The Most Unorganized Imperfect Thing
January 13, 2017
Good morning. It’s Friday, January 13th, 2017. I started writing at 9am and it’s 12:30pm now. (Now it’s almost 1:30 as I fix to upload this after re-reading and minor editing. It takes me a long time to write/post.)
This might be the most unorganized set of thoughts I’ve ever posted on my blog. Ever since my minor brain injury thing that happened… what was it… Spring 2015?… it’s taken a lot more energy to edit my writing into cohesive flowing thoughts. I don’t even know how to start this, which is why I’m beginning by mentioning how hard it is to write with clarity and purpose. It takes me at least twice as long as it used to, to get (what I think is) the kind of writing I used to put together (was it ever that good anyway?). It used to be so much easier. Which is one reason I don’t blog as much (I have long blog posts in draft form that are over 1.5 years old!) It’s also why I occasionally choose instead to put lengthy-for-social-media emo posts on Facebook rather than really sit with all the many many things on my mind, trying to coherently express all the connections between what I’m experiencing and thinking, how it relates to my art making and my life.
But here goes this! I have so many things to write that I’d be (even more) embarrassed to put them all on FB. Too much! (CLEARLY. As I prepare to post this, I ask myself, Really? Was this necessary, Self? Yes, Self, it was necessary.) Probably not that many people will click from there to here to read this, but that’s OK. I’m writing this at least as much for myself as for others. I need to get these things said. I need to know I said it publicly somewhere. That if someone really wanted to know, that I said it. And writing this and posting it does something good for me. It’s like, I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to do. Somehow.
In last week’s emo FB posts 🙂 I alluded to the toll that having a special needs child can have on a marriage (copying to here): “In which we get back up again… Only other parents of special needs kids can understand the strain… how hard it is to not stay knocked down… to figure out how to face it together.” Maybe it is true that he and I are superlatively blessed to have each other, to have found each other despite ourselves. So yes, we are lucky aka blessed. We met when we were still so young (I didn’t realize how young until I look back now!) and I did not give my heart easily; several friends had to help me get past not wanting to trust my heart to anyone at all. I’d seen how much the wrong person could devastate a person. So we’ve been together since I was 21, and married since I was 22. And I love him. He’s very very different from me, and here we are, still together. There are so many things about him that exceed other men. I’m married to someone who is strong in so many of the areas where I’m weak, and I’m lucky to have that. I say all this to get to the point I’m actually trying to make: no matter how lucky a person is to find a person who is right for them, it’s still really really hard in the real world, where real losses and real heartache and real failures can and do happen. True love truly hurts sometimes. We keep working to help each other get back up, and sometimes we don’t feel very good at that. But I guess the thing is, the fact that we are doing our best and still here, that’s a big something to celebrate. Because sometimes the hits keep coming.
Sometimes, it’s the cumulative of the small hits that seem to get us (by us, I mean- you, me, everyone) the most. The big hits- we brace for them. We fight back. The little ones, they just wear us down. Something that’s helping us (this time I mean my husband and I) in our shared parenting is admitting the pain of the small hits. We ride these out with our little one (not so little anymore! ten years old and taller than over 99% of kids his age!) as he faces the real anxieties that co-exist with his autism. He is so high-functioning in lots of areas. He’s so verbal that I can’t keep up with the number of things he talks about, he is so social that engaging/connecting/talking with others is a primary need for his mental health well-being (did I mention I am super introverted?!), he is bright bright bright and has wide ranging interests. Lots of these being why he wasn’t diagnosed till age 9. But he has the anxiety of a child that’s a fraction of his age, a toddler even. The only place he can (usually) go without being accompanied by a parent is school, and even that is hard for him after weekends, after vacations (which are themselves stressful due to the break in routine), or if there are any changes expected for that school day (fieldtrip), or if it’s raining hard, or… any number of unexpecteds. And speaking of places he can go… even with a parent, that list of places he’ll tolerate going to (emphasis on the “barely handle” aspect of “tolerate”) is short enough to count on one hand. He is rigid in his understanding of things, and it takes great internal rallying for him to handle stresses that those of us who are “neuro-typical” would call a bump in the road. This morning he was refusing to take the bus to school (if I take him, it’s a 45 minute round trip for me), but several things he said this morning and last night clued my husband and I in on the fact that he must’ve had a good conversation with his teacher yesterday. See, yesterday morning we had our annual IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting. Positives: his teacher and all the staff are incredible, they love him, a review showed our son’s amazing progress since he first came to the school, and wow wow wow it’s beyond what we could’ve imagined at this point. Negatives: just talking about all his needs etc is hard, mentally draining. Also… he only goes to his current school till June. Then, BAM, middle school. (gulp?)
Why am I going on and on about this? I’m not sure. I know I have a point. I think I have a point. … Ahhh… the small hits. See, it was a good meeting, a very good meeting. But even a good meeting can be a kind of small hit for a parent of a special needs child. And even the positive of seeing that meeting help his teacher have a convo with our son that helped him to own making responsible choices this morning… all the work that goes into our son following through even with that thing he wants to follow through on… he started out by aiming super high last night making personal goals that honestly were asking way too much of himself, and having to guide him to make the more immediately important choices like taking the bus… these are small hits because of all the work it takes to get to the small victories. I’m getting to the point where I’m getting OK with identifying the ways even these small things wear me down, wear us down. I think it’s a good step. (btw, I have a feeling that the last two paragraphs are hard to follow, but I can’t fix it because I know what I’m saying and can’t tell if it’s confusing to others. But i have a feeling it might be. Oh well!)
It’s Just Life
How about the big hits lately?
- Our oldest son our well son, had a health scare in November. He’s recovering & doing rather well now.
- But it really sucked when the specialist said: “If: _________, then: Hospitalization.”
- I don’t remember a spike in emotions when the specialist said that, not afraid, not sad, but… but so much happened in that one moment that I can remember it clearly and it’s like time stopped. I remember: Startle. Full stop. Eyes widening. Quick breath in. Shock. What. p.s. he’s doing much better now, and that’s all I want to say about it here. And guess what date it was when we were at the well-check appointment with his primary care physician, realizing he needed more medical care? The afternoon of November 8th. Seriously. THAT NIGHT. Punched in the gut, even if I felt it coming. Because:
- Knowing that people I care about voted for him. If you’re reading this and you voted for him, know that it broke my heart a little bit (which I can say little because, look at all the big heartaches?) I still love you. But know that it hurts me that you voted for someone who 1.) mocked a disabled journalist, 2.) who talked about immigrants from Mexico, the place where my mom was born, calling them rapists and murderers at his announcement to run for president…. need I go on? Actually, one more thing: 3.) his hard hearted unrepentant callous actions and bragging about of women as playthings for his rich ugly mind. I. Can’t. Those three things are just the deeply personal ways he’s offended me, my own life. So many other things, the list too long to list, of ways he is not NOT qualified to lead our awesome country… I can’t. If you voted for him, I’m not saying you are racist or those other things, but you voted for a man who used those kinds of hatred to get elected. I can talk healthcare policy and hacking and foreign interference and fake news and freedom of press and conflicts of interest and oligarchies and the dominance of state run oil companies around the world and white working class and realities of the electoral college vs how the majority of Americans actually voted and gerrymandering and what is real America and what real Americans think and what it means to live in the bubble and what is elitism and so much more. I can tell the difference between what a normal transfer of power to conservative leadership is and what THIS is. I can tell the difference between “normal” far-right nominees and appointees, and complete breakdowns in democracy.
- There is more that’s happened in life, “big” things, but I’ll stop here for now
- Ima go ahead an link to a video I made a while back, since below I talk about a piece I made that has the US flag in it. Since it’s not the first time I’ve worked with the flag in my artwork, I want to post this, because I think it’s a strong piece and it also holds my heart in it…
- Video: It’s Still, 2 minutes 20 seconds, and has audio. First exhibited in Provincetown, MA, June 2014. I shot the first part of this footage on the 7th of October, 2013 at the National September 11th Memorial in NYC. It was the 12th anniversary of the start of the US war in Afghanistan.
Another reason why I wanted to write this very-long-wander-where-ever post (I have a couple other reasons, starting with…)
If it hasn’t been clear from how my friends and family reply on my FB posts, I am a Christian. I was raised in a protestant faith since I was around 7, and my family was Catholic before that. But I really made my own faith decisions when I was 17. And this sort of feels risky to be very clear about for a couple reasons. 1.) I don’t personally know another visual artist who practices art in the way I do who is also a Christian, and very few who are a practitioner of any faith. 2.) My political views (which I consider not political, but life/human)… they are at odds with a lot of other religious people I know. There aren’t many in my own spiritual sphere who differ starkly from me, I mean, I do live in a fairly liberal area but also, my congregation is super diverse. Still obviously, there are people I know from other types of Christian walks who either hold much more conservative views from me or who even might have voted for Trump (I haven’t asked if they voted for him and honestly don’t want to know. Unless they are sorry they voted for him, then they can tell me & I will forgive them.) So I feel compelled to list out my spiritual credentials. Or some thoughts. Etcetera.
- As I write this, I’m aware of how many atheist and agnostic friends I have, who probably think I believe in fairy tales and myths. Who might even consider my beliefs a part of a larger narrative of how people subjugate one another. Bill Maher’s opinions on Christianity ring in my ear.
- I’m also aware that some religious friends might find my political beliefs at odds with my faith (they aren’t, they are at odds with their faith.)
- I read the bible every day. Almost every day. But pretty much every day. If there’s an off day I don’t read it, I’m still thinking about it.
- I base my decisions on things I read in the bible. Or I try to. The conscious ones at least.
- I do see paradoxes in the bible. There are things I don’t understand. There are things written in there that make me angry. I will keep questioning.
- There’s so much in there that makes sense to me by living it, doing it. Like art making, the practice of it is what brings it to life. Just reading it as a text is barely barely scratching the surface. Without faith, it’s meaningless.
- I’ve read the entire bible at least five times. Probably more, but I stopped keeping track. I do skip around a lot more than I used to, though, and narrow in on specific subjects more often than not.
- I believe in the dignity and autonomy and beauty and rights of people even as I believe in the truths of the Word. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
- I pray every day. I seek truth. I seek truth about my own failings. I don’t feel better by not calling my failings Failure. Prayer is asking for help from God, asking for understanding, getting internal strength.
- I’m a whole person even when I fail. Maybe because I fail.
- It is, in fact, hard to be a person of faith in a secular community. Just being a believer is hard among intellectual people, so imagine the difficulty of being a practitioner.
- Everyone judges each other, outright or secretly, whether believers or atheists. I try to choose mercy. I wish I had more of it from some specific people.
- I go to church weekly. I am a part of a congregation of people who gather and mostly believe like me, in that we are made a family by our shared faith, not our shared (untrue) betterness over other people.
- I can’t stand hearing sermons from people who don’t talk about their own failings, or the failings of the people gathered, not so that the failings are the focus, but the kind of sermons that talk about the evil “out there” or the evils in “society” but not the evils in ourselves, us religious people. I don’t even like sermons that are about our “general” failings. We don’t fail “in general”. We fail specifically. Lack of specificity is a lie. If not bold-faced, then subtle, but still a lie.
- I hate lies.
- I also lie sometimes. To myself and others. I try to catch myself. I try to right wrongs.
- I can’t stand going to churches that do not reflect the diversity of the places where they are located. Sunday morning, the most segregated part of American life. Even when there is a touch of diversity, they are all still middle class. Or upper middle. I want a place with diversity. Don’t tell me that my east bay suburb is the kind of mostly white that some of these churches are. It’s not that white. Don’t think that the one Asian couple over there, or that one mixed-couple here, equals diversity. I’ve been in places that are so white but don’t know how white they are. I’m not saying this negates all the good those groups of people work to do. But that’s a kind of bubble. They see other peoples bubbles but not their own.
- I like that where I go, my husband and I are not the only ones who bring the color. Yeah, I’m 100% Mexican descent. My husband is 100% Korean descent. But I love the deep diversity of where I practice my faith. And I love that it’s not all led by men. No offense, men. I love that that the truth is, we don’t always get along in my group, because families don’t always get along. And it’s inevitable. We have so much diversity of life and thought among us. I’m good with that.
- I didn’t mean to go on and on about my spiritual community or what I think of how people of faith group together.
- Some people in my group are more religious than others. More religious than me. Meaning, they speak a more in-group type of language than I do, or speak in a religious in-group way more than I do. I get embarrassed by it sometimes.
- I do, however, feel like maybe I should say something about the in-group language they use when they’re out and about. In-group language makes me feel weird, like, people who don’t “get” the in-group language are not in the group and should stay out. Exclusionary.
- I’ve always been a bit different in different environments. I listened to the recent Freakonomics podcast with Trevor Noah (host of the Daily Show.) Being mixed-race from South Africa, he was able to articulate it in a way that helped me conceive of how to manage my own multiple identities. He talked about being a chameleon who changes based on the environment. And how it can change it’s skin but it’s still a chameleon, that he’s not inauthentic when adapting to the environment. That rings true for me.
- So I will bring to the forefront that I am an intellectual person of faith who is a visual artist in a very secular field, who not only believes but practices her faith very, um… faithfully.
OK, onto other topics I have on my mind.
- My uncle died two days ago.
- And… .
- Tio George.
- Pause again.
- My surviving cousins. What will they do now?
- Remember that time? It’s the last time I remember my cousin George Jr. I think he was 19 when he died? Brain aneurism? I was like 13? or 14? But remember that time? We were sitting in his room, and he was like “get out of my room” and us cousins, we didn’t get out of his room. He was the very oldest boy cousin. Around the same age as my mom’s youngest brother.
- What song was it on the radio? or on tape? When we were in his room?
- I think I remember a stack of records? Ones with covers that had roughened white paper edges?
- No one else will remember this. There’s nothing significant about this memory.
- It was a song, an english song? About school?
- “We don’t need no education/ We don’t need no thought control/ No dark sarcasm in the classroom/ Teachers leave them kids alone/ Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone/ All in all it’s just another brick in the wall/ All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”
- That’s it. And maybe also we talked about MTV.
- I remember warm colors, the color of the room, was it the paint? And summer?
- And- “hey! Get out of my room!” And we got out.
- That was when I was around seven?
- And he died when I was a freshman in high school?
- And so my mom’s brother and my aunt, they lost their son. And my cousins lost their brother. And last year that aunt passed. And two days ago, my uncle died. Their little family.
- So, in my mom’s side of the family we’ve lost (and I won’t remember them all):
- my mom’s mom, 1964, in childbirth; Harvey was born
- Lalena, my aunt’s toddler daughter, a year after I was born, 1976
- George Jr (cousin above), son of my eldest uncle, 1989?
- Harvey (born the day his mom died; AIDS), my youngest uncle, he was 31 years old? 1995?
- Grandma Alicia (mom’s stepmom) 1996?
- now more recently…
- my nephew (not my mom’s side but still, obviously must be incl. here), my eldest brother’s son, 2012, lost him in afghanistan, army
- my dad, 2013? 2014?
- my grandpa at age 98ish, passed in 2014? 2015?
- was last year 2015? oh. 2016. Now it’s 2017. really?
- my eldest aunt’s husband, last year
- my eldest uncle’s wife, last year
- now, my eldest uncle himself.
- There are many (7?) aunts and uncles left, born of my grandpa and grandma, one more aunt & one more uncle born of my grandpa and his second wife, my grandma Alicia… that’s a whole story in itself, a first family vs. second family narrative, it still plays out at funerals, that will be hard in a couple weeks. Heartbreaking how families break apart.
- This is getting older, saying a lot of goodbyes. We don’t get used to the loss, but maybe we learn to get back up again because we know it will happen again. And again. I think of this reddit post about being old and handling repeated grief.
- I think about learning from my friends and family members, the ones a little older than me, the ones a lot older than me, and even my best friends my age, who lost their daughter 5 years ago. I learn from them.
Also on my mind….
I made a poster for a show and one of the receptions is tonight. I’ll be at the early part of it. (Maple Street Denim, 465 9th Street, Oakland, 5-8pm.) $25 each for most posters showing! As organizer Alison O.K. Frost wrote: ridiculously affordable incredible locally-made art! I’m lucky to have seen Alison’s call for work and to have been able to work on posters to add to the sale, proceeds benefitting causes to resist the incoming white house administration. I made my posters with this true story in mind: My grandfather made rafts at the Rio Grande to bring my mom (and her siblings) across into the United States, YES illegally, he swam them all across. My mom felt safe, though she couldn’t swim. I want to celebrate that my story is American in whole and in part. That is part of my protest. By the way, did you catch that President Obama specifically called out those who came here via the Rio Grande in his farewell address? My mom and I caught that. We told each other, he’s talking about us!
Last thing to get into before I close out this rambling story? Another rambling thing. Making this poster was so so so so … add in some more SO’s… hard for me! Not the initial design, that was straight from my heart. But the screen printing process broke down (access to certain necessary items), then spray painting stencils as inspired from watching W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America, Episode 3, Latino USA, then that failed too, and stress in my life adding one after another after another and I missed the deadline for handing over my 10 posters even as I continued to labor and labor on them as well as travel out of town for my little sister’s impromptu beautiful beach wedding and standing for her as she made her vows, and still fail after fail when I got back to the studio. And I handed my posters in on Tuesday this week. And honestly, I’ve kept working all week to make (what are in my mind) better ones. But again, fail after fail. And more loss on Wednesday. Every time I thought I had it, the solution to make the posters what I thought they should be, I messed it up. I think about what I completed and handed over, certain pieces of it I’m like, no no it’s messed up. But these posters are my heart, from my heart. Maybe the reasons for my angst over them is only in my head. Maybe not. I don’t want to put anyone in the position of defending them for me. In a perfect world, I would have had more time with them. I would only send them out of my studio in the exact condition I wanted. But this is not a perfect world. And this show of posters, and I am sure to love this show, I’m glad I’m a part of it, thankful that Alison O.K. Frost conceived of this show, and put this call for art out, and that it got me to tell this story in this way in this poster. An imperfect an expression of the experience as it is, I want to embrace it in its entirety, embrace the flaws I perceive, not knowing how real or imagined they are. I want to embrace the action of going out into the world just as i am, even if un-organized, un-formed, un-edited, un-fixed up. What else is life but getting back up again?
PS, if you have read this far and OMG who are you? and you want to read another thing I wrote recently, there’s this: Studio Visit, posted at ProWax Journal.com