So here we are.

It’s been a bit since any of us have posted here at Rational Creatures. For me it’s been finishing grad school, running after a baby who’s started crawling, moving from an apartment to a house, and working full time. For others I know it’s been the varied demands of motherhood, work, show rehearsals and performances, etc etc etc.

And before that it was Erin dying.

I’ll admit it’s been difficult to come back here. What, after all, can be said? What doesn’t feel silly and petty and unimportant in the face of the bullshit waste that we call her death?

So we’ve just been living. But now, finally, I’ve had some thoughts noodling around in my head, and I figured might as well come back to it. Only time to start is now.

Let’s talk about taking up space.

Women are conditioned to take up as little space as possible. This is clearest physically. We’re supposed to be small – not just thin, but dainty, petite, slight. “You’re so tiny!” we tell each other, as if it’s the highest compliment, because it is, because that’s what we’re supposed to be. Fat women are expected to slim down, or at the very least make an effort at it. And if you’re still fat (for now, until that next diet program works sweetie) you should “dress for your shape”, wear slimming clothing, use these 50 ways to look smaller by next week! Make sure you work out every day, but don’t build your muscles, you don’t want to get big, do you? Three pound weights could be lifted by a sickly toddler, so that should be perfect for you to prevent that bulk! Your meals and your appetite should both be small, by god, and if those don’t do the trick, we’ll make sure we cut away pieces of you, and you’ll start shrinking away, so fast that your skin will hang off of you, and then we’ll cut that away too! (more…)

The first week of April 2005, I packed (some of) my earthly belongings into my Ford Escort and drove west, alone.  I was 23, had recently graduated from Penn State with a BA in theater, and was eager to start working in a theater city more welcoming than what I perceived New York to be.  Plus, I had a friend from high school looking for a roommate.

The drive was a breeze.  Quite literally breezy, as I bound through Ohio and Indiana, windows down, with my carefully crafted mix CD blasting as I sang along.  I made excellent time.  It was the last 30 minutes of the journey – the endless construction outside Gary, the Skyway, 90/94, my first left turn on red through a six-point intersection – that really challenged me.  I parked just north of Fullerton on my new street in Lincoln Park.  I had moved to Chicago.

And ten years later, I’m staring down my last two months here.  My family – husband Scott, toddler, and growing baby belly – are moving to Pittsburgh in July.  My husband and I grew up there, and our families still live there.  We hesitate, though, to say that we’re moving ‘back,’ because the last time either of us lived there for any stretch of time, we were graduating high school and getting the hell out, like most people we knew.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’m sad to leave Chicago.  The calendar is mocking me as I sit and think of all the things I’d like to do over the next seven (seven!?!) weeks.  I’m emotional thinking about it.  It’s going to be really really hard.

Sitting in that sadness isn’t doing me any good, though, and I truly have so much waiting for me in the Burgh.  The family that I’ve missed for 10 years in Chicago plus four more in Happy Valley, my in-laws’ beautiful home, back yard, and covered porch, new experiences and relationships with and for my daughter and bebe to be.  I’ve been tallying a pretty scattered mental list of the things I’m gratefully looking forward to, partly to temper all of the loss I feel.  Some of them are here.

A Bigger Bed

Seeing as how I moved (some of) my earthly belongings three states away in a compact four-door sedan, you can imagine I didn’t have room for much furniture.  Any furniture, really.   I was moving into a gorgeous 2-story, furnished Lincoln Park apartment in a building owned by the older brother of a genius high school friend who’d recently moved out there himself after undergrad at MIT (…genius).  I didn’t know it yet, but this would be the nicest place I’d ever live in Chicago. (more…)

We stood side by side, the last two remaining spellers, ready for the final round of the competition to begin, as the Morseland patrons milled about, chatted, laughed, and had their drinks refilled. To the right of the stage was Our Booth: my friend Gina from work, smiling; Erin’s dad, arms stretched out around his whiskey on the table in front of him, head down a bit, still grieving the recent loss of his wife to cancer; other assorted chatty friends and theatre pals; and our dates, Rob and Chris. They’d been dating for a long time by then, but for me and Chris, it was one of our first. As we watched the judges gather at the table down front, flanked by big plastic jars full of paper strips, she gave a sigh that took in the whole crowded room, leaned toward me and whispered, “If they only knew.”

Many years on – so many shows, dozens of barbecues at the Metreyeons, several New Year’s Eves and D&D games, innumerable dog-trade-offs, two weddings, and one cancer diagnosis later, Rob and I were playing a heated round of Magic the Gathering while Erin watched the match and made her observations in anticipation of perhaps one day soon taking on a match herself. I remember appreciating how with Erin there is very rarely any small talk. I don’t care much for small talk with friends anymore because it is a waste of time. We’re all too busy to spend enough time together and I don’t want to waste it on the goddamn weather. Talk to me about what is actually happening in your life and what you’re learning about it, how it’s changing you, what you want, what you dream, what’s bothering you. Let’s fix the world in the one or two evenings a year where all we have to really do is fix the world.

That night, at that moment, we were talking about dieting and food and a bunch of non-cancer stuff that I had been writing about lately, when she suddenly stopped, gave me that trademark coy-smile-with-eye-twinkle of hers and asked, “Do you wanna see my stent?”

My point being, Erin puts a button on a scene like nobody’s business.

She won’t likely get a chance to do that this time.  (more…)

I wanted to send out a little update to anyone who’s been a reader here: Our own lovely Erin Myers, who has been writing about living with cancer on her own blog (The View from the 21st Floor) and cross-posting here on Rational Creatures, has transitioned into hospice care. She’ll be leaving us soon.

Erin was a fantastic writer. She spoke about her diagnosis and her experience of her disease with a bald honesty and wry humor that made me lean forward in my seat, eager for more, even while dreading what she might tell me. Lady had some big brass balls to be as truthful as she was with us. And her impulse to share it with the world was part of what made her an incredible person to know.

Erin was a fantastic artist. While going through cancer treatments, she performed regularly in a 12 hour long (!!!) collection of Greek tragedies . . . and then, later, sicker, performed some more in an all-female Titus Andronicus. She wrote about her art, how important it was to her, even as she was physically less able to do it. She grasped, clung to, clawed at her art, holding it to her and pushing it out into the world simultaneously. Another way she shared herself with us.

I find myself typing “Erin was” and hesitating, wanting to go back, delete it, type “Erin is” instead, hearing it in my head like a mantra, Erin IS, Erin IS, Erin IS. She is and was and she will be. She will be in the hearts and souls and memories of all those who knew her and loved her.

Other contributors here knew Erin better than I, and I hope they can at some point share some of their thoughts and memories here, maybe not right away, but some day. For now, feel free to comment below with any thoughts of Erin and what she shared with us.

If you’re looking to DO something, as I know I do whenever stupid death comes around and reminds me I don’t control anything, I will make these suggestions: See some theater. Make your own art. Share yourself with those around you. Love expansively. Give cancer the middle finger. And say thanks to Erin for everything she gave us while she was around.

“Fuck you spiritual people for using gratitude as a bypass to your anger.”

Some people are Recovering Catholics…I’m a Recovering Spiritualist.

Working at a spiritual center for a long time had major perks. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about communication, a lot about trusting the capital U universe, was reminded that everyone is doing the best they can, I had a consistent meditation practice, and met some of the best people I’ve ever known (and still know).

I also learned a lot about hypocrisy, the dangers of groupthink mentality, spiritual bypass, gossip lives everywhere, and that having Big Emotions was a good thing and accepted…unless it wasn’t, depending on the person or the day you did or didn’t share them with.

I’ll pull it back around to the point of this post to say, the reason that this article (where the opening quote is pulled from) resonated with me is it felt like a really wonderful tool for my Recovering Spiritualist tool box.

I saw said article going around on The Book of Faces, and it was the first good thing I’ve ever read about What To Do With and maybe even How To Invite And Move Through anger.

Like, a solution to acknowledging and living with The Feeling that doesn’t turn to dialectical behavioral therapy techniques involving snapping a rubber band on your wrist or holding an ice cube–both cause physical pain response to “distract” from the feeling, which I’ve found more triggering than helpful.

It was not an elephant-journal-style Go Do Some Yoga And Become One With A Flower article…which, are sometimes helpful, but sometimes make me feel WORSE for not being able to just click in to nature and feel oneness because FUCK ONENESS I’M TOO MAD TO BE A DELICATE FLOWER RIGHT NOW. (more…)

Editor’s Note: A new author to Rational Creatures, Jan Blixt, joins us today with some reflections from her Easter.

My children dyed their eggs last night and just finished finding them all this morning. They opened their Easter baskets (lovingly created each year by their grandmother, Poppy) and had their brunch, and now they are watching Sherlock Holmes with their father and grandfather.

You may note that church is not a factor in our Easter morning. Because god is not a factor in our Easter morning.

I was raised in a very Catholic family with a devout mother and a seemingly devout father – I learned in my late teens that he was an agnostic who’d been raised Episcopalian and loved my mother and was willing to go along with the trappings because they were important to her. I have a brother whose lovely family is devout in their Evangelical Christianity. I also have a brother who’s become rather militant in his atheism and whose family has no patience with religion. And I don’t believe in god. I just don’t. I don’t know if I ever did and I don’t lose sleep over it.

And now I have two children, ages 6 and 8, who are being raised without religion and without the concept of capital-G god.

This shocks some people. (more…)

I’ve been thinking a lot. A lot. I’ve been thinking about motherhood and being a mommy and where I belong. When I think that my parents were younger than I am now when they had both me and my sister, I feel slightly reassured that, to some degree, all parents fake it. Because we have no idea what we’re doing. Well, we have some instincts, thank God, but otherwise, you try to love your baby and not lose your mind.

Since becoming a parent 16 months ago, my life has changed. My world, my work, my body, my relationships, all different now. (I’ve an ocean of thoughts about all of these differences, but perhaps for another day.) And certainly the way I’m perceived has changed – I can tell because of how I’ve been treated by people during the stages of my life, which, at this point in my parental mind warp, I can crudely divide into 4 wholly unequal parts: Pre-Parent, Pregnant, Mommying, Mommy Sans Banz*. And I think if I frame these stages through the lens of outside perception**, maybe I can corral a fraction of these thoughts. Or maybe not, but whatevs, here goes.

This is the longest stretch on the timeline, and I have the least to say about it because gurl, I have to save something for the memoirs. Happy child, bright student, messy parental divorce, socially awkward and painfully self-conscious, solo move to the second city. A part of me has always thought that I’m awesome. People probably perceived me as some mess of kind, nerdy, prudish, fun, stuck up, shy, careful.

I was just getting a massage, because my body is a wreck (and whatever, I don’t have to justify myself to you, dude), and I was thinking of what I’d write for Rational Creatures. Ah, yes, the Massage Table, where I get my critical thinking done. And the massage therapist, who incidentally is also a doula, remarked that women, during their first pregnancy, have a glow about them. I replied, Yes, a mix of excitement and terror. I was pregnant with my daughter for most of 2013 and my body was badass and did really well, really took to pregnancy. I could do this over and over, I thought (before I delivered). (more…)

Last week, I wrote this:

I’ve been feeling better, off and on, for a few days.

I was still pretty bleak last Thursday morning, but I woke up, checked my email and found one of those golden tickets you get every once in a while – a really exciting, respected theatre company asking me to come in at the last minute for a general audition for a TBD musical.

I instantly felt like the opposite of curling into a ball – I felt energy, just a little, but bright green and springy, sprout out of my guts and send little leaves around my heart. A little zing to my brain.

I found myself thinking about being alive and functioning and in another show a year from now.

Read More at The View from the 21st Floor . . .

My Gram died in September of 2013. I think of her often, but a few weeks ago I had an overwhelming urge to want to call her. She was the ultimate survivor, and sometimes she’d just say something so simple that it could shake me out of any mood I was in. Usually I wouldn’t even tell her that I was upset about something, just hearing her ask the simple questions she’d always ask me “how’s work? how’s Cassie-Moo? what’d you have for breakfast? when is the next play? how’s Billy? when are we going for a lunch date?” and always, particularly after hearing about the “theee-aye-terr” stuff, she’d always say “you’re going to make it. You work hard and people see it and I know it.” Sometimes that’s all I’d need to hear to make any other issues dissolve. Someone who unconditionally believed in me. Even if the topic wasn’t about my arts career. (Which she supported unconditionally, as soon as she realized that asking me if I still wanted to be a doctor every time she saw me just wasn’t in my dreams anymore.) (more…)

I spend a good deal of my free time posting on a support forum for Friends and Family of Alcoholics. I have a couple of qualifiers in my life, and I have spent a lot of time in therapy to deal with my own codependent issues and dysfunctional upbringing in regards to relationships and communication, but a cornerstone of my recovery has been understanding and accepting the things I can control and the things I can’t.

From all this therapy and application to life experience, the strongest conclusion I’ve come to is that if I think I can control something, there’s about a 98% chance that I’m totally and completely wrong. (more…)