This is where I tell you I am made of glitter glue.
I don’t have a record to prove it, but I am certain it runs through my veins, which is greater, in my opinion, than proof itself. Others seem to believe it, too. I’ve been lucky in that way, many, many times. To be trusted to create is a gift I don’t take for granted. People give me money to be made of glitter glue — and to stick words to one another, to tell stories, big and small and smaller than small, to make something out of some things.
It is a labor of love and luxury to make something out of some things. When things already exist, there’s really no need to make them into something else. Glitter glue is just glitter and glue, which are perfectly fine at being what they are, but someone believed they could be greater than the sum of their parts. This person likely built a life out of building something out of some things, while still selling the same some things, two inches to the right on the shelf.
This is not to reduce something out of some things. We all love something out of some things. We put chocolate chips in cookie dough. We slip ’n’ we slide. We download the remix. We (hopefully) pay the writers to tell the stories with the words we’ve heard a thousand times before. To build something out of some things and to do it well requires a keen sense of awareness and ability, but it’s more about divine coupling than it is absolute creation.
To build something out of no things, however, is something else entirely.
This is where I tell you glitter glue dries up, even when it’s pumping through a human body. Some stretches of defeat take the sparkle right out of your veins, a feeling I felt for the better half of 2015 and beyond. My oldest brother hit a wild streak of ups and downs back then, in a devastating battle with addiction. Before any of us could stick the right words together, he was gone. A person made of so many some things: invisible karate kicks, street taco reviews, soft, but sincere hand-to-forehead kisses, wild jam band lot testimonials. He was something, pieced together and perfectly imperfect, until he wasn’t anymore.
The same can be said of all of us who loved him. There are so many lessons to be learned in loss, but one of the worst is this: no piece or part of your life will ever be the same as what it once was. The people you loved are all gone to some degree, grieving in their own ways or watching out for corners as they slide between dedicated acts of concern and comedic relief. No sad song sounds the same, no long drive is mindless, no corn tortilla is safe from a swelling sigh.
There is a reason we have words for both grief and sadness. Grief is not the tearful farewell; it is the painful understanding that you are starting over again and building with little more than your own breath.
Still, to breathe is a wonderful place to begin. It is a system in a systemless season of pain. To take a breath is to run your hands through yourself, to take note of every square inch at your disposal. To exhale is to trust that you’ll be able to do it again. It’s in these tiny moments that you start to create in a new way for first time. You exercise your limits and your limitlessness, which could very well be the definition of what it means to be an artist. You lose, repeatedly, but you cling to the belief that you are just one risk away from some kind of reward. So you stick with it. You keep trying. You take the breath and you let it go.
Eventually, when you least expect it, your lungs take over, if only because they’re happy to do something other than gasp in the middle of the night. They slowly acquire a certain rhythm, different from one you might’ve known before, as you begin to step outside and wander into a more public unknown.
“Anywhere, everywhere. It’s all the same blank slate of surrender.”
A friend of mine explained it this way, knee-deep in what she called “two or three drafts into healing” after her husband died. She told me, a month or two into my own making, to go to the most normal place I could think of and watch normal people being normal people, if only to get inspired to someday build something similar for myself.
This is where I tell you I chose a suburban Best Buy. As the corporate equivalent of a quiet nervous breakdown, it seemed like a great option. It was 30 minutes from my parents’ house which meant I wouldn’t see anyone I had known in a past life. Plus, it had big aisles. Best Buys are made to see people from 200 feet away so that you can, in fact, actively avoid them. Just because I learned how to breathe didn’t mean I wanted to use my breath to thank people for telling me they were sad on my behalf. I wanted to use it to find some way to believe that there were other worlds outside of my own.
Again, a hallmark of creative exploration.
To believe that someone, somewhere could be doing what you don’t know how to do and could teach you from a distance in your limited limitlessness is to believe that making isn’t made to only exist in workshops and studios and classrooms; it belongs to us, always. Anywhere, everywhere. I watched life to learn how to stand and smile and nod like a person who was real, all while absorbing what the actual world sounded like again: sneezes, car horns, sliding doors, flip flops. Strangers hugging strangers, not out of sympathy but out of serendipitous joy, talking about movies I had missed entirely. Saying goodbye and letting it be enough.
Over time, I did it again and again, new places and more familiar faces, as routine drifted back to what remained of our family home. A grocery store visit was worth the risk of having to face who I used to know and be. So was a haircut. So was a car wash. So was a fudge sundae. Every small act of creating a new normal unlocked a reality in which I could appreciate everyday wonders in ways I had never done before. I could look them in the eyes, understand what it meant to alone with them and forget for a moment the burden of every other thing that had failed us all — my parents and my siblings and me — in the past. It was and is in these slices of small joy that we could and can remember how to build again, from places of reflection, for someone who would want us to, wherever he was with all of the things we once knew.
I say all of this with a few caveats, of course, like any great artist who knows success is rooted in under promising and over delivering. It should be said that I have a lifetime of work ahead of me. Breathing is not enough. Building just to build is not enough. Wandering a Best Buy is not the gold standard of reflection and reconciliation. If it was, 99% of Best Buys would still be open.
I also say all of this from a very specific station of grief, but I know it extends beyond burying a sibling. Grief, like art, has no real hierarchy. To experience it and survive it and make something of it is universally remarkable, whether you have lost in life and death, in love and betrayal or in any other exercise of being left behind in a world you can’t call your own. To lose it all and start again, to take the breath and understand every shade of selfhood, to step outside and be humbled by the world, and to finally uncover what you can provide as a person who has lived two or more lifetimes is something beyond language, no matter how many words I try to stick together. It is everything and every thing. It a profound act of creativity.
I am mostly glitter glue again, but likely a different shade. I like to imagine I am some kind of pastel pink. I am a little less vibrant than the foolish confidence of a neon, but I am still a sticky, playful mess, nonetheless. I have a softer hue of flesh, of blood. I am eager to believe we can all begin again. I am certain that something can come from nothing.