Friday, March 2, 2012

Day 666 (spooky!): Listen To Your Mother, Chicago!

Wow! I am so excited that I really don’t know how to write this blog. But I won’t let that stop me! I did something a little (ok, light years) outside of my comfort zone recently, and decided to audition for a show called Listen to Your Mother, which showcases performers reading original work about motherhood. It started in Madison, WI, in 2010, and expanded to a bunch of cities last year; it will be performed in 10 cities in 2012. AND I WILL BE IN THE INAUGURAL CAST OF LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO.

Can I get a WHAT?! That’s right! Me, on a stage! The show will take place on Sunday, May 6, at a downtown theater in Chicago. I heard about this opportunity from an old friend and colleague on Facebook and decided what the hell, sent an email without allowing myself to think about it, and asked for an audition. The auditions were on a first come first served basis. I got one, and then I thought:

What have I done?

I mean, I HATE reading my creative writing in public. I always have. This audition would require me to reduce one of my insufferably long blogs to five minutes or less in spoken words, and I would have to, you know, read it--in front of people. It would even involve eye contact, and the potential for public emotion.

If you ask me to discuss global payment systems in front of an audience of hundreds of people who have higher levels of education and income than me (academics, CEOs, you know what I’m saying), I have no problems doing this. I can even be funny, and self-deprecating, and interesting. I will be nervous for maybe thirty seconds beforehand, and then just totally rock it out. I can do youtube videos about boring economic topics as if they were going out of style (which should never happen, because they are actually more relevant than most of youtube). But just don’t ask me to do PERSONAL things in public.

I’ve said it before in this blog: I don’t do that. I watch at karaoke, I don’t sing. I’m not a big fan of PDA, no matter how much time I’ve had to spend removing Gabe’s or some other man’s hand from my ass. I disallowed toasts at my own wedding because I didn’t want to hear people talk about us. I would rather the attention was placed on my children, my mom, the furniture, than on me.

And I NEVER read my personal writing out loud. I’ve always been this way. I won a decent amount of poetry and other literary awards in school—grade school through college--and I would always be asked to do a reading as part of accepting the award. So I would do it, somewhat quietly, hating it all the time. People could tell me I did well, that I have a nice voice, or something else, and I would just feel sick. I have always walked away when someone was reading one of my poems. It is only after nearly a decade together that I can let Gabe read a poem of mine when he’s in my presence. He often leaves the room to read this blog, because he almost always cries. I am kind of an awkward person around crying, even with my own children. So it’s for the best.

It just feels too personal, too intrusive, to read these rambling thoughts out loud. I can write about anything here in cyberspace without ever having to confront the reality that someone who is a real, actual person, is reading it. At the same time, I didn’t really come by this blogging thing honestly. My reasons for blogging are really inherently selfish, and strange. I am not a normal blogger. I did not do this to be heard, to unleash my voice, to engage in a community, or even to share my experiences. I did this because I had cancer, and I couldn’t bear to pick up the phone and talk to anyone. I was scared and mystified and I was trying to save my close loved ones from having to have painful conversations. I can’t count the number of times in the early days when I would overhear Gabe saying, “I can’t talk about it. Just read the blog.”

So it served its purpose, and then it just morphed. At first, it was cancer therapy for me, albeit cheaper and a lot closer to home. I said things here that I wouldn’t have said to an actual person, because I have that tough-Katy persona and I don’t like to admit to my weaknesses. The blog was very meaningful for me as I saw how people supported me through everything, when they weren’t close by or didn’t know what to say. It helped me feel the love, you know? And then I got a little political with it, as I began to feel that we have framed breast cancer in an injurious way as a society, so I used this medium to speak out against that. I decided to say things I didn’t hear a lot of other people saying, and I put pictures on here that I know have been at times disturbing. Sometimes, ironically, this blog has made me feel isolated, as I was stuck in cancer-land, overwhelmed by my life, and people were somewhat afraid of me, so they sought me out in virtual ways while I lived my physical life in a very small circle.

And then at some point, I began to do this because it made me feel better—not to talk about cancer, but to write words that left the complicated stratosphere of my brain. I have thought about stopping this blog so many times, wondering what there is left to say. It seems lacking in purpose, self-aggrandizing. And yet… here I was saying I would read it in front of people, with the ultimate intention of reading it in front of a lot of people, on a stage, in a theater in Chicago.

God was I nervous before the audition. My family did not understand this. You wrote those words, Katy, you own this. You’ve had much worse things to be nervous about. Well, yes. I hear you. It is much worse to be nervous for 24 hours while you wait for the results of your core needle biopsy (women talk about those as if it’s a single procedure. Let me state, on the record, that when I had that done, they did not one but seven. SEVEN needles as thick as your finger in my breast). Waiting two weeks for BRCA results leaves you wringing your hands a bit. Having nightmares about shaving your head, feeling your heart explode out of your chest as you close your eyes and hand over your arm for a poisonous cocktail that will have effects you can’t even imagine, all of that is difficult on the nerves.

I’ve done big things—gotten married, delivered babies after months of nerve-wracking pregnancies, decided to put myself through graduate school and buy a condo at the same time when I was single, working full time at one job and part time at another and essentially flat broke. I’ve had huge fights with my husband, walked away from people I loved so much it was like they were a part of my body, held my breath when my children hurt themselves until I could see the final result. All of those things made me jumpy, maybe even a little bit crazy.

But just because life has happened to you and it has been difficult, that doesn’t lessen the impact of other things. Cancer-related nerves are in a category of their own and are steeped in terror and sadness. It’s not fair to compare the nervousness of waiting for chemotherapy with the nervousness of an audition. Just because one is worse, doesn’t mean the other isn’t real. So this was just me, nervous about reading something personal in front of three women in a coffee shop. In the scheme of things, it was not a big deal—but at the time, it was a very big deal to me. I am not a theatrical person. I have never done any stage work. When I read something, I read it with little affectation, as if I am holding a regular conversation with you. This does not seem particularly interesting to me. I practiced at home and thought, who wants to hear that? And then I thought, well, I can think of a few people. They might be too young to sit in an audience in a big city show, but didn’t you write this for them?

I knew what piece I would choose right away, and I knew I would have to make it much shorter and more succinct in message. I figured I would never get chosen, but I could print the piece off and use it as a present to be read when the kids were older. So when I practiced, I pretended I was reading to them.

I got to the audition early, as Gabe decided to drive me and take the kids to the lakefront to run around, something they don’t usually get to do, given how far our neighborhood is from the water. The woman who was looking for LTYM folks kept thinking the next person was me, but several women were brought back before it was my turn.

But your turn always rolls around, doesn’t it? Even if you don’t want it to, it always does. So I stood there, and cut to the chase, and read it. I knew that the subject matter would catch the small audience by surprise, and I knew they would act as if it didn’t. I stumbled a few times. I finished. One woman told me it was beautiful. Of course she did—I just admitted to three total strangers that I had cancer and talked about being afraid that I wouldn’t see my kids grow up; what else is there to say?

I was done, and I was relieved. I was proud of myself for doing something so outside of my comfort zone. My stepfather asked me why I was doing the audition, and I told him how I found out about it. No, that’s not what I asked you. Why are you doing it? My mom asked me something similar: What is this thing you’re doing, what is it for? And I didn’t know how to respond. Why have I ever done anything? I told you, I just hit send on the email and then I had to go through with it. It’s like getting married or taking a job or having a kid or buying cereal or spinning when you don’t know how to ride a regular bike or picking out your clothes for the day. I don’t know why, or what the process is behind these decisions. I did this audition and told myself I was glad I did it, even though I wouldn’t get picked, because I might have regretted it if I didn’t do it. Those closest to me told me it would be a great experience for me to just try, and that’s what I did—tried for something I knew I couldn’t do.

Or so I thought. I guess I did a good job, because I was cast in the show. The email that provided me with this news included some really nice comments about my reading, which surprised me. So good God—I have to do it AGAIN. A bunch of times—rehearsals, the show. More people. A stage. The potential for crying. Jesus. Now I am REALLY nervous, and excited. A little proud even. Kind of wondering what the hell I was thinking. It’s only one show though, and as Gabe said, well, you can do anything once.

Baby, I said, sometimes you can do things multiple times that you thought would kill you to do once. So yeah, I can do it. And if I don’t make it out of this mess, my kids can read this blog, and know I loved them, and also know that I was willing to talk about how much I love them in front of a lot of strangers, which is the last kind of thing their small, stoic, unsentimental mom was ever apt to do.

The show is on May 6, two days after I will acknowledge (celebrate seems like the wrong word) my 2 year cancerversary. That isn’t technically two years NED for me; that will be June 4, two years from the day when I had the cancer removed. But May 4 was D Day for me in 2010 (Diagnosis day), and every cancer survivor I’ve ever met starts the countdown on that day. And on May 8 I will have my next mammogram; if all goes well, I can go to yearly scans rather than every six months, which seems hard to believe. I guess I can tell myself that when I’m going completely insane, driving Gabe nuts and being out of control with nervousness for several weeks before the May 8 scan (because that happens every time), that it’s just stage fright. And in some kind of irony, or fortuitousness, or something, LTYM Chicago will donate some of the proceeds of ticket sales to Bright Pink, a nonprofit that seeks to provide resources to young women diagnosed with breast cancer. Can I get another WHAT?!

The real question is, with all of the emotional things happening around the beginning of May (including the breast cancer walk that will progress directly in front of my new house on Mother’s Day), how will I actually get other things done? You know, like my job, and raising my kids, and housework? This should get pretty interesting.

I’ve decided that if I ever turn this blog into a book (as everyone says I should do, though I have no real interest in promoting myself or turning this into, you know…WORK), I know what I’ll call it:


Life has sure thrown me a few of those. Some I’ve caught, some I’ve dodged, some have hit me square in the face. Some I’ve thrown back. I guess this is one of those, this fact of me going up on a stage to give some strangers a very short glimpse into this strange little life. So take that, breast cancer. Right back at ya.


  1. Katy, your piece was honest and touching and we are so proud to include it in our show. Thank you for having the courage to audition!

  2. Thank you Tracey for being so down to earth; you guys made it (almost) easy!

  3. What Tracey said. I can't tell you how happy I am that you're part of the cast. We are humbled by the unique beauty in all of these stories, and are so excited about this show it's not even funny.

    By the way, if it makes you feel any better, my decision to apply to co-produce this show was so far out of my comfort zone that I think it may even have been out of my DIScomfort zone into some third zone that nobody knows about. We're both going to be fine, I think. :)