The first was Austin Armstrong, a boy I didn’t like at all. Back in 6th grade he was bullied by most of us because he picked his nose and even though everyone did it on the DL he did it in public and that was simply unacceptable because did he even wash his HANDS? Gross, Austin.
(And, sadly, I include myself in that “us” although my bullying was more of me kicking him when we were forced to dance together and he was being obnoxious and I was really grossed out but none of the other boys would ask me to dance and it was all really quite a mess and it goes to show when people treat you badly you are unfortunately also more likely to treat other people badly because everyone wants a scapegoat in their life)
And he was poor. He came from a poor family background and I remember after Christmas in 6th grade everyone was talking about the presents they got and he announced that they had gotten a DVD player and CJ Harrison, who also bullied me, said loudly, “NOBODY CARES, WE ALREADY ALL HAD DVD PLAYERS.” I said nothing because my family didn’t have very much money and we didn’t have a DVD player yet either.
And he was obnoxious. And I’ll never know if it’s because people treated him badly and so he felt like he needed to give people a reason to treat him badly or if he just genuinely enjoyed ticking people off.
And eventually he started shoplifting. I remember in junior high there was a group of “those kids,” you know, the ones who come from more troubled backgrounds, and one had a fancy watch and all the other kids asked him where he got it and he said, “I bought it from Austin Armstrong, he stole a bunch from JC Penny!” And I was walking to class when I walked by Austin rolling up his sleeve to show 4 watches on his arm, showing off to “those kids” and scoring money from them.
I looked him up on Facebook a couple years ago. He’s still around, still kicking. I think he has a girlfriend or a wife or some important person in his life. He put up posts about anarchy and other strange anti-government stuff.
And I wonder if I should have been a little nicer. If that would’ve changed things.
The second is Austin Kleon, whose work Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, and The Steal Like An Artist Journal, all of which have made me write more, draw more, and essentially criticize myself less.
It typically starts at work. We go through periods of flood and periods of drought when it comes to having things to do, and when there’s a drought, it is Death Valley.
So I take out the Steal Like An Artist Journal, which is full of prompts for creativity and I just try things. Just make something. Cut something up and tape it to something else and figure out what you want to say. Say one thing and learn how to say it in a different way. Black out words until you have a poem. He transformed the way I looked at writing, the way he takes newspapers and books and blacks out the words because, as he says, “I already have the words.”
Poetry is something I now enjoy making, which I never thought I would. I thought my words weren’t flowery enough, lyrical enough, profound enough. Profundity is overrated and trying to be that way is just chloroforming yourself and nothing happens. But now I write out ransom letters to people who piss me off and cut up magazines to try to replicate that – but as it turns out, those words in the magazine don’t match my ransom letters – they change them into something different, something better, something more universal.
I still waste my time on the internet but I don’t do it nearly as much now. Doodling and drawing and brainstorming story ideas has become a new time-wasting activity and I’m enraptured. I don’t have to go to a cafe to be clever, I can eat Costa Vida, get bored while I’m waiting for the third Austin and decide to draw about old memories of the restaurant I used to work at.
And I do these things daily, without hope or despair, because I’m finding new ways to be happy at work.
The third, last, and best is Austin Hammer, my husband and the person who will think that everything I say is clever and delightful and funny and wonderful. I mean, sometimes I have to supply the words for him: “You love me. I’m funny. I’M HILARIOUS. LAUGH.” But still. He loves me and I know he loves me.
There is so much that has happened in the last three and a half years we’ve been together that I can’t use words to describe how great he is because that would trivialize it.
But he is the reason I ran a marathon at all. Back in the beginning days he would tell me to slow down because running that fast made me miserable. He taught me how to run hills, how to do miniature switchbacks on the trail so I would learn how to catch my breath while running. I learned how to get used to the feeling of heavy breathing and how to push myself through it. We ran 15 miles together several times and brought big amounts of water and made sure I was well hydrated. I got emotional at some points and got angry with him and he was so patient.
We hiked through Scotland with throbbing feet and midge-bitten everythings and it was the most beautiful place I got to experience up close and too damn personal. Every emotion is experienced when you beat up your body like that and trek cross-country, relying on what little money you have and Scotland’s liberal camping laws.
We’ve slept in hotels, cars, buses, tents, under the stars, and one time on an airplane I slept and he stayed up for so long he started hallucinating. It was a little, uh, well. Intense. He slept thoroughly that night. He loves me when I’m lazy and unmotivated but he also knows that staying inside the house makes me crazy. We’ve had so many nights of pillow talk where we think we know what’s going on and sometimes we do and other times we don’t.
I told Austin about how I had treated Austin Armstrong – really, how I followed along with everyone else and was mean to him. He knows I regret this and I wish I were better. He helped me feel better about how I had treated Austin Armstrong.
Often I’ll share with him the articles or pieces of writing Austin Kleon wrote. He loves the wisdom I impart to him from Austin Kleon and loves seeing how creative I’ve become, how much more I actually do create instead of just wishing I created.
He’s never held back in affection and he’s always given me his unrelenting support.
He is amazing and I love him. That is enough.