Ya'll... Summer has been absolutely insane! It feels like it was JUST March, the last time I posted, but suddenly, I'm realizing quickly that July 22nd, is basically New Year's Eve. Right?
This summer has been very great, but also insanely busy. It's my 4th summer back in Chautauqua, and it feels perfect in every way it normally should right? I think it's imperative now to start some sort of 'routine' for life. It feels like the grounding points for me to at least keep some sort of landing point throughout the year that help to establish some mental awareness calendar. Do you have those events too?
This summer will quickly wind down and soon Fall will be upon us, with that brings already 4 shows that I will be designing or assisting on. Hopefully more will come up and I can have a very healthy and prosperous calendar to round out my 2016. I have been absolutely fortunate to have the incredible experiences that have been making up this year. With the official launch of Do Good Theatre (www.dogoodtheatre.weebly.com) it is now going to be a wild adventure to see who our next partners become, and how our group grows. I think we will definitely have a wonderful experience creating more meaningful art and forwarding the push of arts and collaboration with the global community.
Up Next Immediately:
The 10 year class reunion. I can't believe it's already been 10 years since graduation from high school, however, my brain and my body can definitely attest to the fact that it certainly has been one hell of a wild ride since that point. The last 10 years have certainly given me an incredible perspective on the hopes and dreams for the future. More on this in the upcoming post for Living Your Truth.
What about you?
What are things you're looking forward to as the 2nd half of the year becomes our todays? Where are you going? Who are you seeing? How will you use the time you're given with the rest of the year? Why will you do what you will do when you do all the things you have coming up?
Peace and love.
Hello dear readers.
It has been far too long since I've posted an update in the blog. Life has been busy, I've opened two world premiere works, designed a few shows, assisted on a few others, and have been a busy little beaver. The grief process has also been a complicated circuit to navigate, but has been refreshing in some capacity as well.
So what's next?
Upcoming in the next few weeks, I will be writing on living your truth. Whatever that may be. I will explore my own personal life and then offer parallels to perhaps the world at large. I would love to know other's thoughts on this. Please feel free to reach out or write a comment etc.
Series 1: Living Your Truth- The You Inside No One Knows
Series 2: Living Your Truth - Your Identity In The Global World
Series 3: Living Your Truth - The Public You The World Knows
Series 4: Living Your Truth - Interactive You.
I hope to shed light on why I am the way I am, but also offer encouragement for others who are uncertain of their own lives, perhaps timid, or behind closed doors. What do we hide from? What are things we refuse to allow others to see? Why? What is harm/foul in others seeing us?
It's been three nearly four weeks since I've been able to update my blog, I'm back again.
Christmas at home in WI was not an easy journey this year. I was able to go home on Christmas day, leaving the DC area on a 3am flight from Reagan National and arriving in Minneapolis/St.Paul by 8am. Luckily my mother and brother drove the three hours up to pick me up and drive the three hours to get home. I counted my blessings as I slept most of the drive home. I had not slept in two days prior to going home due to show work, and other odds and ends I was taking care of in DC. I got home around 12noon and walked into my great-aunt's bedroom and said: "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas! Santa brought me all the way to you!" and her response, which will live with me forever, was: "thank God you're home, finally."
That singular phrase would not mean much to me for 48 hours. We had Christmas dinner, opened presents, celebrated with the family and friends I hold dear, and eventually I passed out on the recliner in the living room, bogged down with two Jack Russell Terriers. I woke up, tried to eat something for supper, but accepted that I wouldn't find much, and went to bed, eager to have a cards night the following day, the day after Christmas.
December the 26th
I woke up, 10am, and we as a family decided to go to out shopping to see what leftover bargains could be found, that was a wasted trip, it was an apocalyptic scene, no one was out shopping, everyone was enjoying peace at home. Finally, I thought, maybe Capitalism had finally released some of its grip on my home towns. We ate lunch at the local mall, I had a childhood favorite, Coney Island hotdogs, it's a once in a blue moon treat that I have it, because they only exist in my hometown. Everyone else ate a smattering of foods from across the food court and we had ourselves a small family feast. We got home, prepped for the card party, and people arrived promptly for a festive fun evening.
The game went until 10pm, folks were tired, I forget the Midwest rolls up its streets much earlier than the East Coast. A high school friend of mine stopped over, and encouraged me to come to her home, so I packed up the card game, we jumped in my dad's truck, and I drove us over to what I will consider one of my fondest holiday memories ever. We had Moscow Mules, played cards, and shot the shit until the wee early morning hours. As I was packing to leave, someone mentioned that we hadn't fulfilled our promise to sing together the next time we were together. I had a wicked cough, and wasn't the first to think about singing, but as soon as I had some water flowing over my vocal chords I suddenly felt like singing. It was 3:45am, and here we were, singing Adele, Christmas Favorites, and anything we could get our hands on. Enjoy the sample of 4:40am singing, an out of tune piano, and some heavy processing I did in Logic:
Suddenly I realized that it was 5am. Yes, I was on vacation, but 5am, and being an older 20's seems to have made me an old coot. I gave my love to everyone, and headed out, into the brisk Wisconsin morning to get the 5 blocks home. I snuck in the house, afraid suddenly, as if I were a 15 year old getting caught for being out all night. I showered, and fell asleep, to this day, I don't know that I had a more fulfilling rest. My mother woke me up, it was nearly noon, and asked what I had done. I filled her in on the details, and that's when she broke the news to me that my great aunt was not doing well today.
Some folks know the story of how it came to pass that my great aunt and cousin moved in with us, but for those that do not, I will share it here. My great aunt was not in good health in 2012, Having previously had both knees and hips replaced, and then a shoulder replacement, she never quite recovered the way we all thought she would. Aunt Blanche was a force to be reckoned with, a strong, independent woman, there was no one who could tell her something she didn't want to hear. She was, in my humble opinion, the best cook in the world, she didn't need a restaurant, her home kitchen served as the finest eatery I'll have ever known. I was gearing up for Grad-School, one less person in our home in WI. I knew that it was becoming incredibly taxing on my cousin to be the sole care provider for someone who could not stand to walk to a bathroom more than 10 feet away, and we had my dad at home full time as he was retired. I saw a perfect opportunity then and there that my great aunt and cousin should come to WI and live with us. After a few phone calls, and realization that living in our home was going to be a better solution than a nursing home, they moved across the country back to the home land of Wisconsin. She settled in, and asked if it was okay to stay through the end, and of course it was.
Fast forward to the 27th of December, 2015. 12:00n.
I woke up, got pressed and dressed for the day, and stuck my head in the bedroom that Aunt Blanche had built onto our pre-existing home. My cousin Debbie looked at me, and I knew in that exact instant that nothing good was coming of that day. So I went in, I pulled up the bench next to her hospital bed, and she barely tracked me coming in the room to sit with her. I held her head and her hand and just hummed to her for a bit. She was gasping for air, in pain, and there was nothing we could do. She couldn't swallow pills, couldn't drink water, and there was a strange calmness that flooded me, I knew, perhaps more than anyone else, that it wouldn't be long. I sat down and Debbie and I started chatting. That's when my ears, bless them for being so alert, noticed a rhythmic change in Aunt Blanche's breathing, it became less regular, and more desperate, it lasted but a few seconds and then it stopped. Completely. As I held her in my arms, I felt an electric pulse run right up my arms and out through the top of my head.
For those who know me well, I don't share it often, but I do consider myself in tune with the other side, I have had more experiences than I can count where I have been visited by spirit, and by family from the other side. My dearest friend Tracy Hanley from home and I have had very long chats about my gifts, and what they entail, not only am I a healer, a mothering figure, and a medium, deep down, I think one of my strongest attributes is to help other people cross over to the other side. I can't explain how it feels in words, it is truly an out of body experience, to witness a passing through my eyes and through my soul.
When I went into Aunt Blanche's room, I could tell, I knew, and I like to think that our relatives were there, in that moment, not only guiding her soul through the shadow of death, but comforting us who were left behind. They are with us, if we take a moment to accept their embrace, even through the palls of different planes of existence. A feeling of a hand on a shoulder, the remembrance of a tight hug, those aren't just memories, not in my opinion.
I looked down at Aunt Blanche, she wasn't breathing, I felt for a pulse, there wasn't anything, her color slowly drained from her face, and I knew, of course I knew what it meant. I prayed over her body, I asked our past loved ones to take her, to guide her to freedom from a body that wouldn't work anymore, and they did. I felt her guiding my body through the day, the hardest day of my life. I got my dad, he broke down, he and my cousin had been her primary care takers for years, and suddenly, it was done. There was only a funeral home to call, my mother who had gone to work, and my brother, and the rest of our family and friends. It was a blur. While my dad was on the phone with my mom, he became unconsolable, that's when I started to lose it, thanks to my mother, I am a proxy crier as an adult. She had my dad give me the phone and she asked if I thought she should come home, The only words I could think of were; "if you even remotely want a chance at goodbye to her body, it's now or never." She burst into tears, and said she'd be right home. I called my brother at work, and he went catatonic, and then suddenly he was home. I went downstairs to a private location and burst into full blown hysterics. Here was the woman I call my hero, gone, gone forever. Gone from me, gone from being a phone call away, gone from being a Skype session away on my mom's computer, gone from being able to play a concert for in the other room, gone from cooking, gone.
Suddenly, and swiftly I regained my composure, Aunt Blanche in my mind saying: "I need you to be tough right now, I need you to do everything that we talked about when this would happen. I need you to take care of everyone." It was a pact she and I had made when I was 13. In the dying days of my maternal grandma I had no idea what was going on, until an adult finally slipped just enough that my quick brain figured out exactly that there was no getting better for her. I stormed out of her house, ran the four houses to my home, slammed the door, locked myself in my bedroom, and burst into a full meltdown. Grandma was my life, she was my all... it turns out old ladies are my spirit animal and my life. Pretty soon I heard a knock on my door. "It's me, it's Aunt Blanche, can I please come in?" "No!" I screamed, why would I allow someone who hid things from me, to now torture me? I'm not kidding here folks, she, at 70 something years of age, kicked down a full wooden door, literally busted the lock and everything to get in my room. I sat there, floored that she did it, but she ran in that room, scooped me into her arms, and held me so very close, and we talked about how much she was also going to miss my grandma, her sister. We talked about how life isn't fair. How we have to die. How we had to do everything we could to make her end of life exactly what we would want, because it wasn't fair that she wouldn't get to enjoy the last few days of her existence. We cried... we cried for an hour straight, just holding onto each other, I didn't know mature love for another person until that moment, I didn't know what it meant to feel your heart thump in your feet, telling you that it wasn't important to grieve before someone was gone, but rather to put on swim trunks, and put your grandmother in a tub, and sit behind her, so she didn't fall over, or get hurt. Aunt Blanche and I bathed her one last time together, we did her breathing treatments together, we made her food together, everything. And in that week of my grandma's passing we had chat, Aunt Blanche and I, about how she would never leave me until I got to be there with her when it happened, she promised me then and there, at 13 and 70 something that she would always wait for me and I would know when it would happen.
I did know. I knew that morning, I felt it, in my gut, in my mind, in my soul. I knew. Somehow, knowing seemed to make the day, the moment, manageable. I became less and less functioning as the afternoon wained on. 12:45pm, time of death. I had just awoken, I felt well enough to talk to people as they came through our house. But by 3pm, I had all I could do to stand. Grief flooding every corner of my body. My mother, cousin and I sat in the room after they had taken her body, all three of us, left alone to look at an empty hospital bed, the scent of her Japanese Cherry Blossom lotion still lingering in the air, or the Rice and Shea soap still caressing the hairs in my nose. Smells have a funny way of reconnecting us faster than any other sense. We three looked at each other, The closest people to my great aunt other than her husband who was waiting for her to get to the other side so they could go on trips again. We sat there, stood there, and tried to say something, but nothing would come out. Nothing could come out. Nothing but tears, tears and hugs, and knowing it was all better because of it. She wasn't trapped in an arthritic body that couldn't move, she wasn't in pain, she wasn't suffering any more... but it didn't make it easier. Of course it couldn't make it easier, grief is fickle like that, it finds a place to lock on, and it does not let go.
I looked out into our living room when my brother arrived home, and I saw him, and I just grabbed him and started hysterically bawling into his shoulder, I don't know why I trust him with my emotions as strictly as I do, but I think that with everything we've gone through together, he is perhaps one of the very few people in the entire planet who knows me to my core, knows why my heart ticks, knows why I am the way I am, has been through the loss of so many friends and family members. We sat there, for probably twenty minutes, me just bawling. Him, consoling me. And we made plans then, for when the next person goes. We figured out what needed to happen, what time frames would have to exist, etc. Odd isn't it? We don't think about those things before we need it, yet, perhaps, we should think about those thing the most?
Mom headed back to work, Mitch taking her, them going together and him being her rock as she soldiered through. My cousin Jason and I looked at our house, and I was continually bothered by the Christmas decor that was up. It felt wrong. It felt abhorrently wrong that the cheer of Christmas would still be up in now the largest grief of my life. So I asked my cousin if he would help me take it all down. At first he was very skeptical, and then things clicked, he understood, the memories and the love of Christmas was mine and Aunt Blanche's, no one in my family loves Christmas more than she and I do/did. We took down ornaments, helped my cousin Debbie to take down things in Aunt Blanche's room, and we cleaned. Funny how cleaning touches the soul at its innermost core, as if to say; "the is how you feel better, you sweep, you mop, you put away happiness, and you unload grief, decorate your home in grief, decorate your daily life in it, because it will be here longer than you want."
Quickly night settled in on our house, and so did a foot and a half of snow. I just sat there, at home, all day, on Monday the 28th. I watched it snow, I watched that snow fall in waves. I took my cousin to the funeral home to settle everything, my great aunt and great uncle had previously paid for a service that took their ashes out to international waters and set them adrift, traveling at sea together, for the rest of eternity. Fitting, as they had traveled to all 7 continents, had seen I think, quite literally everything there was to see in Europe, Asia, Russia, Australia, Antarctica, The polar bears in Churchill, Canada, had cruised to so many locations I don't even know. It was so fast, so simple, so quick. The benefits of small towns, the people know each other, they respect your time, and when you work for the funeral home as one of their caterers for events, you get the staff who consoles you in the hardest times of your life. I drove us back home. Put on PJ's, and let the snow fall mesmerize me.
Tuesday, Dec 29th. The last day at home in 2015.
I didn't know what to do. Part of me felt the inherent need to stay behind, to grieve as our family grieves, but the other half of me knew that I needed to come back to DC, to put the pieces together, to get over being sick, to heal, to sleep, to just try to start again. I had the support of everyone in my shows and my apartment that they would be willing to help in any capacity. And I didn't know how to even start to thank people. I spent the day with my parents, we stayed close together. I don't think they left me alone by myself all day, and for that I am grateful. I needed to be with my core family, I needed stability as I lay there, foundering, unable to emotionally know my own life. I packed, I put away my bedroom at home once again, I tried to keep my chin up, but it only felt like it was being pulled down.
Wednesday. Dec 30th. Leaving the familiarity of home, and being guided by angels.
Travel day. I don't mind traveling, in fact, it's actually my favorite thing to do, sure planes get boring and old, but you know, first class tickets help that to not feel so awful. I got to MSP just fine from La Crosse, but as I sat there, trying to eat some ChickFilA breakfast, which is normally never an issue, I had lost the will to eat. They boarded first class cabin on my flight from MSP to DCA, and I got settled, I asked the attendant for some of Delta's biscoff cookies, and a sprite, my tummy was not having it. Aunt Blanche popped into my head, Sprite, Toast, Dramamine and something sweet, and you'll feel okay to fly. Sure enough, I settled in, and we had a closed door... when all of a sudden we heard knocking on the aircraft door... they forgot the pilots. We waited a bit, and I had a phone call come through, a UNCSA alumnus who I was working with the following day called to check on me. My network, my strength away from home, already kicking in, we chatted for a bit, and settled some speaker locations, and we got the go ahead to take off, so I quickly put away my cell, and relaxed back into my seat. I didn't just relax, I passed out. For almost an hour, I didn't wake up until I felt my whole body drift over onto the poor business guy sitting next to me. I woke up and said; "Oh my God, I am so sorry I didn't mean to fall over on you." He calmly responded: "Don't you worry about it, you look like you need to sleep, and if I can be a shoulder to help, you just fall asleep." Kindness from strangers, is severely under appreciated in this country. The flight attendant for first class noticed I was awake, and asked me if I would like my low-sodium meal, and I groggily said sure. Pretty soon, I had all of the cabin crew at my seat chatting with me about how they had all wanted to try the meal because it looked like one of the best options that they had ever seen. It was really good, a turkey ciabatta sandwich with roasted veggies, a cucumber salad, and fruit bowl, was really yummy! My attendant came over and leaned down, and said she was glad I woke up, everyone was getting hungry. I thanked her for her hospitatlity, and then I burst into tears, in the middle of my meal, in the middle of these fine elegant folks... just a full blown melt down. The attendant quickly hugged me and asked what was wrong. I told her about how all the stories that I have while traveling was the thing that connected me the most to my great aunt who had just passed away in my arms two days prior, she squeezed me so tight in a hug and told me it was okay to cry, that she knew that it couldn't be easy to have gone through that, and that she was there for me throughout the whole flight. I quickly regained my composure, but couldn't thank that woman enough if my life depended on it. The kindness of strangers, appreciated more than words exist in the dictionary.
I landed in DCA, got my black-car service home, and shoved all three huge suitcases in my bedroom, Unpacked, and fell asleep, I slept for 19 hours, straight. I woke up one time to get a drink of water. 5pm the next day, I walked out into our kitchen of the apartment, and my roommates sat there, and just waited for me to say something, and all I could do was say thank you. I had no words, I had hit rock bottom. They helped me make something to eat, I barely ate whatever it was that we made, and I went back to sleep for another 14 hours. I didn't know how much sleep I needed, but it came like a welcomed friend. New Years Eve was spent with friends in Fairfax, VA, we made dinner, counted down to midnight, I hung around for a few minutes, and then I drove myself home, to sleep again for another 12 hours. My poor body, riddled with whatever plague decided to leach my soul from, and then grief, it was an impossible combination.
I went into work the next day, to check on things, and the theatre community surrounded me in love and compassion. I came in, hoping to help in some small way to get things up, but it was nearly completed, something I "shouldn't have to worry about in my state." and "if there's anything, and we mean anything at all we can do, let us know." I tell you my friends, colleagues, and strangers I've never met before, if you ever doubt that there is a bond stronger than love and compassion, I will give you the experience I've had, and you will know its power.
I recouped, slowly, assuredly, took one day at a time, put one foot in front of the other, made design choices that seemed logical, started to get back on the saddle, and started to move forward. It wasn't easy, the slightest thing made my mind wander and I felt pulled in 1000 directions, but I focused. I put on my blinders to the rest of the world and just hunkered down in the familiarity of tech, of being with art and music.
January 7th... I got a letter from my dear Penny Nollenberger, a woman who knew Aunt Blanche as nearly and dearly as our family had. I got my first sympathy card, ever. Just to me. When we had spoken while I was at home in WI, we talked for an hour on the phone. About how much Aunt Blanche loved me, how proud of me she was, and how much I was going places, but we also shared memories, we talked about memorial trips we should do, we connected as family again. Then I opened the card... four minutes before heading out to tech. I read the card: " Justin, wishing you a blessed New Year. Please keep in touch, as we are family forever because of our precious Blanche, You are in our thoughts and prayers as you walk through the loss of Blanche. She will be forever missed. She was so proud of you and loved you a lot - she told me this many times. Sending you all of our love." and as I sat in my car, bawling my eyes out, I noticed a small, laminated green piece of paper, whose writing I will leave you all with:
Love Leaves a Memory.
Those we love don't go away.
They walk beside us every day,
unseen, unheard, but always near.
Still loved, still missed, and very dear.
For death leaves a heartache,
no one can heal,
and love leaves a memory
no one can steal!
There is mere hours that stands between us and the yearly tradition of bombarding relatives with gifts, drinks, songs, and merriment. Working in the entertainment industry is of its own #Framily (Thanks Nova Payton!). We all spend countless hours making sure shows are up and running, but what really comes down to, are the mega millions (insert sarcasm here), to the box office sales that can happen on the holidays too. It's actually quite something to behold, and exciting that so many people are going to live entertainment, but how do we get them the other 11 months out of the year? How do we, in theater, dance, art, etc, keep butts in seats, how do we bring in people to see our work?
I am excited to go "off grid" for 5 days starting on Christmas Day. I will be flying home to WI, and spending time with my loved ones. I can't wait to take a small break and unplug for a bit. Always fascinating isn't it? We used to be able to turn off our phones when we went to bed, or when we wanted, but lately, if we're not available 24/7/365, someone's not happy. To them, I say - relax. Live. Breathe. It's going to be okay. I know this, because I've appreciated a distance break before. Have you?
Wrapping up a tremendous 2015 will be my last blog of the 2015 year, and then 2016 will start another huge adventure. Details to come! :)
Love and blessings friends!
Has your heart ever been so full that all you can seem to do is allow the steady stream of tears to flow from your eyes, because there clearly isn't anything else to do? That seems to be a reoccurring theme this past week for me. From mixing this beautiful cabaret at Signature Theatre, to designing a Jewish Holiday-esque show, to reading 20-something brand new plays written by very talented young writers, to talking shop with fellow alumni, talking about the summer plans (of which I have no idea which route I'm planning to take... someone need a sound designer?!), to just being swept up by a gospel choir in the cabaret... ya'll, it's the HOLIDAZE!
I say "holidaze" because I am truly dazed by the amount of stuff I'm doing, interviewing for, and just finally seeing all the puzzle pieces fit together for the first time. Maybe it's not the pieces so much so that I've been stumbling trying to put together a puzzle in the pitch black of night with no light and no idea where to find the pieces. There have been many lightning bug echoes of illumination along the process, but it is often difficult to see everything you need to see at the moment the flicker happens. So, here you are, fumbling, with tiny little bug butt lights going crazy, you're naturally half crazy anyway, and you're trying to put this damn puzzle together and you don't even know what the final picture is supposed to be; suddenly, you've got the brightest shining stars lighting your pathway and suddenly everything feels solid, committed, and sort of laid out like this magical path that diverges in the woods... somewhere along that divergence, I must have taken the one less travelled, for I am all the wiser and better for doing so.
On Equality and The Dream.
Tonight, our fantastic drummer and I had a great conversation about children today, how there is a serious lack of respect and discipline in many of today's youth. We had quite a lengthy chat about how to correct it, how to keep kids out of trouble, and yet allow self expression... it all stems from the ARTS. We're all hell raisers at some point, if you're not, are you living life to the fullest?
I just had a moment during our show tonight where I felt as not only one of the group making this production happen, but pure acceptance. I can't describe it more than that. The feeling is pure, it is from a place of holy light, and it does not judge, it does not boast, it does not act in selfish ways, it is pure radiance. The gospel choir tonight and for every performance sings three songs: Emmanuel, Honor The King, and Celebrate (It's not the one that popped into your head either). I cannot begin to describe how emotionally invested and quite frankly overwhelmed I felt when I finally got the mix I wanted, but more so, the grove and the audience's enjoyment of the moment, but the small revelation that had happened in my mind too. For once, I felt that I truly missed my church core... the Newman Center group that I felt like I could be pure radiance in as well. Is it a time for religious change for me? I don't know. Do I suddenly want to drop my Catholic faith and join these fabulous singers because their soul and spirit call me to worship with them? Perhaps.
I think what really sold me tonight was watching and remember Dr.King's words breathe life in these people, these strangers, these creatures of holy inspiration. I truly felt connected. There were no duds in the audience, we were all there, clapping, singing, breathing, rejoicing, and most importantly, being. We were being, together. We did not have pretense, nor did we have discrepancy of religions, race, sexuality, identity, no, we had music, we had rhythm, we had harmony, we had Nova Payton leading a song that I think Dr.King himself would have rejoiced along with. Tonight I felt connected, hand in hand, heart to heart, soul to soul.. and did it feel good... you bet your sweet soul it did.
Greetings one and all!
This week's blog is a bit different than my traditional experience/reflection style, but I think it's going to be relevant all the same.
This year I decided to take on a personal goal of writing as many holiday cards out to whomever I had an address for and who supplied an address in a two week long campaign on social media platforms. Now, I'm an AVID Facebook'er but once I leave that realm, I'm sort of over social media, twitter, linked-in, blah..blah...blah... I just rarely use anything else.
So, I began my journey a few days prior to Thanksgiving. I created a social media event and invited the most amount of people my profile would let me (500, when I have well over 1800 people I'm in contact with) SO, I turned to posting every few days about sending me the address in a private format or public, didn't matter, I just wanted to spread the holiday cheer.
Quickly, I had received nearly 250 responses from all over the globe, and I set out to work on writing up and sending out these cards. I can safely say- that every day I have at least one last straggler coming in, but I love it. I've sent nearly 281 cards, and received a bunch in return! It brings an absolute joy to my face and my eyes to see my mailbox plump full of holiday cheer. So, when someone responds to me via social media that they've received my correspondence, I put the challenge out to them- continue to spread that joy and cheer to someone you would not have normally done that for today.
I think sometimes we forget what a personal touch, an extra smiley face scrawled next to impossible-to-read handwriting can do, it can bring joy, it can bring tears of happiness or sadness, it can also inspire, and bring about a change.
So, my readers, this is where you come in. Have you spread holiday cheer to someone you would never ever spread joy to? Have you stopped to sing a merry tune in the middle of a metro car just because? I know, it's hard, and I don't even have the balls to bust out a tune on the metro, but, I think with enough folks doing it, maybe we can effect change in this community/country/world. One step at a time I suppose. right?
PS- Who says they have to be holiday tunes? Bust out some Frank Sinatra or something equally epic.
Happy Holiday Season! :)
Middle of December.
It's a busy time of the year! What a blessing and relief to see so much art happening in the world.
I'm busy working on mixing a cabaret performance at Signature Theatre in VA, while designing Stars of David at Theater J in DC, and discussing shows coming up for the next few months, what a great time to be alive and well in the theatre scene of the DC area! It feels absolutely blissful to be working, experiencing, shadowing, and above all, changing the world through art... and by changing, I mean keeping theatre as a relevant art form in some capacity.
More coming later this week.
This week is nuts, but I wanted to continue to keep my readers and my commitment to myself up. Time to keep trucking and working! ;)
I'm still crying. Super. Ugly. Crying.
Today has been a day of so much good coming in my way that I was literally overcome with an emotional onslaught tonight when the final amazing thing happened before I went to bed.
I woke up, started my day like normal, woke up before I intended, rolled out of bed and got ready much earlier than planned. This is normal, this happens at least 3 to 4 times a week, I can go to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning and be WIDE awake by 7am, it's a blessing and a curse. I thought, okay- cool, let's check the usual morning's musings: Facebook- done, nothing too exciting... Gmail- okay a few emails I should respond to, perhaps send some out if... Banking - nope, no direct deposit this morning yet, will have to... Gmail- send out email saying no direct deposit yet... Phone call? "Hello- this is Justin Schmitz"... "Uh, hi Justin, this is So and So from your bank back home in WI," "ah, yes! How are you doing?! How's the kids, how's the husband? How's life?" (These are great conversations because I know if it's an imposter quickly as I know my banking staff from back home, tight knit communities leave much less vulnerability for fraud, especially when the whole bank knows exactly what I'm doing.) "Yeah, so were you expecting a direct deposit today?" "Uh, yes actually! Hopefully it's finally figured out!" "Okay great! We'll go ahead and post your check!" (Insert at home, in chair victory dance) Gmail- send email stating infact life is better now that we got things sorted out! Praise jeebus, all praise be unto him.
Drive, by myself, across the actual brutal part of D.C. Alone. Scared. and a touch weary of what might happen. Within 3 minutes of what I had planned on, I was alive, well, and visiting with another job location that will take me through December and also into January. So it was also exciting to see a very familiar face and get in touch with good people in this industry. It has been firmly my fear from my first job I had ever taken in this industry that there was a bitterness that just came with engineering, and it has been to my own fault that I may have disproved this theory for years, but for some damn reason it keeps resurfacing in the back of my mind.
Got through our wonderful point, talk, discuss, bro-code agree life will be fine, head out to get home before rush hour traffic kicks into high gear. Monday will come soon enough, and so will working great weeks of mixing again!
Later, this afternoon.
I get back to my little nook of the DC metro area, and I stop at our grocery chain store. As I'm shopping around, passing along smiles to complete strangers, I get to the deli counter, and the sweetest woman was working today, treated me like I was one of her own family members, and made me feel absolutely valued. Blessings. Then, to my surprise as I was turning a corner, my stage manager from a recent production is suddenly embracing me in a wonderful hug! Both completely surprised the other was in this same grocers! Some great conversation and an "It's so great to run into you!" later, I'm pursuing the last few items on my mental check list of what it is I needed to get. Suddenly, another tap on the shoulder, and it's my composer from another show, saying hello! (I swear I can't make this day up.) We get a chance to chit chat and shoot the breeze, and we're both called off, he by his girlfriend, and I by the sweet tones of the probiotics aisle. (Trying to restore good body health after antibiotics is confusing when you're not used to sorting through the aisle.) Of I go again, to the check out, and this is where a great day turned into seriously?! day. The poor cashier, a gentleman of a mature age (read later 50's early 60's) has accidentally switched his computer from right handed mode to left handed mode, started my transaction and can't fix the machine, nor can he scan my spaghetti squashes.. insert me being one of the most patient people in the world... until 10 minutes later nothing is fixed and I'm bagging my own groceries. I think, it's okay- it's the holidays, this guy obviously just had a moment. Manager comes over, fixes the problems, and I'm on my way.
Early this evening.
I'm home, groceries in tow, and getting ready for a relaxing dinner of my own creation. Chicken breasts covered with fresh mushrooms, scallions, and topped with cheese, baked for an hour and brought out to resting perfection. Previously I made a small batch of pull apart cookies because I figured why not!? Dinner is halfway done and my roommates inform me that I will be alone for a good section of my night as they both are attending a rehearsal in VA, we live in MD, so that's a 40 minute drive away. I think- cool, whole place to myself, I can do a lot of cleaning, tidying, and organizing of my life during that time. Insert a wonderful text message from my dear friend Ally. We have a long standing pact that we invite each other to everything we do, and if we can't attend, no hard feelings, our schedules are insane, but when things line up, we promise to go. Tonight's event, a rousing little social at a bar only 5 metro stops away from me. I instantly say I'm in! We agree to meet at 10pm. This leaves me 5 hours to do things.
The in-between early evening and later shenanigans.
Not much happened during this time, I did dishes, packed up left overs, worked on tax materials organization, cleaned up my room, tidied up our living areas, and put in The Muppets Christmas Carol to watch and chat with friends on Facebook. My mom calls, we discuss Christmas travel plans and hopes, and then figure out a few odd ball personal things.
Ally messages me, she and her friends are at the establishment, when would I be down? I quickly change, jump onto a metro and arrive to the area. Nom Gallaudet University area. Now, for those of you going "why does that sound so familiar?" it's because it is America's university for the deaf. Tonight, I drank and partied with an entire social gathering of deaf folks, and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I walk in, there's music playing, the bar is packed, but it's quiet. Everyone's signing. I realized I'm a fish out of water, I have no means of communicating other than I know one phrase: "Hi, my name is Justin, and I'm a sound designer." Ally grabs me and introduces me to my new group of friends; Eric- who'd lost his hearing at 2 years old, and Alex and Coral- both hearing individuals, but like Ally are enrolled in a sign language course at a local community college and were invited to participate in DC's Deaf Nights Out. (Usually the first Friday of the month.) So, here we are, having an absolute blast, me learning and experiencing a completely silent communication, and trying my best to explain my job, finding and absorbing new words in sign, meeting new folks, watching hundreds of folks talking and enjoying company when it did not matter for one moment what any other person looked like, it didn't matter if they were gay, straight, brown, black, Asian, white, purple with pink polkadots, or hearing or deaf, no barriers were up, everyone was communicating like old friends. And I thought, here it is, here's the dream come true! Martin Luther King Jr, come down from heaven in this room and see your dream realized! We all chatted for a very long time, had some enjoyable libations, and then proceeded to head out on our own ways, me feeling bitter at WMATA for not having ANY metro trains heading in my direction for at least 45 minutes,
I Uber'd home.
To my surprise as I walked in, there were decorations everywhere. Christmas decorations. Adorning all of our common space. I started to become extremely overwhelmed emotionally. I had all but given up that I wouldn't have decor this year, except for Christmas day when I get home to WI. I look around, there are three curtly hung stockings on our kitchen bar window, a mini tree sits in our window, and garland, beautiful blue-teal garland adorns our dinning room table light. It was a lot to take in, because it was absolutely perfect, a dream truly to walk into... and there is a shutter fly envelope on my desk... thinking it was probably more Christmas Cards that I was sending out I didn't think much of it. It's 3am, and I was itching for a shower and rest... but I thought, screw it, I'm opening this. As I tear back the wrapping, a beautiful ornament falls out with none other than one of my closest friends' faces pops out with me next to her... a Christmas present from her was what sent me into a full out ugly cry. Not even a little consolable one, but a full blown, full out Felicia, sob fest for one.
I couldn't explain it.
It just came over me, literally every emotion just sort of worked its way out in one heap of a mess. I think really it finally means I have relinquished some of the angst and journey from grad school, from life in general, and from being a very active person. There are so many times I don't stop and take a moment for me, it's always the next project, always working, always bringing in income... never reflecting, never doing yoga and asking the universe for guidance and emotional divestment. I'm happy now, a good cry out of the way, but dang, what a blessed day! I've absolutely felt like a million dollars tonight.
Becoming your chosen path, being successful, all comes at a cost, one that I've managed to avoid for years but finally, am tackling it head on. Family holidays, and not being with the ones you love as is "tradition."
Back in Undergrad I was very lucky that I lived a mere 20 miles from home, easily enough to get home and visit family, visit friends, and maintain doctor appointments, and chiro care, etc. But one thing that never crossed the radar was holidays. Until I studied abroad in London, and then suddenly, Easter was whisked away from family dinners and family reunions.
I became okay with the holidays starting to shift their meanings for me. I'm a family type guy. At the end of the day, the most important people to me are my family. Always have been, always will be. Why did I have to start abandoning our traditions? My mother had a different plan however, she, being the other half of the glue gun in our family chose to shift our traditions in a different fashion. Do holidays have to be celebrated on their actual days? Can they be celebrated under the same traditions but under another date? Surely.
Now, becoming a busy little beaver here in DC, I'm refocusing my efforts again on the Holiday conversation. Thanksgiving, the time when we should be thankful for all that we have, seems to have the blues in me playing at full volume. WI is just far enough that it's nearly impossible and improbable to get there and back in 24 hours to celebrate. Luckily, we were able to double dip in a way, when I was at home for a family wedding a couple weeks ago. Although it felt strange to celebrate a bit way early, it still was an enjoyable afternoon.
I celebrated my first Orphan holiday two years ago at Easter time, where I invited everyone at grad-school over to enjoy an afternoon of food, fun, frivolity, and card games. We had a few people show up and enjoy the whole day. Although it was not the typical day it had once been, it was refreshing to spend it "off" and in a sense of relaxed fun. Recently, the idea of an orphan holiday became a more full fledged acceptance while working with a fellow sound designer. We discussed the notion of what it means to take friends in, and just celebrate together, ditching the Thomas Kinkade romanticism, and instead, focusing and refocusing on the enjoyment of life, and frivolity... and maybe a drink or two.
Who knows what the future has in store? Can holidays get a full day off again in the future? Are holidays staying a thing anymore in the world?
Food for thought.
While going into work at the local venues across DC, I've become increasingly aware of those who are familiar faces in our production team, and those who are completely unfamiliar and unknown to me. At what point do we raise an alarm and ask who these people are? Sometimes simple spectating now, has become a fear in the workplace.
I was cruising through the Facebook interface and found this fantastic article regarding performing venue safety, and I have to say- I would strongly agree with the article. There are very horrific images in this, please use caution when viewing. http://www.jimonlight.com/2015/11/20/what-if-im-attacked-at-work-a-crew-primer-part-1/
What is it that we can do to keep us all safe? Is the next stop TSA style screenings just to enjoy an evening? When do we get "normal" back?