FlashBackFriday: The Prequel

Hey All!

So if you read my TBT post yesterday, you were directed to this #FlashBackFriday “Prequel” for a more in-depth-stream-of-consciousness accounting of how I came up with my new CultSTATUS logo. If you just happened to check out this post – and you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about when I mention yesterday’s TBT post – don’t worry, I give a full accounting of the original story below. Check it out!

When I started this blog, three years ago, one of my first thoughts was that I needed to find an image to best represent my core message for CultSTATUS. I quickly fell in love with Veer and several other websites for their endless array of stock art, designs, and fonts. I spent hours, days, and weeks searching for the perfect logo to introduce CultSTATUS to the world. I was like Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece. There’s still a folder, somewhere on my computer, filled with several hundred brave soldiers, er … pictures that didn’t survive the battle. I found rabbits to go along with the ones scampering around in my head. I considered sketches of music, music notes, and musicians. I even toyed with the idea of using Hieroglyphics or Sanskrit lettering to add the ‘Culture’ in CultSTATUS. There was inspiration, in vibrant living color, as far as the eye could see – or my mind could dream.

In the end, I chose the picture of a dancer in mid-leap which has been our official profile picture on Facebook ever since. I love this picture. It spans just a moment in time, but offers up so much potential for all the moments that come before and after The Dancer’s leap. It is that potential which grabbed me the most. I wanted to express, with CultSTATUS, all the possibilities that are out there for committed artists. The Dancer has shared that message perfectly for the past three years. And yet. I’m sure you know where this is going. I’m thinking it might be time to let Her die in favor of a new Heroine. Why? Well, now would be a good time to take that ThrowBack trip down memory lane. Not just  a three year trip, though. More like thirteen years.

I was seventeen and a Senior in High School. It was late Fall or early Winter in New York and my dreamers heart was gearing up for the makings of one of my favorite memories. I was walking to the front of my apartment building with my parents and two sisters. It was after ten o’clock at night and bitter cold. For some reason, the thought occurred to me that I should stop in the middle of the street and look up at the clear night sky. I don’t know why I felt this urge. I despise the cold. I’ve always dreaded Winter weather; and I never, under any circumstances, stop walking to check out the scenery while I’m in the cold. Maybe it was because my father had recently bought a small telescope as a hobby? I guess that’s possible, but it sounds like a weak explanation to my own ears.

What I saw in that night sky isn’t very surprising. I saw stars. But what caught me off guard was that I could see lots of them. And I could see them clearly. Living in the smog infested city, I wasn’t used to seeing so many stars all at once. I paused a few seconds longer so my eyes could really focus. I wondered if I might be able to decipher any patterns up there. The big dipper and little dipper constellations were supposed to be pretty easy to find, right? Sure enough, when I took my time, I could see order in the glittering chaos. There were three stars in close succession to each other, angled on a slant, and they were anchored above and below by two more stars at each end.

Now like I said – at seventeen years old, I wasn’t very familiar with the night sky or astronomy, but I was one heck of a Pop culture aficionado! The three stars angled on a slant immediately made me think of the popular Will Smith movie, Men In Black, and all of its’ references to Orion’s Belt. I took one last glance and then rushed to catch up with my family who were inside the building already. When we got upstairs, I told my dad what I thought I’d found. He agreed with my first thought that it was probably just the big dipper. That was the only constellation either of us had ever heard anyone talk about as being so easy to spot in the city sky. We decided to use his telescope software to check our theory, just in case. When my father typed our location into the computer and brought up an image of what should be visible in the sky that night, I got a big surprise. It really was Orion and his Belt. I had found and accurately identified a constellation all on my own!

The rush of excitement I felt in that moment was addictive. I was hooked. Every chance I got, after that night, I could be found standing in the middle of the street looking up at the sky searching for Orion. My parents noticed the habit and decided it would be the perfect graduation present. They researched one of those National Star Registry services and placed an order to have one of the stars in the Orion constellation registered in my name. That’s right, there’s a star in the upper section of Orion’s humerus bone that belongs to Yours Truly – Constance Sherese!

I’ve loved stars ever since.

Flash forward three years and I was a Junior in college… well, more like a Lower Sophomore. I was struggling with my Business Management degree because I spent all my time drawing sketches in the campus radio station instead of going to class. But, I digress. Tattoos were quickly becoming all the rage for me and my friends and, although I was a total chicken, I was completely obsessed with the idea of getting one. But it had to be something cool. Something original. And something meaningful for me on a personal level (if only so I wouldn’t have to hear my mother say ‘I told you so’ ten years later when I hated it). Side note: Are these criteria starting to sound a little familiar to you? Hmmm.

Right away, I thought of getting a star tattooed discreetly on my neck. But all the people I saw with star tattoos seemed to have those tacky “triangle-cut-out-kindergarten-stencil-star-of-david” stars. No offense to all the deep spiritual meaning behind the Star of David, but I had been picturing something more realistic like the stars I had seen in the night sky when I spotted Orion. Think: “glittery-thin-pointed-light-radiating-star-of-bethlehem” stars. I asked around and “They” all said that what I wanted wasn’t possible. They claimed the cut-out stars were the only thing a tattoo artist could draw on my skin and I needed to stop being so picky. It was 2004 and apparently tattoo “artists” hadn’t fully honed their craft yet? I decided to let some time pass before I made such a big commitment. Yes, I chickened out.

Well, a few years passed and I had flunked out of college. I was lacking direction and looking for something or someone to occupy my time. Falling “in-love” with an old flame from High School seemed to fit the bill. Once again, my mother warned that I would regret it. But this time I refused to let any time pass. Where had playing it safe gotten me? No degree in the “safe” Business field. No career in the “unreliable” Artistic field. This guy was The One and I wasn’t about to let another golden moment pass me by. I packed my bags and moved to Atlanta to be with the man I loved. Yes, I moved to a new city for a boy.

I got to this great city and, as you can probably guess, he changed his mind. Decided I wasn’t what he wanted. And stopped returning my phone calls. I was devastated. I had finally taken a risk – stepped out on a limb… no, jumped off a freaking cliff – and the bastard had changed his mind! I could only imagine what my mother would say. But I’m very much like my mother. Especially when it comes to her stubborn streak. I cried, listened to sad love songs a la Jill Scott, Sara Bareilles, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Sinead O’connor, and wallowed in self pity for months. But I didn’t leave. I refused to leave. Getting on a plane and going home with my tail between my legs just wasn’t an option. In part, because I’m stubborn, but more so because I couldn’t quite convince myself that jumping off a cliff had been the wrong decision.

Jumping off that cliff had been the most free I’d felt in a long time. The boy was a jerk, yes. But maybe that jerk was supposed to play a role in something bigger for me. Maybe he wasn’t the something to occupy my time, but the someone to lead me to The Something that would define my time. I couldn’t explain it, but my head was buzzing with images and ideas – they hadn’t introduced themselves yet as The Rabbits – reminiscent of the classic struggle between Right and Wrong, Good and Bad. I thought of the biblical story of the fallen angels who gave up heaven to pursue Love – or Lust, depending on how you look at it. I thought of the Dr. Faustus play I had acted in during one of my last semesters at college. Why did there always have to be a choice? Why were things always so black and white? Where was the “vibrant living” color?

But that’s when my Pop culture trivia skills kicked in again and I thought of the 1998 movie City of Angels. The acting was terrible, Nicholas Cage was worse, and the ending made me want to throw my shoe at the television screen. But I addoooorrree all things Meg Ryan and you already know what a sucker I am for cheesy romances. So the movie was easy to pluck from my mental reserves. I thought about the concept that there was still a purpose to Nicholas Cage’s “falling”, even if Meg Ryan didn’t live to be that purpose. Then I remembered that the story of Dr. Faustus has many versions also. We performed an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play, but my professor had talked about another version that actually provided a happy ending for the deal-making-doctor. The Wolfgang von Goethe play imagined more than just a Yes or No choice. It imagined a deeply layered and human story line that gave Faustus the freedom to explore his loves and passions without fear of punishment.

Suddenly I knew what my meaningful tattoo would be. It had been at least three years since I seriously thought about it, but I knew without a doubt what I wanted. I pictured an angel. At once, both falling and rising from heaven. She was stretching out one arm. Reaching upward. There were undertones of the Michelangelo masterpiece “The Birth of Adam”. But she wasn’t reaching towards God. She was reaching out for… Love. I decided to “personify” Love as love-birds. Tons of them. Fluttering in disarray all around My Angel. She would be giving up heaven to chase after love. It would be painful. Her wings would be burned off as she entered the earth’s atmosphere. It would be her punishment. How would I depict heaven? A massive star above/below her feet. But it couldn’t just be about the lost Love. Not the loss of some boy as my love, anyway. It had to be about the loss of so many of my True Loves. My passion for art and music and dance and creativity. It had to be about the joy in jumping off a cliff to win back those Loves. And now… love-birds seemed too easy also. Too one dimensional. I’d make them tiny hearts with golden wings. And I’d have My Angel wearing a ballerina skirt. She would be en pointe and in the middle of a classic pirouette. There would be Dance in this love story. There would be a happy ending too. Those winged-heart love-birds would still be in disarray all around My Angel. But like the night I first saw Orion, there would be order in the chaos for anyone who took the time to let their eyes focus. When looked at from just the right angle, the heavenly star and love birds would be connected to form a crucifix and rosary beads that were wrapped around My Angel. She wouldn’t be choosing Love instead of God. She would be reborn through God because of her Love!

Can’t you just picture it? Don’t worry, no one else could either. I discovered this a few months later when I went back to New York for a visit. It was late 2007, I’d noticed that people were starting to get more detailed tattoos, and I thought my problems were solved. I could definitely find someone to draw my Star of Bethlehem now! I spent an afternoon hanging out with one of my BFF’s, Lourdes, and decided to share my design. Her first question was: “So, what are you Catholic now?” Her second question was: “And where exactly are you getting this tattoo on your body? That’s a lot of detail to fit into a single drawing!”

In New York, I like to say that everyone is Catholic and no one is Catholic. There are rosary beads, statues of Mary, and ‘Bless This House’ stickers as far as the eye can see, but very few people are the truly in-your-face Catholics depicted on T.V. So, it really hadn’t occurred to me that my design would come across as deeply “religious.” I was not Catholic. And my intent with the rosary beads and references to God had simply been to create a general hint at the concept of two distinct choices in life. The Good, Right, “Expected” choice versus the Bad, Wrong, “Self-Satisfying” choice. A struggle that seemed to be at the root of all my commitment issues.

As for her question about where I would put the tattoo, that did give me pause. But only for a moment. I quickly decided it would look best on the inside of my left wrist. Still somewhat discreet, but perfect to add the illusion of rosary beads wrapped – not just around My Angel – but also around my wrist. I brushed off my friends’ concerns and continued with my plan. I would find a tattoo artist, tell him my idea, and have my permanent testament to this growing-up experience.

A little over a year later, I was back in the Tri-State area to visit my other bestie, Reisa. She was looking for her first apartment and we decided to commemorate the weekend by getting tattoos together. She got a scorpion on her shoulder and I thought I would finally get My Angel. But, once again, I was deemed ahead of my time. Drawing a heavily stylized star was no problem these days, but no way could my artist get so much detail on the tiny space that was my inner wrist. Especially without so much as a sketch to guide him. I still thought I could just walk in, tell him what I wanted, and receive an immediate spark of recognition in his eyes as my reward.

I settled on an equally meaningful script phrase tattooed on my front right hip bone. Inspired by the Ziggy Marley album of the same name, I still love my ‘Love Is My Religion’ tattoo to this day. But I hadn’t given up on My Angel just yet. I went back to Atlanta and recruited the help of one of my girlfriends with a background in Graphic Design. I thought she would be just the right person to sketch my idea. Within a few days, this too had flopped.

Her sketches were beautiful, but she had drawn an angel with faerie wings when I’d imagined a more gothic style. Her angel was in profile, while I had envisioned My Angel either facing forward or away from the viewer all together. Her angel was flat-footed where My Angel was supposed to be en pointe. And all this, before we’d even begun to discuss the more intricate details like references to The Birth of Adam or the winged-heart love-birds that did/didn’t look like rosary beads. I thought maybe I could save the endeavor if I drew a small rough draft of what I had in mind and then let her take over from there.

What I discovered was something that’s probably been screaming at all of you throughout this entire post. I discovered that my “rough draft” sketch was good. Really good, in fact. But, of course, it would be. I spent all my time in college drawing sketches and wishing I’d followed my dream to pursue a career in the Arts. I didn’t have a degree in Graphic Design, but I had the same natural talent and an advantage in that the Angel was my personal vision. How did I expect anyone to draw something that only I could truly see?

I spent the next six months perfecting My Angel with revision after revision. Once again, I was Jason on his noble quest. When I finally had something I felt was worthy of turning over to a tattoo artist, it had been over two years since the idea first came to me. It was late 2009 – early 2010, the economy was sinking lower with each day, I was out of a job, and sadly I didn’t have a spare three hundred bucks lying around to pay for my finished concept. I thought I would just put it off until I could “catch my breath” financially. But catching my breath would take another few years. Somehow, more important responsibilities just kept popping up and I never found my way back to it.

Of course, my highly original concept became not-so-original with the passing of time; and suddenly several of the very same friends that I had approached for help with my drawing, were now getting self-designed tattoos on the inside of their own wrists. I had let the moment slip past me all over again and I didn’t know what I should have done differently, but clearly I was falling back into old habits. Worst of all, was the feeling that even if I got my tattoo at this point, I would just come off as a band-wagon follower of the trend now that everyone was doing it. I let some more time pass to decide if I even wanted Her anymore.

Flash forward to the present, and I’ve been in the midst of my own personal quarter-life-crisis part deux (I had the first melt down, right on schedule, as I approached my 25th birthday). Now, leading up to my 30th birthday, many of the same recriminations and self doubts have been resurfacing. But this time around I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things, albeit a slow learning. For one thing, there’s all that talk I did earlier about the possibilities waiting out there for committed artists. It would seem that I need to follow my own advice. Instead of worrying about what other people will think, or measuring my accomplishments by some precise timeline, I just need to be committed to the process and open to the potential for what might be.

With that in mind, I’ve begun to re-imagine My Angel as more than just a tattoo. Maybe it’s not that I have commitment issues. Maybe I don’t need to be worried that I did something wrong or somehow let the moment pass me by. Maybe there was just more to the process and I couldn’t fully see Her true potential yet. She was never meant to be a tattoo for me alone. She needed to be more than just My Angel. She needed to be shared with the world.

So it is my honor to unveil the new and permanent CultSTATUS logo: The cS Angel. The thought has occurred to me to turn Her into a full “Welcome to Your World” mural with even more layers and dimensions (I could really have some fun toying with all the possibilities for a mural!) So yes, I may engage in some artistic “tweaking” down the road, but for the most part this is it. And is it just me, or is she not that far off in her looks from our first logo, The Dancer? Maybe that Heroine didn’t have to die after all. Maybe she’s just been reborn in a better, fuller form! ~ cScS Angel With Signature


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