Another day chasing another dollar.
Fist clenched on a wad of dirty bills
as it labors to break through a rocky, rooty surface
after a 30-something year slumber
piled under tons of earth and rubble.
A deadly escape of sorts, a mecca
compared to the mindless robotics of the living,
sipping on bean water
to keep our eyes plastered open
on this joyride we call life.
But what is life?
What is it to live?
A blink away from its antithesis,
a release, a relief,
like gas escaping this vacuous sack we call our own,
as if we ever really owned it in the first place,
as if we ever really owned anything
besides the tumbling thoughts in our heads,
like dull stones being beckoned to shine,
polishing the turds that live between our ears,
like a diamond, once a dusty piece of coal that had a stressful day,
only to come out on the other end the picture of wealth,
gilded and sparkling like a top hat atop a rotting tooth,
though the bones turn to dust, the precious stone remains.
And to think they told us
that our true treasure was waiting in some fairy-tale land
promised by the king of zombies,
robed in majesty of sweaty, bloody rags,
hung on the splintering fruits of his own labor,
betrayed by trade and industry,
a tale as old as rusty nails
and as fresh as a rose gold, miniature, handheld computer,
a dark master,
training us to roam this dying planet like death itself,
hunchbacked, stiffened, writhing, rheumatic beings
seeking to feed on the decay of our own kind,
tearing at the flesh and the mind
as we swipe, swipe, swipe,
until we render each other lifeless,
praying for purgatory or even better,
anxiously awaiting our turn
to curl up inside this barren earth
and make our peace with mediocrity.
The Walking Dead
Eve Poetry Prompt
October 8, 2019
“And you can tell everybody this is your song,”
Sang the moon as her eyes gently closed
And a black veil slipped over her face,
Embroidered with a certain sadness
That proceeds the naivety of breakthrough,
When veil serves as mask,
The superhero’s accessory to defeat,
Disguising the victories that lie
On the other side of the darkness.
But you need special glasses to see
When your brain is throbbing,
Clouded with so many dreams,
Seeping into the whites of your eyes
Like a poisonous ink from a spineless creature
Evolved to make his best successes blind,
Leaning only on the faith of dozens of appendages
Sucking information in,
Transforming, adapting to the depths,
Taking oxygen from decayed and forsaken particles,
Priceless treasures abandoned as trash
By a creature not as optimistic,
Not as realistic to solve the simple equation
That light must succede darkness,
Reign as monarch
With centuries upon centuries of heirs
Nourished in the pitch of a womb,
Reaching thousands of limbs
Into the muddy depths of the earth,
Cycling and cycling through phases,
Until the wheels are burning at both ends
Smoke and smog coated handrails and footprints,
Making a trail so you can find your way back home
Without the glow of the orbs that brought
You there in the first place,
Lead only by shadows of what used to be,
Faintly pointing, navigating
With blurred edges and the faintest whisper
In your heart that the work is already done.
The stones have been laid.
The fabric stitched together
And tied over your eyes,
Until you’re ready to believe that
The blindfold is just a mask,
The mask just a filter
Training your eyes
To let your blindness be your guide.
Bathe in the shadows of
The last and first day of the rest of your life.
This is your song.
The end of a chapter.
The end of an era
Full of light and dark,
Fully light, fully dark,
Hidden in the shadows of crags and rocks
NASA is proud to claim
As a giant step for mankind.
Shadowless projections on the world stage
Outshone by her big brother
Skewing facts, facing them.
Facing away with half a face,
Your nose pointing in one direction,
Your mind in another,
Floating in the stars,
Bloated from the scars
From hanging upside down,
Head filling with vitality, plump and round
Ready to burst, red and tight
Washed black, white,
Gray dust inside this barren sky desert,
Crumbling under a boot,
Ridged with American innovation,
Filled with extra terrestrial matter,
Mingling like two crusty neighbors,
Stuck together, flaky, flecking off,
Leaving bits and pieces
With every step of the journey,
These 13 years spinning out of control.
Anticipating darkness, receiving light,
A disappointing juxtaposition
With a handsome payoff
Enough to cover your debt of shame,
And offer a loan that’s just enough
To chug you along
Over the highest peaks,
Through the treacherous craters
That throw your logic out of orbit
If you pause long enough to consider
That a crater-making beast
Is also made up of craters,
If you have a long enough zoom lens
To de-pixelate the details,
Subvert the colors,
Invert the contrast,
Save the mids,
Boost the highs,
Embrace the lows tightly.
Squeeze life out of the throbbing womb,
Who yearns to create
But argues with the heart,
Who is fighting the same battle.
And how can you be expected
To find the answer
If it’s only visible to the Southern Hemisphere?
But if you spin the globe fast enough,
Vertically and horizontally, at the same time,
The details may blur,
But the truth remains at the core,
Ready to boil over,
Red, hot, magma that expands and contracts.
Expands and hardens.
Hardens and withers.
Withers and weathers
Into glittering moon dust
That’s been floating around our atmosphere
This whole time,
Coating our lungs with breaths of patience,
Whispers of dreams eclipsing doubt,
Giving birth after a 13 year gestation to:
A cornerstone so ancient even the dust collected is a historical landmark of so many things unseen, stories untold, witnessed by specks of dust turned to ash extinguishing years, extinguished by tears, flooding, growing flames burning in the hearts of centuries of congregants so strong in their belief, their faith, unmovable, fixé on Un Dieu who lives in stained glass, a kaleidoscope of holy stories, breathing through pipes of an organ pumping the blood of Christ transubstantianted through dark, medieval, renaissance, industrial, plagued, revolutionary, modern, and contemporary times kept by the gong of bells preserved, pristine by a misshapen soul who found sanctuary as much as the most noble gentleman wiping their tears on the shroud where Jesus wiped his fears, tucked into a virgin’s breast, protected by generations of women veiled in white to say “I do,” or lacy black to say “Adieu,” lighting a blaze of unity for better or sending a up a prayer for worse into the vaults of stony, hallowed halls whose walls hold secrets of seductresses, gypsies, kings, priests, sinners all alike, all the same to the God of the Coeur de Paris, surrounded by holy waters not quite sacred enough to keep out destruction, the natural order of a man-made, nature inspired force that can’t even be put out by the tears of thousands of Frenchman, shed over hundreds of years, enough to fill the Seine, to fill the baptismal fonts, and bless us all in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost whose oil burns on, burns brighter, stronger, engulfing, emblazoned, ravaging the memories, the moments, the echoes snuffed out by a spark, reduced to a layer of ash.
I don’t have words to say but my pen yearns to write.
I don’t have notes to sing but my voice yearns to make music.
I crave shapes.
I see lines,
but my body creaks and cracks in fatigue,
a static whispering,
deafening in the silent space between my legs and the couch,
padded screams from inside,
muffled under a pillow,
smothering the life out of a voice that needs,
a body that bleeds only to be fulfilled
by something just barely on the other side of nonsense,
with a glimmer enough of truth to keep sanity at an arm’s length,
way closer than a tray of food or liquor-lined strainer,
draining every toxic drop from each finger,
heavy enough to pry these lids open for one more hour,
just one more day and I’m out of this place…
followed by another and yet another more,
stacked higher than Empire herself,
dreamily floating above the clouds,
which from below seems ideal,
but from above,
the stars and the ground both seem unattainable,
one too high to conceive,
the other so far below
that it doesn’t seem possible to reach it
without smacking into it head first,
once more numbing yourself enough
to forget how painful the bottom was
the last time
and the 10,000 times before
when the patterns of dust on the floor
were more recognizable than your own reflection staring back at you,
your lined face spelling out a road map
of where you’re supposed to be
and what you’re supposed to do
in hieroglyphs of your own creation
that only you have the key to,
if only you didn’t swallow it,
wash it down with another shot of salty tears,
eroding the jagged metal into the only kind of liquid you can stomach,
which is the cold hard truth that
You are your own jailor.
You are penning your own critique
whether you think you have the words or not.
They flow from the pen,
seeping through your sweat,
stinging freshly scratched scars etched on your face,
clawing to be freed,
begging you to put down the scissors
and let the ink fly on unclipped wings
before the muscle’s only memory is
Though I come from a bit of a melting pot of ethnicities, most of my lineage, in fact just about half, is French. My father’s maternal line is French Canadian and both of my mother’s parents have French lineage in New Orleans directly from France and from those who relocated to New Orleans from French Canada. I always felt that if I searched deep enough, I would find a common ancestor between my mother and father. The French colonization of Canada was isolated to a very small region. Surely, there was bound to be a crossover! Ding! Ding! Ding! SUCCESS! I’ll take 9th Great Uncle Grandpa for $500, Alex!
I found a glimmer of a possible connection on a late night Ancestry.com binge a few years ago. However, trying to unravel 300 years of lineage crossover hurt my brain. There wasn’t a computer screen big enough to zoom out as much as I needed to compare the lines. I’ve had a pin on the task of tracking down the exact person that linked my mom and dad but I have been distracted with other parts of my lineage. In my research for this blog post, in which I had no intention of talking about the possibility of my mother and father being related, I accidentally stumbled across the answer! What do they say about finding something when you stop looking? A watched pot of water never boils? Something like that!
But before we get into more about my 9th great Uncle Grandpa Jean, let’s talk about his great-grandparents and their children and grandchildren, whom this blog was originally intended to be about, Nicholas Hébert and Jacqueline Pajot.
Jacqueline Pajot was born c. 1544 right at the height of the European Renaissance in the St. Gervais or The Marais neighborhood in Paris near the Place Baudoyer to bourgeois candle maker, Simon Pajot, and his wife Jeanne Guerineau. This was a time in French history where Paris was the largest city in Europe and was a hot spot for social, political, religious, and artistic change and growth. Discovery and innovation were the theme of this century. During Jacqueline’s lifetime she saw the first street lighting by candles, the first theatre open, the first ballet performance, the beginnings of primary and secondary education, and the growing importance of merchants, especially those who made household items, like her father. I imagine Simon stayed quite busy since the city administration decreed in 1524 that lanterns with lit candles should be hung in front of houses at night. By 1594, a new decree from the police called for lanterns to be hung in the streets of each quarter, with city officials designated to see that they were regularly lit.
At the end of the 15th century, another new industry was born: the printing of books. By the 16th century, Paris was the second most important center of book publishing. In 1500, there were 75 printing houses, second only to Venice. In spite of their growing popularity, books were still considered luxury items. They were printed and sold in the neighborhood nearest the University which was about 2 miles from where the Pajot’s lived on the other side of the Seine. The growing availability of books increased the desire for primary education. Most noble families had private tutors for their children. Schools were organized by the church and were for boys only. As religious reform was growing, many Protestant schools were popping up and sometimes even included girls! However, this wouldn’t have applied to Jacqueline as her family practiced the religion of the Crown, Roman Catholicism. Jacqueline would have perhaps studied with the Ursulines, a religious order for women that provided secondary education for young women, however, the curriculum was limited to reading, writing, sewing and embroidery.
King Francis I helped strengthen the city’s position in scholarship and learning. In 1530, the King created a new faculty at the University of Paris with the mission of teaching Hebrew, Greek and mathematics. Though the growth of the University had positive effects for many, it had a darker cause as well that would be the beginning of a dark time for Parisians for years to come. The University devoted much of its attentions on fighting Protestant heresy. Throughout Jacqueline’s life, she would see a continual increase of tensions between the Protestants and Catholics that would greatly impact her later.
As mentioned before, the Pajot’s were devout Roman Catholic’s as most “good” families were in Paris in the 16th century. They are listed as parishioners of Église St. Gervais. The Église St. Gervais is a perfect representation of a church in that era with a melange of Gothic and renaissance features. The lower nave and the choir stalls, which featured hand carved scenes of daily life, different professions of the time, and various animals, represent the leftovers of the late Gothic style. Though the chapels were complete in 1530, the facade wasn’t constructed until the early 17th century, after Jacqueline died. The facade features an “up-to-date” design more reminiscent of the architecture of the renaissance era, more specifically known as French Baroque.
It was at Église St. Gervais that Jacqueline is said to have been married at least 2 times. I can not find any record of her first husband. Her second husband is documented as Louis de Cueilly. They were married in about 1555. They had 3 children. In my research, I have found varying information about Jacqueline’s birth date. Different sources range anywhere from 1535-1547. It is documented that she was widowed 3 times before marrying her third husband, Nicholas Hébert, in 1564 at Église St. Germaine de Prés, a 6th century abbey on the Left Bank of Paris. If Jacqueline was born closer to the later estimated dates, that would mean she would have been married three times with multiple children all by the age of 17. Though this seems extreme for us in the 21st century, it wasn’t too uncommon in the mid 16th century. The legal marriage age for women was 12, however most women didn’t marry until their early 20s unless they were from a wealthy family, like Jacqueline. It was with her third husband, Nicholas, with whom she would mother children of importance to my family history and the history of many families in the New World.
Nicholas Hébert was born in 1547 to Johannes and Joanna Hébert in Paris. He was an apothecary, grocer, and spice merchant. In fact, he succeeded Michel de Nostradame, more famously known as Nostradamus, as chief apothecary and court physician to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, after Nostradamus’ death in 1566. (If any of you are as big of fans of CW’s Reign as I am, you know how exciting this discovery is!!!) Nicholas owned the Coeur Royal, the Trois Piliers, and the Mortier d’Or at 129 Saint Honoré St. Many notable historical moments occurred on Saint Honoré Street. It was on Saint Honore St. that Joan of Arc was wounded in 1429. At 9 Saint Honoré St., in 1610, King Henry IV of France was assassinated by a Catholic zealot. At 92 Saint Honoré St., 15 Molière, the playwright, was born in 1611. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, clergyman and political writer during the French Revolution, lived at 273 Saint Honoré St. Maximilien de Robespierre was sheltered by Maurice Duplay at 398 Saint Honoré St., where he was later picked up by the cart which took him to the guillotine on the Place de la Concorde in July 1794.
It was at 129 Saint Honoré St. that Nicholas and Jacqueline’s children, Charlotte, Jacques, Louis, and Marie, were born and raised. The Mortier d’Or was a large three story house built in 1415 for wine merchant, Jehan de Paris. It was made of freestone with two separate living quarters. The ground floor housed the store where Nicholas dispensed his spices and medicines. His son Louis followed in his father’s footsteps and learned the apothecary trade. He assisted his father at the French Court. They are almost certain to have had unusual access to the palace. To this day, the ground floor of 129 Saint Honoré St. still serves as a vitamin and supplement shop.
As with many of the bourgeoise, Nicolas supported the Guise (Catholic League) in the Religious Wars. He soon found himself in financial trouble and was forced to sell one of his estates, the Coeur Royal. In 1570, Nicolas had to mortgage Mortier d’or.
In 1572, Jacqueline’s mother, Jeanne, was very ill and dying. On October 3, 1572, Jeanne had her will drawn up. She had stated that all goods that belonged to her would go to her son Isaac, who was 23 at the time and living with her. To avoid any difficulty, she specified that “all the wood of chêne (oak), water, and house as far as can be seen” would belong to Isaac. However, she had named Nicholas Hébert the executor of her will. Jeanne died a few days later and on October 16, Nicholas drew up the inventory of goods from her estate. In her will she stated that above all she wished that her children live in friendship without argument or difference, which it seems is one of many wishes they didn’t respect.
Isaac, being the eldest son, was unhappy with how Nicholas had divided Jeanne’s goods. He demanded to see his mother’s will, which Nicholas, as executor, continued to put off. Isaac wasn’t satisfied with Nicholas’ procrastination so he tried to speed up the process by involving the provost. He claimed that he and his other siblings were owed various sums of money and objects from Jacqueline’s estate. The matter was to be settled out of court, but it would only add to Nicholas and Jacqueline’s already struggling financial situation. Isaac realized that the price of conducting business through the provost was such a large expense and it would be more than the sum of what he believed to be owed anyway, so he dropped it. They eventually came to an agreement and made appropriate divisions among all of the siblings in the amount of 150 pounds.
However, the next year, all of the family mutually decided to turn against Nicholas and Jacqueline once more. They approached the provost with a different charge and yet again came to an amicable agreement. A significant sum of money would be distributed equally between the Pajot children.
After much familial strife, Jacqueline, Nicholas and their children ended up with Saint-Mande and its vineyards a bit outside of the center of Paris. On July 15, 1580, Jacqueline died as the result of a fall. There are no records of foul play, but it does seem oddly suspicious to me that a man in financial trouble, who has already tried to swindle money out of his in-laws, would lose his wife to “unfortunate fall.”
After his wife’s “mysterious” death, Nicholas hired Jehan de Paris to tutor his children. He remarried 2 years later to a widow named Marie Auvry. Some of Nicholas’ goods were seized over an inheritance issue with a new sister-in-law. Nicholas was on the verge of bankruptcy. He had to borrow heavily and when he found that he was unable to meet his commitments, he was taken to court and forced to sell his remaining shares in Mortier d’Or. However, even that was not enough to settle his debts and he was sent to prison for two years in the Chatelet. When he was released, he was very ill and his second wife had passed away.
“Like all edifices in the Old Regime connected with the administration of justice, the Châtelet enjoyed a very sinister reputation, even worse than the storied Bastille. Relatively few Parisians of common stock were ever able to claim the dubious distinction that a relative or friend languished in the dungeons of the Bastille; many more could make the claim for the dank chambers of the Châtelet, inherently far more fearsome than the dry and relatively comfortable prison a mile to the east.”
Around 1589, Nicholas married for the third time to a Renee Savoreau. She had many financial interests in the Chartres region. (I’m sensing a common theme here). He lived out the rest of his days in St-Germaine-des-Pres until his death in January of 1600.
Though Nicholas and Jacqueline’s stories both seem to have come to a sad and untimely end, their descendants went on to leave their mark on the world, specifically the “New World.” Their son Louis, who learned his father’s trade of medical arts, science, and pharmacology, is widely considered to be the first Canadian apothecary, the first European to farm in Canada, and the first colonist of Quebec. He followed his cousin on an expedition to Canada in 1606 in hopes of making a fortune in the fur trade. However, as a pharmacist, he seemed to be more interested in plants and horticulture. He was highly regarded and particular note was made of his knowledge and pleasure in cultivating the land. In 1617, Louis was the first private individual to receive a grant of land in the New World from the French government. On April 11, 1617, Louis, his wife, Marie, and 5 other French families set sail on the Saint-Etienne for Quebec. Louis was recognized as having been of great service to the colony; for being a physician and surgeon, for being the principle provider of food, and for having fostered good relationships with the natives. According to the Historical Demography Research Program of the Université de Montreal, Louis and Marie are considered the tenth most important couple in French-Canadian ancestry at that time, with 4592 descendants by 1800. There is a statue of Louis and Marie in Montmorency Park.
So what does all of this have to do with my 9th Great Uncle Grandpa?
Well, Nicholas and Jacqueline had another son, Jacques Hebert. Though Jacques might not have been as historically significant as his brother Louis’, it turns out he is pretty significant in my family history. Jacques had a son named Antoine. Antoine had a son named Jean and thus we meet Great (x9) Uncle Grandpa Jean! Jean was born in Port Royal, Nova Scotia in Canada in 1653. Jean and his wife Anne Doucet parented at least 13 children, hence the ancestral wires crossed in my genealogy.
The Heberts on my dad’s side remained in Canada until 1887, when my great-great-great grandfather, Pierre Hebert, immigrated to Munising in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On my mom’s side, my Hebert ancestors were actually a part of the Ile Saint-Jean campaign, which was a series of military operations in 1758 that deported the French colonists, or Acadians, back to France as the British conquest swept through Canada. The Acadians refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the British crown which led to their eventual deportation. Of the 12 transport ships, 8 made it to France, with a death toll up to 1,500 people. One of the survivors was my 6th great grandfather, Theodore Bourg (Son of Jean Pierre Bourg and Elizabeth Hebert), who was only 13 at the time of the deportation. Theodore grew up in St. Malo, France, a port city in Brittany in Northwestern France. St. Malo had a tradition of asserting its autonomy in dealings with the French authorities and local Breton authorities. From 1590 to 1593, Saint-Malo declared itself to be an independent republic, taking the motto “not French, not Breton, but Malouin.” If anyone knows me or my family, you will know that this attitude has seemed to have survived all the way to 2017. Theodore Bourg remained in St. Malo until 1785, when Spain paid for 7 ships to transport Acadian refugees from France to settle in Louisiana. Theodore, now 39, his wife Anne, and their 3 children, Theodore (5th great grandfather), Anne, and Magdaleine, boarded the Le Saint Remi on June 27, 1785 en route to Louisiana. They arrived 75 days later and settled with several other families along Bayou LaFourche. And the rest is history!
Is your head spinning yet? Mine is! Perhaps this chart will help.
So there you have it! Sorry Mom and Dad, but you are cousins. Very, very, very distant cousins. Oh, and just in case that bit of news wasn’t enough to handle for one day, you two are both related to Hillary Clinton, who shares a common ancestor mentioned earlier in this post, Jacqueline Hebert’s father, Simon Pajot (remember the 16th century candle maker?). I know you will both be thrilled about that. But, at the end of the day, if you really think about it, we are all related somehow. It just takes a certain level of curiosity, stubbornness, and a yearly subscription to ancestry.com to really prove it.
There’s something about these house, these hours, the wee small ones, tiny, baby, minuscule hours of the night where only the wolves can see and speak and congregate together with their kind. Their likeness, fur matted, together in a circle, huddled mass. Amen. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost of the night, the invisible sheet covered being, three in one, two, three, one, two, three. Guard my sleeping children. Night lights burning bright, the first star I see tonight. If I can even see anything at all. What is there to see beneath the covered sky masked by the smog and light and colors so bright they dull the night lights left on by Mother or Father to keep us safe from the magical boy outside the window pane, pain, paint, pain, pain, pain, pain, pant like the wolf. The hot breath of the wolf howling for me to come hither. Whither must I wonder through the forest or else I’ll be lost or found. Who knows the difference? Am I contrite or contrived controlling ink from a pen? NO! Get out and stay out. I’ve had enough of the walls and the blocks building walls on my thoughts. The true thoughts under layers and layers of brick and mortar, too expensive for a pop-up shop, too easy to not let it flop. Let it go. Let if flow. Let it roll out like thunder. Don’t control. Just let it go, out, out, out, and away from my pen to my head, from my head to my pen. My pen is red like a childhood joke or game. It depends how you look at it. My hand is second guessing. The penmanship fails, the frail, aching, and tired, out of practice, fatigued like a soldier’s threads collected in the Plaza boutique. All we have on this block is one small corner to congregate and create. As if anyone cared what I have to say or what you have to say. What am I doing anyway, other than rambling away in the middle of the night because I can’t sleep because of the caffeine, which isn’t worthy or worth it even. The first thing I can think of because there’s so many filters and filters on filters and filtered through filters of hashgram no filter. Because nothing comes out without being filtered through lomo or loco, amaro of black and white slides of an instamatic app. What does that say about your life or your photo that you make it all up? Nonsense. It’s all nonsense and blocked and walls are built with or without our consent because the tiny glowing screens and particles that make it up impress upon our impressionistic impressionism lives which zoom out to be some sort of semblance of a glowing life with or without the filter, with or without the darkness: a time when words come out and the worms crawl out to be seen, just to be seen. For example, if I must, and I might make an example of myself talking about worms and flowing without a seam or a segment. A section of parts making up a whole of a soul…or a sole…or a soal? Who even determines the meaning when autocorrect will just make a decision for you anyway and you have the audacity to think you matter. When your handwriting changes every page, every line, every word you’ve ever heard changes meaning and scope. Just chalk it up to experience so you can take something home in a styrofoam box to have something left, if anything is even left when you decide to go searching and pray there’s no mold eating the meal you were intended for with or without the dowry. Selling yourself once again to a man or THE man, with or without the meaning you deserve or intend to tend to yourself or take care, if that’s even allowed. But most of the time you won’t have a say anyway, because you are stuck wide awake when the world is asleep and rumor has it you’re more likely to be a psychopath for enjoying the night and the crickets song and the cricking and screeching of the owl and barn noises. The inhabitants who inhabit the night with you by their side, they don’t seem as crazy as you do with or without the cursive “z” or “y” because who even writes like that anyway? A mix of letters, a mix of styles. Keep it pure. Segregated. That’s what they want. That’s what they tell you but you know it’s wrong. You never believed them. There is so much more and you have always known, whether you could make it out or not, or if you could translate or decode the writings of late night ramblings. Somewhere between the mixed style and writings lies the answer.The answer only found when the early bird is fast asleep dreaming of that worm, who does his best work at night. Because it’s all connected, whether wiggly, squiggly, square, straight, black, white, gay, or rainbow skinned, the pigment is all the same to the worm, the defeater of man. The king of the feast, seated in the Father’s lap, to the left of the Mother, who knows the difference in a subtle bark better than Father could ever scrape a stray hair from his trousers. Mother knows. She knows the night. She created it. She lies and breathes and prays and sins best under the night lights. Keep my children safe. Burn steadfast tonight.
If anyone knows me, they know that I am a very intense person. I take things to heart, especially things I am very passionate about. I am a 110% kind of gal. I think a lot of people in my generation have this kind of go-getter, make-things-happen type of attitude. We are a generation whose parents said “You can do anything you want. You can be whatever you want to be.” We are a generation who gets the privilege of saying “I am the first person in my family to go to college.” Continuing education is the new high school. I think because of this, a huge part of my childhood was centered around answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A simple question that we have probably all been asked from the time we were just learning to talk all the way to graduation day 16 years later. As lucky as we are to be presented with this freedom to make such a huge decision, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this question, at least for me. Because when I heard this question, it wasn’t a question that would simply help me pave the path towards future career goals, but more of an existential question. “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” We were encouraged to give answers such as “A Firefighter” “A Doctor” “A Vetrinarian” “A Lawyer” A Movie Star” etc. Once we established a solid answer, and received a few encouraging words from family and friends, we pursued this life of learning and training towards BEING this certain label or person. Well, me, being the intense person that I am, took this VERY seriously. I said “I want to BE an Actress. I want to BE a Singer. I want to BE a Dancer. I want to BE a performer.” I had complete tunnel vision focusing on being this identity. It defined me as a person. My whole life was dedicated on figuring out how to be a professional theatre performer.
So like most theatre folk do, I dreamed my whole life of moving to New York City. I wanted to be at the center of everything, contributing to the hustle and bustle of crazy city life. I was going to be on Broadway, maybe even a celebrity one day! I spent my whole life as long as I can remember focusing on that one dream. I would always be the one who never gave up. I was going to make it despite the warnings and the ridiculous odds. I was different! (Weren’t we all?) Except, when I got there I was sort of paralyzed. I used to think I would do whatever it took to follow this one narrow-minded, poorly planned dream. But when I was face to face with the reality of the industry, the early mornings, the politics, the countless uncontrollable factors, the games, I found that I had to force myself to even go to an audition, much less take a class or practice. The dream I had chased was not the reality I was living. I felt like a complete failure. That haunting question played on repeat in my mind. I had no worth if I didn’t accomplish this one thing I set out to do because I had defined who I was by what I DID.
I started tossing around the idea in my head that maybe it is okay for dreams to change, or at least the fine print. I knew that before I made any major life altering decisions, I had to get to a point where I wouldn’t feel like a complete failure for changing my mind. It was very difficult because people would reach out to me and tell me how brave I was and how much they looked up to me for having the courage to leave everything behind to pursue my dreams. Though I gladly accepted the kind words, it secretly put a lot of strain on me to live up to their expectations. Even more so, I felt that I had to live up to my own unreachable expectations. I could see my younger self in my mind’s eye shaking her head at me. “You were supposed to be the one who made it.” The phrase “making it” bothered me for years. I finally discovered that “making it” doesn’t only have one definition. I remember when I was younger performing at local theatres in Oklahoma City and Dallas and looking down on those who had day jobs and pursued theatre as an extra curricular activity. I thought, “Well if you were really serious, you would be in New York trying to have a REAL career” or, “They are way too talented to be performing here. What a waste of talent.” What I didn’t stop to realize is that they WERE making it because they were happy. After all, if BEING a performer was the goal, those community theatre actors were doing that way more than I was sulking in my over-priced, 600 square foot excuse for a suitable living space in Queens.
At the end of the day, I still felt like a complete failure. Yes, I had excelled in many different areas of life, but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t this specific thing that I told myself and everyone else I was going to be. Then one day it dawned on me, probably after talking to my mom on the phone or hours of pinning motivational quotes on Pinterest, that (as cheesy as it sounds) all I was required to BE was ME. IF “me” didn’t want to live this supposed life that a theatre artist is suppose to live, then that is okay! I had always defined who I was by what I did, all because of that one question. “What do you want to BE when you grow up?”
Well what I want to BE is kind. I want to BE loving and a good spouse. I want to BE helpful and encouraging. I want to BE a good friend and a good listener. I want to BE educated and interesting. I want to BE well-rounded and cultured. I want to BE fun! I want to BE happy.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t happy. I had to make a change. I let the weight of trying to BE something instead of trying to DO something become two separate entities and a huge weight fell off of my shoulders.
The many sacrifices we had made to live that lifestyle were no longer worth it. We had been miserable for several months. Ben had been experiencing similar feelings artistically over the course of living in New York City as well. We would alternate between who was inspired to be there and who hated it. He even wrote a musical about it! We said that we were worried for the day that we both hated it at the same time, because we knew that would be the end.
It was Easter weekend, the season of new beginnings. After 3 years in New York and 2 in Boston, we decided it was time for a new chapter in our lives.
So 6 weeks and 1500 miles later, we landed back in the land of the OCU stars, Oklahoma City, OK. Random, I know.
Honestly, it’s very strange. I never thought I would EVER be back in Oklahoma City, much less living here. Like Dorothy, I feel like I was in a weird dream, then I woke up and realized I never actually left Kansas (or Oklahoma). Because as wonderful as Oz is, what is a life where happiness can float away as easily as a bubble in the wind?
So here we are, back in Oklahoma City, filled with wonderful memories of talking scarecrows and dancing tin men, flying monkeys, glittering buildings, strange roads, and a lot of evil witches. But Oz isn’t going anywhere. That’s the beauty of it. It’s always there. Who knows, one day a twister of fate might sweep us back that way but I now can reflect on a very different message that Dorothy taught me. That no matter how wonderful Oz might be, and it is wonderful, the true message of The Wizard of Oz is to remember that “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t go looking any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with….”
Well…you know the rest!
And as far as that QUESTION goes, I hope we can re-word it just a bit for future generations. Maybe we should take a hint from the French who ask “Qu’est-ce que tu fais dans la vie?” which translates literally to “What do you do in life?”
I love that! It empowers and comforts me to know that there’s a limitless amount of things I can DO in life but only one thing I can BE and that is ME!
I just read Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, a historical fiction novel about Edgar Allan Poe and his alleged affair with the poet Frances Osgood. It is set in 1840s, high literary society, New York City. There were a lot of really awesome quotes from the book that I wanted to share!
“The stench of rotting sea creatures commingled with sweet scent of perfumes, as did the spicy odor of unwashed human flesh and the aroma of baking pies.” – about downtown Manhattan; still pretty accurate in 2013
“The unspoken truth was that New Yorkers considered everyone in the world to be just a tad – well, more than a tad, a lot more than a tad – old-fashioned, compared to themselves.”
“Maybe we all have the ability to perceive another’s soul, and do so every day, only we take it for granted and don’t even know when we’re doing it. It’s called knowing someone’s ‘character’ or ‘personality’.”
“If by a soul one means the creature who lives within each of us, a creature born loving, born joyful, but who with each worldly blow shrinks more deeply into its shell until at last, the poor desiccated thing is unrecognizable even to its own self, yes. I do [believe there is a soul]”
“Our soul is as much a part of us as our hand or our voice yet we are terrified to acknowledge it. Why is that?”
“It is as if producing a creative work tears a piece from your soul. When it is ripped completely free of you, the wound must bleed for a while. How similar it is to letting go of a dream, your hope, or your heart’s desire. You must open up and let it drain.”
“Pay attention to fate. It will always have the last word.”
“I admire any wild thing that won’t be ruled by man.”
“Americans are being poisoned all in the name of profit, producing a weak-minded race of people who are given to lust and desire.”
-“How many people have ruined their lives by giving into their desires?” -“You’ll excuse me, but I cannot agree. Many people have improved their lives by following their desires.”
“Desire inspires us to be our very best.”
“Tell me, who is behind a great woman? That’s right. No one. She has to get there by herself.”
“Mid-May in New York: the season for foolishness.”
“Is their a creature more unstable than a woman made mad by desire?”
“It is my belief that marriage is made holy by two souls in communion, not by the order of the law.”
“What if women don’t want to control men’s desires? What if women have their own? Why must women always deny their desires? Why must men always deny theirs? It is unnatural to do so.”
“Don’t fall in love with a poet. All they love is their words.”
“Madness is as a drop of ink in water. It sends sly tendrils from the afflicted person into everyone around until all are shaded in black. Soon one does not know who is mad and who is not.”
“Need is the mother of creation.”
“Wedded bliss is a tale made up to keep the species going.”
“Why are we doomed to crave most that which we cannot have?”
“Fortunate is the person who can succeed in extracting honey from such a flower as this life, whose root and every petal is bitterness.”
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but loving you isn’t one of them.”
So I have really wanted to get back into writing lately. I used to write poetry, stream of consciousness kind of stuff but for whatever reason I stopped. I have also been thinking a lot about journaling lately and how important it is for any artist to do. I learned a really cool style at a workshop once that involved stream of consciousness, prose-type writing where you just write whatever comes to your head, completely without stopping to think about it. It’s crazy how stuff just comes out. Sometimes I will even go back and not even remember writing certain things. So, tonight as I rode the subway, I let the pen take over and here’s what came out. Also, I tend to rhyme…. Not sure why, it just comes out that way …hah!
34, 42, 50 etc, counting numbers up and down on a grid-locked grid we call Uptown, Downtown, stay away from Midtown, if you can, sardines jam, jelly-packed like a bunch of rats. Lookout. Beware. There’s a scare of disease that can spread to your skin,, burning your soul. It burns out of control, like the need the hear. Anywhere but here. The sky is never clear. We love. We fear; a rainbow of emotion, an ocean of feelings ebbing and flowing, like at Chelsea Piers. Chelsea queers, walking pups in their Sperry’s, pounding pavement and concrete in boots and heels and toes, head and shoulder, eyes and ears and mouth and nose: a whole factory, olfactory, filling each and every sense. Can you spare some change, a few coins on the corner for the man seeking shelter from this crazy, crazy weather, ever changing, ever fading from black to white, where North meets South. Can you open your mouth and shout and holler and hail a cab to drive you away from your scabs and scars that are engrained so far inside, outside, any side of the island is like paradise, roll the dice to decide your fate. Are you lucky today? Is it yes or no? Rejection or show? Move on or move out, because theres absolutely no doubt that this city is no place for you if you can’t take the hits and blows way below the belt in the gut and deeper in the inner most private place where you store your treasures and prizes, your disguises, the masks that you wear to hide all the tears that you won as consolation prizes, battle wounds. But soon it will heal. It will shine. Open your light to the world and don’t hide behind the falsities that you are made to believe: You’re not good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, tough enough. Can you take it? Not rich enough, fast enough, rash enough? Will you just toughen up because you are YOU enough, and that’s all that matters. Be “Who You Are” says the British pop star who shoots across the radio waves, static, straight, ball change your identity, or better yet your mindset south of 59th street to the Great White Way that someday you WILL play, if you keep holding on to what is engraved inside of you since you were Peter’s height. You can fly second to the left or right no matter your frights. Toss it away. Sink it down. Let it drown. Destroy the weight keeping you on the ground, because earthbound is no way to live, no way to be. Be free. Fly free. Fly high above you and me, above all the rest, digest the struggle and regurgitate the answer to the test which is to strive and be alive, truly feel alive no matter what spiders, monsters, creatures, enemies, daggers trying to stab you or pin you where you clearly don’t belong. Breakout in song. Bust a move. Dance. Wear crazy pants. March like ants, one after one, driven to build their empire, climbing higher and higher up the tree of life, up to pride rock. Knock off the socks of the jocks, judges, pharisees, and the rest. Do better than your best. Express. Progress. Don’t regress but press on. Let the coffee wake you up to each new day. Take a whiff, fly away. Swing through this concrete jungle like Tarzan, with your courage like a sword in your hand to slay all your doubts and fear, because the path is clear. So don’t stumble on the pebbles but push. Push. Push. Push on and on until the fruit of your loins joins you here in this town, this city, that sometimes is shitty but exists like a microcosm of irony swirling like a twister, in the midst of bright lights, big city, smelly concrete, hobos urinate, dancers kick, singers thrive, just trying to stay alive doing what they were called to do, where it’s beg, play, jog, dance, study, film, paint, explore or try and try and I-think-I-can and try. Because it may not seem like a ballgame or a walk through Central Park but the Times and my mother and my gut tell me that it’s worth it. I’m worth it. I’m worthy of it. So stay. Endure. Stay pure. Push on.