“The Famous Green Dress” 03.09.22

When I was younger (much), I had an issue with the texture and tightness of my clothes. I have heard that I am not the only kid who has experienced this, so I don’t feel weird telling you about it. I wouldn’t feel weird telling you anyway. I never wore tights, unless they were forced upon me. I wore baggy underwear and swimsuits that dragged to the ground. I hated any form of clothing that squeezed me or made me feel constrained. A fabric prison. Elastic was out of the question. I played outside in the mud, ran, and used my imagination–in a dress. I climbed trees in a dress. I wore huge non-elastic sweatpants when I played soccer, the only time I was not wearing a dress. My feet were bare as often as possible. Before I grew breasts, so was my torso. My best friend was a boy, and I remember running around at his house one day without a shirt on. His mom called out to me, “Samantha, would you like to wear a shirt?” to which I answered, “I look the same as him!” I had a beautiful childhood. I ran through the woods in our backyard, skinny dipped in the creek, had mud fights with my sisters and friends. I loved to read, but mostly I loved to “do.” I wrote and illustrated children’s books without planning to publish them. I kept a journal for my second grade class with Mrs. Sanders, and one morning I wrote that “My panties are too tit!” I wasn’t a great speller, and I never truly mastered it. Mrs. Sander’s response was, “Oh my!” I remember that, but I also have proof, because I kept that journal and all those that followed.

My mom always wanted me to wear clean clothes. I don’t think she really cared very much about what I wore, as long as it was clean, and it matched. It never matched, and I tried to pull off wearing the same outfit two or more times consecutively. There is a particular famous green dress. Mention that dress to any, and I mean any member of my immediate and extended family, everyone who watched me grow up, my whole elementary school and several strangers, and they will remember that famous, favorite green dress. I wore it all the time and wouldn’t take it off unless I must. I am not exaggerating. The dress grew with me, and most likely molded itself to my body. I think my mom hid it somewhere, because I haven’t seen it in a long time. It would probably still fit.

Mom was in charge of wardrobe and dealt with all my tantrums about what I wanted to wear. After some deliberation, she passed the job to Dad. Dad’s method was vastly different from Mom’s specifications. I would come out dressed for school, walk over to Dad and hold my arms up. I would spin around with his nose close enough to smell me, and if I passed the “smell test,” I was given permission to wear that outfit.

When I was younger, I was very shy and easily embarrassed. That is why I remember the first time I was mortified. On the very first day that I wore pants to school, Caleb Carter noticed me entering the cafeteria and announced quite loudly that, “SAMANTHA IS WEARING PANTS!” I never traded my corn for his roll at lunch anymore after that. Okay, I did. The pants were denim shorts. I have been wearing denim ever since. Somehow, the “curse” had been broken.

–SJB

“The Red Shoes” 03.04.22

My Granmama Patte was one of the best story tellers I have ever known. Her birthday was this week; a fact I had honestly not remembered when I started writing this article about her. She told me all kinds of stories. Some of them were true, but mostly fictional. She helped me to become who I am today. She gave me the strength to be wild, to be a woman who runs with the wolves, and to feel special in my own way. She was one of the most influential people in my life, and a successful, powerful woman.

When I was really little, my Granmama lived in a house with creaks and groans. She had a spiral staircase connecting the upstairs from the bedrooms below. Whenever we visited, I would wake up early before everyone else and climb the rickety steps to my Granmama’s room and crawl into bed with her. I sometimes wonder if she was already awake because she anticipated this as a regular occurrence. She would tell me stories, and we would talk about important things I don’t remember anymore, but I will never forget her voice. A few years before she died, she gave us each a book that contained many of the stories she told us as children. Now, when I choose one of my favorite stories, I ask my Granmama to read me that story. As my eyes keep up with the pace and I concentrate with all my strength, Granmama’s voice shines through, and she reads me that story, as if she is sitting next to me.

I remember the strangest fictional stories she told us, and how the details changed over time. “The Red Shoes” is my favorite. Now that I am a storyteller, I will give my version.

Once Upon a Time…

There was a small girl living in poverty. She roamed the streets with only the handmade rags on her back. She had fashioned her wardrobe all by herself, and was especially proud of her threadbare shoes. She had painted them red, because that was her favorite color, and she felt bold wearing them. Despite the fact that she had nothing and had to pander on the streets for her dinner, she had no wishes. Her life was filled with happiness which lacked the burden of material possessions.

One day, a carriage rode through town, housing a very rich old woman with poor eyesight. She was never able to have children, and her husband had died quite suddenly a few years into their marriage. She wished intensely to have another presence in her house. A “fixer-upper.” When she saw the raggedy little girl, she called out to the coachman, “Stop here!” Exiting the carriage was an ordeal you cannot imagine. All of the bulk and fabric of the old woman’s clothing almost prevented her from taking her leave of the carriage, but she appeared to have found her perfect “project.”

The old woman approached the young girl, and asked if she would like to shower, change clothes, live a life away from the streets. At first, the girl was hesitant. She did not trust many people. But a hot shower sounded like Heaven on earth. She accepted the woman’s offer, essentially signing an invisible contract.

When the girl stepped out of the shower and retrieved a towel, she inquired about her clothes. A servant led her to new bed chambers, which were to be her very own. There was a beautiful dress and fancy gold slippers lying on the bed. The girl asked the servant, “Where are my clothes?” The servant informed her that, “The Mistress told me to dispose of the tattered garments.” The girl was so sad she was irate. Those were her only possessions and she loved those “tattered garments,” especially her red shoes. She would never wear those fancy gold slippers, she did not put on the fancy dress, and she did not join the old woman for dinner. She behaved ungraciously, because the old woman had stolen her prized and only garments. She fashioned a dress out of her bedsheets, and walked barefoot around the house wearing a “toga-like” outfit. The old woman could only see that the girl was wearing white, because of her poor eyesight.

It became clear to the young girl that the old woman was a devout Christian. She went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and sometimes on Saturdays. She only roped the girl into going to Sunday Mass. The young girl had only ever worn her homemade clothes and red shoes, and had never gone to church. She refused to wear tight uncomfortable dresses, but the old woman took her shopping for appropriate Sunday attire. The old woman’s eyesight was getting worse. The young girl was sly and used this to her advantage. After a few agonizing hours of dress shopping, they arrived at a shoe store. The old woman told the girl she could choose any pair of shoes in either black or navy blue. The young girl looked around until she found the most beautiful, shiny, glittery red slippers she had ever seen. She fell in love with them. When the store manager saw the young girl’s interest in the shoes, he told her, “These are dancing shoes.” He said it like a warning or a curse of some kind.

When the old woman bought the young girl’s “navy blue” slippers, she put them on immediately and started dancing all the way home. She thought she was dancing, but the man had been correct. The shoes were dancing.

On Sunday, as they dressed for church, the young girl donned the red shoes, never imagining how negatively they would be received. Everyone was gossiping about the girl’s red shoes and how inappropriate they were in church. “How disrespectful!” “What pure negligence!” “How could she let her wear those in this sacred space?” The old woman was very embarrassed. She scolded the young girl, and set the shoes on a top shelf out of reach. Isn’t that what stools are made for?

The following Sunday, the young girl stepped into her red shoes again. The shoe store manager was leaning against a wall outside the church before she entered. He warned her again about the dancing shoes. She ignored his warning and set foot in the church. Suddenly, she was dancing out of the church, headed for the forest. She danced and danced. She danced until she had blisters and her toenails were bruised and falling off. She danced until her ankles broke and her knees gave in. Try as she might, she could not get the shoes to come off. She decided she would rather have no feet. She encountered a huntsman in the forest and begged him to cut off her ankles to take off the shoes. “Are you truly certain?” He asked. “Absolutely!” She said, “The sooner the better!” So, he cut off her ankles and the shoes danced away with her feet inside them. She was grateful that she would never dance again. She was once again, a happy young girl wearing shabby clothes. No material possessions to weigh her down. Her feet had grown back, and she wore homemade, cloth red shoes.

All that trouble for a hot shower.

–SJB

P.S. I inherited some mischievous characteristics from my Granmama. I often wear red shoes to church.

“Samantha Van Atlanta” 02.25.22

During Vincent’s life, Van Gogh was not a last name. “Van” meant “from,” and “Gogh” was his place of origin. Vincent Van Gogh. When asked which work of art is my very favorite, my answer is Vincent’s “Starry Night.” I have always been drawn to this painting. The movement. The dark, and yet the color. The clear, raw emotion. I know that many people who are unfamiliar with the art world can recognize and refer to this painting because of its fame. It is especially famous because Vincent is no longer with us to explain the real truth of this artwork. Deep down, in the core of my being, I share a connection with Vincent Van Gogh. This bond is on a level many people cannot comprehend. We share a mood disorder. We paint. We feel. We express our emotions through our work.

For many years, I have believed that “Starry Night” is the change from one mood to another, happening before my eyes. The wind is visible. The night is dark. I believe this painting is an expression of moving out of the darkness (if only for a time), to a different state of consciousness. It is a release brought about by creating art. Painting can create inner peace and be a vessel for therapy you cannot find elsewhere.

Recently, I attended a “Van Gogh Emersion Experience.” I learned the deeper reason for my attachment to Vincent and this painting. He painted this scene from the view outside his psychiatric hospital room. I began to cry. I have walked in those shoes. I have slept in that tiny room. I had no view outside my window. For years I have dealt with mental illness and loved this painting with all my heart, unaware of this truth.

There was a scene created within the tour where people could pose in the tiny bedroom. They smiled in their photos, as the tears ran down my face. I had wanted so terribly to escape that tiny bedroom prison, and here people were taking pictures in the tiny room willingly. I began to have a panic attack and my mom lead me quickly to an exit, where I hyperventilated outside. My dad, mom, husband and Klonopin helped me to calm down. Then I ate some tater tots and collected myself well enough to brave the gift shop. There is no room for reason or rationality. These triggers, which caused turmoil within my mind, could not be explained away. The feelings are real.

Sometimes the therapy provided by painting is not readily available. In this case, in order to cope, all I really need are support, Klonopin, and tater tots.

–SJB

“Past, Present, Future” 02.18.22

I have a task for you. Write a letter to your past self, describing your present life, and how it has differed from your original plan. Fold it, put it in an envelope and seal it. Do not open it, despite temptation.

Repeat this process, but instead, write a letter to your present self. Who are you now? Do you recognize yourself as an individual? Are you proud of yourself? How different is your life since you dreamed of being an astronaut? Are you in a relationship? Do you have kids? How many dogs? Are you currently working? Do you like your job? What would you change? Do you have habits which have gone unnoticed until you write them down? Writing it down can strengthen your awareness of the positive changes you want to add to your life, or habits and actions which should be dissolved. Write about positive choices which lead to success, and mistakes you have made along the way.

Next, write a letter to your future self, predicting your accomplishments, disappointments, and wishes. Once you have written all three letters, wait two weeks before finally opening them and reading the contents. Start with the past and continue. The point of this exercise is to keep track of where you are in life. It is an evaluation about what you will change or add to your life moving forward. Whether you decide to keep them or dispose of them, these letters may be a glimpse of your life’s footprints and which path to follow.

–SJB

P.S. If reincarnation does exist, I totally want wings in the future.

“See for Yourself” 02.11.22

When I was single, I lived in a studio apartment in the shape of a tiny cottage. I had a screen porch and a fenced in yard. The library was within walking distance, and I love to read. I like to check out books from the library because I feel the pressure of finishing them before they expire, and I love the smell of the older ones. I like to turn pages, not swipe on a tablet. I spent so much time alone with my little dog, Charlie, so I had no trouble finishing books on time.

I enjoyed having a part-time job refinishing furniture, lifting it into a truck, and transporting items from one customer to another. It was a challenge, I admit. I don’t work well under authority. But I love to paint, sand, and finish.

I have known myself for a long time, and I very much enjoyed my single life. Then I met a boy. He owns an art gallery, and I visited him every day. We began dating and our relationship led to marriage six years later. After all of those years, I began to be a “couple.” I love my husband and am extremely grateful to have him in my life. I would not have it any other way. We make a wonderful “couple.” Over time, I forgot about my individuality. Who am I? I look into the mirror and talk to myself, and maybe that’s weird but it works for me.

Charlie has been gone for many years. Now we have a small dog named Logan, who follows me wherever I go. I work from home, so he thinks my world revolves around him. It may seem like I have “space” every day, as I work from home, but I just can’t get away from him, no matter how much I love him and appreciate his company. Recently I realized my situation. I have been chipping away parts of myself without noticing. It is no one’s fault but my own. Now that I recognize that, I go for short walks in town and explore places I have or haven’t been by myself. I walk to the library, to visit my husband at work, and wander around without a destination. I drive alone to prove I still can, instead of riding in the passenger seat almost always. I am returning to myself again in small steps. It’s fun! I love being part of a “couple,” but don’t want to be gobbled up to the extent of losing me. I need to take care of myself.

I am giving you homework today. This is an act which can be performed whenever you are alone and feel it is the appropriate time. Look at your face in the mirror, and see who looks back. Without make-up, study the raw, exposed person behind the mask. Look past your face. Look into your eyes. See. Five minutes with only yourself in the mirror. Time it if you must, but don’t hurry. Search your soul. Remember who you are. Not your job, not your spouse, not your kids. Who are you? As an individual. Really search deep within yourself. If you don’t know that answer, or you are confused, make this a routine procedure.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

–SJB

“Greed, Money, and Power” 02.04.22

Why do we need a reminder behind the bus seat to save one for the elderly and disabled? Should we not have these etiquettes ingrained in our minds? Are we so self-absorbed that we forget the feelings of others? Do we see people, or just look at them? I believe that we are here to make change even in small ways. Smile at a stranger. Donate to someone less fortunate than yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you are enough. Money and power are frivolous. Pieces of paper, tiny bits of metal, bricks of gold. Whether it’s money, power, or both, we greedily hold fast to the idea that if we have enough money, we can build a platform toward power, and eventually happiness. Are we happier when we have more money or power over others?

Why do we feel more compassion for the dogs, which keep the homeless warm and protected, other than caring for the struggling people? We imagine that donations will be used to purchase booze or cigarettes, when maybe all we want is a steaming cheeseburger and fries. Many are starving and sleeping on the street, while others spend all day in coffee shops to avoid the cold. There are tent villages under bridges we drive past, ignoring terrible misfortune. Privileges are taken for granted, sometimes mistaken for rights. Some of us walk away without turning to see the people who cannot dream of shopping or spending the day with pockets full of money. Quite often, lack of a home is coupled with undiagnosed mental illness, and without the means to treat or heal trauma. These people deserve our help. They are humans and equal to us all. The system has failed.

We “own” land. We claim property because we can. Many are keeping money they will never live long enough to spend, handing it down for generations, and continuing the cycle of the misuse of money and power. Why do we need it? Why don’t we share it? Where are the Good Samaritans?

—SJB

“Humans” 01.28.22

This is a day for pondering. What defines a human? The dictionary gives us no clues, and we are left with our own presumptions. Who is a person? What are we made of? Some would say we are made of 75% water. It cannot be purely physical. Is it the mask we wear in public that defines us; or is our foundation built around the person we become behind the scenes? Are we solely at the mercy of our parents’ example? Do we choose water over blood, or are we so strongly bonded to family that we are connected like roots to the people we were born to live, love, and tolerate?

Are we defined by our minds, our bodies, our spirits? Our actions and our reputations? Do we read nonfiction in order to learn, or are we entertaining ourselves in a form of denial called “fiction.” Do we learn what others force us to know, or do we learn because we are curious? Is it human nature to be curious? There are people who want to drown the world out in order to close the blinds on reality. No matter how dark our curtains can be, there are slivers of light reaching through to gather us and bring us to the sun, guiding us toward truth. What are we hiding from? Are we sexist? Are we racist? Are we judged by the color of our hair or the shade of our skin? I believe that life is better when you face it and stop burying yourself in the ideas of past and future. Some of us lead long healthy lives, while others strive to succeed and fail. All we have is now. This moment is real. This moment will pass. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are not invincible, as we hold fast to this idea. We will not live forever. We only have now.

What defines a human? Love? Acts? Flaws? In truth, I do not know. I speculate that the answer is simple, though some people try too hard to understand. I believe that humans have the capacity to love and to forgive. We can learn to break away from hate. We can become whole by helping those less fortunate. Humans have the chance to do what is right, as well as what is wrong. That is our free will. Our words and actions speak volumes about us. We do not all follow the path of light. I believe this makes us human, and it is never too late to change, grow, and prosper.

—SJB

“Derrick Dendy: Reader 01” 01.21.22

I am mourning the loss of my friend, Derrick Dendy. Life gave him lemons and he made lemonade until his last day. When we were kids, there was an ongoing reading competition and each week, Derrick read more books and always had more points than I had. Barely. That kid must have done nothing else but read. We both loved it. I always came in second. Before he left his body behind, we had a brief conversation. I asked him how many books he had read that summer, and he had STILL read more books than me. Just one more, not to worry. He knew he was leaving this world, and I said to him that there must be an endless supply of books waiting for him when he arrived. If God knows Derrick Dendy, that library is filled to the brim.

I can imagine Derrick lounging on a couch or in a favorite chair, reading without distraction and surrounded by books. He will forever be number one.

There is no contest.

–SJB