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Let’s break down why this card from my niece is probably the best thing ever

1. It came via snail mail, and if you know anything about how hearts alight in 2017, it’s by way of a snail delivering mail.

2. Its cover is an illustration of two cats on a motorcycle. If there’s anything better than a snail delivering mail, it’s a cat on a motorcycle.

3. This cat world is pretty developed and looks rad. These cats live full, restful lives. Snapping some pics for the scrap book.

Fishing. Because cats. Taking a leisurely ride on the bike you saved for working your cat office job. Living in the sunny foothills of somewhere spectacular, where you’re friends with a mouse.

He’s in your bike club and rides up front when you go out with your girl. He’s up for leader of the bike gang. World peace ensues. Lab meat feeds all. Except that cat fishing.

4. My niece has identified which cat we are on this bike. Of anthropomorphic cats, this is the coolest one of which I’ve been considered as a representation of. How much I wish my niece and nephew were here to go on a bike ride with me.

5. She’s totally the type of girl to have a cool earring and headband and ride on the back of a bike. That cat and her human equivalent probably have their own pink motorcycle somewhere — or will someday.

6. The note inside leads with the fact that she loves me. A scratch mark belies the learning curve of getting spacing right when hand writing. I love her too.

7. The followup leads with the fact that her dog says hi. I love her dog. I love that she knew I’d want to know about her dog. Dogs are harmonious here too.

8. A soft airbrushed version of the cats from the cover is on the inside of the card. Because you gotta see that illustration. In case you missed it on the cover. An airbrush border softens the look. This is a badass cat, but one that knows how to be gentle, knows how and when to send a greeting card.

9. Her hand-drawn heart illustration has a picture of my cat that has to live with my parents now because I have an unfortunately level-10-allergic boyfriend roommate. Allergies probably don’t happen in this cat world. And kitties and nieces are never separated from the cat mom/ aunt who loves them.

10. My sister wrote “(Dude)” above my niece’s spelling of my cat’s name (nee Little Dude). She knew I’d want to know who that happy cat was. I have no doubt she also spent an inordinate amount of time admiring the drawing and the little girl who made it.

11. The illustration, again featured on the back, just in case you missed it the two times before, has a name. “Touring Tabby.” Fucking beautiful. No barn can hold this cat back. It’s a life on the road for her. The world is her litter box.

12. The lengthy description of the artist. This is but one of his “Kool Kat” paintings.

13. Kool Kat.

14. Kool Kat paintings. We live in a world where such a series exists.

15. The artist is quoted here: “The world is a serious and stressful place to live. If my paintings bring a chuckle or a smile to the face of my viewer, then we are both all the better for it.”

16. But really. I’m better for it.

A building in downtown Detroit with a staircase starting and stopping nowhere.

Remembering a childhood feeling, through a childhood friend

I forgot my new address after only a week of being out of state.

The transient life leaves little room for those details.

You need, instead, to know how much battery life you have left and your nearest options for charging.

You need to know where the next bathroom will be and when, approximately you will be at one private or public enough for a long one.

(Pro tip: Use the Planet Fitness bathrooms for the latter. There’s always enough body lotion and sweat going around to cover the smell and enough lockers banging and inconspicuous top 40 playing to cover the sound.)

You need to know where to eat like a normal human being.

(Starbucks, ie., sells fruits and veggies but your best economical road bet is a Subway. They dot the Midwest highways like the infinite number of rogue bobby pins I find in all my travel bags.)

You need to know how long leftovers can sit in the backs seat of a car before they sour.

You need to know how to apply eyeliner while driving over gravel.

You need to know how to tell the difference between a cop car and a metal berm glistening in the sun.

I know all this.

What I didn’t know you needed to know is how to grieve on the go.

***

As we barreled down Ohio country roads, so did a childhood friend, a girl I went to middle and high school with.

She buckled her children in the car and took off, forgetting or ignoring — who knows, it was the middle of the night and she was probably tired — to click herself into her own.

It would cost her everything.

She went off the right side of the road, overcorrected, and flipped.

When I heard the news the next morning I kept thinking about her ankles. You look at someone’s ankles a lot when they’re on your middle school basketball team, particularly if you’re two of the three team point guards who scrimmage each other every practice.

The best defense in middle school basketball involves watching your opponent’s feet. Not their eyes. Not the ball. If those feet and ankles got past me, I could kiss a lead goodbye. It meant she was gliding for a layup.

She was fast. So was I. A worthy competitor. Quick.

My heart tightens knowing her last act of momentum was so involuntary and destructive. Thrown from a car, gravity ripping her from her babies, powerless and dazed in the back.

I forgot what a contagious laugh she had until another old classmate posted about it on Facebook. If that stupid social platform is good for anything, it’s in times like this. It reminds us who we once were to one another. And why that matters.

Playing sports as a kid was a relief. I was allowed to be aggressive during basketball. Athletics are good for girls because of that, I think. We tell them they can do anything — anything but fight. I don’t know if I wanted to fight necessarily, but I had energy that could only be released through some kind of physical movement that looked like violence.

Luckily, that came to me in forms of a jump ball, a loose ball and a girl sprinting away with my ball. I was allowed, even encouraged, to skillfully tackle all of these things. It was perfect… a release for something unnamed and uneasy settling into my little body for a long stay.

My teammate, I remember as I think about her now, had the same kind of hunger. It’s what drew me to her and also what kept me away. But at basketball practice, we could use our aggression productively.

The game isn’t about points when you have something to prove.

She could take my blows and, even better, give them right back. There was an unspoken understanding between us I think. We would both hurt or be hurt, to a degree others were unwilling to go, in order to Get. That. Ball.

I haven’t talked to her since high school. I’m sad I couldn’t tell her myself how much her presence meant to me at those practices and games.

I wish I had had the words.

Instead we had body shoves and high fives, jammed fingers and skinned knees. Bodily injuries to come back from. Wounds that healed. Beasts that finally took a seat after years of letting them play point.

I wish l told her she was better at the game. She was years ahead of me in knowing what to do with the ball once she got it. I was more likely to accidentally throw it away somehow, like a gold miner who drunkenly loses his gold, too overwhelmed by the beauty of his fortune and his luck.

Not knowing what to do with a good thing because the good thing doesn’t fit what he’s always told himself about himself.

She was too genuine, too wise to do that. It’s cruel such a strong spirit was benched so early, and with decades of her own children’s games left to watch.

***

During our trip we drove through the Midwest’s major cities. Chicago to Columbus to Marion to Cleveland to Lake Geneva to Detroit to Michigan.

The Midwest is a study in opposites. It’s littered with contradictions, from the people to the landscapes. It’s no wonder places like Central Ohio are used as testing grounds for everything from fast food’s latest sandwich to a new cut of jeans.

While you can typically guess what a place’s people will be like based on whether they turn blue or red every four years in November, there’s always something to shake up your stereotype.

White supremacists in Columbus’s most liberal neighborhood.

A Pride flag waving from a porch in Amish country.

The cityscapes are even more obvious. Dumpy industrial decay crumbles like a stale muffin in the same block as a high-tech new high rise shoved to the front of the display case.

A bank of pink wild flowers wave from impossibly thin stalks along the edge of a Detroit highway that abuts neglected housing and people selectively ignored.

When I’m in the country, I miss the city. When I’m in the city, I miss the country. The grass is greener, as they say. In Cleveland it’s brown. In Flint it doesn’t matter because the water supposed to feed it is on fire.

I notice the outside world’s contradictions because I have so many in my own head. I also notice ways I’ve changed when we visit our Ohio homes. I’m more afraid of riding in a car than before. I’m used to getting around on speeding bullets that whistle down train tracks. And now my childhood home’s yard feels like a park because it’s the size of one in Chicago.

***

In Detroit I’m mesmerized by a building that has a staircase that starts and ends nowhere.

It clings to life of the side of its brick habitat, like those birds that ride on a slow moving hippo for the free bugs. Although, I’m not sure how this building benefitted from this atrophied appendage.

Why wouldn’t they just tear off the staircase?

Is the building a piece of this beat-up city’s history? A middle finger to the slow process of forgetting where you came from? A reminder to respect where you’ve been, how you’ve traveled, even if it leads nowhere now?

On the late night drive back to Chicago I watch the road fly under us. It’s all there’s left to look at as darkness has drawn the curtains on the sideshow I usually watch through the window. Steering at night is like basketball; you can drive better when you look down.

So I think of my niece. The night or two before my friend died I was watching these first and second graders learn how to play tee ball. After one of them got an out, they all wanted to get an out. They had tasted adrenaline, competition, camaraderie and there was no turning back. I hope she finds what she needs in that and a friend to share it with.

Like I did.

Like I won’t forget.

Watch FemComPod **live** in Chicago with Tom Simmons

The duo that brings you news and semi-uninformed views every Monday (A Feminist & A Comedian Walk Into A Bar Podcast) is hitting the stage from 6-8 p.m. Sunday, June 11. Come watch us yell at each other IRL!

Justin and I are joining our hilarious and talented friend Tom Simmons for his new weekly show, “Making Friends.”

We’ll talk about the power dynamics of couples and singles hanging out, news of the day, lady stuff and most definitely probably more. Even if you don’t like us, come for Tom. He’s written shows for Second City and has a weird, fascinating brain — the kind to treasure!

Here are the details via Facebook. See you soon.

 

Interview: Artist Michelle Maguire

Michelle, Aunt Doll and writer Aaron Beck.

Ever notice how the people who are the “characters” in your life (ie. “She’s a real character, that one!”) are considered so because they refuse to live in our reality?

I love those people, “characters” — when it’s genuine, it means they’re brave enough to construct their own world and define how they live in it.

Artist Michelle Maguire’s Great Aunt Doll is one of those people.

Aunt Doll has lived in Canton, Ohio, all 85 years of her life. She’s Italian American and easily unimpressed.

“She cusses, loves cured meats, knows more about the NFL than you do, plays strip mall slot machines with her vegetarian hairdresser of 42 years, isn’t trying to be funny but is, worships the sun from her concrete-slab patio, and frets about nothing except her beloved Italian bread packing on the pounds,” Michelle says. “Aunt Doll makes the most if it.”

And Michelle made the most of her relationship to this potato chip queen in Canton by making a limited-edition book that chronicles her time with Aunt Doll.

Titled “Salami Dreamin’”, it compiles lithography and silkscreen-printed images of Aunt Doll doing daily life things. Michelle’s application of color in these images is engrossing and almost crass, perfectly befitting a woman that makes “Fuck it” feel like a rallying call to arms to live life to the fullest — whatever that means to you. On the white backdrops, Aunt Doll’s life pops, just like her.

With each of Michelle’s carefully crafted images is a letter-press printed anecdote by writer Aaron Beck. It’s here we hear the sizzle of a tongue tested and triumphant in telling the truth.

For example, on a gorgeous day spent in the sun:

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere today, babe. The sun’s out and my ass is stayin’ right here. This is it.”

Humor aside, what strikes me about Michelle’s work is her eye for finding something most of us wouldn’t see in a moment (alas, like an artistic version of her beloved aunt). The scenes of “Salami Dreamin’” push through the brazen nature of the character and give hints of everyday human experience, even for our favorite “characters.” Doll’s snacking, reading the paper, or simply just hanging out.

In these moments both she and the artist watching her find peace in the simplicity of just living. There can be optimism and beauty in monotony… if you just shut the fuck up and let it happen.

You can check out more of Michelle’s work here. (Her most recent series “Wardrobe Snacks” with photographer Kelsey McClellan is totally binge-worthy.)

As for “Salami Dreamin’”, a copy of the book is now in the permanent collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Joan Flasch Collection. It’s open to the public so you have no excuse not to go meet Aunt Doll.

“The gist of her story,” Michelle says: “Enjoy every chicken wing while you holler at the Cleveland Browns on your gigantic analog TV, because we aren’t here forever.”

 

Enjoy every chicken wing while you holler at the Cleveland Browns on your gigantic analog TV, because we aren’t here forever.

How did you make the actual physical book? Why put it together into a book?

For most of my adult life I’ve documented certain members of my family. Aunt Doll is one of Aaron’s and my all-time favorite people, so we hang out with her pretty much every chance we get, most typically in her Canton, Ohio home. For years I’d take still photos of her, much to her annoyance, while a tiny video camera rolled away in the background – both devices simultaneously capturing mundane and domestic goings-on, and creating an automatic transcript of her hilarious dialogue. I did this only to document and preserve her for myself; the idea to take all of the material and turn it into something came only after we realized how much I’d gathered. So I started to explore what it would mean to turn it into a book.

I’m a librarian in the Department of History of Art at The Ohio State University, so I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful resources, including printmakers and bookbinders. I began asking friends and colleagues around campus who to talk to, and pretty soon had assembled a wonderful crew of people to help me bring the book to life. What that series of photos and video evolved into has been the most rewarding and challenging project I’ve ever taken on.

How long did Salami Dreamin’ take to make? Were there ever any moments where you felt discouraged or like it wasn’t worth it? If so, what caused those moments and how did you work through them?

Production took a team of 6 people (including myself) with full-time jobs a year and a half, from making mock-ups, to cutting down paper, to mixing inks, to printing, to building and sewing the book. Fifty-five times! It was an enormous undertaking. That’s major dedication by a bunch of skilled, talented, obstacle-tackling people who didn’t even know me prior to this book project. I am forever in their debt.

There were many moments where every one of us felt overwhelmed, like the times when a layer of a print would be a real bastard registration-wise, which was nerve-wracking and caused me to repeatedly question why I created artwork with zero wiggle room. Edition bookmaking is no small task. It definitely made me sweat but it always felt like it’d be worth it.

How did you collaborate with a writer/Aaron? Did the artwork come first or did you two work in tandem?

We were together the entire time the footage and images were being recorded, so it felt only natural to work as a team to tell her story. Collaborating with Aaron was great. I knew if he was going to be involved that it would be funny and thoughtful and full of wonderfully vivid descriptions, perfectly conveying the essence of Aunt Doll. He really nailed it.

Any advice for readers looking to self-publish or make a book? 

Go for it! And don’t be in a hurry.

What moves you to make art?

I feel my best and most alive when I’m making something. It’s how I respond to everything, it’s how I most naturally connect with people, and it always leads to new things.

My dad died unexpectedly almost 5 years ago, and since then that compulsion to create has become amplified. My dad was an autobody man. He spent 40 years smoothing, buffing, and painting banged-up cars. My drive and focus to work with my hands was passed down from him, we just have different applications. I love sharing that ability with him. He relished hearing about whatever I was working on, and I could hear his words of amazement throughout the entire book-making process.

It helped me move through grief.

What has been inspiring you lately?

We just took a trip to San Francisco and its coast to the north and south, so, rocks! Both in landscape and on architectural facades. The former are rugged and massive and make me feel tiny and insignificant; the latter make me feel like Fred Flintstone. I love both.

What are you working on now?

I just worked with a factory in North Carolina to create a batch of machine-woven Salami Dreamin’ beach towels! [Editor’s note: OMG they’re perfect. Order one here.]

Summer’s right around the corner.

How do you stay focused when you’re working on a project?

I listen to music, I stay well-fed. I also step away pretty often – to eat and run around the block and re-group. Forcing an idea or a task leads to nothing, so I take frequent breaks and change up my environment, in hopes of inviting other inspiration or a new strategy to seep in.

If you could invite three people to a dinner party, living or dead, who would they be?

Errol Morris

Mike Judge

Sade