Author: Adam Schrader

Andy Wegner and Kyle Feeney

Andy Wegner has lived in Denton for six years, and attended Denton High School where he met Kyle. They sit on a bench facing the courthouse as Kyle scoots his longboard back and the square is a second home for them.

Andy is in the process of becoming a hip-hop artist and under the name Square Rat.

“All we did was party and hang out with each other,” Andy says, “Square Rat is going to bring it back.”

Skating, Arts and Jazz, Denton

“I skateboarded and I hurt it,” Andy says, “My doctor told me I could take of my splint. Then, I went to Arts and Jazz and got drunk and punched some kid in the ribs and fractured it even more.

Andy says he doesn’t have a lot of money but is saving up for a computer to record his music. Now, he has two  songs almost completed and another he would like to add another verse to he says as he begins to rap:

“Say no to dope or hang by the rope of addiction / and lose all ambition trying to handle your condition / But, you’re in the position pick your family and next ___ / And you’re skin like tick, so you don’t feel sick / when you’re gonna kick the bucket, when you’re gonna say fuck it / Bounce back, no shit, sound of whack when your heart’s starting to turn black. / Glass. Chrystal. Crank. / You might think it makes bank / Watch you don’t get shanked. / It ruins people’s lives, / I’ve seen it in my own eyes. / Don’t believe the lies. / Put it down and lets rise / and start realize these guys really aren’t your real friends. / They won’t be there in the end. /  It’s time to comprehend you’re nothing to them. / They’ll use you and abuse you.”

He finishes to a fist bump from Kyle.

“Denton’s beautiful. It’s filled with music,” Kyle says.

“We have the most interesting people in the world outside of Austin,” Andy adds.

“And it’s a smaller Austin. But, we’re raising out,” Kyle says as he looks around the square.

“We’re going to be awesome one day. We’re cooler,” Andy says.

“Appreciate,” Kyle finishes.

“Denton’s beautiful. It’s filled with music,” Kyle says.

“Denton’s beautiful. It’s filled with music,” Kyle says.

Andy says the Denton is the easiest place he can be himself. It’s his home and where he’ll stay until the day he dies.

Kyle is not an aspiring hip-hop artist but he loves the music of Denton and that’s why he sticks around. He says he will probably leave, go to college and come back since he has lived here his entire life.

“It’s one of those towns that draws you back,” he says.

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Toney Butler

Toney Butler loiters outside the center for the visual arts in Denton waiting to go to St. Andrews for lunch where he goes every day. He’s a private person and keeps to himself

“No not really. I had a few friends here but not lately, you know?” Butler laughs, “Kind of burned those bridges.”

Butler, from Lewisville, is staying at the Denton homeless shelter right now and has for the past year and a half. He’s not sure what caused him to be homeless. He says he is looking for work but hasn’t thought about what he wants to do and will go to the Denton Public Library to “do different research and stuff on the library computers.”

Kelly Kitchens

An applicable post from my personal website.

Adam Schrader

November 17, 2013

“Worked with Kelly more than a few times. Sure, she is aces at PR, a fantastic REP, knows her way around SHOW BIZ and all sorts of MEDIA, an expert at PROMOTIONS… but I’d work with her again just to hear her laugh.” – Mark Fickert

There is nobody more accomplished and fun to talk to in the world of entertainment and film publicity in Dallas than the woman I had the pleasure of interviewing over lunch on a warm October day. Her clients lists of former and current clients includes popular Dallas names like the Alamo Drafthouse – DFW, Dallas International Film FestivalDallas VideoFestThe Historic Texas TheatreAngelika Film Centers, National Geographic Films and the Texas Woman’s University School of the Arts. Her website even states that she has “been honored as a ‘master publicist’ in the Fort Worth Business…

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Denton, Jupiter House, Denton Square, DISD

Shay and Rosie Hlavaty

Shay Hlavaty sits outside Jupiter House writing a birthday card for her friend Maddie who rescued her for the second time after Shay’s car broke down last night at 10. Her car also broke down a few weeks ago because of a bad alternator. It’s taking a while to finish the card, but Shay says Maddie deserves a lengthy note and the extra time.

“I’m supposed to be subbing but I can’t so I’m just hanging out,” Shay says.

Shay is unsure if she’ll have to pay for the repairs but hopes it will be covered for faulty parts. If there is more damage than another faulty alternator, she’s worried she can’t afford the costs between her paychecks from regular substitute teaching for Denton ISD and working at the Abby Inn.

However, Shay was just hired to teach English and Language Arts to Gainesville sixth graders this fall and will commute from Denton. She now has an alternative teaching certificate.

Shay, a Lubbock native, likes her hometown and the country life as the daughter of a cotton farmer.

“The positive thing about living in Lubbock is that when you go and visit anywhere else it’s beautiful,” Shay laughs, “The tress and rivers and wildflowers here are amazing to me every day.”

Shay’s love of nature continues with her love of hiking and biking on local trails.

Shay graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in environmental conservation before she moved to Arkansas for environmental education camp. From there, she went to Kansas for graduate school with her boyfriend “for like two months and realized it was not what [she] wanted to do with [her] life.”

She and moved to Denton with her “old lady” Blue Heeler/Catahoula mix, Rosie. When they’re home, Shay likes to craft, “making pillows and whatnot” with supplies from Scrap as Rosie lounges around; but the two love to the attention they get doing their favorite things- hanging on the courthouse lawn and going to Oak Street Drafthouse. They’re working on making friends here, and Shay thinks working at the Abby has helped them make new pals.

“I’ve met random people along the way because I’m pretty outgoing and having nothing to lose,” Shay says, “So not a lot but I’m working on it.”

Shay will stay on the square today, finishing the first Game of Thrones novels before she is supposed to have dinner with a friend, and grab a beer Maddie before giving her the card she just finished.

DCTA, Denton, Train Station

Lisa McCall

Lisa McCall, 47, steps off a bus at the DCTA train station in Downtown Denton and walks to the iron fence that runs behind the station. She lights a cigarette while she waits for her connecting bus from Big State Pawn to take her home so she can clean house. A nice man missing teeth and sporting a beard that would make ZZ Top jealous stands with her but declined to be interviewed.

She’s lived in Denton for 40 years and has been using the buses for 13 of them. She says they’re okay but she would rather have a car. She says she hasn’t worked in seven years and can’t afford a car with her disability checks she’s lived on since ’07. However, a background check revealed she has been arrested for drunk driving several times which may be the real reason behind not having a car.

Lisa was in a roller skating accident and broke several vertebrae. “I can’t roller skate or ride horses or really walk very well anymore,” Lisa says as a freight train declares its presence. “It’s hard for me. They’re things I really enjoyed doing.”

Now, Lisa enjoys spending time with her 11-year-old daughter who says she’s going to be a Dentonite forever. The two will take the bus to the movies or stay home and play games or swim.

Lisa did not go to college but her oldest daughter, by another father, just graduated this year from UNT where she studied early childhood and special education.

She doesn’t use the trains, but the buses get her everywhere she needs to go. When she doesn’t know where she’s going, she plans routes and checks schedules ahead of time to make sure she knows what she’s doing.

She has perfect timing, finishing her cigarette as her next bus pulls in.

IMPORTANT UPDATE and CORRECTION

After a recent comment on a blog post stating that the interview subject had deceived me significantly, I ran background checks on every person I wrote an article on that gave me their last names. Terrill Maduka has felonies for aggravated assault and child neglect. Johnathan Clark is a high-risk sex offender with arrests in Dallas for failure to register as a sex offender for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl. Any person who refused to give their last names I have removed because a background check could not be conducted.

I will now require first and last name when I interview you. If you refuse to declare your last name upfront, the interview will not be conducted. Additionally, an article will not be written unless you have cleared a background check even if you do provide your last name.

Your last names will be published from now on.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Thanks,

Adam Schrader

Doug Land, Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Sculptor, Dallas Museum of Art

It’s all just Coffee, Cereal and Downstairs Drama

Photo Credits: Images were taken from his Facebook page

I started in January for a course in narrative writing and continued it through the spring semester with the intent of freelancing it. However, I was never able to find a publication interested in running the story. Since the article was written, Doug has left the Dallas Museum of Art for an exhibition presenter position at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. This article should be read imagining it is still March 2014. This is the article that I am the most proud of in my career so far so please enjoy. Words of criticism and encouragement are welcome. Thanks, Adam.

Doug draws a project board for circuitry, a needle, a wad of silver wire and a crystalline rock from the pockets of his black slacks. Using the needle, he threads the silver wire through holes in the project board precisely chosen to secure the rock, trying to complete the small abstract sculpture by the end of the day.

Art, Sculpture, Doug Land, DMA

“That which doesn’t break down” using a project board and crystalline rock [Photo Credit: His Facebook Page]

The tall, younger-looking 28-year-old with a degree from a prestigious art school pays his bills with a long career in eclectic jobs. Although he couldn’t get his original pieces shown here, he took a job doing the next best thing. He is a gallery attendant, paid an hourly rate of nine dollars to watch guests at the Dallas Museum of Art appreciate the art of others.

Doug couldn’t show his original pieces here, though he says he never wants to. His projects whether pocket-sized wood cutouts or large potted plant sized grocery bag flowers, use odd materials that are cheap and easily accessible, like driftwood and his tortoises.

Doug Land, Tortoises, Frederick Church, Sculpture

“Remaking Frederick Church’s the Iceberg” the famous painting inside the Dallas Museum of Art

With his slacks, he uniforms with a black DMA athletic polo with a nametag on a lanyard around his neck akin to a Burger King employee. It’s a little warm for him in the gallery today, but sometimes he’ll include a branded DMA athletic jacket.

A few weeks ago, DMA guests wouldn’t have known he was an aspiring artist. He wasn’t pulling tools out of his pocket or the small sketchpad in which he does his illustrations. Doug recently tested his aspirations as an artist when he tried to submit his DMA-crafted sculptures to a local gallery. The disappointment got to him. Since January, at least four shows have already rejected him and his inquiry emails.

Now, guests delight in seeing the young man at work. A small boy, probably 5, eyeballs Doug with awe as he walks up the staircase to his first post. Doug puts the tools back in his pocket and waves to the boy who, realizing he was spotted, clings to his dad shying his face from Doug. Doug giggled and kept walking. Sometimes he likes to freak the kids out.

At the top of the stairs, Doug detours right into a gallery of art available for purchase from the museum catalog. A modern chandelier beckons Doug like a bug lamp on a hot summer night. Jealousy briefly creeps across his face.

Doug finds ideas but not the best ways to get them out and share them. While some of his art is practical, like lamps and coffee tables, it’s hard to find places to display and a buyer. Even a successful Kickstarter campaign didn’t go his way. After he raised enough money, he realized the project was too immense to undertake on his own.

For 30 hours a week, he tries to create while trying to teach people to appreciate the creations of those who came before him – some men who didn’t make it until they were twice Doug’s age or dead. He stands at posts among the work of those who made it, while he tinkers with eclectic tools and materials. He is an unusual portrait of a not-quite-starving artist. But he still has time to make his break into the unusual and competitive world of fine art.

Each morning before the daily meeting where managers announce new pieces, potential group visits, and daily assignments, Doug gets hugged by several of his coworkers, some longer and stronger than others according to their likelihood of sneaking a conversation. Before the meeting starts, all attendants scan their fingerprint to clock in– perhaps more for time tracking than the security of the museum so they know that the person clocking in and out is not cheating on their time sheets.

In the meeting, Raymond, the supervisor, talks about the DMA friends program. Doug is tired of promoting it, they’ve been doing it for a year now. The luster of recruiting people is gone. After each milestone the DMA hit, they were given another.

Downstairs employees fondly refer to the Dallas Museum of Art as the ghetto museum. It may be due to the complete different socioeconomic classes that work in the different departments much like the upstairs and the downstairs in the hit show Downton Abby. Attendants are paid the lowest of any other museum they know of in Dallas, and to get hired you basically just have to pass a drug test. Many of the attendants have tattoo sleeves showing. The museum is now free for guests, it opens up different revenue streams so that the museum can keep their doors open and the staff paid. Joined with low pay, this allow people who have never walked a museum to enjoy that defining moment. Along with new guests, the DMA has employees who had never been to a museum before getting the gig, like Nicole who was recently let go, due to posting on her Facebook page some of her frustrations of working that was discovered and made its way to upper management.

Doug, sitting at a table in the brown-walled upper basement of the museum, looks at Nicole, a short, loudly-opinionated, sarcastic black woman who worked with her two daughters at the museum. She is interested in art for the first time with a sparkle in his eye. Last week, she bought a book of art from the museum and read it to her grandkids.

Doug’s dad, an accountant, wooed his mom, a nurse administrator, while in the military. They pushed Doug growing up to become something practical- a solid career that can keep a family afloat. His parents wanted him to be independent and self-sufficient. Creativity is not lost on the rest of his family. She quilts and he had aspirations of becoming a furniture maker.

Doug reaches his first post with a George Washington painting that overlooks fragile chairs framing an elaborate dresser.

“He used to build dressers like this big fancy one and I think he just quit at it,” Doug says. “I say that as kind of a theme for what artists at work is like they work, work hard when they’re young and at some point something just says ‘no, you’re not going anywhere, don’t make art anywhere, just give up’.”

The museum has an Edward Hopper exhibit Doug walked past when to post. In Hopper’s case, Hopper was an artist, his wife was an artist and they were broke for a while. She was supporting them and he wasn’t considered a great illustrator. Nobody liked his paintings for the most part and it was not until his late 40s and early 50s that he really had a surge of popularity.

Doug’s realizing that he may go his whole life waiting until when most have midlife crises to make something successful. The motivation to become successful drives the creativity in his art.

“For me, it’s just a part of my character that’s like even when I want to give up, I want to give up, some part of me still keeps going. It’s like I’ve been born to make,” Doug says.

Doug’s degree was in illustration but he had trouble communicating ideas clearly to the general market, an issue he still struggles with. But he won’t change his style to fill some current market trend he does the art that he wants to do, the art he has fun with. There’s always a market for weird art and he’s on a mission to find it.

“I then tried slipping into graphic design and I did that for a while but it was just kind of like, you become kind of a computer interface. People have these ‘great’ ideas of what they want to see and you get paid to not think and just make it happen,” Doug says.

After getting fired from another graphic design job, Doug ended up here for the Christmas season to get some money until something better came along. A year and a half later, he’s still here. It’s not for a lack of trying. Doug has been on countless interviews, filled out billions of applications and sent numerous resumes. His resume is the paper version of all the mistakes and choices he’s made.

“Something they don’t tell you school,” Doug says.

Doug rotates to his second post next to the infamous Iceberg. He plants himself across from the painting and braces himself for his inevitable death. Daunted by the mountain of ice, he dreams to be the last human fighting the last polar bear- a sad, battle torn polar bear. A guest gets a little too close to the masterpiece and snaps him back to reality…. almost. Maybe he’ll work with the polar bears at the zoo. He has been looking at going back to school and joining the American Zoo Association after all.

“Amazingly, for college students, we’ll play fill-in professor for them and sometimes give them tours,” Doug says. “I love how college students are stressed out when they show up on a Sunday for an assignment that’s due on Tuesday.”

Doug hopes they don’t see art as some assignment to be digested, that an appreciation for art becomes a defining moment for them. For Doug, college was not a defining moment. Everyone in his family attended college but his sister. The family now admits that college isn’t for everyone.

Doug drifted through school so fast that he did not network, which is crucial in the art world. He received a full-ride scholarship at Savannah College of Art and Design, but he would have to keep his grades up. Doug says his friend Tran N., his playfully competitive rival throughout college, also got a full ride, but because she qualified for a small Asian decent scholarship the two would often tease about the unimportant amount. There is no hope for a starving artist. At one point, the two scheduled a study abroad in a famous trip to Japan. He had been planning on going but the additional funding fell through, and he missed his chance. Doug cited the trip as a huge turning point in Tran’s art. Though Tran is artistically succeeding after college, she still had to get a temporary job in between shows.

In college, Doug found second wind when he loopholed his way out of a course by convincing the dean to replace the mandatory portfolio class with a more liberal independent study class, called Drawing on a Theme which trained students better for the world of a competitive artist. Instead of a completed portfolio, at the end of the year he had to put on a gallery show with his other classmates including Tran.

“I don’t know if it was the space or the crowd, but my cannon of artistic achievement, Tran did not nail the show.” But he did great. The one piece he did not sell he had people gladly take off his hands. Doug gave the last piece away because they were so large and ridged that he couldn’t fit them in his car to take them home from Georgia to Texas.

“That put the bug in my ear for gallery art,” Doug says as he looks at a collection of sculptures after a rotation to a new post.

After he graduated college in March 2009, he moved back to Texas to live with his parents. He veiled his sexuality at home because he feared that his Evangelical, pro-Republican, gun-loving father couldn’t accept he was gay. When his mom found out, she worried for him. They all stopped talking to each other.

A month after returning home, Doug found refuge in Karlynn, another animation major at SCAD who he had remained close friends with for his four years there.

When her parents died, Karlynn’s sister Kiersten became head of estate, but the dead parents overwhelmed her. Bills piled and Kiersten hated their cape house. When the internal sister friction became heated, Karlynn and Doug split to the cape.

Doug tossed, sold or gifted most of his possessions including his artwork to move to Mulberry, Massachusetts with his “fag hag” girlfriend for a month before moving to Cape Cod.

Though they are not on speaking terms now, she was a good friend. Both of her parents died before the move. His Massachusetts friend’s parents were hoarders before they died. Doug had the skills to move in with her and fix her house so he had free rent.

“She had inheritance and I used to be really great at saving,” Doug says with a nervous laugh. “After her parents died, we had to spend a bunch of money because they did not take care of the house or pay their bills. They had to pay the city and the utility companies. It took a lot of money to take it from the jaws of death.”

They held no jobs until November when they backpacked Europe for months before returning to their resurrection project. It was a time of self-discovery and relationship destroying. The dead father originally paid for the trip and was supposed to take his girls to the motherland in Sweden. Since the sisters weren’t getting along, Doug and Karlynn worked with the travel agency who weren’t refunding the money. Their only costs were meals and hostels- a rather inexpensive alternative to a snow covered beach house with no heat.

“I wasn’t talking to my parents at the time in a town where I couldn’t get any work,” Doug says. It was his biggest grow up time where he learned things like eviction and shut off notices.

Meeting Josh, now Doug’s husband, online after an unsympathetically cold winter incinerated Doug’s friendship with Karlynn. Six months later, the new couple moved in together.

“That winter my roommate and I saw only the mailman, the ‘packy store’ cashier and the people at the grocery store,” Doug says. Cape Cod population deflates to 15 percent from summer highs.

“You try getting a date in that kind of a swimming pool,” Doug says with a laugh. “After a long “You Got Mail” relationship with Josh online, I finally went to Boston to meet him in person.”

Doug didn’t expect to dwarf Josh in stature and still teases him about it. That summer Josh and Doug still talked online like a teen romance but took trips to see each other. The following October they married on a pier on a pond in P-Town. It was sunset and the fireflies had just come out. In the happiest, most hopeful times of their lives, Doug and Josh danced to BB King, “If I love you.”

Renting in Cape Cod is expensive and the newlyweds found shelter in a local housing assistance program. When the rich aren’t in town for summers, the realities of Cape Cod towns challenge the stereotype of rich bankers on yachts in pleated pants.

It was an adjustment as Doug and his soon-to-be-husband watched people do methadone while on heroin and parents with kids tried getting them out of the island. The winters held no jobs and the island fed the homeless to the sharks.

Doug and Josh found an apartment of their own that burned shortly after moving in and getting married. The fire through a massive kink in the works, destroying any art and supplies Doug had managed to accumulate since his move to the north. Smoke damage destroyed whatever else they had in the apartment that escaped the furnace. They had no books, no clothes, no art, no renter’s insurance and no hope. They had their tortoises, their children who somehow survived the fire.

The housing authority fumbled four months to fix the apartment to working condition while Doug had to pay utility bills. Josh asked if they could move in with Doug’s parents in Texas because Josh’s mom is an influx of substance recovery with a load of financial issues.

“You finally get independent enough then the game of life kicks in and you have to move back in with your parents,” Doug says as he looks at a portrait of a young woman with sad eyes in the gallery.

Josh had no paycheck or bank account was in rough shape when they started dating. He had to go to counseling because his mother had him arrested. By the time they fled to Texas, they were working on his credit. They needed to get out of the Cape and started to rebuild their lives with Doug’s parents in Cedar Hill who have now accepted his husband – giving him hope for a better future.

Doug continues his sculpture as he shifts around the gallery. His projects are more like trinkets or traditional sculptures, since he had to quit painting and drawing. His family has bad hands.

“I’m 28 and some days I can’t use my damn hand. But, I hated painting anyway,” Doug says with a laugh, lifting him from the heavy thoughts.

“Because it is a museum, a lot of other artists use to work here and so that whole not talking about artwork was killer for them so after a while they would leave really quick,” Doug says though he was hired just as that era ended.

Saturdays are typically low key. Many visit the museum but are well behaved. Sundays you have people coming in from church that want to bless all the paintings, hug the art or think they’ll be forgiven by god for touching a priceless statue with the Virgin Mary on it.

The museum tricks guests from touching paintings with raised platforms to set the art on or different tiling near the walls to help the attendants. However, not all the walls are real or permanent walls. The DMA staffs carpenters that can transform the museum floor in three weeks if needed. It can look like a warehouse with how much floor space can open up.

Frustrated, Doug struts to a woman drinking a cup of coffee and escorts her near the bathroom to throw it out. He’s been enjoying a realistic depiction of the revolutionary war and it’s a pain to send them all the way downstairs.

Upon his return, Ray breaks Doug for lunch. Doug descends to the cafeteria and spots several attendants. He packed his lunch today but he’ll eat it later. He has a DMA discount and his favorite chef is cooking. He gulps the aroma of eggs benedict as Bach plays his “Prelude from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major” in the background.

After wolfing down his small and costly meal, Doug works his way back to post and wrenches the tools back out of his pocket, keeping his hands busy. He’s efficient, creating more by feel than sight, as he uses his eyes to scan Modern America for potential threats to the art and abnormalities.

Since Doug didn’t have student debt or any major loans and lives with his parents, with creative use of supplies he can afford to continue art projects. As his hope grows and with the help of his husband, Doug revived his days of wise saving. Doug puts bill money in one pot and savings in one pot and the rest goes to art, “who needs three pairs of jeans anyways?”

Doug and the other attendants are trained in traditional customer service, most having worked in retail or hospitality. Words like, “Is there anything I can help you with?” are heard in each gallery entered.

Doug comes in on time and works hard entertaining and informing guests while protecting art. And, occasionally laughing at the women who come in high heels knowing how bad their feet must hurt and hoping he can leave the insufferable boredom, hard floors and ever-changing gallery temperatures.

“Maybe one day I’ll appreciate it but this is day to day life for me, like coffee and cereal in the morning,” Doug says.

"Working" [Photo Credit: His Facebook Page]

“Working” [Photo Credit: His Facebook Page]

With only an hour left in the day, he pulls the tools back out of his pocket and ignores the world around him. His large hands shake violently as he delicately holds the small project he’s release the lion into the world of professional artists. He furrows his brow, trying to ignore the loud outdated radio on his hip and his family’s bad hands. The project is almost done and he has work to do.

immigrants, UNT, graduation, students, Spanish

Barbara and Ana

Barbara and Ana: Sisters

The two sat on a bench facing Denton City Hall. After interviewing Megan, I walk around the building and spot Gloria and Gladys but decide to interview them afterward.

Barbara is social, but only if she likes you so make a good impression. Ana says Barbara won’t talk to people she doesn’t like them, preferring to avoid them. Ana seemed shy throughout the interview and let Barbara do most of the talking. I figured I’d let the two (mostly) speak for themselves.

Barbara and Ana: Dialogue

Barbara and Ana became best friends two years ago while students at the University of North Texas. Below is the transcription of how the two met to introduce them and so you can read how the interview went.

“We got some baked goods and decided it was nice and then the wind started,” Barbara says.

“[We are] just friends,” Ana says. “Really good friends.”

“JUST friends, I’d say that we’re sisters. Chosen sisters.”

“We met through a mutual friend who we don’t hang out with in our apartment because we lived together.”

“She didn’t talk to me the first time and…”

“You were really awkward!”

“Apparently I was really awkward.”

“She was really awkward. Really awkward.”

“As opposed to now…”

“Anyway.”

“After that, I don’t know where I saw her.”

“Political science.”

“One of those really awful intro political science class at UNT full of freshman.”

“When you’re not a freshman.”

“Right, and then she was like, oh this person is not crazy…”

“Well because we no longer hung out with her.”

“It all worked out. She ignored us, in a good way.”

Barbara and Ana: Educated

Barbara will graduate in May designated Summa cum laude with a major in international security and diplomacy and a minor in Mandarin Chinese. Ana, studying business, has a year left.

“Whenever people ask me [what do you want to do after you graduate], I just want to pour out this long, complicated existential answer for them. They’ll be like ‘alright dude, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ No, I’m applying for law school. I don’t think that’s going to work out so I might just …see what happens. I’m not sure…” Barbara says, nervously snickering. “She has more of a plan than I do,” Barbara adds quickly to change the focus.

“What! I have no plan. I’m going to graduate and work in the business world. That’s not a plan. Well, my dad works in the business world so I have connections I guess. We’ll see where that goes. Someday I want to own a bakery so anything in between is just getting me there,” Ana says.

“We were staking out the competition. That’s really what it was. They thought we were going there just for muffins.”

“We should do some chemical analysis and see what they put in there.”

For now, Ana is a nanny and Barbara is unemployed, having just finished an internship at the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations.

“Have you ever seen the Devil Wears Prada? That minus the Prada,” Barbara says. “So I’m glad that that was over. It taught me that even though people have these titles Former Ambassador of Whatever doesn’t mean they’re good people or educated for that matter. Some didn’t know where Ukraine was.  But as far as a job goes, I’m looking at the bakery right now. It’s another way of infiltrating and getting their secrets.”

Ana: Origins

Ana, from Grapevine, is originally from Puerto Rico and mostly grew up there. Her father, who worked at a Spanish bank in Puerto Rico, was transferred to Chile where she lived through the ages of 7 to 10 and “it was beautiful, but the people are really cold and very superficial so it’s kind of hard to fit in right away.”

She has lived in the “Fifty States” for nine years now. The native Spanish-speaker learned English in Kindergarten and by living here, her accent disappeared.

“Finding out my grandfather has Alzheimer’s was my worst moment. I’m close with him. I don’t really talk to my dad’s side of the family so my mom’s parents have been the only grandparents I’ve really had and have become more like second parents for us. Being the youngest makes it harder because he’ll forget me before everyone else. He lives in Puerto Rico.”

She doesn’t like her father’s side of the family because they are “very rude and not very nice to me”

Barbara: Istanbul

I was in Istanbul for a wedding for my friend Mehmet Kalyoncu. He is from Istanbul. We met four years ago when we were at St Hugh’s summer school at Oxford University and became Pen Pals and talked about life and had a lot in common. I hadn’t seen him in three years. We had just been Skyping and he was like, hey, are you coming to my wedding? Which is a really big honor and I don’t take that lightly.

So I headed on over there for five days. Saw the city by myself for the most part and with his sister. We’ve actually become better friends than he and I were so it’s opened up a plethora of other people I could meet.

It was the last day and we went for a night on the town. My flight was at 6 a.m. and I was like, why am I going to go to bed. I can do that on the plane. I ended up spending a lot of time with his sister, Sena and her husband Selim while I was there. We went to a hookah cafe, takism square, and then a little food cart to try this delectable burger featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. It was awesomely delicious!

And we were all just hanging out together and it was that moment where you’re lost. You’re just nowhere in particular and everywhere at the same time. The brevity of life at that moment of the fact that I had met people I really connected with on a soulful level but wasn’t going to see again was something that should have been sad. Instead, I was okay with the indifference of the universe like it’s going to be okay.

But I have that moment here. Have you been to the square at 3 a.m.? It’s the best time because everything is quiet since they drunk people aren’t out. I think these moments are the best, when you’re among friends, loving life, talking about food and music and there’s something magical about that.

Back: Barbara, Sena, Selim; Front: Mehmet and his wife, (Photo Courtesy of Barbara)

Barbara and Ana: Immigrants

Both are first generation Americans and feel that part of their bond comes from shared experiences. Barbara is also fluent in Spanish, her parents Maria and Manuel Castro emigrated from Mexico.

“I study business and I always knew I would study business. Everyone in my family started college studying business and I’m the only one who stuck through with it, but I made it logical to where like, I eventually want to own a bakery,” Ana says.

“My dad always said he came over here with five dollars. He worked at Braum’s, as a carpenter, picked corn, everything. For him it’s all a reflection. The immigrant’s daughter always has such a hard thing that they have to do. If I’m like, I’m going to go to Europe then my parents think I’m going against the plan. He’ll be like, I came over here to give you this great thing and you don’t even want to live here or be lawyer?” Barbara says.

“I just realized why I get along with you so well. They think it’s easier for us when no, it’s just as hard.”

“They buy the American dream more than anyone. My parents are more patriotic than I am. But if they say something and I try to explain that it’s not actually like that get really…” Barbara shakes her head and both hands to finish the thought.

“You can’t explain it to them. They’ll go against you,” Ana says.

I spot Gloria and Gladys and make my way to them.

Student, Chipotle, Denton, Denton Square, Medical School

Gloria and Gladys

After interviewing Megan, the wind that pushed the clouds out of the sun’s way continues to keep the air cool. I walk around City Hall and spot the source of the cold.  Gloria sits next to her cousin Gladys on a bench on the square. Gloria pulls a burrito and Gladys a bowl from the brown Chipotle take-out bag that separates them. The older of the two firmly plants her back against the wood with confidence as Gladys strains to avoid it.

The wind picks up and Gloria rotates her shoulders to talk to Gladys better as the latter starts on her bowl. Despite living less than 30 miles down 35, Gloria hasn’t seen her “in a while” and decided it was time to visit her apartment, hang out and talk. I walk around and interview two other women as I keep them in the corner of my eye.

After graduating from Lewisville High School, Gloria went to UT Dallas and studied neuroscience. Now she’s completing a master’s in public health and is planning on medical school. Gladys, from Garland, lives in an apartment in Denton while she studies biology in a Bachelor of Science program at TWU. Gladys hopes to join Gloria and two of their cousins in medicine.

I finish interviewing Ana and Barbara, look back over at Gloria and Gladys. Gloria whispering to Gladys who smiles as she takes another small bite from her food. It looks like they’re almost done. I better go grab then now before they walk away. I explain myself and extend the invitation for an interview, which Gloria accepts for the two with skepticism. I start the recorder. Gladys continues to eat but I notice Gloria hasn’t  started on her burrito.

“What makes you the most happy in life?” I ask after some introductory questions Gloria answered.

“God,” Gloria says. She’s firm- it’s the only logical answer.

“And family,” Gladys adds for her cousin, her back still arced over the Chipotle bowl in her lap.

An awkward pause.

“What’s the worst thing in life?” I direct toward Gladys.

“Hate. Suffering,” Gladys responds.

“To me it’s not fulfilling your purpose…”Gloria tries to add.

“Failure,” Gladys responds again.

“Yeah, I mean you’re talking short term versus long term. If you’re looking at the long term, the general purpose of life, I think that the worst thing could be to live indifferent and sort of jaded- a mediocre existence. Being mediocre would be the worst thing that could happen in your life. Not fulfilling the purpose…”

Gladys plants her palms down and picks up her chin to cut her off, “Of what you’re supposed to do. What you’re called to do.”

“[I never feel like I’m not fulfilling that] because even being pre-med and all that, and I know a lot of people say it, I know the stuff that I’ve gone through and am going through now is moving me toward that goal of caring for people. Obviously you don’t have to be a doctor to help people and care for people. There are so many ways I could reach out to others. But this is the particular way I am supposed to be walking… as a doctor. No, not only as a doctor. I plan to be a counselor also.”

“I’d agree with that too and also failure maybe. Like not living up to your full potential. I feel like everyone has that thing they’re supposed to do and a lot of people don’t live up to it and spend the rest of their lives regretting. So I guess regret would be another one of the worst things that could happen.”

“Have you ever experienced regret?”

“I’m really young, so I guess not really, not yet. I mean hopefully I never have to experience it. Every day is a new experience and that’s how I’m trying to take it and not regret anything because, in all the experiences I had, I had a choice. I don’t regret anything yet, that I’ve done.”

“Obviously, there are things that you look back and go realize it would have been wise if you had done such and such. But in the end, I know that the things that you did wrong you can look back and realize you learned something from it.”

“And you can laugh about it too.”

“And not only that but, I’m not trying to get religious on anyone but when you walk with God, all your regrets and those things in life will be sure to work out in the end. That’s my philosophy,” Gloria says as she finally savors the first bite of her burrito.

lesbian, denton, denton square, LGBT

Megan

Megan lounges under a tree at Denton Square. Her feet are flat on the ground and both hands dig into the grass behind her as she watches a squirrel dance to an acorn ten feet away. She tilts her head, raises her chin and watches the sun warm the damp earth through the leaves blowing in the cool breeze.

Her mouth cracks open and sun reflects off the rainbow tongue ring trying to escape like its owner. Megan escaped to the square to calm herself after an awful morning that followed a panic attack.

The 18-year-old, skipping school, struggles to deal with the stress of being in a school where she feels like she doesn’t belong, surrounded by nobody that cares about her.

“I don’t really have any friends, just two or three good friends at school,” she says as she lets her legs lie flat on the ground and hugs the library book now lying in her lap. She just finished reading “Hear Me Out”, about teens confronting homophobia. “I had a really bad anxiety attack this morning.  I was in a room full of people that I had nothing wrong with. I just couldn’t deal with it.”

The attack sent her to the school nurse where she called her dad to let her go home to take her anxiety medicine. On the way home she was pulled over for her very first speeding ticket.

“It was just a really crappy morning and when I got home, I was like ‘Daddy, I can’t go back to school. I just a horrible day and this week hasn’t even been great so can I just go home.’ He was like ‘No, Megan. You need to go to school’.’ I was just like no; fuck this. I can’t deal with it. I know my body is trying to tell me that I need to take a day off for myself and just be able to enjoy living for just one measly day,” Megan says.

Birds shout obscenities to a couple French Bulldogs walking past and Megan reflects on the happiest day over her life. The day her first girlfriend asked her out.

She brought Megan her lunch at school and was texting her “all these cute things,” before texting her that she’d pick her up after school to drive her to her car. When Megan walked out, her ex-girlfriend was waiting, told her to get in, and drove her to her car.

“She wrote on [my car] ‘I think you need a girlfriend and I want you.’ It was the sweetest thing anyone had done or said to me ever,” Megan says.

Megan says the two broke up because the ex-girlfriend was secretly talking to her ex-girlfriend and that she didn’t want to hurt Megan.

“But she did and the way she broke up with me was just really crappy,” Megan says. “I was just blind by having my first girlfriend and being so in love and I was just really blind. And now when I look at it, I was really happy in the relationship but it wasn’t a healthy relationship at all.”

Megan came out to her sister last summer. Two weeks later, she was taking her ex-girlfriend on a date. Struggling to come up with ideas, she texted her sister for advice on the perfect date destination just as her parents picked up her sister’s phone.

“They came in my room and were like, ‘Megan are you dating a girl?’ I’m like, ‘What? No … no I’m not! No.’ I was really scared,” Megan said.

Growing up, her parents taught that homosexuality is sinful. After coming out, her house filled with tears and deafening screams until she ran away. Eventually, her parents accepted her.

“I think seeing me being really happy made them finally accept that I was, well, gay,” Megan almost whispers as the ground darkens from a passing cloud. Though they broke up, it was the happiest seven months of her life “and I’m definitely gay.”

Megan still fights to understand why her mother and father struggled to accept her sexuality.

“Her mom is a lesbian. My aunt is a lesbian. My cousin is a lesbian and my other cousin is gay.  I don’t know why they are so mad about me being gay,” she says.

Megan is the second oldest child and has “some suspicions [one] might be gay.” But they’re just suspicions. She’ll be leaving for college next year, but doesn’t want to leave Texas unless it’s to go to a forensic science program in Missouri.

“I’m actually kind of in a long distance relationship right now,” Megan says. “She lives in Missouri.”

“I was just joking around one day and was like, hmmm, I think I’ll join a lesbian dating website,” Megan says, flushing her pale, makeup-less cheeks.

“What do you know? It worked out. Honestly, the way we describe our relationship is we’re literally each other’s soul mates and she’s literally my other half. I know you’re like, she might be catfishing me right now, but I know she is not. We Facetime all the time, literally. I hope I get to actually be with her in close proximity.”