This time last year, I was in a show playing a 1950’s ingenue. The script was total shit. Ken Ludwig basically vomited cliches and poorly written characters into a half-baked, feel-good story built for community theatres like the one I was performing at.

But the costumes.

Sitting backstage curling my hair and clipping on vintage pearl drop earrings, I was having a great time. It had been a fun show with good friends, only light behind the scenes drama, and frankly, it was a welcome distraction to keep me out of the house.

Next to me getting ready was Jeanine. And Jeanine… was a character.

She was a wonderful older woman, still acting in her 80’s, chatting about her book club and her girlfriends, visiting her mother whose memory had gone diligently. She was a delight to be around. I’d done a show with her 5 years earlier. (We were nuns then. The irony isn’t lost on me.)

But that night, after another fight at home about whether or not I should be doing theatre, I couldn’t shake my heartache. I tried to make light of it, and joked to Jeanine that I was afraid I’d never look so put together again.

She chortled, “Oh, of course you will.” She said it with the assured demeanor of someone who’d been there.

I smiled weakly and looked back in the mirror, the bright vanity lights illuminating the red lipstick and pearls, and realized… I actually was afraid of that.

Here in the mirror things looked put together, like I had it together, like I cared about creating something together with other people. I took a lot of pleasure in getting to dress up, but mostly, my delight was in bringing this story to life with others for others. To create connection through a story, any story. That was a beautiful thing.

At the time, I was just barely managing to keep up with all of the moving, dysfunctional pieces of my life. A lot of women I’ve talked to have been through similar ordeals right before a major transition.

You’re trying to do it all. You don’t need help, right? Be strong. You’ve got this. Lean in. Play bigger. Go big or go home. Be it all. Keep things afloat. Keep it together. 

Isn’t it funny? We’re trying to keep it together, but so often, we find ourselves alone in that. You can’t be together when it’s just you. 

And you don’t need to push so damn hard either. Often, ease is the best indicator you’re moving in the right direction. You don’t always have to be so strong. And even if you think you do, you can’t do that on your own. It’s impossible.

Strong women have strong support networks. They don’t go it alone, because they know better. They have friends who understand and support their work. They have partners who build them up, encourage them, and support them. They are part of communities because they know communities are key to supporting those around them, too.

Acknowledging over the past year that I am not, in fact, a self-made woman has been a difficult pill to swallow. But it’s true. Nothing happens in a vacuum – I am the product of experiences and relationships. No matter how much I do on my own, I am not alone, and my choices have an impact on those around me. It makes it much easier to consider the “other” in this context.

Who relies on me for support? How could I show up more for others?

You can be strong and supported.

And for me, I couldn’t get it together until I completely lost my shit. Being strong is clearly subjective.

As it turned out, Jeanine was right.

Not long after moving in Portland, my clothes no longer fit. It was time for change. To embrace what I thought it meant to a woman.

Clearing out pain, releasing baggage, and letting go of what wasn’t mine opened up something new – a delightfully unexpected story about the realities of relationships, love, and connection. I’m going to be writing this story over the next few months (more on that coming soon). If you’d like updates on it, you can subscribe here.

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