Episode 69: Aiden Gamez and Kat Day

Aiden Gamez and Kat Day, a mom and son, an artist duo, two individuals living with autism spent time with us nearly one year ago. The messages that they share are not bound by time. Kat describes their process of making art together, "we go into it accepting already that whatever comes out of it will be enough. We accept that I am enough and the Aiden is enough and that what we make together will be enough."

Sketch of Aiden Gamez and Kat Day

JILL: Welcome to the DisTopia podcast, where we look at disability from the inside out. [peaceful music fades in] My name is Jill Vyn, and I’m the cohost of this podcast with my friend and colleague, Chris Smit. 

What you are listening to now is the first of two interrelated components of our My Dearest Friends project, both of which have been generously underwritten by the Ford Foundation. The My Dearest Friends podcast, which is produced by DisTopia, is a series of recorded conversations with disabled people about their individual experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the personal, cultural, and political alterations it has triggered. These informal conversations give our guests the opportunity to share personal experiences of sheltering in place and to engage in conversations around deeper questions raised about the value of disabled people, the core values of the Disability culture, as well as our hopes, fears, and strategies for living an authentic and pride-filled disabled life.

The second component of the My Dearest Friends project is created in partnership with disabled artist Oaklee Thiele, who is creating black and white illustrations that represent our collective response to our new and uncertain realities as a disabled community. Designed as an open invitation to the disabled community around the world, we invite all of you to participate. More information can be found on Instagram @MyDearestFriendsProject, Facebook, and on our website, DisArtNow.org.

As is true for many of you, our desire for this project is to share our experiences as a disabled community, to disrupt ableist beliefs, to celebrate a culture whose lived experience of disability necessitates flexibility and creativity, and to validate disabled voices and perspectives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[peaceful music slowly fades into plucky, upbeat music break]

CHRIS: So, how’s it going, you guys?! How’s today going?

KAT: Ah! It’s been really, really busy, but good. Just trucking along and also kind of dealing with some nervousness getting ready for this whole new school paradigm. So, kind of partially looking forward to it, partially not that excited about it at the same time.

CHRIS: Sure, sure.

JILL: Yeah. What is school gonna look like?

KAT: For Aiden, because he is autistic and in what is called here, in Texas, the APPLE program, it is for autistic children only. And they do an inclusion where part of the time, Aiden will be attending neurotypical classes in three of his subjects for part of the time, with an aide present via the Zoom and also myself on hand present via the Zoom. So, kind of having two helpers, but being part of the neurotypical class setting. And that’s the part that I’m not too thrilled about somewhat, because I know that for Aiden, it’s a little harder to pay attention sometimes. So, the other half of the time, he’ll be with his APPLE classroom.

JILL: And so, everything’s virtual.

KAT: Yes.

JILL: Everything. Was there a choice one way or the other?

KAT: What they’re doing here, they’re having to start the children remotely no matter what, all children. And then after, I think, the end of September is when they begin to slowly allow children to come to school if you choose that option. And we’re staying remote at the moment because with Aiden, he has a difficult time keeping his mask on with his sensory issues. We made it so that it’s a little easier for him to just do it remotely.

JILL: Well, and the environment, you can control it more, it sounds like, at least for people we know. I was just talking to a friend last night who has a son with autism. And just the inconsistencies or the changes that could happen within the classroom are maybe a bit too much for her son or probably be too much for her son. And plus, the realization that they would expect him to sit in one place.

KAT: Right!

JILL: [chuckles] For hours on end. So unrealistic for him, so.

KAT: Yeah. The world is in chaos right now, and I think the kiddos are feeling it on their own paradigm level, which is a completely different experience set and will be completely different memories of this whole thing for their generation versus for our generation. And that’s something, I think, on the ground level of those who deal with it immediately, be it parents or teachers, that we need to be very empathetic and sympathetic about and just kind of remember that they are experiencing it in a way different way than we are. And even things that may seem mundane or simple to us are going to be very earth-changing for them.

CHRIS: Totally. And I think that that paradigm shift is something that not enough of us are thinking about in terms of how, yeah, how it shifts expectations for education, too, right?

KAT: Absolutely.

CHRIS: That’s a big one. Yeah, for sure.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

KAT: So, Aiden feels, he’s a little shy. Sometimes he’ll wear a mask, and I don’t mean like a breathing face mask. But he has his little theatrical masks and things that he will wear sometimes. But right now he’s been gravitating to his Faust mask. And Faust is a real-life magician in Hollywood who we befriended years and years ago when Aiden was a tiny little boy. And Aiden has simply grown up with watching him perform. And he does the silent film-era mime magicianery. And this is a replica mask that was made by Faust himself and sent to Aiden as a gift. And so, he’s sort of been trying to wear this almost all the time for the past couple days since it’s been sent to him.

JILL: That’s fantastic. Could you describe it?

KAT: I don’t know if everyone is familiar with Edward Scissorhands, the Tim Burton film from, I suppose it was the ‘90s. But Johnny Depp was the lead role in that. And the makeup done on Johnny’s character as Edward Scissorhands visually inspired the general look of the mask itself. So, though it is Chris’s own—and Chris is the name of the performer himself. He is Chris Herren as Faust—so, Chris’s design was based off of Edward Scissorhands with a few differences to make it a little more theatrical, with very, very big eyes and a half-somber, half-almost smiling mouth, sort of the eyebrows that express concern. So, it’s a very soft, gentle face. It has a couple of little scars that are just line drawings that represent sort of the internal wounds that the artist himself has gone through in his life.

JILL: What a beautiful gift and connection with Chris, the artist. And Aiden, we have worked with other artists. Are you familiar with what a drag artist is, someone who does drag shows?

KAT: Aiden, you remember drag artists?

AIDEN: Mmhmm.

JILL: Yeah. So, we have this friend who was in a group talk on the stage with us, and he also has autism. And so, during that presentation, he wore a mask, a theatrical mask as well. It was just beautiful that he/then she, Siren, wore this mask. And you’re reminding me of our good friend right now by wearing your mask. So, thank you for wearing it. We appreciate it.

KAT: And did you want to say a couple of words about why you like to wear your new mask from Chris?

AIDEN: Nope.

KAT: Nope? You don’t have any special words you want to say?

AIDEN: Nope.

CHRIS: I think it’s super cool, too. I wish I had one.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

KAT: Aiden is 10 years old. He is low-verbal autistic with a cognitive disability, is how he’s medically labeled. For Aiden, what that generally means is that he kinda has a harder time communicating and dealing with social settings. But Aiden is also very, I mean, he’s genius in very many aspects. He’s self-taught in animation, which he has been learning since he was five years old. He continues to grow and to learn in that. Animation also pivoted to video game console design that he started into at age eight. He has been a tactile artist, so, with paint, sculpting, things like that since he was three. His first paintings that he sold, he was three years old, obviously, with my help, with mom’s help. But from that point forward, I just stayed focused with him on the things that he loved to do. And I took his strengths, and we just ran with them. And I just allow Aiden to kind of create the things that he loves and see what it is that he gravitates to. And then as an artist and a teacher myself, I’m able to sort of hone what he’s doing and show him the technical aspects of what he’s trying to do. And as he creates more and more pieces of that type, we submit them to publications. He has had gallery showings all around the world with a couple of solo exhibits already. And then he’s been published internationally as well and locally. It’s just it’s a way of life for him.

And I would also say that, in a way, Aiden has, in his own way, kind of shown to me that there’s sort of a split between the world of having to go and do and be part of the school paradigm and the world in which this is Aiden’s life, this is art, this is I can freeform create my thing; mom, dad let me learn and teach myself these just over-the-top design things and things that they don’t even understand. Like, neither of us are very great at computer-oriented things and technology and things like animation. Aiden actually taught me some basics, which I’m still learning and way behind him. So, I think that there is that world in which he’s a lot more empowered and himself and not restrained in any way or constrained. And then there is the more, I guess, just the more sociological world and reality paradigm of having to go to school and things, which a lot of his power is not his own. He sort of is confined and constrained and has to stick to certain schedules and things like that. And that’s sort of, I guess, an introduction to Aiden, the artist and Aiden the person.

JILL: The connection between you two, just, and as we see it now, physical, emotional through your art, I mean, it just it’s beautiful. And Kat, I would love for you to introduce yourself. You just make things happen, it seems like, and you make things happen in this community. It seems like there’s, like the Black Lives Matter work you’ve done and the other artwork you’ve done, and I don’t know, it’s just beautiful, this interconnection and interdependence between the two of you. And I would love for you to both introduce you, but then you in that relationship, if that makes sense.

KAT: My name is Kathleen Day or Kat Day, either way. I go by either in both my art and my acting, modeling, etc. [chuckling], etc., etc. I’m essentially a creative, though I am not on the same, I guess, I don’t know if I would say level. I don’t know if level is the right term or not. But though Aiden and I are obviously very different people and artists, I myself am on the spectrum as well. I will say that I was not diagnosed as a child or even as a young person, which really, I guess at the time, especially growing up in the ‘90s as a teenager, the world was a lot less welcoming for differences. For anyone who had lived through that, they would understand what I mean when I say this. And so, I dealt with a lot of adversity. I think that art, for me, since I was a little, little girl, same as with Aiden, I think I was about three when I started drawing and really showing above-average skills that my mother as an artist then supported and honed for me. As I would incur this sociological adversity at elementary school and then later on high school level, I would just sink into my art. Art was my saving grace. It was in many, many aspects, the thing that would save my life every time.

The same thing happened with writing for me. I was 10 when I started very seriously writing deep, emotional poetry. My teacher at the time ended up telling my mom that this kid, this is something that they’re going to, you’re gonna need to approach very seriously. It seems that they are naturally a writer. You need to go ahead and just nourish this, keep this going. Look into publications, things like that. So, I think I was 14 years old the first time I was published for any of my writing, 16 years old a second time, and so on and so forth, and just kept going and going from there. And as far as my art is concerned, I think I was 16 the first time that my art was published. So, my family was always very serious, especially my dad, very serious about not just, OK, great. You’re an artist. You’re creative. But let’s go ahead and let’s utilize this as something that you can later make a living off of, something that you can build a career from and not just a hobby.

So, though I had a lot of support in my art, I kind of—not kind of, but very—in a realistic way, had a lot of problems when it came to being understood on a psychological level and socially. I ran into a lot of issues with both my family and other children, teachers. That’s my background. That’s where I came up from. And later in life, this was actually when Aiden was diagnosed with autism, I learned that I was on the spectrum as well. And the neurologist suggested me being tested to see exactly where my placement was and everything. And I actually, at the time, I just decided against that because for me, finally, it was cathartic enough to just know and be aware that I am on the spectrum. It felt so natural. And so, finally, OK, now I know why I’m different. And I think at that time, I realized how much I had not accepted my own self. For all my hurt toward other people not accepting me, it was actually me not accepting my own differences that was hurting me the most. And I finally just ended up absolutely embracing that through embracing Aiden.

And as far as the art world and all of that is concerned, I immediately after high school, so in 2000, I went to work for myself as a photographer and as a freelance artist. On the side, I would do part-time jobs. But honestly, my heart, my mind, and my effort 24/7 was in my art and in my photography, and I just took it from there. My modeling career, I can’t remember exactly what year it was that started. I think it was 2004, so it’s been 15, 16 years that I’ve modeled. I started acting in 2018 for some small, short film stuff, and I found that to be cathartic in its own different way, just a new form of expression. I ran with that. I’m internationally published in all areas, be it writing, photography, modeling, and art. And that’s just something that, again, just through the years, different times, different things, it’s actually hard for me to keep up with by this point. Though I’m proud of myself, it’s not so much of in a gloating way. I’m proud of myself for the things that I piece by piece accomplish, because it actually surprises me that I’ve made it. It surprises me that, despite the difficulty I have interacting with others and the world around me sometimes, and especially understanding the way that the world works sometimes, despite all of that, I’ve been able to do all the things that I do because of my tenacity or my just joy of doing it.

And then in regard to Aiden, he just, he, on his own, the moments that he began to show me that he was interested in art as a toddler, I mean, obviously, just that was my connective point. That was my in. We’ve just been in our own little world since. There’s very much his own space and my own space, but there’s a place in which the two of us are able to come together. And we not only are supportive or enjoy each other’s work, but we also collaborate as well. And that sort of like in the way that you had mentioned the Black Lives Matter stuff is the most recent things that we had collaborated on. And a lotta times, Aiden will do the wild, colorful backgrounds, and I’ll go in later after everything is dried, and maybe I’ll paint on top of it or I’ll add collaging on top of his work or whatever. And sometimes we’re working side by side at the table, deciding what comes next.

And with projects like that, that are deeper in meaning and kind of hard issues to understand, especially for a young person—neurotypical or special needs—it’s just kind of a harder thing to understand, I make sure to explain it to him. Why are we doing this? Who is the person that got hurt? How does this affect the world around us? What does this mean for everyone else? Why is it important that we honor this person or honor what happened to them? And things like that. So, I try to do that in a very gentle and yet very honest way for him so that he can fully grasp the gravity of what we’re doing to whatever extent that he can. And I always try to look for similarities and pointers to explain to him, well, this person was like you because they liked this or because they did this or—

AIDEN: Enough long talks.

KAT: What did you wanna say?

AIDEN: Enough with the long talks!

KAT: [laughs] Enough with the—

JILL: Wow! You sound like my son! I have a son who’s 13, and he would say the same thing. “Let’s just get on with it.”

AIDEN: What’s his name?

KAT: What is your son’s name? He wants to know.

JILL: His name is Ari, and he loves computer games and building things and road blocks and—

AIDEN: Excuse me. Do you remember the Penguins of Madagascar?

JILL: The what of Madagascar?

KAT: The Penguins of Madagascar!

JILL: Oh gosh. You know, I bet ya he knows all about it. But Ari tells me lots of things, and I don’t always understand what he’s talking about. Just like your mom was saying, she doesn’t always understand what [laughs] when it comes to computers. But what is the Penguins of Madagascar?

CHRIS: Oh, they’re so much fun. They’re these three dudes. They’re like spies, and they sneak into places. And they’re like little soldiers, and they’re hilarious.

KAT: Yep. [laughs]

JILL: That’s super fun.

KAT: Would you like to show them some of your artwork?

AIDEN: Uh-huh.

KAT: Yes! Let’s do that. Here, sit down. I can use my hands. I love to hold you. You know I love to hold you, but it’s better if I have my hands to help show your artwork.

AIDEN: Aw. Enough long talks.

KAT: [laughs] This is gonna be more of an art talk, baby. And if you have to break for a while, then that’s OK.

AIDEN: So hard.

KAT: Long talks are hard for you.

JILL: They are.

CHRIS: They are.

JILL: Aiden, what would you like us to talk about?

AIDEN: Excuse me. Could I good-bye you?

KAT and JILL: [laugh]

CHRIS: You can go, for sure.

JILL: Do know where we live?


JILL: We’re in Michigan.

CHRIS: Michigan.

JILL: Right. So, do you know where Michigan is?

KAT: Grand Rapids in Michigan.

JILL: We would have to take a long drive or a plane to get to see you.

CHRIS: Yeah.

KAT: They’re in a different part of the United States.

JILL: Where we get snow.

CHRIS: Yuck!


KAT: Remember the snow?

AIDEN: Uh-huh.

KAT: You do. And you like snow, don’t you?

AIDEN: Uh-huh.

KAT: Mmhmm.

JILL: What other questions do you have for us? Because that makes long talks more fun.

KAT: Do you have more questions for them?

AIDEN: Uh-huh.

KAT: Well, ask them.

AIDEN: Yeah.

KAT: [chuckles]

AIDEN: I wonder how, good-bye!

KAT and JILL: [chuckle]

CHRIS: I’m with you. [laughs] That’s OK, Aiden.

AIDEN: OK. First, last question: your first home.

KAT: Where was your first home?

JILL: Oh, wow. That is a good question.

CHRIS: Mine was in Chicago, Illinois.

KAT: So, there’s the United States, and it’s up there in the middle up high, kinda too…more that way. Up high, high up.

AIDEN: Where are you born?

CHRIS: Yeah, I was born in Chicago. Yeah.

KAT: Chicago.

AIDEN: The year.

KAT: Oh. What year were you born? Aiden is fascinated by timelines.

CHRIS: 1974.

AIDEN: And the same year Nova was released.

KAT: Which what was released in 1974?

AIDEN: Nova.

KAT: Nova. And is Nova a console? What was Nova? Or is it a production company?

AIDEN: It’s a show.

KAT: It’s a show.

CHRIS: Yeah, on PBS, I think I’ve seen it. Nova. Yeah.

KAT: Interesting.

AIDEN: Her too.

KAT: He wants to know where you were born.

JILL: Oh. Yeah. Well, we live in Grand Rapids, Michigan now. And guess what? I was born in Grand Rapids.

KAT: So, she was born where she is located right now. And do you want to ask what year?

AIDEN: What year is it?

JILL: 1975.

KAT: So, one year later, in 1975.

JILL: Know anything about 1975?

AIDEN: Nova on season two.

KAT: Nova was on season two in 1975! That makes sense. [laughs] Awesome! See? Way more than me. You know way more than me about all the history of all this.

[small dog barks in the distance]

JILL: Is that your dog, Chris, or do you have a dog, Aiden?

KAT: We don’t have pets right now.

JILL: [chuckling] Oh, OK.

CHRIS: It’s my dog. He likes to bark a lot. Yeah.

JILL: Yeah. 

AIDEN: But Grandma has a dog.

KAT: Yes, your grandma has a dog. What is the dog’s name at Grandma’s house?

AIDEN: Janie?

KAT: No, Coop.

AIDEN: Coop.

KAT: [laughing] Yes!

CHRIS: I like that. I like that.

JILL: So, Aiden, where do you live right now? What city are you in?

AIDEN: Texas.

KAT: Which city are we in Texas?

AIDEN: Grandma’s house.

KAT: [laughs] We’re in San Antonio, remember? San Antonio is where you live. OK, do you need to take a rest? Be honest.


KAT: Yes? OK. Well, tell them thank you very much.

AIDEN: Thank you very much! Bye-bye!

CHRIS: Thank you! It was good to meet you, buddy.

JILL: Bye, Aiden.

CHRIS: Bye, Aiden.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

KAT: As far as art and things go, Aiden usually makes his own titles for things. This particular piece is titled English. I set out a whole bunch of different pieces of collage things and then a couple of magazines for him to pick other pictures from and let him sort of pull out the images he wanted. I helped him with some of the cutting. Other of the cutting he did himself. I had him position everything the way that he wanted it, and then he and I both glued it together for him. And then he went and painted over that. So, it’s sort of a mixed-media collage. What you’ll see is that Aiden has paired not only visual images, but also certain words.

Viewing the work and helping him to get everything glued in place and everything, I started to realize that it seems a lot more thought out than just random. A lot of my interpretation, it’s my own, and I’m sure a lot of it is very spot on to what he’s trying to say. Other parts maybe there was a little less meaning for him than what I might have read into it. But I’ll do my best to properly interpret the piece. So, I’ll actually hold it up for you guys.

And this, it’s a grown man in India, the persona part of it, who is the base of the image. And it’s part of his head and his shoulders and neck. What’s at the top is all what’s coming out of his mind or maybe what’s going on inside of his mind. And as you see close, you’ll see that Aiden has placed in the eyes on one side the word “good” and on the other side, the word “bad.” And I think that that’s more of a perception thing for him. Not so much saying that something is good or bad, but maybe saying what we all perceive as good or bad and how that is circumstantial to the viewer themself, really, in sort of the way that maybe we all filter things through our thoughts as advantageous or not good.

Right here, there’s a part where it’s sort of a dynamite that’s exploding, and it’s the word “child.” And then he has this sort of apparatus right underneath, this sort of kinda churning and working like a mechanism. And what’s coming out of it is sorta this laughing person. And we don’t know if he’s authentically happy or maybe a little delirious, or maybe he’s having to feign being happy. You see something that’s going into the machine at the top that says the word “perfect.”

In my perception, knowing what Aiden goes through, it’s very much seeming like this is the system. This is me attempting to adjust. This is me seeing what their expectations might be and going through the whole commercialization of everything and trying to come out the other side in one piece, maybe. He’s also got a part right here that is, to me, one of the most impactful parts of this whole thing where he has stated, “I am not stupid.” And I love that because I think there is a common misconception when neurotypical individuals speak with children or adults who are low-verbal, and they get the sense that, you know, they’re not all there, that their thoughts are scattered or that their intelligence is lower. And in fact, there is usually so much more going on in their mind and more that they’re processing at one time than we usually do. So, that’s what’s actually impeding some of the communication. And so, I love that he actually put, “I am not stupid.”

And you even see on this one area here, again, with the word “society,” it seems to be these people standing around kind of witnessing or looking at you. And then under the word “society” is, he’s a robot, and then he’s standing on top of a television set that has sort of this space on it, almost like the TV’s watching you. And so, there’s just a lot of depth to this one particular piece, which Aiden actually did a couple of months ago. I believe it was right at the beginning of the pandemic. It was probably a couple of weeks in. There was a lot of isolation and time to think about what was all going on.

JILL: It’s beautiful. And I think we need to remind people that he’s 10.

KAT: Yes, yes. Exactly.

JILL: That he’s 10! And what art seems to be allowing him to do is communicate all that’s in his brain, and the fact that you give him space to believe that and space to go back and forth.

KAT: Oh, yeah.

JILL: And so, when you’re interpreting something to me, because of the close relationship you have and the day-to-day time that you spend in working in art, that you’re right. I mean, you’re probably spot on with a lot because you know him so well.

KAT: Right.

JILL: And you’ve seen all his art come out over the years.

KAT: Absolutely.

This particular second piece, it’s almost cartoony, but it has a very traditional art element to it in his paint strokes and things like that. But again, for a 10 year old, the concept of what he’s done here is way deeper than what you usually see in child art and even in some adult art. This particular piece, he actually live painted on television for a segment called Kids Who Make SA Great. And it’s just a local segment from one of our news stations, which basically highlights children that do some kind of exceptional thing or other. And for Aiden, it was his art. This piece was done live on TV and later showcased on the segment.

What you’re seeing is a landscape. There’s sort of like what seems to be a storm or a coming storm. The clouds are very dark. The sky is a deep purple. It’s very much like a nighttime or just-after-dusk sort of sky. You have what appears to be some sort of, in the center, it’s almost like an alien form of extension with a giant red eye in the middle. And it kinda poses a question: is it actually alien, or is it a more abstract kind of embodied thought, which is sort of the feeling itself rather than an actual entity that we’re looking at in the middle? And then the guy to the side, he’s a little cube, and he represents a person. And he’s sort of holding his arms out and stomping his feet as though he was abruptly shocked at this mechanism or enigma that’s appearing in front of him. And he has this bewildered and very concerned and almost frightened look on his face in reaction to this thing that is coming from the middle of the canvas.

I asked Aiden about the eye in the middle and the thing in the middle. And he says, and I believe it’s called The Watchers or The Watcher or something. But I said, “Who is that? Who is that?” And I said, “Is that a bad guy?” And he said just, “It’s watching us.” You see the little cube person, to me, understanding the whole terminology of everyone fitting: square pegs and round pegs and things like that. So, you have sort of an embodied version of someone who do they fit, do they not fit reacting to the enigma of being watched and of the sort of observation that kind of, if you think about it, goes on all the time in our reality now in which we’re being observed by one another. We’re being observed by companies that are tracking us to figure out what kind of products to sell us and sell, sell, sell. And just sort of how our information is so phished.

And I think it’s also especially for Aiden, I think it’s even more so the feeling, the overwhelming feeling, that he constantly has of being observed and gotten after and, “Nope, do this. Focus on your work. Do this thing. Focus, Aiden, focus,” and sort of being constantly watched at school. And in some ways, even in the home environment when we’ve been with family and things like that, where they’re a little less empathetic concerning his differences and sort of have this impending need to keep him on task at something as opposed to just allowing Aiden to just be. And so, I think that that was sort of one of the first times for me, at this age, realizing that Aiden sort of has that feeling of being way too observed, and it isn’t comfortable for him. And I mean, obviously, that was, then again, today, exhibited through him wearing his mask and feeling more comfortable if there’s a little hiding that can happen.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

CHRIS: Could you tell us a little bit about how people react to his work?

KAT: For the most part, everyone for whom the art has caught their eye has had an almost across-the-board unanimous reaction of, wow! This child, not only do they do these somewhat incredible things for their age as far as the technical side of it—and again, being able not only to paint, but to do sort of the video engineering and things like that—their kind of initial draw is that. But then when they see the subjects that he’s working from and the things that Aiden’s communicating, conveying, the across-the-board reaction is always just, wow. He gets it. And I mean, it’s almost like a air quote “it,” whatever it is. But he gets it, and he gets it at such a young age and sort of has this grasp of reality that most children in any direction really kind of miss. They really don’t catch the things that Aiden catches. They’re really surprised by the depth that they find in his work. I’ve had a lot of people be very moved by it, and in some cases, even moved to tears when they not only view the work, but kind of view the explanations behind the work.

And as another example, I’ll take little segments of my conversations with Aiden sometimes, and I’ll quote him in the same manner or similar manner in which I submitted to your program, where I submitted kind of just very simple quotes from him. But in some cases, I’ll type up some of our conversation and quote him, and they’re extremely moved by realizing the way that he processes things. It’s sort of interesting to them that some of the things that he points out sometimes are things that they themselves never thought about until he said it. And then they’re sort of, for the first time themselves realizing that, wow, that actually is the case.

And I love that it causes a deeper reaction for people when they get to view his work, but also sort of take it in and interact with it a little bit by having a dialogue with me and me being able to ask specific questions from them and get back with, to him, and get back to them with what he answered me. If and when that leads to interviews and opportunities for him to take part in pre-existing exhibits or to host solo exhibits for him, it’s great. It’s wonderful. I feel as though, as a guardian as well as sort of the teacher teaching him how to hone what he has naturally and utilize that to support himself with when he does become a man, when he does become a grown up, that it’s my innate responsibility to take these opportunities and these individuals who are interested and be able to set things up for Aiden and to make things happen for him so that he not only has those opportunities and is able to build from that as time goes by, but also so that he can learn the process of this is what it means to have a gallery showing, this is what it means to be published, this is what it means when we have an interview and get used to that early on. Because those are the sorts of things that are not taught in school, which are job applicable and career applicable, which he’ll need for his future.

So, you know, I think I touched on the reactions, but also what comes next from the reactions on a person-to-person level and not from people who are gallery owners, not people who are publicists of any kind, but just common folk who see his work and things, I mean, it’s very similar as far as them pointing out the sort of the heart behind what Aiden does and the insights that he has. But a lot of them also will tell me, you know, “It’s incredible. I can’t paint like that,” or I can’t do this or that. And, I always tell them, “You think you can’t, but if you just watch what he does, even just observing him long enough, you’ll start to learn, too.”

I hope that the general population who is inspired by Aiden’s work is inspired enough to, in fact, begin to believe in their own selves a little bit and to attempt some of the techniques that he does or he and I do together. Also, I hope that parents of children who see Aiden’s work are able to go, “OK, I see what they did there,” and see us collaborating together as a bonding experience and sort of choose to duplicate that on their own with their own children. Because I feel like there is just no end to the possibility that can come out of working with your child, seeing what their strengths are, and really feeding that more and more.

It’s a unique kind of bond that I don’t think you can get any other way when you are co-creating. It’s wonderful to sit by a fire and enjoy something that’s comfy together. It’s wonderful to go and see a movie together and be entertained together. But to co-create is an entirely different animal, and I cannot stress enough to people out there how incredibly important that is for a child and how much it will impact them as they grow and become adults. They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives. Their fondest memories are going to be that time we sat and colored together or that time that we cut up all those old sheets and made a doll. Or whatever it is, you’ll find that those co-creating moments are the things that stick for them the most.

JILL: That’s really beautiful. When you’re talking to other people that other people can create like Aiden, in my mind, I’m like, no, they can’t. Not everybody can create the way Aiden does and the way the two of you create together.

CHRIS: Right.

JILL: Maybe they can go through the process. But it sounds like you believe that everybody has the potential. I mean, you see potential in everybody.

KAT: I believe that they authentically can make things with their hands and with, you know, make things that are in their mind and in their thoughts come to fruition and come to reality in a way that they probably never would have thought that they can. Example: trying something that you’ve never done before. Let’s say you’ve never painted before. And you think, oh, I’d be terrible at that. And you try it, and you’re terrible at it. But while you’re doing it, there’s something that clicks for you about the process, about whether it be the way that you’re holding the brush, the way that the paint squishes across the page. Something clicks for you and makes you go, you know what? I wanna mess with clay. I wanna see what happens when I push my fingers into that instead.

It can be any sort of creative thing that you attempt and fail at that actually leads you to something else that is so much more, I guess, cohesive to who you are or have been as a creative and didn’t realize was there, again, until you tried it. It can be something of that sort. And then in doing something or in the process or the people that you meet along the way, you realize, as you’re sitting next to other people doing it with you, maybe you’re more comfortable taking your phone out and snapping pictures of them doing their work. And then you realize, well, you know what? I kinda got some really cool angles and still life from doing that. If I had just maybe tilted to my phone a little bit more this way or that way, I could see how it could actually look like a professional photo. And then maybe you start trying at that. And you realize, I was a photographer all along, and I just would never have known if I hadn’t tried.

I think in any given direction, if there are things that they see that I do or that Aiden does that really triggers like that inspiration, even if they don’t have the confidence or the belief in themselves to back up the wanting to try it, I would still suggest that they do. I mean, you really don’t know until you find out. You don’t know until you give yourself a chance. And I think that if everyone took the approach of treating yourself like a child outside of yourself. If you were sitting there with a child, and the child said, “I wanna try that,” would you tell them, “No. No, because you’re not gonna be good at it?” Well, you wouldn’t say that to a child. You would say, “OK, let’s see what happens.” You would facilitate. You would be kind. You wouldn’t squash their dreams before they even take flight.

So, you sort of have to come at it in a way that you’re treating your own self like that child. You have that inkling of, I wonder if I could. Don’t listen to that little critic in the back of your head that says, “No. No, you couldn’t do that. You’ve never done it before. So, why are you trying now?” It just absolutely have the same empathy that you would for a child and give yourself that courtesy. And you never know what can come of it.

JILL: Yeah! I mean, you’re talking about curiosity and giving yourself permission to fail and to try again and explore and keep going.

KAT: Yes.

JILL: That’s really, that is the way we all should live our lives, and the nurturing. And what I’ve also heard in this is that you provide so much nurturing and so much support and freedom at the same time for Aiden, and yet the world is not built for Aiden.

KAT: Yes.

JILL: It sounds like it wasn’t built for you either.

KAT: No. [chuckles]

JILL: Right? And I’m just curious how you imagine, if you imagine, your work together or separately kind of breaking that down a bit along the way. Like if Aiden built the world, or if you built the world together and co-created that world, you know, what would it be? And then the other question I had was just how do you believe your work does or doesn’t challenge, I think, the normative way?

KAT: [chuckles]

JILL: You know? In quotes.

KAT: I’m trying to imagine the best way to explain. It’s like I already know what I want to express, but now I’m trying to figure out, OK, what are the words that need to come out to show you what I’m seeing? And see, again, like this is an example for me of what I find difficult sometimes: the breakdown is that I have it here, and then trying to get it out.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

JILL: When you have it there, can you visualize, can you describe your vision?

KAT: The world is very…is very different now than how it was when I grew up. I think that the world has changed maybe two or three big, big, big ways in a way that even the adults who are older than me and my age group, everyone has sort of had to change and adjust around. I’m seeing, personally, that a lot of the younger generations that are now in their early 20s and coming up on their 20s are having a lot more power and a lot more say in what is acceptable socially, what is acceptable by way of how to honor, respect, and treat other human beings. And it, to me, most of it is a breath of fresh air. I’m thankful and grateful that this is happening because, it’s something that didn’t happen in my generation, in the times that I was a young person myself. And it gives me a lot of hope for what’s to come in the respected world around Aiden as he becomes a young man and a man. And the way that the world will respond to him, I’m hoping will be much different than the way that it responded to me.

And this also goes along with the fact that Aiden, for him, his different abilities are much more obvious than mine have ever been. I’ve literally had people tell me over time of getting to know me that were friends of mine tell me, “You know, you’re really different. I didn’t notice it at first. I mean, you were always really cool. You were always, you had all these weird ideas. And you were a little strange, but funny and super charismatic. But the longer I get to know you, the more I realize that you’re really different. That you don’t really think like other people. And you get really hurt by certain things, and it’s hard for you to get back on your balance.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I am different.”

And, you know, I mean, I didn’t know I was on the spectrum until I was 33 years old, I believe, and I’m 38 now. So, but given that, the way that the world is, there’s an obvious conflict between the pre-existing mindset of you have to be a certain way to be accepted and the new mindset of no, everyone needs to get with the program and respect one another, whether they’re different, same, what have you. It’s unacceptable to tell anyone that they should be a certain way. It’s unacceptable to do anything other than simply acknowledge the person presenting themself in the way that they are presenting themselves and to accept that that is who they are, because that is who they say they are and leave it at that and in no way cause any issue for that person. And so, you have this confliction and this friction going on. And in that, yeah, there’s a lot of…there’s a lot of unacceptance still there. There’s a lot of judgment still there. There are a lot of new judgments arising as a result of the conflict.

And I think Aiden and, one of the biggest differences in the environment that he and I create or that is created around Aiden here, between us, is that obviously, it’s a safe place. Aiden came to me, and he has this giant bear. It’s his giant teddy bear. His name is Very: Very Best Bear. And he props Very Best Bear up, and he props him next to me in the bed. And he says, “OK, Very is the dad.” And I’m like, “OK, Very’s the dad.” And he said, “And you’re the kid.” And I said, “Me? I’m the kid?” And he said, “Yes, you’re the kid.” I was like, OK, I’m the kid in this make believe thing. And I said, “Well, who are you?” He goes, “Me? I’m the mom.” I’m like, “OK, buddy, you’re the mom.” And he goes, “You didn’t ask permission to use your phone.” Oh! OK. So, he’s mirroring what does mom do. It’s almost like taste your own medicine, lady. This is what it feels like.

But in no way in any of that roleplay that I tell him, “Aiden [clicks tongue], you’re a boy. You can’t be a mom.” There’s no correcting that takes place here. There’s a lot of asking: why did we choose that we’re the mom? Why did we choose that this is your baby right now? Why did we choose this, that, or whatever? And me asking a lot of the questions in a way that you would expect the child to do to the parent. Why this? Why that? And actually, it’s me. Well, why are we doing this right now? Why, you know? And he’ll tell me, or he’ll explain it best he can. And then we just continue to play. So, it’s not only accepting that what you’re telling me is, but now I will then go ahead and interact with you within the paradigm that you have created. And I’ll do it accordingly in a way that helps the story to continue to spin forward and be fun.

This is something that the world still is having a lot of work to do to get to: the space in which someone can tell you, this is who I am. This is what I am. This is how I identify. And we go, OK, respect it and honor it. We’re still getting there. We are so much further along, but it needs a lot of work. And I find that it’s very important for me to create that environment for him here, even though it is vastly different than what is out there. I know one argument could say, well, you’re actually hindering him because you’re not teaching him what to expect. To which I disagree and say what I am teaching him is how to properly honor and respect others so that if he knows—

JILL: Well, and to honor and respect himself.

KAT: Exactly.

JILL: And to expect that that’s the way it is.

KAT: Right. So that he truly believes in his own validation. That he is, in fact valid. That his thoughts and desires and ideas are just as valid as anyone else’s. And there’s no right or wrong so long as we’re not harming anyone. There’s no right or wrong to our perceptions. But I also encourage that we always keep our mind open when people disagree with us and when there is a difference of opinion. That we keep ourselves open to changing our own mind, and that we’re not going to be stubborn over well, someone’s not gonna see it my way, so I don’t like them anymore. No, that we actually invite and enjoy the difference in perception from one person to another.

I explain it to him in a way that, you know, there’s all these colors in the box of crayons. There’s all these different types of animals in the world. There’s all these differences. And that’s what makes it interesting. Imagine if there was nothing but kitties, and there’s only kitties. There’s no such thing as whales and there’s no such things as bees and there’s no such things as elephants. You know, there’s only kitties. Great. But that’s not very interesting. Imagine if there was only yellow, and there’s no green or red or purple or chartreuse. There’s only yellow. I mean, great. Yellow’s great, I guess. [chuckles] But when your mood changes, you want something different. And so, it’s always great to have those differences.

The world out there, there are all these differences. It’s how people interact with, perceive, and respect or not respect those differences that, again, differ from the environment I’m creating here for him. So, I think that the work that we’re doing, especially when we collaborate, not just the work that he does on his own or I do on my own, but in a big way, a lot of the work that we collaborate together on, I think, and I feel naturally, at least from the dialogue that I’ve had with the people who’ve directly spoken with me about it, that we are, in fact making some headway. That we are making an impact. That we are showing that, look, being his parent, I’m still a completely different individual than Aiden. I still have a completely different idea of the world and a completely different generation and age group. And even despite all of these things, Aiden and I are able to create this amazing art together.

And what’s even more incredible about it, I think, personally, is that I have no idea what that art is gonna look like when we sat down at the table together. Aiden has no idea what that art is going to look like once we’re done with it when we sat at the table together. We both sit at the table together knowing how different we are and knowing that we have absolutely no idea what we’re making, and we just make. We go into it accepting already that whatever comes out of it will be enough. We accept that I am enough and the Aiden is enough and that what we make together will be enough. And then you get this magic. And I hope that, again, I just really hope that that mentality and that process does affect the world and begin to kinda change the way that people interact with one another.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

JILL: What you’re offering Aiden is you’re filling in all the gaps that you weren’t provided. And all of us could be so lucky to have a mom like you and a partner. Because you’re teaching him to love himself for who he is, and you had to love yourself for who you are. And then just the emotional intelligence that you’re passing on, I think not everybody gets. Because I mean, I grew up depression, and still, you question, are you enough? And you don’t want your kids growing up having those questions. They do. I mean, because of the world we live in and the norms that push in. It’s not you that’s not enough. It’s the environment that you’re in that’s broken. And we have to keep trying until we get the environment that’s right.

And you need to be empowered within that environment to have the voice and be able to advocate for yourself. So, when you’re talking about Aiden and his future and all the steps that you’re intentionally doing to prepare him to advocate for himself, when other people, which you have also said, question his intelligence or his ability to communicate, well, he’s gonna say, I can communicate. I just don’t need as many words as you do.

KAT: Exactly.

JILL: And he’ll have the confidence to do that, so.

KAT: And I also to walk away. I mean, Aiden is the first to walk away if he’s being met with not just someone not understanding him. But when he’s being met with so much friction that feels like judgment, Aiden will look you right in the eyes, stop talking, get up, and walk away. There is so much power in that. As a child, that he doesn’t even realize how powerful that is, and that is one of the things that he does on his own, that I hope that he maintains as he grows to be an adult. That we can attempt to explain ourselves, but in no way do we have to validate our own self, validate our own existence, validate the amount of space that we take up. And the moment that you see that someone in front of you is immovable and static and has already developed an opinion of you before you even open your mouth, it’s not even worth it. And absolutely, if you are inclined to get up and walk away from that individual and never have anything to do with them again, then by all means. Allow it to be their loss or their learning process, you know? Yeah, absolutely.

JILL: You’re not allowing, through that empowerment, for ableism to take root within him or to grow of how people are judging him based on his disability status.

KAT: Absolutely. I think that so long as we continue to, without yielding and without faltering, as long as we continue to valuate and to see him as worthwhile, to take his opinions and thoughts very, very seriously, no matter how silly those opinions and thoughts may be sometimes. Because he is a child with a very big imagination. I’m trying to think of a specific instance, but it’s just so common a thing to happen that Aiden will hold this thing up and say, “This thing is orange and squishy, and it’s bothering me.” And I’ll look at it and say, “Wow. Is it the orange part that’s bothering you or the squishy part?” And he says, “I don’t know, but I don’t like it.” And I say, “OK. Well, so you don’t like orange and squishy things?” “Well, no, not all orange and squishy things. Just this particular orange and squishy thing.” And I says, “OK, yeah. That is a very orange and very squishy thing. Yeah. Yeah.”

And so, I agree with the points that I can see, but I question the points that I don’t understand. And even if I don’t myself agree that I don’t like orange and squishy things because I might like orange and squishy things, I find that you have a very good point in not liking that orange and squishy thing because it’s bothering you for some reason. And you take this so seriously, and you have a full conversation about this orange squishy thing that’s bothering him so much. And I find that when I do that, after a minute, Aiden’ll just stop talking about it. And he’ll put it down, because he’s been acknowledged, he’s been understood, and he’s been engaged with.

And so, I noticed that before I started taking that approach, and I was being very typical of a parent in different ways sometimes when I would get busy, and Aiden would come to me, “This orange squishy thing.” “OK, baby, OK. The orange squishy. OK.” And that is what you see almost all parents do, and they don’t see it as harmful. They don’t realize that it can be crushing to a kid, that it’s already teaching them that they don’t matter, and they have to fight to matter. And there’s just so many layers to the bad that that’s doing, the dismissiveness. And I think just over time, I started to catch myself and realize when I was doing things like that. And I decided that that was done to me, and I’m repeating history here. I’m repeating the things, the ways that I was treated, because that’s what I know. But it’s not what I know. Because I know better, because I am me, and I was on the receiving end of it. So, I need to take the education I received internally with all of that, and I need to reflect it in the way that I treat Aiden.

It’s always a battle. It’s always a process. As parents, as adults, we’re always gonna be busy. But when we do catch ourselves, there’s nothing that says you can’t go right back and go, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know I shooed you away, but what was it you were telling me again about that orange squishy thing?” And you come back to it, revisit it. Revisit it two hours later, revisit it a day later, if that’s when it hits you that you did that. Be gentle with yourself in that, yeah, OK, we’re making mistakes that we don’t intend as mistakes. We’re making mistakes that maybe the norm doesn’t see as a mistake. But when, like you said, when you become emotionally intelligent enough to catch it, allow yourself the space and put aside the pride long enough to correct it and to create something that’s better.

JILL: Yeah, you should write a parenting book or a blog! I don’t know.

KAT: [laughs]

JILL: You’ve got so much to share. Both as an artist in the process and appreciating the process of living and the process of creating.

KAT: Philosophy and philosophical thought is in my wheelhouse. And that’s largely what a lot of my writing reflects and has always reflected. So, it’s never been far from my mind to put out literature that is helpful to other people. I don’t like the term “self-help.” It’s very cliche, I think. I don’t know. There’s more just, more of like insights that can guide people through things that they didn’t realize they were doing. And I’d very much like to do that at some point. I’ve gotta get these children’s books that I’ve been sitting on for years, I need to actually get them published [laughs] before I—

JILL: Oh! So, what are those.

KAT: —to move on to anything else. Well, my main character that I first, first started drawing children’s books, illustrating and writing the children’s stories from, the main character that I created, I created him right before Aiden was born, right, right before he was born, for Aiden’s sake. In the creation of my character and the storyline that I gave him, I knew that he was going to be different. He was going to be different from everybody else around him and almost in a way that it didn’t make sense. But it made sense for him because that simply was who he is. And his only and main conflict is who he is in accordance and in conjunction with the world around him.

And it wasn’t until after Aiden’s diagnosis, everything sort of clicked for me and fell in to place that, oh, my God. This whole time I have been writing about and I created an autistic character without meaning to, because it was an actual reflection of me and of what I went through as a child. Because the character is a younger character. So, in fact, the very first character, I now proudly claim and model him as a differently-abled and autistic character. I finally came to grips with that and then owned it. And again, he was my first character.

And then once I started kind of drawing out my illustrations of that and having storylines with that, there were other things that started coming to mind just at random. And I created a character that was for younger readers, for toddlers. It’s a read to me kind of thing where parents can read in simple fashion.

In each of these different books series that I’ve then created—I think I have four or five different series that I’ve compiled—all of the drawing, the illustration styles are completely different. All of the materials used for each one is completely different in such a way that it actually looks as though it’s a different author. The rhyme styles or non-rhyming, like the ways that the stories are told, the verbiage used, all completely different from the other. So, again, it in no way seems as though the same human being wrote and created all of these stories. Which at first frustrated me ‘cause I felt like I don’t know how I lack consistency between creating one thing to the other. But I’ve learned to embrace it.

I created a pseudonym to house all of the work, which is Guy Wednesday, so, the namesake of it. And that was another thing too, is choosing a pseudonym that actually almost would suggest that I’m not a female that’s writing this. Because I myself have also had my own struggle, I guess, through time from the time I was very young with gender, with my sexuality, with things like that. So, I’ve been a lot more fluid than at least at the times were socially acceptable. I chose that pseudonym when I was 16 years old. I just didn’t know what to do with it yet. Once I started developing more than one children’s book, I realized, oh my God. That’s what Guy Wednesday is for all along. It’s to protect and to house these children’s books.

JILL: Yeah, and it will come out and be done when it’s done, it sounds to me.

KAT: Yeah.

JILL: In time. Yeah, I’ve always had to learn to, I have as I’ve gotten older, to trust the journey.

KAT: And to appreciate the timing.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

KAT: I’ve learned as well with any of my creations that, for example, there is a mask. We first sent a mask to Chris Herren as Faust the performer, the magician. We sent one to him first, and the mask that I created for him, his name is Rupert. He is his own character, so the mask’s name is Rupert. Well, the thing is that Chris and I met, I believe, back in 2015, 2016 online. I mean, almost right away, I just enjoyed what he was doing so much that, as a creative, I said, “You know what? I would love to create a mask for you.” He’s, “Oh, absolutely. That’d be wonderful.” Well, from that point forward, all the time, I wanted to create this mask. I had most of my materials or some of my materials, and then something would happen and something would come up. And all through the years, all these things happened that prevented me from just making this mask. I didn’t know in my head what it was gonna look like. I just knew that it was important so that I had to allow it to come when it was gonna come.

Well, it wasn’t until quarantine that I’m sitting here and I’m looking at the blank mask ‘cause all my art supplies have surfaced because I just moved into my home. And I looked over at the paints, and I looked over at the mask. And I just in an instant knew. I could see exactly who I’m going to paint. In a moment, I knew who this was. I knew their feelings and their general mischievousness, but also the sense of humanity and all these different things. I could feel the personality as well as a fuzzy, blurry vision of what he was gonna look like. And I just picked everything up and started painting and within, what would you say, an hour, Rupert was born. Within an hour of sitting down, Rupert was born. I mean, before I was even done painting him, he was already Rupert. I knew his name. I knew his story.

But then I realized after all this was over, before I messaged Chris to let him know years later, four or five years later, “I finally created your mask,” before doing so, it dawned on me that Rupert only exists as Rupert now because I allowed him to come when he was going to come. If I had done him two months earlier, if I’d done them three years earlier, he wouldn’t be Rupert. He would be something else. The value of that, the very realness of that is going to be exemplified back to me in a very real way, because this mask that now the performer, Chris, has in the same way that he has developed the character that is Faust for himself, in that very same way, he will be performing as Rupert and become, in his own way, just as known as Rupert, as he is known for Faust by the world.

This is a man and a performer who is known in the Philippines, who is known across Asia, that is known in Europe, that has traveled to these different places performing as this individual and now will be known as Rupert as well. And so, it’s so impactful and beautiful to me that he is exactly who he was going to be and who he is supposed to be. And that that only came as a result of me honoring and allowing him to come when he came. And I find that, across the board, to be the same rule of thumb whether it be for my children’s books or for my modeling, for my newer work, for my artistry. It’s revealed itself and presented itself to me over and over again to be a truth. I hope that that helps others as well to be more gentle on themselves with the timing that their endeavors may take.

JILL: Yeah, the gift of time and space.

KAT: Mmhmm.

[plucky, upbeat music break]

JILL: What’ve we missed that you wanna make sure that’s included?

KAT: One of my most recent project, series projects, that I created during quarantine, again, came up by accident. It’s called The Malcontents. And this particular character painting style, I mirrored the old French style of illustration that you’ll see in storybooks and political cartoons: very quick line drawings and very almost having a rustic sort of feel to them, being kind of unfinished in appearance. But each character drawing— Hi, Aiden.


KAT: Yes, sweetie.

AIDEN: Long talks are hard.

KAT: I know they are. You don’t have to be over here, baby. You can go upstairs if you need to. [laughs] Sorry.

JILL: He wants you back.

KAT: I know. He does. But these are The Malcontents. And it started with Franklin. And with Franklin, there was a quote that came to me before I painted him. And the quote was, “Troubled is all the world when lack is the focus of the mind.” And I think that whole living in that lack mentality, I think of that when I drew him. And then each one of them, I actually very abruptly wrote their name, very big in the back of each of their illustrations. I have Franklin. I have Vincent.

Vincent is a barber who lost his job as a result of the pandemic, and he goes over unemployment issues and the deeper thing about that. And then I have Craig. Craig is a person of color who is very tired looking in appearance. He’s just very tired, and you can see he’s a bit perturbed. And Craig sort of highlights the civil unrest and almost more of a confoundment that race is still, still, still so much of an issue and that we haven’t evolved as much as we think we have.

And this is Maude. And Maude is holding up a finger as if to tell you to stop and to wait and no, to not approach. With Maude, I touch on people who are unapproachable and understanding that a lot of times, people have PTSD, or they may in fact be autistic and have space issues. That just because someone looks quote-unquote “normal” doesn’t mean that you can treat them in a way that’s abrupt and abrasive that you don’t realize you’re doing. And then May. May is an elderly individual. With her story, I highlight about the forgotten lives of our elderly. And then my very favorite of the entire thing is Henry. And Henry is obviously, in the back you see RIP. Henry is dead. Henry’s a ghost. And I drew him in the typical, traditional sheet ghost way. And Henry touches on teen suicide.

So, each of these Malcontents, they’re called such for a reason, and they touch on different sociological and psychological, mental health issues that people deal with all the time that are either invisible issues or very hard to catch, easy to forget, and easy to push aside. And I wanted to bring those things to light in a way that you see these characters at first glance, and they’re cartoony-ish. And you’re just like, oh, what’s that? That’s cute. But then you read the story behind it, and you’re going, oh, wow. Oh. Wow. I didn’t think about that. And in some of them, I include statistics, etc.

And so, that particular series, I felt, was most akin to the DisArt mission statement of inclusion, of shedding a light on the things that I think are lost on most people most of the time, and in a way that I hope will help bring understanding and acceptance and inclusion for those particular issues. Mindfulness, at least.

JILL: Do you have imaginings for where these will live?

KAT: This particular series, I have sent it out for potential publication. I’m waiting for a couple of publications to get back to me. I’ve had a lot of feedback where people enjoy them very much, but they’re not sure how to present them. I’m talking with a couple of local galleries. The dialogue that goes along with them is so large, and people have so little time and kind of attention span nowadays that I feel as though I probably have to do a vocal recording that can be played within the gallery space where they’re shown.

And at whatever juncture, if I find that they’re simply not kind of getting the footing that they would need to be able to do this, I will, in fact. Because I’ve created The Courrier, which is my international mail art project, I will actually just go ahead and showcase them myself if I need to do it that way and eventually physically. Because I will be having my own studio space at the very least. So, if I have to do different occasions where I’m having a gallery opening within my studio space, they’re definitely going to get their day in the sun.

And again, as you saw, they’re very crudish illustrations. They’re done with just brush strokes of acrylic paint on plain white paper. They are black and white. They are nothing like what is usually coming out of me. I want to stress again that I don’t have a particular, a singular style that, even within painting, I can do one painting that’s very colorful and has this almost modern feel and then another painting that’s almost classical with an oil painting, Renaissance feel. I’m all over the place. These are not signature to me, the artist. These are a statement, I feel, that almost came as a result of the verbiage that I was feeling needed to be expressed. And so, in a way, they’re my own form of activism, which much of my art ends up being. I’m not interested in exposure by means of highlighting me, the artist. I think the awareness aspect of it is what matters more in regard to this particular series, for example.

‘Cause I’ll do things, like with my modeling or my self portraiture or with some of my art, and that’s absolutely for exposure. But then there are certain things that just come from my soul that are absolutely their own thing. And I want to let them fly and become whatever they’re gonna be or do the work that they were designed to do, which is to change thought processes. So, honestly, I don’t care if it was just a local high school paper who took it on, and all the high school kids in that particular high school got to understand and learn. To me, what’s most important is that they be heard and learned at all.

So really, I’m not interested in any kind of glorification when it comes to my Malcontents. Or I guess I should say the Malcontents, because, again, it’s this feeling of once you’ve created it and once you’ve released it into the world, it almost, even though it came from you, it doesn’t really belong to you after all.

CHRIS: Thank you so much for your time. It’s been great.

KAT: Absolutely. I wanna thank you again on behalf of both myself and Aiden and our nonprofit, The Courrier as well, through which we use to channel our voice and to help, not only on a local level with our community, but also reaching out with projects like yours. Because it was through The Courrier that we found you guys and went and contributed to the My Dearest Friends project. So, we’re just honored to have the opportunity to express ourselves, but also to be helpful in any way that that looks for anyone who it is helpful to. And again, just thank you so much for having both of us. And thank you so much for, I guess, also understanding a lot of the points that we made and empathizing with them. And just thank you so much.

[plucky, upbeat music plays through the next few sentences]

JILL: Well, thank you for sharing so much of you and your time, and Aiden for his realness and for interacting with us the way that he did, so.

KAT: [laughs] I know. I tell people he has zero filter, really. [laughs]

JILL: Oh! But he took his mask off by the end with us. So, to me, that’s quite an honor, even if I was taking his mom away for a long time.

KAT: [laughs]

JILL: Thanks, Kat.

KAT: Thank you so much.

JILL: And thank you to Aiden.

Thanks for listening. Be well, keep your distance, send us your comments, questions, and your submissions for Oaklee Thiele to hello@DisArtNow.org. Please make sure to follow the My Dearest Friends project on Instagram, Facebook, and DisArtNow.org. And thanks again to the Ford Foundation for their support of this work and to cat enthusiast Cheryl Green for the transcription of this podcast episode.

Music: Wholesome by Kevin MacLeod. Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/5050-wholesome. License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license.