a very long embrace

This morning I’m drinking my homemade latte (frothed up by microwaving the milk and whisking it, just how Mama used to make it) and reading a short story written by my sister, Phoebe. I’ve read it before, when she first wrote it, and it’s stuck to me ever since. In fact, I’m in love with this story.

But today I’m reading it on The Blue Hour, where it’s published for all the world to see. It’s called A Very Long Embrace.

phoebs I love you, Phoebs, and am so proud of you.

 

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love this body (self-portrait with pink hair)

self-portrait with pink hairSometimes I forget. I think everyone forgets to love their body, but it’s the thing that connects us with the world, with other people, and food and weather and light.

Dancing reminds me what I am capable of– how strong and beautiful I am and what I can handle. I forget the strong part especially, and lately. When my sister took me rock climbing for the first time a few years ago, I was up there on the rock and scared and didn’t think I could reach the next foot hold. Phoebe said, “Use those dancer legs.” Amazingly, my leg was long enough and I pulled myself further up.

We’re all stronger than we think.

some morning drawings

coffee things sunshine flowers

I have my mom’s espresso pot now, so I can make lattes by microwaving the milk and whisking it so it gets frothy on top. That’s what we used to do every morning, until she couldn’t drink coffee anymore. When I lived at home, Mama and I would be in the house most days while my dad was at work. Our morning routine was coffee before anything else, whoever got up first would make it. I’d wake up to the sound of typing, Mama checking her email. I’d walk into her room and say good morning, then go downstairs to the kitchen and start the coffee.

mama

mama and me in our hats in Chicago March 2012Morning Coffee 3 “Morning Coffee” comic from 2011

I’m twenty-seven years old and my mom is dead.

How strange that is to say and even to think. If I live to be at least 60 (and universe-willing it will be longer than that), then she will have been dead for most of my life. How does one understand something like this? The biggest person in my life is gone, and the whole world is different.

She’d been dying for a while, and I knew it was coming. By the end she seemed so far away that I didn’t think it’d be much different when she actually passed. But it’s like there’s a line that’s been crossed, between my life with Mama and now life without.

I’m trying to write this post as a way to organize my thoughts and feelings and be open about them so they don’t get bottled up or pressed down, which is easy for me to do. Like I’ve said before, I’m trying to keep my heart open. But honestly I don’t know what to say.

She was my mom. My biggest champion, supporter, understanding friend, the one who loved me the most no matter how big of a buttface I was being. She made everything fun. She made me, I came out of her. She was my mom. What else can I say?

This hole is really big, and no one else will ever fill it, but maybe it can be hole like this one. Maybe it will allow me to see things I couldn’t without it.

I’m sure I will write more about this. And I’ve been sketching comics throughout the last few months of her cancer, and as I make final versions I might post them here. But for today this is all I’ve got.

being brave

IMG_9993 being brave in my tree. 

Today, before I did anything else publicly in the world, I went to the coffee shop to write. I hadn’t done this in a long time, pretty much since I got my own apartment here in town. Before, when I had to take the bus in and had time to kill before my shifts at work, I would sit there for hours writing and drawing while taking advantage of the unlimited hot water refills on my tea. So, today: my apartment was messy (still is as of this writing), I needed to do a hundred different life-business things (still haven’t done them), but instead I went to the coffee shop, got an americano and a bagel with raspberry jam, and did some work. It was wonderful, and I think set the tone for the rest of my day.

Recently my mom asked my dad, sister and me, “What was the best compliment you’ve ever received?” I answered differently at the time, but I’ve been thinking about this question for days, and finally remembered a truly beautiful, unexpected compliment that has stuck with me for about nine years now. I was in a dance class in college, and for the first day of this particular class we partnered up, and had to tell the rest of the class something about our partner. My partner said, “Anna is a brave dancer.” I was blown away in that moment. I know that I am a brave dancer, this is a big part of who I am. I will be the first on the dance floor at any party or Bar Mitzvah, and I will really move. Part of the reason is that I’d rather dance than make small talk, because that way I am participating in the party while still being my true self, rather than feeling fake by trying hard to talk to people I don’t know. Also, it’s just fun. But hearing this girl say, “Anna is a brave dancer,” touched and surprised me. I didn’t think anyone else could see that about me. Especially someone I hardly know. Hearing her announce this to a whole class of dancers made me blush and swell with pride. I almost felt like crying. Someone can see me, I thought.

I’ve been auditing ballet classes at the local college. I’m in an advanced level now, and it’s really hard. Often, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I try to go for it anyway. On the first day of this advanced class the teacher told me I was fearless. “Just keep being fearless,” she said. I love thinking of myself as fearless, and for others to see me that way. I’m afraid of so many things, which can easily take over my mind. But I am fearless. And brave. I live a fucking amazing life, and I really do it, every day. It’s okay to be proud of that, in fact I think it’s good to be. It feels glorious to recognize that in myself and appreciate it.

Tonight I went to a performance with my friend Janet. We had no idea what to expect, and it was perfect that way. It was a one man show, and I don’t think I can quite describe the experience here, but he owned it. He loved it. I could see it in his eyes that he loved it. And I thought again about being brave. How you can do anything you want onstage and if you are brave about it people will be captivated. Because you are being true, being fully yourself, and that is the most beautiful thing to watch– whether it’s a performance, dancing at a party, or just doing your job (being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, barista, whatever).

Being brave is easier when you have people who love you. Right now I’m in a really scary time in my life. My mom is dying. Every day I get emails or voice messages from friends and family, and even though I don’t call or write them back, I hope they know how much that support means to me. Just knowing they are there, that they see me, gives me a little cushion to lean back on, and it makes things a little less hard.

Anyway. This is what I’m thinking about today.

Now, go take a look at Shana’s blog, because she wrote something very beautiful about forgiveness.