In August, eight months into a prostate cancer diagnosis, my dad was airlifted to Sarasota Memorial Hospital (where Terrence McNally died, he reminded me the whole time) with sepsis and kidney failure as side effects of radiation therapy. He was back on his feet a month later, but didn’t even have to go back to work right away because of Hurricane Ian.
Then in February, two days after my birthday and the morning after my dad’s
(something something the astrology of c-sections), my mother got herself into a cycling accident because she refuses to wear a helmet or sensible shoes. She only hit her head—no broken limbs, no chest cavity caved in by a semi, just a subdural hematoma into a subarachnoid hemorrhage and a skull fracture so small they let it heal on its own. No one contacted us, not EMS or the police or the hospital, because this woman didn’t have emergency contacts set and vomited on her intake forms in the emergency room. I found her using Find My on her iPad, and we’re close to putting a Tile around her neck on top of location sharing.
I did not think this is what my twenties would look like. For one thing, I moved to Florida because of the pandemic. As a teenager, I looked forward to only seeing my mother once a year. December 2019 right after college, I was on a plane to Louisville on Boxing Day. Another thing: my parents are way too young for this shit. My dad just turned 60, my mom is a 64-year-old Capricorn. But between grad school and keeping them alive, I don’t give a flying fuck about theater.
I mean, I’m doing other things. Wonderful, nonmonetized hobbies I’m not great at. Like knitting socks, relearning cello, LARPing I’m Michelle Zauner. And I’m not even being honest, really, since my first associate producer credit is out on Audible now.
A month before my dad’s cancer diagnosis, my orchestra teacher from sixth to twelfth grade died of cancer. Her husband was my cello teacher until I quit immaturely, and lost all my prowess to only playing “The Rains of Castamere.” She was: my first ever employer (I doused 1/2 size rental violins in Goo-Gone at Symphony Supply, to my knowledge the only dedicated string shop in the region); very patient with my bullshit (I arranged “The Sun Sits Low” from A Little Night Music for a school string quintet and she gently said it was too hard); and, I long presumed, the first adult lapsed Catholic I knew, with family ties to a pedophile priest from the Archdiocese of Louisville.
So I did not register Stephen Sondheim’s death a couple weeks later at all, but I remember how highly he spoke of teachers. “Teaching to me is the sacred profession and I cry when I talk about it. I'll probably cry now. But my life was saved by teachers...”
The more time I spend with mainline Protestants, the more I think that the impulse to schism away from everyone you disagree with—monarchies, churches, family—is unique to American liberalism, or perhaps just WASPs. I wondered at Mrs. Story often, who taught us horrible modern settings for monthly school mass while not going to church herself. Is it that Western classical music is twined with Christianity no matter what, and even the staunchest atheist couldn’t turn their nose at a Messiah Christmas gig? Or is it that death-dealing as American Catholic education is, you can’t leave kids in its care when you know you could be there for them? Probably both. And getting cheap labor for your violin shop.
I’ve never come out to my parents, though my dad certainly knows, but I’ve never and probably will never say the words. Frankly, my sexuality is the sixth or seventh thing I think about after “Filipino,” “Southern,” “eczema patient,” “bites ice cream.” I don’t fear for my safety; I am an adult with savings, my dad gave me the key to the gun safe and I’m only 80% sure where I hid it, et cetera. Would it do good to talk to the brick wall that is my mother about Don’t Say Gay? Honestly, individually, when my parents’ insane priest compares Sam Smith to Nero? Maybe I’m pessimistic, but not really. Meanwhile, my internist dad provides trans-affirming care to Florida adults, somehow—he’s a little confused but he’s got the spirit.
I feel like this was a lot of sharing, but point is: I’m very tired and find myself impatient with everyone my age, and even older than me, who hasn't closely watched their parents deteriorate. I have career thinking to do, but given the scope of my thesis, a PhD is not a distant threat. Even if I had Eras tour tickets, I would’ve had to sell them, because all I do now is stay with my mom. But I think I don’t really miss anything—the theater, living with roommates—because I don’t have the time. Five years ago, I was so personally offended by A. Rey Pamatmat’s Humana Festival keynote to college kids because I built him up in my mind as a queer yeehaw manong, but he was completely right. It was real, concerned, no-bullshit love.
And so, as the world becomes more hostile to us all as artists, you must find that thing in making art that brings you as much peace as reifying my deeper self does for me. Not the thing about theatre that makes you feel ecstatic and high, not the thing you would suffer and die for like artists do in all those stupid movies that romanticize us. Find the thing or idea or core value in your artistic practice that brings you peace. Because when the show is a hit, that peace is what will carry you through self-doubt and self-sabotage. And when the show is a failure, that peace will hold off self-destruction. And when there is no show at all, which is most of the time, that peace is what will remind you that it doesn’t matter.
I almost didn’t work on Dirty Laundry because pre-production started days before my dad’s kidney failure. I went from our casting meeting to sleeping at the hospital. I loathed to gush to Mathilde about this because it felt like oversharing, but the script—Alison Pill and Reed Birney's roles are "ME" and "MY DAD" (a kidney doctor)—is an exercise in self-reference and honesty so dramaturgically chewy that I recommend even just copping the script off her New Play Exchange to anyone.
I got my third tattoo after four years. Every day I went to the hospital this last month, I passed by a tattoo shop that ended up belonging to a guy from Fort Wayne. My convictions haven’t really changed: my junior year playwriting teacher told me they were glad to “have my voice” in their class because “everyone else seems like they grew up in a cornfield.”