Unified

November22

Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s menopause, but there are so many moments in my life these days where I’m not sure if I’m where I’m supposed to be.
I visit a friend in a quaint small town. “I could live here! What would it be like to live here? This would be great! And solve all the annoyances of my present day-to-day life. Yes! This is the ANSWER TO MY PROBLEMS!”

I visit a friend in a city, I think the same thing.

I talk to a friend about his international aid work – why don’t I do THAT?

And hair extensions – clearly I have missed the boat on a modern convenience that is to good to pass up. What am I thinking?

I must interject right now that this mental gymnastics has nothing – repeat nothing – to do with the quality of my life. Which, by and large, is grand. I also want to interject that never do I want another husband, or different friends, or different children. (Okay, that last one is a lie. Next time you are in California Pizza Kitchen and feel some poor woman looking longingly at your children who talking politely while hers are screeching and spilling the 10th glass of water? Yes, that would be me. I wouldn’t mine swapping mine with yours right about then.)
Unless a desire to change is persistent, I’ve actually come to think of my inner monologues as a byproduct of what they used to “an overly active imagination.” I am a storyteller and actress by trade, after all; it is my job to imagine what it would be like to live in a different city than mine, with a different job. And hair extensions.

But then there are those moments where time stops, the mental chatter dies down and up from the ocean of my soul bubbles up, verbatim: “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Yesterday was like that.

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Yesterday I was an advisor to a group of nine diverse student leaders from my kids’ school – Charlotte one of them – as they joined other student leaders from the LA area to learn about Unified Theater. You may have seen my tweets and posts about Unified over the last year. I met its founder, Michaela Connery, at a CAL-TASH conference almost two years ago, and she and her team are now heroes of mine.

Unified Theater is in over 100 middle and high schools on the east coast; CHIME is one of the schools bringing it west. It is a fabulously constructed curriculum for inclusive art making for students of all abilities. Unified and CHIME – with its fully inclusive classrooms – are a perfect match. Both institutions have moved beyond the us/them language of disability. Even amazing organizations like Special Olympics and Best Buddies and Easter Seals (with whom I sat down last week) are examining their paradigms of a designated “special Olympian”, for example, and his/her “helper”. Even though the support is amazing, and it’s great to have individuals shine who may not have a chance to otherwise, ingraining that paradigm – there is a designated “disabled’ person who needs help from an “abled bodied” one – perpetuates separate-ness. And separate-ness breeds segregation of populations who could truly become integrated, given half a chance.

We began the day by dividing into groups and creating tableaux around words like “invisibility” “exclusion” and finally “inclusion.” A student named Ellen (names all changed) said, “I have Down’s Syndrome. Sometimes people look right through me, like I’m invisible.”
We talked about what is better or worse, invisibility or exclusion. Someone said, “at least with exclusion someone is noticing you, and ‘caring’ enough to shun you. Being invisible means they don’t see you at all.”

But ultimately, Unified Theater is about creating a piece of theater, from the ground up. This is the mother lode. It’s great to stage another middle school production of “Oliver” but for my money, nothing beats having these theater artists create their own words, choose their own themes, and communicate what is going on with them. Another advisor, an woman older than me, was talking about some idea Charlotte came up with – a story about going to the White House and asking Obama for coffee? – then said, “They are so much more creative than we are. We lose that freedom, in our imaginations. I wonder why.”

I wonder why too. But until I figure it out, I plan to suck off the wild creativity of kids this age, which knows no bounds and could power a small city.

Brian is a CHIME kid who I know, and love (I taught him last year.) He had seemed to have fun, but flagged in the middle (don’t really know why, but I heard through the grapevine he didn’t like his lunch). Brian has a wonderful mother who is attentive, gregarious, and has shepherded her quirky kid so that he can flower and grow. I know it’s been a challenge at times. We have a bond through the similar path we walk: IEPs, services, and quirky kids. It’s a very special club.

We sung a song at the end, got on our feet, learned some choreography. The blood pumped and we finished the five-hour workshop in high spirits. Brian beamed at me: “I had a good day! I had a good day, right?”

“Absolutely!” I said, “It seemed like you a great day.”

His face quieted. “I had a little trouble in the middle,” he remembered, and trailed off.

“But you came back strong, buddy. You totally came back strong. That’s all that matters.”

His face bounced back, a caricature off wide-open glee. “That’s right. I DID.” He turned away to gather his things. With is back to me he mumbled, “By the way, what is inclusion?”

That’s what inclusion should be. So effortless, there doesn’t need to be a name for it. Like breathing fresh oxygen.
No.
Big.
Deal.

This is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Learn more about Unified Theater;

www.UnifiedTheater.org

Update

November16

For those of you – so many of you – that read and responded to the post “When Anything Can Happen,” I wanted to keep you in the loop. You have become part of my far-flung circle, as I hope I have become part of yours.

The weather finally cooled off here in Southern California. We don’t have big autumn here, but we do have some. I am used to Show-Off Autumns of the New England kind: crazy scarlet maples, plunging temperatures, early frosts, and darkness at 4. Here in California the changes are more subtle: sweater in the morning, gray moody clouds with geese flying south in military precision directly over my house in the San Fernando Valley. They seem to be showing off too.

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My dad is recovering. It’s been an emotional roller coaster of a month, but he is recovering. He had a new valve put in his heart to help with his breathing, and vascular system. He is a diabetic. A wound on his big toe did not heal for a year and became necrotic: a quarter-size around, black and hard as a planter’s wart. My mother has never looked at it, but the last time I was in Connecticut, I pulled up a chair next to the Debbie, the visiting nurse and took a big gander. I used to be squeamish, but after two children (one C section), a colectomy and a temporary ileostomy, I say bring it on.

The new valve helped the heart but not the wound. About three weeks ago I was driving on the 101 when Debbie called to tell me she thought he’d end up losing the leg. The leg? The motherfucking leg? I was blindsided. “The whole foot is now compromised, which means the entire vascular system to the toe isn’t working,” she explained in her forthright visiting nurse-y way. “When that happens the lower leg has to come off.”

That Debbie does not mince words.

As luck (God) would have it, I was on my way to a session with my teacher, which is probably one of the safest places on the planet for me. I came in sputtering and sob-y. “What the fuck? My 86-year-old dad is going to lose a limb? Get a prosthetic? Learn to use that prosthetic in the hellish New England winter that’s predicted?” What the fuck indeed.Sometimes I have an image of this aging and grieving process as a series of doors leading me deeper and deeper into new understandings. Almost four years ago, when my dear father-in-law was beginning the excruciating diagnosis of two cancers (lucky guy) and the ALS that finally killed him, I sat in a Boston Whaler with my mother –in-law Joyce. We were frozen with anticipation for the bad diagnosis that did indeed come the following week. “It’s like you are just going along, living your life, making plans for trips and projects when there’s a knock at the door,” Joyce told me. “You get up and open it, and there it is: the rest of your life.” That call from Debbie opened a door. For the last two years my mother has been the designated patient, suffering from lack of mobility that led her to fall, to not be able to work, to stop driving. My dad stepped up and cared for her. Now it was his turn.

By the time I called him, I was sobbed out. Not that I ever feel self-conscious about showing emotions around him, I was grateful that I could appear “strong” and be of service. I am the baby girl of the family (I have two older brothers) and my dad’s impulse to protect me (or at least not to burden me) is still there. I could tell it was a relief that I knew, that he didn’t have to tell me.

“We’ll figure this out, Dad,” I said, “you’re not alone with this.”

I asked him if my brothers knew. He said no. I asked him if he wanted me to tell them. He said yes.

“I don’t really have much to say about this right now,” he told me. (This is rare. We can talk about everything forever, and do.)

“Why would you?” I answered. It’s called shock.”My dad is a great guy. Those of you who know him can attest to this. There are many things I could say about him. For one, he is an attorney who has spent his life protecting the environment and was tangentially part of the team that created the first federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1974. I know some of my recent election-y posts have drawn some ire, especially when I speak about my passion for Climate Change policy, but I guess in full disclosure, some of this is because of my father’s work. If your dad were a union man, you’d be passionate about unions. If he were a hunter, you’d understand hunting, that kind of thing

But my dad has also taught me about going outside the us/them dynamics of most politics. During the Reagan/Bush era, when the Clean Air/Clean Water act was being dismantled and environmental protections were not a priority, he spent – oh, about five minutes – being angry before taking a new tact. He, a male Democrat, joined up with a female Republican and created the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Conservation Voters. People came together from different political affiliations to help protect water, air, soil. He and Julie would ask donors – Democrats, Republicans, and everything in between – “do you care about the quality of water for your grandchildren?” It was hard for anyone to say no to that one. Then they’d work together to create policy and recommendations, with that common concern their north star.

I think about that story a lot these days.

But beside his profession, my dad is simply a huge hearted, curious and compassionate guy. I watched him at age 51, for personal reasons, re-commit himself to a spiritual path of rigorous honesty, service, and crazy empathy. The day after I got the news about his leg he said to me on the phone, “I’ve been thinking a lot about war veterans and other amputees. What they go through. I realized I never really thought about it before. I guess you don’t unless you have to.” Indeed.I am burying the lead.

My dad is not going to lose his leg. Two and a half weeks ago they performed a vein graft – where they take a good vein and replace the bad with it – which went surprisingly well. He feels the blood pumping to this neglected area. He has sensation back. He is in a rehab right now – left the hospital last week – and while he definitely will lose the original necrotic toe, he will not lose the leg. Hopefully in the next month, I will airlift these two old folks to sunny California where – nothing against the New England that I love – they can ditch the icy sidewalks for more hospitable climes.

While I felt utter relief that my dad won’t lose his leg, I was aware that the door that opened with Debbie’s call never closed. It’s not like when a person is younger; then, there is a medical crisis that hopefully is beat and they can then “return” to normal life. My dad is still 86. This is the new normal, when medical crises will arise often, often with little surprise. Medical crises are part of being in one’s late 80’s. We are naïve to think otherwise.

The silver lining, of course, is the gratitude from a hideous possibility averted. The gratitude of another day to crack a joke, express some love, or exercise your god given right to be a colossal pain in the ass. Another day doesn’t mean everything is sweetness and light. Another day means, well, we get another day. Chock full of the messiness, heartbreak and ecstasy of human-ness. Conscious gratitude of that day is the gift we get for the crap we may be asked to endure.

Emily Webb in “Our Town” says it best. These are words that my salty mother cannot even think of without sobbing. As I just cut and pasted, I did too:”But first: Wait! One more look! Oh, earth you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?”

Thank you for reading, all. I can’t put into words how much I appreciate it.

Amy takes part in “The Amy Show!”

November4

LA-based peeps! Are you free on Thurs 11/6?

Amy is joining a few other Amy’s for “The Amy Show” in Santa Monica.

Tix and info here:
http://wendyhammers.com

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Amy Attends the 25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards

October29

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – OCTOBER 28
Amy Brenneman arrives at the 25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 28, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.

25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 28: Amy Brenneman arrives at the 25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 28: Amy Brenneman arrives at the 25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 28: Amy Brenneman arrives at the 25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 28: Amy Brenneman arrives at the 25th Annual IWMF Courage In Journalism Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel

www.iwmf.org

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