the power of red lights
Have you ever noticed yourself telling a story to comfort someone else and while you’re telling it you realize it’s a story you’ve never told anyone else before?
Recently, a friend of mine was in tears and needing a little TLC - we've all been there. As she sobbed, simply overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities and the seemingly never-ending juggling act that seems to accompany being an adult woman who wants both a career and a family, I laid down on the floor next to her and just listened. It reminded me of a very wise professor I had in undergrad who comforted my class after a friend of ours passed away; he shared a personal anecdote with us about the passing of his first wife and reminded us that each of us out there is fighting some kind of battle, which is why we should always try to be kind.
As I was lying on the floor with my friend, listening to her pour out her heart, I realized that many of the things she was saying were things that I understood and could also feel to a certain degree.
If you’re like me and you’re someone who tends to have a long fuse (or is somewhat guarded in sharing their feelings unless they really trust someone), do you ever notice that it’s usually a seemingly small thing that can tip the scale - the straw that breaks the camel’s back, if you will? I told my friend a story I’d previously told to those in my Masters program about the first day of driving on my cross-country road trip. I’d packed up my car to make the drive from Los Angeles to Gualala Point and was so proud of the fact that I’d gotten a road trip planned out and had managed to figure it all out with Archygirl riding copilot (if you thought I could make it through a post without referencing my little furball of love, think again, silly goose).
Now, packing and moving anywhere is one of the most stressful events a person can experience, but I admit I got in a little over my head in respect to packing and moving across the country by myself (and then across the ocean.. like sheesh, JDubs, can you just stay still? damn girl lolol; also, I was in a lot over my head, but I am stubborn and will never admit that.. except, I guess, right now). But nevertheless I had done it. I had gotten out of LA, stopped for some supplies for peanut butter sandwiches, and made it to my first campsite with Archy still calm and happy. I got the tent setup, Archy and I took a short hike out to a beautiful overlook, and we were ready to relax. I got my bread and my jar of peanut butter to make a sandwich, proud of how woodsy and prepared I was to cut costs by not constantly eating at restaurants, and realized almost instantly that I did not grab a plastic knife from the store with which to make my peanut butter sandwich. I half-assedly denied it at first, searching for a plastic knife I knew did not exist in my cozy RAV4, and then came the tears, and ooh baby, did the floodgates open. You would’ve thought somebody had died the way I sobbed into that peanut butter-less bread. I did not use the bread to wipe my tears away, which, looking back now was for sure a missed opportunity. I did, however, end up using a really sharp hunting knife that was a going-away/be safe gift from my neighbor, and in that moment of hoping not to accidentally cut the plastic peanut butter jar with my super sharp knife, I laughed. Full-on belly laughed at the absurdity of the situation. And then I scooped out a little bit of peanut butter with my fingers and gave it to Archy because she is just the sweetest.
My friend appreciated the story, but it wasn’t exactly the same type of situation. Moving away from somewhere you know and love was relatable but not applicable to the specific heart-to-heart at hand. Nope, this heart-to-heart was more based on figuring out balance and how to still do the things you love, i.e. pursuing your passions. Now, this is definitely a conversation I’ve had with myself on what feels like a constant, repeating loop as a woman who wants a career and also a family, and for whatever reason, a different story of me crying in my car popped into my head. Honestly, most of my good cries happen in the shower, so the fact that I was able to recall two separate crying-in-my-car stories during one conversation seems like a small miracle in and of itself. This one goes back a little bit further than my solo road trip.
About a year and a half ago I performed “A Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q at a cabaret in Los Angeles. The song was recommended to me by a friend with much more musical theatre knowledge than I possess, so I took the recommendation as a performance piece without question. It was a song that felt so right for that specific period of time in my life given a number of things that had happened in my life within the few months prior to the cabaret. Have you ever noticed that music is not just enjoyable but also healing in a lot of ways? Sometimes, if the timing is right and the listener is open to it, it can really help with processing emotions. Anyway, I hired a friend of mine to help me rehearse the song and delivered the performance confidently on the night, connecting to the words on - what felt to me like - a nearly-spiritual level. It almost felt like a weird out-of-body experience or like flow state or something in that I could feel a sense of calm hyper-presence and awareness (this feeling is one I get quite often when I perform, so it's not exactly an isolated incident, but it was extra intense that night). I told my friend that I had felt at ease on stage that night and that I had accepted people’s compliments at face value. It had felt, to me, that for all the heartbreak I’d felt recently leading up to that night and that experience, I’d found a way to replace that heartbreak with a new kind of deep, calm love in a small theatre space, singing a heartfelt tune from a musical that I otherwise affectionately refer to as the raunchy puppet sex musical.
Now, that I performed and that my friend suggested that specific Avenue Q song was not any big secret. What I hadn’t told anyone before was that on the way home that night from the cabaret, I had a moment similar to my no-knife-peanut-butter-sandwich scenario. I was driving along Washington Blvd. in a bit of traffic but nothing outside the norm. Most people were driving perfectly pleasantly, and no one had cut me off, but my head was swirling and processing the lyrics of the song and the fact that I had actually just very vulnerably performed them to an actual audience, and, to be honest, I'd had a full day and just wanted to get home to cuddles with my dog. I had been listening to music during the ride, but for some reason the radio had gone silent at the exact time that I hit a red light. Now, hitting a red light is not a big deal, but when you really just want to play with your puppy after performing a really vulnerable ballad, hearing "stop" from the universe is sort of low on the list of things you want to have happen. It’s enough to make you want to pull over to the side of the road and bawl your eyes out. So, you guessed it, that’s exactly what I did. I full-on ugly snot-face cried on the corner of Washington and La Brea. And telling my friend about it helped me realize even more fully how much I truly miss Los Angeles and miss performing. Of course, relating the story to my friend included a lot of laughter because of a lack of knowledge surrounding Avenue Q and also because of how massive my problems felt at that point in time. Looking back now, I can't help but laugh. And, in all honesty, I also laughed at myself as I wiped away the snot that was getting closer and closer to my mouth (gross, right?... or maybe delish if you're into that sort of thing... idk, who am I to judge? I was the one ugly crying on the corner of Washington and La Brea lolz).
I look back now and think it’s an absolutely hilarious story because it’s been almost two years, and I find laughing at myself to be very therapeutic. But it also doesn’t mean those feelings weren’t valid ones to have. Listening to my friend confess everything going on in her head reminded me of a time I wish I could have cried on the floor with a trusted friend but needed to settle for alone in my car because when big feelings come with grief, they don’t care about your schedule. And do you know what my friend said to me after I’d told her the cabaret car cry story? She laughed and said, “well, I guess you ought to be thankful for red lights, huh?” And she’s right. I’m thankful for red lights and for knife-less peanut butter sandwich scenarios and also for her. I didn’t cry while lying there on the floor with her, opting for laughter and lightheartedly teasing my past self instead, but I did cry when I got home. It felt really good to let go of a lot of what I’ve been holding in for awhile now. It’s important to be able to keep going and laugh at yourself, and it’s also important to be thankful for the things or people that make us pause and cry and then, eventually, laugh at the absurdity and silliness of most things once more.