Well, I’m trying to think of a more eloquent way to put it, but all that comes to mind is, “we did it!”
By “it,” I mean performing for 10,000 women at The Women of Joy Conference in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee last weekend. I was told there’d be 9,000 women at the event, which was already enough to make me squirm a little, but upon arrival I was corrected, “it’s actually about 10,000 women, only about a 1,000 more, so no big deal!” 😂.
When I first walked in and saw the venue space, I could not wrap my head around it, the chairs spread so far and so wide that not even a picture could capture it all. Surely the whole place won’t be full, I thought, but I thought wrong. The whole place packed out, women from all over the southeast and midwest, hungry for a girls’ weekend, a spiritual encounter and hopefully, a few laughs.
So that’s the “it” that we did: a show that size, for an hour, laughing all the way. And when I say “we,” I mean I absolutely could not have done it alone. We did it. First, my husband, Josh, who was with me every step of the way from the booking process to the week leading up to as I tried to prepare mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. After all, it takes a lot of work to make it look easy on stage!
Along with Josh goes a handful of people like my sister, Betsy, who joined us for the whole weekend, helped at the merch table and provided an overall sense of fun in the midst of what felt like a lot of pressure. She loved meeting all the ladies and by the end of the night she was signing copies of my book 🤣.
I’d never seen anything like it before, women and girls of all ages waited in line to get a copy of my book signed, grab a picture or just thank me for the laughter. Some waited more than an hour, many of whom met Josh and Betsy and enjoyed their company while waiting. By the time women reached me for a signature, Betsy and Josh had both signed the inside front cover… it was like signing a yearbook with some of my favorite people.
People kept thanking me for staying around, but I was the one who was grateful people would even want to wait to talk to me, let alone get a picture with me. My middle school self was thriving! “See kiddo,” I whispered back to her, “you’ll be alright, middle school is tough, hang in there!” The show ended at 9:30pm and we didn’t leave the venue until 11:45pm when the last person left. I was absolutely floored.
We went back the next day to sell more books and meet more people, we spent another four hours just talking with women and girls from all over, each with their own stories; some of struggle, some of triumph, all grateful to have had a break from it all just to laugh. “You inspire me to be myself,” one girl said, and that right there was worth it all.
Along with Betsy and Josh was my mom, who had been praying for me everyday since she first found out about me performing at Women of Joy. “I’m praying twice a day now, and so are my girls,” she said the week of the show (her girls are the ladies she prays with), “see, it’s not so bad to be on a southern lady’s prayer chain!” It was a clever jab at one of my jokes about prayer chains being a righteous way to gossip.
Other friends and family members joined in with encouragement and prayer as well. My dad and my mother-in-law often sent messages of encouragement or GIFS of love. Friends sent me voice memos and videos with words of support. Debbie, the woman who booked me and organized the whole weekend encouraged me like no other event planner/booker I’ve encountered. She cared, and she wanted me there, which made all the difference in the world for any amount of anxiety or nerves I might have felt leading up to it… I belonged there, and starting from a place of belonging versus trying to fit in is a game changer.
It’s not to say other comedy shows, producers and organizers haven’t been great, many have, but the spiritual piece is not something I’ve often encountered in the comedy world. I am neither a church comedian nor a club comic. I enjoy parts of both, but don’t fully resonate with either. I’m still in the middle of both my spiritual journey and my comedy journey. Social Media traps people into thinking they can’t grow any more, at least not in a public space. People think they need to find their audience and present their stance on everything they’ve “figured out.” While Comedy requires an audience, my goal in life is not to have an audience, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out. It’s an odd place to be… to still be growing, especially in public.
In some ways I still have a lot of healing to do from the church, unfortunately many people do, but unlike a number of “90s Christians” who’ve had some kind of awakening and decide to throw the baby out with the bath water, I simply can’t throw it all out. The church is still a wound for me, but I also still ache for the heart of Jesus and how He loves us. I still look for Him… in clubs, in churches, in theaters and bars… I’ve seen Him in all of the above, sometimes in the most unassuming of places. I’ve also wondered where He was, sometimes especially in the church.
I’ve been welcomed into churches and welcomed into clubs. I’ve also been “not a favorite” at churches and “not a favorite” at clubs. That’s life, some people will get ya, and some people won’t, and it’s okay. Even in my attempts to look for one, I’ve always had a hard time “finding my audience,” I just enjoy making people laugh, I don’t care who they are (I am a marketer’s worst nightmare). But, whether making fun of my own insecurities, oddities about the church, or just overall awkwardness of life, it’s like my sister Betsy said after my weekend with Women of Joy, “well, looks like you found your audience: 10,000 recovering Baptist women!”
The best part was I never went looking for that particular audience. Through the ebb and flow of life we all just found ourselves there, relating to each other, perhaps not about everything, but enough to see the good and enjoy each other’s company.
And so, another part of the “we” would have to be all the women who were there at Women of Joy (not all of whom were Baptist, I loved hearing one woman claim her Catholicism while able to jokingly add, “who else was going to bring the crippling guilt?” 🤣🤣. People who can laugh at themselves, I guess that’s my audience.
Hearing that many women laugh in unison was electric, almost unworldly. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that I hope Heaven has a comedy club. Maybe I will actually get to see Robin Williams perform one day, Gilda Radner too. I’m still unlearning a lot about church and relearning a lot about God, so I can’t claim to know much, but I do know that God has a sense of humor, and I think He gave me a dash of it, or at least lets me use it from time to time.
Even if I never get to experience anything like this past weekend again, I will forever be grateful that I got to experience it on this side of life.
“Thank you, God,” is something I mutter from time to time, whether as a sigh of relief or finally finding a parking spot. But as the last (not least) part of my “we,” I mean it sincerely when I say, thank you, God, that I did not go it alone, nor did I lose my sense of self, in the vastness of it all.
I’ve waited for most of my life for permission. For what? Everything. As a child it was permission to stay up late, permission to go outside and play, permission to order a coke instead of water.
As a high schooler it was permission to stay out late, permission to quit piano lessons, permission to drive my parents’ car.
In college there was more freedom, which always creates a little chaos in the beginning; trying to figure out your newfound freedom, finally liberated from the rules of home! But there was still permission needed: permission to take a course not in my major of choice and still get credit, permission to turn in an assignment late, permission to be let into the secret sorority of sisterhood that was going to define my college experience.
I got into the sorority, granted full access to lifelong sisterhood and camaraderie! But my junior year of college when I couldn’t keep up with the payments, I no longer had permission to stay in the sorority, shortening the length of “lifelong” to the end of the month when the next payment was due.
Post college, freedom abounds. Sure, there’s things like rent and groceries you’ll have to figure out how to pay for, which may limit some of your choices, but you’re young and optimistic and “there’s always a way!” Until you move back home, back under their house, their rules. Don’t worry, it’s only a matter of time before you’re back on your own again!
The second time I moved out of my parents house, I found a nice little place… in rehab. Rehab made my parents house seem like Woodstock (or Coachella, depending on your age); it was day in and day out need for permission. Permission to use the phone, permission to walk on the treadmill when you didn’t have permission to walk outside, permission to go to the bathroom. I healed a lot in rehab, but I also absorbed more of the mindset that other people knew better than me. I mean, really, can I trust the fact that my bladder is telling me to go, or should I wait for someone to let me know it’s okay?
Aside from the rules of growing up, secret societies and rehab facilities, the greatest permission I’ve felt I needed since first popping onto the scene of life, probably sounds the silliest, but runs the deepest: the permission to exist.
I’m not exactly sure who it is I’ve always felt I needed permission from to just be myself, but the suspicion that I couldn’t has been around for as long as I’ve been shaving my arms, which is the 6th grade when the other kids started calling me Tween Wolf.
Post college and rehab and Portland, Oregon where I did a small stint as a flight attendant before getting fired, I finally gave myself permission to stop trying to find the right career and finally do what I always loved: art.
Though I had given myself permission, when I started working as an artist I felt like I still needed permission to even be a part of the art scene, to even call myself an artist. Permission from myself seemed liberating, but certainly not legitimate, especially because there was this confusing thing to figure out that most artists don’t think about when they deicide to paint for a living: business.
I needed to sell art, but I also needed to struggle as all the great artists do. I needed to make money to be taken seriously by clients and consumers, but I needed to be poor to be taken seriously by artists. The best thing an artist can have when first starting out is friends, who support them and encourage them and remind them that they matter when the world tells them they don’t. The worst thing an artist can have when first starting out is friends, because what friends want is a deal.
While I sell my art sometimes, I get requests for my art all the time, and more often than not, if it’s a friend or a relative, or a friend of a relative, they ask for the “friends and family discount.” If they don’t ask, they simply don’t respond once I give them an honest price point for what my work costs. Prior to getting married I didn’t date enough to get ghosted by men and understand how it really felt, but once I became an artist, I grew to know the feeling all too well.
While the art scene was hard to feel a part of, it was a doggie daycare compared to the comedy scene. Who would have thought that of all the professions in all the world, comedy would be one of the most difficult to be a part of? There’s not really a school for it or a degree for it, you either “got it” or you don’t. On top of which, if you got it, you better be willing to play small for the sake of respecting seniority and knowing you need to stay on the bottom for a while before the powers that be (which is more often than not, a middle aged white man) even considers letting you near the top.
Much like with art, there is a dance with comedy; you have to be funny enough to win the crowd, but not too funny so as to rub the other comics the wrong way, especially the ones who can book you for more shows, those are the guys whose egos you have to look out for. As a woman you have to be grateful for every opportunity, all the time, making sure you credit the men for being the ones who gave you a shot. Every time you rightfully earn a bigger opportunity than a man, you have to accept the fact that it’s only because you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry that is trying to diversify, and certainly not because you are actually funny enough to hang out with, let alone surpass, the big guys.
And whether it’s been surfing or writing or trying to be taken seriously in fantasy football (which honestly didn’t go so well and I can accept my weaknesses in that area), so many feelings have revolved around permission and feeling like I just don’t have it.
To be clear, no one said I don’t have permission, I’m not blaming a specific industry or group or sex, necessarily, I’m admitting my own mental strongholds. In therapy it’s called processing, unfortunately in a blog it’s just called complaining. But I’m not here to complain, despite what it may sound like. I’m simply strapped for cash on the therapy front and just need to sort through some thoughts so they don’t stay stuck in my head and dictate how I live my life.
I didn’t have some huge breakthrough today, other than realizing when I visualize permission, I do often visualize it coming from a man. I don’t know why. From early childhood we’re taught to play “Mother May I?” not “Father Can I?,” so where does this need for a man’s permission stem from? Maybe I’ll save that one for someone who’s at least licensed in therapy. And it doesn’t mean “down with men,” it might mean that just maybe I have some blindspots around the notion of permission, and the person who’s been holding me back the most isn’t actually a man, but me.
And mixed in with my false sense of permission and lack of feeling like I can belong, I’m also aware of my privilege. I know that’s a buzz word these days, “privilege,” but not for no reason.
I have to admit, for someone who still feels like they are flailing in life, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to call myself privileged, I find myself wanting to be defensive. But maybe if I were a little more willing to check what the defensiveness was about instead of just function out of it, I might find clarity, or perhaps a peace that passes understanding all of it.
When I step back and look from a wider lens, I can see how in some ways, if not many ways, yes, I am privileged. The thing about privilege is that it’s not an all-in-one package deal. Privilege in some areas doesn’t mean you come fully equipped with self confidence, and the ability to walk through any door you please; it doesn’t even come with the feeling of belonging.
Privilege is interesting because while it’s supposed to, it actually doesn’t guarantee success or status or that people will even like you. Privilege has helped many people do a lot of things, and it has also not helped at all, clumping you in its category with all the others, “Privileged.” And after all those years of trying to say something, trying to matter, trying to be accepted, by who? Who knows, who even cares! You realize, especially now, no one wants to listen to someone who’s been afforded privilege.
And so what else can you do, but make fun of yourself so it stings less when someone else does.
I realized a while back that in order for me to believe that other people’s voices matter, I have toalso believe that mine does; it seems counter-intuitive to the service over self mindset, applicable in many situations, but not all. How you treat people externally is a direct response from how you feel internally. When I have seasons of hard work and confidence in my own craft, I am not threatened or jealous by another friend, or even frenemy’s, success… I celebrate it. I want that to be my norm, a celebration of people for who they are and how far they’ve come.
I want to own my privilege and my struggle, dismissing neither, using the former for good and the ladder to raise awareness. While it’s easy to say things like “you are only as stuck as you choose to be,” a great pin for a Pinterest board, and I don’t disagree, sometimes choosing isn’t all that simple. Sometimes there are factors beyond our control and our choosing, like mental illness, disease, poverty and addiction.
The other day I heard a woman say, “my dog chose me” when asked where she found her furry friend. Other than being slightly annoying, it was a beautiful sentiment, but I wondered if we treat people with the same sort of grandiose cuteness in regards to mental health, “I didn’t choose my illness, it chose me.” Would we believe them? This coming from someone who is happiest when she’s sad and confused when she’s happy, not sure if she has permission to be happy when she’s been diagnosed depressed.
These days I genuinely have more good days than bad, which I’m incredibly grateful for. I’ve mastered no life hacks, but I’m working on giving myself permission to be myself, regardless of the day or degree of its goodness.
I booked my first comedy show in my new city for this weekend and while I am excited to perform, the panic has officially set in. I’ve missed performing during the pandemic, but I did not miss the anxiety coupled with it, especially as someone who has no trouble finding something to be anxious about. The tendency to self-sabotage is strong with this one.
I’ll spend the next couple of days convincing myself that I’m good enough, smart enough and doggoneit, people like me!
And then hopefully by Saturday I will have annoyed my own reflection so much with my daily affirmations that I’ll have to get out of the house and verbally process somewhere else… like the stage I’ve been given permission to take. In this case, I would be the only one stopping me from doing so.
I’ll let you know if I get in my own way or if I kindly give myself permission to show up… the verdict’s still out.
Well, it’s been a loooong time since I’ve performed comedy, like a long time. Instead of waiting for Covid to clear or Netflix to notice me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and do it myself… make my own comedy special!
It felt appropriate to just go ahead and title it the DIY comedy special since crafting and DIY projects are how I navigated a year of canceled shows and universal chaos (and since I’m literally doing it all myself… you know how they say “it’s all about who you know”? I know no one).
And sooooo… This is it… the moment everyone (mostly my mom and a select few family members, but that’s okay 😂) have been waiting for… The DIY COMEDY SPECIAL! I spent the last six months working on this, and I had so much fun creating it with the hopes that it entertains you, as well as reminds you of some classic entertainment that is already out there!
It will be a live premiere so we’ll watch in real time, hope you can join us! May 28, 2021 6pm PST, 9pm EST! You can have YouTube send you a reminder for showtime! Also be sure to watch in HD or 4K for better quality!
Until then, if you haven’t yet, please consider going back to watch Trailer #4 to give you an idea of the audience and Trailer #5, featuring my manager going over all the pre-show stuff!
You can watch them here:
Trailer #4: The Assistant
Trailer #5: The Manager
And since the show is free, you can’t have a free comedy show without a merch table! But since this isn’t in-person and I don’t have a table… I got some online shops with prints, tees, and even original artwork!
Thanks for taking the time to poke around and support the creative arts!
The New Etsy Shop with JJ’s original artwork (30-40% off discount this weekend only) AND in honor if the DIY Comedy spacial, use promo code DIYCOMEDY for an extra 10% off!: https://www.etsy.com/shop/JJBarrowsArt
As a reminder, this is purely for entertainment, I’m not making any money off this video, any ad revenue goes to the copyright holders on YouTube. I included footage and music that I enjoy and wanted to share it with purely that in mind… enjoyment (especially after such a tough year!). No copyright infringement was intended.
In the same way that movies have deleted scenes, so do books have deleted pages and passages that got rifled out through the editing process. I want to occasionally share some thoughts that lingered for a while in between the pages of my book “it’s called a spade,” but for one reason or another, didn’t quite make it to publication.
Today’s passage is about my childhood home, and while I was able to process some of it in my book, I think perhaps I found a better way to say it than this original copy that felt more like being much too old for pouting. Perhaps that’s okay though, perhaps now that I’m five years older, I can let my younger self have the permission she felt she needed to pout… even if that younger self was actually 32.
I think we’re always in the process of growing, even once we’re “grown up,” and I think that’s okay as life throws us curve balls we aren’t always prepared for. I think 2020 is a great example of a curve ball for which none of us were prepared for.
For now, a deleted page that remains a memory I am finally at peace with.
It feels like my childhood home is being ripped right out from under me. It is only now at 32 that I am beginning to accept I won’t get my childhood back. I’ve realized it long before now, but accepting it is a whole different ballgame I wasn’t prepared to play. In many ways I don’t want my childhood back, perhaps parts of it, like the innocence, the pizza parties, the beach games and make believe worlds in the woods behind our house, but other parts of it I’m quite glad I don’t have to relive. And even though I know time travel to be as silly as Kanye being president, part of me deep down has always hoped I could go back and do things differently.
“If only I had known then what I know now,” who hasn’t thought this? I’m sure there’s a country song or jazz ditty with this line in it. I’ve held onto this thought so tightly that for quite some time I have always thought things were going to be different. I’ve always thought I would get a second chance, not realizing adulthood was my second chance. I pay my own bills and drive my own car and complain about the government and do all the things that adults do now, but outside of engaging in those adult responsibilities, I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t know what an adult is supposed to feel like. It is safe to say that up until this morning I have been functioning very much like a child, waiting for everything to turn out right, wanting someone else to do everything for me and hoping for a better ending to the story.
I’m helping my mother pack up the place we called home for over 30 years and it dawned on me this morning as I laid on the couch that we weren’t playing pretend and we weren’t going to get our house back. Much like my childhood, the place I called home for so long is going to be a thing of the past.
Perhaps I only just now realized I wasn’t going to get my second chance at doing things all over again because my house was the last thing left from my childhood still lingering in the present. I knew I could always go back home no matter where I was or how hard things got, and home was the physical location of the house I grew up in.
Some people and plaques say that home is where the heart is, or where you park it, or where you make it. Some people say home isn’t a place but a people. I agree with all of those things, sort of, but mostly because I know it in my head to be true, not because I feel it. Home has always been the house at the end of Gray Mans Loop in Pawleys Island, SC because it is the only home I have ever lived in. And while it might be the people inside the house who make up the home, what do you do when the people split up and go live different places?
My siblings all grew up and moved away, which is to be expected of siblings, but when my mother and father split up after 30 years of marriage, my family didn’t feel like home anymore, mostly because none of it was familiar to me. The only thing that remained stable after my parents split was the house I grew up in, and so it remained home even after the people in it came and went.
Even though I moved out of the house after high school, it was always there, always an option, always a safe place to retreat to. I could always run home. Knowing it would always be there also meant I never actually went there. It was more of a last resort, especially after my parents split up. It’s weird to walk into a familiar place with a new vibe. It’s confusing to look around and recognize everything but feel nothing. It’s confusing to be at home and not feel at home no matter where you go.
To be honest, that was as far as I got in that thought process, and I’m still not sure I have resolve for it. I am at peace with it, but I don’t necessarily have any more answers now than I did then.
Time has allowed me to adjust to my new normal and it no longer hurts the way it used to. There are still moments that sting from time to time, but I’ve realized that’s okay. Nothing in this world is as it was intended to be and sometimes we will feel the sting of it… some worse than others. I have no remedies or how-to solutions. I have no motivational quotes for you or I to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Perhaps there’s a time for that, I honestly don’t know. I just know that sometimes life kinda sucks. It’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t always feel that way.
Today, I’m good (I think I’m technically supposed to say “well,” but I like using “good,” I hate when people correct that!). And I suppose that’s all I need for right now. My hope is that you are good too, and that you recognize that simple state of being good as a gift.
And if you aren’t, I hope good times are ahead… trust that they are. This life isn’t all bad (even if it feels that way sometimes).
Yesterday was Dolly Parton’s Birthday. I know this because it’s just long enough after Christmas to still feel comforted by your Christmas decorations being up, but not too long after that you feel lazy for not having taken them down yet.
I usually take down my Christmas decorations the same time as Dolly… on her birthday. I blast Dolly’s Christmas album and it makes taking the tree down a little more enjoyable instead of feeling like the spirit of Christmas is dying and we’re about to go back to the real world of people hating each other.
I normally wouldn’t be that pessimistic, but after 2020 ended and 2021 didn’t get off to the best start, I’m tired of looking on the bright side. Mostly I’m just tired. I think everyone is.
And yet, knowing we all have moments of feeling too tired to encourage others (even Dolly), I’m grateful for things like technology where words can be recorded, saved and replayed at a later date, a date when everyone’s too tired to come up with more encouragement and instead can just read or hit play and remember the words of someone who encouraged them once before.
I was too tired to take my tree down yesterday. I didn’t play Dolly’s Christmas album, but I did play her greatest hits and was reminded that bullies don’t get far in life, women are stronger than anyone thinks, and you can’t keep wasting time… you gotta get to livin!
While Dolly may not be everyone’s cup of tea (neither am I, and WHO IS anyway?), to me, she’s someone who inspires people to be unabashedly themselves, change as they see fit, and love others no matter how different. For that, she deserves a cake (at the very least)!
I don’t usually bake her a birthday cake every year, but I was inspired to yesterday morning as I saw my empty egg carton sitting upside down in my recycle bin. I’m not quite sure what it says about the way my mind works, but upon looking at said egg carton, I thought to myself, “Omg, Dolly!”
Yea, I’m not quite sure how it all happened, and the fact that it was perfect timing to have finished off a carton of eggs on Dolly’s birthday… but there she is “in all her glory,” as my once 13-year old brother would have said.
My sister and I had a Dolly Party last night, which these days is a Watch Party on Amazon showing 9 to 5. Like I said, I’m grateful for technology, especially during a pandemic that allows my sister and I to still hang out and watch movies together.
While watching 9 to 5, we commented on how different things are today than they were back then, glad for the progress but knowing we (as humanity) still have a ways to go. It was nice to just be, to be silly and careless, and bake a cake just for fun. I’m grateful for the moments I get to have like this.
I’m still a little tired, but mostly rested and finally ready to take the tree down. Today, January 20th, feels like a good day for change.
Silly as it may be to celebrate a woman’s birthday who doesn’t even know me, it was a little breath of fresh air to be celebrating something instead of grieving so much loss that the year 2020 brought. The celebration doesn’t cancel out the loss, but the loss doesn’t have to be reason not to celebrate life’s big and little accomplishments. There are many things in life to still celebrate, many more things than Dolly’s birthday, but that seemed like a great place to start.
I’m genuinely grateful for a presence like Dolly in the world. I’m grateful for women, no matter how different, who blaze trails for those of us who wonder where we fit in life.
I’m grateful and tired and concerned and curious and hopeful and worried and excited and nervous and happy and sad and anxious and all the things that life throws at us.
Happy Birthday, Dolly! 75 years is quite an accomplishment. Making this cake sure gave me a bunch of laughs, and laughs is what I needed right now!
Hoping everyone gets to do a few things this year just for the fun of it.
We got into Santa Barbara around 4pm yesterday. We flew in from Nashville, leaving the house around 4:30am to catch a 6am flight that routed us through Seattle, then Portland, then finally home after all direct flights were cancelled. Needless to say, I was exhausted. We got home in time to shower and start doing laundry, except I passed out before I could even get the clothes from my bag to the laundry basket.
I awoke to my husband coming in the room to change clothes in a bit of a hurry, “I’m gonna run to the grocery store just to pick up a few things.” After traveling for two weeks we didn’t have much food in the house, I figured we’d go tomorrow but he said the governor had just ordered a lockdown on California— no one was to leave their house except to exercise, walk their dog or go to the grocery store. All businesses except health care providers were closing. “Stay home!” was the message.
Truth be told, after the stress of traveling in the middle of the Corona Virus spreading, I was looking forward to having to stay at home for a while without the pressure or expectation of having to be somewhere or be someone.
In our travels we had made it to Michigan when things weren’t totally crazy yet, rumors of Corona spreading to California and Washington were starting to take place, but mostly we were just on the receiving end of text messages from concerned family members. I was aware that things were happening, but knowing my own self and need to remain mentally strong, I filtered what news I let in. Anxiety, panic, fear— All things I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars on therapy working through so they would not have a grip on me, crippling me from living my life. Mental strength will not make me immune to a virus, this I know… I still have to do my part to practice daily routines like washing my hands and taking my vitamins.
While mental strength will not spare me, it will keep me thriving and engaging in those daily routines that matter to get me through the tough times– to call loved ones, write letters, move my body and actually do the things that are being suggested we do to take care of ourselves during this weird time in history.
I had two shows in Michigan, packed crowds and everything still seemed normal— a little panic around the globe, but it seemed far away and the audiences in front me seemed ready to laugh and not at all like they had to rush off to the grocery store to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
The hoarding had not yet begun, that I knew of. My last show was on a Thursday night. I woke up Friday morning to the headlines: “The NBA is canceled. Broadway’s gone dark. Disneyland is closed.” I had one simple thought, “Oh crap.” That was the moment I felt the severity of it. I read a few things and checked my email, the rest of the comedy festival I had been a part of was canceling the rest of their shows. People were complaining they weren’t notified ahead of time, “how come the festival wasn’t more organized?” I’m sorry but what company, organization or hospital was totally prepared for a pandemic to hit in 2020, really? A few psychics claimed they predicted it, and who the heck knows, maybe they did, but I don’t think you’re going to find a comedy festival relying on a psychic to help them prepare for what to do in case of a disaster.
“Grace, grace, grace,” I tell myself. We all need to extend more grace, or at least I do, hard as it is. Grace to the hoarders, they’re scared. Grace to ourselves as we figure out how much to eat, where to get soap, and how to be nice to people when we feel stuck and exhausted. And grace to the underprepared companies and organizations who are finding themselves in this type of a situation for the first time and are also trying to figure out how to navigate it. We all have a bunch of feelings right now. Minimal facts and lots of feelings makes for a scary combination– an “us versus them” mentality and that isn’t going to help anyone. I don’t have answers, but I have grace for the people who are also getting on my nerves as they spread anger, panic, fear and anxiety faster than the virus itself.
We left Michigan and proceeded with our trip. We arrived in Nashville where I was meeting up with my potential manager. “Meeting up” turned into being quarantined at he and his wife’s house as more news reports broke that businesses were to close and people were highly urged to stay home. Prior to arriving we had plans to stay with a friend but she had gotten the flu, saying it was “just the flu,” and I thought to myself only right now would people be saying “JUST the flu,” as if it was no big deal. Even still, we did not want to risk getting sick in the midst of traveling, and again I had to mentally navigate what was no big deal and what was a harsh reality.
We arrived in Nashville on a Saturday and things were still a little on the normal side. We went out to dinner the first night and brunch the next morning. Not a lot of people were out, but places were still open, people were still active. The air seemed different, but not yet eerie. By Monday morning the atmosphere shifted. Shops were closing, restaurants were on a to-go order only system. My friend texted me that she went to Chipotle and a guy ran to the door, dropped her order outside and quickly shut the door. It sounded like a drug transaction.
We spent days talking shop, sharing our stories and getting to know each other in a way we maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise given our situation. Tuesday night, Josh and I debated going downtown, just to get out of the house. Not everything was totally closed yet and one of our friends had wanted to meet up with us, the one who had the flu but was now better. I did not want to go, I didn’t feel comfortable going out knowing we might bring something back with us, especially when it’s something you can’t even see. Maybe if it had just been us, but staying in someone else’s home, who were older than us, not to mention, someone I wanted to manage me so I didn’t want to be the cause of his death before we even signed. I mean, I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s death at all (yes, my mind went there), but I was definitely looking forward to working with him in the long run. I also didn’t want to disappoint my husband or our friend, both who seemed eager to meet up in the midst of this chaos, and I struggled internally as we got in the car to make our way downtown. We weren’t even five minutes into the drive before the silence broke. We pulled the car over, talked it through and turned the car around.
By Wednesday we at least needed to go for a walk, but with it raining outside we felt a little trapped. We finally decided on going to the mall just to walk around. “NO ONE TOUCH ANYTHING” was the rule. Almost every store inside the mall was closed except for the arcade and Chick-Fli-A. The arcade? Gross. Of all the places to be open, the arcade is germ central! Chick-Fil-A? Praise God. Waffle fries, please. And some of those anti-bacterial hand wipes. The mall was almost silent, save a few noises from the arcade, making it the perfect setting for a horror movie.
We peeked in a grocery store on the way home just to see the empty shelves— no meat, cheese, bread, toilet paper, soap— entire aisles cleared out. The eerie feeling was in full effect. I had Lysol wipes in my pocket so if I had to touch a door or anything I was fully prepared. That was when it hit me, maybe Bob Wiley wasn’t so crazy after all, he was just before his time. (For reference, see movie “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray— a must watch during quarantine).
Wednesday night we sat around the dinner table, sharing jokes and memes we’d come across throughout the chaos of everything. At first I thought the jokes were hilarious, but by day four I just wanted to hear a joke that wasn’t about Corona. They all started to sound the same, and who came up with what first? Did that even matter? I would think of a joke or write a thought down and then I’d see it on someone’s Twitter or Facebook account. Dang it.
It makes sense, we’re all experiencing the same thing, and comedians are always looking for the punchline in a given situation, so everyone is coming up with the same stuff. “I feel like for comedians, once this whole thing is over it’s gonna be a race to see who can get to the stage first with all these jokes,” I said.
Almost every show I had booked up through April has been cancelled so far. I don’t mind if someone else gets to the stage first with the jokes, honestly, I’m already tired of hearing them. And yet still, I am a walking contradiction who in her exhaustion still thinks she needs to share her own jokes, or maybe fears she won’t be seen as having skin in the game if she doesn’t. Honestly, it’s a relief to know we all have to rest for a second. The stage can wait.
By the end of the night we had gone over the rest of our business matters. My husband poured us a drink and we toasted as I signed with my new manager. The world felt like it was falling apart, and here we were planning our future, clinging to the hope that despite our current circumstances, our future would be bright and full, with plenty of toilet paper for the taking.
Josh and I woke up at 4am the next morning to pack our bags and head to the airport, which brings us back to where I started— after a long journey with two layovers and an attempt to do laundry, me waking up to my husband getting ready to go to the grocery store because the state of California was going into lockdown. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to text me what you need?” He asked.
I was still a little groggy, “I’m confused, why do you have to go right now? I’m so tired. Can’t we go tomorrow?” He said it would probably be worse by tomorrow and we just needed to get a few things. My husband is never chomping at the bit to go to the grocery store, so it seemed important. I said I would text him what I needed. “You don’t want to go with me?” He asked. I laughed, “do you want me to go with you?” He paused and smiled, “well, yea. I don’t know what to get, I’ll get lost in the cracker aisle and we’ll end up with cookies and crackers for meals.” I love him.
As soon as we walked into the store I wanted to leave— the lines, the empty shelves, the sense of panic, I felt it all and I wanted to get away from it. I told myself to remain calm and walk slowly. Wait my turn, just breathe, I’ll be home soon. I’m not gonna lie, as a true introvert, I LOVE this whole social distancing thing. We saw two people we knew in the grocery store. My automatic response when I see someone I know in the grocery store— pretend I don’t see them. My husband’s automatic response— “HEY GUYS!!” Sure enough, he flagged down the people we knew. My only relief was that we did not have to hug hello and it was FINALLY socially acceptable! It was the rare feeling of “this is amazing” while out in public.
Yes, I love to entertain people and I feel alive when I am on stage, that is very real, but functioning in everyday life is a much harder story for me. Sometimes my biggest fear when people meet me is that they’ll be disappointed that I’m not like what they see on stage or on screen. Which goes back to what I was saying prior to all this— anxiety, panic, fear are things I already struggle with, I have to work hard to push through them. I’m sure this narrative is true for a lot of people, I’m not unique in that way. That said, Introverts, now is our time! Stay home, don’t touch, limit contact— we’ve so got this! I suspect the extroverts will now get a dose of what it’s like for us to function on a daily basis in an extroverted world. Grace, grace, grace.
Today we cleaned our house and then I called Richard, my 80-year-old (former) neighbor who lives in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Once a neighbor, always a neighbor. “Oh I’m so happy to hear from you,” he said, “you know I been worried about you— how are you? Are you feeling okay?” I told him I was great, mostly just tired from traveling. He kept telling me I needed to take care of myself, I told him the same thing. “What about you Richard, how are you doing?” I asked, “You need to be taking care of yourself!” I didn’t want to add anything about his age, knowing the elderly are some of the most vulnerable, they already hear that enough and I didn’t want to add to the weight of it.
Staying mentally strong is just as important for the elderly, or as I have recently learned, they like being referred to as “the older.” “Oh I’m fine, I’m doing great, don’t you worry about me. I’m still cancer free and it’s the best I’ve been in years. Plus I know what they’re saying about this thing and I don’t need to be worrying about me… I’m in my golden years, I can’t be thinking about how can I make it last longer, I’m gonna let someone else do that thinking. It’s you I’m worried about, you have a whole life ahead of you!”
I called to check on Richard because I was worried about him and here he was worried about me. I had to assure him multiple times that I was feeling great. He asked about my family and my husband. “I bet you sure are glad you got someone to be with during all this,” he said, and I agreed that it was such a gift. “Yea, it does make it better,” he said and he was quiet. I thought of him being alone and even though I knew he was “fine,” I worried about how and when he would get out to get food. I’d ask and he’d keep saying not to worry, he was doing fine and had enough. To my friends in Ocean Beach, please check on Richard.
Before we got off the phone he said “You know, there was this coach from North Carolina, Jimmy V., he had this quote ‘don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,’ and that’s what I want you to hear right now. Of course he died from cancer shortly after saying that, but that’s not the point.” We both laughed a little, not at him dying, but just the delivery of trying to motivate someone with “don’t give up” followed by “he died.” Maybe leave that part out in the delivery.
“But he didn’t give up,” Richard said, “and that’s what we gotta think, not to give up.”
What does it look like to not give up right now? With so many businesses closing, people begging people to support their company, their career, their art, their music— we’re all in the same boat. Most people are trying to figure out how to make this work, how to get financial support while they aren’t working. And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answers are. I know that truck drivers, delivery workers and health care providers are some of the most important people in the world right now, more so than any celebrity, artist or musician. We NEED this over looked population of people. At the same time, people are connecting through music, movies and comedy, things to keep their minds clear in the midst of the struggle. I see people giving away free content online to keep people motivated— free yoga classes and couch concerts. The online community has become an important part of staying connected while social distancing. What gets created in these dark times has the potential to be very powerful.
After Richard and I got off the phone I googled Jimmy V. and found the speech he gave before he died. He said something very profound while battling cancer, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. But it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul, and those three things are gonna carry on forever.” We cannot control a lot of what is happening right now, but we can control how it affects our minds, hearts and souls, which will greatly affect how we function and treat other people in the midst of this.
As we continue to quarantine, while appreciating the connection of the online community and social media, may we leave time and space to just be present. I think this was one of the greatest things Coach Jimmy V. had to say, and so I’ll end my processing with this…
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
It may be so hard right now, but here’s to having something really special at the end of it.