I can still smell the stale cigarettes so strong it’s like a taste in my mouth. The butts in a heavy clear crystal circle ashtray, filled to the top. I had a high ponytail on the side of my head, crimped. I dreamed of being Madonna, spinning in circles in my driveway in the dark singing out loud to my favorite song, Like a Prayer.
My mom wore shoulder pads and had a perm. They had a huge stacked stereo system, one where the volume lit up in green light. I am 7. For fun, I make a pitcher of blue kool-aid that turns green when it’s cold but I make it with two packets, not one, drink the whole thing, and dance to Billy Joel, we didn’t start the fire. I still know every word to that song. I dreamed of being an adult someday so I could drive a teal trans am or a jeep-like, my uncle. I wanted long pink fingernails, big hair, to live by the ocean, and to be a teenage fashion designer like Sue Ellen in Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead.
Halloween was and is still my favorite holiday. In 1990 I won the best costume at school because I was an alien in disguise as an astronaut. A proud moment for me. I have been in process of this painting for weeks. It was something I started to paint just for fun, to put some energy into a canvas and de-stress from the pressure of commissions. I was thinking a lot about Halloween and how my Mom would always make sure I had the exact costume I wanted and decorate the house even though she worked a million hours six days a week. My birthday is right before the holiday so it was always such a fun time. Even in my 20s, we’d decorate the house for Halloween in August, much to my Dad’s protest.
In school, the teachers would make this huge Halloween maze for the kids in the gym and each class got a turn to go in. Spooky but nothing terrifying. I remember the walls were covered in black sheets with strobe light and music. Each kid got one of those little wheeled scooters that only your butt fits on and you scooted around using your legs like a crab through the maze. There were always black-lit neon drawings and gold tinsel hanging from the ceiling. Everything seemed to sparkle. I looked forward to it every year.
That memory of wheeling myself through that maze in my light-up LA gear hi-tops came to me like a shock and made me laugh so hard to myself. Like that little kid that just wants to have fun and make a mess out of color was there with me. I was staring at this painting and it dawned on me. That at some point in the 1990s there was a teacher at a school in the south suburbs of Chicago that worked extra hard at an already really hard job to build that maze for their students.
I have set up hundreds of dining rooms for private events after a very long night on my feet in heels (sometimes the equivalent of moving out of a four-bedroom second-story apartment, at midnight.) And while I can laugh about that version of hell I can also know all of that from a different frequency - appreciation. Somebody did all that work and I have a childhood memory that I can still remember and think of as if I am seven.
It is a memory from a time when I didn’t measure what is or was by how many calculated hours of work I would be putting in to produce it or make it happen. Those are the kinds of memories that are like the keys to freedom. Being seven years old in 1990 was special. Michael Bolton sang my camp cheerleading recital song. Every fabric of my jean shorts was the opposite color. I read the Chicago Tribune and People magazine religiously because I loved Princess Diana and anything that felt like it came from the City.
This painting is all of that movement, all of those colors. Halloween & magazines. A dancing little girl that was so elated over her gold tinsel Halloween maze and giant pom poms. I hope I start dancing for fun again someday but for now, I’ll push the paint, write the stories, and tell that little girl that all of my art. All of my power. Is because of her.