It's a wrap: gratitudes and lessons from My Stroke of Luck
Couldn't resist Bearded Collies bearing eggs, eggs being the ancient symbol of the earth, creation and life energy, the pagan symbol of fertility and rebirth, Christian for resurrection, Jewish for promise, and in some cultures, of health, wealth and luck. Though I now identify as Spiritual rather than Christian (raised non-denominational Protestant), it is Easter Sunday, (why I closed Thursday instead of a weekend day), so...
But who needs an Easter Bunny when you can have a trio of Easter Beardies?
And, in a way, having finished the twice extended run, I feel something akin to having been baptized and reborn, so fitting.
Who knew when I started the run November 4th that My Stroke of Luck would run for 5 months with lots of sold out shows? Certainly not I, but I am so enormously grateful to all of you who helped make the show a success. Not only did you buy tickets and come out (in some cases more than once, bringing others, special thank you to each of you! George, think you're the record holder at 4 times! Hugs!) rain or shine, but your brought friends, family and colleagues, posted on social media, handed out my cards and otherwise helped me promote.
From the run, yes, I grew as a performer. I discovered lots of nuances in the playwright's words (yup mine, but some writing came through me, not from me, so discoveries!) and found many moments to make fresh and new, even at the end. I learned how to recover dropped lines, stifle a cough and a sneeze, how to cope with late arrivals and front row center reserved seat no shows. I learned how to structure my life (eating, exercise, sleep) around my performance times, and soldier through two bouts of laryngitis, a lingering cough and gi distress I learned to listen to and play with my audience, even you verbally silent ones. And yes, I learned a lot about promotion and outreach.
Thanks to outreach and the Marsh publicity team from Carla Befora, I was lucky enough to get three feature articles, in the Marin Independent Journal, SFYogaMag (see below) and Jan-Feb 2018 Unity Magazine (by Jerry Jampolsky), three radio interviews, KGO with Maureen Langan (don't miss Maureen's knock out show, Daughter of a Garbageman, at The Marsh SF 4/1-4/29), KPFA's About Health with Nurse Rona, and KALW's David LaTulippe's Open Air, a VoiceAmerica internet radio interview with Cheryl Jones' Good Grief, a Wanda's Picks internet podcast, reviews including Marin Independent Journal, San Francisco Examiner, Huffington Post, Theatrius, and to be named weekend and Top Ten picks by the SF Chronicle, Marin Magazine and The Mercury News! YES!
But my most lasting impressions of the months are from your questions and comments at the talk backs, your comments as we hugged or shook hands at the end of the shows, your letters and private posts to me afterwards, and your letters in response to my shout outs. I was humbled daily by your touching stories and shares, as well as your comments.
Some glimpses (of those not too personal to share):
"...such insights on the impact and recovery process through one person's brain injury and the courage and time healing takes to move towards aspects of recovery. Powerful."
"(Your show) is the first time I haven't felt so alone."
"You give me hope."
"I am sooooo grateful for your wordssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"...thank you again for taking the time when it feels like nobody else cares at all."
"Thank you for explaining so well what people experience after a stroke. It gives me comfort and I don’t feel so alone. I have friends who want to know if I’m “better”, kind of like recovering from a cold! Or on the other hand people who figure I’m better and can get on with life as usual."
"Your comments about being welcomed back to work but knowing in your heart they don't want you back rings true for me. I feel betrayed by the organization I (worked for)."
"You mentioned how hard it is to be a Mom as compared to a radiologist. Thank you for that I will remember that when I judge myself."
"Your performance threw me into reliving the worst day of my life in vivid detail...I’m glad I saw it even though it was awfully awfully hard for me."
"I am overcome."
"My wife finally agreed to write her advance health care directives! My stroke of luck! Thank you!"
"My (partner) had a traumatic brain injury and stroke. I get so irritated (but never share this) due to his inability to remember. What touched me so deeply from your show and even brought a chuckle from the audience was the moment you mentioned "writing it all down in a journal" but then forgetting to look at the journal. This is so him and it made me realize, he's not forgetting on purpose, the ability to grasp this simple task is no longer within his capacity and he's not doing it on purpose."
Connecting, touching hearts and building community through empathy is what the 5 months were for me, and I will be eternally grateful for the wonderful connections we have forged. I will continue to respond to any emails you send. Thank you!
As part of my outreach before the show opened, I emailed a number of academics and medical people. One such email reached Katherine Seto, M.S., Clinical Instructor in Communicative Disorders at SFSU. She called, then bought tickets and brought her entire class of graduate students to see the show!
"Our class enjoyed your performance so very much...the students were talking about it all evening. It was exciting to hear the students recall all that we have been learning in the aphasia class that you covered in the performance. They were all trying to guess what type of aphasia you had! ....
"Thank you for being such a powerful voice for so many individuals silenced by speech impediments."
Nikita Mehta, one of Katherine's students, a 3rd generation yogi, interviewed me after the show and wrote a beautiful article. "Recovery is such an intensely challenging process that s supportive mental and spiritual practice is crucial." Nikita's Article: SFYogaMag article My-Stroke-of-Luck-Using-Yoga-As-Therapy.
I then had the pleasure of speaking one afternoon to Katherine's graduate Counseling in Communicative Disorders course students. The students peppered me with many thought provoking and insightful questions! A sampling: "Do you think there were other reasons besides your inability to work as you had before that affected your colleagues attitudes towards you?" "How would you have liked your colleagues to treat you?" "How did other medical professionals treat you?" "What could they have done better?" "What would you say to us to help us in our approach to patients?" "Did your stroke and rehab change any of your attitudes or perceptions about race?" (Will tackle those in a later newsletter.)
Needless to say, much food for thought, reminding me of a principle of Attitudinal Healing, "We are students and teachers to each other."
The gift of my stroke allows me to entertain, teach, inspire, inform, touch, move. Could there be a greater gift? This run convinced me that my whole life lead me to what I'm doing now; sharing my stories is what I need to do.
So I thank you all, for making this journey possible!
Special thanks to my talkback speakers, Patricia Ryan Madson, Ann Randolph, Patricia Gill, Richard Delmonico, Jerry Jampolsky and Diane Cirincione Jampolsky, to my techs, Alexa Almira and Aaron Aguilar, the house managers, my director, Rebecca Fisher, David Ford, with whom I developed the script, the incredible staff at The Marsh, Courtney Heimbuck and Carla Befera of Carla Befera Public Relations and Marketing and of course, Stephanie Weisman, creator of The Marsh!
Though I hope to continue performing My Stroke of Luck, I am already at work on my next show, about growing up in Manhattan, a story about the intersection of class and race. Stay tuned for updates.
But I'll leave you with this quote from a fellow brain injury survivor who wrote this after seeing my show:
"Keep the faith and keep on living in the moment. That's what I learned from this stroke. It has set me free from the shackles of long term goals, hopes, and dreams that clearly weren't meant for me. It took a stroke for God to get through my thick skull." B.W.