Mad Pussy Hatter

An opportunity has fallen into my lap. In my house I refer to winter as “Knitting Season.” I pick up a project or two each year and as the weather warms up I pack the knitting back up for the year. This year has been different. This year’s knitting season has been extended.

In early January I was hearing rumblings of the Women’s March Movement that was to take place in Washington D.C. and the sister march happening locally in St. Paul, MN. I knew with the changes in our presidential administration that this march was going to be a big one and an important one for us (my daughters and I) to attend. My every intention is to raise, strong women out of those two little loves of mine! This is how it starts, no?

I had been seeing links flying around social media about The Pussy Hat Project leading up to the march and knew this was something I could get behind, as a knitter. Oh, but I didn’t have pink yarn. My friend Courtney did. We arranged a textile swap and I began knitting. I always assumed that it being called a “pussy hat” meant that we women were taking back that word, from Trumps ever so special, “grab ’em by the pussy” comment. But it is said to be named after a cat, pussy cat hat…Again I don’t know. I don’t get hung up on it too much. That hot mic tape of Trump’s “locker room talk” was the last, final, horrifying straw for me, so I choose to view the Pussy Hat as an empowering way to take back the word pussy.  But in the end, the hat is merely a symbol for women’s rights and equality.

This movement’s mission, I believe, was to be inclusive of all who identify as female. I don’t care your race, or what you got packin’ down those pants of yours. If you identify as a female (or male!) and you believe in women’s rights, join us! I am aware of the criticisms from the trans communities and from people of color regarding feeling left out. They argue, “Not all pussies are pink and not all women have pussies.” I will absolutely go with you on that one! But first, I think rather than slamming the women who wore the pink pussy hats to the Women’s March we could first stop and acknowledge the function that it served.

Based on the mission statements of both The Women’s March and The Pussy Hat Project, I do not believe there was any ill intention of exclusion of any demographic. Being in a crowd with a sea of pink hats, for me, created a sense of unity. It was  something that joined us all together both individually and collectively. All of the hats that we showed up with had a story. Being able to look out over the crowd and spot bright splashes of color that represented women demanding equality was a powerful visual for me. That said, this wasn’t a powerful image because those splashes of color were pink splashes of color. But then why use pink? Sigh. I’m not sure why that color was chosen but it is probably safe to bet that any color at all  would have caused there to be at least one demographic that would have been unhappy with the selection. I’m sure the same effect of unity and outrage would have held true had everyone been wearing green or orange or yellow or a even a goddamn shade of puce.

So I made my hat. I did it up right too, handmade needle felted patch and all! It took me weeks, when it should have taken me a few hours. The night prior to the march I made a smaller sized one for Juneau who would be riding in the backpack during the march. That way she could “match mama.” Rue would have to cope with her regular pink hat….for now.

Below is a candid picture taken of the girls by someone in the crowd. It was posted on The Women’s March Facebook Page. 

Image may contain: 2 people, hat

The Women’s March which yielded over 100,000 people in St. Paul, but afterwards life resumed to normal again. I put a lot of time into that hat of mine and it was warm as hell! I intended to rock that thing out the whole rest of the winter. But I wasn’t seeing hardly any other pussy hats around town. I began to worry, Was this whole Women’s March just a camp high for people? Where the hell are all the hats?! 

Every day for months I still got that spark of unity from others in the community. People would stop me everywhere I went, no joke (the bank, the gym, my kid’s school, grocery stores, the street, etc) to ask me about my hat.

Did you make your hat?

Did you attend the Women’s March?

These 2 most common questions would usually lead into stories about their attendance at the march, or why they couldn’t go but thanking me for going for them, etc. Never have I experienced nasty looks from the hat, only kindness. I started to notice that people were nicer to me with my hat on. Doors were held for me more often. One night I went to a club my cover charge was refused because of my magical hat!

The girls and I at The Planned Parenthood Rally in St. Paul. This time I had Rue’s hat done. She had requested a “Cotton Candy Pussy Hat.” We chose the colors and designed it together. Below is a picture of the three of us at the rally sporting our hats!

Looking for ways to get involved to support Planned Parenthood? Check in here to see what’s up!

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing, hat and outdoor

During many of these encounters with strangers, people had said, “Oh I really wish I had one of those hats too but I’m just not crafty enough. They are way too expensive online.” I thought about this over a few days. Is there a way that I can make them for cheap? Would anyone want one? The march is over so probably not…

I was standing in line at post office #3 on my quest for post card stamps as I was out post card blitzing the Senators (as the next portion of the Women’s March Movement) and I thought, I’ll just throw it out there and see what happens. Maybe like 2 people will want hats…

I wrote a quick blurb on an ap called Nextdoor. It is like a craigslist meets Facebook for your neighborhood.  On a whim I recalled I had no pink yarn, so I before heading to Michaels for supplies I would check out the thrift store across the street. They just so happened to have 3 large skeins of pink.

Thus, the Mad Pussy Hatter was born.

The project grew and took on a life of its own. By the end of that night on the day of the first ad, I had 6 orders. There was  a steady stream of orders for hats coming through. Once I slowed down, I put out a follow up ad. There was hardly a response. I thought to myself, This must be over.  It was fun while it lasted. I’ll just put one more ad up and if nothing comes of it, then I’ll never mention them again. That ad yielded 23 orders! Plus 2 customized covers for horseback riding helmets. Right? That is awfully specific, and it wasn’t for the same woman. 2 totally different women from different states! I was keeping quite busy.

Throughout the project I sorted those who wanted the traditional pink hats and those who would give me full creative reign on the projects. Those were my favorite. This is where I began to play with a variety of textures and colors. I began to ask prospective buyers to give me an adjective to describe the person for whom the hat is intended along with a color scheme. I would try to embody it within the hat so it would be more customized. This began to work out really well, and often the designs were right on the nose with the individual’s taste.

My hats began to spread by word of mouth and some have even been shipped internationally! I have hats in Germany, Australia, Canada, and France! One girl contacted me from Indiana requesting a hat before her graduation ceremony, as Mike Pence was to give the commencement address! The excitement of being part of that whole “fuck you” scenario made my whole week! She recently contacted me earlier this week to tell me she was going to be spending a year in Bosnia starting this Fall and her hat would be joining her!

When I completed the longer list I thought to myself, Well, it’s nearly June. It’s super hot out. Nobody wants to buy hats now! The LAST thing I want to do is put a hat on my head in this weather! 

I happened upon an amazing little book shop called Subtext Books in St. Paul. It matches all of my liberal/feminist values and they have an adorable, cozy little reading space. I met the owner as I was browsing. She was very friendly. I noticed there were handmade art pieces here and there splashed around the shop. I asked if she had any need for Pussy Hats. She stated that yes, she was hoping to start carrying some of those hats! She went on to say that she and her whole staff attended the Women’s March in January as a company. We discussed some news issues and set a time to re-visit in the fall about getting some hats in stock.

In the meantime I have been making and stockpiling hats for an upcoming art show in Minneapolis called Craftstravaganza. The artists for this show are hand picked by the facilitators so I will find out next week what my status will be. IF we make it in- come see me! MAD PUSSY HATTER will have a booth! I have some fun ideas and more fun designs to show off!!

If you are interested in seeing my some of my previous work check out my Mad Pussy Hatter Facebook Page.

If you have any questions or are interested in more information about what I do and what my mission is, feel free to message me through the Mad Pussy Hatter Facebook Messenger.

I am also open to ideas and “words/phrases of inspiration.”

Currently I have been drawing a word from a biscuit box and make a hat based on that word. Want to add a word to the biscuit box? Message me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2016’s Addendum-Busia

Everyone in America will agree if asked that 2016 sucked ass. David Bowie AND Prince?! What the fuck?  Donald Trump?! Really? The cosmic clouds of doom are just rolling right on in. Aside from the many other un-pleasantries of 2016 that we don’t need to rehash here, as we ALL lived them, I had some of my own arise. Devastating things. Time has marched on and I’m finally to a place where I can begin processing through some of them.

In the Spring of 2016 I lost Busia.

Busia is Polish for Grandma.

Busia was not a literal blood relative but my connection with Busia ran deeper than all of that. Busia was my babysitter as an infant. Members of the family would argue that they too were involved and yes, there is much credit due, but for the purposes of this blurb- Busia was one of my primary people in life. A true pillar.

My parents had me at a young age and were poor and struggling. Busia must have gotten a kick out of me because she often would babysit me for free or keep me for weekends at a time. there occasions where I would go on road trips with the family to larger, extended family reunions.  The whole family truly welcomed me in. Busia’s 4 children were mostly grown around the time I began coming around so I imagine I was much like the new family puppy.

My sister came along 7 years later and she also began to tag along with me to my days at Busia’s house. Busia helped facilitate my acceptance and even sometimes liking of the new little sister. Growing up I always felt like a burden to my parents. They worked a lot. They were stressed out and now, having 2 kids of my own, I can tell you- KIDS ARE A HUGE FUCKING BURDEN! I don’t hold it against them. However, I never felt like an inconvenience at Busia’s house. I was included and encouraged to try new things, even if it meant slowing the whole process down.  My mother didn’t have the time for dishes to take 20 minutes to wash instead of 5. She needed to get everything done in the quickest amount of time possible so she could make sure there was food on the table and all of the crap that goes along with being a grown up. Busia was nearing retirement. She had the 20 minutes to spare.

Over the years it became evident that Busia was my primary nurturer. She was that loving figure every kid needs. The one with unconditional love who always had a lap to climb up on and an endless supply of hugs to give. She would listen to my stories as a kid, no matter how dumb they were; she took me seriously and she never made me feel less than.

As a therapist now, I see so much value in her ability to do this. I remember telling her all about the “Swimming Club” that my neighbor friend and I had created when I was about 8 years old. It was a kiddie pool in my friend’s backyard. We decided to make it exclusive and there would be “dues” for anyone who wanted to swim. We were going to be charging an entrance fee. Primarily, this included charging my friend’s younger siblings. The charge was a McDonald’s toy or some trinket. I believe there was even once talk of a nickel…

As an adult, I can see how easy it would be to say, “Oh hell no! That is not even your pool. You can’t charge other kids to swim in their own pool. ”

Busia, understanding child development, went along with the idea. She asked me questions about my new club. She asked about the rules. She asked a bunch of ‘what if’ scenarios to get me thinking for myself about the whole idea. I didn’t leave the conversation feeling like an idiot nor did I leave thinking my swimming club was a bad idea, because I was 8 years old and there was a nickel at stake! But Busia knew these things didn’t last and the idea would blow over within a day or two, which it did. There was no need to bring me down and shatter my “I HAVE A NEW SWIMMING CLUB!!!!” mojo.

When my family moved away and out of state I was 11, soon to be 12. Busia and I promised to write one another letters. People promise this all the time, but we actually did it. For 2 decades we wrote one another letters back and forth. We discussed what was going on in our lives, with our families, etc. Every time my family went “home” to visit our extended family I would visit Busia, without fail. I know this caused some jealousy among my other relatives but I didn’t care. They didn’t know or understand the connection that Busia and I had. And besides, when given the chance, those particular relatives would have berated me for my swimming club so move aside!

When I got married, I made sure Busia was treated with as much respect and significance as a Grandmother at the wedding. This was something to which she was always delighted and  surprised. I’ll never understand why the surprise. She was one of the most important women in my life. She often told me she felt bad because she had overheard an aunt of mine being huffy about not getting a special seat at a special table while Busia did… .  I would remind her, whenever this was mentioned, she was seated right where I wanted her to be and to hell with everyone else. I think she liked hearing this.

I brought my babies for visits as they came into the world. Busia would scoop them up and oooooh and aaaaaah over them. When Ruby was so little and tiny I remember her saying, “(gasp) Oh have you ever seen such a beautiful baby?! She’s just so perfect! All babies are just perfect! And you know why? Because God made them.” She rocked little Rue and hummed to her as she always did. I described to Busia all of my new mom tales of woe and she would laugh along with me. Busia was rolling with laughter when I told her of the time I wore Ruby in a baby sling and for hours I was convinced I had just made my perfect little baby “retarded” after her head had slipped out of the carrier upon bending over to get something out of the the refrigerator.  She didn’t tell me I was being ridiculous. She simply understood.

When Juneau came along, she raved about how happy of a baby she was. Juneau was so content. She did not cry unless there was something truly wrong. Juneau could easily have won The Low Maintenance Baby of the Year Award. Busia loved both girls as she loved all kids.

Fast forward several years, my marriage was in crisis. What to do? We had both made mistakes, but I was the one that had made THE mistake. I must be the worst, most unforgivable human in the world! I cried and cried and cried. I told Busia what had happened. I hung my head and waited for the ax to fall. My friends who I had confided in, regardless of their intentions had been shaming, despite their intentions. Busia took a breath and said, “Well, these things happen. I have never done that myself, but I suppose I have probably had some false hopes or similar notions throughout my life too. Marriage is really hard work.” I froze for a moment. “…Really…? That’s it? You’re not going to judge and condemn me?” She responded, “I hope to never judge you. What good would that do? I love you.” The shock and awe that followed this conversation lasted for weeks. I expected at least some semblance of shaming, especially given the generation gap. It never came. Not from Busia.

Our letters continued. The visits continued. Every visit we would play card games and chat about life.  She would always listen. Busia had a slightly dark sense of humor. Not quite as dark as mine, but she would always laugh as the stories of catastrophe that went on in my life.

Late February of 2016 I got a phone call from the family informing me that Busia was in the hospital and she was not doing well. Busia had a sudden diagnosis of lymphoma and as going south quickly. Devastated, I dropped everything and hit the yarn store. I needed to make her a comfort shawl, quickly. I walked up and down the aisles looking for Busia-esque colors and textures that would convey my message. I wanted this shawl to elicit feelings of comfort, tranquility, peace, etc.

I turbo knit this shawl for her and hightailed it out of town to see her. In this visit, Busia taught me how to die. We talked as we always did in the hospital. She was in good spirits. She was joking around with the nurses, and we took pictures. The whole time we were smiling for our selfies she was saying, “Oh! We’re beautiful! We’re beautiful!” She smiled as I told her my intentions with her prayer shawl and as always, she listened. She then held my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You are my daughter. I’ve always thought of you as mine. I want you to know that.” I nodded through tears because I have always known that and what more was there to say? I’ve always identified as one of hers.

I cried when she asked about my marriage. I couldn’t let her leave this earth without telling me what to do. I purged all of my problems and issues. She nodded and said things like, “Yes, you always have been very affectionate, haven’t you? I remember. Hmmm… well, this is something I am definitely going to work on from the other side. Just you watch.” The more I talked the more she would add to her list of things she was going to” fix from the other side.” We chuckled about this. She then said, “You know, my problem is a whole lot bigger than yours.” While this statement may seem a bit jarring, it was true and completely shifted my perspective. Oh my God, she’s right!

We talked about how she was coping with the illness and her plans/arrangements. Busia told me she immediately planned her funeral upon hearing the news of her diagnosis. She chose who was to be involved and what their role was to be. Following Busia’s lead throughout my life, I listened as she discussed her reflections about being in the hospital, pain levels, settling her family affairs, etc.

As the visit came to a close I gave her a big hug and awkwardly said, “Well, maybe I’ll see you again next time I visit.” We both knew this was unlikely, but at the same time, we didn’t yet know the severity of her illness. I looked at her from the door and I began to tear up. She said, “No! No tears. I want you to always remember Busia with a smile on her face.” She smiled at me through tears.  I said goodbye and left the room. I cried my whole way out of the building.  At the time I thought, why can’t I cry? I am so sad. I just want to cry! Looking back I can see one hundred times over- was she ever right! The visual that I hold of her in my mind’s eye is of her smiling with that warm, loving smile she always had.

Busia passed away 2 weeks later. I returned for the funeral and much like Busia at my wedding, I was surprised to be included in the funeral services along with the family and grandchildren. The comfort shawl that I had made for her while she was in the hospital was returned to me. I was also given a necklace and bracelet set that Busia had designed for herself at some point. All the women of the family were wearing a piece of jewelry and the family felt it was important that I be included in that.

I wear that jewelry set whenever I want to “bring Busia” along with me places. She loved dancing, so I will often bring her out clubbing with me. As for the comfort shawl, anytime I’m feeling low or need a hug or something to curl up and cry into, I pull out Busia’s shawl. When I began knitting the comfort shawl for Busia, I knew it would be a therapeutic way for me to cope with the loss as well offer her comfort during a difficult transition.

It has now been over a year. I still think of her all the time. I still wrap up in in my shawl when I need to and I still don the jewelry when Busia needs a field trip. When I go back “home” to visit I make visiting her grave as much of a priority as my in person visits were.

Last Spring I had to return home for more awful circumstances. I was dreading the visit. I made that long, boring drive through Iowa by myself. I had stopped, bought dinner and I went straight to the cemetery. I couldn’t bear to deal with my relatives quite yet. They are nothing like Busia.  I laid out my music festival blanket and sat down to eat my pizza with Busia.

I then went on my autopilot rambling aloud to myself mode:

‘God that was a long ass drive. Whew, this weekend is gonna suck. I am not looking forward to seeing these people. At. All. Hey Busia! How’s it going? I’ve been busy as you know. Uuugh…this is dumb…Busia is closer to me when I’m running around doing my regular activities than she is here at the cemetery… oh man…i’m SO STIFF!!!’

I then look up to see Busia’s headstone and realize the dark irony of those words.  I laugh aloud, knowing that Busia probably just got a kick out of that one too.

Image may contain: 2 people

Here we are “Being Beautiful!”

I love you Busia! I think of you so much!

Cycle of Life

This was a spoken word piece that I wrote as part of Spinning Stories. A storytelling event that is done progressively by bike throughout the Twin Cities.

You should google it. It’s awesome.

12065792_10153656902689784_2022046971739754542_n
 I took my first acting class when i was 8 years old. At the time I had no idea that i was embarking on a lifelong journey into the awkward world of theater. My earliest memory of the class involved an exercise where everyone was to act like a tree. The instructor told the roomful of 8 year olds to grow like a tree. Everyone reached up and stretched as high as they could.  We were told that our tree was suddenly being hit by a large gust of wind. The class began to wave their leafy hands in the fake breeze. Next, the instructor said, “Ok. Now your tree is being cut down.” Everyone in the class began to slowly lean and bend over. This time it seemed nobody knew what to do, It seemed that no one in the class wanted to stand out by being the first to hit the creaky, hollow sounding wood floor, myself included. This part of the exercise seemed to go on forever. There were kids all over the room straining and contorting themselves tighter and tighter in half until one brave boy let his tree body collapse onto the echoic wood floor with a loud thump. Once he went down, the rest of the class quickly followed suit with one collective BOOM! I so clearly remember the feeling of not wanting to be different or stand out from my peers. 8 year old Brenda just wanted to blend in.

I stayed interested in theater as I grew up, and around the age of 15 I heard about improv. A friend took me to Comedy Sportz for a night of improv. The scenes that night were very short and the actors just went for easy laughs.  I decided that improv was definitely not for me.

Years passed, I finished college, and without even thinking about it I completely let the theater side of me drop. I got married, and found a full time job. Everything seemed like it was going perfectly.

But a year later I was faced with a cancer scare. I had a spot on my arm that was identified as a malignant melanoma that required surgery to be sure that the cancer had not spread to my internal organs.  Shortly after I had recovered from surgery, I saw an ad for a flight attendant open house for some company I had never heard of. It sounded a little fishy but I was unemployed, so I had all the time in the world.  And anyway, I had just been through a mortality crisis and decided it was time to live a little.

After a grueling process, I was hired and began adventuring all over the world. I was out of the US for 3 weeks each month. I lived from one layover to the next. I never spent money on food when I could use it for sightseeing or buying things from foreign flea markets. I became the queen of sleeping on airplanes and surviving on powdered soups, granola bars, and microwaved popcorn. I would stay awake for 35 hours at a time to go sightseeing on exhausted, shaky legs after working a long flight. I was tired and hungry, but I was having the time of my life.

But my husband did not like my job. He said I was gone too much and that our marriage didn’t feel much like a marriage anymore and he was right. Still, I was heartbroken. I was forced to choose between my dream job and my husband. I chose him. I agreed that I would begin looking for jobs locally. And I did, half-heartedly.

It was not long before I was offered the dreaded position in Corporate America. My income would be more than double what it was as a flight attendant and they were very willing to negotiate time off with me. I wrestled with the idea of a morning commute, doing housework, and worst of all sitting in a goddamn cubicle for 40 hours per week. I worked wholeheartedly to talk myself out of taking the position. The thought of being home all of the time made me bitter and angry. I was going to leave a lifestyle that I had come to love. And to do what? Stay home and do laundry? But I still couldn’t turn it down. Fuck.

I decided that the only way to survive now was to lean into the transition rather than to resist it. I quit my life as an adventurer and decided to find ways to bring adventure to me. One night after work, I called the BNW to inquire about classes. I had been to some of their student shows, and even though I wasn’t impressed by the acting I admired the performers. The way they just went for it, whatever it was. It looked so liberating, and fun as hell. The voice over the phone said to me, “Well, we have an entry level class starting tonight that still has spots available if that works for you.” I told the man on the phone that I would see him in an hour.

I began taking improv classes and found that I was right, it was a lot of fun. I realized that it was also a lot more difficult than it looked because to do improv, you have to be able to let your tree body fall without hesitation in front of a bunch of strangers. That is a tough skill to learn when you are used to feeling sort of shy and self-conscious about everything. 25 year old Brenda still wanted to blend in.

My husband and I had always talked about the idea of having kids. By now we had a house and Tony Danza, our little furry white asshole of a dog. If we could handle these responsibilities with grace, the next obvious step would be to have a baby, right?

We had a conversation that went as follows:

“So, let’s talk about having a baby. I’m not ready for all of that. Are you?”

“Mmmmm…not really.”

“OK. So it’s settled then. No baby. Let’s table it for another year.”

“Agreed. But we’re gonna need a binding handshake to seal the deal.”

“Oh, good call!”

That was easy. Except that at the time of that hand shake, I was already pregnant. The irony of that moment has never been lost on me.

Only a few weeks prior to this conversation I was sandboarding in Dubai. I was just out in the world learning first hand that sand boarding sounds way more fun than it actually is. I’m not proud to admit that it never once occurred to me that the sand in the middle of the dessert would be really fucking hot to fall on. Nor did I think about the inevitable tar and feathers situation that would occur with each sweaty fall. These details were the very extent of my worries in life, until now. Suddenly I was going to have to be someone’s fucking mom!

I did not tell my improv classmates about the pregnancy. I didn’t want to be known as “that pregnant girl” because I still couldn’t identify as such nor would it help me to blend in. I wanted a chance to socialize as a person and not be written off as some human vessel, which was how I had viewed pregnancy prior to becoming pregnant myself. At the end of my first course we were instructed to write our names on the walls somewhere in the classroom. It was tradition. So I found a spot on the wall that I liked and quietly wrote, Brenda Kaye Quinn Atkins and her embryo, 2008. My classmates didn’t notice and I didn’t point it out, but the baby did take the class with me so it only seemed right to give it mini artist royalties.

As months passed, I would find myself physically stuck in certain scenes because I couldn’t get up and out of the way quick enough due to my big pregnant belly. So I had to accept the fact that now I was “that pregnant girl.” There was no more hiding it. I didn’t want to be recognized for my pregnancy because in my mind, at the time, it represented the foreboding doom of my free spirited nature. But anyway, I wasn’t going to be pregnant forever.

I had my daughter Ruby in the Spring of 2009. I could no longer take improv classes because I was a new mom and I was so tired. It’s one thing to be up for extended periods of time adventuring, but a whole other when it is one never ending period of sleep deprivation. I tried as best as I could to stay in the theater world. I would wear Ruby in a sling and bring her with me into the crowded theater that smelled of body odor  and mold. We would make our way to a seat near the door, just in case she began to cry during the show. I would snuggle her close to me, inhaling that sweet, sweet baby smell from the top of her little baby head. I always took great care to squeeze her tight and cover her tiny ears at the sound of laughter and applause so as not to startle her awake.

The following Spring I found myself unemployed again. Layoffs. I decided to use my newfound time off to pursue school further. I began caring for Ruby full time and taking full semesters of graduate work. On the days that I didn’t have school I would take Ruby to library storytimes, playdates, and community parenting classes. I was trying hard to fit into the mold of what a “good mom” was supposed to look like. This only left a bad taste in my mouth. I suspect it was because Ruby and I were attending groups during the daytime hours, hours that only stay at home moms could attend, but it seemed that this demographic of women prided themselves on their dedication to cloth diapers, homemade, organic baby food, and Dora the Explorer. If asked about hobbies or professional goals I seemed to be the outlier of the bunch, because I had some. Too many times I would marvel at how these women seemed to function living entirely for their kids. I needed an identity outside of my mommy duties and it soon became clear that I would be one of the “good moms.”  And so even despite my relatively flexible grad school schedule, my dance card was full with Mommy and Me activities. I didn’t have any extra time to dedicate to theatrical endeavors. For now the extent of my performing art was exaggerated eye rolling, deep breathing, and bitter grunting in the car while trying to decompress after spending a few hours with “good moms.”

As my graduate studies came to a close, I was pregnant again, on purpose this time.

During my long sabbatical from improv I began to realize how important of an outlet it was for me. It helped manage my stress. Whenever I come across individuals who are not familiar with what improv is, I tell them “Improv is play therapy for adults.”

I decided that for my own sanity I needed to bust back into the improv scene. As I was beginning my re-entry into the world of theater, The BNW was in the midst of making a transition of its own. The theater that housed my memories, memories of attending my first improv class, finding my spot on the wall and signing my name, speed waddling on stage with my peers during my first pregnant performance, snuggling my sweet baby girl in the crowds, that space was no longer going to exist. My signature along with hundreds of others’ that littered the walls were going to be lost. The BNW was moving locations to a space downtown. Before the official move there was to be one more show, my show.

My husband was planning to bring our girls to the final show at the Uptown location but got sick and was no longer able to bring them. I felt that it was important for Ruby to be a part of this final performance so, I invited her to come with me. She gladly accepted.

Ruby is a shy girl. From time to time she would giggle as my group began our warm up exercises, but mostly she observed silently. As showtime neared I ushered Ruby to her seat. She sat front and center. I sat down next to her and explained that she was going to sit tight and watch while “Mommy went on stage to pretend with her friends.” Ruby nodded her head and agreed to stay put.

As I ran up on stage I glanced at my beautiful little blond lady sitting tall in her seat, legs stretched out in front of her as she was too short for the chair. I smiled at her introduced my group and asked for an audience suggestion to get started. It was a solid performance. The audience responded well to our set and with every scene that I was in, I could hear my little girl laughing a few feet from the stage. During that show, hers was the only laugh that I heard, the only one that mattered. As our set came to a close, everyone ran off stage while I quietly stepped down to sit front and center in the crowd with my girl.

As the next set began and the lights adjusted, Ruby snuggled into my arms and watched attentively as my peers on stage performed. For the first time we laughed together at the scenes unfolding before us. At times she would suddenly look up at me with surprise on her face, showing off that cute little nose wrinkle that appears when she smiles her big smile (she got that from me) and burst into laughter. She was snuggled close to me just like when she was a baby, only now she was sitting in her own chair. Ruby was 5 at the time and while she was well accustomed to hearing dark, slightly warped, and often vulgar humor at home, she was still too young to understand all of the absurdities on stage. As I held her next to me I watched her watching the show. She would roar with laughter at the physical humor that was taking place in front of her even if she didn’t understand the punchline. This little girl, my little girl, was at an improv show…And she was enjoying it!

My next show was to take place at the BNW’s new location. This time around Ruby would be home asleep. I really could have used her lucky blond head that night because I bombed the performance. Hard. I felt a lot of pressure to do well because I knew I had family and friends in the audience. I kept thinking that if people were trekking in all the way from the suburbs to see me, the least I could do was be funny. No matter how much I tried to let go and to have fun. I still choked. I told myself to just let my tree body fall but I couldn’t do it. I bombed.

Lately I have come to realize that, much like improv, life is fluid and unpredictable. And it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, or how hard you’ve practiced, because in the end it all just sort of happens – good or bad, and you roll with it. Because life will always be filled with struggle; like the horrors of childbirth, or the slow, steady hell of 40 hours a week in corporate america, or like performing in a show where all your jokes fall flat. I have also come to realize that lending in is not the point either. 31 year old Brenda has been learning to let her freak flag fly, but like everything it is a process.

Sometimes the best moments are the ones that surprise you, just like improv. Like when you take a job on a whim and end up travelling the world. Or the first time your newborn baby stirs awake, when you realize there are so many different kinds of adventures. Or when you have a great improv set, and your beautiful little girl is sitting in the front row, and there’s nowhere else in the world you’d rather be, sand dunes be damned.

Float On

Rock the Garden, 2015

Rock the Garden, 2015

Rock the Garden is an annual two day outdoor concert event that happens each summer in Minneapolis. It is held at the Walker Art Center on the hill across from the sculpture garden. My husband and I attend each year. This year my sister attended for the first time with her friend Sarah. We staked our claim and made our home at the top of the hill. My sister and Sarah went to explore while I spread out on my ultra-tacky picnic blanket. As I was sitting there I met Kevin. Kevin was a guy in his 30’s who was attending the concert solo and was intrigued by my gaudy blanket. Kevin was a free spirited bloke who joined our group. He came and went throughout the various sets. You would see Kevin blowing up his smuggled-in balloons when he wasn’t standing on his head at random, and somewhat inappropriate times. As day one came to a close we all agreed to meet up at the same general spot on the hill for day two. After having dealt with public transportation for day one of the event, I vowed that regardless of how baldly my Sunday morning kickboxing workout whooped my butt, I was still going to ride my bike the 5 or 6 miles to the concert.

On Sundays I typically do a 2 hour kickboxing workout and this Sunday was no different. After my gym time, I sped home to ice my knees and refuel with a quick lunch. I was feeling pretty relaxed after punching my aggressions out and decided not to rush to the concert. I told myself, today I am going to just let the day unfold however it will. I’m sure my ultra-laid back attitude was a mishmash of not having to worry about kids, as they were with grandparents for the weekend, feeling tuckered out from my morning workout, and all of the THC left in my system from day one of the show. Regardless, starting my day out with this mantra was the best thing I could have done for myself because had I been in another mindset my day would have been ruined.

At least for a while.

Last fall I put the key to my bike lock in a safe place for the winter. Of course, that safe place was a bit too safe as I have yet to locate the damn thing. Because my lock was so expensive, I have not given up hope that I will find the key. In the meantime I bought a cheap lock from Target that broke before I had even opened the package. I decided to stop at the Walgreens down the street to buy another lock on my way to the show. They didn’t have any.

Ok. Small setback.

I decided to go a bit further down the street to a bike shop and pick one up there. Just as I was pulling up to the bike shop and read the sign that said “Closed” I heard POP! What the hell was that? I got off my bike and saw that my back tire now had a big, gaping hole in it. My options now were to walk my bike home or walk my bike to another bike shop to get the tire fixed and buy a new lock. Either way it was going to be about a mile and a half. I opted for the repair shop. I walked my poor bike in the hot sun, with sweat rolling down my back. It was unpleasant but not unbearable. As I waited for my bike repairs to be complete I reminded myself, today is my day and I’m gonna let it roll. As I was looking at the bike locks with an exceptionally friendly salesperson Modest Mouse began playing on the overhead speakers. “I’m going to see these guys tonight,” I told him. One hour and fifty dollars later, I was ready to roll out. I arrived at the concert an hour late but in good spirits.

Alas, I have arrived.

I laid in the sun soaking in the music and energy that was humming all around me. A few hours later Kevin arrived. We asked where he had been and he stated that he “needed to take the day off.” Kevin did not disappoint, however, as he had stolen a bunch of balloons from the K-Mart down Lake Street. We now had all of our contraband in one spot.

Day One: Belle and Sebastian with Kevin's balloon!

Day One: Belle and Sebastian with Kevin’s balloon

As Modest Mouse came on stage we began to blow up the balloons and decorate them. I briefly thought about how to design my first balloon and decided to write FLOAT ON across it. Kevin only had one Sharpie with him so we all took turns. The people around us joined in. I had developed a sort of launching system with them for sending the balloons down the hill. Our pacing for the launch was in conjunction with the copious amounts of weed that we were smoking. Rock the Garden tends to be a family friendly event, so for added discretion we exhaled into the balloons and tied them tightly, before sending them down the hill towards the stage. Once the balloons were all launched Kevin and I stood up to watch the migration while dancing around blithely. At that moment I remember feeling simultaneously grounded and free. As I watched the balloons bounce across the crowd I thought about how my journey to the show had begun and how that journey paralleled with the migration of our weed balloons. It seemed silly to try controlling the direction of the balloons because in attempting to control them you would be unable to appreciate the enigmatic beauty of their journey. Our weed balloons were all going to end up at their destination, regardless of the path they took.

They just floated on.

As the concert came to an end we all parted ways. I never did get Kevin’s contact information. I have a feeling that if I am meant to see him again, I will. The ride home began similarly to how it had started, with me walking my bike along the greenway. Only this time I was walking my bike until I regained confidence in my large motor skills. After a while I was ready to give it a whirl. Here goes. I wonder if anyone has ever gotten a DUI on a bicycle before. I chuckled to myself at the thought of being pulled over by a bicycle cop and imagined how that scenario might play out. As I mounted my bike I knew that one way or another I would get home alright.

Alas, I would arrive.

Stickin’ It To The Man

I awake to a sound of a plastic bag tearing followed by the soft sound of spillage. Groggily I mutter, “What the hell was that?” I grope around for my glasses and as my eyes adjust I discover that Juneau is orange, like a little Oompa Loompa. Her face is plastered with artificial cheese and her sticky little hands are making prints all over my bed sheets. “Aaaaaaahhhh! RUUUUUUUEEE! Will you please go get me the broom, honey?!” I yell this from my bed as I have just awoken to Juneau spilling a bag of cheesy popcorn all over my bedroom floor. I salvage whatever popcorn I can, give it to Juneau with instructions to go away while I ‘tween up’ her mess. I begin to sweep the floor. My bladder full, my feet have not yet touched down, and I’m doing housework.

When Ruby was a baby and all the way into toddler-hood my husband and I were great parents. We followed through on our rules and were always consistent in addressing behaviors that we considered inappropriate. When Juneau came, she tipped the scales. Currently, Juneau is in the danger zone of becoming a total brat. I for one, am really fucking tired. And I am fully aware that my parenting has become a bit lax as a result. My days are busy and full. Every hour feels double booked. I have a rigorous kickboxing schedule, a job, a house to maintain (at least in theory), and 2 small kids that have to eat once in a while. By the time it is all said and done, my follow through for things like don’t jump on the couch or get off the table is poor to say the least. It doesn’t help that Juneau seems to be fully aware of the fact that my husband and I are so burnt out. The little vampire feeds on it.

I’m not going to lie, I adore her tenacity and her ‘screw you rules’ attitude. When I look back, I can see that as I was growing up it was valued in my family to be able to think freely and question everything, including authority. My dad has always steered his motorcycle around ‘Do Not Enter’ signs and generally marched to the beat of his own drum. As long as you don’t get caught or hurt, it’s all good. If in the unfortunate event that you do get caught or hurt, then you will just have to face the consequences, sometimes learn from them and move on. My mother takes down customer service representatives for the mere sport of it. Well, I’m sorry Linda. I talked to your co-worker Steve on March 3rd at 11:15 am and he told me I would only be billed 20 dollars. …Well, that sounds like his mistake then, doesn’t it? I’m not going to pay another 10 bucks because I was given the wrong information. Who is your supervisor? I’m gonna to need to speak with her because I don’t have time for this… The woman doesn’t quit. She almost always ends up with free services or comes out ahead somehow.

While these traits may be considered “antisocial” to some of the more rule abiding individuals, I have found that they serve a person well in life. I do not get walked on, and Juneau sure as hell doesn’t either. I am proud of this, when I am not in her line of fire. However, I am Juneau’s mother so I am always in her line of fire. Juneau thinks she is the alpha female in the house. I find her bold spirit both beautiful and frustrating as hell.

When Juneau doesn’t get her way there is always protest. At times there is even protest when she does get what she wants, but because she didn’t initiate getting it, a power struggle ensues. What keeps me from wanting to drop kick her off of a cliff is that she has my mannerisms, so I recognize her struggle. “Juneau! Go get your sockies we’re gonna go!” The mere request that she retrieve her socks elicits what I call the Mommy-Juneau slouch. The Mommy-Juneau slouch starts with a forward rounding of the shoulders. The knees take on a slight bend as if the body has suddenly become weighted down. At this point the chin comes up while the head tilts back to better accent the look of pure, unadulterated discontent that comes across the face. Often a growl or groan will accompany this posture along with an outburst to the affect of, “Aaahhiiiiiiiii don’t WANNA!” The difference between myself and Juneau is that Juneau will then drop to the floor and bang her head, while I do not. I have bad knees and a tender scalp.

When mornings come in our house it is at an ungodly hour. Ruby is big enough to help Juneau out in the mornings, if needed, and for the most part they play together nicely. The one downside to this is the junk food breakfasts that the girls seem to have become accustomed to. Ruby has mastered climbing the up onto the counter tops to locate the junk food shelf in the kitchen. This junk food often finds its way into my bed one way or another. What am I laying on?! Rice Chex? We don’t even have Rice Chex! 

These consequences are unpleasant, but I accept this reality as a trade off for my getting a few more minutes of sleep in the mornings. I deal with my cheesy linens and move on. It’s all good.

New Year Resolved

I have hopes for 2015. I wouldn’t say they are high hopes after the year that I have had but they are hopes nonetheless. I was recently talking to one of my oldest friends about 2014. I was telling her that 2014 had been the most difficult year of my life. I told her that despite all of the pain and general despair that 2014 brought, I can say that I learned a lot about myself as a person and about  what I want out of life. It’s almost as if all of the bad things that happened were necessary for growth to happen. I asked her, “Why does growth have to be so painful? And don’t give me that whole butterfly emerging from a cocoon bullshit.” She laughed and responded, “I don’t know. I guess if it doesn’t hurt then it doesn’t give you a strong enough incentive grow.” I will admit, this response was disappointing. I thought my friend (who I have always revered as my wisest friend) would have had a more profound answer. But maybe it is that simple. I have to learn from my mistakes and take control of how I am going to proceed with life.

I was coming home from work around 5pm on New Year’s Eve and I still had no plans for celebrating. I have 2 kids so my celebrating is pretty limited. I stopped at my neighborhood Walgreens to get a snack and based on the very limited selection, I was apparently spending New Year’s Eve like everyone else in South Minneapolis, eating ice cream in my fat pants. Only there wasn’t any good ice cream left. I sighed and thought, Damn it! Now what am I going to binge on tonight? …Oh, but wait, is that a single solitary cookie dough left down there on the bottom? It appears so! Ok knees be damned, I’m going in! In order to retract the last pint, I had to contort into position and reach shoulder deep into the freezer, baring a good 1-2 inches of butt crack. I thought to myself, Well, if 2014 left me with any dignity at all, it’s definitely gone now.

2014 put me through the ringer but it made me stronger and far less likely to put up with pettiness. My New Year’s resolution is not having to do with weight loss, or saving money, or running a marathon. My New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to be more assertive in going after what I want in life and not allowing myself to become side tracked by tertiary obligations.

 

Improv Your Parenting

untitled (26)

My Doula Oblongata (and her embryo), 2008 is what reads on a small section of one of the dank classroom walls of The Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis. It is a tradition for students to write their names on the classroom walls after completing their first performance and over the years, the signatures began of take on a life of their own. The Brave New Workshop is a comedy theater in Minneapolis that has hosted thousands of performers over many decades. Recently the historical building was sold and the theater company has moved to the theater district in downtown Minneapolis. As the theater began the process of moving, many were disappointed that all of the signatures could not be moved with it. There have been attempts to keep this piece of nostalgia by making new things for people to sign like a couple of stage doors that will be moved to the new theater. There was matted picture frame that people were asked to sign as a memory of the historical stage space but everyone knows nothing can replace the real thing. A new chapter is beginning and an old one is closing for The Brave New Workshop along with all of those who became a part of it.

In a way, I feel as though things have come full circle regarding my experience with this theater. I came to The Brave New Workshop during a time of a transition in my life. I was leaving my “adventure job” as an international flight attendant and starting another position in a corporate office of an insurance company. I knew I needed to find ways to get involved in Minneapolis. Improv was going to be my distraction from the fact that my favorite job in the world was over. During the months leading up to the departure from my flight attending gig, I would occasionally take in a dollar improv show. It gave me something to do around town while I was back in the country. I usually left feeling morosely unimpressed. Most times, as an audience member, I would have already thought of a joke or scene direction that the actors were about to make before they seemed to. I thought that if I could think of this stuff on the fly then it certainly couldn’t be all that hard to do. I did not respect improv as an art form much back then. However, I did think it looked fun as hell.

One night after work at my new crappy office job that I was still bitter about accepting, I decided to call and find out about improv classes. When I called I discovered that there was a class starting for beginners that night and it still had openings. I told the man on the phone that I would see him in an hour. I quickly ate my dinner and set out to learn how to do improv. I was right. It was fun as hell!

A couple of weeks into my new class, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was in shock and honestly, really bitter about it. I did not want a baby. I had just been sand-boarding down the dunes in Dubai like 2 weeks ago, and now I’m supposed to be a fucking mom? I did not tell my classmates that I was pregnant. I needed more time to just be me without being “that pregnant girl.” I had time before I would start to show anyway. As my first class came to a close,  I quietly selected my spot and wrote my name on the wall. Still I had not told my classmates about the pregnancy, and nobody had noticed what I had written. It was still my secret.  I included my embryo in the signature because, well, we took the class together. This baby was a part of me now and at that time so was improv.

Time passed and I began doing improv as “that pregnant girl” because there was no hiding my belly anymore. I remember getting into scenes that would be slightly physical and then having trouble getting up and out of the way because I was awkward and pregnant. Now I am just awkward.

In the spring of 2009 my Ruby was born. I took a session off from my improv classes to recover but was soon back at it. I stayed a part of the theater scene as best as I could with the baby. I would often wear Ruby in her sling while sitting in the theater, covering her little baby ears when the laughter and/or applause would get too loud. She would sleep against my chest as I would hold her close, smelling the top of her little head as I watched the show.

Eventually, Ruby became too old to be taking to 10 o’clock shows and I slowly backed out of the theater life. I continued taking classes but I could no longer go see shows. Occasionally when I would have a performance my husband or sister would bring Ruby along to watch. Sometimes my sister would drop Ruby off with me after the performance before she headed home. Ruby would come to the classroom downstairs and sit through the post-performance notes. Once, one of my classmates wanted to hold her. While Ruby was being held, she squirmed and fell.  My little lady fell down and bumped her head on a chair metal chair. It sounded like she was ringing a gong. The great baby dropping incident occured in the same classroom that had ‘our’ signature on the wall. My friend felt awful. I just laughed.

Months later, life became too busy for me to continue spending time on extracurricular activities. I was staying home with Ruby most of the time, working part time, and going to graduate school. There wasn’t room for improv anymore. I had “grown up” things to take care of. I completed my masters degree and shortly thereafter had another baby. I thought that I was busy before, but I sure felt overwhelmed upon the arrival of baby Juneau. During my long sabbatical from improv I began to realize how important of an outlet it was for me. It helped managed my stress. Whenever I come across individuals who are not familiar with what improv is, I tell them “Improv is play therapy for adults.”

A couple of months ago I decided that for my own sanity I needed to bust back into the improv scene. I took a refresher course and joined a performance rotation. My refresher course was coming to a close just as the performance rotation was beginning. I was scheduled to have a show on Thursday and Friday nights. Thursday night was our performance class showcase. It was the last show that would be performed on the historical Brave New Workshop stage. Friday night was to be the first show in the new space. For some reason, this feels significant.

My husband was going to bring the girls to see the Thursday night show. It is closer to our house and we wouldn’t have to worry about parking downtown with 2 little ones. Unfortunately, my husband got sick and could not attend. He was not going to be able to bring the girls after all. I felt that it was important for Ruby to be a part of the historical theater’s final performance so I invited her anyway. She gladly accepted.

My class arrived early to warm up and choose a structure for our showcase. Ruby sat quietly and watched as we did our warm ups and goofed off. She would quietly giggle from time to time but she is a shy girl so she mostly sat quietly and soaked it all in. As show time began to approach I ushered Ruby to her seat. She sat front and center. I explained to her that she was going to watch while Mommy went on stage “to pretend with her friends.” Ruby agreed to stay put.

My set was first. As I ran up on stage I glanced at my beautiful little blond lady sitting in her seat. I smiled at her and my group began our show. It was a solid performance. The audience responded well to our set and in every scene that I was in, I could hear my little girl laughing a few feet from the stage. During that show, hers was the only laugh that I heard. Our set came to a close. As everyone ran off stage I quickly stepped down to sit front and center with my girl.

As the next set began and the lights adjusted, Ruby snuggled into my arms and watched attentively. We laughed together at the scenes unfolding before us. At times she would suddenly look up at me with surprise on her face, showing off that cute little nose wrinkle that appears when she smiles (she got that from me) and burst into laughter. It was one of our more magical evenings that I hope to remember forever. It felt like old times with a twist, she was snuggled close to me much like when she was a baby only this time she was a more cognizant of what was happening on stage. At the closing of the second set Ruby and I, once again, went to listen to the post-performance notes that my instructor had taken. Ruby sat on my lap as we listened to the instructor’s feedback, just like years before, only this time she was not dropped on her head.

For the Friday night performance, I knew I had friends and family coming to see me perform. This time around Ruby would be home sleeping, but I could have used her that night because in this performance I bombed. Hard. I laugh about it and say “Well, you can’t kill it on a Thursday and expect great things on a Friday.” Don’t get me wrong, a shitty performance is never fun. But the night that I nailed it was the night that my baby was in the audience. As I signed the stage door that Thursday night, the one to be moved to the new theater space, I was tempted to sign My Doula Oblongata (and her kindergartener) 2014.

imagesSP55OUBL