Mint Milkshakes

self-portrait

self-portrait

This journey (and, lord, how I have grown weary of that phrase and its haphazardous use), has been teaching me a lot of things and also strongly reinforcing things I’ve always believed. I am grateful for new perspectives. 

When I was a teenager and read the book She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, the quote that burned itself into my brain was: “Accept what people have to offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.” For the context, I highly recommend you read the book (all of Mr. Lamb’s work, for that matter). 

Excellent life advice in one succinct sentence. No one person can be everything you need them to be. There will be things that I deeply dislike or disagree with in a person, but then they show up with a milkshake. And it helps me to understand that people are composed of more layers than the crust of this planet and while some of them are sharp and hostile, others are smooth jade. 

Recently, a woman I had just met asked if she could pray over me. I said yes, because I will never be so ungrateful as to not accept someone’s good wishes for me no matter how they express them. It’s not always easy because I experienced religious abuse as a child and I don’t like reliving those feelings. 

As she prayed, she said the usual things. She asked God to heal me, to give me the strength I needed to fight. Then she added, “But, we will accept whatever you have planned because you are our God.” 

I physically bristled. My shoulders went rigid and I loosened my grip on her hand. Everything inside me was silently screaming, No. Fuck that. 

I sneaked a tiny glimpse at her face out of my closed eye. She had tears in her eyes and her voice was cracking. “But,” she added. “What we seek is full healing.” Her face right then looked like she wanted it just as much as I do. 

So, I drank her milkshake. 



There is another section in the aforementioned Lamb novel that has the main character being told that there is wild mint growing in her backyard, but she has never found any. One day, during one of the lowest places in her adolescent life, she finally sees it. The line is: “I had just found the mint.” 

I remember how I teared up when I read that. The mint, for me, became synonymous with not only unexpected pleasures, but also revelations. For the last 20 years, I have said to myself many times, “I have just found the mint.”

My advice to you from someone who has come face to face with mortality and has zero plans of giving in even an ounce: always take the milkshakes. Always look for the mint. You will be better for it, and so will the world around you.

you are fourteen

Dear Dakota/Dakofo/Baby Bear/Baby Boy/Monkey Toe/Peach Butt/Magic Bean/Tyke,

I had to include all your nicknames in there, right?

As I start this letter it is 4:53 pm on August 31, 2018. Fourteen years ago at this moment, I was sitting silently in our dark bedroom when we lived on Holly Ridge in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My eyes were closed and I was half meditating, half-praying. I was terrified. I was scared of the pain of labor, scared of the needles, scared of you getting harmed or being sick, scared of everything, and yet, I KNEW it was going to be okay. I just KNEW. Nana had been gone five months and I felt her presence so strongly and I knew she would watch over us.

I was also scared to be a mama, in general. So worried that I would hold you the wrong way, or feed you wrong, or not be able to breastfeed, or calm you, etc. I was (and still am) worried that I would fuck up everything and you’d be in therapy by age four, or that someone would hurt you or kidnap you or you’d smother in a blanket; the worries are totally irrational and endless! There is a quote: “Having a child is like having your own heart walking around outside of your body.” Nothing has ever been more true.

When I first held you and looked down at you, it was like looking into my own face and I felt a wave of sheer terror: your safety, development, and happiness depended on me now. You come first, then and now, and always. 

You were my shadow the first five years of your life. We were very blessed that I was able to stay home with you full time. Our early days were full of communing in the wee hours of morning, you latched on to eat, me rocking back and forth, rocking, rocking, endlessly rocking. For a long time I would just instinctually rock while standing even if I wasn’t holding you. We would look into each other’s eyes for hours. Those moments will never go away for either of us.

When you were a toddler, our days were filled with learning how to count, the ABCs, puzzles, books, reading, flashcards of words. I wanted to give you the best possible start, so we began “school” before you could even sit up by yourself. We would go outside and talk about plants and bugs and clouds and rain and everything was why, why, why? And in those days, those were the questions that were easy to answer. Now, it’s a bit more difficult.

You were born into a very broken world. And it’s going to take a lot of glue, baby. A whole lot of glue. The good news is all the pieces are still there. The pieces are composed of the good things this world has to offer us: our family and friendships, the generosity of the planet despite our abusing it, the humor, and the love. Most importantly, the love. Love is everything. Love is God. You need look no further. You can be the glue by spreading your kindness, understanding, patience, wicked sense of humor, and heart everywhere you go. Never let this world make you bitter or unkind. You are better than that.

I could never begin to tell you how proud I am of you. You have exceeded my hopes and dreams in every possible way. You light up a room with your gentleness and humor. You work so hard to be successful in school. Your artistic talent is staggering. You are responsible, disciplined, committed, and always so respectful. You have been a dream to raise. As always, thank you for choosing me to be your mama.

I can’t promise you that I will always be here for you, and that’s not because of my health, but because no one can make that promise to anyone. We have control over what we do and the choices we make, but we are also often victims of circumstance. Does everything happen for a reason? I don’t know. I think some things do, but I also think some things just…happen. It’s frustrating, I know. But I CAN promise you this: you will never be without me. No matter where I am, no matter where you are, we are joined in love. Flesh of my flesh, are you. I will always do everything in my power, in whatever time or space of universe, to protect you and show you how much you are cherished. I know you know this, but I am always on your side, no matter what. If you’re wrong, we’ll fix it, and you will learn from it. Either way, I will defend you to the death. You can share or tell me anything and I will always love you and support you.

Here are some handy life tips just because:

  • Always hold open doors for people, regardless of their gender; same goes for opening car doors.

  • Always be nice to your restaurant server or cashier or anyone in retail. These jobs are hard and people are dicks to them all day long. Don’t be one of the dicks. Ask them how their day is going.

  • Never be silent if you hear or see someone being bullied.

  • Respect everyone until they give you a real, solid reason not to. Then you may tell them to fuck off.

  • Speaking of that, watch your fucking language, for fuck’s sake. Know your audience.

  • Never go to bed angry.

  • If you love someone, tell them EVERY SINGLE DAY.

lastly;

  • Please un-bunch your socks before you put them in the laundry basket because it makes them really hard to get clean in the wash.

;-)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

I love you eternally,
Mama

 

© jennifer summer | 2018

© jennifer summer | 2018

wedding bells and memories

I was so delighted to be Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding this past Sunday. It was such a beautifully perfect day and I could not love her husband and his family and her family more. Everyone is so unique, kind, and lovable. 

When I arrived at the venue, I had an odd feeling and I couldn't figure out why. I stepped outside and walked around and when I saw the gazebo, my heart stopped. We were at the same exact location where my best friend Amanda had gotten married, nineteen years ago. I was her Maid of Honor, as well, and nothing about the landscape had changed. I was instantly thrust back into my twenty-one year-old self, walking slowly down the same stone path to join her and thinking to myself how we were both way too young to be doing any of this. Her toddler son, my first nephew, Pierce, squirmed and squealed and grinned during the ceremony. 

The realization that I was Maid of Honor twice, to two best friends, nineteen years apart, in the exact same spot, hit me like a punch in the face. As most of you know I lost my Amanda in 2016 and not a day goes by that I don't talk to her, think about her, ache with missing her.

I managed to keep myself together and focus on my Kristie and the joy of the day. Since my diagnosis, I strive and work as hard as possible to live in the moment. It's as easy as it sounds, ha. 

I have a small altar in my sitting room, aka my zen room. On it is a tiny photo of my nana hugging Amanda at her wedding. I got Kristie and Deb into the exact same spot and made a close replica of that image.

 

mygirls.jpg

I didn't get it exactly, but it's close enough, and the spot where they are both standing is exactly the same. And now as I edit this I am just now noticing that Amanda wore a flower crown, and I too wore a flower crown for Kristie's wedding. I literally did not even put that together until typing this just now.

Believe in what you will. I believe my Amanda is with me always. I believe she was there with me giving me the strength to stand up in front of a large group and declare my love for my Kristie pie. 

Some friends and family members have asked me to give them a copy of the speech I wrote for the wedding (which is so humbling and amazing and I am glad they were touched), so I am including that here:

I met Kristie ten years ago when both of our sons, Dakota and Liam, went to Wise Owl Preschool. I would watch her walking every day with little Quinn in a stroller when she would drop off Liam. Our boys became friends over a fight for a toy truck. Kristie and I would make small talk at the school and I instantly liked her, but it wasn’t until our boys were in first grade that we really became friends.

Coincidentally enough, we both signed up for a program called Picture Person which involved us coming to our boys’ class (they were in the same first grade class) and talking to them about a specific artist and then doing a project with them in the style of that artist. When we both showed up at the same time, we joked about how we had chosen the same volunteer role and we were excited to work together with the kids. 

The first time I went to Kristie’s house, I couldn’t believe how alike we truly were.  Looking around, I saw my own style staring back at me.  We even had several of the exact same pillows, lamps, frames, and blankets, and this is something that would only grow stronger over the next ten years; we often find that we have purchased the same dress, or pottery, or even panties! We joked that we were almost like a singular unit, and that became our name for each other: Singular Unit, only we abbreviate to just SU or “Sue.” 

As our boys became best friends, so did we. Kristie and I are both empaths and we intuitively know when one of us needs the other. She is notorious for leaving love tokens on my porch; some freshly baked cookies, a candle, her famous homemade soup, sometimes even lip gloss and panties from Target. We give each other handmade cards, finish each other’s sentences, and raise our boys to know that we are family because the foundation of love that we share is the essence of all families. 

We have been a flicker of light for each other in our darkest moments. There are no secrets and no veils, only a sense of relief and joy that we have found one another to share our lives and our loves. We laugh until our abs ache, we can cry and wipe away each other’s snot and sadness, we can cuddle and giggle, jump up and down like happy children, make spontaneous trips to IKEA or flea markets, or just sit together in silence. 

Kristie is one of the most intelligent, capable, and driven women I’ve ever known. When life hands her something hard, she uses it to build something stronger. She parents her children with grace and ease, and I love that we are second mamas to our own flock. She never ceases to amaze me with how much she gives to her family and friends, her career, her dogs, and to the world as a whole.

Kristie is also the most supportive friend a woman could ever hope to have. I’m a photographer and one day years ago she took me to see a Herb Ritts (very prominent black and white film portrait artist) photo exhibit at the Cincy Art Museum. I was staring in awe at one of the black and white portraits when she came up next to me, laid her head on my shoulder and after several minutes, whispered, “You can do that.” I’ll never forget that moment. Her belief in me and her steadfast love keep my heart beating.

Hers was the last face I saw before I went into life-saving brain surgery. Her hand only left mine because they pulled my stretcher away and into the operating room.  She would spend days in my hospital bed with me, and we would color, and we would talk, and in those moments I felt a peace and a strong belief that I have way more to do in this life before I go.

One of my favorite movies reminds me so much of our friendship.  It’s called Frances Ha and I want to share a quote from it here that I have always associated with my girl, my Kristie pie, my SU.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes…but not because you’re possessive, but because that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

That is what we have, and I am so, SO happy that Chris and his family are here and part of our family. I knew immediately when I met him that he would hold my girl’s heart with only the gentlest of hands. He has shown me and my family so much love and support in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine having anyone else as an SU-in-law. I know that their love will endure all struggles and challenges that life throws at them.

In closing, to my Kristie, a poem by e.e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                  i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

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scanxiety

Over the last week, I have embarked on a project that I did not plan to do. I was playing around with scanography and the concept began to unfold before me with very little cognizant control on my part. This is the first time I have really dug down to artistically express what it's been like to be in a battle with my own body. It's going to take some time but the drive and motivation are strong and almost intoxicating, but can be overwhelming and require me to step back for periods of time. The basic concept is prose and imagery, all images being the result of scanography as a companion to all the scans required when one has cancer and the intense anxiety that surrounds both the scans themselves and the anticipation of the results.

I've included here an image concept that will be in this collection with a written piece about losing my hair (yes, I keep my lost hair in a jar in my office). I hope you'll follow along on this journey with me and, as always, so much thanks to my family and friends for all the support and love you show me every day.

 

© jennifer summer | 2018

© jennifer summer | 2018

Peace for Paris

 


I imagine this might be what it looks like when we die, and how it might feel; like being pelted with prisms of light that carry the particles of everything we've ever loved. Maybe it's just science, maybe it's God, maybe it's whatever we choose to believe. Whatever makes it easier to stand back up, to open a slammed-shut heart.

Don't pray for peace. Be peace. It's not a wish or a request or someone's else job. It's in our hands.

 

image.jpg
 

on your 11th birthday

 
© jennifer summer | 2015

© jennifer summer | 2015

There have been times in my life that I’ve been so low I could taste the ground.  My mouth was filled with the dirt of devastation, the mire of not good enough, the bitter dew of loneliness. I was never sure I could stand up long enough, and strong enough, to be someone’s parent.  However, I come from a rich ancestry of warrior women; both grandmothers, aunts, and cousins, and through their example of perseverance, I have found my center, my holy, over and over again.

Each time when I thought I couldn’t again raise my head from rock bottom, one of them would be there.  They show up, time after time, never tired, never angry.  The village of their love and support untangles me from the strangling weariness and sets me straight.  Without them, I would lack the courage to not only love myself, but to pass on this all-encompassing love that I have for my son.  

And, at the end of time, this is all that will matter.  The sum total of our days will be measured by the love that has picked up our tired frames in its arms and carried us when we couldn’t do it ourselves.

Life is about being able to look upward from our lowest point and see an outstretched hand.

Happy 11th birthday, baby bear.

 

gardening

 

And then she can breathe again, the fresh air of him plumping out her lungs, pillowing into her chest.  This is the only place where letting go is permissible to her, where she crashes into full surrender.  He pours his pulse down her throat; his tongue carves a tome between her thighs, and it’s the story of how this coming together is an orchid, blooming in aching night, forever free from daylight’s scrutiny.

 

52 weeks words + images | week seventeen

 

earth day

Nana used to say that she believed trees were people reincarnated, and you could tell what kind of person they had been by what kind of tree they were now.  The full, deeply green trees were mothers, their lush leaf curtains providing just the right amount of protection from a scorching sun.  Under these trees you could find respite, a mother’s cool hand against her child’s flushed forehead.

The ugly trees had been bad people.  Trees with branches that appear decayed, that have no hope of ever being kissed by spring; dry bark that peels and flakes.  These trees had not loved hard enough, given enough, and now they were damned to look on the outside the way they had looked on the inside.  

Every tree I see is a potential glimpse at my future.  My heart thumps down in these roots.

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

© Jennifer Summer | 2015

 

full body memory

 

This is a piece I wrote a year ago, but I have re-worked it here.

--

The body remembers.
 

It remembers every time Nana tucked a lock of hair behind my child ear; the prism of shattered glass that lodged itself in my temple, another car's reckless impact slamming my face into the steering wheel; the deeply fragrant coconut suntan lotion I'd slather across my limbs at the first suggestion of summer, days when you could almost taste the wildness of possibility on your lips; the beautiful poet's grip on my hips, moans swirling through thick air, offering my eyes his moonstone smile, nose crinkle-cut with laughter; Max's heavy forest of a paw reaching out to plant itself in my own palm.

It remembers the singular drag of a razor across my forearm, petrified that I was no one's daughter; the hours spent on the tips of my toes, happily trading pain for bliss; the meals skipped and the hollow cavern created inside; the tiny spirit I wasn't ready to love flowing out as an unrepentant river down my thighs; the too many uninvited hands.

A body strains under the weight of collected memory.  But it also forgives, perseveres and sustains.  I thank it by treating it gently, feeding it with life and motion. We're in this together.  We remember for each other.

image & text © Jennifer Summer | 2015

image & text © Jennifer Summer | 2015

 

52 weeks words + images | week sixteen

 

37

--

Thirty-seven and here's what I've learned:

Always say yes to dessert.
Enormous hills are meant to be rolled down.
Only do the drugs that grow naturally from the earth.
Kiss a lot of dogs. All the dogs.
You don't need to brush your hair every day or tuck in your shirt. It's okay to be a little wild.
When your child runs toward you with his arms outstretched your heart will feel like it's too big to stay inside your chest. It will.
You can find God when you stop looking.
Beauty will come to you. Just be still.

©  Jennifer Summer | 2015

© Jennifer Summer | 2015