Forgive typos. As always, I have to voice text due to chronic neck injury.
Jesus. What were we, 22, when this photo of me was taken? My college buddy took it. His name was Mike Adkins, but it still is. (Sort of) His business name is Most Exalted. (He’s online. You’ll find his work if you look)
It was back when I smoked and did stupid things the college kids who think they know shit (they don’t know shit) do, stupid things I would never do now, at 40, yet wish I had that same innocence and naivety that kept me from seeing the danger of said stupid things we did. (And did again)
This is back when Andi (me) was called "Andimal" by her friends, who were all crazy as hell artists. Andi-mal, as in from the Muppets’ character, Animal.
You know, the one who screamed and flailed and growled when he beat his drum set. And his friends had to keep him chained. Because he was really just an animal, afterall, no matter the enthusiasm with which he (loudly) played. He wasn’t dangerous, just in love with the music he played and expressive, maybe a little more boisterous than necessary. Like me.
When we would go out to the bars and really show our asses (behaviorlly, not literally), my friends would say, "Do animal, Andi!" And I would growl and yell, "yeah yeah yeah! Beat drum! Beat druuuuuum!" to their uproarious laughter.
It doesn’t seem so funny now. I also was really proud of how well I used to sing Pantera’s "Respect" however- my heavy metal growl always impressing the idiot frat boys who’d stumble down the sidewalk behind us.
I don’t miss the stupid things we did, the trouble we got ourselves into, the moron frat guys and goth and/or idiot skater boys we were SO sure we loved at the time. These losers treated us terribly. But we were stupid, remember? Who knows what we were thinking. (They were hot. That’s what.)
I definitely don’t miss bars. Or wearing the obligatory tight black pants that every girl wore in early 2000‘s with their shining, very tiny, usually backless, almost frontless, tiny top.
We looked like this every weekend. I’m not even exaggerating. One. Bit.
We wore the strappy tops you’d see on Toni Braxton or Ricky Martin’s dance partner in one of his videos. Or Pink and Aguilera. (Pictured)
Man, I miss feeling like we could live forever and always be young, always be fine. I remember when we were overlydramatic, softer but sharper at the same time. Shit was real. It was real real. But it was all a joke to us, too.
Only we didn’t really know it. We took ourselves pretty seriously, not realizing how little we knew. But we believed so whole-heartedly in what we did know (or thought we knew).
And we told the truth about it in our work, which I produced feverishly with the encouragement of my professors who said the most remarkable things, making realities which before seemed so unremarkable, seem amazing.
Maybe some of these discoveries about the world and writing were more impactful for me than my buddies because I was born and raised in a holler. I didn’t have exposure to much.
I didn’t set foot in a real bookstore until college. The only live music I saw was in garages and at family reunions. I had seen one play as a teenager, "The tell-tale heart" by Poe.
I was a fan of Poe and still recall my heart thumping in excitement when the curtain came up. Going to university and having all these ideas about literature and art shared with me by my teachers, was utterly transforming.
And from this, we wrote a lot of poetry and we took a lot of photos and we painted. We strove to find our voices and to eventually hone them.
We created constantly and we did it for the right, the pure reasons, The reasons that produce only the most honest, raw work, the kind so much more difficult to produce once you reach adulthood and find yourself in a "career" built around these old passions. and we all know careers require us to do things we hate. They require us to do things like self promote, sell our work, build a "brand."
How do you remember why you create if you’re busy doing all that? It’s difficult, let me tell you.
Me and my friends played on swingsets at 3 AM, too dumb to care if we got arrested.
.....then. stumbled into class the next day at Marshall University where we were so inspired by our creative writing and art professors, we couldn’t grasp why or how the hell our professors could ever be jaded with anything. Responsibilities? What’s that?
They gave us the nectar of the gods, which was a mix of disdain for a system we never before understood or knew we’d been, up until then, limited by and also, at once- a sudden urgency and sense of the life or death nature in creation of original thought and artistic work.
Below is a photo by the same college friend, Mike Adkins. This is a more recent photo he took one of our former professors, Art Stringer.
He was mine (and Mike’s) Poetry Writing Professor and eventually my thesis chair in graduate school. Needless to say, we all love this guy and what he taught us.
He coordinated the visiting writer’s series for so long at Marshall University, they named it after him. Finally- The A.E. Stringer visiting writers series. We are still friends. I doubt he knows how much he gave to us. I doubt any of them know.
The partying, the stupid boys who couldn’t love us "freaks", the drama, none of it mattered. We were artists and it’s all we cared about, really.
Nothing else mattered.
They handed us the keys to the kingdom. And we made things: songs, poems, plays, photographs, paintings and sculptures, and original thought. For some of us, it was the first time in our lives we felt our thoughts, our work, mattered. Then, it suddenly meant everything.
We had loud debates about Philosophy in the middle of calamity café. We had arguments about what made work "bad" or if "bad" existed. Of course, we also argued about stupid shit. Mostly it was the first, though.
I came across that old photo of me, which I adore, and I miss thinking we could live in that free place where we could create anything and we could do it fearlessly and honestly, just how we do now, except with a vividness to our dreams possessed only by drunks, vagrants, and children.
We were adults, but also children. I miss believing art was urgent, life or death and that nothing else could be salvation.
I guess we were maybe 22, if that, when Mike took this photo in my bathroom. I was a young writer with one publication and he was a young photographer, and like me, still unsure and finding his voice.
I remember when my roommate came home, still in her Pizza Hut employee outfit and said, "what the hell?" Then, after I got out, jumped in the tub in her uniform.
That was the same year I filled a baby pool in the middle of our living room floor. Yeah, I don’t know why. It’s how we were. "What the hell?" Really meant, "cool", I think.
They’re different now. We all different now. But the kids are still in there, you can see it our eyes, even in the eyes of our teachers. Look closer.
Andrea Fekete recently compiled and edited a collection of poetry and essays by and about women's lives, Feminine Rising (forthcoming Cynren Press, 2019). Her co-editor, (and the subject of the Lara exhibit) is the author of the memoir Girlish (SkyHorse Press 2018), Lara Lillibridge.
Andrea Fekete is granddaughter to Mexican and Hungarian immigrants and a native of the southern West Virginia coalfields and yes, an actual coalminer’s daughter. She is a proud "Man High Hillbilly."
She is author of the novel of the WV coal mine wars, Waters Run Wild (Sweetgum Press, 2010) and poetry chapbook I Held a Morning (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Waters Run Wild has served as course material in several universities and can still be purchased at the famous Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia in Beckley, WV or on amazon.com.
Her fiction and poetry often appear in journals such as Chiron Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Kentucky Review, Montucky Review, Adirondack Review, ABZ, and in such anthologies as Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia. (WVU Press, 2017)
In 2016, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation funded her three-week stay at the famous artist retreat, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She earned her MA from Marshall University and MFA in Creative Writing from WV Wesleyan College.
Currently, she is seeking a publisher for her newest novel-in-progress, Native Trees, set in her hometown of Buffalo Creek, West Virginia.