My Harrowing/Hero-ing

Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red, photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

“Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red” photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

When I take action to control my life, I’m told I’m being manipulative. When they say I do not inform them of my life plans, it means they wanted me to ask their permission. When I decide what I want to do, it’s not done against anyone else’s will. When I ask for help, I am not asking for everything. When I ask for assistance, I am grateful, because there are things I cannot do for myself due to abilities I lack. I ask to be useful in return.

…and here’s where it gets personal.

It is not my fault when my help is refused. I am not your burden when you took me on as a “project”. I am not a project. I am a person, and I grow, I learn, and despite disabilities, in order to be happy, I have to help myself, do for myself, and not subsist on the crumbs public assistance assumes will leave me healthy.

I never ask anyone to break their back for me. I never lifted a hand to swipe away your bread for mine. I never got this depressed and sick in order to live lazy. When I volunteered at places I loved to work at, with people I loved to work with, it’s not my fault they turned me away because they thought the work was too hard on me, or maybe they thought I became a burden, too? If I cannot even volunteer, what use am I?

When I lost friends, those so-called pals told me they dumped me because they wanted to remember me as I was before I lost my health. But I am beyond pleasing them showing how crazy that made me feel. And when I could not fulfill deadlines for projects of my own, my passions were dying, I felt my fire flickering, my heart burning… What does it matter if I fail or not when I am considered this burden?

I cannot be a burden. It’s too heavy. I have to lose this weight. Not in the physical sense, but as in this weight of expectation. No more will I let my father tie me to the ground and shape my body into nothing but fat. No more will I let anyone sink me into mud whenever they give me looks of disgust like that. I am not this weight. My body is more than fat and meat. I’m not this heavy thing, yet…

I can be an anchor.

I intend to take action to control my life, and, yes, that is being manipulative because I am cutting off these strings to be master-less. I intend to live my life as I’ve always lived, really: as I choose, by my own power, whether or not you feel it’s what you think is proper or not. I do not need approval or acceptance. I never did. I don’t exist to take advantage of anyone. If I can, and I do, I support others in return with the abilities that I have that you do not. What I can do no one else can, and in that I have great value. Let me shine. Let me be my best. Let me produce.

I am a creatrix.

I should not subsist on crumbs, or favors, or public assistance alone. The shame of disability is a shroud created for me once diagnosis rears its ugly head and all the medical expenses pile up, keeping me a slave to an insane little budget, but how else to live when I have to maintain this balance? I no longer fit the mold. Since I cannot do as all the rest, what use is there for me? Do I forfeit all my learning and talent and remain in my closet drawing pretty pictures no one will see? So what shall I do? Wait to die? For years this body has rested underneath the burden of being a burden, practically the word alone “disabled” is enough to shame me into permanent instability. I am not disability itself. I am my own person. I am myself. Don’t mock me or tell me I’m this burden on society, or that my illness means you’re obligated to nurse maid me to Hell. I am not a crippled child who needs to lean on you in that fashion. Who said you had to work for me? Or fix me? It’s not your job.

While on disability, I’m not unemployed, I am working for myself.

When I choose to stand up for myself, I am not putting anyone down. When I decide to try something new, I am not abandoning help. When I ask someone to let me go, I am not asking them to dump me. Stop beating me up for being me. Quit hurting yourself taking responsibility for me. I never asked you to take my job. That’s always been up to me. Someday you won’t ever have to worry. It’s okay to think like you do because you really think it’s because you care. But it’s not helpful.

I am strong. I survive. I work my way through many tough things. But even when I am alone, I realize my survival has been the sum of many peoples’ assistance through many years. Even in my solitude, I am not an island.

I want you to know, I am not this so-called burden. Each time I’m called that, I think I die, and sometimes I thought I did, but each time I bounce back, I know it’s a lie. I grew up angry. How many women like me are told the same thing? How many lose their lives trying to work their way out of being a burden? How? Why?! I suppose I’m to feel guilty for everything they did for me when I couldn’t do anything in return, and they knew I didn’t have the means, so why did they decide to make me a burden? Does it feel good to stab themselves for picking me up when they knew I was too heavy? Because I’m not stabbing them. Just like they accuse me. I don’t do anything! All day, oh, yes, I sit here and project nothing. Especially not that.

Once you realize I am not a burden, you’ll be on to calling someone else the same thing. By then, I hope, I will have forgotten the sorrow of it, yet for now it is not a nothing, it is something I choose to toughen me up. I do not like getting like that. I like being soft, but like so many of you have told me,

  • “it builds character”


(not addressed to any one person, or organization, but written for all the women like me who are striving for independence while living with a disability)

Postcard #32: The Linden Tree Lover

I found a lover while you disappeared
hidden within the Linden Tree…

Like a featherfall into bed he was
as I stood, making me lie down all night long
filling me with his heavy honey sweetness
I delighted delicate, crushed happily against his chest
his chest soft and fluffy and white…
his flowers blooming perfume bright
he dances my senses all open
lifting me up, tossing my hair
I find myself bouncing at the tippest-top of his branches
dizzy and floating yet again dreaming crazy, obsessed and mad
just another woman one more lover closer to blessed death
the oohs and aahs spell out my doom
I am spellbound with the wonder of touching
heart-shaped leaf and linen-smooth wood under my finger-tips
dripping with sweat, dusted yellow with pollen, powdered perfect
I tremble out a smile —

sunshine breaking through darkest cloud

and he appears above so high, so close
whispers of vapor drifting, coming together
the most mysterious face taking shape…

The smiling Linden Tree Lover
he came so tender, so glimmering and true
no ghost or phantom-seem nor angel of dream
was he out of sky, out of me, out of the tree?
It could have been out of too much of my wishing
because all along it was you I was so much missing
yet the more I struggled to explain
the more the feeling remained
that evening when I, once chained by pain,
could not stop crying and dying
over every memory and worry over you,
gave in to this intoxication, settled into joy
I found myself embraced, receiving love again

This ecstasy took away my every want and care
and the God was all I desired, was the all who carried me
sky and sun, all became gold, no more blue
he even took the look of you
and I dance with him today still
the lover I didn’t know I knew.

Now what am I next to do?

More songs! More stories! More laughter! He demands sending giggles down my gut, and, helpless, I stay in bed birthing worlds outside my head.

Postcard #27: Breaking Through

I am here yet not really here. My words are footprints fading on a well-worn path. I am not walking alone nor am I writing out a new trail of ink to mark my passing. I have found myself by getting lost in a dream, again. The secret key to my release is to drench myself in wonder and sink into passion, bathe in moonlight, let it launch me into the arms of a thousand-fold touches where finger-tip tongue-tip lip-meet-skin-seek is all there is to live for. I wake up asleep to dream out loud — busting and bursting — orgasming-riding inspiration — my every part pimpled with buds blossomed, dripping petals, unleashing green.

When I opened my eyes this morning, no more was the dark, yet even under the clouds, it was me, the child giving a blanket-peek out into the wild wonder at every tree rejoicing-swaying full with open leaves. In the yesterdays before, the branches still had bare patches, the leaves still shy and small, and fluffs of pollen were floating about seeming on a mission to single me out, itch at my eyes and make me a misery. More yellow-brown parts were like scabs on the ground… if only I could pull the greener, fresher grass over it like I can a sheet, I would have.

With all awake now, the May has seduced me easily. May… the all too familiar lover haunting my bed. The muse, He pulls and I tug back. I take up my pen, my brushes, lick the tips, and begin…

My breakthrough has come.

Do We Have to Compete?

One thing that has always felt unfair to me, competing against an equally talented artist to win honor, power, prestige, favor and reward. Why? Because someone else has to lose in order for me to win. Or I have to lose in order for someone else to win. Most of the time it is the latter. I am told that losing builds character, will make me strong, but all it has ever done has made me feel not good enough. Losing after spending a great deal of time and energy on a project that is only important to win a contest distracts me away from actually working towards a practical goal of my own. When I should be working to better myself, I am instead doing everything for the approval of someone else whom I have deemed superior to me, usually a person I consider an authority or hero. And how did they get to be in that position? They either worked very hard or…

They beat someone down to get on top.

If we have to fight, no matter what the game, in order to gain a victory, no one really wins, because someone has to lose.  To gain a victory, one has to fight, and most of the time the contest is never really about who is the most skilled, talented, or lucky, it’s more about who is the most ruthless bastard at getting what they want.  In any contest, people duel for approval and attention, hoping to be picked, some put each other down with insults and satire — psychological torture — to weaken their opponents’ confidence to get ahead.  We compete not to prove our honor, we compete to be superior, but are we really proving that we are the best when we have to destroy someone else to do it?  Is it necessary or fair to compete for a prize that only we will benefit from?

When we are pitted against each other we are not working for the common good, nor are we achieving awesomeness by being the best human beings we can be, instead we are displaying our brutality.  It is the basis for all wars — someone beats someone else to gain an unfair advantage — and the reason why men die defending the weak — one power has to stand up for the disadvantaged party.  Competition is not about empowerment, it encourages power-over-others.  The lesson we end up teaching by continuing this social ritual is that it is acceptable to make yourself superior over others.  Weakness is not to be tolerated in others, especially so in ourselves.

When I was in elementary school, public spanking was still tolerated and approved as a way to punish academic weakness.  I had a learning disability that went undiagnosed until I was 19, so you can imagine how I struggled and, out of fear, had to compensate to stay out of trouble.  Not only did I have to fear coming home to getting a whooping from Mom if I got bad grades, I also had to deal with the very real possibility of facing the principal’s wooden paddle, displayed in all its horrible glory, in his office for every kid to see each day as we made our way to class.  One spring semester I came awfully close to getting spanked.  I was about to fail Math, but two other kids did worse than I did, and it was very clear they had some kind of disorder much worse than mine.  I made it to the next grade, just scraping by with a C and escaping summer school as well, yet they were kept behind.

I will never forget the day the entire school was assembled to watch the public spanking of those two boys.  We were told that we were shown this for our own good, to keep us from making the same mistake, and that if we continue to improve we won’t ever be punished like this.  As those boys screamed, we were all shocked silent.  After that, the boys faced further humiliation, ruthlessly picked on at the playground and cafeteria, especially by smarter and more popular kids.  The popular kids were also known to be “favored” in church as well, coddled and treated well by adults as if they were chosen by God.

I hated them.

After I completed sixth grade in 1982,  public spanking was finally against the law, but the fear of humiliation and being beaten for being weak or not being good enough at something never left my mind.  I never allowed myself to simply relax and be myself in school, or at anything, for a long while.  The conditioning to be THE BEST and to push yourself all the time is still hard to unlearn.  Having drive and determination is good, but one should acquire it from a source of kindness, out of a love for your fellow humans, not out of a ruthless urge to be better than everyone else and stay on top by keeping other people down.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve never liked sports or reality television shows where people are faced with outrageous challenges.  Competitions can be entertaining to watch, but it all loses its flavor when I witness the ugly coming out in people.  It is like watching your brother or sister bitching at you during an off moment on a camping trip, it’s not something you want broadcast, let alone photographed and saved to be shared in your photo album!  You want to choose to remember the fun you had on the trip, right?  Yet the drama and the harsh behavior between competitors fuels the gossip on all social networks.  All that bitching encourages dishonor between human beings.  We make heroes out of people who don’t deserve it all because they are famous for nothing.  The famous become public domain, rarely using their fame for causes to better humanity.  They advertise products that promote our vanity and continue to sell tabloids that are not worth the paper they are printed on.

There is another kind of contest-ing that I do not like, one that I have decided to never participate in ever again, and that is submitting artwork or written material to win a celebrated artist’s or writer’s approval in order to be given a gift or win a favor from them.  The results are quite disappointing every time, not because the one who is picked isn’t talented, but because once again, it is more about winning approval and pleasing one person who, no matter how well executed your work is, may not understand or appreciate your perspective.  The judge in these contests (sometimes they are juries of artists or authors) seem to be looking for a “mini-me” that they can take under their wing.  Yet even when I’ve attempted to please a judge, that tactic does not always work.  It is a gamble.  You invest more money and time into something you have a 10% chance of winning.  As with advertising, you only have about 10 seconds to capture an audience’s attention.  If the judge is particularly well-known, they are going to have a ton of submissions, and a large panel of people assisting them in narrowing down the best.  There are more chances of you not making the cut.

Best get used to disappointment… fast.

I have always said that disillusionment has been one of my greatest teachers.  This has been true because I have made many heroes.  Those heroes have shown me they are liars.  Most of my heroes were comic book artists and authors.  The competition in the comic book industry has always been fierce.  My first close and personal hero rose up in the ranks to make his first million by stepping on a lot of toes.  He was my first connection in the business and I must have been like a tag-along little sister with stars in her eyes following him around.  He may have been frustrated with me, but how could someone I looked up to so much treated me so mean in front of his peers?  Not everyone we look up to deserves to be a hero.  I have seen my heroes wear many masks, make fun of the very people who worship them, and take for granted the cool job they have making believe for a living.  We pay them to lie.  That is the truth.  Let us not be blind to the fiction-makers.

I thank my first comic book industry hero for breaking my heart the way he did, because it freed me from falling for the bullshit that so often keeps my head out of the game.  The game?  For fifteen years I competed for jobs in that business and found out that it was not right for me.  Why fight when all I am really great at is to create?  I am no longer as bitter as I was and I am content to be at home producing as much work as I can.  I do not have the aspirations I once did to be the best.  I now have better goals and challenges to meet that involve helping others.

Last year I collaborated with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to produce a comic book printed entirely in the Ojibwe language.  The goal wasn’t to make money, or even to make history, it was to provide a book that will get the Chippewa people, and others, interested in learning and using the native language that we are trying to preserve.  I want to do more projects like that, ones where I don’t have to compete to prove I am worth a damn, but one where I give hope and help to others.  Especially inspiration to other little girls like I was, the girls who make believe and live for dreams.

Yet still, on occasion, I find myself tempted to step up to the plate and count myself back in the game.  Especially when I want to be as admired as I admire someone else.  The little girl with the stars in her eyes still wants to believe in a hero, still aches for someone to prove to her that they are worthy to be praised, but also she wants to prove she is good enough — no, the BEST — woman worthy of your love.