Category Archives: Listen to Your Mother

may we all have our hopes, our will to try

“Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool and he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…”

“Happy New Year” – ABBA

You know how much I love ABBA and how they have a song for every possible situation and event in life. “Happy New Year” (recorded in 1980 for the “Super Trouper” album but not released as a single until 1999) feels apropos at the conclusion of this godforsaken year. And before you chastise me for being one of those miserable souls complaining how horrible 2016 was, I know it wasn’t entirely awful; some good things did occur. I’ll get to those in a minute.

Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017. I speak of the political, of course, since such events have been so dominant this year and will be into the next. As focused as I am on that (and will continue to be), this was an extremely difficult, stressful, overwhelmingly hard year for our immediate family on many levels. There have been a lot of losses — namely the financial and professional, but also changes with longtime friendships and some emotional and medical setbacks. I’ve gone into this in previous posts and most of it is better left off the blog, but suffice it to say this year has been a tough one.

Jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling
The silver lining of not being able to afford a summer vacation means that I had an abundance of “use them or lose them” vacation days from work. So, I’ve been using them to catch up on TV shows, read a book or two, and spend some time with friends and family.

I’ve been binge-watching “This Is Us” and all of you who were telling me how much I would love this show were absolutely right. I know it’s been compared to “Parenthood”, but for me, it feels more like “thirtysomething”, for those of us who are old enough to remember watching that show, which was set in Philadelphia and ran from 1987-1991. Ken Olin, who played Michael Steadman on “thirtysomething” and directed several episodes, happens to be the executive producer of “This Is Us.”  Regardless, this is my kind of show and I love everything about it — the writing, the actors, the music, and (of course) the Pittsburgh setting.

Over Christmas, we spent some time back in Philly. It was a trip heavy on the nostalgia factor, which can be both good as well as unsettling. I had long, heartfelt conversations with two special people who I don’t see nearly enough, drove streets I haven’t been on for more than a decade, attended the Christmas Eve service at my former UU congregation with people who sustained us during some tough days long ago.  The Girl and I visited the family at the cemetery and I told her stories of those long gone. She and I had a delicious mother-daughter Christmas Day dinner at my all-time favorite restaurants, an unassuming gourmet Chinese place tucked in a suburban Philadelphia strip mall, the scene of many a date night back in The Husband and my glory days.

Moments That Mattered
So much of this holiday season wasn’t perfect (what is?) but many moments were pretty good. And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany — just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper.

Here’s some of what was good about this year:

I stepped up my writing game a bit this year with several book reviews published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and on Shelf Awareness.

Both kids made the honor roll this past semester.

I spent an inspiring and joyful day in my hometown connecting with my MRKH sisters.

I started running, at age 47, and discovered it’s not like high school gym class after all and, as such, I really like it.

Related to the running, I’ve lost 11 pounds.

A friend sent a generous gift.

I got to see Hillary Clinton the day before the election, and was close enough to wave and holler thank you.

Our cat made it through her dental surgery. (All of her teeth, sans two, needed to be removed.)

I went back to church.

And this. Oh my God, this … this absolute highlight of my year.

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016 cast, pre-show toast before our May 6, 2016 performance. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

Being in Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh is one of my most significant and personally meaningful accomplishments — not only of 2016, but of my LIFE — and it will remain that way for me forever. I stepped way, way out of my comfort zone by auditioning for a chance to tell 500 strangers the most personal, intimate, defining story of my life in a performance shared via YouTube. (No pressure or anxiety there.) It was an experience that changed me. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of my year.

I hope that 2016 held some good moments for you, too. Without a doubt, it has been quite the year — and the one we’re headed into is, I’m afraid, going to be one where we will see some unprecedented moments that will change all of us. We will keep on going anyway, because, really, what other choice do we have?

Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s ABBA to take us out.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbor is a friend
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

listen to your mother, the grand finale season

 

LTYM - Pre-Show Toast 2

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh cast, pre-show toast. May 6, 2016. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

If you followed any aspect of my experience with Listen to Your Mother this year, you know how much being in this show meant to me. I know that’s true for all my other castmates and I’m sure its the same for those who were in Pittsburgh’s inaugural show in 2015, and everyone who has been in a LTYM production throughout the country (and Canada, this year!) since the show’s inception.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Today the announcement was made: this upcoming 2017 season of Listen to Your Mother will be the show’s last. In all cities.

As disappointing as it is to hear that the show is ending, it’s good to go out on a celebratory note. And Listen to Your Mother has so much to celebrate. More than 150 shows in 54 cities. Over $100,000 raised for nonprofits supporting women and families, in local communities across the country.  Two thousand (yes, 2,000) stories shared via video on YouTube, including mine as part of Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016.

I know there are probably some of you who attended a LTYM show or watched a video or read a post and thought, “Hmm … maybe I could do that someday. Maybe next year. Maybe I have something to share.”

Or maybe you thought the opposite: that you could never do that, but you secretly wish you could.

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes this life presents us with opportunities that we think we’re incapable of doing.  Or, maybe we think we’re not ready right now.  I admit, I had some of those doubts as I wrote my story and even after I was selected for the show.  I questioned whether I was in a strong enough place to talk about this (the answer: yes).

Opportunities are ours for the taking. Sometimes they disappear.

There’s no room for maybes in this too short life.

You never know who needs to hear your story. If you feel you have a something to share, don’t wait. Auditions are usually held in late-winter/early spring. All you have to do is put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write what’s in your heart.  And if you don’t have a story to share, the same goes for attending a show, which can be just as life-changing. I guarantee you, something will resonate with you in each story you hear.

So, yes, while I’m sad that Listen to Your Mother is ending, I’m so very, very grateful to have been part of this extraordinary experience, for this opportunity that has inspired others in my life.  I’m so appreciative to our Pittsburgh producers, Jennifer, Stephanie, and Amanda for all their hard work in creating a wonderful show, one that has been recognized with a Best of the Burgh award (seriously, around here that is a BIG DEAL). I’m so glad this show has connected me with some of the bravest, most courageous and strongest women — strangers once, now treasured friends.

And especially, I’m thankful to Ann Imig, founder of Listen to Your Mother, for her vision and belief that motherhood deserved a microphone and in so doing, provided so many of us with the chance to share our stories with countless people throughout the world, knowing our experiences — and our lives — matter.

finding my brave (83/99)

When I was preparing for Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh, I knew I wanted to wear a specific bracelet during the actual show.

Mothers Day 2015 - Be Brave

You see, almost exactly one year before, I decided to buy myself a Bravelet for Mother’s Day to support the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation which is a very important organization to me.   That Mother’s Day was also the 30th anniversary of my MRKH diagnosis, so the Bravelet had special meaning.  Putting sentiment aside for practically, however, the Bravelet is a little dangle-y, so I got into the habit of taking it off whenever I was typing on my laptop.

Which, you know, is rather often.

Well, of course it got lost — and in the weeks leading up to the Listen to Your Mother show, I searched and searched for it, with no luck.  And then the day of the show came and still no Bravelet.  The show, of course, went tremendously and everyone was so beautiful, so radiant, so supportive, and yes — so absolutely perfectly brave.  (You’ve watched it on YouTube, right? My story and the stories of everyone else who rocked the hell out of that stage?)

I’ve said this before: being in Listen to Your Mother is one of my most significant and personally meaningful accomplishments and it will remain that way for me forever.   And while it would have been nice to wear the Bravelet, I didn’t need it to be brave.  And I knew this, of course, but … well, sometimes when you’re telling the most personal story of your life to 500 people and having it recorded for all time on YouTube, it helps to have a little talisman of sorts.

So, more than three months have passed since the show and I had pretty much forgotten about the lost Bravelet.

Until tonight.

I happened to reach over to the end table next to where I sit because I thought a box of over-the-counter medication was the Advil Cold and Sinus I tend to take when the weather sends me into sinus hell, as has been the case for the last several days.  I lifted the box up and there, underneath, there it was! My missing Bravelet!

It had been right next to me this whole time, within an arm’s reach (if that).  And I can’t help but notice the inherent meaning in this and how significant it is that I found this now because it’s so obvious.

How often do we find ourselves searching for something we think is missing when what we’re looking for is actually so much closer than we realize?  When we think that we’ll never be able to find the answers, the solution, the magic charm that makes everything better? 

Our strength and our bravery is always with us, closer than we think, even when it seems hidden.  Especially when it seems hidden.

Somehow, the hardest things to see are the things that are right in front of us.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #83 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

P.S. This isn’t a sponsored post for Bravelets, but if you’re inclined to purchase one for yourself and you aren’t sure what charity to select to receive the percentage of your purchase, I know the leadership of the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation personally and I also know how important the work and advocacy of this small organization is to so many women, including myself.

 

sequel (47/99)

“When you were 15, what did you think you’d be doing now?”

We were at lunch and my co-worker had posed the question as part of a conversation we were having about the pressure to go immediately to a four year college, rather than saving a significant amount of money by taking basic classes elsewhere (such as at a community college) or by pursuing a trade.

I knew my answer immediately.

“I was going to be living in New York City, writing my latest bestselling novel (the first bestseller having been published by the time I was 18, of course) and having a fabulous career.”

(If those words sound familiar, you either knew me when I was 15 or you’ve watched at least the first 15 seconds of my Listen to Your Mother video.)

At 47, the closest I am to living in the Big Apple is the fact that we have an apple tree in our backyard.  In Pittsburgh.  And yes, I have a career, the same one for the past 25 years now and one that I generally like and (in my opinion) am pretty good at.  And I am indeed writing a novel (or a memoir, or a collection of linked stories) — the same one I’ve been writing on and off for years, and which probably won’t be a bestseller because my last name isn’t Kardashian.

Several times this week my younger years have crept into my present. They’re always there, of course — they’re not called one’s formative years for nothing.  I’m sure that has to do with the release of my Listen to Your Mother video since my piece focuses on my teenage years in a significant way. I also spent Tuesday evening in the company of the one and only Judy Blume, who wrote the script for my adolescence and every else’s in the sold out crowd.  (I know, I promised you a post. I’m working on it.)

My girl and I got to the Judy Blume lecture more than 90 minutes early, snagging a good spot in line and seats in the third row. While we waited, I started re-reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret on my Kindle. As I posted on Facebook, there’s only one book to read while waiting for Judy Blume.

Are You There God

(Incidentally, did you know that Judy Blume wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in approximately six weeks?!  It’s true; she told us so herself on Tuesday night.)

So I sat there reading and being transported back in time to my pre-teen self. My girl’s main reason for coming was to “see an icon” (clearly, I’ve taught her well) and to get an autographed copy of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret for HER best friend, who lives in Texas and who she had plans with for today.

Those plans changed due to a death in their family, but we still managed to get the girls together for a quick breakfast at Panera this morning. While the girls sat inside laughing and talking for an hour and catching up, I sat outside on the patio, finishing Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and keeping an eye on the girls without being intrusive on their conversation.

It felt somewhat surreal, watching the bond between my girl and her BFF and reading this pivotal book from when I was almost their age.  I believe books (even ones we’ve read previously) have a way of finding us when we need them most, not unlike how a good friend shows up when we’re struggling.

The themes within Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret of changing bodies, friendships, and questioning the beliefs handed down from one’s parents seem especially resonant for both me and my girl right now.  We’re both dealing with changing dynamics within friendships and while neither real-life story is one that can be told in this space, suffice it to say both have been difficult and painful journeys.

On Tuesday night, I was trying to think of a question for Judy Blume that wasn’t the usual stuff of author Q & A (“how do you get your ideas?”  “what advice do you have for aspiring writers?”). This morning, it occurred to me that I would love to know what Margaret Simon, Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter, and Janie Loomis are up to now at 58 years old. Did Margaret ever find religion or is she still searching?

Sitting at the Panera reading Judy Blume, I was mentally kicking myself for not asking her if she had ever considered writing a sequel of sorts to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

While seeing life come full circle by watching my girl and her friend, I realized that perhaps we didn’t need a sequel to know how their lives turned out.

Life has already written it for us.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #47 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

because listening brings us together

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It has been yet another difficult week on this fragile globe of our world. Another week, another day, another hour of unimaginable violence and sadness that shows no sign of ending.

Yesterday I shared the photos from our Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh show.  And earlier today, all the Listen to Your Mother  videos from all 41 shows held this spring were released and posted to YouTube.  That’s 500 new stories.

You can listen to each and every story from the 2016 season. To watch the stories as they appeared live on stage, click on a city playlist below:

AlbuquerqueAtlanta, Austin, BaltimoreBaton Rouge, BirminghamBoston, Boulder,BurbankCharleston, Chicago, DCEvansville, Kansas City, La CrosseLehigh Valley, LincolnLittle Rock, Madison, Metro Detroit, Milwaukee, Nashville, New OrleansNorth Jersey, Northern UtahNYC, Oklahoma CityPittsburghPortland, Providence, Raleigh Durham, Rochester, San AntonioSan Francisco, SeattleSoutheast Texas, Southwest MichiganSpokaneSt. LouisTwin Cities, and Vancouver.

Listening to our stories brings us together.  We learn more about each other, our world becomes smaller and, perhaps for a few precious moments, feels a little less scary.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #46 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

listen to your mother pittsburgh 2016, the official show photos

I’m still in awe of the incredible experience that was Listen to Your Mother. All the emotions came flooding right back as soon as we received the official show photos on Monday.

We need to wait a little bit longer for the videos, but I promise to share them as soon as I get the official word.  Till then, here are a few images that capture the excitement and joy of the evening — with credit given to Ashley Mikula Photography for each one.

LTYM - Melissa on stage rehearsal 5-6-2016

Me, making the other ladies in the cast laugh during dress rehearsal.

LTYM Pre-Show Toast LTYM - Pre-Show Toast 2

Pre-show toast.

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Walking onstage to applause and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”

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Onstage, sharing the most personal story of my life. Perhaps the most nerve-wracking and empowering five minutes I’ve ever experienced.

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Audience reaction during my piece.

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Standing ovation by more than 400 people.

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Final bow.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #45 of 99 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

Listen to Your Mother Named as Best in the Burgh! (27/99)

LTYM - Poster

This must be what it’s like to win an Emmy.  We’ve had exciting news this week for Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh, which I was thrilled to be  part of this year along with 13 other amazing women and writers.

We’ve been honored Pittsburgh Magazine by with a Best of the Burgh award in their Kids and Family section!

We made the audience “laugh, cry and open up about their own experiences, which is the organizers’ goal.”

Indeed it is, along with raising money for a deserving local nonprofit that serves women and children. (This year’s recipient was Jeremiah’s Place, a relief care nursery in Pittsburgh.)

Take a bow (another one), ladies.  All you who were in the inaugural cast last year and those who shared the stage with me this year and those behind the scenes and especially LTYM creator and founder Ann Imig … congratulations to all of us!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #27 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.