Coping Mechanism: Dez Hernandez

Shannon Cooke

Coping Mechanism is a column by Mackenna Manidis exploring the care practices of creative people she finds inspiring.

“So now you’re scared of love / but I’m here to tell you love just ain’t some blood on the receiver / Love is speaking in code/ it’s an inside joke / Love is coming home.” — “If Work Permits,” The Format”

Restraint has never been my strong suit. Swapping secrets and sharing my trauma with strangers is a natural instinct. Opening up to people immediately is something I can’t turn off. And, honestly, I’m thankful I’m this way — it’s how I met Dez. Dez Hernandez was an easy choice for inclusion in Coping Mechanism; she’s an incredibly talented ceramicist, pottery teacher, and like me, a gal with no filter. Dez teaches ceramics at a high school, a feat I imagine requires the patience and compassion of a thousand armies. Yes these kids are learning how to make mugs and bowls, but more importantly, Dez helps these kids learn how to be good humans — I can’t dream up a better teacher to have while trying to grow up.

I met Dez last year while working in Echo Park and we immediately clicked. I asked for her Instagram handle and from there, a beautiful digital friendship began to blossom. Usually, when I ask people to talk about the parts of their brain that aren’t shiny and perfect, their guard goes up, and hat’s totally natural. But it wasn’t the case with Dez. Right out of the gate, she dropped a bomb on me.

“Relationships cause me the most stress and anxiety,” she admitted, when I asked about her biggest triggers. “I didn’t really understand this until I started going to therapy and realizing relationships with men, and relationships where people argue and raise their voice when communicating, are my biggest triggers.”

An aversion to closeness with men is something that rings true to me, like a song I know all the words to after hearing it once. Conflict avoidance is my bread and butter, and my own immediate instinct to bow out completely when someone yells at me is a knee jerk reaction. Sure, t’s familiar, but I still never clocked it as something that I’ve learned to do.

“It is really hard for me to open up to men because I fear getting rejected, as I feel that has happened my entire life,” Dez shared. “I also tend to shut down pretty quickly the moment voices are raised. I just feel very helpless and I can’t really function at that point.”

As someone with, ahem, daddy issues, reading Dez’s words about her anxiety is like looking in a mirror. I struggle with a constant, underlying fear of being rejected by men. A non-existent relationship with my absent father (who is also a Gemini) is a struggle that’s hard to cope with. His absence has installed an ugly little chip in my brain that whispers I’m not worth staying for; it’s programmed me to believe the idea of a man loving me fully, unconditionally, forever is laughable and unattainable.

Shannon Cooke

Plenty of my behavior when it comes to coping with that pain has been irresponsible. But Dez takes a new-to-me approach by soothing inward and outward. “When I don’t feel my best I try to hang out with friends or maybe go into the studio and throw something on the wheel,” she explained. “Either something I want for myself, or for others to use. I really enjoy making things for other people when I’m feeling down.”

Dez takes her negative energy and makes something beautiful for someone else, using her hands to create something positive and useful during painful moments. Extending care to those around her as a way to pull herself out of the trenches is a pretty brave act of self-care. Of course, we hear all the time that face masks and baths aren’t the only form of self-care, sometimes it’s going grocery shopping, or doing your laundry for the first time in weeks. For Dez, self-care often overlaps with her love languages — it’s acts of service and words of affirmation.

“Once I change my perspective on what I’m doing, I remember I have the power to make changes, and that I’m in charge of the stress I’m creating for myself,” she said. “It’s always, always important to me to take little breaks, and go back to things later. After working on something for too long, people get numb to what they’re doing, and the feeling of why they started making in the first place. That initial purpose can get left behind and sometimes you need to stop and remind yourself.”

My archived childhood memories don’t include hearing that it’s okay to step back and breathe. I was always taught to never stop, never quit, never just chill the fuck out, which is part of what’s made my adult life look like a reflection of those awful Crank movies where the main character will literally drop dead if he ever stops moving. I frequently find myself in a pattern of behaving that way, too.

I never considered slowing down my life until talking with Dez. I joke often about having hands that don’t work and being jealous of all of my artistically-inclined friends. But maybe, I was just looking at it from the wrong perspective. Sitting, breathing, making something beautiful, or maybe not even beautiful but just useful, making to give as a gift, making just to make is a new coping mechanism I’m going to implement into my life. I’m ready to find myself going 90 MPH in the freeway system that is my mind and bring everything to a halt. I’m ready to learn how to use my own power, slowly and carefully.

Follow Dez’s work on Instagram at @sonerapottery or sign up take one of her pottery classes at @pot_la.

Next Article