Memoir, Musical Monologues, Uncategorized

The Author’s Kiss

Stories born
Upon his lips
Revealed and written
In his kiss
Sensations spiraling
From his fingertips
Dreams come true
In unbridled bliss
Paragraphs and pages
Distilled to this
She spent forever after
In his kiss

A poem for our anniversary. Every anniversary. In his arms. With our favorite stories. All told in his kiss.
April 29, 2020

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Madness, Uncategorized

Misofonia Blues

Misophonia Blues

Biting, tearing, gripping, ripping
Slipping
Spewing, chewing, gnawing, mauling
Falling
SNAP! POP! MUNCH! CRUNCH!
Hunched
Licky, sticky, slick, breaking, quaking, shaking,
Sick
Slice, scratch, screech, slurp,
Lurch
Gnash. gnosh, wash, slosh, crush, flush,
Rush in
Thin grin, smile fake, small talk, balk
Walk
Smear, sneer, fear, anger
DANGER
Reaction, distraction, destruction
Lonely
Neurons fire, so tired, wired
Misophonia mired

I suffer from misophonia. It is a disorder generally defined as hatred of sound. That doesn’t quite begin to cover it though. People who have misophonia have involuntary and uncontrollable emotional and physical reactions to their trigger sounds. The trigger sounds are not the same for everyone. For most people they can include but are not limited to things like silverware scraping on teeth or plates, chewing, slurping, snapping gum, burping, swallowing, and other bodily noises and repetitive sounds such as typing, pencil tapping, dripping water and other low level noises that most people barely even notice. Some are even triggered by visual stimuli along with sound triggers.

Misophonia is not classified as a psychiatric or hearing disorder. There is some evidence to suggest that it is neurological and/or related to autism and sensory processing disorders. It is fairly rare, affecting only about 15% of the adult population. It may be more common, or at least more sever, in women.

No one is certain what causes Misophonia and there is currently no cure. There are very few treatments or therapy options. Most suggested options involve treating the associated anxiety responses rather than the disorder itself. Mindful self care habits to reduce anxiety and troubleshooting for yourself in the moment with headphones/earbuds, increasing background nose when possible or simply excusing yourself and escaping the triggers are the main treatment suggestions I’ve found.

To someone who suffers from misophonia, the sound and visual triggers can elicit responses from mild discomfort and irritation to rage and even panic. It activates a fight or flight response and a strong need to flee the situation. Mealtimes and other experiences that are pleasant or at least tolerable for most people can be torture.

For me, it started in my early childhood. My first memory of being adversely affected by sounds and visuals that didn’t seem to bother other people was around age 6 or 7. The disorder really didn’t have a name then. It was not until 2000 that audiologists, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff (wikipedia) gave it a name during their research on other forms of decreased sound tolerance.
I didn’t even know it had a name until a year or two ago. I just thought I was irrational and crazy or that it was just another part of my ptsd and general anxiety. I only told my family about it after that. I think my grandmother and mother knew when I was younger though, but it was just one of those sensitive child things. Fortunately they were compassionate and tried to help whenever possible by offering me buffers from certain sounds and experiences.

So I’ve spent most of my life coping by just winging it. It’s worse when I’m already anxious about anything else and then encounter my personal misophonia triggers. I experience panic and anxiety and am generally miserable in the moment. It’s exhausting and takes time to calm down afterward. A silent room at mealtime or experiencing my triggers in stereo in a movie theater is sheer torture. I’m not exaggerating–I promise.

I manage it with distractions, tv or music during dinner or a crowded restaurant with lots of ambient noise. I work pretty hard not to be rude or to be a bother or to even be noticed when I’m triggered and in distress. I cannot always use headphones or earbuds to manage it. (The sounds of my own chewing and associated sounds are louder in my own head with earbuds on–it’s like an echo chamber!). Ambient noise and music are not always enough to mask the sounds or distract me. I often try to wait until everyone else is finished eating or eat before they do if possible, especially since there is also a strong visual aspect to my triggers. It is difficult to convey this clearly to anyone who does not also suffer from misophonia.

I discovered ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) around the same time I learned that my disorder had a name. ASMR is also relatively new and describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone in response to certain videos or sounds. I understand misophonia as the dark mirror universe of ASMR. It is the direct opposite, though there are some overlaps I’ve found. Some ASMR stimuli that give people euphoria are torture for me, but there are some that I find calming and pleasurable as well. The connections are fascinating and disturbing all at once to me.

I resisted telling anyone about my misophonia for years. Learning it had a name helped give it validity and helped me to know I wasn’t completely crazy. Discovering ASMR helped me find language to articulate what I’m feeling.

Anytime I consider telling someone, I’m torn. Although it is a great relief to have understanding and support from my loved ones when I am triggered, knowledge of my possible reactions often makes people self conscious and weird around me or worse. There are people in my life who would find it amusing to push my buttons if they know there are buttons to push.

At the end of the day though, I know that if I was suffering in silence and fear and frustration, others must be suffering too. It’s a pretty lonely headspace in which to exist. Burdens shared are a bit easier to manage. That is the guiding light of my existence. My moral compass directs me to shine a light in dark places whenever possible. Whenever I can find the strength to do so, I try to live by that. So here I am. If misophonia is making your life a living hell, you are not alone, though you may be eating alone. Your self care is important. You are not crazy.

If someone you love suffers from misophonia, please take them seriously and be compassionate. Ask them what they need–don’t assume, don’t judge. Try to help if they ask, but don’t call them out over it.

As always, I’m willing to listen if you need to talk or answer questions if I can.

Meanwhile, here are a few resources (there new things to learn about it all the time. Google often)

https://allergictosound.com/

https://sensoryhealth.org/basic/misophonia

https://misophonia-association.org/resources/

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Madness, Memoir, Menagerie, Uncategorized

RPGs and PTSD or How Gaming Turned into Therapy

(originally written April, 2020)

I have a long and complex personal history with RPG’s (role playing games). I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in high school with a boyfriend. During the time I was dating him, he used elements of gaming as one of several methods of manipulation and psychological abuse. Further in, the abuse turned physical. I came out of that time with very few memories of actual game play. I remembered the characters I created and minimal mechanics of how to play. I also came out of the experience with understandably mixed feelings about gaming, role playing of any kind along with so much other baggage that mixed together in a crazy anxiety stew.


I’ve always loved all of the elements that led to the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and other RPG’s. I’ve been a Tolkien fan practically since birth. Fairy tales, Fantasy and Science Fiction have been my go to reading since before I could read at all. I was ever the child who believed in fairies. As an adult I still do. My childhood was filled with all of the games of pretend and imagination. Role play was already second nature long before I knew D&D existed in its own right. I love character creation, storybuilding, fantasy art–I was built hard-wired for RPG’s. But that was corrupted in the blink of an eye for me.
Many of my friends have always been gamers. They’re my tribe. So in my 20’s, when I still could not feel safe participating in game play, I sat in on sessions with my friends–watching, listening to the stories grow through the games they played, and sketching. I enjoyed the atmosphere even though it felt too scary to join in. The visions they conjured as they played fed my imagination and my art. I felt certain I would never play again, though I’ve held onto my original set of dice to this day. They’re colorful, sparkly and they still felt good to hold and to look at the light shining through them. And I guess some part of me refused to fully admit defeat. I had a tiny spark of hope that I might someday use them again.


A few years ago, I saw light shining into my self inflicted darkness. ( here I should point out that I am fully aware that the trauma was never my fault, but continuing to hide from something I knew I’d probably enjoy was entirely a self made prison.) The timing might finally be right, after more than 25 years since I left the boyfriend and his abuse behind.


I’d known from before we started dating that Zen and his husband were gamers. I tuned out his stories of gaming because I couldn’t face this thing I wanted to do but felt I couldn’t do. My husband also enjoyed gaming when we first married. I sat in on their games too, but life had taken us away from that experience so he had not done any gaming himself for maybe 10 years or more.


I felt scared and intimidated by trying to learn a new thing while fighting off panic and anxiety that I had always felt around gaming and adding up the numbers quickly and under perceived pressure. When I feel anxious or triggered my brain can’t do any of the things that should come easily. That kind of compounds any other fears or anxieties already present.


One day Zen told me how much his husband, Paul, loved sharing his love of gaming with newbie. He loves teaching new people how to play. He has infinite patience with the often clumsy newbie. I tentatively reached out and asked if we could try it to see if I could do this.


Paul chose a game system that only uses d10’s (10 sided dice). That simplified everything. That reduced the pressure and anxiety by half at least for me. The game was Vampire: the Masquerade.


At first, it was just the four of us with Paul as the storyteller, or game master. (GM). Keeping the group very small gave me a sense of safety as I learned. Once I began to feel more secure in my role and in my skills, we added a few more friends to our group. Then we started exploring other systems using d20’s and all the other dice too. I still get anxious and stressed at the beginning of a gaming session, but I can feel even that easing up little by little with every new session.


We’ve been playing for about three years together now, and I look forward to gaming no matter what system we’re playing. I know that if I begin to fall, my group will catch me and show me the way back to where I need to be, with patience and love and lots of fun. Gaming has provided a creative outlet, therapeutic benefits, new ways to apply my own creativity, new friends, new ways to interact with friends and strangers alike and more opportunities for growth with every session.


And an ongoing obsession with shiny, sparkly, colorful dice! I still use my original dice too. Only now I have several other sets, despite some guy at a local gaming store questioning my choices in dice purchasing. Sad customer service aside, I’m certain one can never have too many dice sets…


And now, with social distancing in place, I’ve been battling my difficulties with technology. We’re using Discord for gaming. I find technology challenging, daunting and stressful. But I’m not letting that stop me. Tomorrow, I’ll participate in a third gaming session using Discord chat and digital dice apps. Soon, even that won’t phase me much.


It may not seem like such a big thing to most people. Gaming is even regarded as ridiculous and frivolous to some. But to have reclaimed that piece of myself in this way has been profoundly empowering. To have friends and lovers who cared enough to help me reach this point makes me feel wealthy beyond measure. My gratitude for this gift is limitless.

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Memoir, Uncategorized

Clowny Cones

(originally written November 6, 2018)

You just never know when childhood memories will jump up and ask you to dance….

Last night I visited Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors with a friend. While waiting in line to order, I noticed the freezer full of ice cream novelties and cakes. There, on a shelf near the bottom of the freezer were trays of Clowny Cones in all their joyful color and sugary frosted goodness! My heart turned back flips straight into my early childhood.

(In case you’ve never seen a Clowny Cone, it is a scoop of ice cream in a clear cup with a sugar cone placed upside down on top of the scoop. The whole thing is then decorated with cake frosting and candies to look like a happy little circus clown head. They are a circus party waiting to happen all on their own).

When I was a kid, there were subscription services for everything–not unlike now, except without the internet. There were magazine and music subscriptions (cassette tapes–not mp3’s), how to books, and collections of chapters to fill 3-ring binders with tabbed dividers for each section. Each month you’d get 5 or 6 pages, tapes, and bonus materials sometimes–patterns, templates and such. The pages were full color glossy photos and complete instructions for projects, recipes and more. These kinds of projects files, along with magazine and newspaper clippings were the pinterest and instructables of my childhood.

But last night, the one that stood out in my memory most was highlighted by the pink decor and bright lights of Baskin Robbins’. Among other subscriptions, Grandmother had, at some point, subscribed to or been given a plastic case filled with full color recipe cards. It featured all the categories of an 8 course meal and more. Everything you could want to cook in a 1980’s kitchen. The case was designed like a flip file. You could thumb through the tabbed dividers to find the section you wanted and pull the card for your chosen culinary delight. It was indexed so that you could replace it in the correct order when you finished cooking. It was designed to make everyone look like a gourmet cook, effortlessly. Why wouldn’t you use it for every meal? Every party? That was another mystery of my childhood…along with why were harvest gold and avocado green such popular decorating colors in the 70’s and 80’s? And why was there shag carpeting EVERYWHERE? But I digress.

She stored this box of wonders out of the way on a low shelf, easily within my reach. I spent hours browsing through it’s many enchanting sections. My favorite section was the dessert section. Everything in it was bright, colorful and dreamy looking. As an only child, with hours to fill on rainy days, I spent plenty of time browsing through this mystical recipe box. I longed for the delights in the dessert section, with all their color and pizzaz. I asked for them to be made, offering to help too. Anything to bring them to life in our kitchen. Whether it was my favorite image or not, I no longer know, but the card I remember most clearly now is the one with the clowny cones. The image had faded into the mists of childhood until I saw them smiling back at me from the freezer at Baskin Robbins.

I understand now, as a busy mom with work, household and other responsibilities pulling at me from minute to minute, why she never made the clowny cones or the other labor-intensive treats for me. The impracticality of time, money, space in the freezer that no modern family really has, even if there was money to buy the supplies in the first place, speaks loud and clear to me.

But back then, in Grandmother’s kitchen, I believed in infinite possibilities, and in her magical ways. After all, she’d proven time and time again that she could make anything, everything out of nearly nothing. So I could not see any reason at all why Clowny Cones might never manifest themselves in my life. To my knowledge, she never cooked any of the recipes in the magical box.

At some point, I must have rescued the box from a yard sale or donation box. I don’t remember how it passed into my hands. This was one of the treasures of my childhood, so of course I wanted to keep it! I did cook some of the dishes in there, but somehow I never got around to creating my own Clowny Cones. Probably for the same practical reasons she had. But 7-year old me still sits in dumbfounded disappointment. We’ve never had a Clowny Cone all our own, after all. I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I did get one. That’s so much sugar! Says the adult me. Still the memory of the image itself is so sweet and so vivid. The vision, the idea, the anticipation–all more magical than the reality must be.

So, although it’s bittersweet to see the Clowny Cones all lined up in their trays at Baskin Robbins, I am content to know they exist. I am blessed with memories sweeter and longer lasting than those temporary treats on the trays. And, I have this dusty box full of treasures just waiting for me to cook them, right?

Until the next dance of memories, stay sweet!

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Memoir, Uncategorized

Sweet Red Alchemy

The scent of fall
Translucent, red
Cinnamon sweet
More precious than gold.
Grandmother’s apple butter
I long for it–
Just one more taste before I grow old

Fall, for me, has never been about pumpkin spice. Fall is about apples, cored, peeled, cinnamon sweet with Red Hots, bubbling away on the stove. Giant pots, mysterious pointed colander with cone shaped pestle pushing applesauce through the holes to strain it into a perfect consistency. She added the sugar and cinnamon and cooked it longer, adding the Red Hots and a dash of red food coloring if it wasn’t the shade of red that suited her. More cooking. Spooning out some and pouring it from one spoon to another in the sunlight filtering through the kitchen to check thickness and color. Sometime during that process she must have added the magic that perfected it, though I never witnessed just when.

The scent of apples cooking with Red Hots will forever bring back apple butter alchemy in Grandmother’s kitchen. There were always apples in her kitchen. The scent of apples lingered in the Ford LTD Station Wagons that served as the family car for most of my childhood. The scent of apples is the scent of love, family and comfort. It is the scent of home.

I no longer remember the name of the apple variety she preferred for making apple butter. But I remember trips to Virginia to buy them in bushel baskets, boxes and crates. Sometimes they were simply contained in plain brown paper bags. They were special apples, not available just everywhere. We always went into Virginia to get them. Sometimes it was a day trip. Sometimes we spent a weekend or more in Wise county, staying with family. Both my grandparents grew up in the town of Wise. Grandaddy grew up in a little house right in town and Grandmother grew up on Hurricane Road, just a few miles away, across from what is now known as the Wise County Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds were part of her family’s farm and was her childhood playground. She grew up cooking, canning, gardening, and perfecting her apple butter recipe with all the love of her family surrounding her.

After bringing the apples home, Grandmother, my mother. my Aunt Lib, and even Grandaddy worked with the apples in batches. Peeling, coring, slicing and cooking them down into applesauce. Straining, seasoning, coloring and of course, the alchemy part, where she infused the mixture with love and magic. The process culminated in spooning the mixture into sterilized half pint jars, and sealing them with lids and rings. After the jars cooled from the hot water bath, we carried them down to the basement to be stored until we needed them. Whenever a fresh jar was needed, I was often the one sent down to fetch it. The basement was only partially dug out and was dark except for the pool of light from the single light bulb with it’s pull chain. I had to walk in a few feet to reach the chain. And walk out again in the dark after turning out the light. I hated that part. But it was worth it for the ruby treasure in the jars on the shelf.

Apple butter was part of almost every meal. We spread it on toast or biscuits for breakfast, after allowing a little butter to melt into the bread first. The same with rolls or cornbread with dinner. A whole other kind of alchemy occurred between the melted butter, the bread and the shining red apple butter. It is impossible to describe, and now just out of reach for me.

There are very few things in life about which I am a purist. Apple butter is at the top of that very short list. You may love the brown stuff in your grocery store, labeled apple butter. I cannot eat it. It looks wrong and it tastes even more wrong to me. If it isn’t red, it simply isn’t apple butter.

–Manderley Swain
November, 2018

Originally written

October 2018

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Memoir, Uncategorized

Summer Sweet

(originally written August, 2018

One of my favorite childhood memories centers around July 4th celebrations. Though we always enjoyed watching our neighbors sending up their own fiery sparks, the memory has little to do with fireworks. It seems the best family memories are often centered around being together and sharing a meal. Summer cookouts were relaxed and delicious. Another golden memory, sweetened with the passing of time.

We had the usual cookout fare. Grandmother made hamburger patties, by hand, with a dash of Italian seasoning. My grandfather put these on the grill alongside plump, perfect hot dogs. He brushed them with savory, homemade barbecue sauce and seared them to perfection. Along with these, he grilled corn on the cob and served it, sweet and juicy, with a stick of butter. We had garden fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions and crisp, cold cucumbers to top the burgers. Grandmother also served up tender, home-grown green beans, macaroni salad, potato salad, and deviled eggs. But, the best part was homemade ice cream!

Grandmother always cooked the ice cream mixture the day before and cooled it in the refrigerator overnight. It was a simple, sweet vanilla cream base. The next morning, she and Grandad poured it into the electric ice cream freezer and started it up. It always seemed to take forever. No matter how long it took, it was worth the wait. It always came out creamy and perfect. It was not frozen hard, like the store-bought ice creams. Grandmother’s ice cream, like most things she made, was perfect.

Although she always made vanilla ice cream, the add-ins and toppings made it special and memorable. We had chocolate chips, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, strawberries, and even rainbow candy sprinkles! Chocolate, caramel and even pineapple toppings were lavished on top of our bowls of ice cream along with cool whip, cherries and colored sugar sprinkles to make it festive. We all had our favorites–Grandad loved pineapple and caramel. I loved chocolate chips and strawberries with rainbow sprinkles on mine.

The most unlikely family favorite, some would even say strangest, ice cream add-in at Grandmother’s house happened to be grape-nuts cereal! I didn’t particularly like this one when I was little. The cereal was too crunchy, and it interrupted the smooth, creamy simplicity of my ice cream. But as I grew older, grape-nuts ice cream became my all time favorite. I craved it when I spent July 4th away from home, and I crave it even more now. It gave a unique nutty flavor to the ice cream, even though the cereal contains no nuts at all. I found all kinds of recipes for it online, but I’ve never actually had grape nuts ice cream anywhere but home.

I rarely make ice cream now, and when I do, the recipe doesn’t involve any pre-cooking. I make plain vanilla and chocolate with my kids. I use a basic recipe and double bag it in zip-loc bags, with rock salt in the outer bag. We wrap the bags in newspaper and duct tape and play a game of catch with them until cold, smooth and creamy. The ice cream is almost as good as Grandmother’s, but never quite as yummy as I remember it. Summer is too short now and not nearly as sweet.

Here is the recipe for grape nuts ice cream I found on the Washington Post website:

6 large egg yolks.

2/3 cup sugar.

2 cups heavy cream, warmed.

1 cup chilled whole milk.

1/4 teaspoon salt.

1 cup Grape-Nuts cereal, plus more for optional garnish.

2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Grape-Nuts Ice Cream – The Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/grape-nuts-ice-cream/12731/

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Madness, Uncategorized

Aftermath

Originally written July 19, 2018

The day after– or the hours after– a panic attack can be almost as bad as the attack itself.

During the attack, adrenaline rushes through me just as if I were still in actual, physical danger.

remaining on high alert until someone or something calms me down,

convinces me the threat has passed.

My body doesn’t know the difference, and tenses, literally preparing me for fight or flight,

In case anyone missed it–a panic attack or flashback often means reliving the traumatic event mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s virtual reality in every way, except there are no fun and games involved. Only fear and anger.

After a prolonged panic or anxiety attack I feel like I’ve been running some kind of deranged marathon. My head hurts, muscles ache, nausea, complete exhaustion and dehydration, chills and a host of other random symptoms and ailments seemingly coming from nowhere. I become emotional, sensitive and withdrawn.

I like to call it an anxiety hangover.

It’s draining and sometimes debilitating. My impulse, afterward, is to hide and sleep. This is usually not convenient or acceptable in my day to day life as mom, business owner, wife, friend, volunteer, etc. I am not functional, but it is necessary for me to function regardless.

I wrote this poem during one such moment.

Aftermath

Tired, so tired
Stuck, lost
Muddy mind mIred
Cold fog frost
Riot all around me
Don’t touch
Let me be. It’s all
Too loud, too bright, too much

Raw, Sore, frayed
A step behind
Reactions delayed
Unable to hide
Run away
From demons inside
Sounds threatening
Silence, sleep beckoning

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Uncategorized

Grace in Beauty

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Beauty. I’ve spent my life in pursuit of beauty. Gazing at it, studying it, working to create it in one form or another. I bring costuming visions to life and help people realize their own beauty.

Fashion was my first love. Every Saturday morning, when I was a child, surrounded by Barbie dolls, fabric scraps, notebooks and pencils, I watched a program called Style on CNN. The show was filled with highlights from the collections of famous designers. My favorites were the evening gowns with sparkling beads and sequins, silky, flowing fabrics and graceful lines.

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Fashion design was my career goal. Art classes in my small town school system were rare and limited in scope and subject, so I taught myself to draw using images in comic books and fashion magazines. My grandmother taught me to sew.

There were no colleges in Tennessee offering Fashion design programs, and my mom didn’t want me to go out of state for college. So, I attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and majored in art, settling for fashion illustration.

I fell in love with making art for its own sake. I fell in love with color, pattern and texture– staring for hours at the paint on my palette, flowing and swirling in ever changing patterns. I fell in love with the sensation of the pencil rubbing against the paper and the smudges and marks left by the eraser.

Suddenly even the cracks in the sidewalks and the swirl of oil on puddles looked beautiful to me. The process of making art gave me an entirely new way to see the world. There was beauty in the most ordinary sights and sounds.

I was forever changed.

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Sadly, a series of unfortunate events led to my leaving college without completing my degree. But wherever I went after that, beauty and creativity followed me, and led me finally, to a job with a local seamstress. I began creating beauty through costumes. I have come full circle in a way, but with so much more beauty and variety in my life than I ever imagined, even though my dreams were always big and sparkly.

Creativity has saved me time and time again. Beauty and the ability to see it everywhere, in all its glory, and in the simplest of packages, takes me out of despair and out of myself. Beauty heals. Beauty transforms.

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Memoir, Menagerie, Muse, Uncategorized

Backyard Superheroes

Bat Cat and Wonder Woman

My own children at ages 5 and 7 in costumes I made for them

Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Batman, Storm, Rogue, Spiderman, Superman, Kitty Pryde, Bionic Woman and Bionic Man– heroes a child could find in popular culture, not just in comic books, in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

As children, we wore all of their mantles, my best friend, and I. In the twilight between our houses where we played all summer, weekends, and after school. From comic books to movies to TV shows, we tried out each one for our imaginary play.

Before cosplay was even a word before Halloween costumes graduated from boxy painted vinyl jumpsuits with cheesy plastic masks. And long before you could easily find replica props for your favorite characters, we became all of our favorite characters with nothing but our own minds’ eyes. Visualizing every detail of costuming as we played, we ‘saw’ each other vividly as the characters we portrayed every day together.

We imagined complex worlds for our heroes to play in–worlds rich and nuanced and complete in every detail as if we’d been transported there by Scotty himself.

Onlookers, outsiders, or parents only saw a couple of kids, playing, riding bikes, rollerskating, running, yelling, laughing and dreaming together. They couldn’t see the villains we battled every day as we saved the world in one-hour increments, one afternoon at a time. Every. Day.

We rarely, if ever, allowed anyone into this sacred space of our imagination. It was an unspoken agreement, but we both knew that others, especially adults, were unlikely to comprehend us and how we played, nor even how we discussed plans for play.

There was nothing sinister or sneaky here. It was simply a private world where we could truly be whomever or whatever we wished, without fear of bullying or teasing. We could be real behind the safety of our make-believe masks.

Though we could not have articulated or even fully identified it all ourselves at the time, we knew, on some level, that our games of pretend were unique. We knew that we were tackling deeper problems through play than anyone would expect children to even consider, let alone understand. It didn’t even matter that we, ourselves, were not conscious of all the complex emotions and concepts inherent in battling imaginary foes. It was all still there, bubbling beneath the surface. Inner demons, bullies, the unfair powerless feelings children often experience for any number of reasons–all these were processed through putting the bad guys in jail–usually after great chases, grueling battles, wounds and scars, captures and daring rescues.

Powerful discussions and profound healing took place daily under the metaphorical disguises of larger than life superheroes and villains.

As we grew older and found that the heroes on page and screen were no longer multi-dimensional enough to hold all that we ourselves were becoming, we created our own characters, our own alter ego heroes. Never committed to writing or art but instead, indelibly etched into our psyches as all the old masks fell away. We didn’t need physical representations of these characters–we simply saw them in ourselves, in each other, with no question of the accuracy in the details. We’d been playing together our whole lives, best friends. We had a connection so strong that we might have been communicating telepathically anyway.

To quote my friend “Like the X-Men and most other heroes, we didn’t ask for these powers, we just had them. We just were them. And we always will be.”

Our imaginations were our greatest superpowers. And still are.

Knowing that playtime hour awaited us at the end of most days allowed us to conquer whatever challenges our ordinary days held for us, large or small. Because we had our secret identities, the selves we presented to the workaday world could withstand whatever we had to. We knew we were strong, invulnerable creative beings.

What are you looking at?

Myself, age 4, 1974

We knew we were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, along with any other obstacle we encountered. We knew had each other’s backs. We knew we were heroes.

My own original childhood character’s superpower was turning illusions into reality, hiding in plain sight or being noticed, colorfully, at will. She shaped the world around her into whatever she wanted to see, she manipulated colors, all the colors in her world. She was a living Rainbow. She often made something from nothing.

Now, as an adult, it is my great privilege to bring to life those cherished visions everyone has of their favorite character, real or imagined. I sew cosplay costumes, I make ordinary people (children AND adults) feel and look like movie stars, kings and queens, gods and goddesses.

My job is to make the world more colorful. I manipulate colors. I am a Rainbow. I often make something from nothing. What’s your superpower?

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Memoir, Uncategorized

Golden Memories

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From springtime through the summer and on into the deepening golden days of fall, she was out in her gardens. Demeter, spreading sunshine and flowers wherever she walked. Even in winter, sunlight and warmth radiated from her presence. Children and house plants blossomed and bloomed under her watchful gaze. Grandmother grew glorious ferns, African violets, aloe, and even a shamrock’s delicate white flower bloomed in her care, along with countless other plants whose names I cannot remember. Those were just the indoor plants. Outside, she cultivated several flowerbeds, a magical white barrel full of strawberries and, along with Grandad, a bountiful vegetable garden.

Though I did not inherit her green thumb, and I don’t enjoy gardening, I have rich memories of all that she showed and taught me.

I can still smell the crisp cucumbers with their prickly leaves and the tomatoes with the marigolds planted between them to keep bugs away. Tomatoes were never a favorite food for me, but I loved how they smelled on the vine and all their warm, vivid colors as they ripened.  The rows of carrots, cabbages, and lettuces and the mysterious patch where the potatoes spread out underground were colorful and fascinating in all their textures. Great green watermelons were treats to cool the summer heat. Sometimes there were even pumpkins growing late in the season to prepare for fall.

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The sharp leaves on rows and rows of corn stalks and the crunching sound, as we picked the long, fat ears of corn with a sharp twist. Shucking the corn was a delight to all my senses. The long soft leaves and the smooth, creamy yellow bumpy kerneled surface up to the sticky golden strands of the corn silks at the top; they looked like dolls tucked away in their blankets. We cooked them wrapped in foil with butter or boiled on the stove top to be buttered later at the table with soft warm rolls. The flavors were otherworldly sensations all their own.

I recall the green beans and the way I could already smell them simmering in the pressure cooker as we pulled them from their vines. Later in the day, I would enjoy their scent again as we pulled off their strings and snapped them into pieces together. We’d wash them together and she’d put them in the pressure cooker, some for supper and the rest for canning. The cooker making its cha, cha, cha sounds well into the evening and again the next day. We’d have green beans available all through the coming winter from each summer’s harvest. Even now, fresh green beans still smell like home, comfort, and summertime.

On the other side of the house, the strawberry barrel waited with its delicious, juicy rewards. The scent of strawberries will always bring it back for me with perfect clarity. The barrel, three feet tall, with holes at intervals all around it, top to bottom, was filled with dark, rich soil for the plants to be poked in and grow outward, sometimes trailing down the sides and over the top as well. Dozens of them, all summer with their green serrated leaves and the glossy red berries shining against the stark, white painted barrel represented summer at home, among so many other warm and golden memories I’ve stored up like the garden’s bounty in canning jars tucked into the basement shelves.

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In the flower beds along the edge of the carport, I helped her plant marigolds, morning glories that would climb up the wrought iron curlicue columns in blue, white and purple, impatiens in pink and red and white, petunias in purples, pinks, whites and yellows, and little green hens and chicks–succulents that fascinated me endlessly.

Above the flower beds, all around the edges of the carport, were hanging flower pots and baskets. In these, Boston ferns magically, majestically flourished like nothing I’ve seen since then, along with spider plants, ivy, and other flowers or herbs. Along the back side of the carport were forsythia bushes, forming a bright yellow screen in springtime and shade into the summer and fall. Later, they planted more of these along the side of the carport too.

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Along the front of the house, below the porch, were rose bushes, colorful grasses, orange and yellow daylilies, and tulips in dark purples, shiny reds, and sunlit yellows. Tulips were Grandad’s favorite flowers. Further down in the front yard she had three semicircular beds with small, colorful flowering plants she selected new each year–always with some color scheme chosen with care.

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Beyond that, there were multiple places in her yard where she created little plantings of impatiens, petunias, daffodils, tulips and colorful leafy ground covering plants.An old cast iron cauldron became a massive hanging planter above the flower beds on the hill down front, spilling over with trailing vines and filled with colorful flowers. A half barrel turned on its side with tiny white and red flowers cascading out into the yard beside the steps.

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All over the property, there were magnificent trees, many of them planted by my grandparents. Maples that were shady in the summer and brilliant red and gold in the autumn, dogwoods with pink and white flowers, apple trees, little cedar trees along the fence line and many more. I can still remember when they were tiny saplings with grass clippings and mulch around them. Their glorious majesty as they’ve grown older still amazes me.

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Even without her cultivation and specific attention, the yard bloomed with tiny purple and white violets, yellow buttercups, dandelions, and daisies, as well as the inevitable wild strawberries and purple and white flowering clover.

 

From the road, our house was always awash in color. It was a glorious feast for the eyes and had pockets of paradise everywhere you looked.

My grandparents worked hard inside the house and out, every day, every year, to make our house a cozy, welcoming home. Though it took so much energy and work, they were clearly labors of love.

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In the evenings, they often rested with glasses of tea or cups of coffee on the porch, enjoying the parade of birds eating from the many bird feeders placed among the flowers and bushes in the yard and nesting around the porch roof.

My cousins and friends and I caught fireflies and played our games under their watchful, loving gaze.

I truly grew up in a kind of Eden with love and all the colors of the rainbow encircling my small world. My heart is filled with gratitude for that bounty and beauty and blessings.

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