Love and Betrayal and Love in Peoria

I live in Peoria. I love Peoria.

I hate Peoria.

I live in Peoria. I love Peoria. I hate Peoria.

And back and forth, forever and ever, amen.

I'm going to talk about a bunch of old news but please stay with me...I really do have a point.

A few years ago, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who loved this city more than me. I believed in this city. I believed in its people. I believed in the power of neighbors helping each other and of businesses working together for the greater good. I believed. I believed so hard.





And then the bottom fell out.  And a lot of people know that the bottom fell out of my life. A lot of that was due to the fact that I have anxiety and depression and I suffered an extremely devastating bout with both of those.

But there were triggers and those triggers were so unexpected and so far removed from what I thought about how the world works that for months on end it just felt like people were running up and sucker punching me.




Multiple people who are members of a local (and well known) organization were hit with complaints from the city liquor commission and health department. The rumor started that I turned them all in. My business lost customers.

A neighboring business got hit with a complaint from the liquor commission about live music. They told many of our shared customers that I had turned them in. My business lost more customers.

Multiple people who are members of a local (and well known) organization were hit with complaints from the city zoning department.The rumor started that I turned them all in. My business lost even more customers.

In each of these incidents, I tried to address the rumors.  Regarding the initial complaints from the health and liquor departments, I proposed a solution that would keep everyone compliant. I stated that I had turned no one in. I asked the city council a few questions.  One city council person e-mailed me back and asked why I was "bothering with all of this again." Members of the organization e-mailed each other back and forth about how horrible I was. How I couldn't stand competition. How of COURSE I was a liar.

I asked my neighbors why on earth they thought that I would ever turn them in - it's not my style and I don't believe that's how communities are built.  I was told that "I was always going to be the first suspect and besides, there were just too many coincidences." Those people never spoke to me again and most of their regular customers actually boycotted my business based on the rumors.

When the business neighbor who had actually started the rumor that got all of the rumors started apologized to me for starting the rumor, I thanked them and asked them to please let people know that they had started the rumor, because it was impacting my life in a really negative way. The response was radio silence. To this day, I still get asked why I did this thing that I never did.








Around this same time, the person who started the rumor worked with the city to start an organization that was designed to sort of...unite people, I guess? And the public loved it. And I met with this person about a project and this person told me that they were not willing to work with neighbor a, b, c, d, e,f, g, etc. etc. on this project.  And then they would publicly continue the narrative that they were there to unite people. And then continually be unwilling to work with those same people.
And while all of this was happening, my health got worse. My business suffered. I was disillusioned. Confused. The rumors kept coming. People asked me about them all of the time.


And then the person who started the rumor that started all of the rumors that were pretty much killing me and my business used their new "unite people" organization to promote local businesses. Including mine.

SO - an organization that behind the scenes nearly put me out of business publicly promoted me. An organization that refused to work with most of its neighbors publicly sang all of their praises. And the city ate it up. And the people loved it.  And many of my "friends" told me to ignore it and quit starting "drama", all the while frantically posting on facebook about standing up for yourself and others and justice and whatever it is that you're willing to fight for online but not in real life. And the hypocrisy just ate at me. And I got really depressed. And paranoid about what the next rumor would be. And who had heard what. And would our customers ever come back? And why on earth were so many people willing to believe so many terrible things about me that went against everything that I had ever been? And why did people keep dismissing my experience? What was wrong with me?

Everything was spiraling and many "friends" started to distance themselves from me.

I got bitter. I got disillusioned. I had a nervous breakdown. And the person that loved Peoria with all of her heart...fucking HATED Peoria.




But it's been a while and life is better and I'm healthier and happier and I'm starting to fall in love with my city again...so why on earth am I bringing this all up?

Because you guys...I was so naive. I had all of the hope and love and trust and faith and love in the world and I got the shit beaten out of me. And the recovery has been long and hard and also beautiful, but it fucking hurt really, really bad. And I absolutely spent a very long time talking myself out of slitting my wrists. I don't want all of this current happiness to somehow hide the ugliness that happened.

So today, as I start to fall in love with Peoria again, I do it with caution.  And as I start to work with other people who really love Peoria, I love what they love right alongside them...with a word of warning.

Some people aren't into my warnings. The idea for some people is, if you love Peoria, you mustn't speak poorly about any part of it. We must all support each other, no matter what, and no one and nothing is bad. Blinders.

*sigh*...I get it. I remember those days.  I remember loving Peoria so hard that you couldn't convince me that anything about it was terrible.

But you guys...that's not real life. You can't love with blinders on. I was living in a fantasy. And when the bubble burst, I nearly took my own life. No one who loves their city and contributes to their city with all of their heart should ever have to go through what I went through.

(My therapist actually told me that she could start a support group for people who went through something similar to what I went through and that her waiting room would be overflowing. Real life. This shit happens a lot.)

So let's be real.  Peoria is home to some of the best people I've ever met in my life. When all of the "friends" fell away, the real friends showed up to do the heavy lifting. There are some organizations here that are kicking ass in so many beautiful ways, that it is awe inspiring just to watch them work.  There are businesses who live and breathe #CommunityOverCompetition and who would bend over backwards to help fellow businesses succeed. There are some breathtaking views. Fantastic restaurants. Cool things to see and do and amazing opportunities. Communities and people who share the same values and desire to lift each other up. I love this side of Peoria.






Peoria is also home to people who are faking it. Who will use social media to tell the world how supportive they are and then quietly tear you down behind closed doors.  Businesses who believe success means making sure that their neighbor goes out of business. Who believe competition is to be feared and therefore destroyed. Politicians who say the right things to the right people to make sure that they get their vote, while telling you the exact opposite of what you literally just heard them say in front of a room full of people. People who won't think twice about ruining someone's life. People who literally just don't give a shit about other people...unless it makes them look good online and in the news.

That's real. That's not just Peoria. That's every city. And anyone who gives any city their whole heart should know that.  These ugly political games don't just play out on the national stage...they play out right here at home, too. Right in our backyard.

I really am falling back in love with my city...but my eyes are wide open this time. And honestly...isn't that the only way to fall in love? All in...but with your eyes open.






Shame

We don't shame people.

I have to repeat this to myself on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

Before I am allowed to react to anything, remember...we don't shame people.

This has been a month of learning about who I am and learning about who other people are.

Almost 4 weeks ago, I joined the gym. I joined the gym because I hated my body. I called it my "depression" body. I spent a year barely getting out of bed. I drank a lot of stout beers. My recovery process involved sitting in one place, for a very long time, painting. So...depression body.

I knew I was starting to get really uncomfortable in my own skin, but I kept on thinking that it was going to magically get better.

Probably because I believe in unicorns, I think bodies can just "magically" get fit and healthy.

Turns out, that's not a thing that happens. Bogus. So I joined the gym.

Going to the gym is hard. I feel gross. Out of shape. Unattractive. I'm awkward around people. I try to have conversations with new people who don't know that I'm awkward and anxious and trying to fake my way through it...and I usually say something that causes them to stop and stare oddly at me for a minute before getting away from me as fast as they can.

There are people who will tell you that they don't see these interactions with me and other people, but trust me when I say that EVERY interaction with people I'm not close to feels this way.

Anxiety is SO much fun. Especially at the gym.

But shame is what we were talking about, right?

So there's an elderly woman who is in the gym locker room around the same time I am a couple of times a week. I don't know if it's me, I don't know if there are some issues with her, I don't really know what's going on except...every time she sees me she calls me a "fucking bitch" under her breath.

I'm not even kidding.

The first time she did it, other people heard and we all just kind of stopped and stared, with no one really understanding what or why or who it was directed at. The woman just said it and walked out of the dressing room.

But after a few weeks, it seems like this is directed at me. The other day I was walking behind her, at her pace. She must have sensed me behind her, so she turned around and then she moved aside as if to let me pass....so I thanked her and I passed by. And as I passed by, I heard her mutter "fucking bitch."

You guys...I have anxiety. I think that everyone hates me. I'm nearly sure of it, all of the time. So this keeps happening and I'm freaking out. Like ...what? What did I do?  And I wanted to ask other women in the dressing room what was wrong with this woman. And I wanted to go to the front desk and describe her and ask if anyone has complained about her. I wanted everyone to know that I am just fine and NOT a fucking bitch and why is this woman so terrible every single time she sees me?

But here's the thing. We don't shame people. Whatever is going on with this woman, it isn't about me. And due to the oddness of the situation and the woman's advanced age, I would guess that it has more to do with some brain wires getting crossed for her. And that sucks.

I can bring everyone's attention to the exchanges between this woman and I, and potentially cause a big scene and make other people look at this woman as though she is crazy and somehow "less than." I could definitely do that.

Or I can remember that we don't shame people. And this is more than likely a complicated issue that has nothing to do with me. I can remember that I know who I am. That this woman and I have SO much in common. My brain tells me that I'm horrible. Her brain tells her that I'm a fucking bitch. Both of our brains are wrong. And neither one of us deserves to be shamed for it.

Who knows...maybe eventually I'll work up the courage to talk to her and we'll become super best friends! Right? Maybe?




Lessons, you guys.  Every week life is teaching me some hard ...and interesting...lessons.


Art Stories

When I first started experimenting with college classes, I took an art 110 class - basic drawing.  And that class taught me A LOT about light and about paying attention. And then I was done taking art classes.  So everything after that point has been self taught. And by self taught, I mean, I google everything about technique and materials and I pay really close attention to what other artists are doing. I learn from everyone who has come before me and from every artist who has the courage to put their stuff out into the world.

I love other artists.  And as a beginning muralist (it's really only been a couple of years), right now I'm paying REALLY close attention to the work of other muralists. I don't know what I'm doing (as usual), so what better way to learn than watching others who are amazing?

Anyway, the point of this whole blog post is to tell you that because I'm always looking for really cool art, I'm going to start sharing it with you every week. And this week I'm sharing 3 artists from Peoria, Illinois! I chose these three artists because, although they each have their own style, they all have pieces that are just a tiny bit (or a lot of bit) surreal. They're all strangely beautiful works.


First, Nikole Cooney. 

Nikole has an exhibit that's currently in the third floor gallery at the Contemporary Art Center. Lucky for you, it's there until June 24, 2016, so you have time to see it.  And you should go see it.  It's incredible. I feel horrible that I'm going to share this with you via my terrible cell phone pictures, but really, that should just be more encouragement for you to go see it yourself.



This piece is immediately to your left when you walk in.  As soon as I saw it, I had one of those "holy shit, this isn't like anything else in Peoria" moments. I mean - it's really just beautiful.  It's this surreal fantasy come to life.  And the detail is amazing.  I was especially struck by the barnacles that encrust the bottom of the boat...and then, when you look up at the balloon, you see a tiny little piece of honeycomb with a bee coming out of it. At first, I couldn't figure out why it was there...until I looked to my right and saw this piece...




I wish I had a better picture of this. The girl is not only covered in nature, with sticks and flowers in her hair, but she is nature. Her body is becoming a beehive, with her chest and back made partially out of honeycomb, honey dripping from her fingers, and bees everywhere. The walls are becoming home to the bees as well...except for the ones who traveled across the way to the hot air balloon.



This is a detail of a nine foot sculpture that includes a main figure, as well as a sort of "forest" surrounding her. The entire sculpture is breathtaking, but the detail on this piece was what struck me. Her hands are carefully woven (not shown) and her dress holds these little ...secrets? It's hard to see, but this cave like area within her dress actually holds a nest, with eggs inside of it, and moss all around.



Hummingbirds dangle from disembodied hands, while wolves jump at them in this piece entitled "Remember Your Wings." One of the strings that once held a hummingbird is broken,as though someone grabbed it and pulled it off. But if you look up, you see that the hummingbird has broken loose, with part of it's string still attached, and is feeding on the flowers.

This one made me cry.

There are a few more pieces on display, each one just as beautiful and amazing as the ones I shared here. Please go see this exhibit - you have until July 24th!
(If you want to know more about Nikole and her process, she was interviewed by the Journal Star in this article.)



Next - Alec DeJesus.  

Alec has shown a few places around town and I've been fortunate enough to work with him on two mural projects and see how his work comes to life.  I'm also lucky enough to own one of his pieces. It's one of those that, as soon as I saw it, I knew it was supposed to be with me:



I think this piece is about 4 feet tall and it hangs right above our staircase landing. I can't tell you exactly what it is about his work that speaks to me, but I love it. It's just the right combination of bizarre and totally normal. In addition, the way that he creates people is really amazing. They have so much depth and character in their expressions.  Despite being oddly shaped and looking like they come from some other universe, they're figures that you can relate to. Alec creates people who I would consider "my people." The odd and beautiful weirdos.












Alec has an upcoming exhibit in November at the Ear in the Envelope. I promise I'll post about it as it comes nearer!


Finally - Lowell Levene Sims

Lowell and I actually had the opportunity to sit down and talk about some of his work the other day. Lowell has been painting for a while, but it wasn't until recently that I started feeling a connection to it (which we agreed is normal with art - sometimes you connect to it, sometimes you don't). His last two exhibits have changed a lot from the work that came before, and his latest pieces seem to have more emotional depth. Lowell agrees that his work has changed and says that he likes what he's creating these days and feels more connected to it himself. Some of it is inspired by his sleeping moments, filled with odd and apocalyptic dreams, that he brings to life on canvas when he wakes. I'm also lucky enough to own one of Lowell's pieces - it hangs in my living room:


This is another piece that, as soon as I saw it, I knew it was supposed to come home with me. Unfortunately, at the time I saw it I was totally broke.  But fortunately, Lowell was willing to do an art trade, and so we traded pieces. Everybody wins!

Here are some pieces from Lowell's current exhibition at The Art Garage:








Lowell's work will be at The Art Garage through the month of June.


Stay tuned - next week we're going to talk about murals - murals from around the world and a brand new mural that I'm going to be working on in a really well known spot in Peoria!








It seems like you're doing well!

I hear this on a regular basis.

"It sounds like great things are happening for you!"
"It looks like Hey Lola is doing really well!"
"It seems like things are going really well for you!"

Which, in comparison to last year...and lots of years, actually, things are going pretty well. But I'm always a bit taken aback when people comment about how great things seem like they're going for me because...what? No. I mean...I'm building. And I'm moving forward. But I'm struggling.  And right now I'm attempting to climb a super steep mountain and the going is sooooooooo slooooooooow. And I'm regularly frustrated and feeling defeated.

I've been investing in facebook advertising for my shop, so I know that that's one of the things that makes it seem like everything is going so well - because people keep seeing my stuff in their face all of the time.  If only that always translated to sales, right? A lot of times, it doesn't. And it's really hard not to get mired down in mental loserville (You know - that awesome place in your head where you convince yourself that you're the worst thing that ever happened, ever) when you paid to get your stuff in front of a whole lot of people and NO ONE is interested.  That happens.  It happens a lot, actually. In every type of business, especially those that are just starting out.

When we owned our bar, sometimes we would sit there from open until close and no one would come in. We had to get ok with that. We had to keep going and not let ourselves get mired down in mental loserville.

Because the thing is - a slow start doesn't mean you're a loser. I mean - you started something, right? Lots of people don't even have the courage to do that.





Where was I?

OH! So, I found myself doing that exact same thing to someone the other day - "It looks like things are going really well for you!" and then I stopped.  I don't want to do that.  Social media isn't a true indicator of how anyone is doing. Yesterday, I was irrationally angry and I couldn't figure out why and I wanted to post mean and nasty and controversial things and I really wanted to pick fights...but I didn't. I put on my best social media face, and that's what I showed the world. I think I probably even posted some inspiring quote or something. Mostly because I knew it wasn't healthy for anyone for me to spread my anger around and infect the people around me with it.

But what I showed the world yesterday wasn't what I was truly feeling (even though I'm usually pretty open about what I'm truly feeling). And most people show us the best version of themselves online.  And when we see them and we say, "It looks like things are going really well for you!" we don't really give them the opportunity to do anything but keep presenting that best version...which may not be true.

So I've stopped saying that and now I just start with, "Hi. How are you doing?"

I want to give anyone the opportunity to be transparent with me. Honest. No faking. No "best" version. Just who you are, messed up bits and all. 

PS - Things aren't going really well for me...but I'm moving forward. Every single day is better than the day before, and I'm continuously grateful just to be able to say "I'm better than I was yesterday."

This whole "loving your body" thing...

I bought a swimsuit today and it was exactly as much fun as you might imagine.

Unless buying a swimsuit actually IS fun for you, in which case, scratch that.

You know how sometimes women post pictures of themselves in swimsuits and people are like "woo hoo! Sexy! Blah blah blah  hot mama!" Or whatever it is that they say.  And then other women post pictures of themselves in swimsuits and people are like, "oh girl...you're so BRAVE."

That's what was going through my head the whole time I was trying on swimsuits. I knew I wanted to blog about this experience and this whole body thing I'm going through but when I thought about posting a picture of myself in a swimsuit, I just knew I was going to be the "brave" girl.

Which...I mean...NO.

I'm pretty good at facing a lot of my fears and insecurities, but not that one. I have absolutely zero desire to be the brave girl in the swimsuit picture. And besides, I'm pretty sure I'd totally freak out on the first person who called me brave for wearing a swimsuit.

I mentioned on facebook the other day that I had joined a gym because I hate my body. And that feels weird because first - we're *supposed* to love our bodies and second - aren't I the one always saying that we're enough?

And so....I don't really HATE my body. And my body IS enough. It does what it's supposed to do and carries me from the beginning to the end of each day without incident. It does throw migraines my way fairly often and that's less than fun.  There are some stomach issues. And my feet and my uterus need some surgical assistance, but other than that, the body is good. It works. It does its job.

It IS enough.

But here's the thing...

It could be better.  

I know this. Once upon a time I was a stripper.  And as a stripper, I regularly climbed two story high poles, flipped my entire body upside down and crawled back down that pole, face first, like a cat. Which, as you can imagine, requires an incredible amount of strength and balance. I had all sorts of muscle tone. I was strong.

And then, the other day I made a time lapse video of a painting I was working on. I was wearing a tank top and all you could see was my back and when I watched the video I was all, "oh my god. WHEN DID I GET MY GRANDMOTHERS ARMS??????" (Yeah. I deleted that video. So fast. )

I know what this body is capable of. I'm pretty sure that if James and I got in a car accident and the car was on fire, that I could lift him up and drag him to safety. I'm sure I could do that.

But I also know that I tried to lift 10 pounds of weight for an hour in an exercise class today and failed spectacularly. Because what my body has done in the past, what it could do in a life or death situation and what it does on a regular basis now are vastly different.

So I'm doing some work to make it better.  Not necessarily to make it what it was...just what I know it could be. What I would like it to be.

And then...

And then I went to try on swimsuits and you know how that goes (do you?).  The dressing room lights at Target are completely unforgiving and if you thought you had some parts that you weren't happy about before, well...you are more than aware of them when you're standing under the bright lights of the Target dressing room in an ill fitting swimsuit.

Ill fitting because my clothing size fluctuates all over the place. I grab a few swimsuits in all of the sizes and NONE of them fit.

So...I know my body is enough but it could be better and I'm working on making it better but dear God in heaven, how on earth am I ever going to be comfortable with my size if I NEVER know what size I am? I literally never take the right size into the dressing room because, depending on who makes the clothes, I am a size 2.

A size 4.
A size 6.
A medium.
A petite small.
A XXL.
A plus size.
Or an 8.


Just a couple of things from my closet. In all of the sizes.


Pretty much any time I go into a dressing room to try anything on, it's just defeating. It's terrible. There have been times where I am wearing size 6 jeans and I take a pair of size 6 jeans into the dressing room and I can't get them over my leg. Or, I try on a different pair of size 6 jeans and I'm swimming in them. The only answer is to literally take every single size of whatever it is that I want to try on and do some lucky guessing.

Anyway, I had a point but I went off on that clothing size tangent...

I guess my point is, it's ok to love your body and to think that your body is enough, but also to know that it could be better and to try to make it better. I mean - it's yours. Whatever works for you, right?

And also, when you go to try stuff on and nothing fits, there's a good chance that has nothing to do with you and has everything to do with the Random Size Generator that I'm quite sure all clothing companies use.

OH!!! And also again, if you're one of those people who are trying to make your body better and you're sweating and flailing and uncoordinated and squishy and weak...

ME TOO!!!! And we've totally got this!!! We will flail and trip and sweat our way into a better version of ourselves, no matter how silly we look. I believe in me, therefore, I believe in you.



This isn't a swimsuit picture.
This picture is after day two at the gym, when I almost passed out and I almost puked and I'm not even kidding. 
I am not the cool looking chick at the gym. 
I'm the hot mess.
I'm fine with that.
I'm going to keep going back.