Sunday, June 18, 2017

My niece has cancer, and I'm ticked about it. But, I'm learning from her.


Queen Nefertiti 2017, Katie Herrera

First appeared in the HuffPost blog. Click below for HuffPost.

Katie looks like an Egyptian Goddess.

Specifically, she looks like Queen Nefertiti with her beautiful bald head which we all kiss unabashedly. In New York City, where Katie lives, her shaved head is fashion. To those who know and love her, it is fashionable cancer.

She’s thinking about going as Nefertiti for Halloween.

So Katie.

My oldest niece, who found out she had cancer shortly after her 30th birthday, works as a nurse in an emergency room hospital in the Big Apple.

At first, she felt a lump near her stomach, no symptoms. Katherine Anna Herrera and her emergency room cohorts named it Terry for a disgusting cyst called teratoma that can grow teeth and even an eyeball. It is grotesque humor.

Again, so Katie.

A few weeks later, when Katie decided to get tested, she didn’t tell anyone. “Why worry them if it was nothing?” she said.

It was cancer.

Margaritas were snuck in, and once she got out and knew chemotherapy was the option, she went with a friend, shaved her head, donated her long, beautiful waves to Locks of Love, and went out for wine.

“We went out and got cancer drunk. It was kind of fun. I didn’t really care about being bald,” she said.

If I had to describe the babe, it would be as a bubble in sunlight. One of those lovely floating beings that rises into the air capturing the light and creating a rainbow. You see it and just smile in awe of its beauty.

My Katie.

I am so ticked that she has cancer, but I’m learning a lot from my niece.

You are never too old to learn life lessons. I’m grokking that there are basically two kinds of people in the world: Those who kvetch and question why did this (insert whatever crap you went through) happen to me? And those who ask, “How can I take this bad experience to help me live life better?”

“I’m at peace with it and haven’t worried much because everything happens for a reason,” Katie said. “And, I know I’ll learn something from this.”

Katie, her dad, and her two younger brothers, have spent more of their lives with cancer than without it. My brother’s wife, Irene, was diagnosed with breast cancer when the kids were just single digits, 6, 4, 2.

Irene fought the battle and taught her children more than she probably ever knew. She passed when the kids were double digits: 19, 17, 15.

“Of course I had my mom as this great example. She was always so brave and she was always optimistic. There was never really a state of denial. There was never really a profound fear,” Katie says of her own diagnosis.

That doesn’t mean that everything is great or that her family and friends don’t worry about Katie or pray for her. It just means that we all don’t know what’s going to happen - just like any part of our lives - and we have to find acceptance in that no matter how difficult.

It was a weird day when I broached the subject of cancer with my niece.

The family was gathered to celebrate her brother Tom’s graduation from medical school. I knew I wanted to write about Katie, but frankly didn’t know if I should.

Unfortunately, cancer is common. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year in the United States.

This year, Katie is one. She has leiomyosarcoma. (As if cancer isn’t bad enough, the name of it has to be so outrageous, it is the stuff of a sick and twisted spelling bee.)

Can I talk to her about it? Do people talk about cancer? What’s the protocol? I asked myself. I mean, I know a lot of people who have it, but not so close to me. I don’t know why it felt wrong. But it just did.

I prayed and took a jog. I happened upon a boulder that was scrawled with graffiti, the lyrics from a Coldplay song, “Look at the stars. Look how they shine for you and everything you do.”

So, I took that as a sign and took the plunge to talk about cancer.

Katie sat basking in the sun smiling and joking about how chemo treatments mean hair loss - everywhere. “It’s summer and I’m bikini ready,” she laughs. “I save money on waxing, razors, and shampoo.”

Later, I asked her dad to describe her in five words: loving, charitable, determined, spiritual, beautiful.

His favorite memory of her is when she was almost two, was in the middle of a mall, and had a butt itch she couldn’t reach so she pulled down her pants to reach it. They shared a moment of laughter.

His Katie.

I don’t think I understand cancer or ever will. But I am trying to understand life.

We all have challenges, some more than others. We all have to find some way to break through them like a high school football team crashing through the banner to take the field to play life hard and with everything we’ve got. How we deal with adversity is what defines us.

Sometimes, many times, it’s not easy, joyful, perfect. But it is life. And sometimes getting through the toughest moments with perseverance is what makes it worth living.

Katie isn’t battling cancer.

Cancer is battling Katie. And, I think it’s in for a fight and a sincere butt-whipping.

So Katie.

Our Katie.

(Enriching music: Yellow, by Coldplay; My Wish, by the Rascal Flatts)
  



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Beautiful Flowers








































Title: Beautiful Flowers
Medium: Old window screen from a shack near Roscoe, Tx, rodent skeleton, bouquet of dried flowers
By: Clara G. Herrera

(Enriching music: Feeling Good, Nina Simone; Where is my Mind, the Pixies; Here I Am, Lyle Lovett)

The Chaos of a Disciplined Mind


On my first full day of summer, my mind races against itself.

It is a cacophony of thoughts. Hopes of sleeping late were thwarted by brain tremors that awakened me like an earthquake to action well before 7 a.m.

These synapses included:

Why is my classroom and science lab cleaner than my house?

Why am I up so early when I vowed to sleep late?

Will I get everything on my summer list done?

Gotta make that summer list!

I know the final touch on the art piece Beautiful Flowers. That's why it has been vexing me, incomplete.

More coffee, no maybe less coffee.

Finished the art piece! 

Will I ever catch up with my brain?


Slow down. No, speed up. No, pace yourself and breathe.


Welcome to my mind.




Monday, May 29, 2017

I don't want my son to be a Memorial Day Tribute


As a child, I would play Taps on my saxophone but didn't know what it meant.

It was a joke in our home that Dad had built a cellar, not for tornadoes that might hit West Texas, but to shield the family from the squeaks of my atrocious alto.

The only thing I could really play well, because it was easy on my saxophone, was Taps. No one, except my family, would really hear it because we were surrounded by hay fields and ponds.

Mama would tell me to stop. Dad would say, "Shut the hell up," in the kindest of military voices.

I was ignorant and had no idea why they hated the only song I could play well.

Today, we honor Memorial Day. It is a day to remember those lost in combat. I say combat, and not war, because not all wars are declared or known.

What matters is that someone's family member didn't come back, a brother, a sister, a father, a mom, a partner.

I didn't understand that as a child playing Taps in the cellar.

I grokked this as an adult. My father came home from Vietnam. Two brothers arrived safe from Gulf War combat.

But the full realization came when my father died. Art Herrera was a retired enlisted Air Force Master Sergeant who spent his later years of his life as the town barber. They played Taps in trumpet at his funeral. My mom shuddered at each volley of bullets shot into the air.

I had no idea.

I hate that song now.

I cry every time I hear it.

My son celebrates his 16th birthday on Memorial Day, today. The picture here is with his retired decorated Colonel uncle, my brother, and me. It is a happy picture.



The Boy wants to make the military a career in the Air Force and attend an academy. This weekend Aidan took part in a World War II battle reenactment at Camp Mabry as part of the Texas Military Forces Museum. He was thrilled. I was proud. We took lots of pictures with smiles.

Then they played Taps and the full realization of war hit me. I looked at my son in his World War II uniform shooting a gun and thought, these are just characters playing a part in a play. How many people did not come back? How did my mom deal with this with a husband and two sons not knowing?

What if I lost my son in real life? It was a devastating moment. I thought about all of those mamas who lost a child in battle.

I had no words.

I have no answers. I have no real resolved thoughts. All I know is that every military person I encounter,  I think about my son, somebody's son, somebody's loved one, and I say, "thank you."

I don't want to memorialize them, ever on Memorial Day. I want to appreciate them now.

(Enriching music: I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home, Grand Funk Railroad because Dad said this was played over and over in Vietnam; Sentimental Journey, Doris Day version, because it's the best one.)



Saturday, May 20, 2017

Don't Be A Chicken!



Chickens can cure everything: The end of another school year comes. Like most teachers, I laud it and now grok why teachers get summers off to recharge. But, I also enter these last days with sadness. I teach all 5th grade science - 140 kiddos - and know I may never see some of them again. My students know this. I told them I might cry at their graduation. I asked them to buy me a chicken mask, so that if I start to cry while speaking I can put it on until I recover. One did. So, I've got my cover for this year. Last year, I used a mask of the blocked YouTube face. I'll let you know how it turns out. Heels, a dress, and a chicken mask, should be something. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Owls Are Wise


I dissected owl pellets with 141 students yesterday.

Owls, in mythological stories, are associated with being wise. An owl is the mascot of Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom. It represents truth, knowledge, and wisdom. How apropos that I was born in Athens, Greece, the Goddess' namesake.

It was a fun, messy experiment. Many thought the pellets were owl poop. However, that is untrue. The owl has adapted to its environment by regurgitating things it can not digest like bones and complete skulls. It poops out the things it can.

Life is all about adaptation. You might not be able to throw up your challenges in a nice compact cylindrical package, but you do have the ability to rid yourself of them.

Don't give a hoot about what others may think of you. Be wise. Seek positive knowledge. Rid yourself of the other waste because it is a waste of your time.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Wild, but not bored



So, I just won a wild boar hunt adventure to take with my son. It was at a church chilli cook-off. I had to think, only in the South could you go to a house of worship and be awarded with such a hunt.

The Boy is excited, as am I. Not once did he flinch and think it was unusual to shoot wild pigs with his mama. I suspect we'll be hitting the shooting range to get used to the right rifles.

Sometimes life is about aim and straight shooting in all realms. I suspect building memories is much better than a wrapped gift. However, I would have no idea how to wrap a slain boar as a birthday present anyway.

I'll let you know how it turns out.






Monday, February 27, 2017

What is Life Like?




I am of the Forrest Gump variety. Therefore, I like to think that "Life is like a box of chocolates." I am thankful that it's chocolate and not something else.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Acid Neutral Art Project
By Clara G. Herrera
Contact: acidneutral2015@gmail.com
Twitter: @acidneutralart

Title: A Different Kind of Train

Photo credit: Red Herrera Ellisor
Garza County, Texas
Enriching Music: If Love Was A Train, Michelle Shocked


Howdy y’all! This is the tale about a divorced bride from Austin, TX. When the crap hits the fan in a divorce, you can do two things. You can either wallow in it, and let it slowly consume you like ashes in a fire, or put your big girl panties on wearing a good pair of cowboy boots and dance on the flames retaking control of your life. I chose to do the latter wearing my wedding dress and trouncing across Texas, and a few other places.
I may be the only woman who has the gumption to haul my old wedding dress in the back of my pickup truck in a scented trash bag to take photos at someone else’s family reunion, with drag queens, in front of the Washington Monument, or while climbing a hay bale. But I am not alone in my decision to divorce. About 69 percent of women are the ones initiating divorce, according to a recent article in the New York Times. 
Even women who have remained in marriages for decades, who are entering retirement years, are not staying in unhappy unions, according to an AARP study. These stateside studies are duplicated abroad, as well. A new wave in the women's movement is not - divorcee - but solo artist. 
In this new liberation, women aren't burning their bras. They are metaphorically burning their marriage certificates.  
And, at least one, decided to drag out an old wedding dress, relabel it Acid Neutral, and create meaningful art for herself, and her children. It is taking something old, making it something new, borrowing nothing, and leaving behind the blue.

Why do this? 
From the beginning, I envisioned this project as my new "Baby Book." You know, when you have a baby, you write down everything and take pictures, noting the date. First step, first solid food, first time saying, "mama." There are even those embarrassing photos of our babies sitting on the potty for the first time.
  Now, I wasn't going to take a photo of me using the potty for the first time in that dang dress after asking my husband to move out and then filing for divorce, but you get the idea. 
The truth is I walked around my house like a caged animal for awhile not knowing what to do.
  I worked out, prayed, cried, listened to music, played basketball with my son, wrote so many dang journals I could invest in a paper company and retire. I continued therapy that I affectionately called "torture sessions," in the beginning. None was enough. I needed to find my own way to heal.
  I wallowed and I hated myself for doing it. I didn't want to be sad anymore. I didn't want my children to see me like this.
This is not who I am. But who am I? I was once bubbly, artistic, a writer, a force. I had to find myself again but didn't know how or where to start looking for me again.
  Consumed by my own thoughts of the past, I thought about my wedding dress in the attic sealed and boxed for my daughters to wear. Why would they want to wear a dress from a failed marriage? 

Why keep it?
Yes, why keep it?  

  Then it literally hit me. What if I haul my butt up to the attic, pull that dang dress out and take pictures of me in it as I dance into this new phase of my life? All of a sudden sadness was replaced by excitement. I gathered my kids on the couch and joyfully told them my idea. Just so you know, my kids are well aware that I am a bit on the quirky, artsy side, so they didn't balk at the idea one bit. "OK mom," they said and then scuttled off to text, play video games, and read.
  In the furnace that is known as Texas in July, I hauled that ladder up the stairs to the attic sweating like a pig as I threw that wedding dress box on the floor. I noticed "Acid Neutral" was written on the glitzy gold box. Didn't know what that meant, so thanked God for Google.
Acid Neutral is when the acidity from paper products is removed so wedding dresses don't yellow over time sitting in that box. It creates pH balance. Just like my life moving forward, I am achieving balance. Only months after completing the full project, I realized green is the color on the pH scale that equals neutral. Green is growth. Green is life. It has always been my favorite color.
       The Acid Neutral Art project is a culmination of photo, song, art, and poetry of an emerging, growing life into the unknown. Just like art, life is all in perspective. You can see a Jackson Pollack as total crap, or you can gaze on it for hours and find meaning in it. You can create new paintings of your own and reinvent yourself with each stroke of a paintbrush on a canvas.
  I have decided to paint in brilliant hues, in life, in rich fulfilling meaning splashed with color. I refuse to let life paint me or leave me blank or muted or devoid of purpose or worth. Besides, what’s fun about being ordinary? It’s just so ordinary.
 I am artistic. I consider myself a solo artist, not divorced. I am moving forward in all the color, glory, and love as the universe intended.
The Photos
    Most photos include the wedding dress I wore 19 years ago down the aisle. After a few times of tugging it on in places like public bathrooms, behind weeds, and in my truck, I noticed the tag, “Forever Yours.” I had to cackle considering I’m keeping the dress and ditching the husband. I bought it off the rack after searching all over Houston, Austin, and Fort Worth to find it in my size.
    Save for a few, most of these photos were taken with my iPhone 5, most of them by my wonderful, intelligent, teenage daughter, who had no photo experience until this project.
  At the beginning, I would direct, tell what poses I wanted, how they should be framed, sunlight, etc. But, halfway through, my daughter took ownership. She is an artist in all senses of the word. All of my children approved their photos and what is written about them.
  They saw all of the photos prior to publication. All have been copyrighted under the Library of Congress. There are about 90 photos in all. A few of them are here. My hope is to help others who are going through this by writing a book or continuing this blog. There seems to be a lot of us gals out there. 

But, we all have the power to make our lives glorious with humor and happiness.

Except for changing the color or size on my iPhone, there aren't any touch ups or alterations of any kind. No photo shopping. 

They are raw, just like life should be.


Title: Give It Up To...

Pecan Gap, Texas

Photo Credit: Rad Herrera Ellisor

Enriching Music: Karma Police, Radiohead; Just Let Go, Sturgilll Simpson

    Climbing hay wearing a wedding dress boosted by my two teens was comical, to say the least. I climbed on shoulders and was pushed up as I scrambled toward the top. It looked akin to a cowboy trying to stay on a bucking bull, except nothing was moving except me, and well, I was wearing a wedding dress.
I was very itchy afterward from dry hay scratches. For several days, I was picking out tufts of hay from the dress.
Hay bales like this hold significance in my life. When I was a kid, there was a hay field behind my house. I remember going out there after the farmers gathered them all together, climbing on them, and jumping from one to the other. I’d lie there for hours reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books and pretending I would be a famous writer someday.
    Before harvest time, when the hay was high in rows, my dog Bruno and I would play hide and seek in the fields. For that reason, I will always own dogs of the German Shepherd breed. They are smart, big, manly dogs. Don't tell me your Chihuahua is cute. My dog, Jack, will eat him and I will laugh. Not really, well, maybe.

Title: Exit Boy of Summer
Dell Diamond
Round Rock, TX
Photo Credit: Rad Herrera Ellisor
Enriching Music: Take Me Out To The Ballgame; Swing, Trace Adkins
    There are three wads of bubblegum in my mouth. It took me many tries and many splatters of pink gum on my face to get this shot. Think about a cow chewing cud, because that’s pretty much what I looked like. I contemplated calling this photo, “Thankfully, not hit in the head during batting practice.”
We've been season ticket holders for all years of the Round Rock Express. I love baseball live. I nursed three babies in this stadium, in bathrooms, and in offices, so I wouldn't miss games. My son's first songs that he memorized were, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and "The National Anthem."
    My aroma therapy is smelling the leather of baseballs. When my son sees me keyed up, he says, “Here mama,” and hands me a baseball. I have baseballs scattered all over the house, in my classroom, and in my truck just to smell them when I get keyed up. When my son goes to a baseball game with his dad, he usually texts me, “I got you another baseball.”
    The Round Rock Express staff was kind enough to open the stadium for me early, so I could take these photos, and so I wouldn't get hit in the head during batting practice.
    It was the last game I attended with my children as a season ticket holder sitting in those seats behind the visitor's dugout. These photos are taken right in front of our seats.
    My son and I played a game of catch that day with my old Harmon Killebrew glove that my father used to play for the Air Force Jets. It is a well-loved glove. I carry it in my truck, so I won't ever miss a game of catch with my son.
     Watching live baseball, to me, is my secular church, except that you get to drink refreshing libations and yell at the ump. I always cheer loudest for the players with the lowest batting averages, much to the chagrin of my children.
o
Title: Boy, The Big H
Jones County, TX
Photo Credit: Red Herrera Ellisor
Enriching Music: Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End; The Beatles


    This photo was taken at the land of my father, Arturo Quintana Herrera. My son and I are sitting on cross ties that they use to make railroad tracks. They weigh about 200 lbs each and are shaped like an "H" for Herrera. The Big H sits on a hill facing the road. It can be seen for miles and could be considered my first public art project. 
When my father died, vultures came out of the woodwork wanting to buy Dad's land. That's what they do in the country. I was so ticked off, I hauled the railroad ties up a hill and painted them a stark white. Dad had them scattered around the land to use in building fences. 
Every few years, my family repaints the Big H. My children never met my father, he died before I married, but they know him through the land and stories. The land is us. The land is family. In this stage of my life, my family is my children.
As far as I'm concerned, this chapter of my life is titled, "Seven Years of Solitude." I have no plans on disrespecting my children by having random people pick me up at my house on dates. I want them to feel secure and I don't need, nor do I want, a man to do that.
    Don't get me wrong. I'm not a jaded man-hater. I love men. But I love my kids and want to protect them. I was already up front with them and said, “I don't plan to date, but if I do, you will likely never meet the dude unless he is going to be important to your lives." I am not a parade, dating site, kind of gal.
    However, I do not adhere to that quote, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."  That’s not my quote. Some people give credit to Irina Dunn for that one. But what the heck does that mean, anyway? And how in the heck did that get to be a popular cultural saying that people actually use and distribute on buttons, magnets, and the internet?
    If I weren't a woman who takes pictures in her wedding dress from nearly two decades ago, I'd say, "People are weird." But, given the circumstances, I don't think I'm in a position to judge what people find amusing or worth distributing.
    Since Austin has the endangered salamander, I think, "A woman needs a man like a salamander needs a bicycle," is inherently more funny and just as obscure and obtuse. Somebody else probably already coined that phrase as well.
    The only male I love who I see on a daily basis is a freshman in high school and I'm cool with that.
    He is my son.
    He is 14 and still occasionally holds my hand, and puts his arm around me - as do all of my children. He is growing into a fine young man. He still likes to play basketball with me - yes, I do win sometimes. We throw the football and baseball. He is athletic, funny, kind, smart, and is a gentleman.
    He calls me mama. Mama=love.
    He tells me randomly daily that he loves me. I believe he will be one of the best men I will ever meet. I will guide him to greatness.
in time, see
By Clara G. Herrera
           i remind him that he is a boy and
              not  


  the man of the house.
  i
am
the adult.
i got this.
        He
      listens.
    I have an affinity for calling him, 'Boy,' as in, "Boy, pick up your crap from the living room," or "Boy, you seem pretty proud of stuffing your mom in basketball."
     I call him Boy after reading Roald Dahl's autobiography, Boy. He's best known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.
    Anyway, in his book, Dahl's mom calls him Boy. When his mother died, Dahl found that she had saved every letter he had ever written to her. I thought that was a sweet, sentimental relationship.
    Now, that said, I'm not one of those Psycho moms who wants my son to espouse as Norman Bates did, "A boy's best friend is his mother." I just think that strong, healthy relationships between mothers and sons help boys grow up to be respectful toward women. At least that's what I'm hoping anyway.

Title: Fit Me
24 Hour Fitness at 5 a.m. Austin, Tx
Photo Credit: Red Herrera Ellisor
Enriching music: Fitter, Happier; Radiohead; All About That Bass; Meghan Trainor
    This is Steve Appelhans, my trainer.
    This dude has helped me get in shape, not just my body but my mindset too. He doesn't judge. Talking to him is like talking to a priest, except without the guilt, and we laugh a lot. I've wondered what people in the gym think when he is making me workout. My laugh is loud and obnoxious. He tells me I can do it, when I think I can't. I am fitter and happier, and I thank him for that.
    Once I was going to miss a training because I wasn't exactly doing what I was supposed to do. "Get your crap together, Clara." He texted. He was totally right and I respect that about him. I pay him to train me so he could have just said, "OK, let's train tomorrow." But he didn't.
    Steve cares about making people healthy. He has a master's degree in fitness and remembers important tidbits that his clients care about. He wore a Batman shirt for the photo shoot because he remembered the superhero theme for my classroom.
    He texted all his teacher clients, "Happy first day of school!" with little memes of smiling faces and schoolhouses. Steve's just like that.
    He tells me to stand up straight so I won't be a hunched over old lady, and he reminds me that protein is my friend.
    Steve sends me texts that say, do this workout when you're not in the gym. He has helped me know my worth.
“Always remember to keep moving towards being the person YOU want to be in this new stage of your life,” he says. "Embrace the quirky."
I say, "Thanks to you I can fit into that dang wedding dress, dude!" He laughs. He tells me to raise my expectations.
    OK, I say, I have a lot of expectations.
    To start with, if there is another man in my life after this, he has to be over 6 feet tall and be able to explain Bose-Einstein Condensate to me simply so I understand it, I say joking. Steve responds, "I don't even know what the heck that is," laughing.
     I am in a glorious place right now. I have the luxury of no longer having to plan my life around a man, getting married, having children because of some arbitrary biological clock. I've checked that off my list. It feels amazing. These next decades are for my kids and me.
    In the nostalgic movie, "A Field of Dreams," the mantra is, "If you build it, they will come." My mantra is, "if I build it and no one shows up, I'll just play baseball by myself, hit off a tee into the outfield smelling every baseball as I hit, and call the play by play."
    Steve just turned 30, got his passport for the first time, celebrated by going to Mexico with his girlfriend, and stayed at a hotel that had a swim up bar.
    He reminds me of my son - love of baseball, honorable, kind, good work ethic, and in some ways I remind him of his mom - I never want to get married again, and having my children is the best thing that's ever happened to me. His nickname at the gym is Applesauce.


Art moment: I told my daughter exactly where I wanted her in juxtaposition on this photo. You can see her in the mirror taking the photo. My thought was a modern Velazquez. The famous Spanish court artist, Diego Velazquez, created “Las Meninas” which, in my opinion, could be considered the first Selfie. He is in his painting looking at you as he stands in front of his canvas painting the Royal Court. It looks like a photograph, but was painted in 1656. The artist is shown in his work, just as my daughter is shown in hers.
Fake me
By Clara G. Herrera
Real muscles but plastic faces at the gym
Building up to catch the next her or him
Puffy lips and tucked at eyes
Too much collagen in face and less in thighs
Smiles stretched too tightly in a real mistake
I am thankful that all I have is one tooth that is fake.


I Love You Jeanie Tuttle/ ALS Sucks!
Buda, TX
Photo Credit: Charlie Tuttle
Enriching Music: Blackbird, the Beatles; I'll Fly Away, Emmylou Harris live
    To me, this is the most monumental and meaningful photo in the series.
    Jeanie Tuttle has ALS. She is the former librarian at the school where I teach. Her family knew nothing about the disease before she was diagnosed in 2012. Her husband quit his job to care for her because it made more sense cost-wise to the family. He loves her and considers it an honor to be able to care for her through the duration of the disease.
    This photo was taken Sept. 15. I'd been to visit Jeanie and Charlie about a month before and told her about the series. To pep her up, I'd text Charlie some of the photos I'd taken - Washington Monument doing the Hook'em Horns sign, others. He thought it was a hoot and said send more, though, as a Longhorn, I told him it kind of made me feel a bit icky that every time I texted him a photo that Aggie fight song would play to alert him to it because that's his dang ringtone.
    The Tuttles are great people. They are the type of people who make you say, "Why in the heck did this happen to them?" They are the type of people who make you say, "What the heck am I complaining about?"
    Charlie joked about taking a photo of me in the dress with Jeanie at a truck stop, but by the time we got around to the photo, Jeanie was no longer able to leave the house.
    She couldn't talk. She was sleeping about 18 hours a day. She had to have a washcloth lodged in her mouth to absorb her saliva because she could no longer swallow and may choke to death. When you enter their house there is a prominent sign on the door that reads, "DNR instructions in the kitchen." It took me a minute to absorb that. It means Do Not Resuscitate.
    It was Charlie's idea for me to hold the oxygen mask and the mask that pumps and pulls out oxygen for Jeanie to breathe, "like a bouquet," he said. "I know it seems macabre, but it has meaning," he said. "People need to know about this disease."
    I asked Jeanie, who could barely nod, to blink when her response was yes to my series of questions. "OK here is what can happen with these photos: 1.They can just be private for us. 2. They can go on a blog. 3. They might get shown in a story. 4. They may go into a book." Blink with what you think is OK for you. Private - no blink; blog - blink; photos in a story - blink; photos in a book - blink.
    She wants to be known. A beautiful red-headed, Texas gal who read stories to thousands of children and recorded them in her lovely Texas drawl. She had a zest for books and inspiring readers. She would instill Charlie to make and paint cutouts and props for the library to inspire children every year in reading contests.
    That's what I thought anyway. I was wrong.
    Without hesitation, when I asked Charlie how Jeanie wanted to be remembered, he said: "Oh, her love of Jesus."
    He told me she realized something was wrong when she couldn't pronounce certain words like she used to do. When she found out, she recorded tons of books with her voice for the library and sent flash drives to all of her nieces and nephews on both sides of the family. "Now Jeanie can read to them forever," Charlie said.
     A teacher friend and I prayed with Jeanie before we left. Charlie left the room. "You women pray, Your prayers are powerful." We prayed silently and held hands all three of us. We all cried. My silent prayer was that when God finally decided to take her, that it was peaceful without pain, without choking. I left thinking I will never see her again. I kissed her goodbye and thanked her for her friendship and told her I loved her.
    I got to see Jeanie one last time on Oct. 3 with several teacher friends. By that time, Charlie said Jeanie was losing lots of blood and nurses suspected she had ovarian cancer as well. She would likely lose so much blood, she would drift off to sleep and not wake up, he told us.
    "What a way to go, peacefully, drifting off to sleep. Yeah for cancer!" he sarcastically laughed. "I bet you don't hear people say that very often? She's ready. She said she's not afraid." He always says, "Jeanie told me," though she can't talk anymore and they communicate with mostly blinks now.
    This last time, we stood in a circle and prayed, teacher friends and I - Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, holding her hands in a circle. If it hadn't been such a sad moment, it could have been the opening line to a joke, "So this Catholic, Jew, and Protestant walk into…" I got to tell her one last crazy story about an adventure I'd had. She could smile a little but was on heavy pain medication wearing an oxygen mask.
    Here is my take away on this beautiful, sad moment that was intimate, loving, and pure. I have encountered many deaths in my life and seeing folks for the last time and knowing it would be the last time or close to it.
    I have zero regrets on each encounter.
    I don't have any "I wish I would have spent more time with them." "Why didn't I go see them?" And that's a beautiful feeling.
    Love the people you love when they are alive so they feel that love and you feel that love for them. If they die before you get a chance to tell them, it is too late.
    When you go to a funeral, it's too late. That mourning is for you. It is for your loss of them.
     I am free of that feeling and I never want to have it.
     If you love someone, tell them. Write them a letter. Let them know it while they can hear you and you can hear yourself say it. But don't ever just say it, do it, show it. I have always lived my life that way.
    I have co-workers whom I love and I tell them, "I love you." They may think it's weird and I don't care. I want them to know how I feel.
    I tell my students as they exit my classroom, "I love you. I'll see you tomorrow. Get out of here!" I mean it. I don't really mean the get out part, they dawdle and I like it. That means they like being in my classroom and that is one of the most ultimate compliments you can pay a teacher.
    I came to realize, over the last few years of life's tribulations that I had numbly settled into talking the talk – to my own children, and to my students, and even to myself. It was typical do as I say, not as I do. Go out and do great things! Be your best! Love! Be alive! But I was not fully, truly living by example. 

Now I am. I am a revolution of action and love, even if it just affects those caught up in my minutia gravitational pull.

 It's not lost upon me that I may be the only person who tells my students they are loved that day. Some of my pupils think it's weird and tell me so. I say, "Haven't you ever had a teacher say I love you?" They say 'no.' I say, "Well, I do and I want you to know it. I don't care if you think it's weird. I love you. I want you to have a happy kid's life and I want you to be safe when you're away from me. It's not weird for me." They just look at me funny and cock their heads. Most of the time, by mid-year, they are giving me hugs as they exit and are saying, "I love you" back to me.
    But I will tell you, it gives me peace to hug my kids and to tell them I love them - my own too. If something happens to any of them, I know that they will know I loved them. 

And pure love, not clouded by preconceptions, prejudice, over thinking, deception, is a good thing for everyone. It is living joy.
Jeanie died a few days later on Oct. 8. I loved her and still love her. I have no regrets.


Title: Freedom (the last photo in the series with the wedding dress dropped in the background)

Photo credit: Red Herrera Ellisor
Sunflower fields in Lubbock, TX
Enriching music: I’m Free, The Soup Dragons ; It's Me, k.d. lang; I Feel Free, Cream

This is how I feel about my life moving forward, thankful, optimistic, and joyful! This shot was inspired by a priest. I visited a random one to ask about my standing as a solo artist. I'm all good, I was told. However, when I mentioned this dress project, he went kind of ballistic and hated it. There were a lot of expletives thrown about. Burn it in some ritual and move on, he suggested. Wear vibrant colors of designer clothing, he adamantly suggested. Others had said let it drift off to the ocean as I emerge, or cut it up into a quilt.  
 But, the dress has more meaning to my children and me now, that there's no way I would destroy it. So, I thought I would quell myself and the priest to preserve it by throwing it off in a West Texas field, like the one in the memories of my childhood - past memories, but still part of me. 
  A famous psychologist, Carl Jung, is quoted as saying "I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become." I believe that. 
I researched when sunflowers would be in season in this part of Texas which is a stone's throw from where I grew up, but 10 hours from where I reside.  
My daughter shot these photos quickly because bees REALLY love sunflowers and as she stood on the ladder that I had hauled in the back of my truck, she worried about getting stung. There were also other distractions. Of course, I had to find the thickness of sunflowers so I could change into the dress so no truckers would see buzzing by on the highway. 

And, there was the donkey.

There was a donkey in a yard nearby that kept braying in protest of us being there. He would not stop. Maybe he was a priest incarnate.


POSTSCRIPT TO ACID NEUTRAL: 

This is in reference to the letter William B.Travis sent from the Alamo on Feb. 24, 1836. Either you're Texan and get it or you don't.
Austin, TX November 22, 2015
To the people of Texas & All Americans in the World,
Fellow Citizens & compatriots -
I am besieged by this series of photos as I move my life forward in excellence and fortitude. It is a closed chapter of a tumultuous first half of my life. It shall remain closed unless Pandora's Box opens again with the grace and prosperity of those more famous than I.
It is with humbleness, I beseech thee, those of Texas to help continue the series. I call upon the Texans of today…
OK, so the truth is that this photo project is closed, the dress is back in the attic, unless I have the opportunity to take photos in it with famous people. I am mulling over writing a book with tips for women to get through this happily with humor, love, art, and joy since there seems to be so many of us out there.
I'll start with the Texans:
Lyle Lovett: My favorite Aggie
Tommy Lee Jones: because he's just so dang cool
Robert Rodriguez: because I had Professor Manchaca's class with him before he was famous, but he doesn't remember. I also have a screenplay I want to pitch. I could make he and his crew homemade tortillas and lots of homemade Mexican food while I pitch. Trust me. I'm a good cook. You'll at least get a good meal out of it while you're in Austin.
Willie Nelson: because he's a legend
Any Nobel Prize winner in science who teaches in Texas
Rick Perry: because we grew up in the same neck of the woods
The oldest living Texan
Any descendants of Sam Houston: because he is just awesome and my favorite person in Texas History besides Quanah Parker
Quiet Company: because they are a cool band from Austin, TX and they have been to my house
Nolan Ryan: because I love that he brought the Round Rock Express to me
The Round Rock Express baseball team
The Toadies: because they rock
UT football team
The Aggie Corps: (I am an equal opportunity Texan, though a Longhorn grad.)
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: because he had a hard job and did it and I respect him.
George Strait : because he is King George and lives in my neck of the woods
Laura Bush: because she loves books like my friend Jeanie Tuttle and created the Texas Book Festival
A real Texas Ranger in a cowboy hat, in full uniform, must be over six feet tall… just because
Non-Texans:
Elon Musk: because he's intelligent and as close as I will ever get to Nikola Tesla. I love Tesla, but as my kids remind me - Tesla is dead. They think it's gross that I find Nikola Tesla, Anton Chekhov, and Richard Feynman attractive. Oh well. I'm hoping Musk will start a program called "Teslas for Teachers" and I will be the first recipient.
Oprah Winfrey: because she has done much to empower women and I think she’d be fun to hang out with
Tony Bennett: because he's an artist in every sense of the word
The Foo Fighters: because they are funny. Actually, I would really like members of the band to wear the dress as I wear their clothes and pretend to play their instruments.
Queens of the Stone Age: because I appreciate their "Silence of the Lambs" reference and I am quite fond of gingers like Josh Homey
Barak Obama: because I know that won't happen, but it would be cool if it did.
Michelle Obama: because, well, she's cooler than her husband
The Real Slim Shady: because he rose above the ashes. My favorite lyric, “Let’s all stand up.” Indeed.
Wildflower II
Photo Credit: Rachael Ellisor
Conejo County, Colorado
Enriching Music: Vivaldi Four Seasons, Spring; Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto #2 (my favorite song)


What did I learn from the Acid Neutral Art Project?
     I am a teacher. I imbibe knowledge. I try to learn something everyday. Here is my takeaway: You can rise above the ashes and become better. You are fully capable of changing yourself.  You can set an example for your children, and others, about overcoming adversity with gusto and gumption!
     You can achieve what you want, you just have to want to do it, and actually do it. Stop talking and start doing.

Don't let trepidation inhibit your capacity to achieve potential greatness. 
       Life is not a random occurrence of cosmic events. We control our choices, our actions, our happiness, our lives. Joy is infinite. Love is infinite. Get out your metaphorical wedding dress and wear that baby with pride and confidence. Go forth and conquer. You've been given a second chance. It's a new day. It's a new life. Most people don't get that.


You gotta world to rock.


So, go out and rock it!


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