I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.
Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.
Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.
When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.
While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.
For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.
For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.
To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.
If George Lucas had fleshed out Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.’s lineage beyond Sean Connery’s loveably aloof character, then Indy’s grandmother would be a fictitious interpretation of a real woman named Kathleen. My grandma is an adventurer of Raiders of the Lost Ark caliber, but with the added facets of socialite, food and wine connoisseur, avid supporter of the arts, and incredibly learned intellectual, it’s hard to decide if 007 and his cultural suavity wouldn’t be a more fitting metaphoric descendant.
Born first in an Irish-Swiss family of seven, young Kathleen spent what free time she had traveling the world via the medium of books, a pastime that never petered out and instead manifested itself into an adulthood of constant globetrotting, international charity, and (especially in regards to ornithology) ethological discovery. With a passport that sports the insignias of countries all across the globe, it’s become commonplace to expect that any random visit to her Facebook will yield that she’s in Honduras, Brazil, Vietnam, Canada, Belize, Chile, France, Japan, Trinidad, Australia, Argentina, China, Morocco, Ecuador, Ireland, Thailand, Mexico, or chartering her way via boot, bike, or kayak up and down hiking trails, canyons, and rivers that span the entire United States from Alaska to Hawaii and Washington to Florida. And to be quite frank, that list doesn’t do justice to the expansive escapades that would comprise my grandma’s autobiography.
A Renaissance woman through and through, my grandma’s life of excursion has resulted in a cosmopolitan artist, fascinating conversationalist, and superb chef whose inherited penchant for flavor only increased with the influence of multicultural cuisine. With a sophisticated palate for meals like salmon hash with tarragon and poached egg, asparagus, and huckleberries; a love for symphonic choirs and NPR; and the ability to appreciate the serenity of her peaceful woodland homestead complete with deck recliners and couches, wide-open glass doors, and interior décor amassed by a great eye, my grandma is the well-rounded adult who’s unintentionally instilled a reverence for seniority and retirement in both myself and my friends.
My grandma is the woman who escorted my sister and I to innumerable operas, plays, ballets, museums, contemporary dance performances, musicals, and galleries. The woman who effectuated our educations in classical singing and ballet, and helped organize and attended every performance. The woman whose review I seek whenever I want to introduce anyone to the delectable gastronomy of Portland restaurants. The woman who taught us rewarding, hands-on work in her garden whenever we started feeling out of touch with nature. The woman who sheltered my whole family in her enormous house of sunny windows and hardwood floors, invited us to play in her even larger yard of cherry trees, willows, and evergreens, and later designed a smaller home to be just as inviting. My grandma is a woman who can travel the world, be abroad for months at a time, and still be synonymous with the hometown she’s so assiduously immersed us in.
A far cry from the frail, blue-haired, nightgown-clad grandmothers of the media in both demeanor and personality, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my youthful, energetic, and warm-spirited grandma is to make things happen for yourself. Actively pursue adventure, actively surround yourself with loved ones, actively seek knowledge, actively volunteer your aid, and actively approach life with a sense of wonder. There’s so much out there to explore, so many experiences to partake in, and so many people to learn something new from that whether you’ve borne witness to 79 years of life on earth or 17, get out there and carve your path, embrace the excitement, affirmations, and comforts this world has to offer. Employ cartography to chart your own life and go revel in the firsthand experiences that a television set could never impart.
Besides learning how to complete tax forms and fill out checks, one of the saddest, inevitable aspects of aging is the gradual diminution of daydreaming. That isn’t to say that there aren’t adults out there who still pass the hours with their head in the clouds, seemingly idling away while their imaginations rev with steam power, but I beg to proffer a generalization when I say that most adults in our Capitalist system don’t have the time or mental energy to dream like they used to.
This unfortunate phenomenon occurred to me last night after seeing Pacific Rim in IMAX 3-D at Universal’s neon-lit CityWalk. Despite the obvious holes that even Guillermo Del Toro admits to, this film was an increasingly rare personal experience in which I was actually able to relax and enjoy a summer blockbuster and all the giant, sword-wielding robots it had to offer. But while beating back motion sickness for the thrill of prismatic kaiju-jaeger carnage, the thought occurred to me that if I were a twelve-year-old kid watching this movie, my mind would be racing to fabricate a myriad of subplots and potential characters, and as soon as the movie ended I would hurry home to manifest my alternate narratives via writing, illustration, or a long bout of daydreaming. As it was, the movie ended and I hustled home to collapse exhaustedly into bed.
It’s a real shame that daydreaming seems to be a pastime literally and ideologically reserved for children. Even for those adults fortunate enough to still possess the active reveries of juvenescence, our culture seems to perpetuate a social stigma about daydreaming after a certain age. The phrase, “get your head out of the clouds,” comes to mind when pondering the fact that idle behavior in adults is generally chastised by the United States’ emphasis on productivity. Since youth, aging in America runs parallel to an exponential loss of time: our homework starts to amass in middle school to ensure that we’ll be ready for high school; or social lives have to be marginalized in order to complete all the high school work that prepares us for college; college buries us so deep in post-college preparation that sleep becomes an irregular recreation; the five unpaid internships a city like Los Angeles demands from us and the secondary jobs we fill just to make rent consume every waking hour of the day in preparation for a career; and unless we’re lucky enough to secure a relaxing schedule and ample time off, our careers become synonymous with “life.” Of course it all peters out eventually, and one can only hope that the reinstated free time of retirement might kindle some sense of contemplative woolgathering… as long as the exhaustion of the years prior doesn’t preoccupy the mind.
I think hispanic countries got it right when they established midday siestas as a cultural repose. Providing people with an opportunity to regain their energy and cerebrate at their leisure is a genius social strategy that not only aids in employee stamina but also in creative output. Daydreaming, while criticized as mere inattentiveness, self-absorption, and absentmindedness, is a progenitor of art and innovation. Back when I had the time and the energy to simply explore the contents of my imagination for as long as I saw fit, my artistic output was tenfold its current yield. Today, if I’m lucky enough to have a writing implement and jot down a creative thought when it galavants my way, I have to seek time to flesh it out, and by then I might already be preoccupied with the next fleeting fancy.
But I shouldn’t be so quick to bellyache about the future to come, for having attended art school, I’m geared up for a career in creative ideation. Despite these occupational prospects, the expectations of most middle and lower class vocations that I grew up amongst are worrisome on the creativity front. Unless you have a job at Pixar or in an advertising agency, work schedules are not conducive to imaginative thought. And even with a creative occupation, daydreaming just isn’t the same when you work to produce creative ideas versus spontaneously slipping into hours of free associative contemplation.
I suppose if there’s any consolation to be garnered from this predicament, it’s that even though the American system demands that we work hard to afford the necessities of life and work even harder to live leisurely, creativity continues to flourish. Eccentric couture designs continue to catwalk their way into fashion shows, anonymous muralists continue to adorn city streets with whimsical illustrations, teachers continue to create innovative curriculum to engage their students, architects and urban planners continue to brainstorm new strategies for cost effective living, and artists like those assigned to Pacific Rim continue to dream up bigger, more fantastical monsters. With creativity manifesting all around us every day, it’s clear that innovation is not solely the product of excessive daydreaming, and with the help of these imaginative adults, creativity will continue to augment social progress. Yet despite this propitious silver lining, I can’t help but wonder what this country would be like if everyone still had the time to dream with the same fervor that propels a child to build castles in the sky.
Photography first became a prominent component of my life in 2003 when I decided to manifest the fanciful concepts of my illustrations in reality and recruited the technical aid of a tiny, auto-function point-and-shoot. But that pixelated, digital camera and an elementary photo editing software called ULead Express weren’t my only tools as I dove headshot-first into this new medium. A huge motive behind those early 72 dpi endeavors was the ability to actualize the characters from my imagination in reality using the Moon-Wood family affinity for costumes and makeup.
Putting tireless effort into creating and inhabiting the guise of a separate entity isn’t just a fond pastime though: costumes are admittedly the reason for my existence. My parents first met at a college Halloween party where my mom sported a cat suit complete with a homemade tail, ears, and makeup that would put the cast of Cats to shame. My dad, inversely, wore a gory Frankenstein mask through which you couldn’t see his handsome face (although the exposed forearms beneath the classic horror visage were enough to reel Maman in). And quite frankly, if young, coquettish Paul and Linda hadn’t been eager to take advantage of Halloween’s identity-morphing free card and suit up in a guise ulterior to their own, this blog would have a very different voice.
Although the college circumstances I met my boyfriend under weren’t even close to that archetypal 80s love story, I was reminded of the fact that I virtually owe my life to a catsuit when my man and I attended a costume party this past Friday. The theme was the impolitic subject of “gangs,” and in lieu of seizing the obvious inspiration of LA’s red, blue, or gold banners, my mind immediately went back to gang-savvy cinema and Broadway shows in which switch blade-toting thugs pirouetted their way to the kill and gang slogans went something like, “Do it for Johnny.” In my mind, the gangs that deserved imitative homage included the finger-snapping Sharks and Jets from West Side Story, Ponyboy Curtis’ macho denim crew in The Outsiders, Ace in his all-too-intimidating Hawaiian shirt and Eyeball with his coif in Stand By Me, and all the slicked pompadours of Grease. Yes, I realize I had a whole host of gangs to garner inspiration from merely by watching The Warriors, but rather than donning the green makeup and baseball cap of the formidable Furies or taking the Hi-Hats route and embodying a dastardly mime, I decided to emulate the classics. So my tough guy beau and I attended the party decked out in tight pants, high-tongued boots, a flannel rolled up to the shoulder on his end, and a leather jacket, Anita-of-Sharks-fame hoop earrings, lipstick, and a high-do on my behalf. Out we strolled from an uncharacteristic luxury vehicle (courtesy of Uber Los Angeles) into an LA house party where we were equally amiss in a sea of endless red and blue bandanas and a couple flannel shirts buttoned at the collar.
This phenomenon of appearing wholly overzealous when it comes to costumes is no new bone of contention for a Moon child though. We’ve experienced a life’s worth of bemused stares, whether cuchi-cuchi-ing all over a Latin American-themed party in Charo garb while everyone else sports sombreros and mustaches, spending hours epoxying plastic bullets into a bandolier to attend a costume party as a living Brian Viveros painting, breaking my teenage bank on every themed Homecoming dance, or garnering a crowd of onlookers while conducting costumed photo shoots in the enormous wall-length window that comprised my old bedroom. But this aversion to Party City all-in-one costume packages that results in endless hours of what sane people would consider unnecessary costume preparation is no fault of our own, and our obsessive-compulsive drive for authentic interpretation can be traced back to one progenitor: our mother.
With a B.F.A. in fibers and a lifelong flair for needlework, my mom is a homemade aficionado whose original costume designs would put McCall and Simplicity catalogues to shame if she ever decided to disseminate her patterns. Working as a third grade teacher for years, my mother became both an anticipated and legendary spectacle at her school’s annual Halloween parades, for which her perfectionism prompted numerous all-nighters in front of a sewing machine. The impressive results of these undertakings included characters like a Día de los Muertos Catrina bride, a revamped Maleficent (complete with shoulder-perched crow), and a life-sized praying mantis supporting a huge papier mâché-fabric head with large, multi-ommatidia eyes (all the better to beguile edible male mantises with).
But although we may stick out like over-dressed sore thumbs at every themed fête we attend, I have my mom’s tireless quest for perfection in homemade costuming to thank for a career in metamorphic self-portraiture that began long before I’d ever heard of Cindy Sherman, Claude Cahun, and Leigh Bowery. Since then, this inherited passion for costumes and makeup has enabled innumerable transformations for both photo shoots and costumed affairs alike. For when you invite a Moon sister to your costume soirée and inadvertently open her hefty wardrobe filled with wigs, jewelry, traditional Mexican huipiles, hand-me-down fur coats and hats from our Nana, those medieval gowns we had to wear to a great-aunt’s wedding, shoes of every heel height, patterns galore, authentic 80s Benetton solids, and makeup palettes that span the color wheel, you really never know what you’re gonna get.
I can’t remember the last time I audibly stammered to someone’s face, but I won’t hastily forget this occasion.
Today as I headed back from work, turning onto Chicago St. in my neighborhood of district-homages and sweating profusely after a two mile hike in the quintessentially dry heat of the southwest, a woman I’d passed once before noticed my friendly smile and returned the favor. Then, she uttered an entire conversation in rapid-fire Spanish. When she paused for my reaction, I opened my mouth and nothing came out… for several seconds.
Now before you go dismissing me as the ignorant Anglo-Saxon I made myself out to be on the corner of Chicago and Michigan, allow me to divulge a little history. Ever since I was mistakenly assigned Spanish Immersion History in the 6th grade, I’ve always taken Spanish classes. Not only was this decision based on the advantages the skill provides in the job market, but it also stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a household that doubled as a mini Mazatlan; bedecked in a vibrant, chili pepper color palette, adorned with a skull-faced Catrina or Frida or collection of alebrijes in every room, and owned by a woman whose obsession with Mexico bridged from her hacienda replica in Portland to a casa auténtica she inhabited for a time in Oaxaca. While I resided in this Latin American lifestyle with mi mamá, Spanish was spoken fluently under our roof, and the approbation I received in Spanish class reflected it.
Once I graduated from high school and money began to dictate my education, language was forced to take the wayside, and the extreme expectations art schools perpetuate extinguished any time or energy I had to devote to practicing a second language. It’s true what they say about retention diminishing once you’ve exited childhood, and I’m the perfect case study. As a high school student, I could understand and speak Spanish, easily read and write in the language, and even think in Spanish, but inconstant exposure has stripped away several of those capabilities, reducing me to someone who can understand what you’re saying, but won’t be able to respond unless you’re only question is, “How are you?”
I have to consider myself fortunate for retaining anything at all though–especially considering the fact that my summer job during college involved teaching art to over 150 Spanish-speaking middle school students. It’s a sure bet that if I hadn’t been able to understand the petty wisecracks my kids initially made behind my back, I would have never earned their respect. Personal experience and three years in the business taught me that teenagers are ruthless enough when they feel age inhibits adults from understanding them, let alone a language barrier. Step back into the shoes of a fourteen-year-old and come armed with comedic ripostes for every snide remark, however, and you’ll earn yourself some incredibly entertaining friends.
Today, years after my participation in the Spanish Honors Society and my stint as a middle school ringmaster, I reside in what several downtown Los Angelenos have described as “the ghetto,” but from my perspective it seems a lot like home–or what Mexico City will be like once I finally travel outside of this country. My community is predominantly Hispanic, the surrounding shops are mostly tiendas and mercados, and thus far only the beaming woman I met in the street today has attempted to make conversation, discussing things I understood (Isn’t it a beautiful, sunny day? How are you doing? Good? Well my dear, may the Holy Father in heaven watch over you and bless you with good health and a wonderful day!), but could only think to say, “¡Gr-gracias!” to in response.
It’s sad to think that a girl so smitten with audial and visual language, who used to sing classical arias in Italian, German, and French and who continues to create multi-lingual artwork, has to stammer her way through one phrase of Spanish. Call it a fluke and blame it on the heat of the day, the two mile trek on blistered, flip-flopped feet, or the preoccupied concentration with what on earth I could discuss in this blog today, but ultimately I think this shameful faux pas is a sign: time to whip out a sombrero in the guise of a thinking cap, seek the counsel of the venerated Rosetta Stone, and get back to broadening my mind, Sybill Trelawney style!
In my youth, I was what one might call a prolific writer: a kid whose bespectacled eyes were permanently glued to the hulking cube of a PC under the stairs, fingers zipping across the keyboard for hours in an improper, self-taught typing technique. I was such a literary zealot that not only can those bespectacled eyes be blamed on my incessant proximity to a glowing LED monitor, but I had a fan-fiction that spanned 200,000 words in 58 chapters, and had garnered a fan base of 320 similarly bespectacled adolescent computer-mongers. The only problem with this Homerian epic and the six original books I succumbed to myopia for, was that chapter 58 was the preclude to the last chapter, and the last chapter never came…
So what was it that overtook the celebrated child author who many writing forum patrons knew under the immature moniker of Munkymuppet? How did such a promising wordsmith’s skills encounter the second coming of the Cretaceous period and peter out with the same expiry flair as the dinosaurs?
It was junior year of high school that witnessed the last rapidly typed production of anything other than academic essays, dissertations, and artist statements; and the culprit? International Baccalaureate.
At the time, fan-fictions were a thing of the hormonal, middle school acolyte past and I was onto my next kick: a gruesome thriller fueled by a love for high-octane action stories that would gradually dissipate as I increasingly aged into my cringe-prone mother. I was on chapter 21, the mystery was unraveling, the villains were amassing, and the action was building toward a climax with nerve-wracking rapidity, when suddenly International Baccalaureate–the global and more taxing version of high school honors–amped up the stress levels to 300% and succeeded in expunging any and every drive for creative writing. Although the IB gods mercifully spared my penchant for visual arts (allowing me to attend a widely reputed art school and inhume myself in asphyxiating debt for the next seventy years), any sense of personal motivation to put pen to pad has been wiped clean ever since.
To this day, the creative writing skills that hoards of teachers once praised as “years ahead in maturation” are nothing more than a desert whose cacti might proffer up one or two pages of liquid inspiration every six months, resulting in 27 one to two page stories that are still sitting on a digital shelf, gathering pixelated dust while they wait to be revisited. But with this history teeming with burgeoning novels, short stories, contemplated screenplays, a heavily trafficked Xanga and three consistently updated Blogspots, writing is clearly a part of my genetic code and can assume substantial responsibility for producing the verbose, imaginative adult I am today. Thus, I think it’s time to really put some effort into climbing back into that ballpoint pen-laden saddle, no matter how nervous that mercurial horse might make me.
So with WordPress as my accomplice and a temperamental internet connection as my medium, here it goes: Operation Invoke the Hibernating Author Within. All I have to do is employ the wonderfully freeing purpose of a blog and talk about any subject that comes to mind–from the qualms of being a new inductee into the second biggest city in the country, to the artwork of people who inspire my creative spirit, to all those paranormal TV shows I continue to freak myself out with late at night like some sort of Stockholm syndrome enthusiast. Just make sure to WRITE. And perhaps, Allah willing, what might first feel like a daily chore may gradually resuscitate the dormant intrinsic nature that’s just waiting to be rediscovered.