Onion You Glad I Didn’t Say Onion?

[obligatory comment about how I don’t update this enough]

While searching through boxes and binders and folders and sketchbooks for a certain drawing I was thinking of using, I stumbled upon this (among many other things that should, actually, see the light of day).  This, is an alternating panel one-pager me and my ex-boyfriend did while sitting at a coffee shop.  And even now, I think it’s pretty funny.
(if you don’t know which panels are mine, just look for the signature wide-eyed anthropomorphized thing at the end)

alternating1

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100,000. On a Good Day

2015-06-26 19.10.29
I had not planned on writing this. I was supposed to update about a mural project I assisted on in Hutchinson. But I just came home from (foolishly) trying to get to the library, in the heart of tiny Downtown Lawrence. What should take five minutes, took twenty. And I get that it’s small potatoes compared with other cities, with other “sprawling metropolises” (metropoli?), but sprawling metropolis is not Lawrence. God forbid the people that actually live here have to go to the community pool or library on a hot, Summer Sunday. And then it struck me, in that moment, I could, for one brief instant, see the OTHER SIDE behind this whole East 9th Street corridor. If I, someone who is adamantly against this expansion, could be so annoyed and frustrated and wish EVERYTHING didn’t have to be run through a five block stretch (or a fifteen block radius at best), then everyone else could too. So maybe this, this too-big-for-your-britches Free State Festival and this bike race and everything else that has been shoved under the LAC umbrella, is all just part of the plan. Maybe if they frustrate and annoy the parents, the West Siders, the middle-agers, the low-middle incomers, who have no solid feeling one way or the other, so much that we just say YES, YES.  OK. Anywhere but just here. Run it through another area and relieve some of the pressure. Fine.

Except it’s not fine. Lawrence is a town of 100,000 people, on a good day.  And gone are the days of Summer reversion when the students leave town.  So I pull out the New Orleans card again, I pull out the Kansas City card with it. These are bigger places, with longer histories of events and more room to do it. Someone, is thinking, wishing, hoping beyond their means. I know who it is, and maybe you do too. I also know who’s set to make money off these dreams, and I hope you do too.  And I hope you’re thinking about it.

On the way back from my eventually successful trip to pick up a book, I had flashbacks of Mardi Gras. How we would mock people who got trapped behind a parade, or didn’t avoid Uptown or St. Charles on certain days/times (ha! they’ll learn). And sure, people have to live there too. It’s a common issue for any city hosting a big event. But, Mardi Gras isn’t being forced upon them, not really (the Super Bowl, is another story). It’s part of a long history and they’ve got crowd control and parading down to a science. And, in New Orleans, as small as it actually is, you can escape it, if you wanted to.  There are options.

But perhaps the more appropriate card to pull out of the deck, is Austin. Because Someone wants this to be SXSW, or rather, NXNE. Except Austin is a town of 900,000+ people which leads me to believe someone is jumping the gun just a little bit, or padding their resume for the next gig. How confident are we that these place-makers, these noble “arts” saviors, are here to stay? Today, the topic of new residents vs. old guard came up in conversation. It’s something, since leaving New Orleans, I’ve thought about in passing, but hadn’t seen much evidence of, the notion of native vs. non-native outside that setting. Diaphanous and loaded meanings aside for now, the Outsider Mentality comes up a lot in New Orleans. I get it, to a point. It’s protection and fear of exploitation after a history of just that. In the case of New Orleans, we’re talking hundreds of years, but Lawrence, KS, is a different animal. Or is it? There is a culture and a history to be protected here as well, even if you’re not a part of it, or aren’t really aware of it, it’s there, and there will be lines drawn in the sand as this continues. I, personally, have not been called into question, not to my face. Yes, I am a renter, so I’m sure my opinion carries little weight, and I’m also a “native” Kansan, so maybe a little more is added on. But I’m not FROM Lawrence. At what point does that become an issue. In my view, for this place, all opinions matter, but that comes with the caveat that one must consider the dog in the race, and the ticket-holder’s willingness to listen to dissent, to give it more than lip service in retort, to understand that socio-economic status and “how you got here, how long will you stay”, the friends you keep, all factor into this, for everyone, not just Someone.

And because this is a small town (own it, Lawrence), there is a good-to-definite chance you are being talked about, could be labeled, could be, yes, blacklisted. At that point, livelihoods become threatened, people stop speaking up. Some people don’t have to worry about this, and that is the difference. Some people don’t have to worry that stating how they feel could affect their job search, or their current job, or future endeavors. Some people. What would it be like if we could have a real, honest, open conversation, a dialogue in a neutral space where we could all speak out about these changes without fear of repercussion? Is it even possible? Can the small potatoes and big tubers get together and hash(brown) it out? Or would we leave there, scared for our future, or adding names to that dark list?

I don’t know. I just know this is something we should all be talking and thinking about, not just East Siders, not just artists and homeowners, not just new residents and old guard. Consider those who stand to gain, those who stand to lose, the timing, the long-term sustainability, the current sustainability.  Consider the process.  Consider your neighbors, your friends, your kids, your grandkids.  Consider quality, quantity.  Organic growth vs. big development.  Consider the angles.

With that, below is the letter I sent at the last minute before the work plan acceptance meeting. It was written in haste, so isn’t perfect. It was also written using that sweet, free internet at our wonderful library, right in the heart of our crucial Downtown.
__________________
Greetings,

I realize this is coming in at the last hour, and may not even be read, but I cannot attend tonight’s meeting to make my voice heard.

I am a former Lawrence resident who, until last November, has been living in New Orleans, LA for the past 6 and a half years. I relocated back to Lawrence, to be closer to family (who are all in Topeka). And I chose Lawrence, as I always do, because it is a more open-minded and progressive city, one with a decent understanding of the importance of art, music, and culture.

Maybe that’s why I am so dismayed to see the fabric of Lawrence neighborhoods so quickly ripped and up for sale. I live in East Lawrence, XXXXXXXXXXX to be exact, and already see the changes. I am a struggling artist and chose East Lawrence not just for an affordable place to live, but for the people that live there. Coming from New Orleans, I feel I see a future that maybe not many others have seen, a city that prides itself on culture, music, and art, where schemes cached as “economic development” have discolored and gentrified entire sections of once vibrant communities. It is heartbreaking to see it beginning on a smaller scale here. You cannot refurbish and plop down a handful of trendy warehouses and call it a “district”. You cannot run land grabs through thriving communities and call it improvements (for their own good, right?). From what I can see, it didn’t need to be improved. No one is denying that basic infrastructure and street repair is needed, but attaching basic needs and services to forced cultural “improvements” (and grant money) is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Lawrence is not yet big enough to sustain this path. The endless festivals, the tourist economy, works for New Orleans because they’ve been doing it for decades. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but it generally works there because it fits. But shoving pre-approved (NON-LOCAL) art (and soon, entertainment) right through the heart of a community just smacks of a development scheme and poor planning. True art and culture havens are born organically, not forced upon the people with a fistful of dollars and bad design. Too often, these plans are only abandoned in a few years because they cannot be sustained and the flock has moved on.

I urge you, slow it down, or shut it down. Be open, transparent, and let’s work together on a plan that works for EVERYONE, not just a few.
Thank you.

2015-06-26 17.03.14

Hwy 24

hwy24 poem collage

© Jill Ensley

Like the first robins of Spring,
Summer signified in the first yellow and white carnival tents,
Collecting and dispersing Chinese gunpowder and smoke, or
Fried fare and pantomimed nostalgia.
To celebrate our clutched victory, our headlong rush,
Down our own dark path

Rickety, transient Ferris wheels in rear-view mirrors,
Framed by pastel twilight, sherbert sunset.
In periphery, a cell phone pulses a rhythmic silent blue, indicating
Alerts and updates, thoughts and validations,
Answered in the fields of fireflies surround.

Endless coal trains, headed South, to the Gulf, off-loaded.
Past sleeping towns, on the outskirts.
Tracks and black dust weaving,
Subtly settling through the North, West, East.
United,
Our penchant for blowing ourselves up.
A bloom of chemistry, of rain, of campfire.

It’s been a week.

-J. Ensley

We are the Place-Makers, We are the Schemers of Schemes

For the complete backstory on the following, please consult this extremely well-written piece by Dave Loewenstein.  However, in broad terms, this issue is not inherently place-based, not special to Lawrence, KS.  It happens in cities big and small, nationwide.  It might be happening in your town, cached under the banner of those beautiful words, Progress, Revitalization, Economic Development.  The battle of hearts and minds is easier to win when you color the opposition as impediments to a Better Life and More Money, for everyone, surely.  In New Orleans, it’s cached under the outright lie of “no one was using it anyway”, probably because the big government No One didn’t care to revitalize it until big development money was on the table.  Rich people need grocery stores, poor people do not.  Rich people need to have a beautiful view of the river, poor people do not.  So, I found it disheartening, if not surprising, to see this, on a somewhat smaller scale, happening in a city I consider my hometown as much as my actual hometown.  My timing could have been better, should have been there for the actual vote to proceed, but after a three hour meeting, in a shaky, nervous voice and broken gut, I read something I personally felt needed to be said.

From my public comment at the end of the City Commission meeting in Lawrence, KS on the evening of January 27th, 2015:
“We live in an age where authenticity is becoming commodified and privatized like oil, like gas, like water, like any other money-maker.  The problem is, you can’t hold the authentic, see it, touch it.  You only feel it, know it to be true.  Some are better judges than others, and unfortunately, to the money-makers, the truth of the thing doesn’t matter.  To the consumer, if it isn’t real and lasting, and when the shine has worn off, they will eventually move on.
I have just moved home after six and a half years in New Orleans, a city bursting at its sandy seams with absolute culture and authenticity, and even there, maybe especially there, the culture vultures have descended.  It seems to be the thing to do these days, to look to the music makers, the dreamers of dreams, to lift us up not just song and beauty, but with economic development and high-priced lofts.  It’s the same in nearly every town and it breaks my heart in Lawrence as much as it does in New Orleans.  To see dollar signs in the eyes of a few, stars in the eyes of those sold on these ideas, and deaf ears turned to those who sound a warning, a call to caution.  I’ve seen entire swaths of cities I love turned into meccas for “culture” and the upper-crust creative class, while the people who made that area so enticing, the people who were previously ignored and denied basic services, are priced out and sent to the outskirts, scattered and struggling to pay bills and build community once again.  The “district” is then used up, turned like an overripe peach, loses its flavor, its authenticity, and the consumers and developers move on.
I’m here today as one of those artists, those dreamers of dreams, to urge consideration in your E. 9th Street dealings, and any future projects.  You cannot force culture.  You cannot manufacture authenticity.  And you cannot exploit the very people who have made this town what it is.  We are not to be written off as naysayers.  We are not over-reacting or getting in the way of progress.  We are voting, tax-paying citizens who urge consideration of ALL citizens, inclusiveness, and long-range thinking.  If you want your so-called arts district to sincerely thrive and live on, consider the people, consider the future, consider what it takes to be a working artist, a low-income family, a student, a single mother, a middle-income couple, all of us.  We are what make up this specific place at this specific time and our cries for silly things like grocery stores, laundromats, health care, and well-paying day jobs fell on deaf ears before, but  consider these things before you drive throngs of culture-seekers through our streets.  Consider how day-to-day living happens just outside this proposed corridor before you try and sell us on the benefits.  But, if this is just about money, by all means, ignore the very people you’re relying on to cash in on culture.
Thank you.”

Until Spring

Let the countdown begin.  Give me until Spring to sort it out.  Give me more time with her.  One more flat-planed Fall bike ride, one more Autumn in City Park, one more Halloween, one more Superbowl (ya ‘erd).  One more carol in Jackson Square, one more freak snowstorm, if we’re lucky.  One more Carnival, one more season of stress and release and multiple costume preparation, one more roll in red and black.  One more season of avoiding Jazz Fest and contemplating French Quarter Fest.  One A few more levee walks, nights of drinking and dancing, go-cup strolling, porch sitting, more time with friends (ladies, you know who you are).

I’m not done with her yet, but I feel the end coming, can no longer ignore the pull reversed.  I never actually thought it would happen, but there it is.  Reasons, so many reasons.  In the end, family and future, my inability, physically to “go it alone” anymore, my desire to begin to build something lasting.  I see it clearly, just need to make it happen.  I love you, New Orleans, dearly, would still lay down my life for your continued existence, but I know now what the future holds and it’s time, or rather, will be time.  But give me eight months to say goodbye.

It’s true, things are not looking great (financially) right now.  I look for jobs every day, send out countless resumes.  As anyone who reads this might know, it’s not always easy, especially when you voluntarily quit your primary job.  You’re supposed to suck it up, forge ahead and DEAL WITH IT.  But, since leaving, the chest crushing anxiety attacks have ceased.  I no longer deal with that medication, with that issue.  Of course, there is the other issue, the one I don’t really like talking about, but it IS an issue, the gastroparesis (you can look it up, but it won’t tell you everything).  I know no one really understands it, so let me explain just a little.  Imagine you had to eat like a baby.  Imagine you live in an amazing culinary city and you can only eat very little, and only things that are easy to digest (even though, yes, you constantly test the waters to see if you can get away with something delicious. sometimes you pay, sometimes you get by. you just don’t know when a flare-up is coming, especially since a lot of it is tied to your cycle and THIS GIRL hasn’t had a cycle in six months (but that’s a WHOLE other issue)).  When it’s bad (as it’s getting right now), you only eat solid food once a day, when it’s really bad (as I often fear), it’s liquids only.  Oh, and plain water makes you nauseous.  It tends to be worse at night and in the morning, so you have this window of a few hours after you wake up until late afternoon where, if you don’t eat much, you can get some things done.  You feel SO much better when you don’t eat, but you want to eat, you have to eat.  Imagine throwing up almost daily, maybe it’s just dry heaving, but still not pleasant.  And the pain, the pain, when it’s bad is like a wide, tight belt of spikes around your entire mid-section and leaves you immobile, curled around a heating pad.  Now, throw a 9-5 job in there, when your nutrition is out of whack, you’re probably a little dehydrated, and sometimes it’s just hard to concentrate.  And, of course, there’s the depression, because this is NEVER-FUCKING-ENDING and it tends to put a cramp in your social life, and of course, your mental and emotional well-being.  Food is much more than sustenance.

So, I have to make this work, these next eight months.  I have to.  I’m not done yet.  I have to find a way to make art, make it profitable, while working part-time, OR work full-time and maybe, just maybe squeeze in some artwork, when I’m having a good day, when I’m not exhausted, nauseous, in pain, or just blue.

And I hate asking for help, hate divulging my weaknesses and laying all of this out there, but it probably needs to be done.  So, here’s my Etsy store and I do take commissions.   If you wanna see where I’ve sunk all my money and effort for the past two months, come see me at Palmer Park this Saturday (and god-willing, Oct 25th and Nov 29th) from 10am – 4pm.  I’ll be showing under “Holy Crow Studios”, the umbrella for my more whimsical, “accessible” wares.  You can like us on Facebook here.

Geographical Navel-gazing

The places I have lived can be split into very distinct periods of my life, even in repetition.  Looking back, I have found time marked in periods of five to six, beginning upon my indoctrination into “womanhood”.

0-16.
I had a very idyllic childhood.  Even if I felt like a freak because of my lazy eye, it was never an issue thanks to the absolute love of my family.  My memories of childhood are pure and good, at least until 16, when adulthood beckoned and I was unprepared.  Yet, even though I became indoctrinated into the world of sex and relationships through the high drama that small towns specialize in, Topeka, KS is seen with rose-colored glasses for most of my upbringing.

16-21.
It was during this time, this relationship, that I visited Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans for the first time.  Not knowing how much each would later shape me as a person.  At sixteen, New York had my heart.  It was the goal.  My introduction to Los Angeles was experienced attached/detached, with him, wanting to break free but not ready, under the shadow of dramatic adventures.  New Orleans, much the same, yet the drama turned to eleven.  Punishment for wanting freedom, a delayed deception, hidden only because he knew, oh he knew what it would do.  New York though, New York was mine.  At sixteen, free to walk alone and independent.  I sent him home early and took charge of my experience.  It may be the first time I realized how exhilarating traveling alone can be (my “solo hurrahs”).

Image

19-24.
To be so young in Los Angeles, and after six months, so free.  I fumbled, I faltered, I expanded and contracted.  Los Angeles, though I could never inhabit again, was crucial to my upbringing, to exploration.  It proved that even good fish can live in shallow water.  It mixed darkness and light at a constant 70 degrees, consistent enough to find truth amongst the backdrops and scenery.  In the end, so many good fish starting swimming away, the frustration of transportation, the consistency itself, meant it was time to leave.  Los Angeles, in hindsight, holds the youthful, experimental part of me.

24-30.
Home again.  A complicated prairie.  The town of my birth never felt like home and I detest many aspects of it with an almost visceral quality.  Education called me back and I found a niche 20 miles over, found friends for life, a very expensive piece of paper.

Life became very easy.

30-36.
I watched a city I love brought to its knees.  Like many, I wanted to help, so I enlisted a friend and we drove to New Orleans in the dead of night to gut houses, a year later, returning to rebuild.  It was like a punch in the face, seeing her like that.  We have a complicated history, Nouvelle Orleans and I.  At  seventeen, she was ground zero of my young emotional pain, though I wouldn’t know it until eighteen.  It was the drawn out deception that hurt more than the actual act, something that, to this day, I try not to think about, a pain I can feel in certain parts of my body still, though a dull, fleeting ache.  Because of that, I had never considered her a viable option for anything long-term.  But it wasn’t her fault, time passes, she needed an ally, and I needed her complications.

New Orleans, New Orleans felt/feels like home.

And here I am, on the precipice of 37, conflicted again.  Because I love this city, I love her unconditionally, yet she tries me.  My city of young pain has turned around and hurt me again.  New Orleans, my heartbreak hotel.  It’s not her fault she’s the scene of the second crime.  Truth be told, it could have happened anywhere.  But it didn’t, and she will forever be tied to those two personal truths.  She can’t help making you feel, opening you up.  It why she’s sought out, why she’s taken advantage of, exploited.  America’s last authentic joy and pain.  It’s not her fault that “authentic” is now a commodity, that the murky waters creep up from the Gulf and the shallow waters from the West.  But I don’t know if I can watch it happen.  Sometimes, sometimes you just love something so much that you have to run away (and I mean this on at least two levels).  Seeing her stripped of her honesty is almost more unsettling than the crime, the land loss, the entire state bending over to take it from oil & gas.  I’m not sure I can watch her Disneyfied, commodified, homogenized for the masses.  I’m not sure I have the strength to stop it.

So here I sit, with the post-trip blues, wondering if I had it right twenty years ago, or twenty years ago, I knew it was right now.  Or I am I just running (wherever you go, there you are).  Constantly running, because standing still means spending too much time in my head, always, always in my head.  Or maybe I’m just simply unhappy with the status quo, the recent emotional upheavals, the boredom, and need a change.

I don’t know.  I know that I had an amazing trip and I know I have amazing friends and family and that’s all I’m really sure of right now.  I know I’ve said a lot and nothing at all, under the guise of vague wordsmithing, because that’s what I do.     2014-06-28 13.10.53 2014-06-27 22.13.39 2014-06-27 20.05.16 2014-06-27 20.07.42 2014-06-27 15.56.22

I know I love your churches literal and figurative, and all of your red doors. 2014-06-24 21.45.06 2014-06-25 18.19.57

2014-06-27 15.25.05

2014-06-26 18.11.41 I know that “Sleep No More” and the entire McKittrick Hotel will never leave me and I just wanna go back and back and back and stay there forever.  I know that even though the couple who owns Hogs & Heifers (NYC/Vegas) was very nice and inquisitive about you, I won’t do that to you, New Orleans.  I still love you too much.2014-06-28 21.30.56 2014-06-28 20.18.39 2014-06-28 16.18.26 I know that it was nice, so very nice, to walk and walk and walk.  I know what it’s like to have a little piece of you hanging around in New York, if only for a little while. 2014-06-28 20.17.58

Kentucky, two years ago… (Part II: The Reckoning)

HOO boy, it seems silly to write this right now, what with the news lately, but times are rough and people need bourbon.  Even if we’re all going to be killed by global warming, a chemical attack or radiation, that’s years from now, right.  Until then, there’s still Kentucky and there’s still bourbon.  I’ve also been sick and feeling down, so screw you guys.  You get what you get when you get it.  Friggin’ kids.  GET OFF MY LAWN!

——————————

So yeah, Kentucky.  I went there, and saw some stuff and drank some bourbon.  Not LOTS of bourbon, because I don’t remember getting drunk.  Just a nice, pleasant mellow amount of bourbon.  Maybe it was lots of bourbon, but I spaced it out a good deal and did it all responsible like, especially since I was by myself and that damn crab refuses, absolutely REFUSES, to get his driver’s license.  Deadbeat.

On my third full day in Louisville, I left.  For good reason.  I decided to finally head down to Bardstown, the bourbon festival, and a couple distilleries.  But first, we had to check out of the HILTON Seelbach.  It really is a beautiful old hotel though.

seelbachceilingWEBseelbachcounterWEBcrabseelbachstairsWEB

First things first, we had to get some coffee.  And do some good ol’ fashioned trip plannin’, on paper, son (remember, this was before I had a smartphone).  I prefer doing it this way anyway, it just gets harder when the tools become obsolete.  ANYway….

crabvintWEB

We drove down to Bardstown, KY, Bourbon Capital of The World.  Before taking in the festival, I decided to stop by a couple distilleries first.  The closest was Barton 1792 Distillery, owned by the Sazerac Company (of New Orleans! Ok, Metairie). They make and bottle 1792 bourbon, as well as bottling and shipping many other types of liquor.  I like 1792 alright.  In my little book, I gave it three stars, so it’s a good bourbon, mixed or straight.  It’s a little heavy on the rye for my tastes however.

The setting is very much a factory/warehouse setting, and I’m convinced that a bourbon carries it’s place with it.  How could it not?  After soaking up the wood and air in rackhouses for years and years, how could it not take on its surroundings.  Maybe that’s too froofy for you, but I love bourbon.  It’s America’s Spirit, dammit and it’s damned magical.

barton120

Jesus, how artsy is that? Yeah, that’s a medium format b/w taken with my Holga. No biggie.

bartonX_WEB

X marks the spot, where 1792 is made.

bartoncornWEB

This here’s a big ol’ vat of kern. Bourbon, as you may well know, is bourbon because it’s 51% corn instead of rye. And a mash that contains wheat instead of rye is a “wheated bourbon”, which are, generally, my favorites. Though I have been getting down on some rye and bourye lately.

bartonrackhouse1WEB

The 1792 rackhouse.
You can learn more about rackhouses and the science involved here: http://www.whiskeyprof.com/how-a-traditional-rackhouse-works-small-batch-single-barrel/

bartonrackhouse2WEB

The rackhouse is usually my favorite part, except for the tasting room. All those barrels just soakin’ up that wood with the seasons and the wind. It’s poetic, galdernit.

bartonbarrelcrabWEB

Mr. Crab enjoys it too.

I’ll spare you the boring photos of the boring ol’ warehouse and shipping system (but it fits in with my “bourbon carries its place” theory. Instead, here’s what Mr. Crab got up to in the tasting room and by the World’s Largest Bourbon Barrel.

1792tastingcrabWEB

He’s pretty stoked about the barrel plug, but I’m pretty sure that’s just drunk talk. Bourbon should be handled with moderation and class. Ohhhh, Mr. Crab.

biggestbarrelcrabWEB

Hey look! It’s the World’s Largest Bourbon Barrel!

So that’s stop #1.  Off to Maker’s Mark in nearby Loretto!  😀 😀 😀