Hi there. I’m Wendi. Welcome to The Adventures of Calliope Kittenpants, which is to say, welcome to my blog.
I grew up in Washington state, in a town surrounded by majestic pines and the gently lapping waves of the ocean. Doesn’t that sound nice? Actually, it’s a bizarre little college town with a dark history of prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry. It’s crazy to me that my dad, who is Chinese and Filipino, chose to go to college there. When he started dating my Caucasian mother and walking hand in hand with her down the street, people would throw bottles at them and call her a “chink lover.” But they chose to stay, and that is where I grew up.
I was a shy, smart kid who yearned for friends, but I quickly discovered that being a member of my elementary school’s stamp club was most decidedly not the way to get them. So I tried to fit in with the cool kids, but that didn’t work out because my vocabulary was too big and my family was too poor to supply me with the requisite wardrobe. So I got a mohawk and went the other direction, finding a home amongst all the skaters, stoners, punks, and new wave kids who were crowding the downtown area and generally horrifying all the grownups. I spent my time painting and writing, skipping school, smoking and drinking, hanging out in the cemetery, and eventually dropping out of high school, marrying the lead singer of a punk band, and moving to Seattle. When that didn’t work out (surprise!), I kicked around a bit before moving back to my hometown and getting a job as a blackjack dealer at the first tribal casino in the state. Over the next nine years I jumped from casino to casino, moving my way up the ranks to eventually become the youngest casino manager in Washington state. During that time I also went to college and loved it, learned how to work glass a little bit and loved that too, had my first gig as an art teacher at a public school, and married a high school sweetheart. Two years later, after I realized that he’d been hiding a massive drug problem from me, I held freshly signed divorce papers and wondered what was next. At the age of 28 I wasn’t excited about how my life was turning out, but I didn’t believe in myself enough yet to understand that I could do something about it.
Then a doctor told me I was dying.
Actually, what he told me was that I had Hepatitis B. I knew nothing about the disease other than what he told me that day: that it was contracted the same way as HIV, and that it is, in some cases, fatal.
For three days, I thought I was going to die.
Being faced with my impending death, and mortified by the chain of events that had led to my contraction of this disease, I discovered that I actually cared a lot more about my life than I’d been admitting to myself. On the heels of that discovery came the realization that I was disappointed in myself for not living up to my own potential. So, I sat down and I made a list of all the things I’d always wanted to do, and then I vowed that I would do as many of them as possible before I died. I would start taking care of my body. I would live each day to the fullest. I would believe in myself and my potential, and begin to expect others to do the same. I would make more art, write more stories, and do all the things that I’d always wanted to do but had been afraid to try. I would change everything, face my fears, and be the person I’d always dreamed of being.
As part of living my life to the fullest, I started doing research into how to live with my disease. That’s when I realized that I should have asked a lot more questions in the doctor’s office. What I had was not a death sentence. I could clear it from my system through lifestyle change, nutrition, and supplements, and go on to live a long, healthy life. I felt I’d been given a chance at redemption. My life was a gift, and I was happy to accept it.
Those three days of feeling my own mortality launched me on a transformational journey. I could feel in my bones that the decisions I was making were dramatically altering the course of my life. Everything had been brought into focus, and there was no turning back. Accordingly, I set myself to the task of getting better so I could start living the life I’d been denying myself all those years.
That was twelve years ago.
2001. The year I quit smoking, went vegan, cleared Hepatitis B from my system in record time, took up Aikido, had the first boyfriend of my life who wasn’t a disappointment or an asshole, and started looking for a new job. A year later I quit the casino biz and finally left the City of Subdued Excitement, on the search for new adventures in Oregon.
Moving to Oregon was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I left myself open to whatever possibilities came my way, and was rewarded by living and snowboarding on Mt. Hood for over a year, making loads of amazing new friends, learning to face my fear of heights as I became a rock climber, building some really fantastic stuff to share with everyone at Burning Man, founding a non-profit and winning some awards for my work, and, as an added bonus, meeting Lucas, the best guy in the world. Together we travel to far off lands, happily nest in the little house we bought for ourselves, help each other work through all kinds of crap that comes up from the past and in our daily lives, and function as a team to support one another as we explore our creative talents. It was backbreaking work planting the seeds for exactly the sort of life I want to live, but you know what? I think they’re starting to sprout.
When I started this blog, I did so because it turns out that once you get to a place of safety in your life, all the baggage that you’ve been carrying around for years starts spilling out everywhere, and you have to finally deal with it. I needed space to think through my emotions and actions as I faced my past and continued to strive for peace and joy in my present. As I worked things through and opened up space in my life, even more awesomeness came my way. So now, not only is my blog my emotional and mental sandbox, it’s also a gathering place for all of the pieces of myself of which I’m most proud. If I was a different type of person, I’d keep those two places separate; one space for my personal blog, another space for my creative work. But I’m not going to do that, because I believe that some of the most fertile ground for creativity lies atop the bones of past struggles, and to fully appreciate one, we must accept the other.
All of the photographs on this blog were taken by me or my husband, Lucas Swick. You should check out his sets on Flickr if you have a chance. He is damn talented and I am one lucky gal.