A call to the creatives

Constant Moyaux. View of Rome from the Artist’s Room at the Villa Medici, 1863. Watercolour on paper, 11⅝ x 9 in. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes. Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY.

Creativity begins from a place of need—a desire to communicate an idea. Whether the realization of that idea is shared with others is at the discretion of the creator. Maybe they create only for themselves or maybe they create with the intent to share. A painting, an essay, a project made, music played or plans built—they’re all iterations of a response to a pull to see a thought in a tactile presentation. Brush strokes layered, words arranged, thread needled and stitched, materials sawed and bound together. Creativity is important because it is often these makings that look at a norm in a different light. Turn an idea on its head. Challenge patterned acceptances. Take something ordinary and make something extraordinary from it. It is this magic equation of transforming a feeling or idea into a proposal, if not a reality. And two things are necessary for it happen: time and space. These two things are really hard to come by as a work-from-home parent of young kids during a pandemic. 

I used to slip out to a coffee shop a couple times a month and had the time and space to sip a cup of hot coffee and write what I wanted—uninterrupted. I could step out of my regular space—the house where I’m mom and the home office where I’m a freelance writer—and into another where I could write what was on my mind. 

This need for dedicated space is why artists have studios. Carpenters have shops. It’s why a lot of writers write best early in the morning or late at night—when the demands of the ordinary aren’t immediate.

I worry that the pandemic is muffling the creatives. People who do not have any space from their ordinaries also do not have any space to create. 

A lot of creatives also need a transition time—a window where they can shift from the ordinary and into the making. 2020 has made it difficult to shift from the ordinary. A global pandemic, a much-overdue racial reckoning, social unrest, an election year—there is so much in the world that needs our attention right now, I feel guilty putting any time I can carve out into creative pursuits. 

But, I also believe now is the time creative thinking could be the most important. Art, music, words and design–all can bring us together. They all can connect us at the most basic level: as humans.

Maybe it is the creatives who are going to take the norms and force people to see them in different lights. Turn ideas on their heads. Challenge patterned acceptances. Take the ordinary and make something extraordinary. 

A call to the creatives: do not stop. Find the time and space. Even when it feels hard–or impossible—or you feel guilty to be putting pen to paper, brush to canvas, fingers to keys, needle to thread, saw to wood. Explore the feelings, communicate the ideas, do whatever it is you do to create the magic that could connect us all once again. 

I’m a mom, feminist, and fan of J. Lo and Shakira’s Super Bowl halftime show

The Super Bowl is broadcast in over 130 countries in 30 languages. Viewership estimates for the 2020 game range between 99.9 and 102 million, making it the tenth most watched game in Super Bowl history. With that many people tuning in around the globe and so many brands using it as a platform to promote their products and services, it is undeniably a cultural touchpoint.

Fox reports that 103 million tuned in for the 2020 halftime show—over a million more than actually watched the game.

My husband and I recorded the game with plans to start watching as soon as we got our two-year-old and three-year-old to bed for the night. We finally turned it on around 8 p.m. but by 9 p.m. I was so tired, I went to bed. 

When I woke up the next day I immediately saw online chatter of the halftime show and as the morning went on I heard more from parents in our community. 

Parents who watched with their kids or hosted watch parties for their children and their friends were left flabbergasted during the performance. Do we turn it off? Let it play? Valid questions for any parent to have, especially if children other than their own were in the house.

I finally got a chance late Monday afternoon to watch the show. Initial takeaway? I liked it. As the day and week went on, I read articles pushing for a parental warning for future halftime shows, listened to Alt.Latino radio unpack the show, and discussed it with friends and family. 

While a warning or rating can, of course, help a parent decide whether or not to let their children watch the halftime show in their own home, it won’t prevent school-aged kids from hearing about it the next morning at school, at a practice the next afternoon, or seeing it on YouTube or news loops for the next week. With 103 million people seeing the show in real time, it’s going to be talked about. 

When Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” occurred in 2004 I remember it being the talk of the high school halls the next day. I did not watch the halftime show that year (I’d, once again, gone to bed early). But, in 2004 our high school selves didn’t even have our Motorola Razrs yet (they didn’t hit the market until the third quarter of that year). So, the wardrobe malfunction was largely contained. It wasn’t at our fingertips to search, pull up, and watch and discuss among our peers. Today, the average age at which a child receives their first internet-enabled cell phone is 10. Even if your child does not have a cell phone, they likely have a peer in a class or practice who does. The halftime show is accessible long after the game is over and when parents won’t be there to police it.

As a parent, I would rather have my children watch the halftime show with me. Where I can guide the conversation, provide context, and answer questions they might have.

Sure, there were elements of the show I wouldn’t have chosen to have performed exactly as-is, but it wasn’t my show to choreograph. And that is a lesson in and of itself: the artist gets to decide the scope of a performance, not the audience. 

Ultimately, J.Lo and Shakira’s halftime show was a performance of empowerment. It was a celebration of culture and women. A championing of career. A call to be who you are, unapologetically.

Songs from across their decades-long careers were included in the mash-up and cultural nods were peppered throughout the performance. Shakira’s widely-memed tongue-flicking is an act of celebration in Lebanese culture called zaghrouta. Their clothing and dancing echoed carnival celebrations throughout Latin America (also already seen by and introduced to any kid who has watched the animated children’s movie Rio). This attire also was not new or atypical for Shakira and J. Lo performances. A concerned parent can do a quick search on announced performers and see previous shows. And as far as a “family-friendly” expectation for the Super Bowl goes, I’d be curious as to know whether parents are discussing the rap sheets of some of the athletes competing in the NFL (past and present). And bottom-line? Women can wear what they want. 

Shakira and J. Lo are two of the most-recognized Latinas in the U.S. and yet xenophobic Americans still only want to view them through a specific lens—a belief that J. Lo and Shakira should only perform in ways that Americans deem to be “appropriate” or “acceptable.”

When J. Lo brought her daughter on stage, started with Springsteen’s Born in the USA, and launched into Let’s Get Loud, I got chills. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s performance is ushering in the next-generation of Americans to a more accepting society. A place where what you wear, where you come from, and what your gender or sexuality is, does not dictate what you accomplish or who you become. 

This was a performance about being you–with pride, of not forcing yourself to fit into someone else’s prescribed notions or expectations for their comfort. All things I want to teach my children (along with discussing the elements of the show I could’ve done without) when they’re old enough to stay up for the halftime show, and I can stay awake long enough for it too.

So, yes. Let’s get loud. 

Not now doesn’t mean not ever

Raising a two-year-old and three-year-old, we talk a lot about patience in our house. Usually hourly. They want a juice box, the toy the other one is playing with, to watch a show. It’s not the commonplace things they have trouble waiting for, but those that are special, exciting. A treat.  

We talk about waiting our turn: “you will get it, but not yet.” We talk about asking nicely and not whining. And we expect that one day this will all click and we will no longer need to have these conversations. 

But last night I realized I probably need to be having these conversations with myself. 

Why do we expect toddlers to wait patiently when we still haven’t seemed to have mastered this skill as adults?

Sure, by the time we’re adults we’ve learned to wait for our food at restaurants, for our turn in line at the BMV, and even for the weekend–all of which are commonplace things. But what about the bigger items? Those that are special, exciting. A treat.

An essay I wrote was accepted for publication last month. Which was exciting at first but the longer I’ve had to wait to see it in print, the more restless I’ve become.  

This kind of impatience isn’t just contained to career. Some of us could be waiting on friendships, test results, perceived milestones for ourselves or our children, a home. 

In the face of rejection and silence it can be easy to believe that this is how it will always be—especially when the disappointments stack up. We forget, just because something isn’t happening right now, doesn’t mean it will never happen.

It’s usually the things that are special, the ones we want the most, that are the hardest to wait for. 

So, when the weight of another let down, missed opportunity, or heartbreak hits, do not be fooled. This is not how it will always be. Not now doesn’t mean not ever. There are more tomorrows ahead. Plenty will be filled with disappointments and rejections but plenty will also be filled with victories. 

Our turn is coming. It may not look how we initially thought it would, it may not come when we want it to. But it will come. We just have to be patient.

New Year, New Books

I haven’t been active on this page the last few months mostly because what my writing outside of work has centered on. As you get older some things become less black and white while simultaneously becoming more clear. What and who you devote your time to pans out after some tricky negotiating. What you hold close–particularly in today’s age of oversharing–becomes more sacred.

I ended 2019 with the same people, in the same home I started it with. That simple and enormous fact I am grateful for. As Levi and I headed to bed before 11 p.m., I crept into each of our kid’s rooms to check on them (despite being able to see them on the monitor) and physically felt the weight of this gift: their tiny backs rising and falling under the palm of my hand.

I began 2019 with no resolutions and am doing the same for 2020. No sweeping transformative plans or hard-set goals. Unburdened by the confines of a resolution, I am free to follow whatever sets a spark.

For me, 2019 was a year of reading. I finished 13 books which, to an avid read, may be a typical quarterly quotient. But, as a work-from-home mom with a two-year-old and three-year-old, it was the most I’ve read in years. I also started reading five other titles and ended up not finishing them because, once again, time is valuable and I wasn’t going to spend it slugging through a book I wasn’t gleaning anything from or enjoying.

2019 Titles

  1. Circling the Sun, Paula McClain, Historical Fiction, 496 pages, 1/9/19
  2. The Witch Elm, Tana French, Crime Fiction, 528 pages, 1/24/19
  3. Educated, Tara Westover, Memoir, 334 pages, 2/22/19
  4. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Hannah Tinti, Coming-of-age Fiction, 376 pages, 4/4/19
  5. The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, Historical Literary Fiction, 6/23/19
  6. Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Literary Fiction, 6/29/19
  7. The Gifted School, Bruce Holsinger, Literary Fiction, 8/3/19
  8. Dominicana, Angie Cruz, Coming-of-age Fiction, 8/18/19
  9. Wild Game, Adrienne Brodeur, Memoir, 9/6/19
  10. This Tender Land, William Kent Krueger, Literary Fiction, 11/7/19
  11. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert, Romance, 11/15/19
  12. The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell, Psychological Thriller, 11/24/19
  13. The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes, Historical Fiction, 12/13/19

2019 Top Three

  1. My favorite book of 2019 was Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers. A switchback narrative centering on the lives of Yale Tishman, a gay art director living in 1980s Chicago when the AIDS crisis hits and Fiona, the younger sister of one of Yale’s closest friends who is grappling with her own family in modern-day Paris. Eye-opening and heartbreaking, The Great Believers had me missing the characters for weeks after I turned the final page. The Great Believers won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie medal, the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
  2. My runner-up read of 2019 was The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. This switchback narrative tells the story of former con Samuel Hawley and his teenage daughter, Loo, new-to-town outcasts who are running from and reasoning with their pasts in an attempt to build a more settled future. Tinti masterfully captures place, painting vivid images of Alaska, Wisconsin, Arizona, and a fictional Olympus, Massachusetts that made me want to pack my bags and head to Gloucester, Massachusetts for a long weekend.
  3. Rounding out my top three is Educated by Tara Westover. A memoir detailing the incredible arc of growing up in an isolationist household with no formal schooling, escaping those bonds, and fighting to discover knowledge and receive an education–no matter the cost.

Reading is an active pause from our everyday lives and own narratives. The direction our culture is headed–with social media becoming enmeshed in our day-to-day–is a breeding ground for a self-centered and comparative society. It doesn’t lend to empathy.

When you read a book you step into the complex story of another person–not a picture or post of a single moment or experience. Spending time in the mind and life of someone else–whether real or imagined–and considering their problems and motivations demands perspective of our own life.

In 2019 I read over 5,000 pages in which I got to glimpse into the life of a Dominicana child bride immigrant in 1960s New York City, a girl who grew up in colonial Kenya in the 1920s and became a record-setting aviator, and a man who lost everything to the AIDS crisis in a time when there was little to no support to those who were suffering.

New year, same me. But hopefully 2020 will be another year filled with new books that prompt me to see things differently, connect me with people from other places and times, and remind me to be grateful for my own story.

To the movers

In our eight years of marriage Levi and I have had seven addresses. We’ve moved a lot and started over a lot and we still have a significant amount of hand-me-down furniture with layers of corporate move stickers on it.

After living in Missouri, Illinois, and South Dakota, we bought our first home in Centerville, Ohio. That was four and a half years ago. At the time, I didn’t want to buy a house, but Levi said it was a better investment than continuing to rent. So, after reluctantly looking at listings online, I told him I’d go see one house. One. We ended up buying that house and we lived there for a little over three years.

It was the longest we had lived in one place and it was our first home. We gutted and finished the master bathroom, hand-scraped thousands of apples off the kitchen walls in what can only be described as a truly amazing wallpaper print. We repainted every cornflower blue room, fixed up not one, but two nurseries, and Levi hand-dug 40+ postholes and raised a fence in our back yard. We did a lot of these projects with the help of family and friends.

We hosted family dinners, birthday parties, and cooked and shared meals with our closest friends around our dining room table. I finished writing my graduate thesis on a barstool at the kitchen island. We rode out heatwaves, ice storms, stomach bugs, and sleepless nights with newborn babies.

It went from being a house, to being our home.

When we first talked of moving—leaving the house I didn’t even want to buy–I immediately began crying. We didn’t lay the cement block foundation or raise the walls of that colonial, but we had built our home there. I had built a business there. We had built friendships there.

We had built our life there.

It takes both time and work to stake out a corner of the world and call it your own. To know it as home. To have that and choose to leave it–to uproot with a toddler and an infant and move hundreds of miles away to a new city where you know no one and your closest family is hours away—is tough.

This kind of move is different than moving to a different home in the same city or the next town over–that comes with its own set of challenges. But this kind of move, the one I’m talking about, is where you leave behind the life you know and start a new one. And this is its own kind of heartbreak.

At first it feels like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes. Like your luggage was lost and you are borrowing someone else’s sweater and pants for an unknown amount of time until yours arrive. You’re just waiting for a new house and a new town to feel like yours.

You spend the first two months learning your way around with GPS. Making mental notes of street names and landmarks. Figuring out where the good grocery stores are. Finding new doctors, pediatricians, veterinarians, hair stylists, babysitters, and dentists. You so badly want it to immediately feel like home and it’s easy to forget that “home” feeling from the place you knew before, your old home, only came with time.

Slowly, you paint a room, hang a picture, become less dependent on Google Maps. You learn to love the way the morning light creeps through the windows when you sit in your favorite chair. Then, you build a fire in the hearth when it snows. You sit on the patio on a cool spring night and look for Cassiopeia. You sit on the same patio and watch your babies run through the sprinkler on a warm summer day. You put yourself out there and meet new people. Some turn out to be people you want to see again, others turn out to be people you won’t. Some eventually become friends.

This starting over, hewing a new life from a fresh block of wood, is one of the most difficult things you will do. But it will open you up to more experiences and people than you knew a mere matter of months ago. It will force you to see the world differently, to have more empathy. It will challenge you to prioritize what is important. It will make you ache for your old home, the one that smelled like home and you already knew which floorboards creaked and what windows rattled in the wind. It will make you envious of the people who’ve never moved—the ones who’ve never had to figure out where the grocery store is, or start over from scratch with friends, or not have family close by to help out in a pinch. But ultimately, it will teach you things you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

This is for the movers. The ones who do what most others haven’t and won’t. The ones who say goodbye to one life and take their young families somewhere they’ve never been to create a new one.

It’s that young family you’re doing it for. To give them every opportunity. But it’s you who unexpectantly also ends up with new opportunities. Your circle grows, your perspective grows, you grow. It’s hard, but you do it. And finally, one morning, you wake up and realize there is more than one corner of the world that can become home.