If anyone wonders where I’ve been all summer, I’d love to say that I’ve been vacationing in the French Rivera. I have no idea where that is on a map. I don’t even know what it looks like, but I’ve heard it’s a sexy place to vacation. In reality I’ve been taking down wallpaper. All summer. My kitchen smells like Suavitel. And sweat. I also had a pit stop in New Orleans and got hit in the face by some beads. I stood up in a wedding in Chicago. I ate some goat. Went on a few trips to the farm; the honeybees are back. I attended a baby shower where the favor was a cd called, Scotch and Vinyl Dust Volume 1. There was a trip to the zoo wherein a really old seal put on a show. I got an idea for a story about an eccentric philanthropist. Went to a fringe show about a big eye that was supposed to be funny but made me cry, as I really connected with the depression part of the show. I dry fired my bow and got a bruise on my arm. Bob Segar made me fall off my bike. I wrote a draft of a story about a giant squid. I went to another wedding where I discovered that if you chug caffeine free diet coke and don’t let it touch the front of your tongue it almost tastes like coke diesel. I thought I broke the third wall, but discovered it was the fourth wall.
But mostly it’s been me vs. wallpaper.
I listened to Cell by Stephen King on cassette tape while I stripped the wallpaper. Yes, cassette tape. Sometime back I wandered into a Boarders with E and asked the clerk where the books on tape were. The clerk gave me a funny look, led me to a shelf, and said all they had were about four books.
Quite a small audio section, I thought. Must be why you’re going out of business Boarders.
Cell was on sale for maybe six bucks. That’s the best thing about SK books. They’re everywhere and all seem to cost under five dollars. Six dollars for an audiobook is a steal. This is what happened when I got to my car after the purchase:
ME: It’s a tape!
ME: I thought it was going to be a CD.
E: You asked for a book on tape.
It wasn’t until this year that I found a tape player at the farm. The farm has a variety of strange things, like copper colored Jell-O molds in the shape of fish that sometimes end up in my dreams. I began to listen to the story as I stripped the wallpaper. I was something like half a wall in when the tape stopped. Apparently the player overheated. The next day, I was a third of a wall in when the tape player made this horrible slow motion noise. E-gads! Was it eating SK? No, the tape was fine, but rewind didn’t work. Near the end of the wallpaper, and the end of the book, I got the fine idea to purchase a Walkman from a thrift store for the sum of a dollar-fifty. The Walkman didn’t work either. I changed the batteries.
One may want to know more about Cell, but I’d rather tell readers about the most important part of my summer.
I volunteer with Free Arts Minnesota , an organization that promotes healing through art. I could include their mission statement here, but I’d rather share my experience.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I have bipolar disorder, and that I sometimes allude to a complicated and tangled past that includes neglect and abuse. What may not be entirely clear is the role art has played throughout my life as a way to cope with such events and transform them into something beautiful and meaningful that I can share with the world. I didn’t have the most ideal living situation when growing up, but what I did have was a strong support system filled with people who provided positive role models for me. These people were teachers, friends, social workers, extended family, and total strangers. Everyone seemed to move in and out of my life exactly when I needed them, providing me with hope, care, understanding, compassion, and good advice.
I speak openly about my experiences, in coffee houses, on the bus, over the cell phone, on a blog because I think there’s a lot of shame associated with these circumstances. Sometimes I feel like I make others nervous, as if these are things we shouldn’t talk about. Other times I think the shame and nervousness are only my own.
A friend sent me the link for Free Arts via Facebook. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass. Here was a chance for me to become a role model for children dealing with many of the same issues I had to struggle with growing up.
I don’t exactly have the mentor thing down yet: I told one kid that I liked the breadsticks from Olive Garden instead of giving some sage advice. I told another that her ‘D’ was backwards when it wasn’t. I forget names. When another threw a pen across the room, I didn’t know how to say the pen can do far more damage in your hand instead of thrown. And when another shared a personal story with me, it struck me later how I could have told her to use her art the moment things get bad and not after.
I can’t tell you how one child has impacted me in particular because they all changed me in some way.
This summer the children had the opportunity to work with a local artist, Natasha Pestich. They screen printed hoodies in the theme of identity. Their work will be displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art next Thursday, August 22nd, at 6 PM.
If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and have a few hours to spare each week, I think you should consider becoming a volunteer. I’d also suggest making a donation through their website.
And so, the summer comes close to an end. The wallpaper is down. Under The Dome is on just in time for me to start painting. I’m starting Finnegan’s Wake and the State Fair will soon begin.
But there are still a few nights left to watch the lightening bugs come out, flickering on and off in a reminder that my life has been and always will be an intersection of those who change me.