Defiance

Courage wears faded jeans

in a church parking lot,

and only hesitates a moment

before heading inside.

*

Courage gets up

when the pain is bad.

Stretches out the aching,

and goes to work.

*

Courage’s leg jiggles,

hands stutter over strings,

but keep strumming

for a roomful of people.

*

Courage falls down

and gets back up.

Moves forward,

seeing no other option.

*

Courage is afraid.

Courage would not exist

without fear.

Advertisements

Stranger than Fiction

Fantasy and sci fi stories are full of creatures that are strange, fascinating, and entirely fictional. But there are some real animals that could give these critters a run for their money.

The Kokopi is a variety of flightless parrot native to New Zealand, and it looks utterly bizarre.

The cone snail, which is ocean dwelling and famous for extremely pretty shells, is one of the most venemous creatures on the planet, and it doesn’t even bite. It stabs you with a radula harpoon.

The Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko, which is native to Madagascar, looks like it’s supposed to be a dragon. Look at it.

Armadillos look so strange, they were used in place of rats in the film Dracula.

Ever been to Kartchner Caverns, or some other place where the rock formations have been left carefully undisturbed? There are some completely bizarre shapes and colors to regular old rock.

Surrounded by stories of dragons and spaceships and other worlds, it’s too easy sometimes to forget how bizarre the world we live in is.

Why Stories Matter

People have been telling stories for as long as people have been people. They tell them and retell them times and again, presidents and kings and schoolchildren and factory workers. There’s something fundamental to being a person in the love of stories.

I don’t know what that something is, I’m just an art student. But I do know something about why stories matter to me.

Stories are home. Star Wars is the same wherever you go, and you can see Scorpius from California or Georgia. You can carry the stories you love most with you when life takes you away from familiar places.

Stories are friends. You get to know the characters as well as they know themselves, and so following their story feels like spending time with them. Some might have experiences like yours, but with dragons. Maybe it seems wimpy to need stories and characters as friends instead of flesh-and-blood people, but at some point everyone struggles with feeling a connection to the human beings surrounding them.

Stories are safe. Horrible, awful things can happen in them, but if it gets too much you can close the book or turn off the screen, and they have a set beginning and end. Life isn’t nearly that kind.

Stories are constants. Well, they are and they aren’t. Every version of Cinderella is slightly different, and the differences change what the story means. But there’s still a shoe, or a cyborg foot, left on the stairs, and a prince at a royal ball. Change is inevitable, except for from vending machines, but stories make familiar patterns no matter how much they are told.

Stories are exciting. Though life is too. It has octopuses in it, and colors and trains and quantum physics. There’s magic everywhere, if you know how to look for it. Trouble is, in the day-to-day drudge of normal life, it’s easy to forget that. Stories help bring back a sense of wonder.

Alive

Running through mesquites,

sun on my shoulders,

fighting

for sandpaper breaths.

never approaching fast.

it was awful.

it was awesome.

*

Rhythms that matched my pulse,

handing glowsticks down the row

shouting the chorus

with the man on stage,

with the crowd,

united.

*

Sketching my newborn cousin

in our grandmother’s arms

rubbing his silky hair

holding his tiny hand

in mine.

*

Throwing snow at my brother,

or water balloons,

or socks,

or paper airplanes,

or fallen leaves.

*

The first time I drew a mermaid,

eleven and gangly and wrapped up

in stories

that guided my lines.

the mermaid I painted a decade later,

with

a shark’s tail

a steady gaze

only the vaguest idea

what I was doing.

*

Dancing

in a garden at night,

on a stage, wearing glitter,

in a kitchen,

or a dream,

or a studio,

or a quiet warehouse.

sandpaper breaths are an old friend,

and so’s the burn between my shoulder blades.

I jumped more

when I was young,

but the dance has the same heart.

*

A Gila monster

sighted at dusk

on the side of a dirt road.

a peacock

wandering, gleaming,

in a zoo.

a tree, old and bent and strong.

ants on the sidewalk.

fish in a tank.

a coyote, half glimpsed in tall grass.

a heron at a river.

a dragon

that no one can touch.

*

Cutting

paper and fabric and soul

into bits,

reassembling

into something new,

*

Finding a story

that fills a space

I didn’t know my heart

was missing.

telling a story

to do the same

for a heart I can’t even see.

*

Standing in a thunderstorm

wet clothes

bare feet

just listening

to the pulse of the rain.

What Art Is

What is art?

For me:

*

It’s sawdust in my hair

and ink on my hands

and clay on my clothes.

*

It’s pulling my feelings

into something more tangible

like an image on paper.

It’s the fear that comes when

I put those feelings

where others can see them.

*

It’s angry scribbles and

crumpled-up concepts and

weeks of hating

everything I make.

*

It’s scrubbing my hands

again and again and again

trying to feel my own skin.

*

It’s hard, and it’s wonderful.

It’s the delight from a project

finally coming together,

or a person

who says

I made something that helped them.

*

From the Outside of the House.

You can’t tell what’s going on from the outside of someone’s home, unless maybe they’re shouting. You can get clues.

The yard, if there is one, with its presence or lack of plants that aren’t supposed to be there, says something about who might be inside. If there are chalk drawings on the driveway or sidewalk nearby, that says something too. So does the state of any vehicles that might be parked in front, and how recently the building’s been painted, and anything you might glimpse through the window. During voting season, they might have signs in support of their preferred candidate posted.

But it doesn’t say as much as getting to know the people inside.

Generally, my current apartment has a huge flowerpot with no visible plant life in it on the windowsill. I’m told the plants are still growing, and there are a couple of tiny leaves if you look from directly above it, which you wouldn’t from the window. There’s also a bouquet of fake flowers, and if it’s night and the blinds are open, you might see my roommates and I watching a show together, or maybe someone cooking or studying.

Given that it’s a college apartment, some things about us are obvious. We’re college students. It’s a women-only building, so none of us have Y chromosomes.

But good luck guessing our areas of study, or where we’re from, or anything actually pertinent to figuring out the sort of people we are. All of that is only visible inside the apartment, where the talking happens and the studying and I occasionally cover the living room floor with paint supplies (I try not to do that when the others are home).

I think people are like that too. You can look at someone’s face and clothes and body language all you want, but the important stuff is happening inside their mind–and unless your name is Charles Xavier, you’re not getting in there. You have to piece it together from their words and actions, which aren’t visible all at once the way the state of their shoes is.

It might seem awfully inconvenient, having to invest time in someone in order to learn about them. Certainly makes trusting people you’ve just met tough. But it’s also good in a lot of ways. It means that any successful friendship was actively worked towards, that the people involved spent the necessary time to make it work, to learn each other, to respect one another as equals.

Being able to do all that at once might make those relationships feel unimportant, and they’re not.

On “Fitting In”

Ah, late summer–a time when teachers dust out classrooms and students pick up pencils, and swimming pools are abandoned by both. A time when middle schoolers worry about math, high schoolers worry about essays, and college students worry about everything.

(Or maybe that’s just me.)

And everyone worries about the social world– if the clothes they wear will have them laughed at or excluded, if they’ll have similar enough interests to their new classmates to befriend them, and if they’re in a new area, whether their accent will make people dislike them or if they’ll miss some unwritten social rule they’re unfamiliar with. Even if they avoid making any enemies, what if they can’t make any friends?

Social interaction is hard, guys.

People talk about little social things not mattering as much when you grow up, and that’s partially true. As an adult you have far more power to just walk away from unkind people, and a more developed self-image that their cruel words will have less impact on.

Still hurts, though.

In middle school, I went to a substitute teacher after some classmates had called me weird. His response? “I’m weird, too.” Which was very unhelpful to twelve-year-old me, but has been useful wisdom in the years since.

Everyone is unique, and so everyone is weird. Some are more weird than others, and some are better at pretending to be “normal,” whatever that means, but everyone is weird. Limited edition. Extraordinary. And yes, sometimes strange and bewildering.

Which means you’ll never find someone exactly like you, but there are loads of people  whose weirdness is compatible with your own. They’ll have similar interests or ways of talking or clothing styles or any number of things.

And even if none of those people seem to be part of your real space life, the internet is full of websites and discussions and blogs run by people with weirdness that probably matches yours at least a little bit.