Childhood, Art and Imagination

Thoughts on Living

I’ve taught youth for a while. I’ve been a tutor, a mentor, a life coach; I’ve been a lot of things for young people. I’ve even gone so far as to start my own nonprofit organization, DSTL Arts, in order to teach at-risk youth that the arts can foster careers for individuals. It helps to be an artist myself, to have always wanted to be a working artist.

I was five years old when my mom taught me how to make masks out of cardboard. Before then I was used to buying coloring books and pads of paper for entertainment purposes. But when my mom taught me how to make masks, that opened up a whole new world of creativity for me.

My first mask was of a robot/cyborg character from an old Nintendo game I had. I can’t remember the name of the game now, but I remember the mask. The rubber band we used to keep the mask wrapped around my head pulled my hair something fierce, but that didn’t stop me from running around our front and back yard with my swap-meet-brand toy sword. I broke a lot of those plastic swords playing like that, improvising those broken pieces into projectiles in my make-believe games with my younger brother.

Imagination was a real escape for me. It kept me out of trouble, capable of playing indoors all summer when my parents worked and we were on vacation. I could build towers of Legos and develop intricate storylines of deceit and heroism, self-sacrifice and humanity while Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures played out various roles in our universe. My brother followed my lead in these stories with little to no guidance from me. He knew the direction our stories would go in. It was a glorious time. And to think now that it all stemmed from being taught mask making techniques at five years old. Wow.

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As I got older, I sought only how-to-draw books at the school library. The public library in Vista had a very weak selection of art books for kids, but the Scholastic Book Fairs at Bobier Elementary held me down. I remember how eager I was to buy simple kids books that taught how to use basic shapes to form monsters and aliens. I traced a lot of the shapes, but that helped me develop a sense of style. I draw monsters now, without thinking, almost exclusively when not attempting to draw something specific, like a cover design concept for my students’ chapbooks.

Drawing is escape. Art is escape. But I sometimes wonder if I need to escape. There are moments where listening to a love song now makes me melancholy. I love my fiancé. I have no regrets in being with her. But there’s something that bothers me on particular days when I listen to songs by La Arrolladora Banda el Limón. Or Donny Hathaway. Or even a Vicente Fernández song with a lot of soul.

What is art to me? I try to think of it as I dedicate my life to teaching and helping young artists develop a sense of purpose in their work. I tattooed on myself the phrase “El poeta es dios” because I believe in the double meaning of it. The poet is God, and the poet is god. We divine messages through art that are spiritual in meaning. We also act as God, creating new worlds, new identities, new lives for beings that can only exist in our imaginations. If that isn’t being like God, then I don’t know what is. But does that explain the melancholy I feel frequently? Is there regret in creating and destroying worlds in my art? I don’t know how to answer that.

Children, especially in poor communities like mine, grow up thinking that the arts are childish endeavors, not worth exploring beyond elementary school. Our parents teach us to aspire to more, “illustrious” careers, such as doctor, lawyer, engineer. But those jobs don’t always resonate with kids like me. Kids with large imaginations need nurturing, because, ultimately, those will be the innovative adults in society. Not all people deserve to be artists. Just like not all people should be doctors or lawyers. There is a place in this world for everyone, from janitors and handymen, to artists, doctors, and engineers. And I believe that we need to start teaching parents in low-income communities that the labor market is as diverse as our children.

Maybe that’s where my melancholy stems from. There’s a romantic notion I hold onto somewhere deep in my heart. I wish I was a child again, designing intricate Lego towers and playing on the carpet of my apartment with my brother as we go through the motion of storytelling with Transformers as our puppets in melodramas that teach more about being a part of society than simply going to work everyday, answering to others with no appreciation for creativity and play.

I know that listening to love songs connects me with my childhood in many ways. I slept to love songs by Los Felinos, Los Yonics, and Los Bukis often in my childhood as my dad spent hours recording mixtapes for coworkers who paid him for some slamming tunes. I connect cumbia, banda, norteño with being a child. I know that. But nothing calls me to relive my childhood as much as creating art. I want to be carefree, living an adult life with little to no preoccupation other than what will I create today. I guess I just have to keep working as an artist. Only by following my dreams and meeting my goals will I attain that nirvana I seek.

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What God’s Answering Machine Really Says

Poetry, Unorthodox Poetry

Can you believe they called me down upon you?

They called me down to change your personality,
your whim, your whole fucking attitude.
It’s as if they didn’t like you or something.

Doesn’t surprise me, though.
It happens all the time.
But yet, it does surprise me.

I mean, they called me down to kill you,
they called me down to make you crash.
Those fuckin’ road-ragers.

Why,
they even called me down to disembowel your cat.

They basically called me down
to implement all bad things on your life.

What?
You people don’t read commandments anymore?
Fuck…
Damn illiterates.

It’s okay, though.
You called me down upon them too
and look what happened to you.

Now you’re calling me for help.
I mean, what,
a ma’fucka can’t answer prayers no more?
Sheeyit…

This has been a pre-recorded message.
If you would like to hear it again,
please press 9.
Para español, oprime número dos.

The ALL NEW Jesus Action Figure

Poetry, Unorthodox Poetry

And now,
Introducing the ALL NEW
Jesus action figure,
now with kung fu grip and mighty whip
action.
Able to make any merchant run from the Almighty’s wrath.

Act now and receive your very own cat-of-nine-tails accessory,
ideal for re-living those
wonderful
memories from the “Passion” movie (also available (sold separately))

And for a low, low price of only $9.99/mo. for nine months.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!

We’ll also throw in a complimentary,
absolutely free,
beautifully
hand crafted,
androgynous
Satan doll,
at no extra charge to you.

Remember…

Jesus isn’t only my Homeboy,
He’s also my action figure!!

Chuy, My Wingman

Poetry

Mi compa, Chuy Christ,
came over last night
wearing his trademark
Birkenstock huaraches
while I was playing X-Box.

He came to tell me
ominously
it was “time.”

Confused, I asked, “Wha’da Ya mean it’s ‘time’?”

Fondling himself, He replied,
“It’s time to go out and party, holmes!”

“I made reservations at our ‘local
gentlemen’s club’,” he continued, giggling.

“Aight. But brush out your hair and beard, ése.
You got some green shit tangled in there.”

“Oh, my bad,” He replied

So I put on my Jesus-Is-My-Homeboy T-shirt and rolled out.
He turned some water into Hennessey,
Moét, and Hypnotic,
I watched Him take Incredible Hulk shot
after Incredible Hulk shot to the noggin.

Passing out on me,
I left Him laid out in the gutter,
took his broad home,
and on the way Ms. Magdalene told me
He talks to His Old Man and Dove
saying somethin’ ‘bout
His job’s done.

He’s rebelling, looking for freedom,
and she’s worried.

She asked me to do something.

I will…eventually.
Right now,
He makes me look good
with the ladies.

Encourage

Poetry, Thoughts on Living

Encourage,
no, empower
no, enlighten
no, exercise
experience
and realize who you are.

Extend wisdom
back to ancient times
and feel what it means to be
equal to the greatness
that was pre-
existence.

Elements of the future
collate and cause collateral
damage to developing psyches
which
erased doubt in the minds of
elementary youth.

Equal opportunities only
exist for those who come across
as some kind of
equal:
equal to the one in charge
determined to find someone
equally set on
emancipation of one self
and becoming a tool for conglomerates.

Extend
every aspect of
consciousness into
eleven factors of
true Being.

Elohim was a creator
who created me, you, and all
eternity,
so why should we worry of
every little thing
He says or thinks,
especially when
everything consists of lies and plots
expecting
extermination and
everything in between.

Harvest Season

Poetry

Soft grey clouds frame
the flat green milpa.
Jagged rocks sprout
atop each other from blood
red dirt forming a solid
stone fence.

A solitary figure stoops
pulling earnings from Earth.
Corn stalks wave hi to him.

Scarecrow’s flannel: thin.
We can’t spare the good ones.

He doesn’t complain.

El campesino moves
slowly, revealing his spirituality
to the dirt, praying with potato bugs
and centipedes.
Niños de la tierra.

“Gracias a Dios,” he says
moving toward the rock fence.
He shifts stones to go home,
replacing his broken path of red
rocks and adobe pieces
before leaving.

The fence will be there
one more day.