{two amazing lessons on one adventurous night}

The cover for my new (next) journal is drying, and the sun’s casting a warm glow over my little area, so I thought I’d pause from picking the PVA from my fingers and finally sit down to write this post.

It’s a week late, as in the events in it happened a week ago, about 30 minutes from now, but I haven’t really been in the mood to write it until now. Forgive me if I ramble, or get deep; I’m writing this as I think, more like telling a story to a friend rather than writing a concise blog post.

Then again, I treat this blog as an open letter to a friend, or to myself, beginning with art six years ago.

There’s this thing in Phoenix called First Fridays. I heard about it pretty soon after I moved here in October, while searching for artful gatherings near me. It’s described as America’s largest self-guided art walk, with galleries and shops opening their doors to a wandering public looking for a good time and great art. There are vendors at several points along the way, and a free trolley helps you get around.

Last Thursday, I was watching Up. And you know the beginning, the part that makes you cry? It also made me realize that the way I was going, I’d have dreams painted on all my walls and never have done one of them. So I decided there and then that I was going to do First Friday. I’m usually hesitant about such things, not because I don’t like crowds or adventures, but rather know I’ll pay for a long walk and physical activity the day, or days, later. A nice little Fibromyalgia parting gift.

But I was going to do it. I had a back-up Vicodin in my pocket, and packed my purse with my journal, a handful of art prints, my wallet, and digital camera. I also packed my younger brother, K, in the car, and we drove to the Phoenix Art Museum to park and catch the trolley. I don’t really know the area, so I figured this would be the best way to go.

So we grabbed a map and stood in the crowd waiting for the East trolley. And that thing was packed as tightly as a Japanese train during rush hour (I presume; I’ve only ridden the Japanese train system during their 9pm rush hour, so the earlier ones could be lighter. Then again, I doubt that very much!). We were the first two to have to stand, and so we rode on down to Roosevelt holding onto the gold bars running above the seats that were smudged with fingerprints.

We didn’t really know where to get off, so I suggested the second Roosevelt stop. Why? Because it looked close to stuff. So we waited and soon were released from the trolley in a gush of human traffic, running into those collected on the corner. We were bombarded by hand-outs and fliers from all sorts of people, our hands quickly stuffed.

But it wasn’t until we began wandering down 5th Street that we really realized where we were.

A magical, awesome land.

I don’t really know how to describe it other than to show you photographs K took, as he lifted the camera from me sometime on the trolley (note: I wish I had the names of the artists pictured here, but since I wasn't paying attention, I didn't grab cards from all of them). Which was fine, as I was jumping after everything. There are little coffee shops (one sold coffee and crapes!) and tiny galleries where the owners sleep in the back rooms. Giant covered front lawns cluttered with mismatched picnic tables. Back lots with more art to see or bands to hear.

People were selling paintings and prints, jewelry and sculptures made from found objects. One woman had several hula-hoops with ribbon wrapped around them. The night was warm and all around us, conversations blended into that rich background that makes you feel more alive just through knowing there are others around you. You could close your eyes or look up at the stars and just feel the creative energy saturating your clothes, your very bones.

I quickly reconized the need to carry a water bottle, and bought one at the coffee and crepes place. K declined. And then, suddenly, we came upon a table covered in cupcakes, water bottles, and --

“Or any of this stuff!” the girl said. “We don’t take money, only trades.”

“And no cell phones,” the second one added.

K laughed. “People have offered you their cell phones?”


“What’s all that?” I asked. The first girl had a flashlight pointed at a pile of seemingly unconnected junk, random bits you’d find at the bottom of your purse.

“Things people have traded us.”

“Well,” I said, “Those cupcakes look delicious.” I quickly balanced my purse on the table and began digging through all the papers and fliers we’d already collected out of wanting to avoid confrontation, looking for the pile of prints I’d shoved in ‘just in case.’ I pulled out You Can Fly and handed it to the second girl. “Here. K, do you want something?”

“That bottle of water,” he replied.

“This is so cool!” the second girl said, once her friend shined the flashlight on the print. I smiled, K opened the bottle of water, and we continued on.

“I can’t believe my art just bought you that bottle of water,” I told K.

“I know. It’s awesome.”

And he drank half the damn bottle right there.


We stepped up onto the high patio of a print shop, where K looked through screenprinted t-shirts. I eyed the decorated flasks in the corner. Outside, on the patio, a DJ changed songs, the beat vibrating through the brick shop.

“These are cool,” he said.

“They’re screenprinted.”

We walked back out into the heat of April in the desert. As we hopped down, K said, “You should do that, Sam.”

“Right. With my little Yudu.”

“It would be really cool.”

I laughed into the night air.

We walked back towards the corner where a company was handing out free cans of something called Sun Drop. I took the offered drink, and so did K. As we neared the corner and the amber light of a streetlight, he held his out.

“I got diet.”

“Good,” I smiled.

We switched drinks and popped open the tabs. It wasn’t half-bad.


We entered a white building with chipping paint, deep red showing through the cracks. A fence inside guided us around to a gallery area, where paintings and pieces from all sorts of mediums stood freely or hung on the walls. Right next to the entrance sat a grey box with


stenciled on it. It was painted on all visible surfaces.

K laughed at the mirror and camera installation that showed your image over the word SUSPECT.

We went up a staircase to nowhere, descended, and headed back out.


Across the way, an open field boasted tented stalls of all sorts of things. K pulled out the camera while I explored one covered in pink. Another had hand-made jewelry that took my breath away and made me regret not pulling any cash out of an ATM before driving down. A display of brass stencils caught my eye, and as I went through them, I remarked,

“Wow. I had about 500 of these in Illinois.”

The owner sighed. “You should have put them on eBay!”

“They might still be in the garage,” I replied.

I grabbed a card after running my fingers over darling earrings, the pang of not being able to bring them home with me a pain that would remind me for next month.


We crossed the street to where a band was playing in front of a record shop.

As I walked through the latticed walls covered in paintings, I couldn’t help but feel small. Not in stature, but talent. And here’s where the first amazing thing of the night happened.

Instead of feeling hopeless and depressed, I felt empowered.

Why? Because seeing the work there, being in front of the paintings and saying hello to the tattooed artists who probably have jobs during the day and do this on the side, or struggle by on sales alone, showed me what is possible. I remember reading an interview with Pam Carriker, and the intro said, “She has 20 years experience in art.”

20 years? How can I possible think my art now can be compared to anything like that after only 6? Yes, some people succeed overnight. Others need practice and passion. I was wailing to Lia one night a year ago and she told me, “You know, it took Sabrina [Ward Harrison] 10 years to make any money off her books.”

And walking around, seeing those pieces, I realized I’m only in my artistic infancy. I’m just starting, drawing stick figures with my fingers in kindergarten. I have so much yet to discover and uncover in myself. There’s so many things I need to go through in order to get the rich stuff out. And I’m doing the best anyone wanting to be an artist can -- I am making art every day. A sketch here, watercolors there. Maybe some writing in my Harajuku Lovers composition book Lia sent me to fill with new Arizona dreams. Other days, I’m experimenting with the laugh and disregard of rules of a mad scientist.

Maybe it won’t happen today or tomorrow, but it will as long as I keep showing up. I love the paintings I do now. I love the paintings I did last year. And I can see, when looking between them, how much I’ve grown and learned. There’s a adage in the TV business that goes like this -- in order to get a writing gig in TV, you have to submit a spec script (a script of an episode of an established show in the genre you want to write for). And everyone tells you you don’t submit your first or second or even your fifth. You submit that sixth one, because every one before that was just for practice.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same for art.


Our finale for the night was the Firehouse, where artists from all over sell their artwork, jewelery, clothes, and other odds and ends. I walked around and felt like I had to do something. Like this was one of those moments I could either grab for or paint on my walls.

“How does one get to sell stuff here?” I asked.

I got a card. And an enthusiastic, “We’re always looking for new artists!” before we left.

And we were just about to turn and walk to the trolley stop when I noticed there was something pointing to the back lot. Hugging the side of the building was a path lined with roses and bushes growing over a lattice fence. We came out into an area with a stage and chairs and couches set out for the audience. Not knowing what we walked into, K and I took a seat.

Now, you know that feeling I had earlier? That push to go outside my comfort zone and do something? Collect stories instead of pictures on the walls?

I just knew it was going to get me into trouble, because not five minutes later, I was randomly chosen to go up on stage. This wasn’t a volunteer thing -- this was a, “We’re going to pick you and you’re going to do this, damnit!” kind of deal. And I didn’t know what we were going to be doing until I climbed up onto the stage -- and I can still feel the embarrassment tingling across my skin as I write this -- and found out...

Oh, you thought I was going to tell you, didn’t you.

I will reveal this: the second amazing thing that happened that night. A piece of advice for all you afraid to do things you feel in your heart in fear of being embarrassed or laughed at. For those moments when you feel like a moron and want to shrink and hide.

I’m pretty sure -- no, positive -- it is nothing bigger than participating in an orgasmic moaning competition on stage in front of 50 strangers and your little brother recording the whole damn thing on the digital camera he lifted from you an hour ago.

So next time you’re frightened to do something in order to save face or avoid embarrassment, think to yourself, “Is this more scary that what Kira had to do?”

Yeah. Didn’t think so.

And it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I didn’t come in first, but wasn’t last, either, which is a plus. And the rest of the night, I was laughing and smiling because nothing could touch me after that.


My brother opted to keep my door prize. And the camera. He said, “I’m so showing this to mom when we get back.”

“Uhh...just as long as it doesn’t end up on YouTube.”

He gave me a wicked smile as we reached the corner where the trolley would be picking us up.

It was across from a Light Rail station.

“Next time, we’re taking that down here,” I said with a tight smile, still wondering how I could get the camera back. “Cause we could have stayed so much later.”


K gave me the camera after I revealed, as we sat on the trolley back to the art museum, that I had the dongle that plugged into the computer at the bottom of my purse.

He asked for it back two hours later.


The next day, I walked into the bookstore and gave my number to the guy there I’d been crushing on for a few weeks. After the night before, what was a little flirting?

(And if you’re reading this, why haven’t you called? And if you did, why no voice mail?)

Perhaps that’s the final lesson. That you can have all the practice in the world, get rid of the embarrassment from your life, but in the end, you’ve gotta own it. All of it.

So stop painting pictures on your walls and get out into the world.

It’s waiting.