Last Week at Listen To Your Mother

LTYM books

A week ago today I awoke anxious and aflutter knowing in a few hours I would be onstage reading at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. While my kids watched My Little Pony episodes and my husband frantically cleaned in preparation for his family, who was generously coming to babysit, I headed to the hair salon for a blow out. Something I had never done before.

Somehow, forty minutes later, I emerged with a head full of Shirley Temple ringlets. As I walked to my car, my hands tentatively tracing my springy curls, I started laughing. It should have made me more anxious, this odd (for me) hair style, but instead it released something. Years ago a moment like this might have derailed me. I might have cried in the car like I did in my early twenties when I expressly told the stylist NOT to give me the Rachel from Friends cut and left the salon with exactly that.

But this time, I giggled, only feeling a twinge of regret for the wasted fifty bucks. Nothing could take away the excitement, bubbling up along with nerves, of this day.

After all, I had been looking forward to this moment ever since I read my acceptance email on the phone in the early hour before dawn, tears of gratitude streaming down my face. I cried because I felt like I had been given a gift, a chance to tell the story of my mother’s death, devastating but also enormously powerful, not simply on paper, but to an audience.

Reading my essay: Love, Labor, Loss

Reading my essay: Love, Labor, Loss

Fortunately my hair settled down, thanks to time, gravity, and my cast mate Meghan’s comb. I slipped on the dress I wore to my mother’s funeral, the same as for my audition, this time adding her two red wooden bangles that clanked on my wrist the week leading up to her death.

I slid between my cast mates at the wall of mirrors in the bathroom/dressing room and started to apply make-up with shaking hands. My empty stomach made me lightheaded and dizzy, and I wobbled a bit on my high heels. My cast mate Christine made room for me at the mirror, smiling kindly. Then her eyebrows shot up. “Did you know your dress isn’t zipped?” I glanced at my side and realized she was right. “Whoops! I had no idea, thanks,” I said, and we both cracked up.

Soon after enjoying a champagne toast, during which I inhaled three scones made by our producer Kristina, it was time to file into the theatre. My hands were sweating and my heart slammed against my chest. I remembered reading my story at the first rehearsal, my heart beating so loudly I thought everyone in the room could hear it. I hoped that wouldn’t happen again. I hoped my voice wouldn’t crack or break like it did almost every time when I got to the second to last line of my story.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with crying while reading. Emotion has its own kind of power, and some of my favorite readers on the LTYM YouTube channel choked up a bit or even wept during their performances.

But I didn’t want anyone to miss that one line. The one about my mother’s heart. The one I had jumped out of bed to write the night before the audition, crossing out what I had in pencil, and writing in the words that would knit the whole piece together.

Words that my daughter would one day hear, if only I could get them out in one piece.

Well, I did it. I nailed that line and the whole damn thing.

Thank you to the Lehigh Valley producers, Kirsten, Kristina, and Lauren, and to Ann Imig, founder of LTYM, for giving me this opportunity, for making this dream I almost didn’t realize I had come true. And thank you to my talented and beautiful cast mates for sharing their stories with me and with the world.

LTYM cast silly

 

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Listen to Your Mother

bracelets Driving to my Listen To Your Mother audition last week was like a mini vacation. Driving anywhere, even to the grocery store, without having to dole out Pirate’s Booty and tissues, negotiating radio station wars, and dealing with consecutive bathroom stops, is a treat.

I get to play music of my choice without complaint, and if I end up tearing up when John (Cougar) Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” comes on, I have plenty of tissues to hand to myself.

At eight-thirty am, after making pancakes (a mix, please), doing the dishes, and scooping the cat litter – to which my husband, still bleary-eyed, was like, you know you don’t need to do all that, I drove to my audition.

The sky was gray and bright, as if the sun was pressing against the clouds. Snow covered almost everything, but the temperature was rising and rivers of water cut paths into the dirty drifts.

I talked to myself, one of my favorite things to do, giving myself a pep talk for the audition. “Piece of cake,” I said, all bluster and pffft-like. “If I can read my mom’s eulogy, I can read this no problem.” I tried a technique I read about here, that Dani Shapiro used before going on Oprah. “Be curious… Curiosity and self-consciousness can’t occupy the same space.”

Clearly, this wasn’t Oprah or anything remotely close, but I was pretty nervous, so I asked all kind of curious questions about the producers, what they had for breakfast, if their kid helped them put on their make-up like mine had.

Then I thought about the other women coming to audition, anxiously driving, maybe crying to songs on the radio, thinking about what inspired their essay, watching the winter begin to thaw. One car seemed to be following me, and for a few miles before she turned, I wondered if we were heading to the same place.

A warmth spread across my chest and I felt a kinship with every woman on their way to the audition. Each one of us had made it a priority to do something a little bit scary, a little bit brave. As much as I wanted to be part of the cast, to read aloud the essay I wrote about my mother, about her labor toward death, I felt a genuine rush of pride for whoever ended up on that stage.

I wanted to hug every person I might see at the audition and wish them well. I knew I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t selected, that’s a given, but in that moment I felt something like grace and knew whatever happened would be okay.

My good luck charms, a pair of bracelets, and these two jokers, may have helped, because…

my life

“Good luck!” a text and pic from my husband.

I am truly honored, elated, stunned, and grateful to be one of 13 people slated to be on stage for the inaugural Lehigh Valley Listen to Your Mother Show. I’m in wonderful company, with the three awesome women running the show, their production team, and all of the other readers.

In the car ride home I wept, not to any song in particular, but to the image of my mother, sitting on her reclining chair in my childhood home, beaming at me, her eyes shining with tears, pride and love written all over her beautiful face.

me and my mom

Me and my mom, circa 1977