Dance mom.

I used to make a living designing graphics and websites back in the 90s. As a playwright who often needed to create her own promo materials, it was a very handy skill. I totally enjoyed doing it, and I still leap at the chance to dust off the ol’ vector program excuse oh OK I am I need to OK sorry I’m in 20C 20 we’re in 21C OK needs an I’ll aisle seat it’s a who ha situation it’s like Tetris

[i was proofreading this while boarding a plane when a row of folks realized they were in the wrong seats, one of which was mine… I accidentally hit the microphone button and now I can’t bring myself to delete our convo]

Anyway. These days I leap at the chance to design stuff. Even when no one asks me to. The last thing I designed was an ID logo for my son’s Irish dancing gear (I was on deadline and fighting it as usual). I made stickers, labels, iron-ons, vinyl patches…

… and I also designed T-shirts with cheeky phrases only Irish dancers would find funny.

Last Wednesday my 10-year-old reported that after four years of lessons twice a week and multiple competitions per year, he was done. I was crushed. Partially because I spent all that time on his design– which, by the way, is not something any other dancers have and is frankly kind of weird– but also, I loved being a dance mom. I loved traveling to hotels the night before, ordering room service at 6am, suiting my kid up in his sharp purple tie and crunchy precise hair, then heading down to the lobby and getting sucked into a swarm of glittered lip-sticked curly-wigged pre-teens smacking their heavy heels together to the music in their earbuds.

And while the multiple conference rooms stuffed with underslept parents fretting over their tense tanned children can get a little JESUS CHRIST, THIS IS FUN FOR LITERALLY NO ONE, WHAT ARE WE DOING, all that pre-performance thrill/terror/fuss is exactly what got me addicted to theatre years ago. At the time I didn’t understand that even a successful career in theatre involves long stretches where none of this is readily accessible. No performances. No opening nights. No pre-show jitters. Just dogged determination and heavy emotional labor that often has very little payoff. But even if I had known, I believe I woulda gotten myself sucked into the swarm. An addict is an addict.

My son also seemed to enjoy all the lobby chaos, and he loved the performance aspect. But he hated the oppressive grueling nature of competitive dancing– especially in a genre where technique is favored over expression. So he pulled the plug, and I almost did that old-school parent thing where you demand your child stick with something in order to build character. “You can’t keep quitting things just because you don’t like doing them.” Except actually, yeah, that’s exactly when you should quit: when the thing you used to love starts digging holes in you that it will never re-fill.

I don’t feel that way about theatre. Not yet, anyway.

In the meantime, what do I do with all the branded materials?

(answer: take pictures)

Spastic avenues.

I started this one-sided internet conversation thing (for some reason I have trouble calling it a blog—I think it makes me feel retro in a bad way) ’cause I needed to take a break from a certain kind of writing. Also I’d started jotting down notes for a memoir that would address some of the repercussions of toxic masculinity on a traditional family structure. (Mine.) I began to experiment with the use of the long-form personal essay as a lens through which to view/make sense of this awkward um “culturual moment” let’s call it.

But I have a new job now. So this conversation may become a little more spare.

(Or not?)

I’ve always been prolific-ish, but not ambitious in the traditional sense: I’m not running toward a goal. My productivity is characteristically clench-jawed and panic-fueled. Even while medicated, I can’t seem to un-trigger my fight-or-flight response. And unfortunately, the act of running from is often more chaotic than the act of running toward.  When you see the thing you want up ahead, you’re locked in. But if the thing behind you is bigger than the thing ahead of you,  you will run in a million different directions to get away from it.

The upside of the wild scramble down spastic avenues is that it often yields unexpected treasures. Perhaps you’ll discover how to make a cat litter ventilation system. Or begin an amateur woodworking club. Or design an extraordinarily complex and visually arresting Halloween costume. Or embark upon a professional fitness career at your local studio. Or start drawing again. Or draft long-form personal essays for your one-sided Internet whatever to use as a whatever whatever.

And by the time you finally sit down to write something career-related, you may feel raw and burned and beaten and out of breath… but hey, new coffee table!

A coffee table I made while on deadline.

All this is to say. I have a job and I’m trying to run towards it, so one or more of my spastic avenues may have to close for a bit. It might be this convo. It might be the woodworking club. It might be my new sewing machine habit that threatens to send me down a dark crafting rabbit hole.

Either way. You’ll know which when you receive a link to my new Etsy store.

A T-shirt I made Monday night.

(I don’t have an Etsy store.)


Reference point.

“I’m drawing again.”

This is what I tell people when I show them what I’ve been working on. It suggests I was a draw-er once, a long time ago. Which is a lie. I never drew. I can’t freehand. I never studied as an adult. I didn’t go to school for it. As a kid I took art lessons from a woman around the corner and that’s it.

My sister had–has–an incredible natural ability. Hence the lessons. We’d get dropped off at our neighbor’s every week along with a few other local kids. Our teacher had us practice very basic concepts. Perspective. Negative space. Color theory. She had a lovely blond freckled son who was slightly older than me, who I daydreamed about kissing waaaay more than I daydreamed about perspective.

One time the woman asked us to replicate a Picasso sketch of a seated man. We had to keep the sketch turned upside down. As we worked, the blond freckled boy popped in and asked his mom to cut a tag off his clothes. He lifted his shirt and I nearly passed out because I have this reaction to impossibly beautiful people lifting their shirts but whatever that’s a totally treatable condition, but at any rate I don’t remember if my sister even looked up. She was absorbed in her work. Her drawing turned out exactly like the Picasso. Mine looked like a half-melted church candle.

I thought she was better than me because she was older. So I got older. Then I thought she was better because she was more focused. So I got focused. But I never caught up. She was always better. I didn’t have a visual imagination like she did. She could sketch out a perfect eyeball without ever looking at one. I could not.

I didn’t give up art right away. I thought maybe I’d do better if she wasn’t sitting right next to me. I quit lessons, and when I got to high school I signed up for an art elective and tried my hand at oil painting. I found a reference photo in an old travel magazine from the stack by the wall. The photo was an attractive still-life of a vase, bathed in warm Mediterranean light, with crisp blue glints down the sides of the glass. I planned to treat my painting as an exercise in color theory and perspective.

But when my brush hit the canvas, the painting became a living thing. I felt its breath. I spoke its language. I felt nervous when I touched it. I got excited when I walked into the room and saw it waiting for me. I wondered with a full heart what the future would hold for us both. Each time my brush lay another stripe of color onto its surface, I felt like I learned something about myself and the world. I painted slowly, with relish. I didn’t want the discovery process to end.

But one day I walked into the art room and my reference photo was missing. I dug though every garbage can. I flipped through the magazines again and again. I would’ve done a frantic Google search but the Internet had not yet been invented. I panicked as I stared at my painting. The flowers, the glass, and part of the tablecloth were done, but the background remained unshaded and the chair in the corner was still just a vague charcoal sketch. I felt completely unmoored. I couldn’t finish it without the photo. I didn’t know how.

After that, I quit art completely. I found writing instead. I became my own reference. The practice was a lot more anxiety-ridden and fraught and tormented and gouging than painting had been, and required me to hunker down inside myself with a flashlight and agitate my own contents with a centrifuge-like intensity and record what I found glinting in the beam. It was a sickening process, and still is.

At the time, I didn’t realize the extent to which writers are encouraged to perform their neuroses in their work. When your profession rewards you for your attitudes and behaviors, healthy or otherwise, things get reeaaaaeal murky when those same attitudes and behaviors negatively affect your personal life. You question what’s real and what’s invention in service of story. You question your goals, your habits, your interior life. Your relationships. Your self-worth.

Um so when that happened, it was suggested I try adult coloring books to help ground myself. The placid meditative slow-burn color-filled universe kept me from falling into the void for a bit. And the subjects were often interesting. New York City bridges. Famous historical feminists. Día de Muertos. But the drawings themselves were not. They’re designed to lull you into a pleasant repetitive mindless alpha state that asks for zero emotional engagement while encouraging you to stay within a certain set of boundaries. They are the artistic equivalent of railings on a balcony. And when I see railings, all I wanna do is jump.

But I wanted and needed something to soften me from the inside. I started going through pictures I’d taken of my husband, my kid, my cats, my yard. Foods I love. Places I’ve been. Pages from books I’m reading. Anything that offered an outward expression of what I found meaningful.

Reference photos, in other words.

I know it seems frigging nuts to embark upon a time-consuming artistic hobby when one is already coping with a time-consuming artistic career. But it’s slightly less crazy to act like I’m returning to an old hobby as if I’d always intended to. Even if it isn’t true.


At any rate. I’m drawing again, so…

I’ll be ok.