Sunday, January 15, 2012

The 30 most positively influential/inspiring people I have ever known, that helped shape me into who I am today, and why.

(I posted this on Facebook as a note just before Christmas, 2011. I hope to find the time to finish it real soon. I felt it all related to who I am now and where I am in my life and how I got here, and wanted to share to the world the people who have mattered most to me. It's still not quote finished)

Winter is always a time of reflection for me and often I seems to find myself taking an inventory of who I am and all I have experienced--if you don't know, I make a lot of lists and write myself tons of notes. It is also a death of old ways of being, of sorts, so that I can emerge in the new year a stronger, more confident new me. This being said, I spent a lot of time this weekend reading through some old journals. I have compiled a list of who I consider to be the 30 most (positively) influential people I have ever come into contact with in my life, that have helped to make me a better person, and/or helped to shape and give clarity to who I am. I had originally only wanted to do 10 but it was fucking impossible! Below is this list, in somewhat of a chronological order, each followed by a small explanation of why. Congrats if you made the list. You don't "win" anything, but I owe you my everlasting love, gratitude and friendship. Thank you. I can't help but wonder whose lists out there in the world the crazy person I have been for most of my life has also managed to inspire.
Know that it is all of you who had the biggest impact on me, and have made me who I am today.

1 & 2. My Grandparents.
Me and my Grandparents. 1980.
Me and Ma at Demay. Christmas 2005.

My Grandparents rescued me from what would have certainly been a worse life, and raised me as their own, despite being in their 40s & 50s and living off of social security. They both cared more for all their children than any other examples I knew growing up, and sacrificed many luxuries, living simply in an old-fashioned way in a small town I would in many ways fail to see the significance of til after I finally left it, til after they were gone. I owe my tinkering, DIY, stubborn spirit and goofy old man sense of humor largely to Grampa, my self-sacrifice, empathy, compassion and selfless support of those I love to Ma. More than anyone, I know my heart would burn with a dim flicker of what it does today if they had not saved me from my previous circumstances. Every positive thing I do for anyone else in the world stands as a tribute to the impact they had on me. I hope they knew how much I loved them, before the shy, awkward kid I was ever grew old enough to realize it and tell them. They were the heart of my whole family, and I am forever grateful that they saved my life. They always tried the best that they could, and even though I grew up far from perfect, it was enough. There was not a single day of my life that I could ever doubt they had anything but love for me. I may not have been created by them, but it was them, and truly them, who gave me life.

3&4. My Aunt Barb & Uncle Robert
If my Grandparents were my quirky old-fashioned elders, Barb & Robert were like my "OTHER other set of fun parents." I know it is totally Barb's fault I grew up loving so much cheesy 80s music and taping the top 40 religiously every Sunday. Barb was generous enough to pay me a $2.00 allowance when no one else in my family did, and probably had more to do with teaching me to wash and comb my hair than anyone, though I always hated all matters of hygiene. She was the first person in my family that ever did something adventurous and GOT OUT of our little town to run off to Alaska, and I know that way back then that it always filled me me with wonder, to hear her stories of what life was like so far away from all of us. Robert on the other hand, entrusted me with the privilege of using his full movie and music collection at a very young age and I know without him I would not have grown up with such a love for movies and lived vicariously through so many fictitious heroes throughout my sheltered rural existence. In my early teens they used to always take me to wander the mall and see movies together. To this day I can't set foot in a movie theater, play an arcade game, or listen to 80s music without thinking of them. I spent many nights after school fascinated with Sci-Fi doing my homework in Robert's room while we watched Star Trek and solving all the riddles of our Nintendo and Genesis games together.
For the 6 days a week that my "real parents" were never around, even only as single people with small incomes in their early 20s and 30s, they always tried to give me the fun life that no one else did. I doubt to this day that either of them realize how much that meant to me.

5. Andy Sampson was my neighbor and best friend i played war in the woods with every day for years from around 3rd through 5th grade. He was the biggest kid in our class and a few years older, and I was always one of the smallest, and I know fearlessly wrestling with him and pretending we were Rambo and GI Joes in the woods virtually every day had a huge effect on me being able to face other people who fucked with me, and in general "not take any shit." Together, our imaginations transformed a few small acres of land we were allowed to roam around in into an entire world of fun adventures of our team against...well, everyone, where we of course, always emerged triumphant. When I finally left NY, I couldn't help but think of him in my travels as I was finally facing my "Rambo complex," and seeing how I could truly survive out in the REAL world with whatever circumstances befell me without my giant friend and our arsenal of plastic weapons, stick swords and rock grenades to protect me.

6. Mr. Gill was my 5th grade teacher and whom I credit with giving me much of my "punny" grandfather sense of humor from and interest in science and how things work. He inspired me to be virtually the only 5th grader I knew who read Popular Science and took all his toys apart. He always found a way to make science, and all subjects for that matter fun for his students, and probably gave me more praise for doing well than any other teacher I ever had. He was the first teacher I had that treated me like a son and always had a way of making me feel like the smartest kid he knew, and truly felt sad having to leave him and go to middle school at the end of the year.

7. Mr. Cook was my 9th grade English teacher, whom I'd also spent some time with previously in the "Gifted and Talented" program. He was the first teacher I had who supported my creative writing and encouraged me when I began to write my own strange definition of "poetry" that year. We had to turn in a few 100 words of writing per week that counted as a large portion of our grade, and though I made it through high school and even college without remotely liking or even truly understanding the logistics of how to go about writing a research paper and practically failed every one I ever attempted, I still passed his class because my other writing scored so high. 9th grade was a huge year for my creativity. I don't know if it had anything to do with my Grandfather dying the previous year or not, but it was when my art and writing really took off. I always used to back and hang out with him on occasion after class and show him more recent writing during the rest of my time in high school, and despite it being all over the place, his criticisms always seemed to make sense and he always found positive things to say. I have always wanted to show him how much better it became later in my life, and share y blog with him if I could ever track him down to give him a little more insight into who I was back then. If not for him I don't know if I would have ever developed my writing into such an integral part of who I am. He was the only english/writing teacher I ever felt close with. I hope one day we can reconnect.

8. "Pfaff" was my 9th grade Studio Art teacher, and my main art teacher and mentor throughout the rest of my high school art career.

9. Regina Lepkosky was quite possibly the first girl I ever had some sort of weird "crush" on when I was 16, whom I met at my old neighbor best friend Andy's grandmother's wake and spent only 3 short days hanging out with her. I was in fact, super sheltered and never hung out with anyone outside of school really. She was the first girl I ever walked on the beach with, the first whose name I ever carved in a tree and ran up my grandmother's phone bill calling on the other side of the country. I stayed up all night the day she left writing the first "song" of my life trying to somehow put into words how I was feeling, and she also became the first penpal I ever had, and first person I made cheesy mixtapes for trying to somehow communicate the "real me" through music to a near stranger. Though we never became more than friends and mostly lost touch a year or so later, she to this day stands as the person who planted many of the seeds that would later become the sensitive, emotional, romantic and poetic me.

10. Ira Gray

11. Robyn McLaughlin - Years before the internet became widely available, Robyn was the first total stranger I ever wrote to based on a short ad in a newspaper for penpals, and is the first person I ever reached out to and fumbled through my every stream of consciously rambled thought for 10 page letters on a weekly basis, desperate for any sort of new friends outside of my close-minded school when I was 17. She was the one who inspired me to write constantly, to realize that I could better understand my thoughts if I could just get them out, and in a year we wrote each other over 50 letters. Though she only lived like 70 miles away, and though during that point in my life she was quite probably the closest, most valued person to me in the universe whose letters brought me more joy than most other things, we tragically never met before I lost touch with her. She was the gateway to me unlocking my soul via a black Pilot ultrafine pen on narrow-ruled paper, inspiring me to at one point have ten penpals and spending the majority of all my spare time my last year and a half of high school writing hundreds of letters and finding a voice to tell a small handful of people who the real me was, despite always feeling shy and like a total alien in my high school.

12. Christine Iacovetta
Me and Christine in her dorm room at SUNY Oswego. Fall 1997.

was my first best friend I had in college, and the one who inspired me to become vegan.

13. Norris Flint was the landlord of the house my family rented for over 30 years, and owner of the 120 acres in our neighborhood that I grew up playing in. He was a lifelong farmer, who lived to be nearly a 100, older than anyone I have ever known, and worked virtually every day of his life. He also dug graves for several of the cemeteries in the nearby towns, mostly by hand, and buried over 7,000 people in his life, including his wife and my Grandfather. He never really charged us more rent than it took him to pay his taxes. He was a friend to all, with one of the most unique voices I have ever heard, and I always enjoyed the days we would visit with him when we went to pay the rent, chasing cats on his ports and chickens and Guinea hens all over his yard, and trying to get the attention of his cows. He was the first real farmer I knew, and one of the nicest and most generous and understanding people in the world. His land was my entire world as a kid, my playground, and I believe that I spent more time exploring it and being captivated by it that anyone else ever did. He always felt like he was a 1,000 years old to me, and was probably the closest thing to a "wizard" in my eyes as anyone I have ever known. He may have been a man of few words, but you could never doubt that he was a wise man who lived a full life by looking into his kind eyes. He was the one, after all, that we all entrusted to take care of the bodies of our loved ones. Whenever I asked him a question about farming or splitting wood, it always felt like he was the dictionary, and if it wasn't working for me, I must not be listening. I will never forget, one of the last times I saw him he had asked me why I didn't eat meat, and though we were from entirely different times and worlds, when I explained to him about factory farms and pesticides and mankind exploiting animals rather than being caretakers of them, I could tell deeply within him, that he knew all too well, and it felt like he had carried years of sadness about the way the world was changing. It felt like, this one 100 year old man understood this one radical choice of mine better than virtually anyone in my family or my town who all seemed to think I was crazy. I will never forget that day, and I will never forget Norris. His life is a testament to what one man can do to me, and I think of him whenever I pick up a shovel to dig a hole or feel the earth in my fingertips, every time I pack my toys and tools and snacks and run off into the wilderness like I might not come back. He always felt like part of our family, like a Grandfather to all of us, and I am eternally grateful for his kindness that allowed my poor family to afford such a nice Home.

14. Matthew Friday
Sammy, Me, Matthew, Eric, Laurel at Lousia's graduation party, Oswego, 2000.

15. Aaron Gordon
With Mike and Amanda. Oswego, 2002?

Aaron was my best guy friend in college i always went out drinking and playing pool with who always tried to get me layed. He was the first art student I knew who started his own business, the first person who ever taught me how to burn my first cd, and one of my first male friends to regularly hit on me. We were the most hilarious couple of dudes to ever regularly frequent Greene's Ale House, him an overweight, goofy John Candy sort of character, and me usually looking like a polyester-clad, bleached hair Billy Idol wannabe. We were also to my knowledge, largely responsible for them removing the air hockey table due to liability for how crazy we played, often hitting people with the puck. Aaron more than anyone I think, in my early 20s, wanted to drag me out of my shyness and empower me to see the world and talk to girls. Though he sadly lost his life to cancer at 27, thanks to a "Good Will Hunting" conspiracy with Matthew, I hope that he knows that he did just that. I can never play a game of pool or listen to our 4 favorite jukebox favorites (moondance, respect, salisbury hill, another one bites the dust) or watch full metal jacket without thinking of him. In fact, on the rare occasions I actually win at pool, I know that he is with me.

16. Ashleigh Spaulding.
After I graduated college, I ended up in a similar confusing, lonely place back at home in the middle of nowhere without a car like I was in high school. The main difference was, Al Gore and his friends somewhere had gone and invented the internet, and though I grew up without cable, for the first time in my life the world was at my fingertips during my lifetime of insomnia. Instead of penpals, I began my search to try to define who I was in online profiles of various sites in hopes I might connect with someone out there, somewhere. Before the days of Facebook, Myspace and Friendster, the first site I stumbled upon to network was, geared towards the emo/punk/hipster community I guess. I was kind of in fact, one of those in 2001. Around that time I was also fascinated with Chuck Palahniuk and the poet Jeffrey McDaniel, who had a huge inspiration on my early writing. The first "internet crush" I ever found online was Ashleigh. In the early days of my internet presence, I would mostly look for girls who liked Fight Club and music I liked and try to impress them with my clever, sarcastic metaphors, Ashleigh included. She was the first girl I ever stayed up all night talking to on AIM, the first one who I am sure had a hand in inspiring me to always be trying to write a novel about a hopeless romantic who worked at a dildo factory I never finished, and the one of the people who inspired me to begin writing my every thought in Livejournal to share my writing with the world. She was the first voice on a computer screen that filled me with joy and made me laugh. Our connection will always remind me of listening to saves the day in my minidisc recorder in the most expensive headphones I ever owned after I bought my first bike in my life and pedaled off into the sunrise after staying up all night chatting on the way to my first screenprinting job. Though we never did meet, she remains a mystery and a muse and yet another of those early people I was smitten with who propelled my writing forward and helped me to find my voice in those early days before I finally escaped the town I grew up in. I don't know if it was really love, or if we would even get along in real life, but to this day our online babbling can still hold my attention like no other, and I think we will always be special and unique connection unlike any other we have. My heart still skips a beat whenever she says hello. She's disappeared a lot over the past 10 years, but I am glad she always comes back to surprise me when I least expect it. XfuckingO...

17. Kate W.
One of the first pics Kate ever sent me. Winter 2003.
Leaving viola practice to brave the snow again at SUNY Potsdam. Fall 2003
Those crazy Thought Criminals. Being silly in Great Norther Mall Photobooth, Winter 2003.

Katie was my first love whom I met during what was quite possibly the worst and most depressing time of my whole life and also probably when I was the "craziest." It was so long ago now that I almost forget what I was like before then, but...she was the first person I ever kissed sober, the first person who ever made me believe in love or ever feel beautiful, the first person I ever told my lifelong secret about my teeth. The first person who ever gave me the courage to bring to life the crazy, adventurous character I always envisioned myself as in my writing so that I didn't feel like a shy, awkward, emo hypocrite. Kate taught me how to treat every moment like it was our last, talk to and help strangers, love the viola, and at the end of each night together, fall asleep happy and at peace confident that if "this (life) is all we have," at least we lived the shit out of it. To risk everything for the sake of my dreams, even if in that point in my life my biggest dream was a person. She showed me for the first time, that I was capable of taking care of and loving someone, even if I wasn't always good at taking care at or loving myself. Our 11 months together, most of which was a secret from parents who hated me, was the most intensely crazy up and down, romantic and dramatic time of my life that proved to me that I knew how to love someone after writing about it for years, even if it was ultimately bad timing. I will never forget the fearless way she could make anybody laugh, or how I used to always say "if you can make a Paul happy, you can truly change the world." I won't forget secret lovenotes on sugar packets, how my first car was the only place that felt like a home to us, or how every moment together when we first met left us so in awe that we used to say we needed "Wow Tampons" because we had so much wow coming out of our asses. All we ever both wanted was to make an impact on someone and to not every day feel forgotten. I am living proof that those wishes came true, and I hope that she still carries her memories of me like notes scrawled on sugar packets hidden in pockets of brown corduroys. I have 3 tattoos that remind me of her every single day, and I will never set foot in a Dunkin' Donuts, listen to strings, or look at my wrist without missing her and those crazy times when every day felt like the world was ending, but together, we always made it okay.

18. Kathleen Dowling
One of the first pictures I ever saw of Kate from Myspace. Spring 2005.
Kate is the closest friend I ever made from the internet of almost 7 years who i feel also is perhaps kind of like the closest thing i have ever had to a "sister," though I can't deny the occasional inbreeding/partner in crime fantasies along with everyone else who historically always seems "obsessed" with her. Haha. Though we rarely ever seem to find as much time to be friends as I believe would be mutually beneficial for us, I am nonetheless grateful for every second of time she finds amidst her chaos and single-mothering to share her love and thoughts with me. We bonded over our passion for blunt honesty, sharing secrets and embracing the weirdness of the world, and she is one of the only people I know will always accept and not judge me, no matter what crazy Paul thing I do. I gave her what I consider to be one of the greatest gifts I have ever given anyone years ago--an antique spice rack I have slowly filled with samples of earth and rocks and plants from all of my travels over the years--and though the initial thought behind it was partially to try to slowly inspire her to leave her shitty town and find her own adventures, it recently occurred to me that the REAL gift, the one she has given to me by holding onto such a gift, is the comfort who she is gave me to entrust her with my history. I hope that if anything were to ever happen to me, that with my spice rack of "spells" that she could conjure all of my most epic stories and do my memory justice. She also happens to be raising the most awesome kid I know. I can't wait to see what she does one day when she finally breaks free of Midland and finds  the courage to fully confront her own fears, reach her true potential and find happiness and a supportive community of like-minded people, as she has always supported me. I have dreamed of being around for that day for nearly 7 years.

19. Shannon Murray

20. Becca Barbanell
Exploring South Mountain, Phoenix 2007?

21. Alex Votichenko
Preparing for Civic Space Jam, Phoenix 2010

Alex was one of those people I met early on at the Willow House along with Becca, Ryan, Jenna, Allyson, Melissa, Danny, Sean and Ben whose support inspired me to give the place another chance. He was also the one who pointed out a nearby roof he thought seemed safe to sleep on which ended up becoming my home for 3 months when I became homeless, and told me about Way Cool, where I had my second stencil art show here (while still homeless) and let me paint in his backyard despite barely knowing me. Though we were already interested in a lot of the same things and I never managed to meet his crazy friend Merv, it has always been inspiring that he has managed to use his arts, be in music, drawing, making burritos and pulling together some of the best events Phoenix has to offer, often by the skin of his teeth to live life on his own terms ever since I have known him. Similar to Andrew Jackson Jihad in his Phoenix pride despite all the haters, (including myself), Djentrification I think is a mysterious spirit whose passion and presence are permanently embedded in the hearts of all of us downtowners so deeply, that if he were to ever leave here, it would feel at least to me, that one of my favorite parts of Phoenix stopped breathing. Some of his virtuoso nights where I've had the privilege to witness dumbfounded people hear some of his mixes for the first time are some of my favorite moments in Phoenix.

22. Michael 23 for showing me its okay to be burnt out and crazy and biting off more than you can chew for the greater good of dreams, and always supporting me, and kind of feeling like my Phoenix father in a weird way. for somehow managing to raise a family while also facilitating 3 different communities of crazy artists and providing affordable platforms for them to experiment and take babysteps toward their potential ( or sometimes big steps too!) for creating such an epic annual event with the ritual of the phoenix burn that in my subconsciousness the experience almost feels like the true celebration of another year passing when I am here. for having the patience to actually sit through so many years of house meetings for the greater good of keeping the firehouse a dynamic, interesting and productive space where no one kills each other and where virtually anyone trying to do anything cool in Phoenix can always have a venue to try pulling it out of their ass for the first time. It may not always succeed, but watching so many members of our community grow on the firehouse stage over the years and even if only momentarily make some of their dreams a reality has been truly inspiring. you have given me 2 of my homes in this often frustrating place, and the support and understanding and respect to grow and always feel like a valued member and voice in the arts community. If Phoenix had 10 more people like you, downtown would be a very different place.

23-24. Ben & Sean

(of the band Andrew Jackson Jihad) for wearing the heart and soul of Phoenix and all of its ups and downs on their sleeve. they are more of a "mascot" and point of hometown pride and voice of the times in phoenix than any other band, and in my mind they are up there as equals on a wall of fame with beastie boys in how they wove the spirit of NYC within their humorous and absurd lyrics. No one can invoke the same touching sentimentality for this place as they do, whenever I listen to them from afar, No matter how much I have ever hated Phoenix, I can't leave an Andrew Jackson Jihad show without loving it, at least for a night, filled with gratitude to share the experience with every old drunk, teenage hipster, ASU idealist and jaded townie alike. If you told me 4 1/2 years ago that 2 of the bearded white coffee slingers at Willow House would have possibly been capable of making me momentarily well up with Phoenix pride singing Hallmarky shit like "people are the greatest thing to happen," or proclaiming "I am a werewolf," loving the nearest stranger as much as all my friends in the audience and truly feeling like a silly concert is capable of bonding us all, I would have never believed you. Knife man is quite possibly my favorite album of the year, and I am so fucking honored to know these bearded goofballs as real people and to have spent the past 4 1/2 years watching them grow and succeed yet still be as down to earth as the day we met that I feel like a fucking Dad opening his wallet to show off his Sons whenever I play their music for someone new. I love you guys. Thanks for always making every show feel like "We Are the World" when I was a kid before I ever understood why the world was fucked up. Every show you play is a "benefit" to the human race, as far as I am concerned.

25. Steven Serrano, my supervisor at Tumbleweed for the past 4 years, and friend.
For seeing something in me no one did, giving me one of the greatest opportunities of my life to create the first homeless youth-run screenprinting business in AZ with TumbeTees for 2 1/2 chaotic years of trial and error and reinvention (and also coordinating the Drop In Gallery) and believing a crazy negative artist guy could somehow create something that was an empowering experience for youth. Also for welcoming me back to Tumbleweed during the most epic transformative year of my life to work as a Youth Care Worker when I know I could never have done it any other time. My job has only encouraged me to fight harder and harder to overcome my past fears and negativity and find a positive face to greet the youth we serve and mentor each day. I never would have imagined I would have been a social worker before I came to Phoenix, and now, quite often, it is hard to imagine me being anything but in one way or another. That is certainly Steven's fault, more than anyone else.

26. Joey G
Relaxing on the couch on top of the bread truck behind Conspire. 2010

For perpetually asking "why not?" to every no answer and encouraging everyone to do whatever the fuck they want, making it okay to never grow up and being the Peter Pan hero of all the anarchist lost boys of Phoenix who actually want to build things and not just burn them down. for daring to always try new things and push peoples buttons and try and push people outside of the box, even if they can't think when they get there, or get along. Not every crazy idea can find the right environment and nurturing caretakers to help it grow, but rarely have I ever met a person who tried his damnedest to plant so many seeds in a place that doesn't rain, perpetually living the dream that maybe, just maybe, one of those fucking beans might be magic. Just you wait and see...

27. Renetto-Mario Etsitty
Mario in his kitchen, Fall 2011.
Though our different habits left me struggling to live under the same roof, Mario has grown on me more after I moved out of the house I shared with him for a year as an elder in a way, a keeper of lost secrets, storyteller, a healer, someone who has created in his rather overwhelmingly "full" house a place that can nonetheless feel like "Home" for all of us wanderers and refugees of the night to share laughs, stories, and always leave with full bellies. I admire the selfless way he shares his culture with all of us, friends and crazy random drunks who show up on his doorstep alike (note: sometimes these are one in the same) and the hours of labor and intentions put into every meal. I am humbled and honored whenever I get to share a kitchen with him, and grateful for all of his help with my fundraising.Whenever I finally leave this place, I hope to carry on a similar dinner party tradition wherever I go.

28. Pinar Ates Toprak Toy
Waking up in a snow-covered forest with Totoro in Presscott, AZ. February 2010
En route for our 5 day road trip to Boulder, CO. March 2010
Exploring the Earthships in progress in Taos, New Mexico, March 2010

Relaxing in the sun in Yosemite, October 2010
Hyperventilating with giggles on the beach

San Francisco, November 2010, upon completion of our 1,100 mile bike tour.

For being the most perfect mirror for who the real me was I've ever looked into, and the most intense companion of my life. for conjuring more love and giggles out of me than anyone else, ever and for being one of the most passionate and sensitive people I have ever known. for showing me that I can change someone's life, and whose strength inspires me every day to move forward with my own. for showing me who i was and what i could be and inspiring me to change the parts I didn't like or die alone and afraid. for sharing her resurrection from the ashes of our tortured Phoenix existence with me and living a dozen lives in our year together. for helping me to reconnect with my family, my past and the earth and show me that i am a spiritual person, and accompanying me on on the greatest adventures of my life. for inspiring me to rethink my 11 years vegan and reinvent myself and learn to take care of myself instead of just my ethics. for helping me to pull off my greatest and most honest public "poetry" performance at my Conspire feature. for always making every day feel like an adventure and allowing me to tag along for over 6,000 miles of memories together with her. for being the first person I ever felt comfortable to accompany on a "vision quest" and for trusting me with her life more than anyone ever has. for having the courage to spend 2 straight months, 24/7 with another crazy person to be my partner for our "Owlala bike tour," what to this day is the greatest adventure, test of strength and will power, and life-changing experience I have ever had or shared with with another person. She was the first person who ever made me feel comfortable enough to give the tour of my mouth, who always believed in me, and helped me find the courage to make my first dentist appointment in 20 years. the first person who helped me to begin to write my first autobiographical story to try to face my childhood and overcome my fears, that would later become the beginning of my blog--a story that has now been viewed over 17,000 times. I will never be able to think of an owl, a raccoon, the redwoods, ride a bike, eat eggs, laugh at a bird walking, watch a Miyazaki movie, go camping, build a fire, use skype, or ride in a Prius or hear the Indiana Jones theme song without thinking of you. It was you who helped to ease the wrinkle in my brow, soften my the perpetual tension in my body and give me voice back. My love letters and emails and notes to you stand as some of the most beautiful, honest, empowering things I have ever written.
Though you may not have been the one doing the reconstruction, one day down the road when I can finally smile again, know that it was YOU who layed the foundation for my dentist(s) to build upon, as together we reminded each other, over and over, that we weren't broken, and were capable of doing anything we wanted to. Even when I don't hear from you, know that your spirit always gives me strength, Pinar. I will always love you. And I still want to help you build that rewilding center one day...

29. Rakhee Patel
Rakhee and Trent and my most pain in the ass extractions ever. That's crazy, look how long your hair is!

Rakhee and Maryam and MORE impressions!

Idunno, I just like this picture. It reminds me--Impressions always seem like a calming Zen moment and 5 minute head hug. (How often does anyone hold your head motionless, anyway!?) It's a humbling and moving time to reflect upon all that we have been through. It's  kind of the most at peace one can feel in a dentist's chair...once you learn not to gag, that is.

Rakhee is my student dentist who has been with me for 35 of my 39 appointments in the past year and my partner in writing the story of my smile reconstruction...not to mention the HERO of it. She is the architect who was able to envision a new and improved me before I ever even thought it was possible, and made me believe in her dream. Every time I pick up a toothbrush or floss it is a "thank you" to her...for showing me after nearly 20 years of feeling incomplete as I watched small parts of me disappear to decay that I'm not broken. For teaching me a new language to speak about the one thing in my life I could never utter and giving me the courage to find a way to make that darkest secret I most hated about myself into something positive and inspiring to the world. For helping me to make something often taken for granted and/or hated or feared into a uniquely heroic tale that for the first time in my life helped also transform my writing into something positive and accessible to thousands of supportive people all over the globe. For giving me the strength and guidance and support to face my deepest, darkest, most depressing secret and brave over a 100 hours in a dentist chair. (So far!) For helping me to find the discipline to save money for the first real time in my life and often sacrifice my sanity to sock away nearly ten grand last year--nearly half my earnings. For showing me that anything is possible if I believe in myself, and for always believing in me. For giving me my smile back, slowly yet surely, and inspiring me to truly open up to the world, regardless of how many teeth I happen to have or how afraid and vulnerable I might feel. For always making me feel taken care of, despite how much pain and torture I have endured throughout my appointments in a way that no family, lover, or best friend ever could, and teaching me to for the first time in my life to take care of the most neglected parts of me. For helping me to heal, in far more ways than just easing the pain of a toothache. For having the patience to deal with a crazy, intense patient like me, for teaching me so much about myself, and I hope even, for allowing my honesty and perseverance to inspire and strengthen her desire to be a dentist and a healer, while bearing witness in such a firsthand and intimate way to the power of her abilities to truly make someone have a better life, to watch them physically transform before her very eyes, and know that it was at her own hand. For being my biggest cheerleader through all of this. I hope that my trust in you and support from the beginning to be a part of such an intensely personal journey, let alone to let me share it with the world in such a graphically-detailed, specific and personal way on the internet, has helped inspire you to be an even better dentist--to see things, for once, so elaborately through a patient's eyes, "shoes," and mouth and truly see how exactly who you are has made a difference in the someone's life.

Pinar and Rakhee...though they've never met, they kind of go hand in hand to me. My blog about my transformation is as much about both of them as it is me. Pinar was the one who helped me to face my own demons as I helped her face hers, and prepared me mentally to finally move forward before our lives went in different directions. Rakhee is the one who picked up where she left off and helped me to fix myself physically, both of them healers in their own right who helped me to learn to love myself and be more comfortable in my own skin. Years from now, when I look back on my life...there will be the lonely, shy, cynical, alienated and tortured Paul I was for the first part of my existence, and there will be everything ELSE that came after the Hell and back adventures of 2010 I spent in love, compassion and giggles with Pinar, and my physical reconstruction and new beginning at the hands of Rakhee and relearning how to smile, enjoy eating and open up to the world, the two of which who gave me my smile, my happiness, and my life back. Words will never express the immense love and gratitude I have for them, always.

30. Aja Volkman

Aja is the singer of my favorite band, Nico Vega and someone I have slowly come to feel like I can actually call a friend after several times we have talked after shows and little connections here and there over the past several months online. I wrote about her and the band in my dental blog, and how an old blog of hers on myspace was one of the inspirations for me to begin facing my fears in such a public way. Despite being a larger than life Goddess on stage, she is one of the most down to earth "rock stars" I have ever met. The last time I saw them I wrote her a 7 page letter about the effect that her and Nico Vega had had on my life, how I consider her a kindred spirit of sorts, and how I always seem to see them when on the verge of a huge turning point in my life. I also baked them a bunch of cookies for the road and shared other little gifts I had created, and though some performers may have just thought I was a crazy, obsessed fan, I knew that Aja would cherish it as a touching outward expression of human emotion. Always wearing her heart on her sleeve, in her lyrics, onstage, in her blog, on facebook, and no doubt in real life, she is someone who to me is the epitome of passion, vulnerability, kindness and understanding, who has magical way of making every single fan in the audience feel connected to her and in the moment. Her captivating presence is unrivaled by any performer I know, and I look forward to her concerts as practically a spiritual experience. Her voice lifts me up from my own deepest depths when nothing else does (and always makes me pedal faster on my bike) and though I don't really get "starstruck" or have "idols," every brief moment when she finds the time to respond to me is like a "high-5 from God" or something, that has always made me smile, even through broken teeth.
I am so grateful to have stumbled upon your music 2 years ago and for all the moments of connection we have shared, however brief, and that people like you exist in the world. "Lucky one" and "wooden dolls" make me cry practically every time, and I hope that when I finally finish my dental work that you will be able to see me regain my smile and my voice as well, as I sing along to your new album. I dream of the possibility of Nico Vega being able to play at my big grand finale "Apple-Eating Party and fundraiser, after all that you guys have helped me to smile the past few years, and reminded me to always "pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!" and also so all the people who have supported me in my community can finally see how amazing you are. Thank you Aja, for being you, and offering so much of who you are to the world. You always help me to remember to be present, fearless and in the moment.


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