I always ask my students to write about their heroes and villains. For me, identifying my heroes is easy. Villains are harder to identify, mostly because we don’t want to name them. I think we choose to act like they don’t exist. I have villains and, I’m sure, they taught me just as much as my heroes. I can name a long list of positive and negative teachers, in life and in the classroom. My parents were a daily influence until I was sent off to boarding school. I wasn’t a bad kid. They worked hard to afford an education that would’ve otherwise been way out of my reach. I had the privilege of having many awesome coaches, teachers, and dorm parents, people that I still see when I go to visit Wheeling, West Virginia. I am forever grateful. If I am honest with myself, I know that all of these people have shaped me, showed me what to do, and what not to do.
Of my parents, my mother was the more nurturing figure. She gave hugs and kisses. She tells me that when I was little, I didn’t like to be scolded or spanked. No child enjoys those moments. According to her, I would say, “Don’t spank me mommy. That’s mean and ugly.” Today, this makes me laugh because I’m not a fan of yelling, violence, anger, or any of the various negative emotions that can creep into my day when I forget my childhood mantra. My pre-K students know how much I abhor yelling. If I lose my voice from yelling, I won’t be able to sing. When I can’t sing, I get sad. LOL Mean and ugly has never been me. If I ever was, I extend a formal apology to those who have seen me or knew me when I wasn’t at my best. I apologize. My mother’s mantra, “this too shall pass.” is a constant reminder that everything is sure to change and harboring negative emotions only brings stress and dis-ease.
My mother also worked hard, for many years, at a job that she didn’t always enjoy. As a child, I didn’t know that she didn’t like her job. I think that my pursuit of my own dreams is inspired by her regrets. She was always a dreamer. I hope that by sharing some of my motivational texts, I can show my mother that it is never too late to start over. I hope she recognizes all of the good that she has instilled in me and my siblings.
My father and I have an interesting relationship. He was always a realist, more grounded, and most afraid for me when I started my journey as QueenEarth. As I am the artist and musician in a family of athletes, I didn’t fully understand my dad until I started enjoying Steeler football. Watching the sport together gave us something to talk about, and when the game was over, we’d find ourselves having conversations about life, school, my career. Now, at the age of 30, I realize that I am very much like my father. He has a short fuse, no nonsense and quick to blow. I recognize when I am near steaming, and I remember my mother’s words. I’m sure she has helped him over the years too.
I got my work ethic from my dad. I honestly don’t know if he enjoyed his job or not, but he worked in customer service, stayed up late preparing presentations, worked overtime to keep ends meeting, and still managed to be involved and keep us motivated in softball, church, vacation Bible school, swimming, sports, working out, fishing, gardening. He might be the Jack of All Trades. I’m not really realizing it until this very moment. He is snoring in his recliner right next to me, only tired because he stayed up all night to cook a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, pulled pork in his BBQ pit.
Since high school, Liz has been my main mentor. She taught me Humanities English, how to create web pages, and how to keep score and eventually play varsity softball. My glove was never as strong as my bat, so Liz took my strengths and built me into a player that mattered on the team. I was the Designated Hitter. I didn’t have to be good at everything. She helped me find my strength and make a contribution. Liz always told me to be myself, to give my best, whatever I was, and to learn from my mistakes. No matter who I become, there is always room to grow. She taught me to give everything my best attempt, to turn in rough drafts before a final paper because that was the best way to get the best grade. As long as I tried my best, I could be sure that my actions, my dreams, my effort, and even that I, mattered. If I ever stopped caring, operating on autopilot, forgetting how I got wherever I was, or thinking about giving up, it was time to write again and remember how and why my journey started.
I could go on about my heroes. I see new folks creeping into my personal and professional network. Perhaps I am lucky. I could name many more; my dorm mother, my high school biology teacher, my creativity students. And the villains . . . Maybe they weren’t bad people, rather folks who were on a different path, pulling me towards their dreams and steering me from my own. Only when I was strong enough to blaze my own trail, could I sever those ties and take their lessons with me. I am thankful for all of the lessons. As I mature as a performer and an educator, I’m beginning to see how much I can influence people. From my students to members of my audience, I’m trying to be more aware of the messages that I’m sending. I have an opportunity to help other people on their journey, whether through a song or a lesson plan about heroes and villains. One day, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to be someone’s hero.