Artist De Andre "Airballin" Drake with daughter Kaya. (Lionel Seals)
Last Friday night, I was laid out on bathroom floor, on my back like a turned turtle, using my bathmat as a yoga mat. All I wanted to do was stretch in order to get my lower-back out of what felt like vice grips.
It had been a long week.
On Tuesday, I called a friend, Joel, to let him know a mutual friend had passed from what appeared to be an overdose. The next day, Joel texted me saying his son was born.
That exchange came on the heels of the news that a good friend, former Bay Area radio host Kareem Chadly, lost his son, Damani, to gun violence. Someone texted me a link to the GoFundMe page during a company dinner. When I got the message, I lost my appetite.
Those stories, and so many others, ran through my head as it rested on the bathroom’s linoleum tiles. As I tried to stretch the stress out of my back, my mind went beyond my translucent shower curtains, through the ceiling and into a world of thoughts about the stress of adulthood during the holiday season.
I’m familiar with the data. I’ve read about higher rates of domestic abuse during the holidays. I’ve seen the deconstruction of the myth that suicide rates rise during the holidays, and I know the truth about depression during the holidays—some might call it the Holiday Blues.
According to alcohol.org, "DUI offenders increased their drinking rates by 33 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day." I know all of that drinking isn’t jolly inebriation—I know it isn’t.
We could spit data and numbers all day, but when you’re on your back, occupying the space between the bathtub and the toilet, what comes to mind are the stories of people.
I'm thinking of Nia Wilson’s family as they go through their first holiday season without her. Or Oscar Grant’s family as they embark on a decade since he was murdered.
I thought about the families of Jerome Grier Wiggins Jr., who passed in October, leaving behind a child, and Brandon "Young Busco" Moore, who passed the following month, leaving behind nine children.
How do you deal with the deaths of loved ones and the stress of those who are living? I imagine it's amplified during holiday season.
How do you navigate it?
A couple of weeks ago I pulled up to art show featuring the work of De Andre "Airballin" Drake, with painted cars, motorcycles, shoes and more. It was a bonanza, capped off by Drake bringing his daughter, Kaya, out to do a live body painting on another young woman.
I knew the story of how Airballin mastered his craft during a nine-year stint in prison—where he drew images so realistic that some people called him "Kodak." I heard that upon his release, Airballin painted everywhere, from the Javahouse on Lakeshore to a storefront on Fruitvale, always applying his hustler mentality. And now, he’s eating off of it.
He told me he doesn’t really face too much stress—during the holidays or otherwise. So when it comes to doing something for his daughter, like featuring her in his first solo show, it’s quite simple. "It was an opportunity to let her feel what I feel," he told me. "It was a chance to give her a lifelong memory as an artist."
I marvel at the way he’s hurdled stress, by taking a negative experience and making a career out of it, "If I wouldn’t have went to prison, I probably wouldn’t have found art," he told me. "I don’t like to harp on it, but when it comes up I do tell my story—this is how I came to be where I am."
And he does this while inspiring his daughter.
He’s adamant that Kaya wanted to be an artist on her own, and I don’t doubt that. But knowingly or unknowingly, Airballin is an example of an adult and parent healing and dealing with their own shit while not creating any further wounds, which is important during the holiday season because those lifelong memories aren’t always sweet.
When asked her about navigating this time of year as an adult, she told me, "It’s about slowing down, taking deep breaths and taking time to turn inward."
In addition to that that, she said simply acknowledging emotions instead of covering them up is important during the holidays. She calls it "being real with herself," and it can manifest in a number of ways, including simply not agreeing to too many social obligations.
"It’s about being honest with myself with how I feel, and instead of doing things to appease other people," said McClain.
I asked if that could be seen as selfish, she replied, "If I do what I need to do to make myself feel comfortable, then I can be a better mom. If I’m performing some idea of what the 'holidays' means, I’m not going to be a good parent."
This holiday season, my heart isn’t just with those who’ve lost a loved one or those of us who are living with wounds, but to all of those who are, as the cool kids on the internet say, "adulting."
Yes, this is a time of year for children’s wonder and old folks’ traditions. But honestly, it’s a lot.
So, here’s to the art of navigating the holidays as an adult.
Those who don’t have kids must deal with relatives asking why not. And to the parents out there hiding presents from her children—as well as the parents who’re hiding the fact they can’t afford presents for her children—I hope you all have the presence of perseverance, prosperity and some mother (lovin') peace of mind.
This adulthood stuff is hard. I just wanted to let you know that even when you’re laid out on the bathroom floor, you’re not alone.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.