Madam or Madman

Photo captured at Black Forge Coffee

Or both. 

It is exhausting having a foot in both worlds. 

This week I was a therapist and a patient. (Humble plea: Yes. Hospital workers can be brusque and harried. I know and I’m sorry.  But please try to be gentle with us. We sometimes come to work as sick as the patients.)

Sunday I sat at home alone begrudgingly doing housework and later I was a partner, far less begrudgingly listening to jazz and story idea and fears over wine. He was much a far better partner to me days before, making sure I had food and wine (there are commonalities in both my worlds) and love and rest. 

Saturday I was a single mother and a performer. 

I watched my son accept an award for his art. 

It is a better drawing than I will ever accomplish as I have zero artistic capacity in this realm. I was as proud as if he’d stood up and criticized a Congressman. Surrounded by conservative values and history, I stood observing and silent. 

Hours later, I was on stage myself, performing a movement and poetry piece I created entitled Bare. I stood among an incredible collection of  women, femmes and female-identified artists. They opened their souls and bled poetry and performance art about feminism, gender roles, heartbreak, self-abuse and body positivity. We loved naked bodies and what they can portray. I spent the night alternating. Attracted then repulsed. Laughing then crying. Unable to look away then covering my eyes because there were moments that were simply unbearable  to watch because they were so raw and real and pained. 

I don’t know if what I offered of myself on stage was any good. It know it hurt. 


And that’s usually a good sign. 


I know I was honored to share space with these mavens. 

The day reminded me of how much I try to keep myself in two places, be two people, fulfill two roles. 

Straddling worlds means I am trying to keep a grasp on everything between my legs. My thighs may be thick and strong but they can’t maintain this tonic contraction forever. 

Metaphorical muscle fail also brings to the brink the eventuality that as these two worlds shift, I won’t be able to bridge the gap and I’ll rip down the middle. Torn into halves. Unable to make meaning in any plane of my existence because I’ll be in pieces. 

I want to pull the worlds together. I want love and inspiration. Bedtime stories and burlesque with fake blood. School projects and hearing my own plays read. Kisses with passion and quiet handholding when the fears come. 

I want to be madam of my own house. 

I want to be the madman that brings the wildness in so the ones I hold close can see the feral beauty and learn of bravery. 

Madam and Madman. 

Both. 

All. 

Light 

My newest Dark Yarn Production. 

This one is light. 

Sometimes there is too much dark. 

My hands yearned to craft the possible. 

A warmth made for hope, for love

with gratitude and longing.

To be given for comfort

without expectation. 

One to protect in coldness.

One to stroke for calm. 

One whose  greatest role

is to be set aside, when

love can do those things

in its place.

For days of light. 

Stand

 

Stand

Good evening.

Please.

Come sit down.

No. Thank you.
I’ll stand.

Well…
here we are.

Did you want to-

Okay. That’s fine.

I’ll start.

Are you-

Okay.

Are you okay?

I don’t know.
Doesn’t seem…

I’m okay.

Fine.

How are you?

No. Thanks.
I’m fine standing.

I’m still
and I’m happy
standing.
It’s a lovely stand.
And I don’t want
need
to go anywhere now.
But I know
you’re not one
to sit.
Unless you’re
working,
writing,
making,
creating,
perfecting,
entranced
and I’m afraid

I’m not entrancing.

Here,
you’re
standing.
And I’ll stand with you.
But I’m not good
at standing.
Better at standing
than sitting.
Not a sitter.
But not good
at standing.

I need to move.
I like a path
sprinkled before me
to find me
back.
And I see too much
Pollock
to find the straight line.

You’re a sprinkle,
a splatter,
a far and wide,
see what you can
reach
where can you spread
your colors.

I want to spread
and I can’t
keep up
with your chaos.

A gift to watch
a joy to inspire
to muse
to see
as the first spectator
past the ropes.
But there’s a rope
and that means
I stand on this side.

My colors aren’t
ready yet.
Where we stand.

Where do we stand?

If I can’t get beyond the rope
I’m standing alone
agape
glassy-eyed
at your beauty,
careful of
the taped-off edges.
Laughing,
nodding,
pretending,
at descriptions,
words,
intentions
I don’t understand.

Stand.

I stand.

Staring across the rope.

Patron.
Genius.
Applauding on my feet.
Begging to be seen.

From where
I stand.

 

 

My novel Drowning Above Water is now available through Amazon. 

Empty Egg (or how to make your own coffee)

I have a problem with jealousy. It’s not a small problem. It’s not an idiosyncrasy or a cute quirk. It’s a looming, strangling flaw that has suffocated more relationships than I’d like to admit. Most of them, to be honest. Okay. All of them. And the ones it hasn’t killed, it’s prevented. No one wants to be new friends with an asshole.

My therapist (yes, I’m that girl. I’m starting a paragraph with “my therapist”, but come on. Look around you. Maybe more people should be doing this.) gave me a metaphor. He’s big on them and they tickle me.

This one involved brunch foods.

He really gets me.

First, we talked about coffee. The gist was that I’m an empty coffee cup. It’s my job to see that there is coffee in my cup. Not the cook’s. Not the waitress’. Mine. Others cannot be my coffee. They can be my Splenda. They can be my half and half. They can be my light soy foam. They can enhance, delight, make more aromatic and delicious. But other people cannot be the coffee. I have to be the coffee.

Next, we talked about eggs. My therapist described me as being a beautiful painted egg, artistic and engaging. But most painted eggs are hollow, the innards blown out through a tiny hole in the bottom. This makes them veneer thin and fragile. The slightest tap can shatter them. They are gorgeous. And the slightest wind will eradicate them.

That’s what happens to me. I want someone else to fill my mug.  If I encounter the slightest contrary force, I’m a mess of splinters. I’m a failed breakfast.

To get through life, I need coffee and eggs without the shell. And I need to be the one to order and make them.  I can’t let other people be my happy. I have to find or if I can’t find it, manufacture my own happy. If I can do that, fill the space with substance that sustains me, maybe I won’t be so easily broken.

Here’s the bug in that particular batter: when you are a parent, you rarely get to chase after your own fulfillment.

Now, I know that sounds awful. It sounds callous and selfish. As a parent, aren’t we told we should be filled with indescribable, ever-mounting daily joy, all the time, just because we have a child?

What if you’re not?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. With my entire soul. I love being with him. His laugh lights up my universe. When he’s not with me, it feels like my heart is bopping around the world without me. It’s crushing to go to sleep knowing he’s not in the next room.

But, the contrary is equally as strong and true.  Because I am a mother and I am committed to that job, and to raising a strong, capable, happy kid, I am usually unable to pursue my own happy.

Because simply being a mom isn’t enough to make me happy.

That’s horrible. It sounds horrible in my head and it’s horrible to see in print. But that’s what it is.

It hurt when I had to give up acting to be a mom. I resent that I can’t buy a decent camera to work on the photography I love because I have to pay for braces. And I am as bitter as that coffee I expect someone else to pour me every time I miss an opportunity to make a piece of art because I have to be at a school meeting or sit at an unending baseball practice.

And I’m not even good. It’s not as if the world is minus a master because I don’t have the time to put out another poem. But I feel it. And every time I see a friend or even my wonderful, generous partner succeed at their crafts, my own envy over takes me. I become as dark and toxic as yesterday’s espresso. It’s insufferable. I hear the words I say and I want to tear out my own tongue in disgust. That’s not me and I hate that woman. But she appears almost every day. I’m want to kill her.

The bleak reality is that there’s no good fix. I won’t spend less time and effort on my son. And I can’t put any more time into me. Therefore, I will continue to fall into deep caverns of rage, sadness and fuming jealousy.

And I know these are uptown problems. I can’t begin to even pretend I know what actual struggle is. If I was faced with the horrors people across this world are dealing with, I’d crumble. I’m not brave. I’m silly and vain and weak. I’m the woman Ruth Bader Ginsburg orders for brunch and spits out into her perfect napkin because goddesses like her don’t have time for slimy, fatty  omelets like me.

So, here with the computer and the silly words it is. Putting something out. Trying not to fall apart. Egg in the pan. Shells in the compost. Coffee in the cup. Trying  to add some light to the darkest  brew. I have to make my own coffee. Somehow find a way. I have to fill my egg with something. Because I don’t want to be a shell. I want to hold a life. Mine.

 

 

Alyssa Herron is a mom and author. The caliber of either is up for debate. Her new novel is available at Amazon.

 

Dating the Talent

I was actually serious with this.

I was actually serious with this.


I was first introduced to the work of Brené Brown when I read her introduction to ‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer. Ms. Brown is a researcher-storyteller who focuses on shame and our inability to connect. Ms. Palmer is a rock musician who lives her life asking and giving and being vulnerable in a way I never could. The theses of both these writers compliment each other and I wanted to learn more.

In a completely unrelated event, with him not privy to any of this information, my boyfriend sent me a link to Brené Brown’s TED talk about the power of vulnerability. We’re on the same page that way.

There’s one important page in our book, however, on which we are on different pages. Different chapters. Nearly different stories.

I have shame. I have vulnerability. I have inability to connect.

And I have no talent. He has it by swollen handfuls. 

At least, these are all things my head tells me. Granted, my head can be a right brutal bastard. Others might not say so about me. They might have nice works and compliments and proof to the contrary. But for me, today, behind the computer, fighting the words, I have no talent.

But if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it. I can’t sing. Or play any instrument. I can’t paint or draw. Truly. My worst grade my freshman year of high school was in art. You can see why. And aside from doing,  I can’t speak about art or history or art history. I don’t know photographers or understand lighting design concepts.

That’s hard medicine to choke down, no matter how much honey you add to the spoon or how strong a chaser that follows it.

I hate not being talented. That’s obvious to the point of hyperbole. But I really, really hate it because I really, really want it. Again, giant obvious.  We all want talent. To be good at something. To be sought after and seen. To feel contributory and valued.

I love creativity and artistry. I will flock to it and stare. I will flirt with it as much as my social anxiety allows. I once gawked and had absurd and inappropriate romantic thoughts about a dossier at the Corcorn Gallery of Art in D.C, not because of anything he looked like or who he was as a person, but because he spoke with nerd-zeal compassion and authority on Stanley Kubrick’s use of facial distortion as a societal commentary in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Entrancing.

The gripping attraction is  because I want to be physically near it.  Feel it. Pretend as much as I  wish with my green-tinged little heart that I had it. Not just faking it. Real goods. The talent that takes up space and air as much as another body in the booth next to you. Maybe I just want some of its skin flakes to entangle with me so give me a bit of something. Because up close, seeing how it’s made, makes it even more beautiful.

My lovely boy is talented. Extremely talented. A photographer. A writer of poems and novels and maker of worlds. A painter. A musician and crafter of songs.  He might say I exaggerate. I care about him, so maybe. But maybe not. I don’t have the goods to participate in the art so I try to facilitate. I buy booze. I make food.  I try to help think of the right verb that means ‘to ask strongly’ but isn’t the word ‘ask strongly’. I provide space and distance and understanding. Well, I always provide space and the sundries to allow creation. It’s as close as I get to artistry some days. To my own disappointment, I have struggled with distance and understanding. With enough conversation and openness from him and more trust by me,  I’m getting it. Getting better at being his audience, listener, problem-tinkering lab assistant. But part of me will  still always selfishly wish it was me as creator. 

Maybe I’m just hard on myself. Not appreciating the work I do accomplish in my possible world. 

Why does it bother me?  Why am I not just immediately thrilled when he reaches a watershed word count or does gorgeous shading work on a charcoal portrait? Is is simple jealousy? Why do I immediately reverse and compare that to myself, with strong and hard criticism. Yelling in my mind that I’m not the one writing. I’m always so humbled and thankful that he shares his work with me. That he thinks enough of me and my instincts and opinions to let me have the first look. Because I want to connect. And I love that he makes himself vulnerable to my gaze and giving me permission for deeper dissection. But so often I’m too busy listening to my own thoughts belittling me and my attempts that I can’t give the time and focus that his work deserves. It’s gorgeous work and I am so thankful he brings me into his fantastical worlds and lets me play.

But in real life, why aren’t I  enough? I’m crazy about this man. Why do I feel like if I’m not keeping up with his every creative beat that it’s not enough? It’s not him saying it. He has read my pieces and sat through my plays and offered not only commentary but heaped praise. Not generic lauding. Thoughtful, honest verbal applause when and where it was deserved. It’s an incredible feeling. To have someone you care about, in turn, care about what you love and what you do. Maybe time to do the same, consistently, intentionally, sincerely for him. Less grousing in my anxious brain about how everyone is better than me, especially the unafraid writer in front of me asking me to listen. How about I shut up and get to work. Stopping lamenting how some of my life choices prevent me from writing and use what I do have.  Actually get better at what I love, instead of wishing I could do what he does.  Keep pushing to  give him, and me,  things to look at, not because I want to prove or compete or to silence an inner doubter, but because I just love it. And I want to share that excited ‘look-what-I-did’ with him.

This is my new, big want. Not just to be a better artist, or any artist for that matter. But to be better at trusting. Trusting that being someone’s first, constant audience is necessary art work. That listening and supporting is a vital gift that I can give. Something I can be good at, even if it means being vulnerable or ashamed of my own lack of work or my perception of its lack of quality. That being genuinely proud and excited for his success can only make him and me and us better. I need to work at being a better artist. Always. But right now, I want to work on being better backstage, taking care of the talent.  Because doing that, also takes care of me.

 (Addendum: He read this last night, while I read the latest chapter of his novel. He liked what I wrote and also disagreed with bits.  He told me I’m talented. He  told me some of what I think is bullshit. He reminded me of what I am and what I can do. We talked and listened and shared and,  for a moment, he was dating the talent. Then he told the talent to put her phone down and go to bed. )


No Crying Over Spilled Ink

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I’m not good at art. At all.

Not ink. Not charcoal. Not finger paints.

Not any kind. Not any presentation. Not any medium.

And I’m not good at saying no. Gives me more responsibility, anxiety and heartache than a girl can handle somedays.

Problem is, I’m also really god damn bad at saying yes.

“Hey, you want to grab a drink after the show?”

No.

“You want to get the girls together for a-”

Probably not. No, on second thought,  you know what? Absolutely not.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if we-”

Never.  Could not refuse harder.

For me, there is something so safe and comfortable about being tucked away alone. You can’t embarrass yourself. Well, you can but at least no one can see it. It’s easy.

So,  trying something new? With others?

The painful, saccharine, no-way-in-hell, kitsch of that is so gross and full of sticky treacle it’s almost adorable in its irony. New things? That’s the hard stuff. And there’s no way I’d even consider such a horrible idea.

But today, for some inexplicable reason, I did. Well, actually I can explain, but it’s boring.

I was invited to buy nibs and ink and gorgeous sleek paper so that I could take a shot at calligraphy. For no other reason than it seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon. Me. Arting.

My initial instinct? No. Fat, stoic, austere no. Why? I can’t do that. Notion like that could surely only bring pain and gutting of what residual self-esteem a Sunday night has to offer.

But, I didn’t say no. Because I wanted to be nice. I wanted to make happy. I wanted to show that I’m not a constant and perpetual drag full of mope and pessimism. I mean, I usually am, but we don’t need to advertise that.

To my surprise, I said yes. We bought the pretty things and went home and sat and drew bold, black, gothic letters.

It was silly. My work was a jumbled mess. I’ve seen neater letters on a preschooler’s letter to Santa.

But it wasn’t bad. I sat and tried and tried again. I played along. Then I pretended to be Mary Shelley, writing for the Monster. That was actually lots of fun. Those incredible women suffered this inky pain and wrote this magic words while strangled and erect in corsets, not slouched kyphotic in yoga pants and a blanket scarf.

The pattern of mine, the unexpected yes,  is starting to repeat and those acceptances and their reasons are starting sharpen into focus. No long ago, instead of hiding away in a room, I said yes to sitting and talking and had a lovely night with some lovely girls. This same culprit also asked me once to stay for pasta. Something told me to fight my instinct and say yes to that as well. I’m so glad I did. Been staying ever since and I’m better and so happy for it.

This afternoon turned into a good night. Lots of letters on pretty paper. Slanted, uneven, sloppy, lines and curves with perk when they should relax and malaise when they should  assert their point. Objectively speaking, I’m not going to get work in a print shop anytime soon. I won’t get hired to write the addresses on your cousins’ wedding invitations.  But I did something better.

One more time, I said yes.

And then dripped ink across everything.

So now the writing says vjcc.

But I’m still saying yes.

 

Inhale

While researching for a piece of writing work  (all right, let’s be honest, I was scrolling through Twitter because I was stuck on a plot point) I came across a lovely thesis on how an artist might possibly maintain  sanity and harmony of family and one’s own soul during the ebbs and flows of making their art. Whatever process and  eventual form that may  take. It was not a fluffy piece of dumbed-down psycho-analysis, but a simple offering of inspiration and reassurance. As much as one can find on social media, anyway.

Credit for this smart little nodule of zen  goes either to Henry Rollins, who is the alleged practitioner of this wisdom, or Amanda Palmer who is spreading the gospel of this practice on his behalf, while she herself has had her own artistic gears grind to a halt because of a little sand in the cogs called motherhood.

The premise is simple.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Artists must go through periods of flux. We are fluid, mercurial creatures.  The specific terminology I found accredited to Mr. Rollins was inhale and exhale. We will have times of exhalation. Touring. Frantic creation. Continuous giving and sharing and exposing of every piece of us and our work. The time to finally unveil and present what has been scavenged from the recesses of the mind of the artist, after it has been honed and hammered and released into the wild. These breathings out may be days for reaping accolades from those luck enough to receive the newly minted fascinations. And  if by some lucky star, the gods of the dance are good, the holder of the tools and ideas may also receive some remuneration for the labors of love, and the days and hours and painstaking seconds spent chasing the muse.  But beyond compensation, maybe just a moment  to step back and smile at what we as  dream facilitators have brought into being.

But, it can’t be all exhale. That can go one for a while, of course. Longer than we might imagine or expect, but eventually, the face will flush, the lungs will burn and the mind will take over the body in the interest of preservation of both. Only so much can put out, before there must be an exchange.

There must be an inhale. A time to think, and not put forth. To discover and refresh, without the demand for results.

I am on a inhale.

Might not be fully by my own choosing. But, here it is. Air aplenty for the breathing in here in my world, so that’s what there is to do. So it’s what I’m doing.

I’m knitting an adorable grey scarf. Slowly.

I’m reading without my own  pressure to produce my own content and any rapid or prolific pace. (On that subject, Addiction to Perfection – The Still Unravished Bride by Marion Woodman is just beautiful. It is nourishing my soul and brain is so many ways.)

I”m watching documentaries and silly television.

I’m  having challenging but fulfilling conversations with challenging but fulfilling people.

And best of all, I’m being a mom. To an unbelievable kid.

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After seeing Star Wars (again) we went to a Doctor Who themed birthday party (Yes, I’m a nerd, raising a nerd and I couldn’t be happier) and he saw the piano. He didn’t specifically ask me if he could play, he just sort of wandered over and glanced in my direction just to be sure I was on board with him getting down with some unsolicited music playing.

I was down.

I’m a realistic mama. We’re not applying to Juilliard or hauling our cookies to Boston in hopes of admission to Berkeley. What happened today was some right-hand-only tinkling of a Christmas song or two. But, to me, it was Beethoven.

Huge, lung-filling inhale for me.  While my boy slowly exhaled during his own brand of sonorous story-telling.

Am I still bummed that I’m not doing any specific artistic work of my own right now? Sure. I wouldn’t trust it if I wasn’t. But with some anxiety issues only recently contained, it’s a lovely time to focus on breathing. Not specifically preparing for the next big exhale, but I can breath easier knowing that will certainly be one again.

Until then, I’m remembering to just enjoy the air.