A couple of weeks ago I upgraded my iPhone 4s to a 6. I always like it when a capable Verizon employee transfers my contacts and stored information over to my new phone. It’s sort of like a security blanket. I know I don’t need to go on about our pathetic reliance on our smart phones. I also know that if I had to call any of my daughters on their mobile phones by recalling their numbers from memory, I would be screwed. Before upgrading I ensured that I backed my phone up to the cloud. CYA truly is a highly recommended standard operational procedure, in case you wanted my opinion.
After the salesman was done porting my info to my new phone, he asked me to review my contact list to make sure it looked complete. It did. All of my voicemails were there and my apps were in my settings, waiting to be repopulated to my home screen. I toggled over to my text messages and the folder was empty. I instantly panicked and asked the schmoozy Verizon guy where my messages were. He said they don’t transfer but that the messages were still on my old phone and I could download them from the cloud and transfer them to my new phone.
And I breathed.
See, the thing is, there was a text conversation between me and my friend Jude, who passed away almost a year ago from Stage IV metastatic cancer. I loved it because it was a conversation that took place over the course of a year, maybe longer. We chatted about theatre, her health, writing, my health, Olivia Pope’s white silk pajamas. Silly stuff. Important stuff. Not sure why I didn’t delete the message thread. I think it was because she was sick and there was no way to know when the last text would come. On May 16th, I think that’s the date, it did come. Jude had arranged home hospice and I was meant to go to Green Acres to have lunch that day. That morning, when I was confirming our date, her husband sent a message telling me that she’d had a rough night, would have to cancel and that I should make a point to see her soon. I said I would but I never did. Two days later she was gone.
It comforted me having that text conversation on my phone. I have yet to retrieve it from the cloud. I found some instructions online and apparently I am to locate a text file and then somehow move it to my new phone. This is presuming, of course, that I figure out how to do it so that I would not be overwriting any new data. Needless to say, I can no longer access that conversation with the swipe of the finger on a touchscreen. I miss having that piece of Jude with me; those frozen moments in time that I could just reference whenever I missed her. Something that was just ours.
There are similar pieces of the recent past that I have a hard time letting go of. I have two voicemails that came from the Danbury Public Schools alert system on December 14, 2012. It was a robocall alerting parents about a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can’t delete those messages. Nor can I delete the message from an agent informing me that I was no longer going to be the book writer for an optioned show that I had co-written. Very different threads in my digital tapestry and each one so very important to me.
A friend of mine experienced something similar when a light bulb had burned out in her home. The last person to change it was her late husband, who she lost about two years ago. She struggled with changing the light bulb because it was almost like letting go of a presence that remained for her and her daughters. Yet another friend was so thankful that her husband purchased software for her so that she could download a treasured voicemail to her computer. It is a process, this letting go. This moving on. And damn it, it’s hard.
Of course, we do have the objects, the tactile reminders: the pictures, the sweater she gave you, the hat he wore, the furniture that they purchased when they were newlyweds. We also have the family recipes, the traditions and, oh, those beloved shared memories. I portend that it is the intangible things that are harder to let go. They are the things that, once gone, they cannot be retrieved. When you paint over the height markings on the door frame. When you delete the text message. When you change the light bulb. Something fades away. Even memories, the most personal and persistent way we stay connected to a lost friend or loved one, even they disappear.
Krysta Rodriguez, a young member of the Broadway community and someone who’s had a pretty enviable performing career at 30, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. When Krysta started her blog dedicated to her journey through a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, it made me think of Jude. Jude wrote Breast Left Unsaid, a book about her battle with breast cancer and it is one of the funniest, most poignant and informative memoirs out there both about being a woman and about fighting this insidious disease. I typed in the URL for the book’s web site so that I could send it to Krysta and I got an error message. The web site had expired.
Letting go is the hardest thing to do. Those moments of missing come out of the blue and in different ways. They can hit you like a ton of bricks or like a soft feather, gently tugging at your heart and soul. It never leaves, that longing for just one more moment to share another word, another sip of wine or a knowing laugh.
If you never met Jude, I am sorry that you missed the opportunity to know a truly extraordinary woman. She will be forever and often missed, by so many.
* If you are dealing with cancer, divorce, career changes or challenges in general, Jude’s book, Breast Left Unsaid, is a must read. You can order it on Amazon here.)
I believe in equality for all people. I believe that every human being has the right to the pursuit and attainment of life, liberty and happiness, no matter their beliefs. This tenet is one I feel especially passionate about as it applies to the LGBT community. The recent conversation regarding Indiana’s RFRA law, which goes into effect in July, has sparked quite a few debates in my predominantly liberal social media feed.
Even Gov. Daniel Malloy, the governor of the state I live in, Connecticut, has spoken passionately about the law that Gov. Mike Pence signed into law last week. He made Connecticut the first state to ban state-funded travel to Indiana and urged other states to do the same. As a result, Kevin Ollie, the coach of the UConn men’s basketball team, will not be traveling to the Final Four in Indiana to show support for Malloy’s ban.
When Chik-fil-A, a company who has openly contributed to groups opposed to LGBT rights, announced they were coming to my hometown, I made the decision that I would not be patronizing their establishment. In a sense, I have boycotted their company, much as I have boycotted the Salvation Army for their anti-gay hiring practices.
As a human being, I support companies with similar views to my own and I give money to those that share my belief that love is love. I also have no issue withholding my hard earned spending dollars from companies who use their love of God and scripture as a foundation for hatred. In doing so, my boycott is a personal choice.
While I understand and support the intention behind the boycotting of travel to Indiana (or any of the other 19 states with RFRA laws, including my own), I can’t help but think of the people that live in those states, who are the targets of the discriminatory laws that are in or going into effect, and how a broad stroked boycott can affect them.
Discrimination, at its foundation, is an action based on personal belief. No matter the law, the onus is upon each of us to treat one another with love and respect. It is only when we love and respect each other, regardless of our race, creed or sexual orientation, that we can make a real difference in our lives and in the lives of others.
Normally, when the New Year comes, I don’t succumb to the trend of resolving to do things better, faster and/or more efficiently. Generally speaking, I don’t make resolutions because I believe that making them is a way of just setting yourself up for failure. I mean, who am I kidding? I won’t lose 30 pounds, I won’t stop having diabetes, I won’t stop living paycheck to paycheck and I won’t write the next award-winning play/novel. Does that make me a realist or does it make me a pessimist bound to fulfill her own prophecy? Hard to tell.
So began last year’s post about my New Year’s resolutions followed by a list of somewhat attainable goals. Looking back on the year, I can see where I succeeded and the many places I faltered. So, let’s take a look at last year’s resolutions, shall we?
Be accountable for my actions and the impact those actions have on my life and on the lives of others. I think I have learned to be more accountable for my actions. When I screw up, I more readily admit that I screwed up. I’m still not perfect and, to be honest, this is sort of an ongoing resolution that will never be attained 100%.
Be more honest with myself and with the people in my life. Especially myself. I have learned to trust people a little bit more and have a few friends that I have grown closer to this year. Honesty is hard and I am still not there. But I am trying.
Be more relentless about saying “I love you” to the people that matter. I am not what you’d call an affectionate person. I’m not a hugger, a kisser or a PDA person. I still find myself making a concerted effort to say “I love you,” which means that I’m still working on this, too.
Clean the basement and attic and utilize the space for something that is more effective than being a hiding place for our junk. Well, in 2014 we filled two 10-yeard dumpsters with junk. The attic was almost there and then one of the twins made it her bedroom. She’s a good sport and lives among boxes of Christmas decorations and toddler clothes. I suspect this project will be done in short order as will the basement, which is more than halfway there. If you’ve seen either our attic or our basement, you would know what at truly daunting task it is.
Complain less. Comparatively speaking, I’ve got it pretty good. I still complain. Or maybe, more appropriately, I pass a lot of judgment. My kids accuse me often of drinking too much “judgy juice.” Fortunately, I have a very small group of people to whom I voice my complaints and judgment.
Do more jigsaw puzzles. I did a lot of jigsaw puzzles during our two week vacation in Maine. Once I have a space where we can keep a puzzle going (or the puzzle board that has been on my wish list for two years now), I think I will do more puzzles. I love working a puzzle while the TV plays in the background.
Eat more fruits, vegetables and seafood. Eat less fatty meats, cheese and carbs. Well this has been a roller coaster of a year for me in terms of my diet. I made a lot of headway and lost about 20 pounds but then managed to do a 180 and reclaim all of that lost weight and then some. I am at the heaviest I’ve been in my whole life, with the exception of when I was pregnant with twins, which tilted the scale over the 200 pound mark. While weight loss and better living is a boring resolution, it clearly needs to be a priority in 2015.
Eliminate jealousy from my life and realize that another person’s success does not mean that I have failed. I know I should not judge my own self-worth when I see other people succeed. I think that social media does not help. People tend to bring forth their best or their worst selves on social medial. While I can just roll my eyes at the complaining, I can’t help but envy the person that got the promotion, has the perfect family, traveled to exotic places far and wide, got their show published/produced, etc. There are two things I can think of to combat this weakness: do more that will help me achieve my personal goals and stay away from social media. Hard to tell which one is the more attainable goal.
Invite my friends into my home more often, for no special reason, and not worry about how clean the house is before I do it. I’ve been better about not caring about the mess so much. Now I just need to de-clutter my calendar so that we can host more gatherings.
Knock the socks off of the people I work with. Impress someone at Gartner and get a long overdue promotion. Well, as we head into the new fiscal year, it is hard to tell whether or not I will actually be promoted. I do know that I have worked harder than ever this year and I know that it has gotten noticed. While my paycheck and title may not reflect that, I am proud of the work that I’ve done this year.
Learn to say “no” more. I have had moments when I’ve said “no” but when I look at my schedule, I see that I still haven’t mastered the “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should” philosophy. I have a lot of talents and I want to share them but sometimes that one extra thing is what tips me into feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Learn to sew – even if it’s just basic things like place mats, pillows or the hem on a pair of pants. While I found my sewing machine in 2014, I did not take it out of its box. I didn’t even pick up a needle and thread in 2014. So I’m going to keep this one on the list.
Let go of the need to do more and be more and realize that, for today, I’ve done the best I can, and that’s enough. I am a person that continually strives for perfection, so letting go is not in my DNA. We’ll add this to the “still working on it” column.
Limit alcohol intake to weekends and special occasions. <Insert sounds of maniacal laughter here.>
Lower my A1C. While I have lowered my A1C incrementally from appointment to appointment in 2014, it still needs a vast improvement. This really goes hand in hand with the managing of my diet.
Master my “fancy camera” and learn how to take really good photographs. Well, Santa brought me some new lighting equipment, a new camera bag and some fun circular flashes for my lens, so I am determined now more than ever to take better pictures and take them more often.
Read more books. When I think back to the number of books that I read in 2013, this was the year of getting back to reading. I will admit that I sometimes combine reading with the audio version of the book but all-in-all I have spent less time watching stories and more time reading and listening to them. In 2014, I completed: Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects, The Giver, Me Before You, I’ll Give You The Sun, Eleanor & Park, Papa Hemingway and half of Still Alice. Not bad, considering I read nothing except plays in 2013.
Resist the temptation for the following behaviors on Facebook: vaguebooking, passive aggression, attention seeking statuses or self deprecation. Better to say nothing at all. I have found myself thinking a lot more before I share something on social media, be it a status or a comment. There were even times when I would vocalize my thoughts to my husband and tell him that I am walking away from the computer. Still not perfected but getting better.
Save $20 a week and use the money to fund one of the following in 2015: a writer’s retreat to Oregon for myself or a short cruise with Billy. Yeah, saving money was NOT something I did in 2014. Period. The end.
See more movies at the movie theatre with a big bucket of popcorn in my lap and someone I care about by my side. I have seen a few movies this year but in the day and age of Netflix and streaming, the cost is so formidable. I did see Into The Woods, which was beautiful from a cinematography standpoint, even if I have no soul and don’t love the source material.
Send more handwritten correspondence. This is something that I think is important and, in the age of technology, it is truly a lost art. I did not do a lot of handwritten correspondence in 2014, if any. I hope to in the forthcoming year.
Spend no more than a half an hour a day on social media. Oh, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?
Take more chances. Take those chances with the understanding that the answer might be “no” and that being told “no” is okay. I took a couple chances this year and most often was told “no” or “we’ll see.” I’m finding as I grow older that it doesn’t sting as much as it used to. I think I shall take more chances in 2015.
Volunteer somewhere I am truly needed that is a place that will remind me of how blessed I am. I started volunteering with my daughter at Tails of Courage in Danbury this year. It has been a great experience thus far. She loves dogs and Tails of Courage rescues animals and facilitates their adoption. This is a perfect way to spend more time with my daughter and do something that makes a difference in our community and in the lives of innocent animals.
Most of what I resolved to in 2014 will stay on the list for 2015. Since I am ever-changing and always looking to broaden my horizons, here are five more that I’ve added to the list for this year:
Learn to play an instrument.
Write a novel.
Learn to shuck my own oysters.
Revisit and fine tune my abilities as a performer. Nobody in the area has a real sense of what I can do and my audition skills have gotten so rusty that I’ve not yet been afforded the chance to show them.
Start a vegetable and herb garden in the spring.
Every year is filled with challenges, some expected and most unforeseen. On the eve before my birthday, which also happens to be the start of a new calendar year, I am happy to have made it through the outgoing year without major incident and look forward to a new year with family, friends and experiences that make me the complicated, slightly imperfect but well-worth-knowing person that I am.
On Saturday, November 23rd, TheatreWorks New Milford provided an invited audience with a sneak peek of their forthcoming production of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot. Following the preview, the beautifully appointed holiday-themed set served as a backdrop for various announcements from the Board at TheatreWorks.
President Glenn Couture took the stage, thanking the audience for making TheatreWorks Connecticut Magazine’s 2014 winner for Best Community Theatre. He then acknowledged the passing of some of our community’s most beloved fixtures, including Jude Callirgos Robinson and Nancy Camp, both longtime friends of TheatreWorks. Couture then announced that the passing of one of TheatreWorks founding members, Hope Meinhardt, would be commemorated with the naming of the performance space as The Hope Meinhardt Memorial Auditorium.
Board Member Jill Fay Pace then announced the upcoming children’s programs, including the two TWKids productions for 2015: Dear Edwina Jr. and Shrek Jr. Continuing the tradition of bringing lesser known or more complex pieces to the stage, Secretary Joseph Russo announced the Page2Stage selections for the next season, which include Tom Eyen’s Women Behind Bars, Terrence McNally’s Master Class, Israel Horovitz’s My Old Lady and the return of Jeff Goode’s The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, which was produced on the TheatreWorks stage in 1998. Russo also informed the audience that in the summer, TheatreWorks will be introducing a Workshop Series for Connecticut Playwrights.
TheatreWorks President Glenn Couture announces the 2015 season.
President Glenn Couture then announced the forthcoming productions that will be mounted by the theatre. Kicking off the season will be Nicky Lyon’s comedy/drama, The Lyons, directed by Matt Austin. The Lyons centers on the passing of patriarch Ben Lyons as his wife and children face the prospect of a future without him. The Lyons will open on February 20th and will run through March 13th.
Priscilla Squiers will reprise the role of Florence Foster Jenkins in Stephen Temperley’s play two-character play Souvenir. Joined by pianist Greg Chrzczon, Squiers will portray the wealthy socialite whose fame was achieved through the performance of notoriously off-key recitals, including a sold-out recital at Carnegie Hall. Souvenir will open on May 1st and will run through May 23rd.
Following Souvenir, Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still will take the stage under the direction of Sonnie Osborne. The play revolves around Sarah, a photojournalist injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, and her reported boyfriend James as they navigate the emotional aftermath of an event that alters not only their relationship but the way they will live their life going forward. Time Stands Still will open on July 1st and will run through August 1st.
In the fourth slot will be Ken Ludwig’s farce Leading Ladies about two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors who are looking to get a piece of an ailing woman multi-million dollar inheritance through whatever means necessary. Mistaken identity and unexpected twists will leave audiences rolling in the aisle. At this time, the director is to be determined. Leading Ladies will open on September 18th and will run through October 10th.
The 2015 season will wrap up with a production of John Van Druten’s classic Bell, Book and Candle under the direction of Joseph Russo. The romantic comedy introduces us to Gillian Holroyd, a witch who casts a love spell on her unsuspecting neighbor, Shep Henderson. Bell, Book and Candle will open on December 4th and will run through January 9th.
For more information about auditions, tickets and other events at TheatreWorks New Milford, visit their web site at www.theatreworks.us.
Today is World Diabetes Day. Here are some sobering facts about diabetes:
Almost 39 million people in North America have diabetes. If we do not act now, this figure will reach 50 million by 2035.
1 in 9 adults have diabetes in North America – the highest prevalence across regions. 27% of them have not been diagnosed and are at a higher risk of developing harmful and costly complications.
In North America, diabetes will cause 297,000 deaths in 2014. 41% of those deaths will be in people under the age of 60.
Worldwide, every 7 seconds one person dies from diabetes or complications of diabetes.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and amputation.
Worldwide, $310 billion will be spent on treating diabetes.
In November of 2008, less than two months shy of my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I have decided to re-share the account of my diagnosis today, as I have another related blog post planned for the 6th anniversary of my diagnosis.
Despite the fact I had been around the theatre practically since birth, it wasn’t until 1979 that I first acted before an audience that wasn’t assembled in my living room. It was in a children’s play called Once Upon A Clothesline and I portrayed the pivotal role of Dr. Beetle who aids the unfortunate clothespin Pinette, who has fallen from the clothesline.
We rehearsed at the YMCA in whichever room was available to accommodate our tween-aged thespian troupe. On one particular afternoon we rehearsed in the gym amidst the gymnastics equipment. Like most 10-year-old girls who had been swept up in the whirlwind of Nadia Comaneci’s 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, I took gymnastics. And having taken two years of gymnastics classes at that very same Y, I fancied myself a gymnast. One wintry afternoon, during my offstage time, I found myself wandering over to the balance beam and performing a round-off dismount that ended in a very un-Comanecilike landing.
The next morning my swollen and purple foot prompted a visit to the doctor’s office. Upon further examination, the doctor suspected that the foot might be broken and put my foot in a temporary splint that would stabilize it until we got to the hospital to have it x-rayed. As he was wrapping my foot, I remember crying. Not because my foot hurt, although it did, but because I was going to miss out on my big acting debut.
A broken growth plate, a foot cast and a set of crutches later, the accommodating creative team rallied and I was still able to make my acting debut. In fact, the doctor that made her entrance on crutches was cause for a bit of a chortle. So, despite the drama and the tears, the show still went on and I with it.
Throughout the years, many of my acting experiences have had a “broken foot” that I’ve had to work through alongside the performance: my aunt’s suicide, the death of my grandfather, my sister’s near fatal accident, my father’s cancer diagnosis. In many ways, having a show to focus on has helped me work through those difficult times. It is probably one of the many reasons that I have such a passion for theatre and why I repeatedly refer to it as my one true constant.
Nowadays, after having dallied in many of the theatre’s disciplines – acting, writing, directing, design, stage management, choreography and crew – I find myself opting for directing projects. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting but because I have to be more discretionary with how I select my theatre projects I usually opt for directing projects. In most cases I am more passionate about the shows that I have the opportunity to direct than the ones that I would be interested in auditioning for.
Of course, as fate often dictates, when it rains it pours. 2009 promises to be quite the theatrical year for me. I have received four offers to direct, two of which I have accepted. Furthermore, while official announcements won’t be made until January, there are a few other theatre-related endeavors that I will have a hand in. Naturally, amidst this flurry of theatrical activity, two dream roles that I would give my eye-teeth to audition for have surfaced. Given my love for theatre, all of this opportunity is akin to letting a kid loose in a candy store. And being the realist that I am, I have been waiting for a few months for the other shoe to drop.
And it has.
The shoe first dropped with the reminder that I need to be cognizant of the other responsibilities that I have in my life: my family, my marriage, my job. Regretfully, I never pursued my theatrical ambitions in earnest and, therefore, my love of the stage does not pay the bills. As such, there is no justification for my theatrical adventures outside of the happiness and personal fulfillment it brings me. Given the strain that it puts on the other aspects of my life and recognizing the selfishness of pursuing an unrealized dream is basically a dropping shoe that was both inevitable and justified.
However, unbeknownst to me at the time, that dropping shoe was falling off of a broken foot.
Last week I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. During tech week for Little Women and the week abroad that followed I was feeling a bit under the weather. I knew something was up and scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the Monday following my return from the UK. At the appointment I listed off my symptoms and the nurse asked me if I had history of diabetes in my family. After a couple of quick tests in the office, it was evident that I did, in fact, have diabetes. My doctor sent me to the pharmacy and I was put on insulin straight away. The next day, I went to the endocrinologist who explained to me that I had such high sugar and ketone levels that I narrowly escaped ketoacidosis and hospitalization. Another blood test later, it was revealed that I did indeed have type 1 diabetes and that I would be on insulin injections for the rest of my life.
Now, like any self-respecting theatre aficionado, I have seen SteelMagnolias and, until now, that play/film had formed the basis for my knowledge of diabetes, specifically type 1 which Julia Roberts’ character Shelby has. When I tell people of my diagnosis, I can see in their faces whether or not they are replaying select scenesSteel Magnolias in their heads. And that’s okay. I have done it countless times, too.
There are times when I’m scared. There are times when I’m pissed off. There are times when I’m sad. There are times when I’m defiant. And those feelings will not go away, much like the disease responsible for generating them. I’m sure these emotions will grow more infrequent as I prepare for a lifetime of “managing” diabetes. It is just a matter of incorporating them, and it, into my now drastically altered life.
It is amazing what a person can learn in two weeks. Naturally, I am reading as much as I can about the disease and am doing my level best to get it under control. My life experiences have provided a pretty solid medical knowledge, so I’m learning the textbook side of things fairly easily and I’ve become a pro at injecting insulin into my now bruise-covered stomach. But in the past two weeks I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I have a passion for many things: my family, my friends and my art. I’ve also learned how difficult it is to balance so many loves. While it isn’t a skill I’ve yet mastered, it is one I plan to hone. But as Emersonsays, art is a jealous mistress. Believe me, I recognize the priorities I’ve got at the moment but I also know that my mistress will wait only so long before she gets restless.
So here I am, left to steady my course and face the road ahead. Yes, I have a broken foot and, while it may slow me down for a bit, it will not stop me. So, despite the drama and the tears, the show will go on and I will go on with it.
Stresspiration? Yes – it is a word that I made up. So what? It really sums up my continuous and apparent need to add more stress to my life by categorizing it as an inspirational endeavor.
Between October and the end of the year, our family celebrates seven birthdays, eight if you include December 25th’s birthday boy. And that is one heck of a stressful birthday celebration. Then there is travel, holidays, parties, shows to see, concerts to attend and, of course, the subsequent financial ruin that basically leaves me in tears and an anxiety-induced cold sweat by the time my birthday rolls around on January 1st.
Naturally, the first thing I would do is add more to my plate. At least the three things I’ve added won’t cost me more than time and here they are:
I tried National Novel Writing Month last year and failed miserably. Of course, I was directing a play at the time so I pretty much went to work and then to rehearsal, with no time to write. This year, I have a bit of a head start as I am going to be converting my play, A Gift of Undetermined Value, to a novel format. I’m leaving the house in about an hour for a party so I’m already in the hole 50,000 words.
National Diabetes Month
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes right before my 40th birthday. A very big part of me wishes that I had been diagnosed when I was a child because it would be much more incorporated with my lifestyle than it is now. I promise you, if you live forty years without it, the changes are very evident and exceedingly frustrating. That said, I have made it a goal of mine to post about what it is like to live with diabetes, including a week where I do a play-by-play on social media during November to help people understand what it’s like to live with it.
Blog A Day So, my blog has been pretty neglected. Some friends that didn’t want to commit to NaNoWriMo felt that writing a blog post a day would be less ominous in nature. So I signed up. This is the first post for Blog A Day.
On Sunday, May 18th, I arose earlier than usual. As a believer in signs and with the hindsight I now have, perhaps it was for a reason wholly different than the fact that I had a shit ton of stuff to get done that day. I brushed my teeth, ran a comb through my hair and threw on some clothes I didn’t care about. This morning was going to be messy and I didn’t want to get paint on my skinny jeans or on the shoes I bought to train for the Avon 3-Day in October.
I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions but on January 1, 2014 I made a lot of them. Last year was a difficult year for me so I thought it was a good idea to have a list that would serve as a barometer for all of the positive changes that I wanted to make. One of the resolutions was to form a book club with some of my bibliophile friends in an effort to spend time with people that were voracious readers while, at the same time, forcing myself to read a book or two. On this particular Sunday, our book club, appropriately named Reading Between The Wines, was meant to get together to discuss Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Ever the procrastinator, I double-checked to ensure that the audio version of the book was loaded on my iPod and I headed to the theater to get a few hours of set painting in while finishing up the book for the afternoon’s discussion.
As I was slathering paint on the upstage walls of the theater, I listened to the last hour of The Giver. My phone began to rang as the story reached its conclusion. The lead character, Jonas, was sledding down a hill with the infant Gabriel, leaving behind Sameness and heading toward toward the freedom of Elsewhere, replete with all of the joy of music and the color of twinkling light. This ambiguous ending is simultaneously sad and hopeful. (Yet another moment made oddly clear with hindsight.) Once the story was completed, I picked up my phone to see a missed call and a text from a friend. It said, “Call me.” I have learned two things since the dawning of the age of digital communication: (1) if you receive a text or an e-mail to call someone, you do and (2) it is rarely good news when you make that call.
“Where are you?”
“At the theater, painting the set,” I replied. I could tell in her voice what was coming next.
“Jude passed away this morning.”
And that is when the fog began to roll in. My friend said something about cancelling book club and about getting together at a friend’s house later. She may have said something about seeing me at rehearsal that night. I honestly don’t remember. I hung up and called my husband, who’s first words, “I’m sorry,” which seemed ill suited for me but at the same time, since my husband knew how this news would hit me when it came, ideally suited. Then I called another friend to let her know that Jude was gone. Then I filled the theater walls with loud music, covered them with blood red paint and I cried. I was alone in my church, the whole time thinking of and remembering my friend. I like to think should would have dug that.
Jude had been a presence in our theatrical community well before I happened upon it. To me, she was this enigmatic figurehead of talent that I had yet to experience firsthand, she was The Baker’s Wife, she was Maggie the Cat, she was that charismatic woman who danced with reckless abandon at weddings or the sophisticated lady at the barbecue. But she was not yet my friend. I first really came to know Jude in October 2001, when my husband contracted necrotizing fasciitis (the fancy term for flesh-eating bacteria). She would come to visit him in the ICU every day and hang out in the family waiting room with me and the many friends who came to offer me and our family support and encouragement. When I wasn’t at the hospital, I would be home with my 1-year-old daughter and whichever family members or friends that were staying with me at the time. I remember Jude stopping by one afternoon, sitting casually on my living room floor, reminiscing about time spent onstage with my husband. She brought with her a photo of her and my husband in a production of The Actor’s Nightmare that had hung on her porch. She felt he needed to have it.
While interactions such as these helped me to kn0w her better, I didn’t yet consider her my friend. She was really a friend of my husband’s. Over time, I finally had the privilege of seeing her perform and she was, of course, magnificent. One of those performance included sharing the stage with my husband in Twelfth Night, the production that marked his return to the stage following his year of medical uncertainty. We went out to dinner with Jude and her then husband and it was a delightful evening of French food, fine wine and hanging out with her beautiful dogs in their newly purchased home in Redding. I began to feel that she was someone I would like to spend more time getting to know. Someone I’d like to call friend.
It wasn’t too long after that dinner that we received news that Jude had been diagnosed with breast cancer. All at once she was experiencing what she would later refer to in her memoir, Breast Left Unsaid, as a “Category 5 hurricane” – a life that simultaneously included divorce, the passing of her best friend, both parents taking ill with a topping off of a breast cancer diagnosis. It would have been unrealistic to expect our friendship to become anything more than casual acquaintances as she weathered her hurricane and I gave birth to twins and set about raising three girls under the age of three.
Fast forward to Fall 2008. Jude was in remission and married to the love of her life, my twins were no longer babies and my husband was healthy. The timing found both of us back at our church – the theater – when Jude auditioned for a production of Little Women that I was directing. It was then that I finally felt that I connected with Jude on a more meaningful level. We became friends. We’d share glasses of wine and theater war stories and I realized that the awe I once felt for her had turned into mutual admiration. We were cut from a very similar cloth, she and I. During the run of this production, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As I was working to control the ketoacidosis that had set in and juggling needles and insulin vials, she would constantly check in on me. I was so thankful for her concern, very aware of the fact that her father was gravely ill and truly touched that she still made sure to check in on me.
Over the years that followed I was proud to call her my friend. We would attend small dinner parties together, she counseled me through my own breast cancer scare, we would get together and talk about the challenges of starting a theater company and our love of boots, wine, travel and writing. No, I wasn’t a member of her beloved Stumble Upon Crew nor was I referenced directly in her memoir, but we were friends and I felt such a deep connection to her. In fact, as I laughed and cried through her book, I grew angry with myself for not being more “there for her” when she was fighting her battle with breast cancer.
In March 2012 I received an e-mail from Jude’s husband. I was at work and the message told me to call his cell when I had a private moment. As I said before, when you receive a message to call someone, it is never good news. I called him and he told me that Jude’s cancer had come back and that it was Stage 4. He assured me that they were going to do everything they could to fight it – clinical trials, chemo, whatever it took. Jude was going into this with guns blazing. My heart sunk, the tears flowed and, as I did a couple of days ago, I called my husband.
A few weeks later, we got together for lunch and she and I chatted about all the things that mattered: our spouses, our children, family and friends, theater and, of course, our illnesses. She said that she had found a good course of treatment and that she was thankful that her hair wasn’t falling out. I told her that I was on the short list to receive an artificial pancreas as soon as the FDA approved it. I found it almost laughable to reference my illness in the same breath as hers. But Jude understood. Whenever I was in the hospital, Jude was always one of the first people to send me a note asking how I was. I would say that she had no idea how much that meant but, the reality of it is, she did know.
In the all too short years that followed, Jude released her memoir and we proudly attended readings and events as she added writer and activist to her list of talents. Last spring, while my husband and kids were in Barbados, I stayed home to do some home improvement projects and to participate in my first ever 5K in an effort to support Jude and her quest to find a cure. I was literally the last person to cross the finish line but she was there, waiting for me, encouraging me to come to Green Acres and have a glass of wine and a nosh.
As Jude became more ill, the time we spent together was more and more infrequent. At one time, I was included on the e-mail updates pertaining to how she was doing and treatments she was undergoing but as time went on, I was no longer included. I believe that it was because the circle was becoming smaller and I was very aware of the how many lives Jude touched and where I fit into her concentric circles. In January, I sent her a message and told her that I understood that she needed to digest everything with her friends and family first but that I’d love an update. I knew that she didn’t want her illness to define her, yet I was concerned. She responded telling me how much she appreciated being my friend and acknowledged that I understood in a way that many do not. We made plans for lunch.
The next three months were spent arranging dates and then canceling them for one legitimate reason or another. Jude was having procedures or undergoing treatment that would exhaust her or leave her incapable of walking, I would have a cold and wouldn’t to expose her fragile immune system to it or I had a medical procedure and was drugged up. Our Scandal slumber party ended up being a smattering of Twitter statuses about who was more evil: Cyrus or Papa Pope? In short, the timing just never worked for us.
A couple of weeks ago, at a social affair, a mutual friend asked me if I had seen or talked to Jude. Given the numerous cancels and reschedules, I had not. My friend proceeded to give me all of the inside information that she had amassed from her circle that rested closer to the center than mine. I told her to stop. I told her it upset me knowing that she got to see Jude and I didn’t. I told her I was fearful that I would never see her again and that I was deeply saddened by that fact. Fighting tears, I explained to her that I didn’t want to get news second or thirdhand. It seemed time and fate was never on our side, no matter how hard we tried.
A couple of days later, I sent a text to Jude, asking her how she was. Jude was very candid on social media, so I would usually get all of the information I needed from from there. But Facebook and Twitter had fallen into a very telling radio silence. She responded back, telling me that she had stopped chemo and that she was meeting with hospice. I told her that I loved her and that she meant more to me that she would ever realize. I’m glad I got to say that. She told me she loved me. I’m glad I got to hear that. We made plans to have lunch.
A week ago today, as I always did when we had plans, I sent her a text in the morning confirming that we were still on. I received a text back from her husband. “Jude did not have a good night. She needs to cancel. You should reschedule soon.”
And on Sunday she was gone. We never got to have lunch. We never got to have one last word. I never got to hear that laugh one more time. I didn’t want to impose on her. All I wanted to do was bring her a funny picture, sit on her living room floor and talk about Tuscany whilst drinking a glass of wine. I realize, though, that that is about me. Not her.
As I’ve been working through her passing, I keep telling myself that I should have tried one more time and that I should have fought my way harder to be a bigger part of a life already abundant with friends. Should I have just showed up on her doorstep with a casserole and tried jamming it in a refrigerator that I knew was overflowing with food? I didn’t want to insert myself inappropriately or be a nuisance. All I wanted to do was bring her a funny picture, sit on her living room floor and talk about Tuscany whilst drinking a glass of wine. I realize, though, that those are things I wanted, for me. And Jude’s passage from this earthly place was not, and should not, be about me.
Jude left behind an adoring husband, a mother who fought the breast cancer battle twice and won, three siblings who meant the world to her, a stepdaughter to whom she served as Mom2 and a community of friends, tangible and virtual, who loved her very much. There is a tremendous void in so many lives as a result of her passing. The realization I have come to is this: it is not about where I fit in her life, it is where she fit in mine. She made an indelible imprint on my soul and I will be forever changed because of those intertwined moments we shared, however infrequent they may have been.
I am reminded of a scene in Little Women. It is a scene after Beth dies and Jo is in the attic talking to Marmee about the fact that she cannot write, that she is filled with emptiness, that she should have been there and done more for Beth. Believe me when I tell you that I can relate to all of these struggles and have been for over a year now. Last year a show of mine that was meant to have its world premiere was cancelled and, on another project, the producers had replaced me as bookwriter for a show that I had co-written that had received a Broadway option. Jude, as a fellow writer, would always ask me about my writing. I’d tell her that I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I felt defeated by the cruelty of the business. She’d nod and sagely tell me that the time would come and when it did, my writing would be better than ever. My last birthday wish from Jude was this: “Happy happy birthday, darling. Wishing you a wonderful day and year. Drink wine, eat cake, and keep writing.”
As Marmee said to Jo, “But I refused to feel tragic, I am aching for more than pain and grief. There has got to be meaning, most of all when a life has been so brief. I have got to learn something, how can I give her any less? I want life to go on.”
My life will go on, filled with memories of a special woman, and I will start writing again. I will be as truthful in my writing as Jude was in hers and I will spend less time worrying about what others think. As Marmee said to Jo, I will carry on, full of hope. And she’ll be there. For all my days of plenty.