All of the things

First show of the season in two days! Excited?

Mmmm, more tired than anything else, really.
To be 100% honest, it’s been a crappy month. Expensive dental visits, minor eye surgery (I was a very unsexy pirate for a hot second there, as they sent me home with an eye patch), rehabbing an injured hip and shoulder, paying out many dollars on top of doctors visits for show fees, AND doing all of the things you have to do to get ready for your season. Tent repairs/replacement, equipment checks, buying new stuff you didn’t have the money for last time around so you look like you kind of know what you’re doing, finding the old stuff that’s been stored in the garage since last season and hoping to FSM no woodland critters have made a home in it.
I’m just kind of pooped. But in two days I have to put the Show Face on like a boss and be charming and awesome and ready to rock and roll.

Cuz when I’m sitting around with nothing going on in the middle of February, it’s days on end of nothing amiss. But lawd forbid I got shit to do. The Universe will heap your plate and assume you want seconds because the universe is like my crazy Cuban grandma (which is silly to say, as both of my grandmas came from Havana, so technically, I have no other kind) that way, and even if I’ve already had half a chicken and a huge helping of black beans and rice, two pieces of bread and fried plantains, it’s all, “Aren’t you hungry? You hardly ate!”.
Such is life.

So this is how we roll when we have a show to do and are running short of damn;

Coffee. Obviously. Because people.

Beer. Same as above. But not till after. Because I’m HILARIOUS and extremely cheerful when I’ve been drinking, but I’m also really inappropriate and I cuss way more than normal. And since normal is like a Norwegian sailor, it’s best we save the celebrating till after the customers are gone.

Selection of K-pop tunes. Don’t judge me. G-Dragon is made of unicorns, and it is the best load in music of all time. Why? Because I dare you to be in a crappy mood listening to G-Dragon do anything. Possibly up to and including reading the ingredients off the back of whatever passes for Rice Krispies in Korea.

Cookies. Because I like to reward myself for doing the things I would be doing anyway, but are less fun to do without a cookie at the end. Who doesn’t want a cookie? Ok, who is me and doesn’t want a cookie? Nobody, that’s who.

Help. Mah boo and my bestie are my go to booth monkeys and they rock it. One was a rennie like me, so can sell anything even if he’s completely making up everything he knows about it. And the other sold cars, so he can sell anything, even if you don’t want it, and you’ll still end up thumping him on the back and thinking you got a great deal even 15% above MSRP. I have no idea what I just said. I don’t know what MSRP is. Possibly it’s the acronym for the secret police in some cold country I’ve never heard of. And I would never price my stuff like they price cars because that’s douche-y. MY POINT BEING, having people whose help is actually helpful (rather than well meaning but a total pain in the ass because it makes more work for you but you don’t want anyone to get butt hurt so you smile and thank them and let them mess with your chi just to be nice) is SO AWESOME.

Am I destroying the illusion here?
I know people want a story with their art, and I have one. But that story is not that this isn’t work, or hard, or a pain in the ass that borders on epic sometimes, especially when all of the OTHER things are piling on. The creation part is the easy part, relatively speaking. It’s hard work but it’s fun work so that’s ok. The rest, the marketing, applying to shows, financial stuff, omg taxes, all that, can be overwhelming.
And sometimes you run out of damn to give. It’s OK that that happens. It’s normal. And I’m telling myself here as much as anyone else, because like most people, I’m hard on myself when I’m falling short of having super powers. So I’m saying, it’s ok. For you and me.
I’m here for you. I understand.
And I have beer. Beer good. Foamy.

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Gloom cookie

I was recently accused of being obsessed with death. My response was, “Whaddaya want? I’m a goth!” Which is true. I own every Cure album, 99% of my wardrobe is black, I wear black lipstick, and I knew who Vlad Tepes was by the age of 13.
Yes, my work contains a lot of skulls and bones and death imagery.
But I’m not “obsessed”. I am fascinated. By life and all it’s intricate rituals. A huge number of which involve death and what may or may not happen after. So the subject is unavoidable if you’re a student of cultures and mythologies and stories.
I’m also dealing with a parent that has a terminal illness. My dad was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago. He’s had two remissions, but he’s not going into a third. He’s ok right now. The chemo is keeping it from getting worse, but that’s not going to last indefinitely. Death is sitting at my dinner table as we speak. It is everyone’s, when you think about it, but in my particular case I can’t ignore it.

In this country we’re in some serious denial about death. We’re ideologically divorced from the natural progression of time and the inevitability of decay. That’s not particularly healthy in my opinion (and no few learned professionals, so I’m not just making this up). Cuz, newsflash y’all, we’re all gonna die. And beyond just our individual snowflake selves, our culture, our country, will also die or evolve past what we might now recognize. It happened to Egypt and Rome, it happened to the vast and interconnected empires of the Khans. Nothing lasts forever.
And that’s GOOD. It’s NECESSARY for the continued functioning of EVERYTHING.
If you look at biology and physics, they show you that decay feeds life. Death feeds evolution. Everything on this world, any part of the universe is in a constant state of decay. That decay is transformative in all cases.
We’re nothing but atoms formed in the bellies of dying stars. Only a dying star can make the atoms that make us. Without death, we wouldn’t be here. Those atoms don’t go away when we die, they get recycled into the epic huge generator that is the universe. Think past your own life to the vastness of EVERYTHING and think about what happens if that recycling stops.
On a small scale, cancer. On an unimaginably huge one, the end of the universe. I’m oversimplifying, but basically, yeah.

And it’s healthy to face that reality and embrace it. Because really, there’s only one way this, all this – you, me, Fluffy the cat, cars, balloons, Venus, monkeys, the Empire State Building, Lady Gaga, et cetera – is going to go, and you can either look the other way or deal. I like to deal.
I am fascinated by cultures that deal. Mythologies that make a place at the table for death. Welcome it like an old friend. It wasn’t so very long ago that ours did as well. Some of the most richly symbolic art in modern Western culture is Victorian funerary art. But we’ve moved away from that as our deaths have become the business of hospitals and mortuaries.
We all used to die and be prepared for burial at home, by our families and communities. Some religions within our country still do that for their dead (Mormons and some Jewish communities come to mind) but the vast majority will be distanced from it.
Whatever that distance may mean to you personally, it’s not a bad thing to want to close that distance. It doesn’t make you obsessed. It makes you curious.
Curiosity about where you’ll inevitably end up is, like curiosity in general, healthy. If you’re terminally ill, it’s considered brave to face death head on, but anybody else is considered morbid for it. Why would a young, healthy person be interested in ceasing to exist and rotting in the ground? Taboo!

Why? Because it’s going to happen eventually and you may as well explore the idea while you have the opportunity to do so. You explore the idea of growing up when you’re a child, the idea of sex when you’re a virgin, the idea of marriage when you’re dating, the idea of having children before you’re a parent. Why balk at death?
Because it’s scary? Sure, but I’d argue that so is the notion of turning food into a human, but many women get pregnant seemingly without much prior consideration and think nothing of it. Death is just as normal and natural as reproduction, and absolutely necessary for continuity of the universe, let alone your mere genetic line, which is a drop in a very large ocean of energy using systems, from the smallest bacteria to a star multiple times the size of our sun. All of which, be it in hours or tens of billions of years, will die.

How freakin’ awesome is that thought? Obsessed with death? Yeah, ok. Because a dying star made my body that does kung fu like a boss, and all the electricity zipping around my brain meatz making thoughts happen. And that, people, is RAD. So is the question of where my carbon will go when I die. A tree? An eagle? A volcano?
Oh man, I WANNA BE A VOLCANO!!

Tattooed lady

By the time I was 14 I knew two things for certain, I didn’t want children, and I really wanted a tattoo.
So I told my mom (the tattoo part, pretty sure she wasn’t concerned about the kids part at that time). She said something about locking me in a convent. This isn’t an unusual threat for a Cuban mother to make, so I ignored it. But I made a compromise. I told her that if I still felt the same way by 18 (the legal age to get tattooed) she didn’t get to argue. Assuming it was a phase born of watching too much PBS, she acquiesced.
Fast forward to a week after my 18th birthday, I come home with my first tattoo. It’s the Eye of Ra. It was done by an acquaintance who had just started tattooing and it wasn’t done at all well. It’s been cleaned up though, and is now a part of the full sleeve on my right arm.

Mom, to her credit, when reminded of the bargain we’d struck 4 years earlier, didn’t say another word about it. That time. Her acceptance was not easy and slow in coming. I had to explain to her how ugly I’d always felt growing up and how being tattooed made me feel beautiful. I was the only Hispanic kid in my class and got bullied in a way that nowadays makes the 6 o’clock news, so it took me a long time to find how to love myself. The first step was my first tattoo. It was the first time I looked in the mirror and saw something I found beautiful. And from there I was completely hooked. She doesn’t like it, but I shared that with her, and she gets it now.

About 60% of my skin is currently inked. The only large areas left are my legs below the knee and the upper part of my stomach. Both arms, my back, chest, hips and thighs are tattooed, along with a small one on my ankle commemorating the death of my first dog. My second will go next to it when I’m done mourning him. All my tattoos have meaning. Not everyone goes that route. Everyone gets tattooed for different reasons and all those reasons are valid. Mine happen to have mythologies attached to the imagery that is meaningful to me. I find every one beautiful and I regret none of them.

Getting tattooed is a huge commitment, and not everyone is comfortable with the idea of carrying around the same image on their skin forever. What if they change their mind? And if you think you might (and frankly, most of you will) don’t do it.
For my part, I think about my pieces for years before getting them put on. The crow on my back went through three or four incarnations before the image I have now finally got put there. But when I saw the final image, I knew. My snakes bloomed fully formed in my head and they’ve never been revised, but I waited for about five years before having them put on. When you know, you know, but it’s still good to wait just in case. I have three that commemorate a specific event that are the only exceptions to my rule of waiting years before the final commitment. The one for my dog, one for a spiritual journey I took a long time ago, and one for hurricane Katrina. And even then, the Katrina tat has been redone. The original was small and poorly executed, and I wanted something that better expressed the hugeness of the experience. That’s why I went with the bleeding sacred heart and huge, blooming flowers. Nothing says New Orleans to me more than blood and flowers. And nothing symbolizes what I went through during Katrina better.

When I’m preparing for a piece, I hunt my artist out carefully. I’m extremely lucky to have found two amazingly talented men, Dave Noellert in New Orleans and Jason Vaughn in Chicago, that have been my go to guys for years now. I wasn’t always so lucky, and I value their ability to translate my fumbling ideas into explosions of gorgeous art that I get to carry with me til I die more than I can express.
An amazing artist usually doesn’t come cheap. I don’t have much dough to spare, so part of my ritual, my commitment to it, is the gathering of funds to complete the piece from start to finish. I sacrifice whatever needs to be sacrificed and get the money together to get it done. Plus tip. You try drawing on a moist, mobile, breathing, nerve enriched canvas for upwards of three hours and see if you don’t feel like you deserve a damn tip.
I don’t start it til I can finish it. And that’s ok with me, because I value the end product. But a lot of people think tattoos are too expensive and that’s why they don’t go there. That’s cool too. I don’t value a weekly trip to the nail salon, but plenty of people don’t consider that money ill spent. It’s all about what matters to you personally.

And that’s really the point. Tattoos are intensely personal. You are writing your own story on your skin. Whatever that story is.
And that’s what I say to anyone picking my brain about getting their first tattoo. A tattoo is a story. Think long and hard about how you want to tell it.
Make it a good one.