Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community
Tis the season to reflect upon all the trials, tribulations, blessings and outright bizarre realities of another year gone by. Luckily, I’m a writer and it’s in our nature to reflect, to introspect, as Anaïs Nin said,
I’ve been really hard on myself about “how little I’m doing” with my time the past month…. and then I remembered…THIS YEAR (2016) I wrote AND released a book through the POP Poetry Series via Spartan Press / Prospero’s Books and a spoken word album with Joel Nanos of Element Recording Studios, orchestrated a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, toured the country, performed more than 100 times in 10 months, got accepted into the Charlotte Street residency (of my dreams) and started writing a one woman show in conjunction with completing my 2nd book of poetry, produced shows at a variety of different venues, rebranded and resurrected a poetry slam, experienced a terribly painful separation and divorce, moved with pneumonia, fell wildly in love with someone I never saw coming, went to the hospital 4 times, was hospitalized for 3 days..once.
Mirina Landry’s first studio track.
Open mics, hosted, attended, reborn (Check out the amazing work being done at Poetic Underground in KC and KC Art Angels in Lenexa). Edited countless manuscripts for projects and friends and people I believe in including the upcoming Art Uprising anthology and Samantha Slupski’s first book of poems What Sits Between my Veins and created/developed/collaborated with some of the most brilliant artists of our time. I have served as my own promotor, assistant, booking agent, marketing, public relations and human resources manager – oh, and the performer. Bartended, waitressed, held a total of 5 side jobs, lost some great friends. Made some great friends. Resolved and rekindled relationships I should’ve fixed so much sooner.
Attended a few funerals.
Made amends with my Dad after 15 years of disconnect.
I survived a week as the guardian of an 8 year old (and so did she).
Touched both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans in a 10 day timeline.
Weddings and babies. I’ve replaced my battery and 4 tires, 3 times, only got into 1 accident, gotten fired, gotten gigs I would’ve only dreamed of 3 years ago, kissed a few girls, teased a few boys, protested, rioted, shopped until I had nothing left to spend, got lost, often. Celebrated Marriage Equality. Survived the devastation of the election results. Relapsed. Recommitted to my sobriety.
I attended church at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver where my girlfriend sat with her arm around me and we were so accepted as we are, in the eyes of God and peers that not only did I begin to believe again…but I wanted to go back…to church…for the first time since I came out. I won a lot. I lost a lot. I wrote A LOT. There’s 50,000 more words awaiting the next book…and another already in the works. I am so entirely grateful and I’ve decided to throw out the tape in my head that says YOU HAVEN’T DONE ENOUGH.
I am proud of what I’ve accomplished and ever more passionate to keep pushing myself artistically, to keep pushing for poetry and prose to be validated on a national and international level. I want this art form to permeate the healing and growth of generations of humans and I want it done in the spotlight of mainstream media. Sure, academia is a lovely setting (been there) but a snooze fest on the subject matter when it comes to modern relatability.
On December 10 I had the great honor of performing a new piece of my work for David Wayne Reed‘s incredible production, Shelf Life. If you weren’t able to make it that night you missed a remarkable evening but LUCKY YOU! the live recording is now online. Go. Listen. Bring Kleenex. https://soundcloud.com/shelfl…/jen-and-the-doggy-doorstopper
The essay I wrote is copied and pasted below for you to read at your leisure. Feel free to share and please tag me in your posts, Poet Jen Harris.
Last but not least, as the holidays approach and pass, remember to be grateful for every moment, even the challenging ones. You are an ever-evolving being (as is everyone else) and there are an endless array of lessons to learn in this life. Don’t resist. Let them move you and move through you.
Unwanted Gifts : The Dog Door-Stopper by Jen Harris
For as long as I can remember: my father has played Pat Benetar records at a deafening volume, at an ungodly hour, my mother has spent every free moment creating and tending a garden anywhere and I have stubbed my toe on this god damn dog that serves as a door stopper in their bedroom.
We aren’t the kind of family who acknowledges nightmares. That isn’t to say my parents are unkind or lacking in affection, but the days are long and the breaks in-between shifts, rare, and you don’t wake the sleeping poor. The work is too backbreaking and the checks too short for something as miniscule as imagination to interrupt. So I would stand there, trembling and gasping, tears in my eyes, trying to work up the courage to push their door open and hope my sensitive mother would wake up rather than my temperamental father – but I would get as far as both hands on the door pushed open just enough to let my adolescent body slip through and trip over this stupid, stupid dog. Inevitably both parents would immediately wake up and my nightmare was trumped by utter fear that I was an intruder rather than a child. I’d be sent back to bed with pointed fingers and groggy “god damn it’s” and bruised toes.
A little backstory:
This dense, plastic pet was my grandmother’s solution to my mother’s request for a dog. It sits in the background of many childhood photos starting lifelessly into the distance. To this day my grandmother claims this solution was the only appropriate answer to a child’s request for a pet.
You see, we are systemically impoverished. A lack of education and opportunities outside marriage and children have left generations of my family with too many mouths to feed and only a roll of quarters to do it with. A dog only adds another begging, mopey responsibility to the mix.
Our dinner was often being made while we hung clothes on the line. You find ways to make it all work and it can work that no one goes hungry tonight if you’re willing to wash your school clothes in the sink and let the wind crisp them dry.
My mother’s tender heart let us have too many pets.
There were always unspayed females having litters of roly-poly pups under a shed or the neighbors barn. There were ticks in our hair from nights spent crying out the aftermath of bad dreams into the scruff of a narrowly-tamed mutt.
The only consistency in my childhood was we moved, at a minimum, annually; another byproduct of poverty. Often the beloved pups were left with neighbors or kind strangers whose children could not decide what to make of our mouthfuls of silver filling baby teeth. We smelled like dirty well water and dollar store all-in-one shampoo/conditioner. We shared bath water and
bars of soap, slept in t-shirts our father had stained with the grease of a hundred mechanic side jobs but were now too thin to protect him from welding sparks.
Our mother took part time jobs at day cares and doughnut shops. She cleaned churches and took in ironing. The jobs never lasted long. Inevitably one of her three ducklings would get sick and she’d have to call in and then another would catch it and then she would get sick and just as we’d all start recovering, she’d get another job and the cycle would repeat, as it does.
I could almost feel the timeline of our living situation coming to an end. We would make more trips to the local thrift store with donations. Boxes of large trash bags would be tossed into the shopping cart. Instead of catching the bus or pulling up to the school to let us out, my mother would drive us, park and escort us to our classroom door and then disappear down the corridor toward the main office.
My mom knew what and how to pack, quickly and for free. She knew what we always needed no matter the city or state. She knew what was disposable and what, though nostalgic, must be sacrificed. You can only fit so much in the bed of a pickup truck with a shell over the top and three children with coloring books sitting on carpet squares on one side.
Somehow, what always remained at the end of the hall in the single-wide trailer or relative’s house or a dilapidated duplex, a chipping high rise or a country shit shack was that nameless, soulless, inanimate dog.
Now in my 30’s, this dog resides in my not-so-shitty loft with the city market skyline view and no children to stub their toes on it.
A couple of years ago, when discussing the impending death of my grandmother with her daughter, my mother, we glazed over the subject of family heirlooms. My grandmother wanted me to take her prized and valuable record collection, doilies crocheted by someone I’m related to but never met, and the sewing body form she made all of my worst childhood outfits on.
For once I was glad we had been generationally poor because I am a minimalist; but also, I was once in a long-term relationship with a woman who had inherited not one but two upper middle class household’s worth of family history, and nothing seemed more stressful to me than hypothesizing whether you’d regret donating your father’s collection of state spoons or the inordinate amount of porcelain dolls your mother kept in the china cabinets. For the entirety of that relationship, boxes upon boxes sat in our basement collecting dust, serving as a constant reminder of conversations left unsaid.
We place such an importance on stuff, with a particularly debilitating emphasis on passing down STUFF. This notion presumes many things, not the least of which is, everyone will have children and everyone will inherently care about your stuff, your hobbies, your memories. It’s such a selfish notion to presume the interests and priorities of people who haven’t even been born yet. Yes, I realize craftsmanship and quality hold more than a market value, but do they?
What proof of existence does your stuff contain?
For example, how would I know of my grandmother’s greatness by the creepy, beady eyes of this plastic bloodhound? How would I know she survived every atrocity a sadistic, alcoholic husband could inflict on his wife before women could file for divorce? How would I know that in order to establish credit to buy a house for herself and her two young children once that divorce was finalized, she fought with a male bank teller until he begrudgingly gave her a $25 loan for a microwave. She tells me she paid it back $1 at a time, that the loan felt like it was a million dollar advance on her freedom. Though, I can tell you that even now, $25 is still like a million to her.
This dog is evidence of that truth and fear; the fear of too many mouths to feed and not enough paycheck.
The risk she took in escaping her husband had been enough that – nothing mattered more than a quality of life for her children.
She couldn’t let my mother have a pet for fear that in turn the family may have to consume smaller portions at dinner or wear shoes longer than the soles could hold. That’s what I know about my grandmother by time spent together, not by her stuff.
I know that this dog meant she wanted every happiness for her children and in that truth she compromised, as we all do for love.
So when my mother asks if there’s anything I want when she finally “rejoins her Heavenly Father,” I look around the room for the first time realizing this stuff belongs to my parents. MY parents, and I ask myself if I will be able to siphon it all to relatives and thrift stores and walk away without regret?
I took two things I knew even the coldest me couldn’t let go of. The first are a series of Love Is magnets that I have rearranged on refrigerators in 2 countries and at least 3 different states in the 31 years I’ve been alive and the 31.5 years my parents have been married and possessed them.
They were always on the fridge within a couple of hours of moving into a new place because my mom unpacked the kitchen first to feed her fussy fledglings. I would read and rearrange the magnets over and over, pinching them with chip clips and biting into their rubbery surfaces. Later I would hope for love that reliable. Those magnets always made anywhere feel like home.
And then, of course, I took that weird ass dog. The one that has stared me down, thumb in mouth, twirling hair, wanting the dusty warmth of my mother’s baby powder scented hug when I was scared in the middle of the night. That dog watched me, even possibly judged me, for sneaking out, blacking out, getting kicked out. That dog has never said a word to anyone about anything but when I look at its glossy resin eyes I know it has seen every single one of my family’s secrets becoming secrets in real time.
It has seen me at every sick and weeping age, watched my mother wrap Christmas presents and my father cry.
It has witnessed every hushed fight and that one time when I was 15 and I put the barrel of a .45 in my mouth and pulled the trigger but the chamber was empty.
If it weren’t residing in my peripheral sentimentality, it would probably be purchased ironically as a white elephant gift from a thrift store clearance isle.
I know for a fact this dog has been licked by my parents first grandchild, my beloved niece, because I watched and laughed and let it happen, doing nothing to stop it.
I have never played with this dog like a toy nor did I ever find myself being sentimental about its existence like I did about my paternal grandmother’s dining room table – where I would sit with her and drink orange juice while putting together puzzles; or my maternal grandmothers wildly patterned button-down collared shirts. I don’t feel much of anything except a wincing reminder of all the times I would seek comfort or try to sneak a peek at my birthday presents or chase a sibling down the hall, cornering them in my parents’ room and inevitably kick this dog and shatter my present moment.
But as I age I realize that the rest of the world doesn’t acknowledge nightmares either. The hell you’re going through is no different than anyone else’s nor important to a large majority of the population. We’re all walking around willing prisoners of our own minds, trying to make sense of it all and leave something behind. Leave any semblance of proof of our existence. Some people do this by having children. Others build pyramids or monuments or write books. Some people are builders and makers and others consumers and patrons. Some people are monsters, remembered solely for the impact of their atrocities but they are nonetheless, remembered.
This door-stopping dog will never be able to tell the tale of who I was. It will not open its mouth at my funeral and recall all the precious, uncelebrated, unseen moments of my life. It will not tell you that my parents did their best, as did my grandparents, as do I. It will not be able to attest to our struggle or success, nor praise every moment we rose above. It can’t encourage you to see me without judgment or project the entirety of my human experience onto a silver screen so you can fully understand who I am.
But it did create this story in all its dull, unimpressive existence – it has affected my life.
It reminds me that I can console myself. That I do have people who love me, people who made every effort to ensure my safety and happiness whether they succeeded or not. It reminds me my grandmother defied societies hushed judgements because she knew she deserved better. It reminds me I come from enduring and faithful stock.
I don’t want it sitting around my apartment forever with its eerie glare and noncommittal stance but I can’t imagine not having it because when your toes are bruised you’re aware of every step you take – and I can’t imagine a life more purposeful than that.