There are few things more devastating than learning a child is seriously ill, but that’s what happened to the Evans family in 2006 when Sian, 7, was diagnosed with T-Cell Leukemia.
As they all navigated the new normal of Sian’s medical orders and treatments, her mother Morleigh began to discover hidden scenes that she would construct to work through her feelings.
Using dolls, stuffed toys, blankets and trinkets, Sian crafted silent stories that helped her process what she was so bravely enduring.
From Barbies taking a group carriage ride to Care Bears methodically lined up for slumber, the scenes are both heartwarming and heartbreaking when considering their context.
In the new exhibit at Arcane Space, “Tucked In” features images that Morleigh took of these creations, all captured in great detail at the time of their discovery.
Donned in soft plush carpet reminiscent of a young girl’s room, the space also features a workshop area with toys that children are invited to use to create their own scenes. When I visited, two kids were deep in concentration, crafting personal masterpieces. As I observed their intense focus, I was reminded of how therapeutic creative exploration can be—both for children and adults.
I lost a grandfather I never met to leukemia and have known countless other friends and family members who have suffered through cancer. Each journey carried unimaginable amounts of agony regardless of the outcome. This exhibit shows art that both respects that type of journey and perhaps makes sense of it in the most pure way.
Thankfully, Sian survived the cancer and is a thriving young woman today. Visitors to the exhibit have the opportunity to purchase prints of her various scenes (prices range from $100 – $800) and/or a book of the images with an introduction from Morleigh ($170). Proceeds benefit Cancer Support Community Los Angeles. Admission to the exhibit is free.
“Tucked In” welcomes visitors to Arcane Space Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. through May 26.
There’s a TV, equipped with thousands of channels and a box that streams content from a dozen more.
There’s a picture window, where I can see the squirrels chase birds.
There’s a fireplace that crackles to life and candles that glow on its screen.
There’s a kitchen that helps invent grand meals.
There’s a record player with a stack of vinyls that beg often to be played.
Like many writers, home isn’t the greatest place for me to spill ink.
But it’s not just getting out of my own space that sparks creativity, it’s being in the right space. And that space for me for the past several months has been the Sunset Marquis.
Every few Fridays, I take a beautiful flight down the coast to my second home right off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. My ritual is to unpack, eat a piece of fruit from the basket that greets me and fire up the laptop to meet my first self-imposed deadline.
I take my shoes off, slide my feet into a pair of the plush slippers provided by the hotel and begin to write. And I write until I’ve reached my pre-determined page count, for it’s only then I’m allowed to head down to the bar. So I always make my deadline.
Bar 1200 is too classy to be called a watering hole; too intimate to be cold. The bartenders are friendly, the drinks are strong and the playlist is perfect.
It’s small, cozy, dark, safe and full of stories. Have I mentioned that I love stories?
In my visits after midnight, I’ve met aspiring actresses, former bar owners, fellow writers, rock stars, filmmakers, mystics, fashion designers and photographers. None of them shy; all of them warm. A community of creatives who all feel an unspoken kinship.
When I first read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, years ago, I was fascinated by a story he told about the Italian people of Roseto, who ate unhealthy foods, smoked and drank, yet had remarkably less heart issues than their American counterparts. The only explanation? They had a strong sense of community.
Writing is a fairly solitary sport unless you’re part of a boisterous writers’ room or doing it as part of a class or workshop. Since I’m in neither situation, writing alone is my default. Until I discovered the Marquis, I didn’t realize how much I needed a sense of belonging to perfect my craft.
It’s nice that the reservation desk remembers I sometimes need a late check-in (depending on my flight’s arrival); that the bartender knows without a doubt I’ll start with a Jameson and ginger ale; that the restaurant seats me under the heaters in the wintertime since I easily get cold.
And it’s not just great service—it’s the overall vibe. The welcoming feeling when I wander into the on-site art gallery to gaze at images of my favorite bands; the chats I have about pop culture with the bell hop I consider a true friend.
The Marquis manages to have the luxuries and clientele of the most prestigious properties but lacks the pretension.
And I may not be a household name like many of the guests, or have scripted the Great American Novel (yet), but I do always feel like I fit in.
That’s how long I was prevented from driving my own car. Nearly two weeks.
It’s the longest I’ve gone without driving since I spent 10 days in Japan for a speaking engagement in 2015. From February 4 – 16 I only left the house to walk to the grocery store once and for work twice (I was picked up at the bottom of my icy hill after walking/falling down it). It was a test of survival skills and mental health. I passed the first with flying colors; the jury is still out on the second.
I’d spent much of December and January on the road—home to Oregon for the holidays; San Francisco and Los Angeles to see friends, attend some events and to work on creative projects. I was working on my tan just three weeks prior to this snow-pocalypse and was somewhat blinded by its duration.
Folks who aren’t familiar with Pacific Northwest weather (other than the false assumption it rains all the time) assume that snow is a normal part of our winters, but really it’s not. We usually get a dusting of a few inches in January or February that lasts for a day or two at best and then we’re back to our usual cold, drizzly atmosphere. It seldom sticks to the ground, let alone a few feet at a time.
One of my Midwestern friends who expressed concern when she saw the national weather reports warning of our demise said she knew I’d be okay because I’m a “planner” and she was right. Though not specifically prepared for snow, I am infinitely prepared for an earthquake (having lived through three in my life; the largest here in Seattle in 2001). So I had plenty of food, water, flashlights, phone chargers and foot warmers. Thank God.
Day 1 of the storm, my power went out from 9:30 p.m. until sometime before 4:00 a.m. Thankfully, I had cranked up the heat in the hours prior, so I was able to put towels under the door to my bedroom and block in much of that warmth as I slept. The next day, my employer closed our office deeming the roads too dangerous to travel, so we all worked from home. NOTE: For those who like to brag “I grew up in the Northeast/Midwest/Montana/Canada, etc.” and think you’d do fine in a Seattle snowstorm, I urge you to read this.
Days 3 – 7 are mostly a blur. It was more of the same; work from home, walk outside in my Muck Boots every few hours with my broomstick to brush the snow off my satellite dish; heat something in the oven for added warmth; run the hot water so the pipes don’t freeze; pack on layers of clothes; rinse, lather, repeat. Mail delivery and pizza delivery stopped in our neighborhood. The Space Needle closed. So did Fred Meyer. It was the end of times.
Day 8 brought my second power outage and damage to my backyard trees (despite the fact I was also taking the broom to brush heavy, wet snow off their branches). I was growing tired of the eerie silence that blanketed my street. All of the familiar sounds had ceased to exist. There were no children playing, birds singing or cars warming up. On top of that, it was dark save for the candles and camping lanterns that illuminated random windows.
Day 9 the power came back on and I slid down my hill (mostly on my feet, but once unfortunately on my back) and caught a rideshare to my office. After work, my boss was kind enough to drive me to the nearby grocery store to get as many non-refrigerated supplies as I was able to carry and I took a rideshare back to the main road and climbed up that horrible hill to get home. Still no mail delivery.
Day 10 and 11 I lost power once more, but only at night so I was able to work from home. On day 11 I also felt confident enough to walk to the grocery store in my neighborhood to replenish my refrigerated staples. It was a treacherous walk and I was sore the entire night and next day from climbing over the accumulated snow.
Day 12 I again returned to my office via rideshare from the bottom of the hill and returned in the same fashion. By the time I got home, our mail delivery had resumed and signs of life were starting to emerge.
Day 13 we had reached 37 degrees and it was raining, so much of the street was clear; the hill was no longer icy and with a little digging out from the lingering snow, I successfully got my car out. I first went to the movies (it’s Oscar season and I’m shamefully far behind), then to Target (oh, how wonderful to aimlessly wander those aisles!) and finally to my PO Box in a different town, where the majority of my mail is delivered. I can’t overstate how much joy I felt being out and about, hearing the din of other humans, looking at a view that wasn’t my own backyard.
I will never again take the freedom to move about for granted.
My friend Lew is a connector. She’s worked in public service all of her adult life and her approach to her career and to life are one and the same: live and love. Do both with joy and justice.
When she invited me to be part of a girls’ trip to Vegas with a handful of her dearest friends from across the country, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I knew I’d have a great time.
It was early spring when we planned this trip—we secured plane tickets, reserved accommodations at the same resort property and most importantly, bought advance tickets to Magic Mike Live.
For months we all exchanged Facebook messages and texts, excited about the getaway. Along the way good and bad things happened to all of us. A week prior to the trip, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I was grateful I’d pre-paid for every aspect of the journey so I could still go and not feel guilty about spending money.
Then, three days before the first members of our party were to arrive in the desert, a white, cowardly American man opened fire onto the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival from his hotel room at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed 59 people including himself and injured over 500 more.
A domestic terrorist attack right across town from where our weekend was to happen.
Before you send me mail about how I categorized this attack, let me remind you of the definition of terrorism, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Note: it doesn’t say “only” or “exclusively” for political purposes. So even if this coward’s motive wasn’t political, it’s still terrorism.
Anyway, we were all horrified and exchanged messages that we wouldn’t let this terrible tragedy dampen our spirits. I expressed that I’d like to leave flowers for the victims at some point during the trip and the girls agreed it was a good idea.
Aside from a few hiccups (our hostess, who is allergic, got stung by a bee; Channing Tatum came to the Magic Mike performance immediately after ours so we didn’t see him), the trip was a blast. We shared meals, lounged by the pool and waved fake money at brilliant dancers. We concluded the weekend with a lavish French-themed brunch at the Aria hotel.
But I couldn’t shake the guilt. Every cab or ride share driver we had in the city was clearly traumatized. One girl, who transported victims to the hospital in the thick of the chaos, told us it was the worst day of her life. Another driver was a part-time nurse who was still caring for the injured. Yet another openly wept that he knew he’d dropped off some of the people who lost their lives.
Every storefront, hotel, casino, porn shop, wedding chapel—you name it—had a sign that read “Vegas Strong.”
Here I was, a serial concert-goer, who had just attended my 40th U2 concert a few weeks prior. I’ve been to several outdoor shows and festivals. I’ve been in crowds larger and smaller than the one those country fans were in that night. I wasn’t in Nevada when the tragedy occurred, but I had survivors’ guilt.
Guilt because it could have been me; guilt because there was no disruption to the fun-filled weekend we had in their town; guilt because I hadn’t paid my respects.
So the last afternoon, as our group was wandering and shopping and behaving as girls do as they wind down from a girls’ trip, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the brink of tears and filled to the brim with emotion.
I announced that I was going to the memorial and anyone who wanted to tag along was welcome to join me. One girl, who I had never met before this trip, decided to join me.
Our cab driver, another who was impacted that unimaginable night, told us that the spot across from Mandalay Bay wasn’t much to see, but we should go to the Las Vegas sign down the road, where a gentleman from Chicago had planted crosses for the victims. We agreed and arrived to a very grim, but peaceful and beautiful memorial. Candles, notes, posters, flowers, stuffed animals and balloons lined the patch of grass so thick it was difficult to find space to walk. Though we were out in the brilliant sunshine with cars whizzing past and journalists broadcasting live, the mourners were quiet and spoke in hushed tones, with reverence for the dead. Locals were thanking visitors like me for taking a moment to remember. How could we not?
My new friend and I separated to head back to the hotel, as my flight was a few hours earlier. I made the mistake of walking on the sidewalk outside where the massacre happened, glancing over the fence where the stage was still set up; remnants of attendees possessions still strung across the lawn. The negative energy was palpable and pulled me toward it.
The city was in shock and the air was raw with sadness. Consumed by this grief, I said a prayer, shed many tears and composed myself to head to the airport.
I could read at age 2 and 1/2; I could write at age 4. Writing was always my retreat—what I did when I was excited or confused or sad or angry or not wanting to do something less fun.
Cleaning out boxes several months back, I discovered so many of my own writings that gave me pause. Here are just a few of the things I found:
Poems about my stuffed animals, created before I was enrolled in school (so I must have been 4).
Lists of names for my future children (I was dead set on a daughter named Abigail Rhode so I could call her “Abbey Road” for short; and a son named Lincoln Paul, after my favorite president and my Grandfather/favorite rock stars).
Lists of names for the pets I’d have if I wasn’t allergic (the somewhat basic “Champ” for a dog; “Drama” for a llama; “Buttermilk” for a bunny, named for a favorite book). Hilariously, there are no names for cats. I always hated them, even as a kid.
Stories about my Sea Wees having all kinds of oceanic adventures after they “escaped” the bath through the drain (Sea Wees were bath toys—little mermaids that floated on sponge lily pads).
Lists of the fireworks my dad bought for the 4th of July one year, and the order in which I thought he should set them off (not sure he listened, but he was probably glad the writing kept me busy while he barbecued).
Lists of my favorite Beatles songs (divided by lead singer).
Transcriptions of favorite TV shows and film scenes. These came only when we finally got a VCR and I could pause and rewind what I missed—I wasn’t typing; I was hand writing every word.
Fan mail (I kept copies of what I sent, so I could match up replies and see if the celebrities actually read them before responding).
… and the “list” goes on. As you can see from above, it wasn’t all narrative work. Much of what I was doing was putting things in their place. Sorting something mundane or hypothetical, just so I could keep it organized. I’ve always been creative, but I also came out of the womb very “Type A.” I’m a planner. I like to bring order to chaos. I like to fold laundry and organize my closet by color; I get perverse joy from making agendas and researching trips and watching everything fall into place.
So, as often as I wrote stories or essays about my experiences—especially when I was younger—I also made lists. I don’t remember ever doing anything with these lists, other than feeling an immense satisfaction at their completion. And from the dust that’s gathered on them, once I finished them, I must have just tucked them away, or wrote another list a few pages later in the same notebook.
On a cleaning spree when I last moved in 2013, I remember ripping out pages of notebooks that were gibberish or outdated so I could utilize any remaining blank pages. Start fresh.
One of those notebooks I shoved in my hall closet only to be discovered again today. What was inside? The photo you see above. The first week of MTV, catalogued by hand, complete with time stamps.
I have no idea what compelled me to do this nor do I have much practical use for it (I’m sure the VHS that must have contained these gems is long gone by now), but it was a kick to see after all these years.
It’s interesting to look back on my younger self and wonder what she was thinking.
When I was young I wanted to be many things when I grew up: ice skater, rock star, ballet dancer, wife of Michael J. Fox, etc. but when I got to be a teenager, I really had a feeling I’d end up a writer. Writing always came easy to me, and it was something I couldn’t physically stop doing, no matter what the situation.
Of course, when I was young, we still had those things called newspapers, so I naturally wanted to be a reporter. I found chasing stories and asking people hard questions to be an exciting job.
I would take my fashionable Minolta Disc camera (it was green, silver and awesome) to take important photos of whatever I was supposed to be covering. But of course, I had to wait for the roll of film to be finished, so it always seemed like a lifetime before we got the actual photos back.
This is what a roll of film looked like post-developing:
Thankfully, when I became the editor of the paper in high school (it was called The Verdict, because our school was named for a Supreme Court Justice), I had photographers with real SLR cameras to accompany me on my assignments, and they always took better photos like the one below this paragraph. This was the day we got to ditch class (with the journalism advisor’s permission) and head to downtown Portland to catch a glimpse of Madonna filming Body of Evidence with Willem Dafoe. We didn’t meet her or speak with her, but I wrote a review of the film and Jason snapped this great picture. I wonder whatever happened to Jason.
Also important in a young journalist’s life were the obligatory Steno pads. In the days pre-digital-recorder, and pre-laptop, we had to resort to good, old-fashioned paper and pens, and because I’m painfully nostalgic, I kept my favorite two Steno notebooks: the one I had while working at The Oregonian and the other one I received at journalism camp my junior year.
What was a high school student doing at The Oregonian? Working hard, that’s what! No, really, I was living out a geeky dream. I had been chosen to write for a city-wide student newspaper called Youth Today and our advisor was Judson Randall, a senior editor at the paper back then. We met and worked in the actual Oregonian newsroom, and the summer after I began there, I was chosen to attend a journalism workshop in Washington DC, which led to me meet some lifelong friends and contribute to another student newspaper called Young DC.
Apart from the actual fun of reporting news and crafting stories, those experiences marked my first real moments of independence as a young adult: I took a bus (or drove myself) downtown to work at the newspaper, signed myself in with a security badge and taught myself how to use the prehistoric (but at the time very cool) computer terminals. I would walk down to Powell’s Books and research stories for hours; I took my first solo plane ride to Washington DC at age 16 and have been a frequent flier ever since.
One of my favorite articles back in the old days was a piece I did for the traveling exhibit that featured Anne Frank’s actual diary on display. That had been my favorite book since I first read it in 6th grade and I was obsessed with Anne for many years, identifying with her in many ways (though I wasn’t Jewish). When the show came to town I literally got goosebumps just reading a flyer for it, so I knew that assignment had to be mine. I contacted the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center (they were sponsoring it), and they gave me a guided personal tour so I could enjoy the full scope of the presentation. I was moved to tears and promptly went home to write the article you see below. It made the front page.
Less than a year later, I had applied and been accepted to the famous University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school. I worked briefly a real newspaper before deciding that I couldn’t earn a good enough living doing that and became an advertising writer instead. Hence, my career today.
The money is certainly better, but marketing will never take the place of a well-worn Steno Pad.
Being the baby of the family, I was often talked into things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but later proved to be ridiculous.
One example is the Sunday that my sister spent dressing me up as a “punk rocker” when I was four years old. No, it wasn’t Halloween. No, there was no costume contest to attend or pageant for tiny fake whores, just a barrel of laughs at the expense of the littlest Kokkoris, who was more than game to get gussied up in the fashion of some of her favorite rock stars.
In fact, I distinctly remember liking the getup so much that I begged to dress that way on a permanent basis. Thankfully, my mom vetoed that wish and the next day I went back to being Sweet Little Tassoula.
Maybe that’s why I turned out to be such a groupie?
When we’re young, there are always clubs that we want to join. The big one for me was the high school dance team, the Marshall M-Ettes. I had taken dance classes all of my life and was sure I’d make the team at my first audition freshman year.
And I did. But I made 2nd string, which at the time was like being benched on the basketball court (and hurt me deeply).
I didn’t make first string for two reasons: 1) I could do the splits on both sides (right, yes — with practice; left, not so much) and 2) I had absolutely no self-confidence when it came to flaunting my body in front of large groups of people.
I was always an excellent public speaker, and loved being in front of an audience, but dance was different — I was raised in a home that dictated I should not make myself attractive to boys, and much of dance team dancing at my inner-city school was very sexual and flirtatious.
So I had trouble leaving what I’d been trained to act like at the steps of my house and bringing it to the audiences of Marshall High School. It didn’t help that we had a horrible bitch of a coach who did her best to humiliate me every chance she got, or that my dearest friends were co-captains and 1st string dancers, but somehow I got through it.
At the heart of it all, I loved to dance. I would practice with the team every day for two or three hours, then go home and practice some more. I practiced my way to 1st string (finally, in my junior year) and lettered in the sport (a big deal to me when I was 16), then went on to become a captain my final year.
Some of the best and worst times of my high school years were spent with my fellow M-ettes — many who I’ve remained friends with and some who I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with on Facebook.
Two more items of interest popped up as I was sorting through a pile of childhood papers tonight. My marriage certificates.
These were apparently something we did at the Sadie Hawkins dances in what would’ve been my sophomore year of high school.
The funny thing? I have a memory like an elephant and I have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever. I apparently married my friend Scott (not once, but twice), though we never dated in reality. Perhaps he lost a bet?
Now I also wonder what else I have forgotten from those events. Did I register for gifts? Wear a pretty dress? Had I known at the time it would be my only wedding, would I have done things differently?