Here is a small piece of a whole that may or may not get finished. I started writing an urban fantasy novel, but got stuck or perhaps side tracked. This is a random chapter. Perhaps I'll get back to it someday...
**Paintings in the above photo by Simran Narmis (Slow Camera Paparazzi)**
LISLE PICKS UP PAINTING
“Ah, yes. Ms. Vaughn. Mr. Reed is expecting you. If you take the elevator just there to floor three, turn left and head to the second door on the right, you’ll find the viewing room where he will meet you.”
The pretty receptionist handed Lisle a key card and smiled at her.
It had been about four months since Piper’s murder. Lisle, putting her grief and guilt to work, had planned a fundraiser for domestic abuse victims in Piper’s honor. This afternoon she was picking up a painting to be donated to the cause by Dominic Reed, the owner of Hidden Light Gallery.
To say Hidden Light Gallery was the largest independant art gallery in Prospero was an understatement. It was a fortress. Four stories of ancient and modern art, a ballroom on the fifth floor and a top floor penthouse belonging to the billionaire owner, Dominic Reed. The entire building was alive with security guards, cameras and metal detectors. Key cards were required to get anywhere beyond the main floor gallery.
Lisle took the key from the receptionist and headed to the elevator. She got in, pressed the “3” button and inserted her key card which flashed green as the door slid shut. As she waited for her floor she looked into the mirrored walls to smooth her hair and check that her lipstick hadn’t smudged on her morning tea.
The elevator made a polite ding to indicate she had reached her floor. As she stepped out and headed down the plushly carpeted hall towards the viewing room, she heard voices coming from the first room on the left.
“...through all my research and I’ve dated the piece. It’s seventeenth century Dutch.”
“But it portrays the shifting of a Sandwalker. That is an Arabian shapeshifter.”
“It would seem that more than just tulips were imported to the Dutch Republic…”
Lisle peered into the room where three men were hovering around a large painting laying on a table. One was facing her but focused on the painting. He had dark skin and even darker hair that fell in soft waves around his face. His suit screamed style and money, but his silhouette spoke of a more ancient regality. The other two stood with their backs to the doorway. Lisle could only get a full view of one of them, a slight, blond man in jeans and a loose sweater who delicately flipped pages in what looked like an antique book. The other was nothing more than a suited elbow and a shiny shoe.
“As you know, Vermeer, was a shapeshifter himself,” the blond man said without looking away from his book, “He was a Kobold, a goblin form. It’s possible that he had interest in shapeshifters from other countries. This could very well be painted by Vermeer himself. See look at this…”
The blond man turned the book toward the dark gentleman on the other side of the table who looked up and saw Lisle standing in the doorway. He straightened up quickly and started walking toward Lisle causing the blond man to yelp in surprise.
“Ms. Vaughn, I presume?,” the dark man walked toward her with his hand extended.
Lisle nodded in agreement and stepped back to allow him to walk into the hallway.
“Dominic Reed,” he took her hand in both of his, “Lovely to meet you. Please join me in the viewing room. I have the perfect donation for your event.”
Lisle looked back at the other two men just long enough to see the third man in the room looking at her with a broad grin. Nathanael Glenn, the pushy stranger from that ill-fated party that saved her from Mr. Brownstein’s wrath. Dominic looked over his shoulder at the men now standing in the doorway, released Lisle’s hand and set one of his onto her back to guide her to the viewing room.
“Please excuse me, gentlemen. We can continue our discussion after this.”
“Yes, of course,” said the blonde man
Lisle was swept forward further into the hall by the pressure in her back. At the doorway to the viewing room she put out a hand and halted the march. She looked back down the hall at the room with the apparently secretive painting. Somehow she wasn’t surprised to see Nathanael leaning casually in the doorway smiling and staring directly at her. Lisle’s heart beat faster at the sight of him. She was debating whether if was because she found this man charming or disturbing. She raised an eyebrow at him and went into the room.
The room was filled with large, sturdy easels surrounding the walls; each with a light shining directly on it. There was a large table at one end of the room. At the end of the table sat a package wrapped in brown paper.
“Ms. Vaughn, forgive me for allowing my meeting to run late. I had hoped to have this up and displayed for you when you arrived,” Dominic’s eyes focused on Lisle. He seemed to actually notice her for the first time. Lust flashed in his eyes for a moment, followed closely by guilt and then quickly back to professional composure.
“You have no need to apologize to me. You’re doing me the favor by donating to the event. A painting from your collection will have such an impact on our fundraiser. Thank you for doing this,” Lisle stepped further into the room, but inclined her head back at the hallway, “Sounds like your friends are excited about a new painting?”
“Oh, my consultant gets overly excited about analyzing new aquisitions. He seems to think it might be a missing Vermeer,” Dominic shrugged, “More than likely it was made by some college kid taking an art history class.”
Lisle knew this was him trying to discourage her interest in the topic, but she wasn’t going to argue. Lisle set down her purse, laying the key card next to it.
“I’d love to see what you have for us.”
Dominic unwrapped the package and set it on an easel. The painting depicted the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend. She was shown under the water, a silver light shining around her, a blue-green gown billowing like waves around her body. Small, silvery fish circled her head like a living crown and her blond hair floated in cascading curls. In her hand she held the golden Excalibur with the blade resting against her other palm. The painting seemed to glow. The lady’s delicate features stared at Lisle as she stared at the canvas. It was the eyes that brought small tears to Lisle’s eyes. They were Piper’s eyes. Lisle drew in a deep breath.
“Oh,” was all she could say.
After a while she turned away, blinked back her tears and turned toward Dominic.
Dominic smiled, “Believe it or not, I know every piece of art in this building by heart. I can practically feel when one has sold even before I get the sales ticket. Honestly, I probably would have ignored your donation request, but that photo of your friend fell out of the letter. I saw her eyes and instantly knew I had seen them before. I reached out to the artist. He said he never met any of the models that inspired this painting, but that he was sure he had used a photo of her in his reference material.”
“Thank you,” Lisle whispered, “She means so much to us.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Lisle stepped away from the painting and reached into her purse, “Here is the receipt for your donation. Is there anything else you need from me?”
“Nothing else. I’m happy to help. Let me get this wrapped up again and you can be on your way.”
Dominic set the painting back on the brown paper, placed the corner protectors on it and began folding the package back up.
“Yes, I’ll let you get back to your overly excited consultant.”
Dominic gave a nervous laugh, “Ryan is most likely buzzing around that room ready to convince me I’ve found a new million dollar painting. It really is quite sad to see him when he’s disappointed. Or who knows? Perhaps I have a new painting worth more than this whole building. We shall see.”
“Nathanael doesn’t share his enthusiasm?”
Dominic glanced sharply at her, “You know Nathanael?”
“Only met him once, but he saved my ass that night. Hard to forget him after what happened...”
Lisle’s last few words trailed off when the realization hit her she was talking about the same night Piper was murdered.
“Anyway, never learned what he did for a living. He works for you then? Or is he an overly enthusiastic consultant as well?,” Lisle knew she was prodding too much, but she couldn’t stop herself.
“You could say he represents some very important people with whom I do business. Here is your painting. I hope it fetches a pretty penny for your cause,” Dominic finished wrapping the painting and handed it to Lisle with a finality that said their conversation was over.
Lisle slung her purse over her shoulder, tucked the painting under her arm, gave a few more words of appreciation and walked back down the hall towards the elevator. When she passed the first room the door was closed. She pressed the button to call the elevator and stood in front of it waiting. As she was waiting Dominic proceeded down the hall and into the closed room making certain that Lisle was not peering into it. The elevator doors slid open in the same moment Dominic opened his door.
As she stepped into the elevator she caught voices speaking. First, the calm voice of Nathanael saying, “You realize of course that the Parliament must be told of this painting’s existence.” Followed by the excited voice of the consultant, Ryan, “Absolutely not! They will destro-”
The elevator door shut tight, cutting off the rest of the conversation.
“The older I get, the more I feel almost beautiful.” -Sharon Olds
In response to the social media trend of January 2019.
Why I’m not posting a 10 year comparison photo:
I’m loving seeing people show how beautiful they are and embracing 10 more years of life. It’s wonderful to see performers who 10 years ago didn’t even believe they could step on stage or become the beautiful creatures that they are. It’s endearing to see parents embracing how the growth of both themselves and their children shows on their faces. It brings hope to see beautiful faces embracing their identities and coming out at the human they truly are.
I have grown in 10 years, I have embraced a much more “real” me. I’ve become unapologetic in my identity. I found an art form that fulfills me. I have a daughter that has gone from a tiring, boundary-testing toddler to a smart, independent young woman. I have a closer connection to my husband. I left a soul-sucking (but nessacary) job and found a career. I have a closer connection with myself.
Looking at a comparison of photos from then to now doesn’t reflect that growth. Looking at a comparison of photos reflects my body’s physical growth from a size 4 to a size 12. The one part of myself I don’t love right now. That being said, I have a better self body image than I did when I was a size 4. (Which frankly was too thin for my health.)
Ten years ago I jumped into pinup modeling. Modeling both made me feel amazing and made obsess about my body. After one of my first photo shoots where the makeup artist came into the room, scanned around and then said, “So, we’re just waiting for the model?”, I quickly dropped from a size 8 (my healthy weight) to a size 4. Due in part to the level of stress, anxiety, lack of sleep and depression I was also battling. But also due to modeling standards.
At that size I bruised easily, was cold in normal temperatures and still thought I was “fat”. Every “suck in your belly” at a photo shoot was a stab at my psyche. Every time a photographer recreated the photo we had made together with a thinner model it knocked my self-image. Every time I got back an amazing photo of me only to realize upon looking closer that they had photoshopped my waist smaller and my boobs bigger I felt inadequate.
I kept doing it because I truly thought it made me feel good. I was pretty enough. I got back some photos I absolutely loved. Some of the photographers I worked with created photos with me that we could both be proud of.
After a couple years in the arena, I learned to be more selective. I learned to only work with the people who truly wanted me as I am, who were enjoyable to work with, who created photos with me that made us both feel great and who gave respectful direction.
I still like doing photo shoots and I’ve had an opportunity to work with some fantastic people over the past 10 years. Today, though, I am highly selective about who I will work with because, yes, I deserve to be selective. I deserve to only accept the shoots that will elevate both myself and the artists I am working with.
Today I may stress about my body size, but it no longer keeps me up at night crying. A comparison of photos from then to now doesn’t show that journey. A comparison of photos from then to now opens personal wounds that I have carefully worked to start healing. I am not my dress size. I feel more confident in my beauty and in my body at this moment than I did then. I see now that beauty comes not just from a waist measurement, but from confidence. I am by no means free of my body image challenges. There will probably always be a part of my brain that criticizes my body. The difference between then and now is that the part of my brain that criticizes my body has much less power over me.
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here…”
The fight to where I am now was worth it and where I am now is where I want to keep my focus. So, keep sharing your 10 year photos if they bring you joy. Share your journey. I’ll keep watching, but I won’t be participating.
Joy has never come easily to me.
I am the person who is comfortable in melancholy and even seeks it out. My daydreams oftentimes are of me taking down (sometimes physically) those who oppress me or others. I find myself pulled towards the villain in stories. I relate with characters who find joy in revenge rather than a more pure version of joy. It was no surprise to me when Pottermore placed me in the Slytherin House. I have resting bitch face that I’ve learned to embrace. I will sheepishly admit that I enjoy the intimidation that is the “baggage” of my stature, RBF, quiet nature, and confidence (or that false image of confidence in some cases).
Yes, I have moments of bright joy in my life, but for the most part I live my life within the darker tones of life.
I have few memories of my early elementary school years, but one burns red hot in my memory. The lesson one afternoon in second grade was vocabulary. We were learning the words “optimist” and “pessimist” using the glass half full/empty lesson. After the teacher overviewed both terms she asked the class to make statements using the words to check for understanding.
A little redheaded girl shot her hand straight up in the air vibrating her desire to give an answer to the teacher. We’ll call her Melissa because frankly I don’t remember. I’m terrible with names.
Our teacher pointed to her, “Melissa?”
Melissa straightened her posture, grinning, and set her hands in her lap, “Nina is a pessimist.”
“That wasn’t very kind,” our teacher responded, “Can you use the word in a situation outside of the classroom?”
Melissa was shocked. She was too little to even understand that her statement was rude. With a pouty face she went on, “Well, she is! Just this morning she was crying and saying she couldn’t do the math ditto, but she still did. She’s always crying over stuff like that.”
I had indeed been crying and frustrated by the math ditto sheet (that’s a worksheet for those born after 1990). I had gotten so worked up about it that I couldn’t focus and instead pouted and cried. I was hurt by the opinion being placed in front of me like that, but I didn’t think she was wrong. Instead I started to cry again; not because I was mad at Melissa, but because I had cried in the first place.
I was a pessimist. I still am in many ways. This is the real me.
Most people who know me won’t be shocked by anything written above. Some will argue with me. Everyone sees a different piece of me. Some have seen them all. Most of them are the real me.
Some people see me as a person who is constantly striving for kindness, fairness and acceptance. The level headed one. The person who ends all her blogs posts with hope. Someone who tries to see and understand why people act the way they do. Someone who doesn’t understand how anyone can knowingly take advantage of someone else and be proud. This is the real me as well.
Truth be told, I’ve always been the one who daydreams about turning into the badass warrior woman who kicks the crap out of the shitty dude that underestimates me. So, how did I end up feeling I need to be the person to show positivity and light? How have I become the person who is the “voice of reason”? Why has it become my obligation to preach kindness?
Through high school and college I struggled pretty hard with depression. In many ways I still do. I have learned how to embrace that beast. Maybe you could say I have sort of domesticated her. I give her some space in my life. I take time to acknowledge her, give her some attention and spend time training her not to lash out. She’s still a wild beast at times, but for the most part we can live harmoniously.
Perhaps some of that training has given some space to allow kindness in. Perhaps the reason I survive in the darker tones of life is that there are still just enough moments of light. Taught me that, even in those darker tones, there can still be softness and warmth. You can be a badass warrior woman and still be kind.
As for many of us, the past few years of politics has been frustrating, disheartening and left me feeling I had no power to do anything. Screaming in anger only takes you so far. I have watched my friends lash out at other friends, scream into a void, despair at the injustices and burn themselves out with anger and worry. Much of this resembled a mother screaming at a toddler to be quiet. (Parenting 101: that doesn’t work.)
Now, before anyone starts thinking I’m am the Tone Police, there are times we need to scream and get ugly to be heard. I’m not discounting that this is sometimes the way things must be handled. I’m talking about the screaming that doesn’t do much more that allow us to believe we are releasing the pent up energy, but in fact is just wearing us out. I’m talking about the times when we are yelling at the dog to stop barking. I’m talking about the times it is just adding noise.
Watching this I realized this kind of reaction didn’t work for me. The anger and fear and screaming was just going to give the beast I had domesticated a boost of negative energy. It was going to make her more than I could control. I had to find another way to engage in the emotional and social justice work that needed to be done.
I decided to stand in my darker side of the world ready to show off what was positive. For a while I focused on calling to attention different people in my life who may not know how much I appreciated them. This faded out when I was confronted by those who felt “left out”. Then I made a point to only share on social media the good things. This resulted in accusations that I was diminishing the things that were bad by ignoring them.
I stopped trying to use social media to spread kindness, but I still felt I needed to do something. I realized that my message of kindness wasn’t one specific thing. It was the way I interacted with everything. The way I made decisions every day. The interactions I had with people in all my many facets of life. This blog in an example. Even on my most frustrated and disheartened moments I make sure each one ends in a message of hope. Sometimes that has meant waiting a week to write the ending.
Each time I help a friend, each time I support a cause, each time I take the time to be patient with a server I am acting purposely with kindness. My hope is that with each act I help make the world a little bit better for others and for myself. This does not mean I am soft, a push-over, weak or unrealistic. I am grounded and I am strong.
I took a workshop not too long ago called “Kindness as a Revolutionary Act” from a woman I feel blessed to call a friend, Blanche DeBris. She helped me to see that my kindness does not diminish my strength. It doesn’t take away my sharpness. In many ways it makes me stronger. Kindness can be revolutionary. Joy can be rock solid. Positivity can come from a darker place. The war needs soldiers and healers along with a long list of other people.
None of this has been easy, especially for me. Kindness, joy and positivity takes work.
I recently debuted a new act that was meant to be nothing but joyful and lighthearted. It was one of the most difficult acts I’ve created. Choosing what songs to use was the most difficult. Even seconds before I went on stage I was questioning if I could do it. I took the stage and willfully expressed that joyful character throughout the act. It was so much more than I could have hoped for. Embodying the joy I wish I could have made it mine. It is not in my nature to stay in that joyful state and I don’t wish that for myself, but it showed me that I CAN be that embodiment of joy. I can make people feel giddy and (dare I say?) optimistic.
I am far from perfect. I still get frustrated. I still have moments I act unkindly. I am still a pessimist at heart. I am a living contradiction; an intimidating, opinionated woman who has learned to share hope and kindness.
I still have to work hard to find joy. It still doesn’t come easily, but I am willing to put in the work and I can’t wait to see what comes of working to find joy in the darker tones of life.
“She was a walking contradiction,
of humility and boasts.
Reality braided with fiction,
made of sunshine and ghosts.”
I am human. I am imperfect.
I am talented. I am an imposter.
I am kind. I am cruel.
I am weak. I am unsure. I am strong. I am confident.
I am terrified. I am fierce.
I am happy. I am sad. I am euphoric. I am depressed.
I am a professional. I am a hobbyist.
I am a part of the whole. I am an outsider.
I am successful. I am a failure.
I am scared.
I am an introvert. I am a showgirl.
I am hard. I am soft hearted.
I am patient.I am open minded. I am impatient. I am judgemental.
I am angry. I am rude.
I am forgiving. I am vengeful.
I am principled. I am confusing.
I am petty. I am selfish. I am jealous.
I am beautiful.
I am fat. I am skinny. I am wrinkled. I am bruised.
I am flexible. I am rigid. I am understanding. I am frustrated.
I am a mentor. I am a teacher. I am a student.
I am fashionable. I am my own fashion.
I am guilty. I am moody.
I am organized. I am overwhelmed.
I am forgettable. I am hard to forget.
I am a queen. I am a fool. I am a goddess. I am a slave.
I am tired.
I am joyful. I am dark.
I am ridiculous. I am weird.
I am high-brow. I am low-brow.
I am childish. I am older than my years.
I am self loathing. I am self loving.
I am a dancer. I am a performer.
I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter
I am loved.
I am a lover of life. I am a hypocrite.
I am the understudy. I am the lead.
I am a hard worker. I am lazy.
I am a jackie of all trades. I am a master of nothing.
I am ambitious. I am too ambitious. I am not ambitious enough.
I am a caregiver. I am a bleeding heart. I am too giving.
I am a business professional.
I am a leader. I am a follower.
I am a wallflower. I am the center of attention.
I am socially awkward. I am sophisticated.
I am in pain.
I am graceful. I am elegant. I am a snob.
I am intelligent. I am stupid. I am street smart.
I am a city girl. I am a traveller.
I am free. I am chained.
I am a tease. I am a flirt.
I am unapproachable. I am welcoming.
I am a lady. I am a woman. I am a nerd.
I am soft. I am hard.
I am short tempered. I am combative. I am broken.
I am hiding.
I am a villain. I am a hero. I am a sidekick. I am an antihero.
I am the problem. I am the solution.
I am shameless. I am apologetic.
I am important.
I am a writer. I am a hack.
I am a seamstress. I am a hack.
I am a dancer. I am a hack.
I am a good friend. I am a hack.
I am annoying. I am annoyed.
I am a dreamer. I am grounded.
I am a realist. I am spiritual. I am lost.
I am contradictions.
I am all these things. I am an Artist.
This month I give you an allegory about what being friends with Artists feels like to me, specifically the past two years. Today I lay down for you a vulnerable part of myself and expose what I usually keep hidden so I may be the support to others who need more than I do. When I started writing this I couldn't come up with an ending. I had no thread left to stitch that part of the story. Today I found enough hope to write it.
A Seamstress pulls a needle through fabric; a long sturdy thread pulls the edges of the fabric tightly around a deep red felt heart. When she’s done she ties a strong knot and fills the fabric with stuffing. Next she gives her new Dolly hair from silken strands and stitches in her face with bright embroidery floss. She puts her Dolly in the dress that’s been waiting for her. One made of satin with lace ruffles and a pair of striped sock. She finishes her Dolly’s outfit with shiny black shoes and small pearl beads for earrings. Satisfied with her work, she kisses her Dolly softly on the forehead and sets her gently in a chair.
Soon the the green embroidery floss eyes blink. The soft face turns up to look at the Seamstress.
“Hello, my dear little Dolly,” she says smiling warmly at Dolly in the chair, “Welcome to the world.”
Trying out words for the first time Dolly’s little stuffing voice say a creaky, “Hello.”
Dolly smiles up at the Seamstress adoringly and reaches a little cloth hand up to her maker’s beautiful face.
The days of Dolly’s new life roll by. Dolly watches with a careful eye as the Seamstress makes pretty dresses for the ladies of the village. The Seamstress even shows her how to make her own pretty frocks. When they aren’t sewing they are feeding the ducks in the pond behind the house or cooking delicious soups from mushrooms they have foraged in the forest. All the while the Seamstress shares stories about the world beyond their small homestead. It is joyful, but Dolly begins to feel restless.
One day Dolly tells the Seamstress that she wants to leave to explore the world and find a place in it that is her own. The Seamstress looks at her with a smile that is a mixture of sadness and pride.
“Go find who you truly are, Dolly, and know that I love you with all my heart.”
Just before Dolly sets out the Seamstress tucks into Dolly’s pocket a needle, a small pair of scissors and a small spool of thread. Feeling she is now prepared to face the world and take care of herself, the Seamstress gives Dolly a hug and kisses her on the forehead.
Dolly look up and down the road. She doesn’t know where the road leads, but she doesn’t know where she wants to go anyway. She heads left.
She’s been walking for about half a day when she spots a crow on a fence.
“Hello, Mr. Crow,” she calls.
The crow hops along the fence coming closer. He twists his head side to side, assessing Dolly.
“Mr. Crow? Yes, that name suits me fine,” croaks the crow, “And I shall call you Friend.”
Dolly laughs at the bird’s bobbing curious movements, “I would like that very much.”
Mr. Crow nods in satisfaction and flits to Dolly’s shoulder.
They continue down the road together until they finally make it to a town. The town square is bustling with activity. Carts roll in all directions. A flower vendor calls out while sending her bloom’s perfume into the air. A magician disappears in cloud of smoke in front of a group of children and reappears behind them. A peacock dances an airy ballet while a violinist plays beside him.
The smells reaches Dolly’s embroidered nose filling her with scents of flowers, smoke, dust and freedom. Mr.Crow bobs from one foot to the other in an excited dance. Dolly knows she has found her home.
Years go by and Dolly has found her place in the town. She has found friendship in not only her companion, Mr. Crow, but also in Poppy the flower vendor, Henry the magician, Patrick Peacock and Viola the musician. Dolly’s world is filled with joy and laughter. She loves her friends and they love her.
It seems that nothing could ever ruin this magical life.
Until one day something does.
On a day that seemed like any other day something terrible happened. Poppy was out collecting blooms to sell in the market when she came across a catwolf. It was known by all in the town that a catwolf is the most dangerous beast in the forest. Poppy screamed and struck out at the beast with her shears, but the catwolf caught Poppy across her arm and chest with its sharp claws. Poppy struck again and pierced the deep into the beast’s leg; making it howl and run away.
Dolly’s friends bring Poppy to her.
“Can you fix her?,” they ask.
Dolly reaches into her pocket. She pulls out her needle, scissors and thread. Carefully she stitches Poppy back together. It takes her full spool of thread. Dolly does not have the Seamstress’s skills, but she does alright.
Soon Poppy is back to picking beautiful flowers. She now has scars from that terrible day. She will never be exactly the same, but she is happy again.
Henry the Magician is entertaining for a party one night. The poof of smoke explodes. The magician disappears. The party goers wait for him to reappear.
They wait longer.
Finally someone starts to look around for him. He is found inside his magic box. He is groggy and holding his arm, but he jokes that it was all a part of the act.
The next day Henry goes to Dolly. He admits to her that the trick went awry. He shows Dolly his arm. It is broken and bruised.
“Won’t you help me?,” he asks.
Dolly looks at the empty spool of thread and then back at Henry with regret, “I have no more thread on my spool.”
Henry hangs his head and cradles his arm. Dolly sadly looks down where she sees her beautifully stitched legs and comes up with an idea.
Dolly carefully pulls stitches from her legs leaving just enough to hold herself together. She uses her own threads to make a sling and set Henry’s arm so that he may heal.
A few weeks later Dolly sits joyous in the audience as Henry delights them with magic tricks using large gestures with his two good arms.
Winter comes to the village. The town square is glittering white and the friends are having a snowball fight. The laughter echoes ghostly off the icicles on the eaves. The friends decide to go ice skating on the lake. Henry skates wide figure eights around Poppy who is spinning in tight circles. Mr. Crow grips Dolly’s shoulder while she makes lazy loops between her friends. Viola lays on the lakes edge making snow angels while Patrick Peacock skates in long, strides across the lake displaying his beautiful plumage.
Patrick is swaying off to the far end of the lake when he hits a patch of thin ice. The ice cracks and Patrick falls through.
The friends rush to help him, but the ice is cracking and they can’t get close enough to reach him. They have no rope to throw to him.
Dolly quickly starts pulling the strong threads that hold her arms together. Once they are out she kicks the threads to her friends who use the threads to pull Patrick to safety.
In the excitement to see Patrick is safe, the friends let go of the threads. All but one sink into the lake.
The friends carry Patrick and Dolly into the safety of a warm cottage. They warm Patrick with hot soup and blankets.
Mr. Crow uses the thread that is left to stitch Dolly’s arms back together as best as he can. He frets and squaks the whole time. The stitches are crude and spaced much to far apart, but it is the best he can do. Dolly can use her arms again, but she has to be careful not to let any of her stuffing come loose.
Spring comes once again to the village and with it the scent of flowers and warm rain. Poppy is ready to collect flowers again to sell in the market. Henry polishes his magic box until the wood glows and the hinges shine. Viola works out a new song to play on her violin while Patrick sways, testing out ways to dance to Viola’s beautiful music.
The friends decide to have a picnic in the warming afternoon. Henry pours wine into delicate glasses and passes them around. As they afternoon starts turning into dusky evening Viola tells a story gesturing with her hands. She swings her arm at little to wildly across the picnic blanket and hits the wine bottle, shattering the glass she was holding in her hand. Glass shards tear at her hand.
The friends remove the glass and run cool water over her injured hand. Two large cuts gash across her palm.
“My hand!,” Viola cries, “How am I to play my violin?”
The friends look at her with sympathy. They don’t know what to do.
Viola looks up at Dolly with tears in her eyes, “You must stitch me up. Please!”
Dolly looks at her arms and legs. She has no thread to spare there. But Viola is crying and she is in need. Dolly takes a deep breath, opens the buttons on her dress and pulls stitches from her torso. She leaves enough to still hold her together and keep her little felt heart in place. Dolly gets to work on Viola’s hand.
Within a week Viola is happily playing her violin again while Patrick Peacock sways.
Summer comes. The friends want to go swimming and hiking and berry picking and have picnics by the stream. Dolly can no longer join them on all the adventures. She is too weak for hiking, too delicate for swimming and cannot hold a basket for berry picking.
Most days Mr. Crow stays behind with Dolly. They sit in the sun reading books and wave to their friends as they head off for the day’s adventure.
Late in the summer Dolly sits propped up against a tree outside her cottage reading a story about princesses and dragons. Mr. Crow, ever her companion, hops around the grass catching bugs and curiously pursuing anything that shines or sparkles.
Dolly is looking down at her book, so she does not see the cat stalking up the hill. The cat moves quietly through the shrubbery watching Mr. Crow carefully. Suddenly the cat pounces out of the brush and lands beside Mr. Crow sinking four claws into his beautiful black wing.
Mr. Crow caws madly and hops around to get away. Dolly looks up and throws her book at the cat. It hits the cat in its hind flank.
Hissing at Dolly the cat scurries away as quickly as he came.
Mr. Crow hops up to Dolly and Dolly wraps him in her arms, setting him gently in her lap.
Mr. Crow tests his wing. It hurts too much to move.
“Oh, Mr. Crow,” Dolly says softly, “What will we do?”
Mr. Crow looks up at her and says, “You can fix me.”
Dolly looks at her spent spool of thread up on the window sill. She looks at her legs. She looks at her arms. She looks at her torso with the little felt heart exposed.
“I have nothing left,” she says and cries.
Mr. Crow looks at Dolly with a hurt look in his eyes and turns away from her.
“I’m sorry,” Dolly says quietly.
Without looking at Dolly, Mr. Crow says, “With all the things you have done for our friends. How could you have nothing left for me? I am your first friend and closest companion. Yet you can’t even spare a little to save me?”
Mr. Crow won’t look at Dolly and it makes Dolly’s heart break. She looks down again at her torso and takes a deep breath. Slowly she pulls the sparse strands of thread around her heart and runs them through her needle. She then reaches out to Mr. Crow and begins to stitch his black, black wing back together.
When she is done she kisses her own fingertips and presses the kiss gently over Mr. Crow’s heart.
Mr. Crow gets up and tests his wing again. It moves. In time he thinks he will fly again thanks to Dolly’s careful stitching.
Mr. Crow hops around the grass and Dolly watches the clouds go by.
At dusk the rest of the friends come home from swimming in the lake. They are damp and happily exhausted.
“Come inside you two and lets make dinner with these mushrooms I found on the walk home!,” called Poppy.
Mr. Crow begins to skip towards Poppy’s cottage, but stops when he notices Dolly isn’t following him.
“Aren’t you coming?,” Mr. Crow asks Dolly who is still propped up against the tree.
Dolly’s voice comes out weak and sad, “I can’t.”
Mr. Crow cocks his head at her inquisitively noticing the sad look in her eyes.
“I have used up too much of my stitches and I no longer have enough to hold me together. I have given too much of myself away and now I cannot move or I will fall apart.”
Mr. Crow looks at his wing with sadness. He hops back to Dolly and perches on her knee. He does that worried little dance of his, pacing side to side and turning his head this way and that.
Then he caws loudly, calling the rest of the friends out to the tree.
“We must help Dolly,” Mr. Crow says, “Help me take her to the Seamstress. She will be able to fix our Dolly.”
The friends gently pick up Dolly and place her into a wagon. They pull the wagon out of the town and into the woods where the Seamstress lives.
When they get there Mr. Crow knocks on the door. A frail voice responds and beckons them into the cottage.
Inside the cottage an old woman sits in a rocking chair. Her skin in wrinkled and thin.
The friends lift Dolly out of the wagon and lay her in a worktable this is coated with years of dust. There are rusted sewing tools hanging above the table.
“Please, Seamstress,” Mr. Crow pleads with the old lady, “You made our precious Dolly. You must fix her.”
The Seamstress looks sadly at the table where Dolly lays. Her eyes wander up the wall to the tools and the empty racks.
“I’m sorry. I have no more thread to stitch her with,” the old lady looks down to her gnarled hands, “And even if I did, I no longer have the hands needed to do the work.”
The friends collectively droop at this news. Viola runs a finger over the scar on her hand.
“She gave more than she should have because her friends needed her,” Mr. Crow said with a tinge of guilt, “What are we to do?”
The Seamstress looks at the friends. She looks at Poppy’s scars and Mr. Crow’s wing, knowingly.
Finally, she lifts a boney finger and points it at the friends, “You must save her. It is your turn to help her.”
The friends look about between them, but no one was made of cloth and thread. What could they do?
The friends carry Dolly back to her cottage still unsure how they can save her. They stand over her until one by one they fall asleep.
The next morning as the sun is beaming into Dolly’s room, the friends wake. The happy light seems cruel. This is much to sad a day.
Until Mr. Crow does something no one expects.
He plucks a feather from his tail and uses Dolly’s scissors to cut the end to a sharp point. Then he uses the sharp end to press the feather into Dolly’s little felt heart until it holds her heart in place solidly.
“We must be the ones to fix her,” Mr. Crow says with hope in his voice and he looks meaningfully at the friends, “We may not have thread to offer, but we must have something.”
With a nod, Patrick Peacock pulls one long feather from his beautiful plumage and lays it on the bed next to Dolly.
The other friends rush back to their own homes and each return with something of their own. Viola brings a violin string. Poppy brings a daisy chain. Henry brings his magic rope.
Together they use what they have to stitch Dolly back together. Mr. Crow picks up Henry’s rope and uses it to bind her legs together. Next, the friends loop Poppy’s daisy chain up one arm and tuck the bits of stuffing back into place. They run Viola’s violin string up her other arm. Then they slip Patrick’s plumage through Dolly’s torso, pulling her fabric close around her stuffing and her little felt heart, which is now held in place by Mr. Crow’s black feather.
As a final gesture they each kiss their fingertips (or wingtips) and press the kiss against Dolly’s heart.
They stand back and wait.
After a painfully long time Dolly opens her eyes. She stiffly sits up and then looks down at her friends’ handiwork.
Dolly looks up at the friends surrounding her, “You did this for me?”
Mr. Crow hops up onto the bed so he is standing on her feet, “Of course we did. After everything you did for us… We didn’t have proper thread, but-”
“It’s perfect,” says Dolly before Mr. Crow can go on, “Your love is what holds me together.”
There is a sigh of relief in the room.
Dolly slowly gets out of bed testing her newly stitched legs. She steps outside and looks to her favorite tree.
“Who wants to have a picnic?,” asks Dolly.
The friends rush to get supplies while Mr. Crow hops along right beside Dolly.
“I had an inspirational teacher at my junior school: Peter Nixon. He was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and slightly scary - a good combination for a teacher.” -Stephen Mangan
My junior year in high school I had an honors English teacher named, Mr. Black. Junior year English should have been freaking amazing. It was all epic literature. It was steeped in medieval folklore and fascinating dystopian novels. After my first week with Mr. Black, I loved him. He was my kind of person. He was slightly cranky, but also highly focused on artistry. It should have been a so much fun.
Mr. Black had high expectations. Higher than any other teacher I had ever had. While his lectures were fascinating, his homework was monstrous. Miss two days of at-home reading for theater practice and you were buried. I distinctly remember our test on “Ivanhoe”. It was four pages of questions where I asked myself more than once if I had read the wrong book. Then, there was a bonus question at the bottom: “Did you enjoy this book?”
I don’t pick fights often, but when I do I lash out like a caged tiger. After four pages of frustration I answered that last question way too honestly, “I would have if I had been given the time to.”
I can tell you from this experience, if you ever really wanted to be noticed in a class this is a sure fire way to do it. I became a focus and a target in every class.
I dreaded going to my English class. The results of my test on “Ivanhoe” almost got me kicked out of the play. I had to try harder or give up theater. The next few weeks were rough.
However, as the school year went on something happened. I started to see things from a new perspective. I started to understand metaphors on a whole new level.
By the time we got to the dystopian novel, “We”, I was seeing the bend in the road before it was on the horizon. After getting through the book (at breakneck speed), we were asked to write a poem about something from the novel. I wrote a metaphorical poem about a crystal and how it represented both light and dark. After turning them in, all but mine was handed back to the class. The next assignment he had planned was to take the poems which he assumed were going to be literal context from the book and turn each line into a metaphor. I had somehow fulfilled the lesson before he had the chance to teach it and he didn’t know what to do with me. Eventually, he asked me to draw a picture that represented my poem. (Because, you know, letting me not have homework was out of the question. Jerk.)
We finally got to the end of the year. I was doing pretty well in that class, but I was thrilled to never have to do it again. I was free from the stress of being “on” for his class. I was free of the workload. I was free of being the target.
Summer came and went in a blur and it was now senior year. I had an awesome teacher for English, Mrs. Strong. Along with literature we learned scandalous things from her like why fancy restaurants are always dim. (Less chance to see wrinkles when on a date.) Why so many teachers didn’t have children. (We already have to parent countless kids for other people, why would I want to go home and do the same?) And, the biggest scandal of scandals, why Victorian romantic authors love to talk about the sky and the leaves on the trees so much. (What position do you have to be in to be looking at the sky and the underside of the trees? Hmmmmmm?)
One day in the middle of the year Mrs. Strong was out sick. No big deal. High school days with substitute teachers are some of the best. It was basically a day off. Even if the teacher left notes on what needed to be taught, the substitute usually didn’t really understand it and could easily be distracted. Not this time. This time our substitute walked in from the back of the room and strode up to the front of the class. Mr. Black!
My heart sank and my stomach tried to tie a knot around it. Before he had reached the front of the room he was telling us to open up our books to a poem called “The Naked and The Nude”. He gave us ten minutes to read the poem.
I read the poem. I was so nervous that upon reaching the end I realized I had no idea what I had just read. I read it a second time. I started reading a third time when our ten minute allotment was up. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the words. You could have given me “Humpty Dumpty” and I wouldn’t have made sense of the words in front of me.
Mr. Black walked to the front of the room and wrote the words “Naked” and “Nude” on the board. By this point we were accustomed to Mrs. Strong’s blunt teachings, so there was less tittering that you might expect from a bunch of high school students. That being said, there was still some snickering at seeing the words written on the board by a teacher. That is until he turned around. The look silenced the whole room.
“Who can tell me what this poem is about?”
Silence. No one moved.
Mr. Black scanned the room of slouched teenagers. An executioner searching for a victim. His eyes found me trying to melt into my seat in the back of the room.
I suddenly found perfect posture.
“What do you think this poem is about?”
Through my terror of once again being a target, I found that words fell out of my mouth before I even knew I was talking. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but somehow I spewed out the basics of the poem. Somehow my brain was running overtime in the background while I was trying to melt away from sight, mulling the meaning. My subconscious was sussing out that Robert Graves was making an argument that while it was commonly believed that “naked” meant lewd and “nude” the socially acceptable term, it was actually “nude” which worked in darker places.
I spit out the answer before I even understood the words I spoke. Mr. Black had literally scared me into knowing the answer.
He raised an eyebrow at me in appreciation, “Very good.”
I sank back into my chair with an exhale to rival the president at the end of every apocalyptic action movie.
We spent the rest of the class period discussing each phrase and why the author chose the words he did. I was thankfully left alone for the rest of the time.
This is a moment in my life that has stuck with me. A moment Mr. Black probably doesn’t even remember. So why can’t I let it go? It wasn’t some major turning point in my life. I didn’t learn in that moment I was destined to write poetry or become a teacher. But it is burned into my memory.
Perhaps the reason is this, Mr. Black was an inspiration in my life. Maybe in some way he still is. Perhaps he got more out of me because he never expected less, never allowed less.
While many of the people who inspire me have proved to be kind and loving humans. There is a certain kind of inspirational person who has terrified me. As much respect as I may have for them, that respect includes a certain measure of fear. They have made me become better than I am, but they still scare the bejeezus out of me.
Now, I’m not talking about the kind of abusive, you-are-never-good-enough person who breaks you down with fear and holds you to expectations that are always just out of reach. I’m talking about the healthy, keep-you-on-your-toes angst that holds you accountable.
Mr. Black may have been terrifying and his expectations may have come with a certain amount of stress, but he did more than most of my teachers ever did. Not only did he teach me the lessons the school expected him to, he opened my mind to a new way of thinking. He taught me to expect more of myself and expand my view of the world.
So, thank you, Mr. Black, wherever you may be now. Thank you for being inspirational and slightly scary. (But, don’t expect me to ever like Ivanhoe.)
Who will buy this wonderful mornin’?
Such a sky you never did see.
Who will tie it up with a ribbon and put it in a box for me?
So I can see it at my leisure whenever things go wrong.
And I would keep it like a treasure to last my whole life long.
Who will buy this wonderful feeling?
I’m so high I swear I could fly.
Me, oh, my, I don’t want to lose it.
So what am I to do, to keep the skies so blue?
There must be someone who will buy.
Many years ago a young Nina traversed to the city of San Francisco for a summer internship to complete her degree. While there she had the luck to live with the most endearing woman, Katherine, in Sausalito. Katherine in her younger years had travelled across Europe with little money and spent most of her time staying with friends of friends (A.K.A. strangers) who were kind enough to take her in. Katherine paid it forward by taking young Nina in as the daughter of the student of a friend (A.K.A. stranger) who needed a place to live for the summer. She was truly remarkable.
One of the things Nina and Katherine loved to talk about were performing artists and, most especially, singers. During one of these talks Katherine told our young Nina about this lady she knew as her favorite waitress at one of her favorite restaurants.
As the story goes, Katherine and the waitress had a good customer/worker connection. Upon being asked by Katherine what she was doing that coming weekend, the lady said she was going to be singing in a Jazz club. Katherine, excited about this side gig of hers, went to the show.
Upon seeing her perform, Katherine was in absolute shock! Absolute. Shock. Paula West (at this point in the story she has a name now, not a title) was astonishing! A real professional. According to Katherine, she had a voice on par with Ella Fitzgerald and a stage presence that couldn’t be ignored. What was she doing waiting tables?! Her talent was being wasted there!
Even young Nina couldn’t help but utter a small, bitter laugh. This woman who drove a BMW, owned a condo in Sausalito and was the “poorest person she knew” couldn’t see what all Artists know all too well.
Young Nina responded to Katherine’s outrage with a single word, “Surviving.”
Who will buy this wonderful mornin’?
Such a sky you never did see.
Who will tie it up with a ribbon and put it in a box for me?
There’ll never be a day so sunny.
It could never happen twice.
Where is the man with all the money?
It’s cheap at half the price.
My response now wouldn’t be much different.
I have had the unique privilege to know many Artists from a wide variety of Art forms. Some of them are able to completely sustain themselves within the Art realm. Most of them have a side gig outside of Art. Many have a full time “muggle” job.
Paula is waiting tables because she has bills to pay. She is living in San Francisco (or close by). She too wants to be able to enjoy a night out with her friends. To buy a gown for her performances. Maybe she’s getting voice lessons. Maybe she’s renting a studio to practice. She is waiting tables because no one is paying her enough in her Art to pay for those things.
Some of us keep the non-Art gig so that we never lose our love of our Art, so that it doesn’t feel like a job. Every Artist makes Art because they love it. However, I think it’s safe to say a majority of us would be thrilled if we could make our living solely from our Art.
Artists are notoriously poor. The idea of the “starving Artist” is so common it’s a trope in movies and stories. (Which, I’d like to point out, are written by Artists.) There are exceptions to the rules, the celebrities who “make it”, but for the most part the life of an Artist is not paved in gold.
Thus for the majority, the life of an Artist is either a life of constant financial struggles or a life with a non-Art job. And let’s be honest, for many it is both of these things.
Who will buy this wonderful feeling?
I’m so high I swear I could fly.
Me, oh, my, I don’t want to lose it.
So what am I to do, to keep the skies so blue?
There must be someone who will buy.
Art is undervalued. I see it every day. Someone doesn’t want to pay for the music they download. Someone seeks out a “cheap” tattoo Artist. Someone balks when there is a cover to see a show at a bar. Someone looks at a custom costume piece and says “I could make that so much cheaper” knowing they never will. Someone asks their Artist friend to get them into the show for free.
We’re told to “do what you love and it won’t feel like work”. But when what we love is Art, we’re told to “get a real job”. I just went to a conference this week for the “muggle” job where the speaker made the comment “I was a theater major. And then I got a real job.”
My friend who works 2 “day jobs”, produces shows, performs and teaches was once told by a wealthy audience member, “If you are struggling, maybe you need to give this up and get a job.” He didn’t even see what she did as a job at all. He is there in the audience, a consumer of the product of performing Arts, and he doesn’t see what this person is doing as work.
How is Art supposed to be valued when even the consumer doesn’t understand they are buying a product. Yes, it’s a labor of love. Yes, we do it because we want to do it. Yes, there are other payoffs and reasons to do Art. (That’s a whole different discussion.) But it is also work. The end result is a product. Whether that be a physical painting, a wearable costume, a song you listen to or a dance performance you watch; it is the PRODUCT of WORK.
Yes, I understand that some of the undervaluation of Art can be explained through simple economics. There are a LOT of people who want to be an Artist in some way. The more people there are in a field, the less someone has to pay for that labor. But I would also argue that many trade jobs are well paid because of skill and training. I don’t see this payoff for skill and training as often in Art.
Art requires talent. Art requires skills. Art requires a lot of hard work. Art requires love.
Art may not require monetary value, but it would be damn nice if people did see it that way.
The day after Katherine told me the story of Paula West, I went online and sought out her music. There was only one song I could find. A sultry, jazzy version of “Who Will Buy?”. I love it. I’ve listened to it for almost 2 decades now. (I’m even incorporating it into an act this year.) I looked her up recently and found one album available from this decade. (Yes, I bought it at full price.) Paula is still making her Art because she clearly loves it. But I wonder, does she still have to make ends meet outside of her Art?
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along, along
There'll be no more sobbin' when he starts throbbin' his old sweet song
Wake up, wake up, you sleepyhead
Get up, get out of bed
Cheer up, cheer up; the sun is red
Live, love, laugh, and be happy
One of my favorite songs is Curtis Eller’s version of “Red, Red Robin”. What you can’t hear and feel in the lyrics written above is the emotion with which it is performed. Which is unfortunate because that sad sweetness is the reason this song touches my heart and, I’ll admit, has many times brought tears to my eyes. This classic song is usually sung with a joy and lightness that makes one think of summer camps and playgrounds. When Curtis Eller’s American Circus performs this song it is elevated with soulful voices and a soft banjo. Eller turns this song into a melancholy masterpiece that speaks to my heart in a way very few songs can.
You may be thinking right now, “Wait. Melancholy? That’s somehow better?” Well, let’s talk about that word: melancholy.
Webster’s dictionary defines melancholy as “depression of spirits: dejection”. This definition sums up the common understanding of what melancholy is. One is thought to “suffer” of melancholy. It is a negative emotional place to be in.
The French poet, Comte de Lautreamont, paints the word with even darker notes when he says, “Melancholy and sadness are the start of doubt, doubt is the beginning of despair; despair is the cruel beginning of the differing degrees of wickedness.”
“Melancholy: an appetite no misery satisfies,” says Emil Cioran. Although it should be noted that Cioran was a pessimistic philosopher who is also known for saying “Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?”
A quick internet search will provide more than a dozen articles devoted to alleviating or “curing” melancholy. I think it is safe to say that the majority of people equate melancholy with another word: depression. They are not the same. Not even close.
And we need only look to the words of a comedian to see this. Words from someone whose profession is to help us find joy and laughter. Bill Murray says of this complex word: “Melancholy is kind of sweet sometimes, I think. It’s not a negative thing. It’s not a mean thing. It’s just something that happens in life, like autumn.” (Honestly, I think those who understand and share humor are some of the kindest and most understanding people I’ve met. But that’s a discussion for another day.)
I, like Bill Murray, do not see melancholy as a negative. I see it as something lovely, like autumn.
So, what if I’ve been blue; now I'm walking through fields of flowers
Rain may glisten, but still I listen for hours and hours
I'm just a kid again, doing what I did again, singing a song
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along
Melancholy is one of my favorite words. It is beautiful both visually and audibly. The very sound of the word is soft, peaceful and has a sophistication to it. Melancholy as a concept is so much more complex than simply sadness. One of the definitions of melancholy that I truly love comes from journalist Italo Calvino: “Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness.”
I once said to someone that melancholy is my happy place. I didn’t say that because I’m some high-brow, dark-souled artist who is too self-important to enjoy happiness. (We all know one of these people.) I want to feel pure, energetic joy. I want to laugh until my sides hurt. I want to feel joie de vivre. I have moments of gaiety in my life, but then there’s the reality of who I am at my core. For me, exuberant enjoyment of life is exhausting. It is physically and emotionally taxing. I can only sustain this energy for so long before it isn’t fun anymore. It isn’t where I am truly at peace with myself.
We all hear people talking about wanting to find inner peace. When I reflect on all the emotions and moments in my life, melancholy is where I am most at peace within myself. I prefer my emotions like I prefer my chocolate, bittersweet.
And it would seem I am not alone. Artists have long found solace with melancholy. Many painters have created their most memorable works of art from a place of melancholy. Singers and comedians share the complexities of this emotional state. Authors abound with quotes speaking to the word. Such as this, another elegant quote from another wordsmith, Soren Kierkegaard, “My melancholy is the most faithful mistress I have known; what wonder, then, that I love her in return.”
When embraced, melancholy can be a place of comfort, creativity and love. “Melancholy is the happiness of being sad,” according Victor Hugo. I whole-heartedly agree. It is not for the weak hearted, but it can be a splendid place to be. Some of my favorite art comes from those who have found the beauty in melancholy and created something with it. (I like to think some of my best artistic creations come from this realm, but I will allow someone else to make that judgement.)
Melancholy feeds my soul and not just artistically. It is my exquisite path to peace. So, while many people still believe that melancholy is an emotional state to be suffered or conquered, I will leave you all to ponder more quote. This one comes from author Vladimir Odoyevski, “The soulless have no need of melancholia.”
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along
“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.” - Maya Angelou
I want to share a story. It is a bit of a traumatizing story, so consider yourself warned. It’s the only one you get.
This is a story I haven’t shared with many people and only a close few know the full details. Just thinking about it makes my heart race a little. It’s a topic that has made me sensitive to certain words and situations. I want to share it now, but not for the reasons someone would commonly think. I still don't know how I feel about sharing it publicly. I suppose I want to share to be honest with myself, to show that we all have experiences in our life that greatly affect us and that sometimes you learn new things about those experiences much later in life. If you are willing to listen, the experiences never stop teaching.
June of my seventeenth birthday a friend of mine introduced me to a boy. He was her boyfriend’s cousin and I’m pretty sure her motives were selfish. She was a bit of a possessive friend. If I dated this boy, she and I would see each other more. To this day I can think of no other reason why she would set me up with a boy who listened to country and wore a cowboy hat. But, her scheme worked for a little while.
This boy, let’s call him Bobby, and I hit it off right away. The four of us would go on dates, hang out at the park and generally be four teenagers with lots of time on our hands. Every once in a while Bobby and I would go on dates on our own. Movies, tubing down the Salt River and late night pie at Denny’s. A few times I took him to outings with some of my friends. He was always the odd guy out with my friends in his white cowboy hat and black boots, but he seemed pretty at ease and my friends seemed to generally like him. “Seeing you with a cowboy is weird,” they’d say, “but, he seems alright.”
Bobby had come from Iowa to stay with his cousin and his mom, so we didn’t hang out with his friends and I didn’t really think I would ever meet them. He told me that his best friend, let’s call him Paul, would love me. He really wished I could meet his mom and his friends. At seventeen, it didn’t even cross my mind to ask why he was living with his cousin and not at home. Today, I have a pretty good idea.
My first red flag was when we were talking about his friend Paul and how Paul was trying to get him to join the KKK. Up until he said this I was under the foolish belief that the KKK was a horrible part of our past, not something that existed in the now. Having spent my grade school years in the heart of Denver where I was one of four white kids in my classroom, my brain couldn’t even wrap around this kind of hatred still being a part of our society.
“It’s not like that anymore,” Bobby insisted, “They don’t do things like that. It’s a positive group of people working to make the world better.”
Stupid seventeen-year-old me believed him, but I made it clear that I still didn’t like it on principle. I told him I couldn’t date a guy who was a part of that group, even if they were different now. Look at my friends and tell me I could be okay with it. If he decided to join, that was his choice, but he’d have to respect mine.
A week later he told me he had decided not to join. That’s when the phone calls started.
The first one came one afternoon in July. It was Bobby’s best friend from Iowa, Paul. He called to introduce himself and say how Bobby talked so highly of me. He just wanted to get to know the girl his boy was lovesick over. I’m no slick talker and the conversation was weird and awkward. I just wanted to get off the phone, but I didn’t want to offend my new boyfriend’s best friend. I stayed on the line for about ten minutes politely telling him about myself. Then it was his turn to tell me about himself. He casually told me about the sports he played, his and Bobby’s plans to start a country band someday and that his father was a Grand Dragon in the KKK. It was said with the non-chalance of mentioning if his dad was a math teacher.
I sat on the phone stunned into silence. Then, in his casual tone, he told me he heard I was a bit of a bad influence on their boy. That he didn’t like some of the things he was hearing. At that point my heart dropped to the floor, I quickly said I’m sorry he didn’t like it and that I had to go. I hung up the phone and called Bobby. We needed to talk.
When I told Bobby about the phone call he was angry, but I noticed, not surprised. He told me that Paul had talked to him and said he needed to get rid of me. I was no good for Bobby. Paul said Bobby either needed to break up with me or lose his best friend.
“I told them to go to hell,” Bobby said sadly, “What kind of best friend tells you what to do like that?”
After that day I received another phone call. This one late in the evening after I had gone to bed. My mom had set me up with one of those extra “teen” lines they used to do, so I was the only one who could hear it ring. Groggy, I answered. The caller didn’t identify themselves and I didn’t recognize the voice. They told me I needed to break up with Bobby or something bad would happen to me. Then they hung up.
It scared me, but even more than anything else I was annoyed. I was going to call Bobby in the morning and tell him to fix it. I wasn’t going to be scared away with stupid threats.
The next morning I received another phone call. This time it wasn’t a teenage boy on the line. The voice was clearly an adult man.
“Young lady, if you don’t stop filling our boy’s head with nonsense, we are going to be forced to do something about it.”
I screamed at the caller to leave me alone and called Bobby. He told me he would take care of it and hung up.
That afternoon I received more phone calls. More threats.
By the next day they got worse. I was being told things like “If you value your life...” and “Don’t think we can’t reach you all the way in Arizona.” I terrified. I was afraid to go out of the house alone, but I didn’t want to be home where the sound of the ringer made my heart jump.
On day three I unplugged my phone.
I only saw Bobby one more time after that week. He was ready to stand beside me, but he still didn’t see the KKK as “all bad”. We broke up fairly amicably and, truthfully, we would have broken up even if this hadn’t happened. I sometimes wonder where he is and what direction his life took.
The phone calls stopped after Bobby and I broke up, but it was a long time before answering the phone didn’t make me queasy.
This may be the first time I’ve told this story in its entirety. I look at it now and wonder what kind of a headspace was I in that it didn’t cross my mind to talk to my mom or the police. But at this point, it is just a piece of my personal history. I’ve moved on. Mostly. In some ways it sticks with me. In some ways it just feels like a thing that happened to someone else in a book I read. It was my moment of dealing with what I now know is not dead history; an emblem of racism, the KKK. I ran head-on into the ugliness of that group. I still have some battle scars from holding my ground.
I have carried this story silently with me like a secret badge of honor. It was my moment of strength and solidarity. It gave me a different perspective on the problems with racism than your average white person. Like many white women, I have said some of those things that are problematic. I have patted myself on the back for being an advocate. Maybe sometimes I deserved it, but that’s not the point. The point is this. This experience and how I handled it is no badge of honor.
Listening to POC share their experiences, their exhaustion and their frustrations, I have learned that I had one frightening experience that showed me what others experience all the time. It scared me. It was hard to hold to my morals in the face of these threats. It affected me long after it was over. It was also a one time experience. As a white woman, I got to walk away from this situation and move on with only my own head to fight with.
Sure, I’ve faced other experiences in life that have scared me. This experience wasn’t the only time my life was literally threatened. But it was the only time my life was threatened due to racism.
I’m not perfect. I will continue to make mistakes. I will say the wrong thing. I will offend people. I may have offended a reader with this very writing. However, I will not stop trying to be better. I will not stop trying to show others how to be better. I understand that sometimes helping means speaking up. I understand that sometimes helping means stepping back and letting someone else be heard. I won’t always get this right either, but I will not stop trying.
You may be thinking right now, “This blog is supposed to be about Art. What does this have to do with Art?”
My answer? Nothing directly, but here are a few things to consider. The Art world also struggles with racism whether it is intentional or not. This experience and what I have learned from it has shaped me as an Artist. Art is the representation of ourselves creatively and there should be a place for all of us to feel represented in Art. Artists are not immune to the threats and effects of racism. Art can teach how to be better. Art can bring people together. But Art needs to self reflect as well.
None of us are perfect, but I challenge you to ask yourself every once in a while “Am I better than I was before?”.
Nina Nightshade's Random Thoughts
Random writings regarding the Art process, the emotional roller coasters of being an Artist, character development and anything else that comes to my mind.