The Free Speech of Andi : Comedy, Dreadlocks, and a Yurt

This blog is for a 22-year-old friend of mine with guts beyond her years.  Today, she’s leaving.  In the morning.

I’m excited for her– but also selfish, and sad that she’ll be gone.

Andi is about to embark on her own American Dream, which she’s been planning four years.  She quit her job and is going on the road with her friend, Michael, 21, and a Boxer named Jefferson. They’re leaving Illinois in her truck and heading South.

They don’t know where they’re going. They’re just going.

The first official destination is New Orleans. And beyond that, who knows?

She’s packing light. Some clothes, a cigarette rolling machine, guitar, sleeping bag, and a yurt. She procured a grill. She’s bringing a notebook, where she’ll jot down ideas for her comedy routines and song lyrics. She and Michael are going to drive and perform their way around America.

She’s got her blonde hair in braids, in the process of becoming dreadlocks. With her independent spirit, the confidence, and the hair, Andi has a bit of Ani DiFranco about her. And DiFranco would approve. The Feminist icon who started her own record label and eschewed mainstream industry approval chose her own destiny, just as Andi is doing now.

Andi has already taken some heady risks– she’s been an out lesbian since age 12. She embraces her identity with valor, including it in her comedy acts. At 22, she is more sure of who she is than many people are at 40.

I’m so full of admiration– and yes, a bit of envy. Andi is doing what all of want to do and most of us never will– she’s daring to travel and taking a risk. She’s driving her truck and going on the road, open to Kerouackian adventure.  She’s wearing her hair the way she wants, not the way society dictates.

And her smile just keeps getting bigger. This is actually the second blog I’ve posted inspired by her– the first was when she made me a wood-burning in the shape of a piece of loose leaf paper, with a quote about writing engraved. In gratitutude, I wrote  a TRIBUTE to my artist friends, and now it makes me happy to see that Andi is showing the same excitement for her OWN art that she showed for mine last fall.

I’ll never forget is watching her comedy set last Tuesday night. It was the same venue where I bombed last week– and much more crowded. She was the first comedy performer up, and no one was paying attention.  People were talking, no one stopped to listen.

But that didn’t stop Andi. Her stance was confident– shoulders back, legs astride. She started out strong, identifying herself as a lesbian and making jokes about it. People started to listen. Andi kept going, very at ease.  Last week when I hadn’t gotten the crowd after a few minutes, I blushed and stopped my set. Not Andi. She kept going– until the crowd quieted down, and got used to her presence. More people listened. Laughs began. Andi relaxed further, and began to really shine. Like a true performer, she wasn’t intimidated.

And she had some great jokes,  the laughs got bigger and more frequent. She was secure in her own talent– it was beautiful to watch. She’s the reason I tried stand-up at all– I went to watch her open mic, and she encouraged me to try. She subscribed to my blog right when she met me, about a year ago. She made me a wood-burned gift with a quote encouraging me to write.

Four times this week, I’ve gotten to hang out with Andi. Tuesday night, for an open mic where we both tried some stand-up comedy. Then for a few hours on 4th of July, I took her to my favorite local karaoke dive– a prerequisite before she leaves town. We went to Wal-Mart to buy her grill and do some last-minute shopping, and we hung out again for a few precious hours tonight before she had to finish packing.

I’ve had friends move away before, and a few more are planning to move within the next year. But I have to admit, I’m really going to miss this girl. She’s got a light about her, and has become one of my closest friends. I don’t think it’s hit me yet that she’s leaving– and that once she does, I don’t know when I’ll see her again. She may come back to Illinois to live, or only to visit. It could be years before I see her again.

She was part of my inspiration to delete facebook earlier this year. When I hesitated about following through, Andi encouraged me. She deleted hers in January, and hasn’t looked back. She doesn’t miss it, and plans to at least stay away for a full year. And even when I did return and sign back up, Andi didn’t judge me. She was supportive regardless.

She’s considering starting a blog to chronicle her travels on the road– which I hope she does.

In the past year, I’ve watched her grow up so much.  She’s an old soul, my indefatigable Gemini sister. She listens well, doesn’t judge, and cracks a joke when you most need it. She points out things of astonishing insight.

I gave her a rosary bracelet for protection on the road, and wrote down some quoted some song lyrics I thought were applicable, like a good luck charm. I couldn’t stop hugging the girl, and the tears happened.

I’m so incredibly proud of my brave friend, for re-defining her life on her terms. For daring. For doing.

Every time I do comedy, I’ll do it for Andi. If she’s not afraid to create her own American Dream on the road, I’m not afraid of a mic.

And the next time I see her, she’ll be a different woman– even more grown up, with even better stories. But for now, I await my first postcard, as she sets out for the life she wants– on the road.