Can’t Handle the Hustle

I want to write. I want to make art.


I need to write. to make art. to teach, to change minds and ways of thought. I crave input to generate output, but not in an industrial sense. I write better when I’m reading broadly, when I drink deep words and dream the books on my nightstand. I make better art when I hoard found objects and old books and bury myself in the work of James Castle and my former collaborator and artist-educator Troy Passey (both of Idaho).

My art, my writing, my teaching are a reflection of the world within and the world without.

I. Can. Not. Handle. the Hustle.

James Castle made books before bookbinding and bookmaking and altered books were a “thing.” My former elementary students (and some blind students within my school) made hand-stitched books last year, some of which have spent the last 12+ months touring the state of Idaho. I’ve been digging into these arts of late, and the more I learn, the more I feel crushed under the weight of performance, hustle, namedropping, and (dare I say?) circle-jerking.

I want to create, to share, to engage. I want to collaborate and build. Maybe I want to tear some things down in the process of creation. But I see my friends. The friends who put themselves into their art, whose souls I see on the page, the screen, the canvas?

Some of them are dying. We’re going broke in an economy that “corrected” itself this week, as talking heads talk percentages and investments and percentage points that are just numbers on a datastream of using money to make more money.  We’re going bankrupt in a morally bereft landscape trying to scream or throw paint into the void.

I went to the store for paint; that’s the only thing I really want to buy new. I had to wade through a lot of crap to get to the paint. I’m trying to learn from what I see, but I just sat through a 10 minute YouTube tutorial on a certain kind of bookmaking, and if I had made it into a drinking game for every time she had to a) Name drop another blogger/vlogger; b) name drop a product she “just loves”; or c) I don’t need C I am already dead.

My point here is that neither of those things were about creating art in community or collaboration. It was all consumptive affiliate linking and back-patting. Yes, artists need an audience, and hopefully we can sell a poem, or a story, or a painting, and I’d really like someone to pick up that chapbook I just poured my guts into. At the end of the day, however, I don’t want to do art for capitalism’s sake, or for the sake of consumption. I don’t do my job for the sake of the dollar, although I’d die without it. I don’t want to do this just so I don’t die; I want to do this because we live. I want to re-purpose this old shell of the Empire.

But we are dying. Our world is on fire; Idaho rejected (AGAIN, I might add), the science standards related to climate change and human impact on the environment. I don’t want to add to the demand for resources… even though I recognize my preferred media are paper and acrylics.

I can’t handle the hustle. I submit cover letters with no website, because I can’t keep up my blog enough. My health has prevented me from completing my thesis. I’m sick. I’m tired fatigued. I’m pissed, and yet I’m in a good enough place to make some noise. I just have to be my own writer and artist and teacher. Whatever the hell that means. I recognize the privilege I have to NOT hustle. And I will give credit where it is due, but I can not go in these circles where we keep blog linking and back-patting other Crafty Cathy types for making pretties.

James Castle made his ink out of spit and charcoal. We can make our revolution art out of something other than Pinterest-pretty faux-ephemera. Screw your capitalist bougie YouTube branded hustle. That might be the worst sentence I’ve ever published. It’s ok; I’m on steroids. You’ll forgive me.


Migraine Monday: Everything is (not) fine

I’m teetering on the edge of hope and absolute nihilism. I guess that makes me a Millennial, amiright?

Life in the two years of blogging silence has been a glorious shitstorm. Phrased otherwise, some things have been glorious, and others have been shit. I couldn’t write, though. Every time I tried I was too angry, too traumatized, too defeated. My world was on fire, and I was impotent.

this is fine

Image description: “On Fire” from Gunshow by K.C. Green. Full comic available at http://gunshowcomic.com/648 Frame 1: Question Dog sits in a burning building, with a cup of coffee on a table. Frame 2: Question Dog says, “This is fine,” with flames behind him and smoke above him, ignoring his peril.

I have enough distance from some of it to know I was in a constant state of emotional abuse and gaslighting at the professional level, and varying stages of grief in other areas of my life. My feet weren’t on a strong enough foundation of reality to form a coherent narrative of, well, anything. 

I tried to act like everything was fine, while I felt like I was going mad.

Maybe going mad is the only way to stay sane in a mad world.

I know some may see this language as ableist, but I do not mean it colloquially or glibly. My college religion professor Dr. Haar ended each class meeting with the words “Stay sane out there,” and he meant it quite seriously. How do we maintain our grounding in a world that organizes genocide, kills black men and women indiscriminately, pushes queer children and teens out of their homes, and attempts to cut health coverage for the disabled?

It’s Migraine Monday, and the only thing I have a grip on is my migraines. At least that’s something. It’s a start. I can wake up to face the day, the battle, the world. I can see out of both eyes.

My fistful of meds and I are ready to write again. I hope you’ll join the conversation, add your voice, and and your feet, and your hands.


On Being Real

My students have seen me cry.

When I was in college, I had to teach a number of mini-lessons during various education courses and courses for educators (there’s a difference). The worst was for Physical Education for Elementary Teachers or some such. I don’t remember the name of course. I remember the instructor. He was not a nice person. He was the college golf coach.

And he gave me a C on my lesson.

My teaching partners got better grades, but because I didn’t maintain a “professional decorum,” I got a C.

The night before my lesson, I got a call from home telling me a very dear family member would be going to rehab. That things were worse than I’d thought or had ever imagined. That when I saw him that weekend, he would probably look gaunt and sad and sick and awful. I did not sleep much that night.

The next morning, with purple bags under my eyes, coffee in my thermos, and a weight in my heart, I started teaching a lesson on group dance. Halfway through the choreography for the Salty Dog Rag, one of my “students” (a college classmate) pointed out that I had made a mistake. My mind went blank. I felt the tears rising from the pit of my stomach up through my ribs and into my throat. I took a deep breath. I’m very sorry, class. I got a phone call last night, and my family got some bad news this week. I am having a rough day. If you can give me a few seconds to collect myself, we’ll continue with the dance. They gave me a few seconds. We continued with the dance.

And for that momentary break, I got a C.

I will always be that real and open and honest with my students. They need to know that adults have the same kinds of problems as kids. They need to hear us processing our feelings, and talking about our pain and our triumphs, and being vulnerable. They need to see that our classrooms are safe places to feel all the feelings.

In the past almost-seven years of teaching, my students have known about my dad’s week-long hospitalization, the death of two of my pet chickens, my migraines, my surgery, my sister visiting, my sister moving here, my sister moving away, my MRI, my migraine-related food restrictions, and the time I dislocated my tailbone playing roller derby. When my grandfather died in April, I spent a week’s worth of calendar time answering questions about him, sharing pictures, and accepting hugs from tenderhearted second-graders. We also talk about our grumpy days and our excited days and our tired days.

I also apologize. I admit when I mess up. That same teacher who gave me a C said on my grade feedback that I should never apologize to students because it shows weakness. I wholeheartedly disagree. Last week, I totally blew it with TLK. He ended up in tears, staring at his math worksheet looking the saddest I’ve seen him in a long time. He reminded me of 2012-TLK, the little boy who was so shy he couldn’t muster any communication if there were two adults in the room instead of just one. I was ready to cry with him. And I was ready to apologize, but he wasn’t ready to look at me yet. So I did the only thing I could think to do. I wrote him a note:


I am sorry.

Ok, that was the first note. The second one was more in my style:

Description: Yellow sticky note with an illustration of a little boy stick figure with three thought bubbles. The first says "I'm a good kid!" The second is a giant picture of the teacher's mean head, and the third says "Ms. Danielle is a big meanie head."

Description: Yellow sticky note with an illustration of a little boy stick figure with three thought bubbles. The first says “I’m a good kid!” The second is a giant picture of the teacher’s mean head, and the third says “Ms. Danielle is a meanie head.”

I am never afraid to show my students the real me. It’s the only full access some of them have to an adult who can model appropriate, well-adjusted (well, mostly well adjusted) reactions to life and strife. They can’t learn to overcome an anxious feeling if no one shows them how to handle their nerves. They don’t know how to ask for a break to go cry if no one tells them it’s okay to cry sometimes.

I’m a real person. And I think I’d rather err on the side of too real than to have too much “decorum.”