Guest Blog Post, Lori Jakiela: A Portrait of a Young Artist in Suburbia

Lori Jakiela

A Portrait of A Young Artist in Suburbia

My daughter Phelan wears a frog hat to drum lessons. The hat has felt eyes that google on top of her head. It has legs for ear flaps, a tongue for a visor, and chin straps that look like a lilypad and lotus.

“Stylin’,” her teacher Mike says, “a real drummer,” and pats Phelan right between her amphibian eyes.

Mike looks like Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day — black spiked hair, smudged eyeliner, mellow rock swagger. He’s kind and patient and says cool with two syllables a lot.

Phelan is 8. She is blonde haired and green eyed and the nicest person I know. She also questions a lot of things.

Last year at the school talent show, she did a tough-guy drum solo, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” She wore a pink skirt and sequined top. Her glittered shoes lit up like an emergency whenever she took a step.

My daughter confuses people, which confuses her, which worries me.

“I like girl things and boy things,” she tells me, like she’s confessing something, like she wants me to give her some penance to do.

“You’re perfect,” I say. “Always be yourself.”

“Always be yourself,” she repeats to her older brother when he’s embarrassed by her abundant joy and questionable fashion sense.

My son is 12. It’s a tough age made worse because he worries too much about what other people think. When he was very young, around four, he’d do stand-up routines in our basement. He had a catchphrase – “And I threw up… two times” – that could make adults howl.

Then something happened. I don’t know what. A year passed, maybe two. He stopped telling jokes. He stayed away from microphones. At the playground, he’d stand like an accountant, hands in pockets, and watch the other kids play before he’d join in.

“Don’t smile too much. Stand back. Be cool,” he tells his sister now, his advice on being popular.

“I’m my own person,” she says, and whacks him with a drum stick.

It’s not good for my daughter to whack her brother with a drum stick. She gets in trouble for this. Still, I hope she’ll find some way to go on holding the world off. I hope my son will find his way back.

In my kids’ school, there are anti-bullying signs everywhere. The signs have inspirational messages. “Everyone is Special.” “You’re Perfect the Way You Are.” “Difference is Beautiful.” “Nothing is Better Than Being Yourself.”

But being yourself costs, especially when you’re 8 like my daughter, especially when mean girls are rising up, all preen and snicker, hips jutted out.

People say kids are naturally mean, but I think meanness is a learned thing.

Those anti-bullying signs are earnest. My kids’ school is wonderful. We live in the suburbs and our school district is one of the best around. But in our district there are subdivisions with regal names, pre-fab houses with coordinated siding and matching mailboxes.  All the homes look the same, eggs in a carton. There’s a push, I think, for all the people to be the same, too – paperweights in their own little boxes, scissors with blunted tips.

“We’re very particular about who we let move in here,” one woman from a nearby subdivision said recently.

I don’t know who she meant by “we” or who exactly fit her criteria.  Or maybe I do know and it’s too awful to think about.

Difference is scary. If it can be gated off, if it can be shrunken down into something manageable, a petri dish, life can seem easier to navigate.

This doesn’t excuse anything.

“Do you know your enemy?” Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong wants to know.

My family lives in the house I grew up in, close to the cluster of subdivisions this woman was talking about. Our house has been here for 40 years, but still some days I feel like an outsider, even though most of our neighbors are wonderful, the kind of people who help in an emergency. They’re the kind of people who bring casseroles and who, if they see your trash can rolling down the street, will stop, pick it up, and deliver it back where it belongs.

But my husband and I are writers, which makes us seem a little odd. We don’t have expensive furniture. We do have a lot of books. We have a lot of paintings and music, too. We’re what my mother would have called “arty.” She would not have meant this as a compliment. My son constantly reminds us we live in a house and not an art gallery.

“Can’t we please be normal?” he says.

“Do you collect books?” a neighbor asks.

“I know why you have so many books,” one of my daughter’s friends says. “So people will think you don’t watch TV.”

“Books, huh?” one of my son’s friends says.

Yes, I say. That’s right.

“Be yourself,” I tell my daughter, even though most days I’m a hypocrite, terrified of being found out.

About writing, the great Harry Crews once said, “World don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”

I want my children to be their own beautiful selves. I also want the world to go easy on them. I’m not sure it’s possible to have both.

If meanness is learned, other things are learned, too. Contradiction, for instance.

When I was growing up, subdivision wasn’t a word people used. We had our street, neighborhood, block.

I think about that word now, subdivision, the root of it. The division of a larger division. The act of dividing again and again.

“Maybe I should try cheering,” my daughter says when she worries about fitting in. “Maybe I should get an American Girl doll.”

But I’m thankful she hasn’t followed up on any of that.  She sings and plays softball and every Thursday, she straps on her frog hat and does her drum lessons with Mike. Right now they’re working from a book called The Rock and Roll Bible.

“It’s a foundation,” Mike tells Phelan. “Once you learn your system, you’re solid. You can do anything.”

They count together, one-e-and-a-two-e-and-a, and my pretty blonde daughter bangs out a beat like Charlie Watts. On her head, the frog eyes bob. When she plays, she’s happy, but serious, too. She wants to get this right.

The thing about frogs is they’re as comfortable on land as in water. Lotuses are rooted and floating all at once.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time.” F. Scott Fitzgerald said that.

“Mom, you worry too much. We’re fine,” my son says.

I watch my daughter drum, her whole body moving, connected, one undivided beautiful self, and for this moment believe it.

Meet the Interns: Tabitha Gutierrez, Advertising

tabithagutierrez_0Tabitha Gutierrez is a senior majoring in Business and English Creative Writing.

Superstition Review: What do you do for SR?

Tabitha Gutierrez: At SR, I am in charge of advertising and getting the word about SR out to the public. I write press releases/newsletter providing updates about upcoming readings, submission periods, etc. as well as pursue ways of gaining advertising.

SR: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

TG: I heard about Superstition Review through an email from the English department regarding internship possibilities. I selected SR as my internship because I felt like a student run magazine was new and interesting.

SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?

TG: I especially enjoy the artwork. Being an English major, I read multiple works from various authors daily. However, I have always loved art and find that the art included in SR makes a nice change.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal? Talk about him/her.

TG: My dream contributor would be Tim Burton. Although I am obsessed with his movies, I absolutely love his artwork that he does. He has albums filled with art for movies and characters that are truly unique. Also, I think that any stories submitted would be different and fun.

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

TG: I think that it would be interesting to work with art selection. I would love to view and compare different works of art and discuss how others view it as well.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

TG: I am most excited to see the results of readership. I feel like an increase would reflect a contribution that I did in advertising.

SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?

TG: When I was younger, I really loved the Diary of Anne Frank. Although sad, I felt like it was the perfect combination of history, youth, nonfiction, relatability, etc.

SR: What are you currently reading?

TG: I cannot put the final book of Twilight down. I already read the series but loved the last book that I had to read it again. I know it is a sensation but I find a real art to the way it is written.

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

TG: I usually get distracted by YouTube. Not matter your mood, you can always find something to fit your desire. If I am in a funny mood, hilarious pet videos always keep your mood up. Or, if I am in an artsy mood watching people sing and try to get there name out there can be inspiring.

SR: What would be your dream class to take at ASU? What would the title be and what would it cover?

TG: My dream course at ASU would be a Next Step class. I think that faculty focus so much on the transition into college, getting classes, and your overall freshman year, but barely focus on your Senior year. I wish there was a class that explained the best way of breaking into career fields, what to really expect, realistic salaries, etc. How are we supposed to base degrees and majors on something so unfamiliar?

Superstition Review’s Fourth Issue Reading Series, first reading

This past Monday was Superstition Review’s first reading of the semester and, I have to say, it was pretty amazing, particularly with the small and intimate setting of our favorite local bookstore, Changing Hands, literally setting the stage for the event!

Not only did we get to hear from American Book Award winner Stella Pope Duarte, who was previously featured as an interviewed writer for her award-winning book, If I Die in Juarez, but she also asked two of her writing students to join her. Accomplished writers Rita Ackerman and Annie Lopez accompanied our main guest reader that night as they too shared highlights from their varied portfolios. After a brief introduction to the readers for the evening via our Editor-in-Chief, I grabbed a seat off to the side and settled in for the reading–notebook, camera, and BlackBerry (for live-tweeting!) in hand.

Reading Series Editor, Samantha Novak, took the Changing Hands stage first, quickly introducing Trish Murphy, our Editor-in-Chief, inviting her to speak a little about SR. As Trish gave the rundown of how we work, take submissions, and run the magazine all through semester-long undergraduate internships, she also gave an update on submissions and solicitations that have already drifted into the magazine. Among the poets and authors submitting work, we learned that award-winning author and former ASU professor Ron Carlson will be interviewed for this upcoming issue–how exciting is that? With the logistical side of the reading out of the way, we were ready to hear from our esteemed readers.

First to read was Rita Ackerman, a scholar of the history of the American Wild West. She read an illuminating narrative on the shootout at the O.K. Corral from the perspective of Ike Clanton, an under-celebrated outlaw of Arizona’s history.

The story came from her recently published O.K. Corral Postscript: The Death of Ike Clanton and provided a street view of the shootout. It was particularly interesting because it viewed the famous Earp brothers from a fairly neutral position. Ackerman continued with a short dip into the death scene she has reconstructed from the obituaries and accounts of Ike Clanton’s death. Introducing ‘Pigleg Wilson,’ her writing explained that Ike, though a pivotal member of the Clanton gang, is not buried in a dignified grave in Tombstone like the rest of his family, but he instead resides in a unmarked grave somewhere in Springerville, Arizona.

It was particularly interesting to hear a detailed and engaging account of one of Arizona’s famous outlaws. Ackerman really brought to light the benefits of well-written nonfiction narratives, highlighting one of the under-sung genres of many literary journals, and one that SR is proud to feature.

Next up was Annie Lopez. Not only is Lopez a great storyteller, but she’s also an artist–one featured at the Phoenix Art Museum (and giving a lecture on her work on October 21st at 4 and 7 p.m.).

Lopez’s work collectively focused on the naivety of youth, especially as a young woman growing up in Phoenix. In her partly auto-biographical stories, the fourth-generation Phoenician read about her young adult mishaps. In, The Dress, a middle school-aged Lopez shows us a glimpse into a home-economics class. She and a friend made complete fools of themselves by knowing a little too much about sewing and trying to flaunt their skills, resulting in becoming the laughing stock of the Phoenix Suns basketball team. Her other story not only brought about laughs from the audience as she explained the awkward situation she was put in when her high school guidance counselor exposed herself to Lopez, but also reinforced the need to feel comfortable in your surroundings as a young adult.

Enterprising on the hilarious hi-jinx of youth, Lopez really connected with her audience as she shared her humorous tales and reminded everyone in the audience the importance of staying on the good side of friends-who-happen-to-be-writers–whatever you do, she warned via her shared anecdote, don’t forget that whatever you say and do can, and often will, be written down and used against you in the future if it has high humor value. In all fairness, you should know better!

Finally, it was Stella Pope Duarte’s turn to take the small stage. The audience seemed particularly excited to hear from her as she was introduced.

The ABA award-winner greeted everyone with a quick, unabashed admission: she loves rumors and secrets. As she talked about the upcoming acceptance of her award, she revealed that, though she loves Phoenix more than she could ever like NYC, she enjoyed the City for its eavesdropping goldmine that it is; she claimed she loves nothing more than walking the streets there to gather as many rumors as she could. It wasn’t just a random comment, though–she said none of her stories would really be possible without them, especially from the collection she was reading from.

Duarte is a passionate activist and writer defending human rights issues, particularly bringing child prostitution wrongs to light. On Monday she shared one of her newer stories, “One of These Days I’m Gonna Go Home,” a selection to be published in her upcoming collection of short stories, with the working title of Women Who Live in Coffee Shops, that focus on rumors and the lives of individuals whose worlds are affected by the rumors. The story dealt with the adoption and rehabilitation of a former child prostitute being raised in the Phoenix desert.

Our featured reader was really engaging with her audience and she had complete command of local Phoenician dialogue, slang, and speech. Her reading, as well the other women’s, really featured the outstanding talent of local writers. It was refreshing to hear these home-grown southwestern stories of our state’s history, growing up in Arizona, and dealing with the complexities of such a culturally rich state.

Overall, I’d say that the reading was a complete success and a wholly enjoyable event. I’m extremely excited about the next one, October 26!

Did you attend the event? What did you think? What was your favorite work you heard?

Video Interview with Rita Ackerman on ‘O.K. Corral Postscript: The Death of Ike Clanton’

Phoenix Art Museum lecture schedule

Stella Pope Duarte wins 2009 American Book Award

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