Friday, December 15, 2017

“It’s Like a Sore Pecker: Granny’s Teeth” Guest Blogger Cooter Rasputin’s Thoughts on Growing Up a Grandson in West Virginia

Dear Reader,

I’m Introducing my first guest blogger, Cooter Rasputin. Local and national media usually only give voice to artists who are NOT working-class or rural to sit around talking about Appalachians who ARE working-class and/or rural. We have few places to speak, while other people make money telling our stories. 

To working-class and/or rural Appalachian artists: I don’t have a radio station or gallery or the money publish books. (I wish) I don’t have a quilt you can sit in front of in a rocking chair at some academic conference where birds not of our feathers both demean and romanticize our songs, but I DO have a place where you can talk about who you are, even though it’s just a modest little corner of the Internet nobody gives a shit about: my (free) blog. (where I do voice texting and minimal editing due to neck injury. HA! Top notch. I know)

Now, my guest blogger, my old college buddy, photographer and writer, Cooter Rasputin. 

#OurStories #GetYourOwn #SitDown #ListenHere 

Signed, Andrea Fekete 

It’s Like a Sore Pecker: Granny’s Teeth

By Cooter Rasputin 

Something that just crossed my mind is how my grandma would break out some funny Appalachian-granny sayings occasionally. . . some I've forgotten and some I recall. There are a few reasons this crossed my mind, but mostly. . . I guess it's because I'm killing time before a final that I gave up caring about studying for and I was holding her dentures in my hand this morning while going through some of my stuff in my home office (which, I guess, I'll tell you about in a minute now that I've brought it up). 

But before that, I should mention -- I was in a movie my friend made once. . . and, because he didn't care enough to rein us in like some cruel dictatorial director, we were allowed to rewrite our lines a little just to make them flow easier with our own natural cadence. For fun, I threw in a line about a saying that could have, but didn't come from her. . . .

"Like grandma always said, 'it's like a sore pecker, you just can't beat it'."

That line made the final cut and, after the film debuted, my friend told me, "yeah, that was the first line in the film where people would start walking out. You could tell who was in it for the long haul by whether or not they stayed after you came on screen.”

I'd like to imagine that's because my stage presence and my raw talent was just overwhelming to them, but I would accept the fact that it could be something a little more harmful to my ego. . . . Either way, even if she never said that, I'm glad I could somehow carve another facet onto the story of her life. She was an amazing lady and, really, she had a great sense of humor even if she didn't make a lot of dick jokes in her spare time.

A good example would be this one time she was on an extended visit with us at our old house out on the West End. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. . . old enough to be able to talk and see and hear things that I didn't understand and then repeat them (which is how I ended up alienating an elderly lesbian couple next door to us -- which is another story altogether). I figure I'd watched Dynasty or some soap opera and the question of inheritance came up because I remember there was a long stretch where, any time a friend or family member had something that seemed cool to me, I would ask them if I could have it when they died.

Dad was sitting at the kitchen table using his old Buck knife to cut a cardboard box into smaller pieces for the garbage can: "Dad, can I have that knife when you die?"

"Sure, son."

Mom using a pretty comb to straighten her hair before we left to walk to Midway to get a hotdog: "Mom, can I have that when you die?"

"Yes, you can."

Anyone who was around me believed it to be some passing fascination and, for the most part, it was. I'm sentimental and cherish the relics that've been left for me now, but I've mostly stopped asking if I could have someone's belt buckle because it had a cool looking animal head on it. One thing I asked for, though, still stands out in my memories.

Grandma was in the bathroom and our house was small enough we just had the one available. The door was open and she was standing at the sink brushing her teeth. I had to go pee, but I was fascinated by how she could brush her teeth by taking them all the way out of her head.

"You need to use the bathroom, P?" she asked me, using my middle initial like she always did. I think it's because she called her daughter Janice's husband "PW" and we both shared the same name.

I can't remember what I said to her or even if I walked into the bathroom to use the toilet at that point -- I can only remember staring at her face -- she was a short woman but seemed so tall to me then. Giving me a toothless smile, I felt comfortable enough to ask, "Grandma, can I have your teeth when you die?"

She laughed and said, "I'll give you my teeth when I die."

Satisfied that I had sorted that out, I'm sure I walked into the bathroom and probably pissed all over the toilet seat. . . . What can I say, I was 3 years old?

About 17 years later (which is such a short amount of time, really, but was literally a lifetime to me back then) she died. I had been at work because she said she would be fine and, at her age, little health scares were normal. I got the call that she was in the hospital and my dad was going to come pick me up from work so I could go see her -- it was "serious this time".

She died while I was on my way there.

I felt guilty that I hadn't been there and hadn't been in a position to tell her I loved her one more time. I felt guilty that I would never let her iron my work shirt when she asked me if I needed help (I didn't, but she could have probably done it faster, better, and it would have made her feel good to show her love for me by doing it). 

I felt guilty for how I never fully allowed myself to relate to her as an adult woman with an intense and rich life story that stretched far beyond her role as "just" my grandmother. . . shit. . . she raised EIGHT KIDS basically on her own. It's wild to even think about the lifetimes she managed to live in her time on the planet.. . . heavy feelings are normal when these deaths occur, but I managed to get past a lot of the guilty feelings I had. 

I loved my grandma and we were close. She and I talked often and she encouraged me in whatever I was trying to do. We watched about a thousand hours of Gameshow Network together. Once, we even watched a good portion of Pink Flamingos together after I ended up buying the first VHS copy I ever saw at our local mall (click the link for that story). 

The last kind act I could do for her was to be her pallbearer and, as much as I hated feeling the weight of what was left of her leave my hands and sink into a grave, I was glad to be there for her however I could.

It was maybe a month later when we finally let the family members come into her room to take little things of hers that they wanted. Before anyone went in, my mom straightened it up a bit and, after, said to me, "your grandma wanted me to give you these." I turned away from whatever it was I was doing and looked up at my mom as she thrust a double handful of stuff to me. 

One was the copy of the Bible my grandmother read from daily. She had fancy ones, but this was the one her son in law found in a car he was rebuilding and gave to her since it was much more portable than her others. 

In her other hand she held a white plastic dome with little angel stickers on it. I didn't know what it was until I opened the lid and saw the slots that allowed denture cleanser to drain away when the inner portion is lifted out.

"Oh no shit. . . I can't believe she actually did it," I said, while I unwrapped the little fragment of silk surrounding them. Sitting in the palm of my hand was the pair of dentures she'd been cleaning way back around 1983 when I had asked to have them. I was blown away by her sense of humor and how thoughtful she was to fully commit to her joke for almost 20 years... I sat there with them for a second as I laughed and cried at the way my grandma found a way to smile at me from beyond the grave.

So what's the moral to this story aside from how I had an awesome grandma (and maybe how you should hug yours if you can)? If there is one, I suppose it would be to honor the commitments that matter. . . even if you make that commitment to a three year old -- when he's 20 years old he'll remember it and be so glad you did.

ARTIST BIO: Cooter makes photos, writes, and works in West Virginia. Some of his efforts, and links to his ongoing work, are available on his website: www.mostexalted.com



Thursday, November 30, 2017

Facebook, 3AM: Baby Goats

3 AM. Woman lays awake next to her snoring husband, staring at her phone. 

Narrating her Facebook visit (in her head)

I should probably go to sleep. 

*scrolls*

Oooooh, a video of baby goats leaping!

Oh, my goooood, they’re jumping all over the plaaaaaaace!

That is so cute!

Look at those floppy ears!

They stick their tongue out when they bleat!

Ha Ha ha ha!

Sigh. *smiling* Baby goats.

I want a baby goat.

My eyes are dry. I’m tired. 

I should probably go to sleep. 

*replays baby goat video*

Teehee. Baby goats.

Oh no, someone commented that baby-goat breeders are sometimes really mean!

I feel sad for the baby goats.

*replays baby goat video*

Teehee. Baby goats. 

I should start a petition to save baby goats.

I’ll do that right now.

*clicks cry on the breeder comment*

Nah. I should probably go to sleep.

*scrolls*

Oh, my gawd! Look at that girl’s selfie with her husband!

She’s soooo pretty! Her teeth are really white!

Maybe it’s the lipstick making them look so white.

My teeth aren’t that white

He commented you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.

My husband never says that!

He also gave her those roses.

Oh, my gawd. 

Look at his perfect hair!

Like McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy.

She got 168 loves

Everybody has clicked love.

*clicks love on the photo*

She never likes any of my photos.

Why doesn’t she like my photos?

She has such shiny hair. 

I don’t have shiny hair.

I bet she judges my un-shiny hair. 

Bitch.

*un-loves photo* 

I’m being childish. 

I should grow up. 

*clicks love*. 

Wonder what brand of lipstick she’s got on?

I should google “top-rated lipsticks.”

I’ll do that right now. 

Meh. I should probably go to sleep.

*scrolls*

Oh my God, Trump did WHAT?

What a stupid asshole.

I am outraged.

Jesus. My Republican neighbor down the street made a comment defending him!

Look at their terrible grammar! 

No, it’s there. Not their. It’s there.

And it’s it’s not its.

*Comments God, can any of you idiots spell? You also have terrible grammar. Your all stupid.

Wait, is it you’re or your?

*deletes your stupid

There. 

Ha ha! They’re stupid.

That’ll show them. 

Wait.

*unfriends Republican neighbor down the street*

Bitch.

I’m being childish.

*scrolls*

Awwww, a video of kittens sitting in boxes and other box-shaped things and also objects not shaped like boxes at all but that kittens sit in as well. 

Oh, the caption reads if I fits, I sits!

Ha Ha ha ha ha!

*replays kitten video*

Teehee. Kittens.

I want a new kitten. 

My cat is grown.  

And an asshole sometimes.

Kittens are never assholes.

And they jump up on tables too fast and slide off.

My cat never sits in boxes or falls off the kitchen table.

I should get on the animal rescue website and look at the pictures of homeless kittens.

*replays kitten video*

Teehee. Kittens.

*Significant other beings to snore louder*

I am so sick of his snoring.

I should google “snoring remedies.”

I’ll do that right now.

Nah. I should probably go to sleep.

*lays phone on nightstand*

*tosses*

*turns*

*tosses*

*husband continues to snore loudly*

Oh my GOD. What are you?

A BEAR?

*gently nudges partner*

I should really, really, really google “snoring.”

I’ll do that right now.

*Picks up phone*

Nah. I should probably go to sleep.

*scrolls*

*replays a video*

Teehee. Baby goats.

I should really go to sleep.

*replays video*

Teehee.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

How an Addiction I Never Had Almost Killed Me: How the Sick in West Virginia Pay Big for Big Pharma’s Sins

(This is voice text due to neck pain. Please forgive errors)

Ten minutes ago, I almost hung a worksheet of my upcoming pain management appointments on my wall, but I didn’t out of fear.

I have chronic pain in my cervical spine and hips. I have two conditions that caused me years of pain and still do sometimes. During my pain management appointments, I get anti-inflammatory/lidocaine injections. They do not give me opioids or narcotic medicines of any kind. I also go to physical therapy twice a week. 

I live in West Virginia, where seemingly everybody and their mother is addicted to narcotics. OxyContin, makers (aka “Hillbilly Heroin”) is the drug Big Pharma was sued for misrepresenting to physicians as being safe and not as addictive as other narcotics.

Drug-makers pumped extraordinary amounts of pills into our state and crooked doctors and clinics known as “pill mills“ made a fortune taking advantage of disabled coalminers and others suffering from chronic pain conditions. 

Now, the pills are restricted and harder to come by because of course, now that they’ve made their money destroying our people, the government finally stepped in. So, everyone hooked on pills has turned to heroine.

Now that doctors are finally punished for over-prescribing, they are paranoid they may lose their license if they prescribe medicine some people legitimately need. Others just suspect every patient who reports pain is just another addict looking for a fix.

Because of this, both my conditions went undiagnosed because my pain was ignored, minimized, and untreated for years. I needed surgery but no one bothered to investigate. 

I began complaining about pain in 2012. I didn’t get surgery that solved most of it until 2015 and 2016. I’m just now getting non-narcotic, anti-inflammatory injections and physical therapy for a separate pain condition. I am not given opioids.

I’m only 39 and slim. I look healthy. For doctors, specifically those in West Virginia, it was hard to believe I could be suffering so much. 

For many years, my pain from my undiagnosed conditions weren’t taken seriously. I had many ER trips, many years of searching for help and not finding it, many, many black days and weeks and months that I’m still not sure how I survived.

My pain was between a 6 and 8 (on a scale of 10) each day for years. No one could find a cause but then, no one really believed me, so no one tried.

I had one ER doctor ask me if I was a drug addict. I had many who didn’t ask, but their nonchalance when I said, “I can’t live like this much longer” told me that’s exactly what they believed.

The pain and vast array of horrible symptoms was costing me my life. I didn’t date for years. I usually couldn’t keep plans with friends. I couldn’t work. I wasn’t living. I was just existing, a shell of my former self, pacing around the house at night when the pain and hopelessness was too much to let me sleep.

Each time a doctor decided I was a drug-seeker and refused to run diagnostic tests and sent me to another doctor who did the same, I was shoved closer and closer to the edge of giving up on living. I’ve burst into tears more than once in an emergency room or doctor’s office; this did not help me with the whole being taken seriously thing.

Being suspected a drug-seeker is the price of living in West Virginia. But the price was about to get higher and much scarier, for me. 

In April 2017, I was scheduled to read with other West Virginia authors at Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg, West Virginia. We were all contributors to the new book, “Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods,” a book out of WVU Press. It was the most exciting thing to happen in my career! It’s a gorgeous hotel! I was so happy and honored to be beside amazing authors and poets. 

As my 27-year-old niece and I were just about to begin our drive to Parkersburg, I became strangely ill. After about only a half hour of sudden nausea and weakness, I became confused and incoherent. It was then I recalled my mother’s advice. She is an RN. She has given me tidbits of medical knowledge my entire life. 

She once told me, “If you ever feel like you might pass out, lay down right where you’re standing so you don’t fall and hurt yourself.” I knew I was about to lose consciousness, and so that’s what I did. I laid at the top of the stairs, the most inconvenient place in the house for the EMTs. I instructed my poor niece to call 911. She was cool and calm as could be.

When anyone in this city, specifically someone young and healthy-looking like me, is lethargic and incoherent, a heroine overdose is their first guess and it was.

I could hear everyone around me talking but wasn’t able to speak. I was too weak but didn’t know why. I kept trying to say, “I’m not a drug-user.” I knew they were considering it and I’ve never been so scared in my life.

Oh, shit. Shit. Shit. What if they try to give me Narcan? I kept thinking. It’s the drug used to reverse heroine overdose. Would a drug like that kill me? I thought. 

Am I dying anyway?

I had terrifying thoughts. But it’s all I had, thoughts, I couldn’t speak and these guys were discussing the wrong thing. Sheer panic. Able to hear but unable to speak.

Also, it was the first time I realized I’m still Catholic. I talked to Mother Mary and my ancestors, in my head, because I couldn’t talk to anyone, at least not out loud. 

Eventually, the situation was resolved and danger was averted. The worst thing that day was not being able to say, “I’m not a drug-user! Please, find out what’s wrong with me!”

I was lucky my niece and my partner were there to tell them about my health history. I was lucky sudden pain finally made me come to enough to explain what I was feeling so they could give me the care I needed.

Back to today. I almost hung up my pain management appointment sheet, but didn’t, because I feared what EMTs might think if I need them again and I am unable to speak. I know what they’d suspect if they saw a list of appointments at a “pain management clinic” hanging on the wall; they’d think opioids. What if next time I’m alone and can’t tell them not to inject me with a drug that might kill me?

What if they kill me on accident?

What happened that day could happen again and anytime I’m alone, I’m afraid.

But today, I’m pissed off I can’t hang the appointments I need to remember on my own refrigerator. 

There are so many people suffering in so many ways as a result of the opioid epidemic. I never knew when I became a chronic pain sufferer I would be so angry at so many people. 

I had no idea the sins of OxyContin-makers, crooked doctors, and pushers would affect my life in such a direct and very dangerous way.

I was looking for an accurate diagnosis, not drugs. Time and time again, I cried when yet another doctor failed to listen, failed to spend more than 5 minutes with me or refused to run diagnostic tests. 

Most of the pain I endured was eventually resolved with surgeries. My remaining issues are being dealt with without narcotics. 

Of course, I still have fear and anger. I’m still not sure how to deal with my feelings. For now, all I know is I have to write my pain management appointments on my calendar; certainly, it’s too dangerous to hang them on the wall. 


Andrea Fekete is granddaughter to Mexican and Hungarian immigrants and a native of the West Virginia coalfields in Logan County. She is a proud "Man Hillbilly."

She is author of the novel 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 high schools. Her fiction and poetry often appear in journals such as Chiron Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Kentucky Review, Montucky Review, Adirondack Review, and ABZ, and more.

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 new publisher for Waters Run Wild and for her newest novel-in-progress Native Trees. She is also currently seeking a publisher for the anthology of women's writing Feminine Rising: Voices of Power & Invisibility, which she co-edited with the author of the memoir Girlish (SkyHorse Press 2018), Lara Lillibridge. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

You Can Die Mad, Guys: I’m Giving Up My Apologist Ways

On social media, women have been standing up and telling their stories of daily harassment and assaults, WHILE making apologies to the men who do NOT rape or harass for making them feel all yucky and “lumped in with all the bad ones. Some men bragging, “We don’t all rape! Most of us are good!”

What the actual fuck.

Can we please share our stories without men who don’t rape feeling neglected and accused? As Chris Rock said about dad’s who brag about not being deabeat dads...

You ain’t SUPPOSED to assault women! 

You don’t get a cookie for not assaulting women!

You ain’t SUPPOSED to!!!!

You. Do. Not. Get. A. COOKIE.

‘Cause you ain’t supoooooosed tooooooo!!!!!


I wrote the above earlier today. I kept getting told I was attacking men with my very angry posts against sexual assault. I was trying to use humor to reach these guys. 

Then, I googled Chris Rock to find a good photo (the one above) and there it was- the news that has completely complicated my use of his humor for this topic.

I found out the world, according to BET, is pissed at Chris Rock for making a joke about hiring people to make sure he’s never alone with a woman in order to prevent his being accused of sexual assault.

Oh, for crying out loud...anyway...

This topic is never a joke. Even though I adore Chris Rock’s comedy. 

It’s painful for me and my female friends who’ve been sexually assaulted by men to have to constantly defend ourselves when we rage against sexual assault, when we applaud the DELUGE of women coming forward to name their attackers. And yeah, I use rough language. It’s appropriate; living female is damn rough. 

I’ve never seen someone commit any type of crime that is prevalent to one race/gender, (such as white men committing mass shootings) where people feel the need to yell, “it is NOT all white men who commit mass shootings! Don’t lump me in with them!”

No one feels attacked when people are outraged over mass shootings, even though perpetrators are always male and usually white.

So, then, why do men feel attacked when women are outraged over sexual assault of women, also almost always perpetuated by males?

The sad reason for this discrepancy is that victims of mass shootings are seen as completely innocent. 100% innocent no matter what and they are, of course, while women ARE very often blamed of playing some role in assaults.

Women being attacked as “lumping all men together” when they speak about sexual assault proves rape culture is very real.

Women historically, have been blamed for their own sexual assault. Everyone who has access to the media knows how true that is.

The questions common to rape victims are:

  • What was she wearing? 
  • Was she drunk?
  • Did she freely invite him into her home?
  • Did she accept ride from him?
  • Had she slept with him before?
  • Did she start having sex and change her mind in the middle? (Which is her right)

This is some sad shit, y’all. 

Since the “#MeToo” campaign and my very vocal assault on men who assault, I’ve been branded a man-hater. I’ve been told I hate ALL men. 

Men who do not harass or assault cannot possibly imagine how frequent and prevalent sexual harassment and assault is unless they are one of those men who commit said crimes. Men who would not ever do such a thing have a very difficult time imagining this reality. 

It’s almost impossible for men who don’t assault to imagine that I have been harassed almost daily since puberty, to imagine that I have been assaulted many times by both men I know and strangers.

While it is good to know some men can’t wrap their brains around it, it is those men who need to listen. We need your help to change this dynamic. 

Stop asking for apologies. I’m fresh out. It’s irrational and it’s bullshit. Instead...put your mad where it belongs!

Help us end a culture that supports the harassment of women. Men who assault should be YOUR enemy, too. If you believe you’re getting a “bad name”, blame the perps, not their victims!

Instead of judging women who are angry, try listening. If you are not a man who assaults women, you are NOT the enemy. Be proactive in this fight. No one can be a bystander anymore.

  • Teach other men how to act by example.
  • Don’t allow verbal abuse or harassment in your presence, even if women you don’t know. She may be afraid because she’s weaker and smaller. 
  • If you hear or see an assault of your neighbor, reported. It is your business.
  • Raise boys to respect women.
  • Teach young men about the necessity of verbalized consent.
  • Teach young men that when a woman says no, no always means no.
  • Teach your daughters rape is never her fault.
  • Teach your daughters saying no is OK.
  • Teach daughters to respect themselves and to take no abuse.
  • Teach young men it isn’t OK to comment on a woman’s body.
  • Teach young men rape jokes are never funny. Ever. Not ever. Please, God. Just. No. Never. 
  • Teach grown men that you will not tolerate the abuse of women. (I can’t repeat this one enough)

Thank you to my good friend Lisa Ratliff, who inspires me to think about these issues every day and who loaned me the title of this post.

If you’re reading this and you don’t like it, as Lisa says, you can just die mad.


Sorry for typos. As usual, due to chronic neck issues, this is voice text.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Adjunct Professor Seeks Less Responsibilities for Same Shit Pay 

After 13 years of teaching English, literature, and writing to college students part-time, I am super overqualified for lots of jobs no one will ever give me. Since I am acclimated to shit pay, I would like to trade my “lots of responsibilities” job and its shit pay for one with fewer responsibilities and shit pay! I mean, if I’m going to be so poor I qualify for government cheese anyway, I want less work for my government cheese!

I seek a dead-end, part-time job with shit pay that would give me a reason to leave my apartment and communicate with beings who don’t meow or email me telling me they “didn’t know tomorrow was the due date and please, please, don’t fail me.”

I seek a job requiring NO leadership skills. I do not wish to make any decisions which impact more than three people and/or goldfish. (But only one goldfish) 

 

It seems right now stores that sell things people can smoke “tobacco” out of aren’t hiring adjunct English professors with a terminal degree and 13 years teaching experience and apparently, my mom would be against my being a police officer because “people are crazy as hell! You’ll end up shot!”

My experience includes smiling while serving food to really terrible people who are mean to everyone except their dogs.


I also used to convince men to buy women overpriced engagement rings and “apology jewelry.”

I can file things, run errands, deliver things, walk dogs, make children laugh, and I have extensive experience holding Michael Jackson’s umbrella as he walks ten feet from his car to a another car or from a home to another home and also from his car to a home or from a home to his car. And also sometimes we went to Walmart. 

I would need a job requiring standing more than sitting and I cannot sit at at a PC. (Seriously. I injured my neck. This is voice text. Don’t you judge my grammar.)

Thanks in advance!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

I’m a Childless Mother: On the Many Ways Women Nurture

If you are a woman, you’ve been asked “when will you have kids?” For women over 25, you’ve been asked this 123,876 times.

This question is the not-so-distant cousin of, “when are you getting married?”

Often, it’s well-meaning co-workers, first dates or relatives who ask women this question. In my mid-twenties, my answer was always, “i don’t know. I’m not sure if I want children.” Then the inevitable question, “Well, why not?” almost always followed. 

I once had a first date say, “it’s really hard to believe you’ve never had children. You’re just so beautiful.”

As if my beauty somehow meant I was “worthy” of a man impregnating me and as if being impregnated speaks to a woman’s worth. He was shocked. Surely this gift would’ve bestowed upon me prior to the age of 39. SURELY.

Implicit in these questions is that women only have so many years to become a mother or a bride, that we have an “expiration date” not applied to men. We get old but men get sexier, says the media. Men are “silver foxes” while women of the same age are “cougars” or worse, “spinsters.”

In my 20s, I was still a young girl who had many shits to give about what other people thought of my life, my accomplishments, and goals.

I often felt compelled to answer their questions about what I do with my womb and my life, as if I had to apologize for being me, for aging, for existing without the validation of having a husband and his child.

 It seems many think if you don’t raise a child, you know nothing of motherhood or womanhood and you definitely are not a “real” woman if you don’t conceive and carry a baby yourself. 

These questions are painful for women who cannot carry a child but wish they could, for women who are disabled and cannot raise a child, for women who don’t want another child because they’ve already lost one or women who just haven’t found the right partner. It’s even more grating for women who just don’t want to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word.

When in my 20s, i would answer, “I just haven’t found the right man to get married” and “I’m just not sure about babies yet.”

I had to leave it open because I knew if I said what I really thought, I would be branded as an old spinster, undesirable, cold, non-nurturing, selfish. Some people would even go so far as to judge there’s something terribly wrong with me that I hadn’t yet been gifted a baby by man who loved me enough to judge me worthy. 

I have health concerns, concerns about marriage, concerns about finances, many concerns that led me to finally make the decision that I most likely will never want to raise a child of my own. After 30, I changed. Now when people ask why I never had children as if I missed out, I answer like:

“I have my reasons for how I live my life. Also, your hair looks nice. I hope ya win.”

Now that I answer this way, the local small-town gossips probably find my womb and love life to be tedious topics. 

Women can be mothers in so many ways. There are those of us who are nurturing and natural “mothers” even though we know raising our own child isn’t possible for us at this time (or ever).

And so, I nurture in my own ways.

Women can give birth to art, music, poetry. Women can be a mother figure to their students or clients or patients. Women can mother gardens and animals and their community. However a woman decides to express her mothering spirit is as valid as giving birth and raising a child.

My friends often tell me I’m one of the most nurturing people they know. Yet, I have no children. I give birth to poetry and fiction. I nurture my friends who need encouragement. I nurture my nieces and my nephew. I nurture my students.

I’ve always been the neighbor lady that children tend to swarm around anytime she sits on her porch or sweeps her sidewalk. I grew up in a cool camp and when we were kids we were called “camp kids.” I call the kids in my neighborhood who “adopt” me “camp kids.” It’s my term of endearment. 

I once lived in a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood and I was also very ill at the time. It was a terrible time in my life, the worst. 

During that dark time in my life, I had a few “camp kids” who would run through my yard, down the sidewalks, and between the houses making all manner of noise and of course, ALL noise is hilarious to them, (when they are the source of said racket) so their laughter was almost constant, like the wind chime on my porch, comforting, a reminder someone was healthy and happy, even though I wasn’t, that laughter was still a thing, even though it had left me, mostly.

There was neighbor boy, one of my “camp kids,” who I sat on the porch with every day. We colored coloring books, listened to music on my phone, and he asked me every question a child can think of about the various colors in the sky, school, manners, and whether or not the neighbor people thought I could be his mother. I knew his parents weren’t the best or he wouldn’t be banging on my door 4 or 5 times a day to ask if I could come out. 

He was 7.

But he recognized the mother-spirit in me, that part of me so devalued by those who are hell bent on claiming there’s only one way to be a mother which is to have children of one’s own.

Often, my little best friend would say, “Do you think people think you’re my Mom? Like when they walk by? You are my Mom, kind of, like when I play out here, I have to listen to what you say, so, that means you’re my Mom, sort of, right?”

I would always say I didn’t know what people thought and that I wasn’t his real mother but yes, I could be his “kinda sorta mom” when he was on my porch or riding his bike in the street around my home.

I wouldn’t find out until after CPS took him that the snacks I gave him everyday were probably all he had most days, that his home had no electricity or water, that hard drugs and blades were in his reach, that his parents spent most of their time passed out from heroin.

His being gone broke my heart. I bawled in front of the officer who rescued him.

If it was possible, if I was able, I would have adopted him myself. As Circumstances are however, my role as mother will always be the completely over-involved aunt to my brother’s children and the “sort of, sometimes, kinda mom” of the camp kids who adopt me.

I’ve always been close to my inner nurturer, but until I met that one particular 7 year old, I didn’t know how much a woman could love a child that wasn’t in her family unit.

I haven’t seen him in just over a year but I think about him every day. I ask the Saints, the ancestors, and whatever God may exist to watch over him. I’m grateful to him and all the children, people, and things that allow me to be  a mother. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dear Artist: Smash the Ego 

If you think critically, if you look at your surround, your culture, your people, and you form a coherent thought and you express it, you aren’t doing anyone a service by not considering perhaps you are wrong, or at least somewhat “off” in your conclusions. 

I am reminding myself today that it’s acceptable and right to change my opinion based on more or new information, just like it’s fine to admit when I’ve written something worthless and not fit for human consumption. 

In short, I can’t be so sure I’m always onto something, when really, we are all, at least occasionally, full of shit, both artistically and personally.

When I remind myself of this, my piece of writing or visual art is no longer an extension of my ego but a creation separate from myself- a creature all its own almost like a stray pup looking for a home. 

If no one takes her in, I take her, wash her up; clean the crud out of her eyes and brush the tats from her coat. If STILL nobody ever wants her, I’m happy to let her play in my home forever if she wants, because she brings me joy and anything or anyone we love teaches us. You can’t grow without rejection or without teachers. Sometimes your teacher iS rejection. 

When producing art, it isn’t about you, it’s about the work. Don’t take rejection personally, this kills your creative impulse. Maybe the editor or curator has terrible taste or is having a bad day or maybe your work doesn’t fit their needs OR your work isn’t up to par. Maybe he’s allergic to puppies altogether or maybe he just hates the little yappy kind.

Leave ego out of it. If you do, you don’t really cry when someone hates what you’ve produced. I haven’t cried over rejection of my work since high school. I did! But not now. I know if I care too much, that will guide my hand and my work will not only be dishonest but mediocre as I attempt to please for ego’s sake. 

You WILL sometimes be terrible. You will produce both terrible and also brilliant works. 

So what? DEVIATE from your peers from time to time. Don’t be afraid to be awful. Also, remember you WILL piss off or embarrass others every now and then, Including yourself.

So what?

If one cannot think for oneself, one will never add a single sentence to their specific collective cultural narrative. Risk being terrible, risk being wrong. Don’t be afraid to pull art out of thin air, even if it may be lacking. 

Smash open that stone wall protecting your soft, worthless ego. Fearlessness and bravery will then pour forth, glowing through the first thin crack. Don’t stand in the way of the brilliant light of your own one-of-a-kind genius.