I cannot remember a time when I was not creating. Making something, whether it be art, craft, music, dance or theatre. It seems that the action of creating is a huge part of my foundation as a human being. I remember my parents were always creating too. Often they were simple things spurred in many instances by our family’s low income, but the simple act of witnessing my parents create instilled the desire and techniques of creation in me. “Necessity is the mother of all invention” is a phrase I heard a lot while growing up and I think it sits at the foundation of my creative core.
I won’t pretend I didn’t have a problematic family life in my early years, but I won’t talk about that. It’s boring. Whose life was perfect growing up in the ’70’s anyway? I honestly can’t imagine I would have done any better raising kids under the same circumstances. There may be isolated instances that pop up in direct relationship to some of the stories I’ll be sharing in this blog, but otherwise it’s not the reason I’m writing.
I grew up as a low-income kid in a mobile home court in a small town in Wisconsin. I always remember my parents working hard to make life fun for my two younger brothers and me, in spite of their own frustrations and our financial limitations. As a kid, I thought living in the mobile home court was great. It wasn’t until children get to that cruel preteen age when I was finally shunned by my school friends because of our family’s less-than-average income. The school friends I had grown up with – my best friends – weren’t allowed to play at my house – their parents wouldn’t let them because of society’s stigma of a “trailer court”. It was heartbreaking but opened my eyes at an early age to the ways the world worked in terms of “friendship” and “popularity”. Especially for girls. I realized quickly that I had to be my own best friend and never depend on others. That I had to entertain myself and make my own projects. It made me self-sufficient, independent and self-sustaining. I played with more boys than girls. I felt more comfortable around them. Partly because I had two brothers, but also because boys didn’t judge me the way girls did. After being publicly ridiculed by all the girls in my class en-masse simply for being poor, I began to distrust large groups of females simply out of self-preservation. The sorority / girl-gang mentality is an energy that I just do not understand. I find it incredibly exclusionary and toxic. Bullying in its most deadly form. And I refuse to take part.
Our mobile home court did not fit the standard ugly stereotype. It was well run, well maintained and was filled with young families and tons of kindly retired people who loved to spoil trick-or-treaters. And I literally sold more Girl Scout cookies than ANYONE in my troop. It was almost more like a low-income gated community. Our mobile home was white with black trim and shutters. We had a big vegetable garden in the back, a swing set next to the shed, and in the summertime, we even had a swimming pool. It was made of corrugated tin about two and a half feet high and about six feet in diameter that rolled out and was set in a circle, staked into the ground then set in with a blue vinyl pool liner. And in winter, my dad set up a similar rig in the same spot that was flooded for a mini ice-rink. It was very cool. All the kids in the trailer court wanted to play in our yard in both seasons, so as the oldest child and also the oldest of the trailer court kids, I found myself playing the role of hostess at a very early age. Making sure everyone was obeying the “yard rules”, assisting younger kids, “running the show” in a way.
My mom was medical technologist and always a scientist at heart. She made homemade games for our birthday parties. She helped us build our own kites to fly. On Valentine’s Day we’d wake up to find the breakfast table all decorated in place settings she made of red, white and pink construction paper, the lacy harts carefully cut out like paper snowflakes. And pink, heart-shaped pancakes! We always made our own Halloween costumes with their help, except for the year I cried and begged for the crappy, plastic store-bought Sleeping Beauty costume. But I learned my lesson – it was literally the worst costume ever. I never bought a pre-made costume again.
My dad worked in local television. He helped my brothers and I write and film a superhero movie (that’s FILM, mind you Super 8 – that stuff we used BEFORE video). He showed us stage makeup techniques and let us wear really nice fake mustaches around the house. He made the mustaches himself for fun – carefully ventilating each hair on to a fine mesh. They were beautiful. Sometimes he’d wear one around the house to see how long it took for my mom to notice. She’d be talking to him then look up suddenly and exclaim “Thomas!” then he’d laugh softly to himself and go off to put it away.
Both my parents played guitar and sang, so all three of us learned to play guitar and sing. My dad played drums, so I learned percussion. I wanted to dance, so they somehow found money to send me to class. My mom scoured the newspaper for free things to do – free concerts and art exhibits to take us to on weekends. As you can imagine, we weren’t always thrilled about sitting in a church listening to an organ concert on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but I have to appreciate my mother’s tenacity in exposing us to the arts. She once mistakenly took all of us young kids to what turned out to be an exhibit of exotic art. Penises, vaginas and BOOOOBS!
But in short, we felt encouraged and almost REQUIRED to be artistic, which is a gift beyond measure. Encouraged, but not praised. Given space to create, but not coddled. It was an odd dynamic. I think it made me appreciate that art was also work, not just fun. That idea made me work harder in some ways, but somehow I’ve never really trusted my potential. It might be the reason I’ve never settled on one medium for creation. I’m still seeking some kind of internal creative validation that I’ve never fully felt. But this is the year I plan to find it.
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