What Earth Angel and Maleficent have to do with one another

As kids, my little sister and I liked to dance to oldies tunes and Disney songs. We’d put on shows for my parents and give them tickets to our performances. I sometimes danced around by myself.

More so in the dancing-by-myself moments, I’d grab a pillow from the couch and slow dance with it, imagining dancing with a real live boy.

Maybe a real live boy who loved me, and would put his arms around me. And who might say he loved me. While we danced to “Earth Angel.” This likely was because I was a young girl, and perhaps had a little something to do with watching Back to the Future a zillion million times.

The "Earth Angel" scene from Back To The Future
The “Earth Angel” scene from Back To The Future

So what does this have to do with the Angelina Jolie version of Maleficent? Well, I’ll tell you.

If you’ve seen it, or if you’ve read any of the reviews, you know that the classic Disney villain starts out as a lovely fairy until a horrible scene where she’s drugged and her wings are cut from her. She awakens and has an awful scream when she realizes what has happened. I was prepared for that moment in the movie, probably too much so, actually thinking maybe I needed to look away — and in over-psyching myself up for it, that moment didn’t hit me as hard as it could have.

But it did hit me.

What struck me most was the power, grace, exhilaration and freedom she was capable of with those wings, and how defeated, crumpled and unremarkable she seemed without them.

I’ve seen reviews equating it to rape. Clearly there’s that implication; she was drugged by a lover, somebody she trusted; and she awakens to a new reality — one where he has taken something from her and she is changed forever. I wonder if the writers of Maleficent have ever read Andrea Gibson’s poem Blue Blanket.

She’s heard stories of Vietnam vets
Who can still feel this tingling of their amputated limbs
She’s wondering how many women
Are walking around this world
Feeling the tingling of their amputated wings
Remembering what it was to fly, to sing

I also felt like the experience of losing your wings could be paralleled to crippling depression. Some days you wake up and you go to wing around and do all the things you think you can do and then realize you can’t. You’re on the ground. It’s going to take so much longer than it’s supposed to. Why even. I hate everything.

Maleficent realizes her wings are gone
Maleficent realizes her wings are gone

The movie hit chords of all kinds. I’ve been with someone the morning they wake up and have that moment of their wings being gone. I’ve gone to the hospital with them and seen them on the ground walking, seen the wall of thorns go up.

I’ve had my hair cut off; lost my wings slowly over time to somebody I thought I trusted. Not to get all the way into it, but I’m fortunate to never have had an overnight awakening where the wings were gone. Instead, they were ripped off, little by little. I thought maybe I lost them myself, even. I did something to ruin them. I didn’t deserve them. Wasn’t capable of having them.

The wings do come back, though. For that person. For me.

I’m really glad the movie ended the way it did. They do come back. Phoenixes rise from ashes. Wings find their way back home when you need them the most.

I fell for you
And I knew
The vision of your loveliness.
I hope and pray
That someday
That I’ll be the vision of your happiness.

Still with me? Here’s where it comes back to Earth Angel. After the film, there’s a Lana Del Rey version of “Once Upon A Dream” that plays while the credits roll. Cory and I got off the couch and slow danced. The way we did to “Always” the first time we heard it.

I was transported back to slow dancing with a throw pillow. In addition to Earth Angel, Once Upon A Dream was also one of me and the pillow’s favorite dance numbers (My and the pillow? The pillow and I?).

Kate Austin-Avon
“Fae” by Kate Austin-Avon. Click to read my piece “On Soaring.”

11-year-old Kate zoomed forward through space and time, through painful loss of wings, long years on the ground and re-discovering flight, to being in a living room of her own with a real live boy (a husband!) with arms around her and a warm neck to kiss.  Much better than any upholstery. With our sweet boy asleep upstairs. I’m loved and I have my wings.

Happily ever after does exist.

(Hang in there.)

Where's baby? Look before you lock.

unnamed (2)My brain is like a cobwebby attic where I spend most of my time labeling boxes of things and putting them on shelves. That, or making sprawling lists of things to do or remember. Or just chasing rascally squirrels out with a broom. When I actually come outside, it’s tunnel vision onto Henry and keeping him safe, happy, loved and learning.

If you knock on the front door when I’m in the attic, I might have to ask you to repeat what you said while I was getting down the stairs.

I’ve actually gotten out of the shower and not remembered whether I actually washed my hair or just stood there getting wet for the requisite 10 minutes. Or I’ll drive directly home instead of stopping at the bank like I meant to.

Chalk it up to mom brain and too much worrying about organic labeling and screen time and daycare coordination, but I want to get serious for a second to talk about something pretty horrible, in hopes to raise awareness of this issue.

I’ve read more and more articles lately where otherwise wonderful parents accidentally leave their children in the backseat of the car, realizing their mistake too late. Often the story is about a stressed-out parent like me, distracted by minor changes in their normal routine.

The limbic system of the brain directs habits — the autopilot that kicks in when the pre-frontal cortex is tied up with something else. You drive to work instead of daycare, for example. I feel like this could happen to anyone. We’re all busy.

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a campaign running from now through September called, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock.” They report 44 “hot car deaths” in the United States in 2013; mostly preventable, senseless tragedies.

Here are some things they say you can do to protect your child:

  • Never intentionally leave a child alone in a car, even just for a few minutes with the windows rolled down. Young bodies heat up faster than an adult’s.
  • Habitually put your cell phone, purse or wallet on the floor of the backseat so you have to go back there to retrieve it before locking the door and leaving.
  • Seat the child behind the front passenger seat, rather than behind the driver’s seat, so they are more likely to catch your eye.
  • Never assume that somebody else in your party has taken the child out of their seat; make sure to do your own backseat check every time.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty, and when you move it to buckle your child in, toss it in the passenger seat as a visual reminder.
  • Ask your daycare provider to call you promptly if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled.
  • Teach your children that a car is not a place to play, and store keys out of reach.
  • Most importantly: Make a habit of always, always checking the back seat when you leave your car: “Look before you lock.”
Let’s all make sure we’re not busy evicting attic squirrels when it comes to making sure our kids are safe.
This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on June 19, 2014.


This was written as a Family Time article for The Chronicle, but I decided to withdraw it before it was published. I’ll share it with you here, though.

* * *

I don’t really know what to say when my 18-month-old son Henry points to the scars on my wrists and looks at me with questions in his eyes. The first time, I didn’t say anything for a moment, then broke into singing “Baby Beluga.” The second time, I mumbled, “Yes, an old boo-boo,” and swiftly neck-nibbled him until he giggled; music to my ears.

To him, it’s just a question mark, like the glasses on my face, my bellybutton or the mole on my chest. Something to ask about in a matter-of-fact way. But I know that someday he’ll be older and he’ll figure it out.

I didn’t have a horrible childhood, just self-esteem issues, a philosophical mind and dramatic tendencies. My parents couldn’t have prevented those feelings, which is why I worry about Henry. A child’s self-worth is so delicate, and I hate that I can’t control external factors like bullies and the media.

I worry about scaring him. How do you talk about something you don’t want your child to ever experience? How do you make him feel safe, now that you’re here to stay and loving life?

Depression, to me, is like a Ouija board: The more you think about it, the more you run the risk of summoning demons. You keep your face turned toward the sunshine and if you don’t look, the darkness isn’t even there.

I don’t want to expose him to it if he doesn’t even know it exists. I don’t want to pique his curiosity. And I don’t want to overthink it myself and ever end up there again, either. I want to keep walking forward into light and love. I want Henry to trust me, and not worry.

In high school, it seemed contagious. I heard about a friend of a friend who cut herself. We had an intervention and told the school counselor. The next day, my friend was doing it too. I thought she’d gone crazy. But then I tried it, and it became a crutch I leaned on for a long time. It’s a teenage epidemic.

I worry about even mentioning it here. It’s not good, friends. You’re better than that and deserve to treat yourself with respect. There are more constructive ways to fight the shadows.

Speaking of which, I have relics around. Artwork, poetry, journals, and there’s plenty to find on the internet. I’ve been blogging since before blogging had a name, and my old life is kicking around dusty corners of the web. Henry will find my skeletons someday, if he’s curious. They aren’t well-hidden.

Then again, maybe he won’t be curious at all. Maybe moms aren’t that interesting. Maybe he’ll have the wisdom to acknowledge that it’s part of my past, and not that shocking or unique. Maybe my experience will steer him in the opposite direction. Kids don’t want to be like their parents, right?

For now, though, they’re just unremarkable marks on my arms, and it’s easy enough to divert his attention with raspberries on his belly and loud renditions of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

The tragedy bigger than anything

I wrote this on September 3 and emailed it to myself. I’m newly vegan, though I have slipped up here and there – I’m trying my best. This piece of writing has been sitting in my inbox for more than a week, just simmering. I guess I’m going to post it here so I can clean out my emails… Not quite sure how I feel about sharing it, but here we go.


Animal mommas love their babies. Source: http://www.mfablog.org/2012/05/honor-all-mothers-this-mothers-day.html

We are living in end times, my friends. And we did it to ourselves.

Whether or not you believe in God, you have to admit that it’s a crazy miracle that we’re here at all. That the elements bumped into each other in ways that created planets, and life on this planet, and all the species of plants and animals that live in perfect harmony. And us.

We don’t live in harmony. We destroy, conquer, eliminate. It’s all our fault.

Think about the story of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. That’s when we decided to take agriculture and farming into our own hands. We were just another animal until the agricultural revolution, when we figured out how to manipulate nature for our own purposes.

But it wasn’t right of us to do so. We live so incredibly comfortably now. Think about when our ancestors had to hunt and gather just to survive. And then think about when everyone gardened and had farm animals just to survive. And then think about now, with your iPhone and microwave.

Every animal is somebody’s baby. Source: http://www.tonglen.oceandrop.org/Truth_Behind_Veal.htm

I like to say that the word God is not a descriptor of some bearded dude in the sky, but a word to describe nature, chance, the universe, the miracle that made us happen, the chaos and perfect math that is responsible for our existence on this planet. It is so improbable that life came to be. So so improbable. And here, in this moment in time, that miraculous crazy ridiculous improbability is true. And we are trashing it.

It’s a beautiful tragedy. It’s the saddest thing ever.

Sadder still is that we don’t even know we are doing it. We aren’t even aware of what we are doing!

We go to our jobs, pay our bills, check our email, drink our cares away. Who wants to hear about this shit? No-one. But we have a feeling underneath, a feeling that things aren’t right.

We are animals. We are animals just like any other animal. Who can really argue with that? We are the smartest animal and we caged up all the other animals so we could torture, kill and eat their dead bodies.

Are we the smartest animal, or are we the animal who’s a big fucking jerk ruining everything?

Think about the world without human beings on it. Everything lives in complete harmony. Sure, animals kill other animals, but not to the point of extinction. Animals kill what they need to survive and that’s all.

Source: http://www.organics.org/the-last-thing-youll-need-to-see-to-start-recycling/

The trees and plants make air for the animals to breathe and the animals make carbon dioxide for the trees and plants to breathe. The ocean is self-cleaning. Left alone, nature is perfect. It’s perfect for all involved.

We are fucking it up and we’re going to kill ourselves.

We have fucked up lots of things, causing extinction of many species and cutting down rainforest like crazy. But the worst thing of all is this climate change. It’s going to get us, and I’m willing to bet it will happen within our lifetime.

The momentum is too strong. Just buying recycled toilet paper and driving your Prius to the Farmer’s Market isn’t going to cut it. There are too many people who are living the wrong way. It’s too late.

I’m just glad that I was able to experience love and motherhood before we all shit the bed.

Down on Skid Row

As I read yet another post on Facebook about abortion laws, the thought occurs to me again. I try to enjoy the moment. Live in right now, where everything is lovely, people he knows are bursting with love for him and the only pain he feels is from gas bubbles. But with every news story, there’s that thought.

How do I tell my son about war? About hunger? Rape? How do I tell him about school shootings, about horrible deaths, about people forced to do unspeakable things? And never mind that… How do I tell him about heartbreak, and bullies, and disappointment? What about climate change, landfills and extinct species?

I don’t want to. Myself, at the ripe age of 30 – Even I don’t want to know about it. I stick my head in the sand more often than not. I avoid the news, most of the time. I don’t like to acknowledge that these things exist.

My theory is that if I allow myself to truly realize how awful things are, I’ll probably sink into a depression I’d never get out of, crawling into bed and never getting up ever again. So I just refocus. I narrow my scope and look at the things that I can change on my own. I try to live greener and strive toward a cruelty-free and ethical lifestyle. I try to be active in my community, to feel connected and to create and encourage positivism. With Advokate, I feel like I’m helping the little guy by facilitating success for small business. It’s what I can do, and it makes me able to deal with living in a world alongside the bad stuff.

Feed me, Seymour…

I remember being very young, under the age of five because my memory of this contemplation takes place in the living room of my old house – and thinking, no. Awful sicknesses and death can’t happen. It can’t exist. It’s not real. Monsters under the bed aren’t real… so this can’t be, either. My parents wouldn’t let that happen. God wouldn’t let that happen.

Not to good people.

I have never seen the end of Little Shop of Horrors because I am so upset by the fact that the plant eats an innocent person. Another memory from before I was five, and I’ve tried to watch the movie several times since, each with the same refusal to finish it after that point.

I don’t like thinking that bad things happen for no good reason.

And I don’t know how to tell my son that.

Luckily, I don’t have to, for now. I can just look in his eyes and enjoy his innocence. And take some solace in knowing that I will raise him to be one of the good guys.