7 November 2013
Learning to Love Me More
Kelsey met Blake when he was 14 and almost like little girls, they became instant best friends. Their graduation made two boys into four and Jeff and Seth solidified their group. A few summers later, I struck gold when I met them. I loved them all, but one more than the rest. Kelsey and I had the same favorite movie, Kelsey and I could talk for hours, and Kelsey and I got married. I found a best friend in them all, but Blake took the rest of my heart that Kelsey hadn’t. I loved Blake. My love for Blake was not because of his pale skin and curly hair, nor his hugs and laughter, nor because of his jokes and intellect. I loved Blake because the first thing Kelsey ever told me about him was that Blake taught him how to love. Jeff and Seth are amazing, but Kelsey is my husband and Blake was the reason why.
Upon meeting my husband in 2007, we connected through our favorite movie, Me and you and Everyone We Know. For our first Christmas together in 2008, he gave me a book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More than You. In 2009, I received Learning to Love You More, a book of projects from my secret Santa and dear friend, Blake. Miranda July was the director, author and Project Leader of all three of these artworks. As described by her, Learning to Love You More was something that she and her colleague, Harrell Fletcher put together because they realized that sometimes:
Our most profound experiences come from following other people’s instructions. When making crepes from a recipe, attempting to do a headstand in yoga class or singing someone else’s song. Sometimes it seems like the moment we let go of trying to be original, we actually find something new – which was the whole point of being an artist in the first place (July and Fletcher i).
An indelible impression was made on my life after receiving this book for Christmas.
Secret Santa has become somewhat of a tradition among my friends. Even when half way across the world, a Skype date is set and presents are mailed so that we can bless each other with kooky and well-thought-out gifts. Together we would sit at someone’s house after dinner out and exchange away. It was usually a few days after Christmas and often someone had to be there in spirit because of either family plans or geographical hindrances. But 2009 was different. It was a special year: Blake had been living with us temporarily, the new entry of our soon-to-be sister, Jeff’s fiancé, Maryellen was added, and we would all be together in the same city. Along with packing ourselves and presents in the car, Blake packed up all of his stuff. It was sad, but exciting, as he was moving to Oregon soon for a job.
I had Maryellen, Maryellen had Kelsey, Kelsey had Jeff, Jeff had Seth, Seth had Blake, and Blake had me. The order of who had who is unimportant to you, but meant everything to me. One by one we opened our present trying to guess who the culprit was. As the gifts were unwrapped and the guesses guessed, the last present was mine. Knowing who was left, I knew it was Blake and the excitement built. Blake was by far the best at picking gifts and this was the first time he drew my name. I picked up my gift and the package was flimsy and heavy… a book, but what book was it? As I ripped off the paper and saw who the author was, I jumped up to give him a hug. I didn’t know Miranda July was working on something new, let alone had something already out. Laughter and conversation ensued through the night and as the night waned, hugs were given and we left.
I went home that night and read the book through. Seventy assignments were placed on a website and people were able to participate by doing them and submitting them. The book was a compilation of the assignments completed by the public. I wanted in. I decided I was going to do them all. The website was still available to look at, but you could no longer submit, so I started a blog. January 18, 2010, I wrote my first entry. The assignments ranged from light to heavy and almost all of them involved help from other people.
The first I assignment I chose was #39, Take a picture of your parents kissing. I explained what I was doing and my parents, though they thought it was goofy, were very supportive. We searched for a cool spot and found some giant windows overlooking the ocean. They kissed, I snapped, and it was done. What a sense of accomplishment I had. Later that week I tackled #51, Explain what you want done with your body when you die. This is what I wrote:
When I die I want my organs to be donated first and then cremate me. No one should ever wear black when I die, in fact wear yellow and smile, for I will be with my maker. Please, take me dancing under the stars and tell me your favorite memory. Bring me to where that memory was and grab a handful of ashes. Let go. Pass the rest of my ashes to someone else who I loved and who loved me and have them do the same thing. Repeat as many times as possible, but make sure you leave one handful. With this handful, I would like to be mixed with a willow tree's seeds and planted into the ground where everyone can visit me. And when you cry, cry into the spot of which I was planted so that you will help me grow. Come back and see me often. Bring your children and tell them about the things we laughed at, the things we cried about and the times when we hugged. And smile (Pearce).
Though a bit dark, it was freeing to have written this out and share it with my family.
Four months had gone by and 14 assignments had been completed. Lying on the couch next to my husband watching football, a knock sounded at the door. It was my boss; very strange for him to show up on Sunday afternoon. Both Kelsey’s and my phone had died and my mom was trying to get a hold of me. He gave me his phone and I called. Hearing something about a heart attack, I panicked, dad? No. Blake. Blake had died. I looked at Kelsey and as I repeated the words, Kelsey froze. Our boss asked if there was anything he could do and left. We sat on the living room floor and couldn’t say anything. When we got up to pack, Kelsey finally spoke. He said, “He will never see my kids.”
The next couple weeks blurred as we helped with funeral plans. One night I was sitting at home looking at the book that Blake had given me and I read assignment #55, Photograph a significant outfit. I began to cry. I went to my closet to pull out the clothes that I was wearing when I heard the news. I snapped a picture. This moment changed the trajectory of my assignments; I went from completing these assignments to look cool to completing these assignments to really learn to love more.
These assignments really have taught me a lot and I’ve grown in ways that didn’t seem possible: I usually get nervous in social situations, but these assignments have encouraged me to branch out asking people I would not usually ask for help; I have, despite my insecurities, posted my art publically, feeling okay regardless of what people may think; but most of all, these assignments have gently nudged me into being honest about things in my past that I otherwise have not or would not share. I am still working on the assignments, even now four years later, but one day they will be finished. I find it hard sometimes to pull from within when my inspiration comes from Blake, but I will finish. I know he will be proud of me because one day, I’ll finish.
Fletcher, Harrell, and Miranda July. Learning to Love You More. Munich: Prestel, 2007. Print.
Pearce, Jessica. "assignment #51." Learning to Love You More. Blogger, 21 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.