A Word With Katie Hunerdosse

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

Do you remember Chappelle’s Show ? It started airing when I was in high school and quickly became the only thing those of us with cable talked about. We pretended to be Tyrone Biggums, quoted Clayton Bigsby, and once Derek Dixon showed up for Halloween celebrations painted completely white, as Dave had been in a “wife Swap” episode. I’m still not sure how we all managed to avoid suspension.

Image result for dave chappelle white man wife swap
Comedy Central

Katie Hunerdosse doesn’t look like the kind of person you would expect to quote Dave Chappelle (clap-havin’-Jezebel was the go-to), or spend time in my basement watching his episodes, but that’s part of what makes her so special: you can’t put her into just one box. Artist, mother, singer, dancer, teacher, wife, warrior, friend; the list could go on and on if she let me. Knowing Katie has taught me that life doesn’t have to be a clean line, with every step mapped out from cradle to grave. In fact, we’re all better off for the people who deviate from grid. Her interview, which had me alternating between laughter and tears, is below. I hope you enjoy learning from this remarkable woman!

What is your profession?
Technically? I’m a substitute teacher. That’s my main gig, I guess. But, “on the side”, I am a freelance artist. Which means basically anything goes. Illustration for a children’s book? I’m here. Set painting? You got it. Need some nerdy jewelry to sell somewhere? I’m your girl. Also, I’m a mom to a two year old who has an appetite for destruction (mostly of his face), so there’s that too.

How did you break into your position?
Well, I have a degree in art, which in itself is not a bad thing at all. However, I live in an extremely small town in Minnesota (we make SPAM here), so while this town does love its arts, getting a quality career off the ground is easier said than done. So, in terms of things that could pay me money and wouldn’t suck my soul out of my head, I decided that working in schools was the best option. I started out right after college as an art paraprofessional in an emotional/behavior disorder residential school, and after that, I figured I could handle ANYTHING. Unfortunately my health wasn’t great throughout my 20s, so I had a hard time finding a consistent job that wouldn’t penalize me for being sick. Being not easily shocked, I discovered that I could work as a substitute teacher whenever I was available to work. It actually has been great for me – I think a part of me loves being challenged by improv. From the freelance angle, I wanted to still be using my degree and doing what I love, so I got involved in community theater, which opened a lot of other doors because the people willing to set aside their dignity and get crazy onstage tend to be people also willing to make a difference in their community.

If you could change your life, what would you do instead? Why?
Well, I think there are a few things I would change and most of those involve my proximity to a Target (because ours closed and the nearest one is 45 miles away! SEND HELP.) I do actually love my life and the people in it. There is a part of me – the former theater major – that wishes I would have pursued acting more seriously, but I really don’t mind not living that lifestyle, because I love hiding in my house, playing Skyrim and dancing to Michael Jackson videos with my husband and son every night. Oh, I suppose I would have loved to have taken dance classes. I could always manage to be more graceful and less apt to trip over nothing.

What are some ways you take care of yourself?

I have a lot of things that I need to do for myself, and it took me too long to realize that I shouldn’t come last. I am pretty open about not only having some mental health issues (coupled with very early diagnosed ADHD), so I know what I can handle and what ends up being too much for me. I can tell if I’m starting to slip into a bad place, so I typically keep all of my physicians aware of what’s going on with me. I have two friends from high school who are also parents and we chat all day long about whatever is on our minds and support each other; we even took a “mom trip” to Door County, WI, and drank a lot of really sweet wine and were the youngest people there (shout out to Mandy and Danielle!). Speaking of community, I mentioned the community theatre in this town and just want to express my gratitude for that. I have some amazing friends through that. And they’re all incredibly talented and motivated as well. Participating in theatre really does keep me sane and feeling like myself.
Aside from being cognizant of my mental health, I’ve had some struggles with my physical health. I have stage 4 Endometriosis, which so many women unfortunately suffer through. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I 1) couldn’t get pregnant, and 2) was having episode of extreme pain and blackouts. I’ve had a number of surgeries to remove cysts and the like, but all that scar tissue makes my insides feel like I swallowed pea gravel sometimes. Despite living in Spamtown, I gave up eating most meat (other than fish and the occasional chicken, if I’m making pho ga for a bad cold), which seemed to help a lot. I also took up running. I’m not fast, but I wanted to feel like my body could do something powerful. I’ve run two half marathons and I’m hoping to run another one this fall. Although I definitely would not be fast enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Can you share a time or event you didn’t think you could survive?

I think a lot of people with mental health issues can jump to any number of bad periods in their lives, but I really struggled with all of the baggage of infertility. It just seemed like an endless, hopeless tunnel. Everyone wanted to talk about babies all the time, everyone was having them, and I just wanted hide in my sweater. I ended up undergoing IVF (thankfully we lived in Illinois, which covered it under insurance), which is EXTREMELY taxing. The drugs you take are intense, you feel super gross, you’re always sweating and foggy, and there’s such high stakes. And, when I actually did get pregnant, I had spent so many years of thinking it wasn’t going to happen, that I couldn’t let myself be happy. My anxiety was relentless, especially at the beginning. Then, once I finally started to feel comfortable with our success, it turns out that I had a possibly life-threatening complication (full placenta previa, for those of you interested). Oh, and we decided to move ourselves and two crazy dogs back to Minnesota during this point. So, before my son was finally born (a month early, which required him to spend his first two weeks of life in the Infant Special Care Nursery), I had two major bleeds, two ambulance rides, and stayed a grand total of three weeks in the antepartum unit. It’s almost like I did everything the absolute hardest way I could.

What/Who pulled you through it?

I really like the guy I married. Jacob’s got a great sense of humor and has really good perspective when it comes to health issues because it runs in his family. He isn’t the type of person to coddle me (which can be frustrating), but when it comes to being a stable presence, he wins all the awards. He supplied me with endless puns and dad jokes until I was distracted from my brain long enough to relax. He spent weeks driving the 50 miles back and forth every evening during the Minnesota winter to visit me in the hospital, then did it again so we could visit our baby. His calm dedication was invaluable. He also is cute, even though he currently has a mustache (which I did not sanction but I won’t yuck his yum.)

How did the event/time shape the way you live now?

I really am not bothered by much anymore when it comes to life events. My son, Jonas, is two and a half now. He’s absolutely bonkers. But I love it. I really do. Everything he does to me is amazing because he’s like a scientific masterpiece, except when he creates his own “scientific masterpieces”, which are both underwhelming and gross. I also realized from this experience that I suffer from a lot more anxiety than I ever realized and that it’s not the way things had to be. It was kind of the point in my life when I stopped caring about what people expected of me and decided to live my life the best way I knew how.

What was the best/ funniest/ most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?
My favorite advice is the parenting strategy my husband presented to me: “let’s raise our first kid like our third kid.” It sounds crass, but it’s actually fantastic. After that whole medical mess of getting this kid, we decided to stop sweating the small stuff. Is he growing? Good. Is he pooping? Good. Has he been washed in the last week? Excellent. Obviously he’s getting more undivided attention from all the adults in his life as a first kid, but I don’t panic if he doesn’t hit all of his milestones early or eats things that aren’t perfectly healthy or falls down. A few weeks ago, in fact, he actually broke his nose falling down our front stone stairs. Naturally it was terrible and traumatic, but he actually had a great time sitting in the ER, making friends with nurses and watching Dragonball Z. (His parents were less enthusiastic, but also very hungry). Having been around a lot of kids, I know that having a very panicky parent really affects kids, and I’m hoping that this strategy allows me to hold back some of my anxiety when interacting with my kid. Plus, there’s basically zero mom guilt, because it’s not like my toddler is part of a toddler fight club (although I wouldn’t talk about it if he was.)

When do you feel the most free?
I feel free doing all the arts. ALL THE ARTS. I draw and paint and knit and make little polymer clay pendants. It gives me joy and gives me a purpose that’s separate from being a parent. Alas, I love performing on stage, specifically in musicals. I’m a huge musical theater nerd. This town has a pretty great scene for that. On stage, I get to be someone else, with very specific motivations, and I don’t have to recount every single thought I’ve ever had (which is typically how my brain works). It’s like a brain break, and it also challenges me in the best way. I’ve gotten to do things like learn how to use puppets for Avenue Q and moon the entire audience in RENT. Our summer community theater just produced the musical Chicago, and I basically had six weeks to learn how to dance convincingly (and not cause Bob Fosse to roll over in his grave). Pulling that off was a huge accomplishment (and there’s very little a room full of applause won’t fix, right?)

What do you want to be remembered for?
Well, I can tell you definitively that I DO NOT WANT TO BE FAMOUS. Being that this is a small town, I’ve had far too many people stop me to talk about the shows I’ve been in, and that’s some that my social anxiety cannot handle. I guess I just like being part of the artistic process, making something that impacts people. I have always loved the concept of heirlooms, lovely things that are passed down in honor of someone who came before. I make a lot of tiny pendants and things because I like to think that they’re going to be what remains of me someday. Nothing earth-shattering, just a little bit of art to remind someone that I was here and tried to make the world a lovelier place.

 

All images courtesy of Katie Hunerdosse

Bessie Stringfield, Your New Patron Saint of Adventure

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

August is the month of changes, of possibilities, endings and beginnings. Schoolwork looms nearer, pools are emptying, but the month also offers the potential for discoveries academic or otherwise. I have a love-hate relationship with August; as a curious (i.e. nosey) kid, I looked forward to being in school and being introduced to new concepts in the classroom. All my friends were at school, rather than scattered about on vacations or busy playing sports, and we could compare stories, sunburns, or how tall we’d gotten in the months away. However, August also symbolized the end of leisurely freedom – the late nights watching HBO and eating ice cream without my parents knowing were pulled to a jarring halt right around the middle of the month.

Still, what I remember most about August, about those weeks leading up to my return to normality, is watching my Dad prep for his classes. Most people think History teachers have it easy. The common belief is they simply tell every class the same thing over and over again. That’s true for most, but my Dad isn’t your average nerd. Each year he looked for unique ways to spark a little interest in his students. He read new books, watched new documentaries, and went off to conferences around the country. My brother and I always looked forward to what he would bring back from his travels to exotic places like Atlanta and Phoenix.

Bessie Stringfield, today’s person you should definitely know, reminds me so much of those days spent watching documentaries with my Dad, enraptured by the adventures and daring lives. Bessie was born in 1911 and by the time she died in 1993 she had earned the moniker “Motorcycle Queen of Miami” for her feats on the Harley-Davidsons she loved. Despite the restrictions of the times, Bessie got her first bike at the age of 16, then traveled the country alone. She slept on her ride when she was denied a room at hotels, rode in carnivals for money, then eventually made it through all of the states in addition to Europe. He skill was so formidable that she would become a motorcycle courier in WWII, tasked with transporting sensitive information.

She embellished many of the details of her life for the rapt audiences of her young relatives and the children she took care of after settling in Florida as a housekeeper, however the fact that she lived an extraordinary life remains unquestionable. She was posthumously inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame in 2002, long after her death, but I doubt she needed the accolades to validate her bad-assery.

What I love about the story of Bessie Stringfield is her relentless pursuit of what made her happy. Against the protestations of her family, she traversed the segregated and misogynistic landscape of the United States in search of her own slice of that ever-elusive peace we experience in following our hearts. When I lie awake in this unfamiliar town, missing the comfort of a controllable environment, I try to imagine what Bessie might have felt right before she did a trick for an audience. I sit in awe of her grit and feel slightly gobsmacked that she had the audacity to be free.

If you need encouragement to follow where your soul wants to lead, if you need a push to re-discover your dreams, or just a reminder that it’s alright to be a little bit off, look no further than Bessie. August is the month of discovery, after all.

Who are you emulating today? Let me know in the comments whose stories you can’t get out of your head. As always, stay safe out there!

You can read Bessie’s obituary in the NYT here.

I love this art essay of her by Rejected Princesses, which you can read here.

The Catharsis of Loss

My grandmother died the Sunday before I moved across the country to begin a new life. I’d spent that day packing and loading a shipping container with my husband, parents, and brother, which was more fun that it had any right to be. Our raucous laughter shook the house we were leaving behind, rumbling out into the sleepy neighborhood. I’ve never had a day without joy when in their company, regardless of the weight of the world or the stress of boxing up your life to be replanted elsewhere. It was a joyful, yet bittersweet experience to share with my loved ones.

Once we’d finished with the house, leaving just what Mark and I would need to keep with us for the drive to California, we decided to go see a movie. We rushed to the theater, anticipation for popcorn and soda sky-high, anxious to have a respite from the heat and stress of moving. No more than five minutes after the movie began my father got the call. I don’t know that there are words to describe the loss of someone you care for, when it’s known they eventually have to pass on. Death is never expected when it enters your life, no matter how prepared you might be to let go. We left the movie in a general state of disbelief. My parents had spoken to her the day before. My brother, husband and I had laughed with her at my cousin’s wedding, but I still can’t remember what about.

Two weeks later my large extended family sat down to eat together after her memorial service, then descended into laughter. We teased one another, played with my cousin’s babies and shared stories in a sort of mad libs only close families can understand, picking up where others left off. I was struck by the realization that none of us were crying or down-trodden. The even was more of a party than anything, a potentially macabre celebration of a woman we all loved and lost.

Death is still a taboo subject for many people, but I don’t think it should be. Perhaps my mind is warped from being forced to confront how little control I have over the circumstances affecting my existence, but I believe the more we talk about a thing, the less said thing can break us down. The pain will still exist, however we might get up with more grace if we know how to move forward in a healthy way. My grandmother is gone, yes, but what she gave to me remains. I have her cheeks, her nose, the shape of her face, just like most of my cousins and aunts and uncles. We’re all stubborn as hell and never back down from a fight. Her death doesn’t have to be the end of the lessons she can teach us about who we are. In loss we are forced to confront the chasms separating us.

I’ve had quite a lot of time to turn over the feelings swirling in my chest: surprise, fear, sadness. The one that I’ve returned to the most is a sense of relief. The emotion isn’t tied to wanting her gone; I feel relief that my grandmother no longer has to feel pain. I feel relief that she got to meet so many great-grandchildren. Most of all I feel relief that she is with her own beloved mother again in a place that may or may not exist, but nonetheless removed from our perception. In loss we are forced to confront the chasms separating us. We get to choose whether or not to build bridges, who we want to move on with or leave behind. So, I feel relief that even without the maternal glue of my grandmother my family remained whole; that is where the peace is, the release of my fears.

I believe the real weight of losing someone is tied to the fights we will never get to have and the opportunities for growth we were robbed of. I didn’t cry during the ceremony, and I noticed few of us did. When the tears began to well up, I stopped them with a vengeance, because it didn’t feel right to cry. I didn’t understand why until I came across this quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

My grandmother never left us to wonder how she felt, whether good or bad. Regret didn’t exist in her world. She was a woman of her word, and she passed that on to her descendants. She knew that when she was gone we would have to find peace in one another, but you can’t do that if you hide pieces of yourself. If I feel any sorrow, it is that my grandmother and I will never again be able to forge new paths together. Yet, I choose to focus on the paths we did carve out, the fights we did have and the growth those rows fostered. All in all, I have no regrets with my grandmother. If I did, I would have to find a way to make peace with them and make sure that I have nothing to regret with those loved ones I have left.

No matter how far I creep away from the staid Methodist teachings of my youth, I always return to the belief – the desire – that the end is worth the race. However, now I’m beginning to rethink the type of race we’re running. Perhaps it’s something more akin to a relay than a straight up sprint. We pick up people along the way, trade stories, pass on pieces of ourselves, then hand over the baton. My grandmother’s passing has created a new spot on the team, a void in my heart for others to occupy, but I’ll never forget how well she lived.

 

 

A Word with Caroline Luther

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

You can learn so much about someone if you pay attention to the way they fly. Undeniable truths flash bright when we think we blend into the crowds, if you look up from your tablet long enough to spy them. Revelations are present in which seats we favor, who we clumsily ask to sit by and how we hold onto comfort miles away from the peace of the ground. Millions of us bustle through the tailwinds of each other, but how often do we stop to discover the familiarity of strangers? I’m guilty of this more often than I’d like to admit, after years of wrapping myself into a cocoon of downloaded movies I don’t want to watch and music I’ve listened to far too often in the face of unpredictable conversation.

My habit of shutting down during flights was put on pause during a recent flight home. I had the pleasure of meeting Caroline on that trip back to Kansas from New Orleans, after she hit it off with my mother in line waiting to board. I knew I liked her before we had a chance to introduce ourselves, thanks to those flashing truths. She and I spent the entire time laughing and sharing just enough of ourselves for me to realize she is one of those people everyone should get to know. Thankfully, she agreed to take part in this feature. Her interview is below, which I think you’ll truly love. Next time you fly, when you want to retreat, think twice. You might just miss out on a remarkable human.

 

What is your profession?

After some twists and turns through a graduate program in history (thought I wanted to be a professor) and several jobs in communications (grant-writing, writing-writing, graphic design, etc.), I’m going into my sixth year teaching high school history. And I love it.

 

As a child, what future did you see for yourself?

In early elementary school, I thought I’d be a teacher (both my parents were). I’m pretty sure I thought I’d stick close to my New Jersey home and most likely have kids. I’ve since moved to North Carolina and my husband and I have decided not to have children. I finally started teaching 13 years after graduating from college. Those are the right choices.

 

If you could change your life now, what would you do instead? Why?

Ooh, good question. Maybe I’d be a therapist (an LCSW rather than a Ph.D., though) or own a boutique selling women’s clothing. I need to care for people and nudge them to take care of and feel good about themselves. I’m usually right, so that helps me own my bossiness. Plus I like pretty things and have really enjoyed my stints in retail.

 

(Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably say that I want to be a backup singer!)

 

Can you share a time or event you didn’t think you could survive?

When I realized that my 53 year-old mother was going to die from colon cancer sooner rather than (years) later and couldn’t bring it up with anyone in my family. It was a bleak, lonely time. I just wanted to no longer exist.

 

What/Who pulled you through it?

Prozac. It took a while, though. And I credit my boyfriend at the time for making me make an appointment with the campus psychiatry department to get the prescription. He helped me get my life back and I’m forever in his debt.

 

How did the event/time shape the way you live now?

I’m very aware of my mental health. I try to be honest about what scares me and tell the right people about it. I also make sure to go to the doctors I need to see and keep track of the things that are most likely to kill me prematurely.

 

What are some ways you take care of yourself?

Loving on my cat. Getting enough sleep. Solitary exercise: running by myself at whatever pace works that day, yoga (mostly with an app but more and more just whatever feels right) and sporadic work with free weights. Sitting in an armchair in my living room listening to records. Giving my brain interesting things to do. Making sure to get the nagging things crossed off my to-do list and set my future self up for success.

What was the best/ funniest/ most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?

I read this in an article somewhere a long time ago. Former secretary of education Margaret Spellings talked about needing to put on one’s big-girl panties and get shit done. She might have even had a sign on her desk to that effect. I need that sign.

 

When do you feel the most free?

On summer breaks when my husband (who teaches English in an adjoining classroom) and I have 10 weeks of not going into work every day. We still work, but it’s nice to do that on our own schedules and have small adventures, whether it’s traveling, floating in a lake, going to Durham Bulls games, drinking local beers at local breweries or taking our books somewhere. Having a time-limited time when our time is our own is heavenly.

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

Making people laugh. Being a good teacher. Being good, period.

Friday Media Prep: The Human Spirit is Unstoppable

Every Friday we will feature the inspiring books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art you have to check out. Please share your suggestions below!

This week’s media prep is all about the beauty and power of the human spirit. Whether it be saving your soccer team, making music meant to encourage social change, or merely wrestling with concepts through art, we are a sight to behold. Let’s jump right in with this week’s good stuff!

 

Music

Mavis Staples. If you need more than that, you’re on your own. Google her!

TV

The World Cup Finals

In all honesty, I don’t even really like soccer. My husband used to play, so my propensity for making fun of all the flopping was an early point of contention in our relationship. Sure, I played for a few years as well, but every single person who has ever sported was thrown onto a soccer field by their parents as a five-year-old to learn how to follow a ball around. However, it is my rule that if there are black folks doing something, I’m going to cheer. Whether it be tennis or a spelling bee, I’m here for the melanin. Now that France (a team that’s black as hell) is heading to the final against Croatia (a team that is the complete opposite of black as hell) you might as well just call me a fan until Monday. Don’t hate. You can catch the battle for the gold? Gilded boot? Trophy! on Sunday. Belgium and England will be playing for 3rd place on Saturday.

Movies

Skyscraper

My stance on cheering for black people regardless of the event is the exact same for The Rock. Along with my brother and father, I used to watch with the elation of someone who just discovered processed sugar as Dwayne Johnson tore up the wrestling ring. I’ve seen all of his movies (even Baywatch), because he represents such a carefree time in my life, when pain would stop and I could laugh with my family like a normal kid. What I love about his movies – that seem to come out every 3 months – is how lighthearted I leave feeling. It might be a guilty pleasure to  some, but not for this girl. In his newest film he plays the a guy saving the day like always, so why not?

Articles

“What Marilynne Robinson’s and Margaret Atwood’s Gileads Can Teach Us” by Alissa Wilkinson

I borrowed my mother’s copy of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson a few years ago, when I was looking for a change of pace from mystery novels, comics and Marvel movies. I picked up the book expecting to a gentle mental push, but got more than I bargained for in this exploration of humanity, love, loyalty, and religion in the Iowa town that bears the book’s name. After reading Robinson’s take on the concept of Gilead, I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for a book club. Only two of us could finish it, and I’m so glad I did. Sometimes being shaken to the core is what the doctor ordered.

I love how Alissa Wilkinson explores the nature of paradise through these two works. Our “promised land” , whatever you choose it to be, is more than a place. A promise and a curse, an end to pain or the discovery of frightful new depths; perspective is everything in this world, no less so than in the arts we love.

You can Read Alissa’s piece for Vox here

“Thai cave soccer team: how Buddhist meditation kept them calm ” by Eliza Barclay

Self-care is very often a means of survival, as we have seen in the harrowing story of the young Thai boys trapped in a cave with their soccer coach for two weeks. Their coach , Ekapol Chanthawong, lived and trained in a monastery for ten years, beginning at the age of 12, when he was left orphaned. He learned to meditate as part of that training, and taught the young boys to as well, to keep them calm during the ordeal.

There are so many messages to take away from this moment in history, from altruism to the wonder of modern technology, however what will stay with me is the knowledge that the human spirit is durable beyond measure. I highly recommend this article by Eliza Barclay if you want to feel better about the world, learn more about the remarkable young man who kept his team alive, or need a reminder of your own potential for survival.

Read it here

That’s all for this week! Enjoy your weekend (and life) the best way you can!