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Gratitude: Broken Things

Recently, I've looked back at J. Aaron Hager's (@caspermilque) photos taken throughout the abandoned auditorium featured in the I Am Here piece I posted a couple weeks ago. It's hard to describe in words why this particular site of urban decay remains so enchanting to me. The best I can do is quote a lyric from Dave Matthews: "How could we know that our lives would be so full of beautifully broken things?" Finding elegance in the damaged and discarded is vitalizing, and as I embark on this particular exercise in gratitude, I want to begin by cataloguing some of the broken things I am grateful for in my life.

Artistic image of a woman in a sheer, white dance dress juggling drumsticks in front of a tall, sunlit window in a dilapidated, graffiti-ridden hall.

On My Playlist: Obviously, "Broken Things" by Dave Matthews Band. Also by Dave Matthews Band, "Busted Stuff." "Broken & Beautiful" by Kelly Clarkson. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Green Day.

On My Bookshelf: Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. You don't have to look any further than the title to know why I'm grateful for this book - especially in this pandemic. One of the best work days ever for me occurred last summer when a transformer blew not far away from the office, leaving the entire building without power for a whole day. That meant no phone, no computer, no wifi. So what did I do with my day? I sat on a couch and read this book. I underlined dozens of passages, all worth quoting here, but for the sake of brevity, I recommend listening to this episode of Oprah's Super Soul Sunday Conversations podcast (linked here) in which Lesser is her guest. In the meantime, here's one quote which I very much identify with at this stage in my artistic and personal journeys: "I had been asking only one organ - my poor brain - to carry the full weight of my life. It was time to give some of the work over to my heart."

In Nature: Butterflies. If you look back at some of my old video greetings on social media, you may notice the recurring image of a butterfly. In fact, there is a butterfly in every video I’ve created (i.e., the one tattooed on my wrist). The chief reason for my admiration of these creatures is how often they dismantle themselves before becoming winged beauties: starting from a larva that eats its own hatched egg; growing into a caterpillar that sheds its skin multiple times; and, finally, liquefying itself into a soupy mix of proteins and fibers inside a chrysalis that eventually reorganizes and solidifies into the insect we recognize as a butterfly. And if you think that’s some resilient bad-assery, you should read up on their migration patterns!

Photo of a female clown wearing white face makeup, a pink tutu, and a white tee shirt that reads "These are difficult times."

In My Closet: "These are difficult times." A couple years ago, my mom got me this shirt for Christmas that was so nerdy and, as it turns out, prophetic that it was bound to end up on me as part of a circus outfit: a solid, white tee with a black print of a treble clef and three measures of music each marked with an unusual time signature. The phrase underneath it reads "These are difficult times." The official shirt of the musician's pandemic? Hells yeah, that's going in my wardrobe! The only thing was it didn't fit me very well. It was too baggy, and I wasn't a fan of the more snug, thoroughly-hemmed collar. So I took a pair of scissors to it - cutting out the collar, chopping several inches off the bottom, and running a generous slit up the back. Magic! I hacked myself a tieable crop tee fit for a punk clown in 2020 and wore it in this photoshoot at Color Park with several of my colleagues from The Pittsburgh Circus Arts Collaborative. I will say, though, it's the tutu that truly ties the look together.

In My Neighborhood: Construction Junction and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Fun fact about me: I keep a tape measure in my glove compartment in case I end up in Point Breeze on a weekend afternoon. What’s in Point Breeze? Construction Junction, a 30,000 square foot facility dedicated to the sale of used and surplus building materials at a fraction of the cost. To be clear, nothing in their inventory is considered broken (in fact, they don’t accept items that are too damaged, dirty or unsafe to be reused in some structural or decorative capacity), but it’s as if someone broke down a small, suburban block into the literal sum of its vintage and contemporary parts: bricks, tiles, cabinets, furniture, plumbing, lighting fixtures, windows (including the stained glass variety), and the list goes on to the point where I will triumphantly walk through their door, tape measure in hand, and silently scan the warehouse thinking “I’m looking for the next project I can take too far!” I once bought three hotel nightstands there at $5 each and repurposed them as outdoor seating for my balcony because repurposing stuff and saving money at the same time is fun!

Just around the corner, in the same building as Construction Junction, is another grotto of discarded bits and pieces, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Confession: I'm a bit of a craft supplies hoarder, the kind that sees one of those thrift grab bags full of random junk and thinks "I'm not sure how I can use all these textile holiday ribbons, but I'm sure I'll think of a project at some point," and in my shopping cart it goes. This place isn't any bigger than a couple of coffee shops, but it is gloriously crammed with materials and trinkets that usually land in a garbage bag after a declutter at home or work. Some of my most memorable purchases from this craft hoarder's paradise include vintage sheet music, dozens of little pin buttons, petri dishes, a severed doll head (it was Halloween at the time), and, indeed, a bag full of textile holiday ribbons.

Pictured below, I'm sporting some found objects from Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse that I spray painted pink. What are some of the broken things you're grateful for, punks?

Photo of a smiling woman wearing a black top hat adorned with pink found objects.


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