mansions and things that have been abandoned (houses, people, broken dishware....). As my husband will gladly tell point out, if there’s a house that looks like it’s about to fall down, that’s the one I love. And I mean, hands clasped to cheek, weak-kneed, moon-eyes, love. So, when a town project was started, and trees were being cleared for a parking lot, and a real-life-secret-freaking-garden was found?!?! I nearly lost my mind all together. It was like all my dreams were coming true at once!
Apparently, this garden had been built around 1911 and was abandoned around 1937, and everyone who would have known about it just sort of forgot it was there. Once they discovered it, they searched out some information on its creation and found out how it was meant to look originally. The main garden has been mostly redone, and it seems like the more they reclaim, the further back the garden and ruins go.
Because there are ruins too! Old stone stairways, roofless stone garages, underground root cellars, green house foundations... Basically, everything I have loved the most since I was an overly-romantic child. My heart is literally racing as I write this. No joke. And I wasn't even intending to give this much back story--I just got carried away by love!
Ok, so we go there a lot. My girls love this public space too, and we bring lunch and climb around and forget the time. But like any forgotten space with underground chambers, it attracts teenagers. I am one of those rare people, that don’t find teenagers obnoxious. I love them so much. I love that they know everything. I love that they look at the world and think that where everyone has failed or sold out, they alone have discovered the key to success. I happen to know, having been through it, that this period of knowing ends all too soon. It ends when you go out in the world and try to put your well-made plans into action and start failing spectacularly. It doesn't even sound condescending to a teenager to say that, because they simply don’t believe it! I love the indomitable spirit of teens. I love their optimism, and their cynicism. I love it all.
So when we were climbing around and searching through the ruins and came across a chamber covered in spray paint and littered with all the evidence of illicit behavior, my heart went “thump thump.” I was washed in all the excitement, danger and pain contained in a space like this. And I wanted it clean. I wanted to bless it with all my admiration and love. To paint it with my confidence and assurance that these kids would be ok, that the memories of this time would be but an informative early chapter in their long lives.
But I didn't have gloves.
And I’m not that crazy. So, on our next visit I brought a wagon, a contractor grade trash bag, a broom and gloves. This was a renegade clean-up mission. I’m an “ask for forgiveness not permission” sort of woman. But I figured no one would really mind, as the hazard to me would be shorter lived than the general hazard to the public.
Mix of trash found at a site like this is like a beautiful archaeology of two worlds folding together. There are empty packages of blunt wraps, beer cans, broken bottles, countless empty sandwich bags previously filled with weed, tin foil, shiny wrappers with “durex” printed across, and well, the rest of that equation. But then there are cans of soda, juice, markers, pieces of notebook paper with loopy handwriting, and candy. So much candy.
I know I’m supposed to look upon this waste and litter in disappointed disapproval. I’m supposed to be angry at these kids for littering up my town and making a hazard for my young children. I’m supposed to shake my head and think in sadness about the dangers these kids are putting themselves in for a few thrills.
I know I’m not supposed to find it all so gut-wrenchingly, heart-breakingly beautiful. But I do. My heart fills so full of love for the thin line these kids are walking that it chokes my throat a bit.
This is where my husband usually says, “Hippie!” But that’s how I feel and I can’t hide it. Now, do I hope that my girls have sex in a dirty, nasty drug-ridden abandoned building when they’re teens? No. Of course not. If I had my way would teens would not be forced into these places just to get some room to try on the adulthood that doesn't quite fit them yet. But this is a reality, and it’s born of the fears of adults who remember their own teen years all too well and with too much regret and embarrassment to let these kids become and fail as needed. (I’m sure I’ll be slapped in the face by these words in 10 years, but let me have my fantasy that I will handle my children's teen years well, okay?)
I was a teen in a place like this. I wasn't doing all the things that this trash is evidence of, but I have many memories of my teen years that make me shudder. I have so many experiences I look back on, and knowing what I know now, I feel very lucky to be alive and relatively unscathed. I remember “like it was yesterday” that some of this danger is for fun, and some if it is comes from a lonely pain. A pain one might not even realize was there for another twenty-five years.
For that reason, I won’t turn my heart away from the messy and dangerous place some teens find themselves. Instead I will give a little bit of love in the form of trash removal. And although it may look like approval, its really more like acceptance. This is the reality of the lives of some teens, and I have to believe that on some level, in some small way, my clean-up might mean to someone that there’s love out there for them from someone who’s been there.
I may come back to find it trashed. I may come back and find "Screw you, you fat, old, broad" written across my laminated love note. But that's okay. See, I still have the idealistic spirit of a teenager, but now I have the fortitude and security of an old broad, too. That is a winning combination.
And for real? I may not be able to stop kids from having sex in that bunker, but it could at least let it be a little cleaner.
Now where did I put my exterior paint....
I went out to a local Mexican restaurant yesterday on a date with my husband. He ended up having to take a call from work, so for a while, I was munching on chips and gazing at a photograph on the opposite wall. It was a picture of some old-baller Mexican men, you know the one--the iconic picture of dudes in large sombreros, sitting together under a tree, smoking cigarettes, strapped with bullets and generally looking bad-ass.
As I gazed absent-mindedly at the picture while I enjoyed sitting at a restaurant table without children in my food, crawling under the table, fighting over the red crayon or sitting on my eye, I thought, “I wonder who those bullets are for?”
And then, corn chip frozen midway to my gaping mouth, I realized I’d never asked myself that before. I've seen this image a million times. It’s one of the images Americans see of Mexican men, and I never once thought, “What are they doing? Who are they fighting?”
Now, don’t get me wrong here, I've also never thought, “Oh there are those crazy, violent Mexican men all strapped with their bullets, getting ready to come over the border and steal my jobs with their guns and violence.”
Seriously. Never. As I said, I was admiring these men. They looked secure and masculine and they were enjoying a smoke break from fighting whoever those bullets and guns were for. After I got over my surprise that I never thought to ask this question before, I felt embarrassed that these images (mostly seen while I consume a tasty part of their culture) never led me to wonder about the story behind them. I never thought to bring that image past its one dimensionality. Like it’s some kind of Mexican kitsch and not something that must represent what bullets represent everywhere. A fierce struggle.
Now I wanted to know. Bad. That’s when the second wave of embarrassment washed over me. Now I felt like a moronic American for not already knowing what sort of struggle happened in Mexico that was so important that every single cultural image of a Mexican man I've ever seen has him wearing a bandolier I often feel embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about other countries and cultures. This embarrassment keeps me from asking questions and it makes me feel....racist? That’s not quite right. It makes me feel like I have absorbed the arrogance of a country that doesn't feel like it needs to teach it’s citizens about the rest of the world’s history. Even neighbors.
Then I remembered a conversation I had recently with an Australian friend of mine. I was telling him about a movie I had watched recently: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. (Don't judge me). He’d seen it too, he said and thought it was entertaining enough. But when I started laughing about how funny it was because, you know, it was Abraham Lincoln, he said, “I don't really know who that is, he was a president, right?” I spent the next 40 minutes explaining the 16th President of the United States--how he is one of our legend-type American figures, about the story we tell of Lincoln that makes this move ironic and funny, and reciting what I can remember of the Gettysburg Address, in a performance I will title “American Fifth Grade.” Lucky him, right?
But it made me realize something: The rest of the world doesn't know about America either! Why the hell would they? They have a whole country of their own to learn about, and only so many years of grade school to shove it into. None of us can be expected to have cultural knowledge about all the countries--there are a lot. We learn about our own, and then we learn the history of other people's when we meet them and engage in conversation.
I really love learning about other people’s cultures, but I usually feel awkward about my mix of enthusiasm and lack of knowledge. But after discovering that no one was going to think I was a moron for not already knowing these things, I basically made my friend tell me everything he could about Australia: the colonization, the Aboriginal population, the geography, their country’s John-Henry type legends...
Armed with this new found pass on ignorance, I set out to ask our waiter what was up with these images. I still felt a little foolish, and I was honestly afraid my question was going to somehow be offensive. But the next time he was at our table I said, “Hi, I was looking at this picture and I wondered, who are those bullets for? Who are they fighting?”
Guess what? He didn't know either! It may be that he was not from Mexico himself (I could tell from his heavy accent he wasn't originally from the States), or it could be that he is as ignorant of this part of his history as I am on the details of the Spanish-American War. But he said he would ask one of his co-workers, a woman he thought would know.
He called her over and explained my question to her in Spanish, which I didn't understand because I only know one language. She looked over at me and I got up from the table, where my husband was still quietly fielding his call, and asked her the same question.
“Oh, those are the people who fought with Pancho Villa, he was a General who fought the existing government. He is really important in Mexican history.” She pointed to another photo, “That’s Pancho Villa there.”
“Oh, so they were like rebel forces?” I asked?
She trained her gaze on me for a split-second longer than I would have expected, and the look on her face made me think she was wondering what I thought of when I said the words “rebel forces.” She didn't look unkind, just unsure of what sort of idea I had about these men.
“Yes. But they were the good kind of rebels.” she answered, smiling. No offense taken at my lack of knowledge for her country’s history, even though wikipedia tells me that the Mexican Revolution “is often categorized as the most important sociopolitical event in Mexico and one of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century.”
I could have stood there, in the middle of the restaurant all day asking her questions, but I figured “historian” is not part of her shift duties, so instead I said,
“Thank you so much. And just to be clear, in my view, nearly all the rebel forces are the good kind.”
Also, just to be clear, a google image search for "Mexican Revolution" comes up with about 1000% more photos of women fighters than a google image search for "The Civil War," which comes up with none. I'm going to leave you with some of those images. Aren't they wonderful?
There is a town in Georgia that still has a segregated prom. Yup, you heard right.
"But...but that's illegal," you might say.
"But Thurgood Marshall and a whole host of angry people looking for change worked their asses off to make that not ok." you might be yelling.
"But remember Ruby Bridges with the National Guard behind her?" You might be weeping.
Well, the prom is not funded by the school, so, it isn't covered under Brown v. The Board of Education. The school's hands seem to be tied, poor things. It's must be hard for these adults to have no way of stepping into to change the way the rest of the adults in the town organize prom.
But there are a group of friends who'd like to go to the prom together, and so they're making a new one. I am a huge fan of building your own place when someone won't let you into theirs It's not always possible, and it's not always the right solution, but here, it's a damn good start. Let's help make it easier for these girls, who are spending their last "care free" days in high school working to make some serious social change by organizing the first integrated prom in their county.
I am so proud for these girls, I am so excited to see youth standing up and simply saying, "No thanks. We'll be over here. in the 21st century, with our friends. Who are our friends first and their races second."
Here's a link to the article I read at Jezebel
Here's a link to their facebook page "Integrated Prom". Show support even if you can't donate. Let's encourage these kids by reminding them that they are on the side of right.
And here's where you can send money to pay for prom things, like centerpieces, food and waterfall back drops where kids can have scandalous photos taken of interracial prom attendance!
And remember, this may seem like some incredibly ridiculous backwater time travel throwback insanity. Maybe your reaction is to throw up your hands and give up hope for places or people who are still clinging to things like this. But these girls could very well be putting their safety in jeopardy to make this change happen.
Remember this horrible business? It was only a few years ago. Let's shine the spotlight on them to help their cause and to keep them safe.
Thank you, young warriors. Glad to have you in the fray. <3
I bought a new bra this week. I had to, I've lost some weight and I was swimming in everything I own. I had already shrunk out of most of my normal bras and the only one that fit me ok was a padded bra. So, I was wearing it everyday.
Yeah, I have a padded bra. Let me tell you more about that.
A while ago, when I first started noticing how beautiful I am, I decided to experiment with adorning my body. I like appearing sexy, and I have fought like hell to get here to Sexytown. And I don't mean worked out, and had my tits put back where they used to be, or bought lots of expensive makeup, I mean I have worked hard inside my heart to allow myself to feel and look sexy.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and teenagehood sexual abuse, and the general abuse that comes from being a woman, and the special type that comes from being a woman who is a survivor of specific abuse. I was made to understand for my whole life, both in words and actions, that it was my very body that was a threat to me. It was my body, the thing I could not escape, that attracted this terrible danger. Being appealing made one vulnerable, and being vulnerable got one very, very, hurt. Even when I was old enough to see that I had my own sexuality and wanted to put it out in the world, I understood it as an offering to another person. Like live bait. It get's them to you, but then they swallow it.
For this betrayal, I hated my body. I was internalizing the blame for someone else's horrific actions, punishing my body for forcing me to be a target. I have abused my body out of anger and revulsion. The anger and revulsion of a society aimed at girls and women that I took into myself--and believed was deserved.
Claiming my attractiveness, the adornments I use at times to make my body look even more beautiful, and the pleasure I sometimes get from the attention I receive--all of that, takes my radical courage. For me to feel sexy and to know that the beauty I have is mine, that it is inherent regardless of how I look physically, and isn't owed to another simply because they like it, takes fierce concentration for me to remember sometimes. It's not what I was taught. The reclamation of my own sexy self, my exploration into what that means, and the tools I use to discover that (including, but not limited to: makeup, heels, stockings, long hair, short hair, sports bras and push up bras, dresses and jeans, and a thing for aprons) is part of my journey. These implements are here for me to use to see myself, to heal myself and to grow beyond the barriers pre-built for me. And why not? I have used these tools against myself. Used them to make me into every kind of “sexy” that can be wanted--for others. I have changed my hair, size, dress, and attitude to be acceptable to all kinds of people. There is power in beauty. It is a power I have wantonly and consistently given away to the people I was aiming to please.
Now, don’t let me fool you, I don’t always look good. Most of the time I’m covered in glue and feathers in jeans and a fleece, and my hair is tangled and matted together in some kind of bun that appears semi-presentable. I mean, of course I still look pretty great, but not fancy. Maybe “fancy” is a better word than “sexy.” But to be honest, when I think of a fancy woman, it’s a pretty traditionally sexy dame I’m imagining. There’s no way around it. I think of my padded bras, the occasional bit of makeup I might wear, or my strappy stilettos like costume pieces. I am trying on these symbols that mean specific things, and it changes the way I interface with the world, or the way people interact with me. It’s an experiment, of sorts, and I have discovered a lot of fascinating things.
Once, I found a great shirt at the thrift store that was shaped kind of like a corset. It zipped up the back and was black with big hot pink roses. I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, but it was summer and it was only a couple of dollars. With the addition of a padded bra, there was a healthy amount of cleavage; but it really wasn't too risque, just a little low cut and form fitting. Not thinking too much about it, I put it on and went out into the world to run the sort of errands a mom in the suburbs runs. After a few stores, I noticed that women were treating me in a mildly hostile manner. I’m pretty friendly, so this isn't a normal experience. When I realized it was happening repeatedly, I began to try and figure out why. It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that it must be the shirt. It was the only thing that was “different” about my day. I must have looked trampy or something, and women at stores don’t like tramps, I guess.
When I bought a pair of 6-inch stiletto heels, I had to learn how to walk in them. The trick with heels, apparently, is to make it look like your skeleton is not a nearly finished game of jenga, and look good doing it. I decided to practice at the mall, it was small and I figured it would give me plenty of space to maneuver, or fall over. I put them on and sauntered through the doors. Well, I imagined sauntering through the doors. What happened was a kind of bow-legged stilt walk. I was awkward but not in pain, and before long I was able to almost appear like a person who was walking around normally. I did notice men looking me over, vendors at kiosks jovially calling me over and being more flirtatious than they are normally. A few times, the attention was so intense that I felt very vulnerable, because, you know, I was in heels. Which are like two, tiny, mobile, woman-prisons you wear on your feet. You can’t get away. Other than these heels I was dressed like I usually do, jeans and a t-shirt. Maybe I was putting off some kind of “I’m in heels energy” that attracted attention, but remember I was learning how to walk in these things...It wasn't pretty, trust me.
For a while I tried to keep my nails painted. But I have really strong hands (read: slightly mannish) and wearing nail polish makes me look like a drag queen. That in and of itself is fine, but I'm bad at applying makeup and my wardrobe is relatively dull, and I don't want to give anyone a bad name.
But, about my breasts. They’re great. They are mine and they kept two humans alive, practically all on their own, for like 18 months each. But, well, they used to be bigger. And they used to be different in configuration. Such is life, I’m getting older, my body is changing. I get it. I don’t feel terrible about it, but do I imagine myself with bigger breasts. So, with all this self-love adornment I decided that I would add fake boobs to my arsenal. Not the permanent kind, just the ones you strap on for a day. I have breasts in all sizes! I was wearing them mostly at parties and gatherings, but, as I said, I had one that fit at this point. I went into the Big Pink Bra Store (you know the one), and asked for a bra that was my real size, without padding or cleavage. A young lady with a measuring tape around her neck pulled some bras out of drawers, some with pads, some without, and ushered me into a dressing room. She let me know she’d be back to check on me and to ring the bell if I need any help. I took off the breasts made of tempurpedic mattress I had been wearing, and tried on one of the new bras. It was so cute and seemed so tiny. It was incredibly comfortable by contrast. I felt strapped in there and secure. I felt like I could move around freely and leap if I wanted to. I felt all held together and purposeful. It was such a relief. I threw on my t-shirt to check out the full effect.
It was a shock to see my figure. I have been rolling in fake D cups for a few months now, maybe longer, and I was so disappointed with what I saw in the mirror.
The disappointment was my second shock.
I was experiencing a disconnect, while standing there in front of the mirror, between being comfortable with the way it feels to be in my body and the way it appears on the outside to myself and others. I had truly thought I was wearing that sort of bra because I really liked the way it looks. And I do. But clearly, and without even noticing, I was putting myself in a (mild) daily discomfort in order to present myself to the world in a way I (and plenty of others) find appealing. The image I was presented with sans huge fake boobs, was so disappointing to me that I thought for a moment that I would just buy a new, better-sized, fake boobs bra.
I didn't have much time for contemplating, I had stopped off to quickly buy a bra on my way to a meeting and needed to be on my way. But I haven’t come this far not to notice some lurking self-rejection. So I made up my mind.
“How is everything fitting?” the young woman with the measuring tape called over the door.
“Uh..good. Ummm, can you take these back, please?” I said as I furiously handed over all the padded bras like someone who just realized cigarettes are bad for them and then break all their smokes in half before they change their mind.
“Do you need a different size for these?” she asked.
“No! Uh, no. I’m fine, this one is great. Thank you,” I replied.
I hauled up my old fake boobs and strapped them on, got dressed and picked up my tiny, comfortable bra. I felt a little confused and a bit dejected. Here I was, nearly 33, a strong woman, upset about a part of my body that I can’t really change. I was also upset that I would be upset about something like that, that I would be bummed out my body wasn't a little bit different, a little bit "better." I wasn't experiencing the result of a simple choice to look one way or another, I was experiencing the effects of the belief that it is better to look one way over another. I know the difference, because I make a choice to wear makeup or not (most often not). I make a choice about whether or not I feel like shaving my legs or under my arms. I have no qualms about wearing skirts or shorts or sleeveless dresses to weddings with my unshaven self. Or leaving the house without makeup. But, it looks like, when it comes to breasts, some of that kool-aid slipped between my lips when I had them closed tight, just pretending to drink. I’m going to explore that, find out where it comes from and where it takes me.
Once, when we were first together, I asked my husband if he wished some part of my body was different, I don't remember which one. He looked at me a little confused and said, "It's all just you, I don't look at your body in pieces. You're the one who does that." Being a woman, is often like having your body chopped into pieces, and served on a platter, where you're supposed to join in the fun, deciding what's good enough for desert and what should go in the compost. I'm trying kick this habit, but I think the real trick to to remember that a body is not supposed to be served. It's not supposed to be consumed.
Do I think my traditionally sexy experiment is a bust? No. Someday I’ll tell you all about how I feel about judging the virtue of a woman’s feminist values by such superficial things as how hairy her legs are or not (Spoiler Alert: I think it’s shitty). But for now, I’m living life with my real breasts, held in place firmly so I can accomplish all the things I normally do in a little more comfort. I’m getting as used to the way my true figure looks as I did with a pretend one.
We were listening to music, folding the laundry and dancing. They go hand-in-hand. Laundry is miserable. My seven year-old walked up to me, shoulders straight, and said, “One thing is when I do get married, I won’t get married to anyone who wants me to change who I am.”
She looked so strong, so defiant, and so proud. She was practically shaking with pride. She knew that this is the right answer. It is a Truth. I looked into her eyes and watched her looking at me for approval and validation.
She is right. This is a truth. When you find yourself in love, you find yourself making choices that compromise who you are, you leave. I reveled in this simple truth, as it is still simple for my young girl. A girl who is hopelessly romantic, nurturing, awkward and open. She feels this truth but doesn't yet know how un-simple it becomes. How murky the terrain looks, how deep your boots sink.
She doesn't know, yet, about letting someone love you so much that they begin to see the unfinished bits, or the dirty places she hasn’t quite accumulated yet. She doesn't know about loving someone so much, that you bring them the heavy, long-packed boxes of your heart to open alongside you, to be an anchor, to help see you more fully. She hasn’t started packing yet. She doesn’t know that letting someone close enough to see the unfinished parts, or the engines that are running less efficiently, or your dusty storage, will feel unsettling. She doesn't know that the ones who love you will see your need and offer help and love.
She doesn't know, yet, that help and love can feel like a changing of who you are. And it is a changing of sorts. My wide-open girl isn't aware that the trick is learning which changes will bring you closer to home. That she will change herself, and she will allow others to change her, and sometimes it will hurt, and a part of her that is broken and half dead, starving and desperate will shout out in its death throes to be saved, to be put in the way of this change, to be valued over this new world of more love and unknowable other pains and joys. And she will not know which one is the real her, which life to save, which wolf to feed. The compass will spin wildly. Her heartbeat will sound. But it will not point.
It becomes un-simple because we do change for ourselves and the ones we love. Allowing others’ experience of us to change how we interact with the world is empathy. It is an opening of the heart and an expansion of the mind. It is the thing that changes the world. But it is slow, and hard, and painful at times, the changing.
“You've got it right, kiddo,” I said to her and pulled her in for a hug.
Maybe it’s not so hard if you've always been allowed to be who you are. I sure hope so.
On Thursday I said that I was going to spend some time, and do something with my hands. My kids and I busted out the sculpy and I made this:
Then I made this:
And then I went completely insane.
Don't be fooled these things are really tiny and actually don't take a long time to make. I made most of them while making dinner with my girls. My daughter followed me piece for piece and made her own little set. We had the supplies out, and over the course of a couple of days I had made this. See that rolling pin? It works. Oh and that pan, it's a Griswold.
I do a lot of projects, I practically have a condition. Part of my affliction means that many things are ever fully completed I am always trying to avoid "wasting time." It seems that the simple things I'd like to do get thrown under the bus for the more complicated things. Like the time I set aside for myself needs to be worth it. Needless to say, I don't often make things for myself with my hands out of pure joy. My intention was to make little things for this hutch my grandmother gave (my children). I am holing it until they can appreciate it for it's fine delicate beauty.
As I began to set these tiny kitchen goods into this little hutch I was overcome with delight. Like, I had to hold it in, bad. I felt ridiculous I kept saying to my husband in a flat, monotone voice as I keeled before the coffee table, "This is making me unbelievable happy. Like, really happy." Later, when my kids asked to see some finished stuff, my husband told them that I was "playing with it like a little kid." But I wasn't. I was keeping myself from playing with it like a little kid. But I was very aware of how incredibly awesome it would be to play with for a kid. If it were delicate and special, and you were only allowed to play with it everyone in a while? Awesome. Then I got to thinking how awesome it would be if no one was ever allowed to play with it, and then when my grandkids came along I let them play with it and wasn't worried about them breaking it. That would be super awesome. I did think about these grandkids I made up and may never have as I made this. I thought about grand nieces and grand nephews. Kids of the future. I guess that's what got me to this place of rest in the first place, imagining, and holding out some hope for these kids of our future. I'm not going to go all inner-child on you, but perhaps my husband did see something. And maybe I was caring for a kid of the past, too. And maybe I filled those little salad bowls with a little salad spoon and fork. And yes, every leaf of the bonsai tree is attached individually. Take that meditation!
I did let my kids play with it for a while, and a couple things got...altered. I'm not worried about it.
Sadly, it was over. I was driving home to end a relationship with a woman I had loved for three years. I didn’t want to stay, split up the things, figure out what to do with the cats. I just wanted out. I owned a gold Mercury Tracer station wagon with a bunch of miles. I was in this car, rolling through traffic on route 27, when I noticed a small hibachi grill on the side of the road. I put the car in park, jumped out and grabbed it. I strapped it into the front seat and drove home, drawing power from it like a talisman. I was going to sleep in a tent. I was going to cook my food on that grill. I was going to be free. I was going to live in my car.
About a year or so before this, my girlfriend and I had been in tough times financially. I eventually suggested we live in the car! We could camp out at night, live under the sky, work and be able to save a lot of money.
With the cats?
Sure! with the cats.
But she didn’t see the magic in it, and I loved her, so we looked another solution. But now our relationship was ending. I was heartbroken and exhausted. And when it really hit me that it was over, my old desire to live in my station wagon was rekindled.
I worked for a theatrical and film lighting company. I had a lot of access to tools, space to work, and guys to call me crazy. I took out the passenger seat, put in some cushions and made a bed. I had a small set of drawers for my things, a cooler for my food and curtains for privacy.
I knew my family was going to be terrified, and angry. My grandmother kept sputtering, “What the hell is wrong with you? Jesus, Jannelle what the hell is wrong with you?” An aunt, simply said, “No.” and ordered me to stay with her until we figured out a plan. But I had been ready for my family, I have practice with them. I didn't anticipate the amount of anger and scorn I would encounter from friends and acquaintances. I was shocked at just how ferociously mad people were. I was faced with having to answer for my refusal to live in a home, like people are supposed to do. I was accused of making a mockery of homeless people.
The people who weren't angry dismissed me for being a flake. And this was a lifelong worst nightmare. I had always been the “smart kid.” That was all I had for a really long time. It was so important for me to keep that up that I rarely asked a question that might show my lack of knowledge, and if I didn't know what people were talking about, I pretended to know. I was also a super agreeable kid. This was less a concern about smarts, however, and more of a concern about coolness.
I was the kind of kid who said things like: “I love that song!”
“Are you serious? That song stinks.”
“Yeah, I mean, I liked it at first, but now I can’t stand it.”
I was that kid.
I seemed outspoken, I was loud and obnoxious, but I was usually puppeting the views or interests of people I thought were better or smarter than me. I generally considered that to be...everyone.
But this time was different. I mean, this was my house for god's sake. I lived in it, drove to work in it, I wasn't going to be able to make this agreeable for people. Besides, I was enjoying myself, I was breathing, and seeing and living in a way that spoke so clearly to my heart that I couldn't betray it without killing a piece of my soul. So I let it all go. I was silly and impulsive. I freely said, “I don’t know” and, “because I like it, that’s why.”
For my whole life I had been holding so much inside because I was afraid of what people would think. I thought if I was honest about who I was that people would think I was stupid, or uncool, or flighty or that they would dismiss me entirely. When I came clean, I found out that I was right, they did. All of it. The exciting part was it didn't make a difference. I learned, for the very first time, what it feels like to truly not care what people think of my choices. Not with defiance, and not just sticking to my guns because people are trying to take them from my cold, dead hands. I learned to simply continue to do the things that make me happy, because they do, and let other people have their own feelings.
I spent seven months living in that car. I slept in the parking lots of 24 hour stores, and apartment complexes, and once the campgrounds opened, I stayed there. I invited friends to visit and cooked for them over my campfire. I inherited a tent from someone and had it all laid out before I remembered I’d never done it before and I couldn't figure it out. You see? I was so excited about living and doing this wild thing I had forgotten to prepare, or even to consider if I had the skills necessary. And it was fantastic.
On a trip to Vermont my car started to make a very loud and very terrible engine noise. I drove all the way home, waking up sleeping families in three states. When I got to work the next day, I checked under the hood and found an empty hole where a spark plug had been. The head was cracked and a new spark plug wouldn't stay put. The car was on it’s way out, and I wasn't about to get a new engine. So I got some JB Weld and glued a brand new spark plug in place. It drove great for a while until it didn't anymore. It was getting cold anyway, and I was planning to move into a tiny cabin for the winter.
One cool fall day, I sat on a picnic table outside my work and watched my car get loaded onto a flatbed truck bound for charity. Living in that car was then and may be still the best decision I have ever made. I didn’t know it at the time, but living in that car would teach me a lesson in being true to myself that all the religion, philosophy, and riot grrrl tunes had failed to drive home. It’s like the printing press of my life, I couldn't possibly measure the impact it had. I do know I owe my life to that car. It was truly the best $200 bucks I ever spent.
I have something so fun to show you but I'm having technical problems getting my pictures up here. So sad, perhaps tomorrow. Instead I'll share this story with you.
Most of the relatives from my mother's side I see once a year. Thanksgiving is the holiday where my mother's family descends upon my grandmother's house in Western Pennsylvania and stays up until all hours of the night talking, eating and playing games for a week. We are a loud bunch, my family. Rowdy, irreverent, a bit sarcastic and a teensy bit competitive.
The games we play are your regular-variety board games. Favorites include: Oodles, Taboo, Catch Phrase (the best game ever), Perfect Ten, and Headbandz. Headbandz always gets busted out toward the end of the night. If you are unfamiliar, in this game: each person gets a headband they use to hold a card. On the card is a person place or thing that you ask the other players "yes" or "no" questions until you guess or run out of time. When you run out of time without guessing (usually this) then players give you one word clues until you guess or you hear a clue form all the players. You get points for guessing, players get points for good clues. Hilarious family bonding ensues. Well it usually does, but this game seems to have the tendency to put my family in a bad mood. I'm not sure why, but I it's definitely a trend.
I think it's because even as you gather clues, if you're not on the same wave-length with the other players you find yourself saying something like, "A group of businessmen traveling to work together in a car? I have no idea?!" and everyone around you is looking at you like you are a complete idiot because the clear answer is "Carpool." Obviously, it's right there on your card everyone can see but you. So basically it's a game of guessing about something suck to your face while everyone around you says the same word over and over again while looking at you in increasing frustration and disappointment in your mental facilities. I am nearly banned from this game by my Auntie, The Game Master, for saying "yes" and "no" like, "yEAHhhhhhhsssss!" or "NO! nonono." or "Yes?" or "No?" And also using too much eyebrow.
Last Thanksgiving we were sitting around playing a (still) friendly game of Headbandz, and it was my cousin's girlfriend's turn. Like I intimated, my family is intimidating. But we seem to have the tendency of finding people who are a bit quiet to partner us, ensuing that everyone who get's brought home is going to be relatively shell-shocked. This was her second Thanksgiving with the family though, so she was prepared for all the fun. She stood there, asking yes or no questions about her card that showed a thing.
The "yes" or "no" round was up. It was time for the one word clues. Now, I didn't know this woman too well at this point. I had met her once before, saw her on facebook, heard about her from my cousin. My family can be a little conservative with particular things and I never seem to be able to figure out which things are off-limits. Everyone's so irreverent and happy and loud that I sometimes forget that not everyone ads "swearing" and "crude jokes" into that basket of fun.
But I had the best clue.
It was so awesome I needed to say it. But there were three problems. She might not get it. I wasn't sure about the age gap...she's just younger than me enough for me to be concerned that she wouldn't get the reference. The second problem was that if she didn't guess it correctly, I may be forced to explain what the heck I was talking about, and while not completely vulgar, would be awkward. The third problem was that there was also a chance that if she did get it, she would have to do some awkward explaining in front of my family (and her girlfriend's mother).
But it was too awesome.
There were two clues before me. Both of them flopped. It was my turn. Hopefully, I was about to have a hearty chuckle, if not, I was about to unleash the cranky. I looked at her and communicated to my best ability with my face: "Please, for both of us, just get this clue and we'll move on."
One half a heartbeat.
Most of my family looked bewildered, but everyone under the age of 37 was rollin'. I hadn't counted on the joviality of the "kids" to get me out of questioning.
I did ruin the same game later when I got disproportionately mad at someone using the words "Founding Father" as a clue for Christopher Columbus. I think I nearly got sent to bed after that one.
Did I mention that at 32, I am the oldest of the cousins?