The Line Maker

He was young– probably early 20′s. But as he worked, he was stooped over like an old man.

The parking lot was deserted, giving him plenty of space. He wore a white t-shirt, with a black support brace– it wrapped around his middle and there were suspenders crossed in the back. Dark brown hair.

He was quiet. Black pants, black working shoes.

Shoulders broad– the feature that stands out on his lanky frame. In the sunshine, he was as focused as a monk meditating.

He walked forward with such precision, leaning forward to train his eyes on his progress.

The contraption he wielded seemed odd at first– shaped like a cheap lawnmower. But it caused no destruction. No sound.

It looked home-made. A silver cart essentially. As I focused I saw two cans of yellow spray paint, facing opposite ways.

My flip-flops hurt my feet. But not warm enough yet to take them off. Just taking a walk around my neighborhood.

He was making parking spaces, starting in the middle. He was nearing completion of the first row.

Yellow painted lines, in a grid. Meticulously straight, spaced just so.

The patrons of this apartment complex will arrive home today, seeing the handiwork of this young man.

They will pull into those spots, maybe noticing, probably not.

If at all, maybe noticing they are more defined, brighter.

He’s got many more spaces to go. And he will complete them with tenacity, with pride.

Poster Girl with No Poster: Goodbye, Dear Andi

All day, I’ve been thinking about my sweet friend Amanda (Andi) Blank, and what I’m going to write about her.

Last night, we all said goodbye to her. Sooner than any of us expected.

She died suddenly last Tuesday, and the obituary is HERE. I found out Wednesday, when a friend called me. I was shocked, but didn’t cry yet. I texted another friend Thursday who I assumed knew already. She didn’t. She called me and I listened to her heart break. It was Friday when the tears came– at work. I had to take a break and get myself together. I cried again last night at the service, and again today, trying to honor her.

Andi had a heart bigger than Ani DiFranco’s talent.

Her poster was neon, radiating bright enough that the stars could see it. Her poster stood for love, creative expression and freedom.

I make this comparison because Andi was born in 1990, the same year Ani changed music forever. And Ani was her favorite artist, important enough that two of her songs were played last night: “32 Flavors,” and “When I’m Gone,” a cover of a Phil Ochs song.

I thought it was thoughtful that her mother, Leta, chose to play those two songs rather than something more traditional. Also, she was buried in a black hoodie and a gray t-shirt, with a red guitar pick worn as a necklace. Her nose ring and labret piercings were left in. I was touched by this because it shows how much her mother knew her– and that she wanted her daughter to be comfortable the last time we would all see her. She didn’t put her in something dressy– she let her daughter be who she was.

Her family and older friends refer to her as Amanda. But when I met her, she was Andi.

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about her– it’s actually the third. Regrettably, I deleted the first one awhile back. I’ve sporadically deleted archives, when I felt unsure about if I wanted to keep this blog going. The second time was when she planned a roadtrip with her best friend, Michael, and I was so in awe that she got it together to make it happen!

That post is HERE: “The Free Speech of Andi: Comedy, Dreadlocks, and a Yurt”. 

That story about her really sums up who she was: a free-spirit who was creative to an enviable degree.

I was lucky. Right after she met me, I told her about my blog. I’m pretty sure it was that day she immediately followed it. The next time I saw her, she brought me a gift. I brought it last night to her service, and I almost wanted to put it with her in the casket. But it means too much to me– I want to keep it, and I will forever. I wasn’t sure what to do with this blog– I’m still not. But as another creative spirit, she understood that ambivalence. She made something to encourage me to keep writing. That’s the kind of woman she was– she would just make you a gift after meeting you once. And it would be something personal and detailed and beautiful.

I took a picture of it back then, and I’ll show you why. The detail is stunning.

Andi Calamity art

 

Everything about it is so meticulous, so thoughtful. She took care to craft margins, three paper holes, and individual lines like you’d see on a sheet of loose leaf paper. She included quotation marks, and even included screws and a wire so that I can hang it up.

On the back she signed her nickname, Andi Calamity.  No one has ever made me a gift that was so special or perfect, or well-made.

Andi was the sort of girl who didn’t need make-up. And I don’t remember ever seeing her in it– she had beautiful skin, natural blonde hair, and large blueish green eyes framed by thick long lashes. And just as she was modest in her appearance, she was genuine about how she felt, as well. She was always happy to play the clown and ready with a joke if you needed it– and that could snap you out of the worst mood.

But she also felt everything deeply and was in touch with her feelings. That’s such a gift. She expressed herself in myriad ways, but the most important thing to know about her is that she was an indefatigable friend. Loyal, attentive. A woman who gave everything she had, who was the person you could call anytime. In this age of disconnected digital relationships, Andi actually LIKED talking on the phone.

She wanted to have conversations, to really connect with you. This is the third time I’ve now cried about this loss.

The first was last Friday, when I was at work. I didn’t cry when I first found out, on Wednesday– I knew it would hit me at some other time. And it happened at work, because the last time I saw her, I was working. I sell dog food, not the most glamorous or important job. But about a month ago I was feeling a bit sad and bored during my shift, working a pet store. And I looked to my left, and saw Andi and her mother, walking toward me from the main aisle.

Andi walked over to me and just gave me the most amazing hug. It was perfect timing.

She had a talent for hugs. I mentioned this last night, but it’s worth repeating. Not everyone can REALLY hug you– but she was one of those people. She didn’t hold back or give you some lame little pat on the back. She hugged you with everything she had. Every time I saw her, she greeted me with a giant warm hug. The kind where you just stand there for a moment.

I am really going to miss those hugs.

One last thing I can say about her. Although she had her moments of struggle like all of us, she also radiated this confidence. I sadly only have one picture of her, and none of us together. It’s from July 2012, the same time period I was writing about in the above re-posted blog. She was doing stand-up at City of Champions that night. And I’m so glad I have this picture: because her posture shows you everything about her you need to know.

Andi Comedy

 

 

She stood with her shoulders back, her feet planted comfortably astride. Holding a beer bottle in one hand, gesticulating with the other hand to illustrate her story. What you don’t see behind the mic is her gargantuan smile, as she brought the crowd into her comedy set.

That’s how I’ll remember her. Confident. Her hair was in braids, and she had dreadlocks in mind. She had a ton of mini-rainbow rubberbands holding these braids together, and they looked kind of ridiculous!  Last night I was talking about this at the service and the girl I was talking to, Jen, started laughing, because she said SHE was the one who had done the braids! She had told Andi she should get them done professionally, but Andi was confident her friend could make it happen by sheer force of will. Andi was not worried about it! It makes me laugh remembering, because she was convinced the dreadlocks would evolve in time. From the road she called me and said the dreads were more work than she anticipated, and after awhile she gave up. But she rocked her baby dreads as well as any white girl can, and she was in on the joke. She had the balls to try it.

I know this is getting long. But bear with me! Almost done.

The last phone conversation I had, she was telling me how excited she was to have joined a roller derby league recently. She was still learning to skate and hadn’t competed yet in a bout. But She told me about a pair of skates a team mate had given her– they were white leather with pink flames.

Andi Second City t-shirt and roller derby gear

And of course, white leather AND pink was unacceptable. So what did she do? Paint them black, with blue and RED flames. She made them her own. It’s just another confirmation of her character. She didn’t insist on brand new skates– she was just happy someone wanted to give her a pair. She probably loved these skates that much MORE– because they were a gift.

She gave so much of herself, every day, to everyone. I’m glad that she was given something special by a new friend near the end of her life.

Andi would have been one righteous roller derby hellcat! Her name was A. Calamity, her number, 15. Her mother thought to display her team jacket, skates, and also a t-shirt from when she studied at Second City at the service.

Her team is the Southland Slashers. And they were there at her service, despite only having known her a short time. That says a lot about their loyalty to her, as well as how special Andi was.

Andi was a bright spark in my life, but I have wonderful memories. And because I went to her service last night, I met some of her friends, who I get along with too. Now we are friends because of her, and can trade stories and laugh and cry together.

Until we meet again, dear Andi, I hope you’re skating in the clouds up in Heaven and elbowing the other angels– just for fun.

Bruno Martelli, Exposure, and Letting Go of Your Art

I’m watching “Fame,” the 1980 original.

I haven’t rented it in years– but it’s always deeply stirred me. The first time I saw all the students rush into the street and dance, I cried!

In the past I loved the character Coco and especially her song, “On My Own.”

But this time, I’m connecting with a a different character: Bruno Martelli.

He writes music– but it’s all electronic. He mostly plays in his basement with synthetic keyboards. Coco wants to work with him– but he refuses emphatically. She wants him to be in a band with her, but he hates the idea.

His father is his biggest fan– but Bruno doesn’t feel his music is “ready.”

This time watching, I realized another component.

When the students all run amuck into the street and start dancing and erupting into joy, it’s BRUNO’s song that entices them. His father, a cab driver, had stolen a tape of Bruno’s– his music with Coco singing.

“THAT’S MY SON’S MUSIC!!” his Dad shouts to anyone in the vicinity.

Inside, Bruno hears HIS music and rushes to the street in horror.

Bruno comes outside– and immediately is furious.

All he can notice is that people are hearing HIS music–without his permission! He feels betrayed. (I would too!)

He scolds his father.

His father understands, but tries to make his brilliant but self-loathing son SEE:

“Look at the people! They don’t know it’s not ready! Look at it, they like it!”

The entire street is throbbing with Bruno’s peers, who have made traffic impossible to the point that other drivers become aggressive.

But all Bruno notices is that his father exposed his work without his permission. Instead of standing outside and allowing himself to ENJOY undeniable proof that his work IS ART– and that it’s certifiably “ready,” he just shuts down.

And it’s sad. Because Bruno had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see his art VALIDATED in a way most never will– if he had allowed it. If he had gotten over his ego and noticed that even if he thought his work wasn’t important, everyone else did.

My Dad is a lot like Bruno’s. Always encouraging me. He made copies of every column I printed. I’m always the one saying I don’t have anything to say, that I’m not ready to go back to it.

I’m like Bruno when it comes to my writing. I never feel it’s “ready.” I don’t publish the majority of it.

But one post and one poem and one story at a time, I’m getting over my fears.

Thank you for being those dancers in the street! For the likes, subscriptions– and especially comments.

The Couple in Gray

At Palm Sunday Mass today, there was a young couple behind me.

They were both brunette, conservative. A tall strapping man, a petite woman with long beautiful hair.

When it came time for “Peace,” I turned behind me to shake their hands.

But he pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. It was casual PDA, second nature.

She closed her eyes and the whisper of a smile came to her face. She looked as if she felt cherished.

And I was glad for her– for both of them.

They were both wearing a gray long-sleeve cotton shirt, and blue jeans. They matched perfectly.

I’ve seen them before.

I love that this couple incorporates going to Mass together into their relationship.

I hope to have that myself one day.

I especially enjoyed that moment of affection because most Catholics don’t do that in Mass– there may be a quick hug, but not usually a full embrace. Usually you’ll see a lot of eye contact, smiles, waves and of course, people shaking hands.

I remember once a former youth minister of mine kissed his girlfriend in church– and said he got several LOOKS because of it. Just a peck. Why should that natural expression of love between a committed couple be a problem in God’s house? Afterwards, he talked to us about why that bothered him. He thought it was so petty– and it was.

This young couple wasn’t worried about what anyone thought– and no one seemed to begrudge them for it.

Seeing reaffirmed a bit of my hope for love.

One day, I hope to have man who will go to Mass with me– who will think nothing of such an innocent display of love. I see it as something protective and genuine.

But until then, I will keep going on my own.

And I will be happy for those couples who have found each other, and celebrate God together.

A Moment Too Real: A Woman Who Needed Help

Recently, I was outside enjoying a hot dog and a strawberry shake at a local ice cream joint.

It was beautiful outside– warm enough for shorts. I had planned to do some writing in my journal.

And then life broke into the narrative– something too real.

A woman ran up to me at my table in the parking lot, desperate. She was wearing large, dark sweats in the heat.

“CAN I USE YOUR PHONE? I JUST NEED TO CALL MY HOUSE, CAN I JUST MAKE A CALL?”

Her volume matched her fear.

Wary, I didn’t know what to do. I was worried she might be on drugs– was this just a ploy?

There were three teenage girls who had been chattering at the table next to me. They went silent and watched my reaction.

I looked at the woman with concern but wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Please,” she begged. ” I JUST GOT AWAY FROM MY HUSBAND. I need to make sure my SON is alright.”

She was such a mess, there was such pain on her face. I knew she was telling the truth.

“Let’s go inside and see if they’ll let you call,” I said. “I’ll go with you.”

She didn’t seem to believe me, but headed toward the doors anyway.

She was still very loud– I didn’t want her to scare the woman behind the counter. She started to rave again, but I made eye contact with the woman and asked calmly if she could use the phone. The cashier consented and brought the phone over to a side booth.

The woman climbed in the booth and dialed, gripping the phone. She was kneeling, facing the phone.

“He’s not answering,” she said. Tears. I saw the bruises on her face- slight, but still there.

I asked her if she wanted a ride to the police station– no.

Then I suggested another local place– she asked what it was.

“They have counselors,” I said. “They can help you decide what to do.” I told her the location– about five minutes drive.

She nodded and went with me to my car. I cleared my junk out of the front seat, turned off my music.

I asked her name, and introduced myself. I will call her Jane., to shield her identity.

As we drove, I told her, “I’m glad you got away.”

She was frozen in thought. As we neared our destination, she talked a little bit more– frantically.

We pulled up and I parked. We walked in and I buzzed the secretary.

I explained that Jane needed to speak to someone in Groundwork (the domestic violence program.)

The woman nodded and buzzed us in.

Luckily, there was a counselor available immediately.

Jane sat down and I got her a paper cup of cold water. She was so agitated she didn’t even touch it.

Minutes later, a counselor appeared and they left together.

I had no idea how long they would be gone, what I should do next.

Within 10 minutes, Jane re-emerged– thoughtful. She finally drank the water in one gulp.

We left together– I was scared. Did she need a ride home? Now what did I do?

On the steps outside she said that she just needed to take a walk for a little while.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “I’ll come back here but I need to think first.”

It was clear she wanted no further assistance from me– she wanted to handle this on her own. Proud.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You’ll be in my prayers, Jane,” I said. She walked away, deeply concentrating.

I went back to my car– and saw the big statue of the Blessed Mother adjacent to the building, over to the left.

Image

She was high up, watching from a ledge in a stone wall. How many broken women and families had prayed to her?

There was a wooden bench in front of it– I knelt and asked The Blessed Mother to protect Jane and her family. She’s been in my thoughts. I hope she is safe– that she will find the encouragement there through staff that is needed to protect her family.

I’m sharing this story because I hope that you will include this woman and her family in your prayers as well. God was watching out for us both. I’m glad that I was able to help, and that I knew where to take her. I

I wonder, how many people did she have to ask before me? How many people didn’t want to get involved?

That day I had been thinking about things that frustrated me– bills, things I need to clean up at home. And then God reminded me that my problems are very small compared to this woman.

All Jane wants is a safe place, the opportunity to save herself and her son. She is making one of the most important decisions of her life, no doubt. I can’t imagine how scared she must feel. NO one, woman or man, should have to deal with such questions.

But they do, every day.

My First Prayer Group: Listening to God’s Voice

I changed my mind about not blogging. Don’t I always?

I just got home from my very first prayer group!! It’s part of a Lenten focus.

It was very intimate– just three of us.

We had a sheet of questions about a scripture, and it was a delightful discussion.

I’m glad I went with my gut and cancelled Bible study. As much as I enjoyed it, it wasn’t set up the way I was hoping. It was a Power Point presentation, where the teacher talked and we listened. Granted, he was VERY excited about the material– but we didn’t have a group that asked questions. And since I know NOTHING about Scripture, I was too intimidated to ask. Usually I’m not. But I was then.

I had hoped for a smaller group, more interaction. Active discussion.

When I went to Mass and heard about this group at the same time, I knew it was a sign. And I was right. I missed last week by accident- this is the second week. But I’m definitely hooked.

It was really interesting, since it was held in a Catholic Worker house. Perfect setting.

Very quiet, easy to see and hear one another. Surrounded by Catholic literature about social justice. There’s a framed picture of Dorothy Day nearby, in another room.

God was talking! These two men have a lot of knowledge about Scripture and theory– they provided a lot of wonderful insight about historical and philosophical contexts. The discussion was great.

It was easy for me to personalize the questions to my own experience, something the man hosting it complimented me on.

I suppose I’ve never thought of it as a talent, but I realize that for some people that’s something they struggle with. It may be hard for them to connect to their feelings and intimidating to admit personal experiences. Although we found common ground right away, as they did share a little bit.

But it’s a first meeting. We’re all just starting.

It felt so wonderful to be able to sit and talk to two men and hear their perspectives. Both committed to social justice.

There’s a lot of hope out there folks. You just gotta go where the light is.

S’Been Three Years of Unrelenting!

I must commemorate this. 

Today is the THIRD birthday of my unrelenting blogginess. 

And I’m still single. And still proud and okay with it. 

I’m navigating Lent, one day at a time. 

I’m thankful for all of my followers and readers. 

I’m trusting God, and trusting myself more every day.