sitting on the yoga mat, thinking

I thought about cutting yesterday.

I was sitting on my yoga mat, eyes gazing, out of focus, at the plant in the corner. That tightening in my chest as I breathed in, breathed out, breathed in, breathed out.

I didn’t move. I just sat there, breathing, feeling this strange sensation as it hovered around me, like a thin, gauzy curtain.

Eventually I stood and went to the kitchen, where I started cooking and cleaning. In very little time, the feeling was gone.

It didn’t scare me. It was almost like seeing an ex on the subway, halfway down the car. You recognize him, you’d prefer not to see him perhaps, but you can sit there, coexisting quietly, until one or the other gets off the train.

***

I’m thinking of calling my therapist when I get back from this trip. Since June, I have been weighed down by the loss of my friend L, the vicious purging of her life from mine, done while I simply kept moving as though I was still whole.

This is shameful, but:

I sat with her from the first day of treatment in 2011 to her final chemotherapy at the end of 2013. I was there when her girlfriend broke up with her on Valentine’s Day. I knew her doctor’s names. I scheduled her visitors. I learned what I needed to learn to be her advocate, and to be her friend. And now, she has excised me from her life entirely. It doesn’t seem fair, which isn’t really a fair thing to say. Cancer is cancer is cancer, and sadness just is.

My feelings are many, and they are muddy and muddled in my body: puffy and thick in my throat, deep and hollow and aching in my stomach, a thin film over my eyes, a tightness in my lungs that stops my breath halfway in bursts. It is a sadness I have perhaps never known before– a unique sadness that is not depression. I have been sad before, and I have been depressed, but this is a new one– this is grief, trapped in a cage of shame, with loss holding the key, smirking at me as a I look back, lips tight, brow furrowed.

***

My home state just shut down a bill that would add the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the Human Rights Bill. After nine years of work to merely get the bill to be considered, it was shut down before getting to the stage where it could be voted on. It is heartbreaking, and I grieve for the many women, men, and children who remain unprotected in the name of “religious freedom.” We are not equal until we are all granted equal rights. BY LAW. I kept thinking of the movie Selma, which is remarkable and an absolute must-see. There is a right side and a wrong side of history.

Also, this is probably the worst clip from the testimony (most were supportive of the addition of the words), which I share so we can all see what bigotry looks like, and also because my mom (who was a major volunteer working to pass this bill for years) is in it, in the red sweater. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N6tn8-oA5M

My Year in Numbers

1     friend I lost

1     job I lost

2     jobs I got

3    plays I did

6    friends of mine who got engaged

10     places I visited

Idaho, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Waynesboro, PA, London, Scotland, Amsterdam, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine

25    days it took to find an apartment in NYC

26    plays I saw (in NYC and London only)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Mothers and Sons, Richard III, Big Fish, Murder for Two, The Oldest Boy, Our Lady of Kibeho, A Delicate Balance, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Sex with Strangers, The Village Bike, Hand to God, Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra, The Happiest Song Plays Last, Under My Skin, Sweeney Todd (NY Philharmonic), Fast Company, The Substance of Fire, The Killer, Cinderella, Mala Hierba, American Hero, Hotel, Bring up the Bodies, Showboat (NY Philharmonic), You Got Older

34    blogs I posted

Better than I thought, actually.

73    books I read

My favorites: The Invisible Front, The Circle, NOS4A2, A Tale for the Time Being, Into the Darkest Corner, Dept of Speculation, Tenth of December

365   days I got up in the morning and went to bed and night and existed on this earth.

Don’t let me read this. It’ll make me sad.

I’m back from a 2.5 week vacation with my folks in London, Drumnadrochit (a wee town on Loch Ness), and Edinburgh!

But that’s not what’s flitting through my mind.

I lost a friend somehow. A best friend.

I said something possibly insensitive in a text. I didn’t think twice about it. Looking back, it was probably misguided, even though my intentions were to be amusing and share a silly moment in my life that made me feel connected to this person.

This was three months ago.

I hadn’t heard a word from her. I continued to text, to “like” on Facebook, to comment, to talk about, to generally act like a friend through this whole time. While in the UK, I sent a text like usual, remarking on a funny thing that was happening that I wanted to share. Her response was that she has been distant because I really hurt her with my text, she wished I hadn’t said it, and maybe we can talk about it when I’m back.

Heart. Pinioned.

We were headed out the door to breakfast when I got this, so I dashed off a reply along the lines of “oh my god. I had no idea and I am so sorry I hurt you. I hope you know that I would never hurt you on purpose and I regret hurting you then. I love you, but I understand you need your space and please do what feels right.”

And subsequently deleted every single communication so that I couldn’t look at that text ever again, and left my phone at home all day, even though I wouldn’t have Wifi or cell service anyway. I sobbed through breakfast, and burst into tears throughout the day. I still am hurting, deeply. The shame is overwhelming, and I’m hurt too.

***

I’m also finishing up a two book audiobook contract with an author who HATES me. She hired me, for goodness’ sake, but she is horrifically disappointed in my work and condescends to me at every juncture. And of course all the stupid little things are going wrong in production, so she treats me like I’m unprofessional and terrible at my job. The worst was the three page LETTER she wrote me after I finished the first book, about how much she hated my narration. So that whole situation sucks.

Obviously one hurts more than the other, but they both make me feel physically SICK.

I’ve gotten to a point where I get that sick feeling when reading an email from the author about the audiobook, but I’m able to let it go within a relatively short amount of time as long as I make the change she wants or respond IMMEDIATELY.

***

But this friend.

It hurts so badly.

And I have many feelings that contradict the sick, shame feeling:
Our friendship of years couldn’t withstand a mistake?
Everything we’ve been through together can fall apart because of this?
Why didn’t you tell me till now?
Why couldn’t you let go?
Why couldn’t you forgive me?

How could you not wish me happy birthday?

How could you watch me reach out, continue as if nothing was broken, while you pushed me unknowingly away?

***

So there’s definitely anger.

But mostly, I am sad.

I am so, so, so sad that it makes me want to throw up.
It takes my heart and pokes tiny little holes in it so it wheezes with each beat.
The shame wears me like a thick, wool coat, the heavy hood pressing my chin to my chest.

What do you do when your best friend isn’t your best friend?

Does the sadness go away? Does the SHAME?

Do people forgive as easily as I do? Because I do.

I have to let her go. It’s in her hands. And if we talk, I’ll collapse in a heap and the tears will never stop. So I hope she just forgives me.

I wish I didn’t care so much. I wish I didn’t feel shame so deeply.

One hand in my pocket, and the other one is giving a peace sign.

When my best friend, L, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma and leukemia a couple of years ago, we left her second appointment at Beth Israel (before we decided to go to Sloan Kettering) and she mentioned that she couldn’t keep Alanis Morrissette’s song “Hand in my Pocket” out of her head.

Many of the lyrics were poignantly related to what she was going through— ‘I’m sick but I’m pretty, I’m brave but I’m chickenshit.” I fell in love with the song, partly because it has great meaning for me (L finished her over two year treatment in December 2013) but partly because it speaks to what it is to feel like “you haven’t really got it figured out just yet.”

Also, I’m learning to play the guitar. I’m not good, but instead of being chickenshit I’m going to be brave and post.

Love to all.

All she has to do is exist.

“‘You have the luxury of time. You’re young. Young people are doing something even when they’re doing nothing. A young woman is conduit. All she has to do is exist.’ You have time. Meaning don’t use it, but pass through time in patience, waiting for something to come. Prepare for its arrival. Don’t rush to meet it. Be a conduit. I believed him. I felt this to be true. Some people might consider that passivity but I did not. I considered it living.”
The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

One of the strangest things about day-to-day life is how mundane it seems. I get up. I go to the gym. I go to work. I go home. I make soup. I watch bad TV. I try and get auditions. I go to bed. Ostensibly, “nothing” is going on in my life.

I never really listen to music, except when I’m doing something else, like playing a game on my iPad or cooking, and it’s even more rare that I listen to music while walking down the street. But the other night, I did. I was on the train, and an Iron & Wine song came on shuffle. Now, there are LOTS of songs that bring up memories for me. But all of a sudden, this song jerked me into taking a step back and actually looking at what this “nothing” really is. And I’m shocked to discover that these days– morning to night– that feel so devoid, so par for the course, are the building blocks for an amazing life.

Sometimes I feel that way in New York. This place is idealized by so many people (I, for one, never really did– I guess I just always assumed I’d be here, and didn’t fantasize about it at all), and this is where my “nothing” life takes place. The capital of the WORLD. I have to stop myself, often, and marvel at this city. I literally stop in the street sometimes, and look up at the skyscrapers, like a nerd, and think to myself, “I am living a life that others dream of. No matter what else I’m doing, being here is a success.” Because it is. Because New York is fucking hard.

Also, because I am someone who comes from a state with two professional theatres (yes, I said “state” and “two”), I can’t forget my artistic life here. I don’t know how many Broadway and off-Broadway shows I’ve seen for free. This year alone, examples include but are not limited to: Hands on a Hardbody, Romeo and Juliet, The Nance, The Testament of Mary, Little Miss Sunshine, Golden Boy, Picnic… I have seen Julie Andrews in a bathroom, given Liam Neeson back the hat he forgot in a theatre (he was so sweet about it), and seen Patti LuPone, Phylicia Rashad, James Earle Jones, Dianne Wiest, Ellen Burstyn, Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Christopher Lloyd, Fiona Shaw, Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths, Zosia Mamet, and ENDLESS MORE live onstage, often from a few rows back. How cool is that? And I’ve met some of them too. I did a reading with Anthony Rapp. I did a reading directed by Shirley Knight. Stephen Sondheim saw me act. (sorry, Braggy McGhee just got excited).

L received news that she will receive her last chemo treatment on December 17. That’s literally two years and ten days after her initial diagnosis. She texted me and asked me to be there. I will. And I’m can’t believe it. Walking with L down this path has been so strange and awful and important and… it’s hard to talk about. When I talk about it too much, I feel like I’m being a “poor me” jerk who thinks she was more important than she actually was. But I have to be honest– I was there for a LOT of it. Probably more than anyone else besides her parents. That’s not nothing. And cancer, like all diseases, is powerful. It is a nuclear bomb, and anyone who is nearby when it explodes is infected with radiation. And those of us who bear it, and live with it, uncomfortable though it is, emerge with superpowers. Like Spiderman. (someone shut me up)

Then “Now We Can See” by the Thermals came on as I was trudging up the subway stairs. The last song in the first show “my” company ever produced. 2010. We were very young, kinda dumb, but with enthusiasm and self-confidence, poured to overflowing into this strange group of young people. What a strange, wonderful first New York theatrical experience. We won awards and got raves, yes, which was amazing and thrilling and great, but even more special was the feeling that washed over all of us as we sang this song, stomping, clutching the mikes, shaking our styled hair, in one of the most historic theatres in New York. What was that feeling? A strange mix of confidence, hope, and more than anything, joy. We overflowed. Regardless of what would happen next, those moments in the Ellen Stewart Theatre were unforgettable.

I spent four years with my therapist, and now I’m phasing out. I think I have two more sessions. WHO KNEW I’d ever get to this point? I sure didn’t. I frankly didn’t know what I thought, but in the last four years, I’ve felt so far from “stable” that leaving wasn’t even a thought. But here I am. Moving forward, out of therapy, because I have done so much goddamn work. And that’s the most amazing thing– not, “oh my god, weirdo me is leaving therapy! Crazy!” but “Look at all this SHIT I had to fight through, tooth and nail, to get to this point. Look at how hard I worked. Look at all the time I spent fighting for the life I have now. I battled an eating disorder, crushing anxiety, self-hatred, depression, mania, self-injury in every way you can imagine, and I’ve come out the other side. And I have confidence that I can care for myself, for the first time in a long time. Isn’t THAT crazy?”

My life is nothing special to me, as I walk through it. And yet, I realize that I have walked through incredible forests, forded wild rivers. I am lucky to have it, and I am grateful. Overwhelmingly.

 

My Universes

I am a participant in so many tiny universes.

Today is A’s 28th birthday. Over the Labor Day weekend, we were at his parents’ house in PA. We drove to Annapolis to see his brother compete in a drum corps competition, we golfed nine holes at the local course, ate a lot of shitty food, played board games, and dipped in the little pool. This has been a world I never could have expected to be a part of– one that is in countless ways different from the others. It’s a humbling place to be.

On Monday night, I went to see L’s play. This is the girl who, almost two years ago, was diagnosed with Aggressive T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. I was there for her diagnosis, I was there when she checked into the hospital, I was there on her 23rd birthday when she was so frail and thin that she looked like a ghost, tubes coming out of her arms and chest, food pumped directly into her stomach. I was there when she wrote a short scene, very Ruhl, very Fornes, about a year ago. And now, that scene is a play, and that play was accepted into a festival, and I saw the closing performance, with L in the lead. I cried the whole way through, not meaning to, but unable to stop. It wasn’t sadness, either… more like pride. Admiration. I’m not sure I would have the strength and momentum to throw myself into life after the terror of the last two years. But L did it, and it was magnificent. I feel privileged to live close to her heart.

My parents are coming up for Thanksgiving. My dad hasn’t been to the city since I graduated over two years ago. I’m looking forward to it. I do miss them, but I also want them to feel like a part of my life. Whether or not I’m calling every other day or telling my secrets, I am a part of their universe as they are a part of mine.

I have a universe at work, where the students know me (some as an administrator, some as an actor, some as a peer), and the faculty know me (partly as an administrator, partly as a student, partly as a colleague). I waft through the halls in perfect comfort here, sometimes remembering as I pass ID services the night that I sat with a boy as he played his uke for me, drunken nights in the studios, crying with frustration in acting class in the black box. I have been many things in these places, but they are now mine.

My high school friends, my roommates and peers, sometimes close and sometimes just seen from a distance, live on in social media posts. They also live on television, onstage, in the news. Beyonce’s sax player lived on my hall. One of Buzzfeed’s hottest twins played my brother in a Shakespeare play. One of the princesses in Shakespeare in the Park this summer ate cheerios from the box with me in bed one night. Even people I wasn’t with in school inhabit the same small universe.

Looking at A’s Facebook page today, loaded with those lovely “Happy Birthday!”s that pop up through the day, I noticed my universes converging. That’s how life goes, I guess, and love is the catalyst for it. Actors I worked with last summer post greetings after friends from college share their blessings. A knows these people and they know him because I exist. I love A, so I bring him places. I love my friends, so I make a point to go to those places.

I know I’m not the only one with these many orbiting galaxies, meshing and meeting, with only me, my strange and special life, at the center. How did I become someone whose world has so much variance? It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I exist.