26 may 2010
Every day we make a choice. Today, I create chaos. Today, I create calm.
Today, I am going to paint a giant yellow flower on the wall of an empty building on La Brea Avenue.
I was in the shower, pondering the new flower we saw yesterday. It had become a game now. We’d drive up and down La Brea or Highland Avenue, looking for the “new flower.” My 3-year-old daughter would spot it and scream in delight— “Mommy! Take a picture!” I would, and then I’d post it on Facebook.
“Who is painting these flowers?” she asked. I don’t know, I answered. But it’s someone nice. Someone reminding us to stop and see the beauty in the world.
The shower water was too hot, but I didn’t care that it scalded me, turning my pale skin red. I was too busy pulling at the sagging skin on my belly, angry it was still there, three years later, unable to accept that carrying a child had changed my body forever. The beauty of the random flowers forgotten now.
Would I ever have the courage to make love in the shower again?
One is the most raw, the most exposed, in the shower. It’s harder to put on a show when the tight black riding pants and thigh high boots are tucked away in the closet. When the hair is no longer blown dry and flat ironed to sassy perfection. When all traces of mascara, foundation and red lipstick are gone—revealing me.
It was a challenge of sorts. The gauntlet of this is who you really get – look a minute – closer now – really look – do you still want me?
And if the intimacy becomes too much and I need to hide the pathos-seeking tears, they seamlessly blend with the streams of liquid pouring down from the shower, and I can pretend you did not make me cry. Either by your rejection or your acceptance—both equally startling to the bruised heart.
As I looked down at my body, at the history that was made there, I realized the bigger question was not why I missed what was gone. But why I was choosing to judge myself so harshly? There was no one in the shower but me, and I was crueler to myself than any lover who’d ever rejected me had ever been.
It made me wonder, what prompted Random Act to paint those flowers? Was it a reaction to the devastating earthquake in Haiti? A hurricane? A shooting?
Or was it just a bad day when Random Act didn’t like themselves very much and thought – I can do better? I can love myself and this world a little better?
When I got out of the shower, I had three emails waiting for me from friends in New Orleans, all asking me the same question: Where are you? The last one was from Marda, my Mother Figure.
“Well, Sugar. It’s Saturday. I guess you really aren’t coming to the Championship Game after all. It just feels wrong with you not being here. Oh, well.”
We are all a fan of something. I’m a New Orleans Saints fan. Born and bred. The Saints became a football team in 1967. They had never been to the Super Bowl. My friend Gerald says, “Being a Saints fan is a lesson in taking the good with the bad, in showing up no matter what.“
Being a Saints fan is the greatest metaphor for life. It requires you to keep believing. That even if you fail today, you still suit up and play the game tomorrow. It’s what I tell struggling writers in this business looking for a break. Make the choice to keep showing up. It will pay off.
Believe me, as a former Bob’s Big Boy waitress, I never thought I’d get to the place I am now. I’m not rich. I don’t make a million dollars a year. But I have success in a field where last year, only 15% of the 250 top grossing films were written by women. My film Valentine’s Day was number 1 at the box office. A week later, my friend Laeta Kalogrides saw her film, Shutter Island, take the number 1 spot.
Two different women held the number 1 spot, two weeks in a row. First time in history.
In New Orleans the week before, Marda and I went to the first playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Superdome. We won and the Saints were advancing to the NFC Championship Game, the winner of that game going to the Super Bowl. I say “we,” even though I don’t own the team or have a son or husband who plays on the team. When you’re a fan, you’re part of a community. You’re a We.
After the win, I immediately flew back home the next morning and went right back to work on a script rewrite that had a super quick turnaround after notes. It was a great project, oozing potential. After Army Wives, I’d gotten used to pulling all nighters, my eyes red, my soul bargaining with the muses not to abandon me now, sitting in a chair for 13 hours straight until my fingers cramped up, the early beginnings of carpal tunnel.
When I was a young, hopeful writer, delivering flowers during the day and waitressing at night, I was most impressed with writers. Their names were on books! That alone was pretty shocking. Some magic threshold had been crossed. I stood patiently in line to get a book signed by Tom Robbins. I had devoured his earlier book Jitterbug Perfume, and owned a first edition copy.
Although he was only scheduled to appear for 2 hours, Tom signed books for over 5 hours, until the last person was gone. When I finally met him, he was tired, yet strangely invigorated. Surprised it seemed, by the never-ending line, “just to meet me.”
I quoted my favorite line from Jitterbug. “Erleichda. Lighten up.” He smiled. The woman standing next to him smiled.
As I was leaving with my signed book, the woman ran after me. She blurted out, “You know, he writes all his books in long hand and he has carpal tunnel now. But he won’t stop writing or doing these signings.” I looked at her, the urgency in her voice. Was she his wife? Agent?
I said, "Oh." Not entirely sure what carpal tunnel even was back then. She continued, breathless, “After he’s done, he’ll go home and lay flat on his back in a dark room for 24 hours, he’s in so much pain.”
Then she looked at me. In that look, I knew she loved him. I don’t know why she chose me to tell this to – but I’ve never forgotten it. We all make a choice to do what to do, but everything has its price.
Back in September, the New Orleans Saints began their season. I brought my father to the first home game. He was having a difficult time walking. So, for the first time ever, I hired a driver. Lucien. He and his wife have 8 kids. They lost everything they had in Katrina. Every material thing, that is. Lucien still had his smile and his love for the city. Stories were shared, and a new friend was found.
I hired Lucien to drop us off and pick us up after the game. Lucien waited in the Superdome parking lot with the other drivers. They huddled around the radio, listening to the game being played inside.
Lucien had never been to a Saints game before, never able to afford a ticket, but he was a diehard fan, just like me. Whenever I came back into town for a game, I’d hire Lucien to drive me to and from the Superdome, but I’d also log onto StubHub and buy him a single ticket. I couldn’t bear the thought of him sitting just steps outside, listening, so close yet so far from his team.
In turn, Lucien told all the guests he picked up from the airport that they should show up at the movie theatre to see Valentine’s Day because his friend wrote it. When I learned he was saying this, I thought – poor tourists. Just wanting a drive-thru daiquiri and here they are getting movie recommendations. But we all pay it forward.
The day I was leaving for the airport, Marda was standing on her 2nd floor wrought iron balcony, waiting to see me off. When I came out of my front door, she waved goodbye. Lucien was already there, holding open the front passenger door to the black sedan. He remembered I get car sick and have to sit in the front, not the back. On the seat was a wrapped gift. Inside, a fleur-de-lis scarf he had picked up at a gift shop when he was giving tourists a view of one of our plantations.
It’s the small kindnesses that matter the most. Committing to memory how someone likes their coffee. Knowing what face makes them laugh when skies are gray. A scarf bought on a plantation gift tour.
I reminded Marda I would not be there next week for the Championship Game, then hugged her goodbye. She nodded solemnly. That’s right. You have a marshmallow. Marda hated the word “deadline,” so she called them “marshmallows.” Much easier to swallow that way.
I had a marshmallow waiting for me in Los Angeles, a movie coming out, my daughter turned 3, my heart was not broken, and things were going really well. But instead of embracing all the good in my life, that Saturday morning, I was in my own shower, tearing myself down in a random act of hating.
Then I got out, grabbed a towel and dripping wet, logged onto my computer and saw a photo of a random flower that I swerved off a busy street to take and posted on Facebook for the world to see.
I was struck again by my own need to spread the word, to almost proselytize on how one unknown person chose to spend his or her day. Because our days will end. When someone dies, we’re filled with sadness. But also, out of that sadness often comes, “I just wish I had realized what I had when I had it – because now it’s gone.”
44 years of being a Saints fan and I had never been to a Championship Game, yet here I was sitting at home. In step with Edna St. Vincent Millay, I’ve always burned the candle at both ends, stockpiling memories in case I’m snatched away from this place too soon. Why am I not giving myself this memory?
I texted my friend Rita. She wrote back, “Come home. You’re loved here.”
If I was going to do this, I had to leave that day. No flights leaving in the morning would get me to the Championship Game on time. It was Saturday afternoon already. There was only one flight that would work. It was leaving LAX in 40 minutes. It would change flights in Dallas, with a 3-hour layover, and get into New Orleans at midnight. The last minute ticket cost $1600 and change. I live 20 minutes away from LAX.
I drove 60mph in a 35, thinking if I get a speeding ticket, it’s still cheaper than that plane ticket I haven’t paid for yet so I never slowed down. If I did, I wouldn’t make it.
I pulled into Terminal 7, looking for a parking spot. I’ve parked here so many times before that I knew I’d end up on the top level of the structure, forced to run down several flights of stairs. But there was one parking spot dead center in front of the terminal entrance. At first I thought, this must be a handicapped space. Nope. It was a real space in front. I parked.
There was a long line at the ticket counter. I ran up to a closed window, begging the woman to sell me my ticket. She was not amused. “What is wrong with you people? Always running in here late. If you’d only leave an hour earlier, you’d have plenty of time. But no, you put us through all your stress.”
She was right. I remembered taking a course in traffic school where the instructor said most accidents caused by left-hand turns could be avoided if the driver just looked ‘beyond’ and waited. From then on, whenever I gauge, “I think I can make it if I gun it,” I look ahead one car – and he was right. Many a time, the road was empty. There’s no one behind that car, if we look beyond.
The ticket agent keyed in my license, then looked at me and said, “Your flight’s been delayed 15 minutes. If you run, you can make it.”
I took the ticket and ran up the escalator to security. A man in front of me took one look at my frenzied state and said, “Go ahead.” More Go Aheads took me all the way to the gate, where the plane was completely boarded and the ramp door about to close.
I threw my ticket at the flight attendant, and then raced down the ramp to the plane. When I was on the plane, I noticed a Latino man, Ruben, in Saints gear. We both nodded a quiet hello. Then he suddenly shouted out – “WHO DAT?!” The passengers looked up, confused. This was a flight to Texas, after all. No one knew what a who dat was.
When the plane landed in Dallas, Ruben was already up in the aisle, itching to get off. Hey. What’s up? The connecting flight to New Orleans doesn’t leave for 3 hours. He looked at me, confused. It leaves in 45 minutes.
Ruben grabbed my hand and we raced through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The gate was two terminals away from where we landed. We had to take a tram. We ran down long escalators to the waiting tram. It was closing. I slammed my hand into the tram doors and stopped it. My hand was bleeding. But I’m a girl full of random acts of adrenaline, so I barely felt it.
On the tram, Ruben and I started talking. He and his brother had gone to Saints games as long as he could remember. Then his brother died a few years ago. Yesterday, Ruben was sitting at his desk in his office, looking at a picture of his brother. He swore his brother started talking to him. Dude. Why aren’t you going to be there? You know I would be there with you if I could.
So Ruben bought a last minute, high-priced ticket and was going to the game alone. I looked at him, tears in my eyes, and just said, “Thank you for telling me that story.”
When I landed in New Orleans, Lucien was waiting at the curb to pick me up. He wasn’t surprised at all to see me. He said, “We knew you’d be here.” “We, who is we?” I asked.
“Me and Marda.” Then he told me about the scene I didn’t see last week. The scene that played out when I was still inside my condo, packing to leave.
Marda stepped out onto her 2nd floor balcony, the same balcony we throw Mardi Gras beads from, and shouted down to Lucien, who was waiting on the street for me to come outside. Lucien and Marda had become friends now, too. Lucien drove us to the game the week before, when I handed him two tickets to the Championship Game so he could take his wife. I’ll never forget the surprised look on that dear woman’s face when she thanked me. We give to receive. Prize the surprise.
So Marda told Lucien, “Katherine’s going to tell us she won’t be here next week for the Championship Game.” Lucien said, “Really? She won’t be here?”
Marda laughed. “She says that, but she’ll be here. She can’t help herself. So let’s just smile and don’t argue.”
Shaking his head at Marda, Lucien nonetheless agreed to “just smile,” but had to add, “She has to be here. It wouldn’t be right if she wasn’t.”
I stared at him, incredulous. “I didn’t even know I was going to be here until 5 hours ago, so how could you two know I was going to be here last week?!”
Lucien said, “Because you believe. You believe so much, the rest of us believe, too.”
Then Lucien asked me, “Now who are those people you got with you?”
I turned and introduced Lucien to Ruben, from the first flight, and Kara, from the second. Kara, too, was on a magical odyssey of her own. She and her husband paid those same big online ticket prices for game tickets. He was already in New Orleans, but she had to stay behind to finish her nursing school exams. They lost so much during Katrina. But it was also the great equalizer. Rich and poor had to stand in the same line for the same amount of water.
Lucien and I dropped off Kara at her hotel, then Ruben. We all hugged, expecting never to see each other again.
The Championship Game was one of the best games in Saints history. It all came down to one kick in overtime. The Superdome seats approximately 72,000 people. I stood against the railing and looked down. There sat Ruben, sitting directly below me. I screamed his name. He looked up. Smiled.
The overtime kick lives in infamy now. The kicker, Garrett Hartley, admitting that two weeks earlier, he told his father that he dreamt he kicked the winning field goal in the Championship Game, then that night, he went out and did it. The Saints were finally in the Super Bowl. I looked down at Ruben, seeing a grown man in tears looking back up at me, the ghost of his brother sitting right next to him.
I realized I too was crying, my body wracked with sobs. Remembering 24 hours ago, I was in a shower in Los Angeles, attacking the body that gave me my child. And it took a random flower painted on a wall by a stranger I never met to get me on a plane for a once in a life time event that I will never forget.
Then I felt a woman appear on the other side of me. She was pretty, young. I turned to her, my face wet, no stream of water, no shower to hide my tears. She said, “I was just watching your back as you sorta broke down after the win. I’ve never seen such pure emotion before. It was beautiful.”
Colette said, “I’ve had a wonderful life. I just wish I’d realized it sooner.”
Time goes by so fast, the days becoming nights, becoming days. I just made the bed five minutes ago and now I'm falling into it again. My daughter is changing shoe sizes like seasons, her vocabulary adding hundreds of new words each month. Yesterday she said, “Mommy, remember you want to do more.”
There is a spiritual law that says your life is the way it is today because of the choices you made yesterday. If you don’t like how your life looks, make a different choice.
I want to paint flowers on random streets. But I don’t have the talent. What I can do is thank the woman who did. Her name is Andrea LaHue. She created the Cross-Country Random Acts of Flowers Project, painting flowers on empty buildings with For Lease signs all across the country.
This is Andrea's website.
I tracked her down after six months of searching. I found her through Pablo, who runs a website on graffiti art in Los Angeles called the dirt floor.
Pablo said, “I must say, her approach is refreshing in the sense that it comes from a place of sincerity rather than social criticism or sarcasm. There is some really great stuff going on in the street.”
Yeah, Pablo. There is some really great stuff going on in the street. As Andrea said, “The interaction with all the communities is surprisingly the same. Flowers make everybody happy.”
Then she pulled up a thought.
“There’s a big blank wall across the street from Target on La Brea. Tempting ... very tempting.”
Every day we make a choice. This memory or that. Chaos or calm.
Pick up your paintbrush and choose.
Andrea LaHue is raising funds for The Cross Country Random Acts of Flowers and YOU, Summer 2010 on Kickstarter! Artist Andrea LaHue will uplift, beautify and inspire by painting Giant Flowers on "for lease" buildings across the United States.
Andrea, the inspiration for my latest blog, Random Acts, is taking her flower power on the road! Andrea is raising funds for her summer cross-country tour of random love. Pls consider making a $10 donation - which pays for a gallon of paint - and I will match EACH DONATION myself! Follow me on Facebook and post there when you do so I can keep track! Let's help this lady spread the joy!
30 july 2010
Andrea LaHue Update:
Murals sprout along empty buildings in Lamar
|Andrea LaHue paints a series of lilies on the side of the McCoy building in Lamar Monday. “I like to paint lilies. One of my dog’s is named Lily,” she said.|
LAMAR, S.C. --While new businesses have opened in Lamar in the last two years, several empty storefronts still line Main Street. On Monday, some of those buildings got a bit of a facelift as Andrea LaHue turned red, yellow and blue paint into giant flowers on the sides of these vacant buildings.
“It’s a service for the community,” LaHue said as she sketched the beginnings of a lily in yellow on one panel of the McCoy building. “I paint giant flowers to uplift, inspire, beautify and make people smile on a basic level.” click here to read more ...
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|Amazing||- By Guest on Aug 17 2011|
|Truly inspirational, incredibly honest, and deeply touching... and posted right on my birthday to boot.
The words will soon elude me, but hopefully the lesson will stay forever.
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