Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Grief Part II

The last time I even looked at my blog I felt terribly guilty for not writing anything for over two and a half years, since my father's death. Tragically, this post covers the same ground. I've lost another part of my whole world, my only sibling. Now I am the only surviving member of my family of origin. Death, a stealth fighter, an invisible thief doing his work in the night, robbed all of those who loved my older sister, Nancy Russell Dearr. In the wee hours of Wednesday, she left without leaving a calling card or a known cause. She was sixty-two; seemingly healthy, prepared to go the distance. Everyone was blindsided.  Since the dawn of time, we gather the shattered remnants of the history of a person gone too soon. Once again, my experience is the shattering of a bond deeply embedded in my soul.  I'm missing my trusty other half; Scout sans Jem, Dean Martin without Jerry Lewis, Hope minus Bing, Fred without Ginger, Groucho absent his Marx brothers. I'm painfully reminded of the unavoidable fact that we are not, any of us, "getting out of here alive."

My sister is dead. We can all say "passed," to put a polite expression on the most brutal, existential question all of us face: the unseen force of Fate's biggest coup. The hard truth is, my sister died in her sleep totally unexpectedly, just days ago. There was no warning to blunt the inevitable. Being without Nancy is akin to, as a woman told me when she lost her mother, "... feeling like my right arm had been severed." Everyone debates whether such tragedies are "the will of God," or simply due to the unfair, random nature of  universal departures from this plane of existence. I'm a believer, but I have a lot of resistance to the former point. If I believed that God, in whatever form God takes, snuffs out millions of lives on a whim, it would belie every precept of why we turn to Him and Her for help. Face it: no one knows what's out there till the jig is up. Proving or disproving a higher power is irrelevant. Those left behind run the gamut of mourning, the famous phases of grief. I needn't list the stages, they are well known.

Nancy was the bossy older sister, the trailblazer, a role model. In recent years, prominent psychologists have concluded that in many ways, one's siblings shape their growth, and are as big, if not a bigger influence on the formation of how siblings' personalities and temperament have a deeper affect on them than their parents do. That was certainly true in my case. Nancy flagrantly broke rules, challenged authority, and guided me, a shy, cautious introvert, through steps I wasn't bold enough to tackle on my own. She teased me mercilessly as a child and teen, part and parcel of virtually every sibling relationship. I remember pseudo fistfights, both of us pummeling each other over arguments.

Most Christmas mornings Nancy woke first, ready to grab the goodies, even though she'd already searched our parents' closets to get sneak previews. I thought the whole purpose of Santa Claus distributing gifts was that it was supposed to be a surprise. I was "the perfect child" while Nancy pushed the envelope, charged ahead undaunted. She was a troublemaker and risk taker, rebelling at every turn. I envied my sister's cavalier yet determined goal of doing anything she chose to do. As rivals, we often clashed and were competitive children. She had embraced the hippie flower power child identity. I clung to Jesus Freakery. By the time we entered our twenties those conflicts evaporated. We became equals, true friends, partners in crime, and came to agree on virtually every subject. We tripped the light fantastic on our Manhattan stomping grounds for four years, partied, went to numerous concerts, loved New York's cinema and most of all, we were B'way babies, sharing a wild passion for the theater. We breathed in every ounce of culture in New York City and felt unstoppable.

Nancy will never see her childrens' weddings, experience the unprecedented bliss of us being grandmothers together in our future. We thought we'd be in those old folks' rocking chairs, talking for hours while cooking up a storm for our (hopefully) big family. Nancy gave me and everyone she met warm welcomes, laughs, put people at ease in minutes. She struck up conversations with strangers, making friends anywhere on the spot. Her talents are too long to list. The dedication to her family of four was unshakable: her devoted hubby Ryan, Taylor, the precocious firstborn son, and her daughter Siobhan, a great dancer and social butterfly. My sister was a force of nature as a PTA supermom, always volunteering, lending her many talents the whole time her kids were in school. Nancy and Ryan's entertainment in their home was legendary; her gourmet cooking creations, the lively atmosphere, the love.

She was my rock, greatest ally, best friend and "therapist". We talked endlessly on the phone, followed each minute of breaking news stories, and  hashed out every conceivable hot topic of the day. Nancy will forever be the only person on earth who shared the same womb as I did. They say twins have a unique bond by virtue of how they both inhabited their mother's uterus simultaneously. The same blood ran through our veins. We had a storehouse of abundant memories and classic rites of passage. In some ways we were opposites. But most of the time we delighted in our side-by-side lives.

Nancy Jean Russell Dearr, 1952 to 2015: a stellar life, a light that can never be extinguished. I'm lost and numb now that a vital piece of my self is gone. Nancy would remind me of Winnie the Pooh's famous quote: 

" If there ever is tomorrow when we're not together...there is something you must always remember. You are  braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart...I'll always be with you." Nancy, you can count on that. I miss you beyond measure and I love you forever.                         

Friday, October 25, 2013


For the few of you who occasionally check my blog, my absence has been a long one. I've been in no mood to post my ruminations, opinions, or point of view. Ten months into 2013 I can say unequivocally, it's been a bad year. I lost my father in July. He was 91, a veteran journalist and columnist, who passed through the first subtle, then pronounced, stages of dementia over the last decade. Another member of my family has been in steady decline for the past few years. Not due to health reasons, but a far more complicated affliction that offers no easy answers. Both of these events have plunged me into a state of bereavement that shows little sign of letting up.

The best book I've read on the subject of grief is "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. I read it after my mother died eleven years ago. I recently reread it just before my father made his exit, unaware of the timing, about to confront the same theme again. One of the most telling details in the book is Didion's inability to get rid of her deceased husband's shoes, because he will need them when he "comes back." We're often irrational when we lose a loved one. Or we maintain a stoic posture. We drift through the days feeling robbed, despite one indisputable fact: as Jim Morrison said, "No one gets out of here alive."

These losses force us to face our own mortality. I look at my sons and wonder how they will "handle" me when I'm old. I feel pressure to accomplish certain goals because I'm not getting any younger. I'm grieving for two generations: my dad's, with his stellar record of WWII service and innumerable professional achievements. And my children's: a world where communication is breaking down (everyone staring at their various screens), where the idea that they will find gainful employment is tenuous, where their country's government is hopelessly dysfunctional.

I submit such depressing commentary only to explain why this Edgy Blogger has been MIA for so long. Maybe some readers will think it a sob fest, self-pitying and indulgent. But for anyone who's dealt with or is dealing with this state, perhaps it's nice to know you are not alone.      

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Tomorrow I have an important audition. Unlike the typical process of strutting your stuff for a particular theater, this one is a mega-event: thirty Atlanta companies represented in one place, three-hundred actors vying for attention. Each actor has a total of two and a half minutes to show the casting people what they've got. In most cases, that means two contrasting monologues (one comedic, one dramatic) and sixteen to twenty bars of a song, if they can sing. Two minutes thirty seconds isn't much time, but Ethel Barrymore once said that if an actor is good, one minute is enough. If an actor is not, it's too long. She had a point. Once an actor opens his mouth it's clear very quickly whether or not he has the chops.

Since the age of fourteen, I've been to a gazillion auditions. Some have been grand, like the time a director stopped me in mid-song and told the assembled waiting competitors, "That's exactly the voice I'm looking for." I got the part and sang the then-top-forty hit, "Day by Day" in "Godspell." On another occasion I auditioned for a major company in a large city. The two auditors, one wearing a backwards baseball cap, were about fifteen years younger than I. They greeted me with a bored hello. Once I began my pieces I couldn't help picking up their vibes; they looked at me quizzically, like I was from outer space. Many auditors are friendly and seem genuinely happy to see you. Others, like those rude ones, seem perturbed you even walked into the room. It runs the gamut.

Like any other practice, I do better in these situations when I've been performing frequently. I faced a roomful of metro D.C. theaters just days after finishing a season of summer stock. I was lucky to follow a woman who did an overwrought monologue, complete with crocodile tears. My one-minute zany selection brought the house down. I got eight callbacks. Much of the time, for a lot of actors, the audition leads nowhere. You rehearse long hours at home for very little, if any, return. You're not the right type, you're too old or too young, too tall or too short, thin when they want heavy, heavy when they want skinny. Frustration abounds: you know you did a damn good job, you're perfect for the part, they give you great feedback, but you still come up empty.

Rejection is, as everyone knows, germane to the pursuit of a career in show business. An actor has to accept the terms of the deal (85% unemployment, a constant for as long as I can remember) and resolve to do better the next time, to keep at it, never give up. The same is true for writers. The old saw about Hemingway papering the walls of a room in his house with rejection slips (or was it Fitzgerald? Faulkner?) isn't a myth, to my knowledge. It comes with the territory, which is why writers tell would-be authors, "If there's anything else you can do, do it." They're warning you of the stark facts---that the likelihood of getting published is slim to none, at least until you're really adept at the craft and find a suitable home (publishing house, literary review or journal) for your work. (Or you write cheesy books about vampires, zombies or the same tired love story recycled over and over.)  

I have the misfortune to be both an actor and a writer, which must make me some kind of masochist. I think the reason I stay with it is that while the payoff may be elusive, when you hit the mark, it's glorious. Tomorrow, even if I do my best, it's entirely possible that nothing will come of my time and effort. I'm used to it. I'm like the pessimist who says, I'll assume the worst and if something good happens I'll be pleasantly surprised. I never had a choice. I knew I wanted to be an actress from the age of five. I began writing at eleven. No, you'll never see me on the Red Carpet, at the Globes, Emmys, Grammys or Oscars. But I'll keep on trying to crack these professions because I have to. It is, as those sage men and women of letters or the theater will tell you, a compulsion.                    

Monday, December 17, 2012

Suffer The Little Children

Writing a blog post about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut seems a trivial thing to do in light of the unspeakable event. But as a mother I can't "move on" until I've had my say. What a terrific irony it is, that we move on from these mass killings and accept them as the status quo, only to be shocked and saddened by the next one, then return to the business of our lives as if nothing happened. Imagine our country a century or two from now. Children in history classes will learn about the barbaric environment in which we lived in 2012. A nation where a mentally ill twenty-year-old can walk into an elementary school, toting legally purchased guns and rounds of ammunition, and shoot first-graders at point blank range. The textbooks of the future will reference the early twenty-first century's most powerful lobby, the National Rifle Association, hellbent on ensuring the rights of Termininators. Along with highlighting the once-invincible NRA and it's endless flow of money, it will mention the cowardice of politicians and the grossly misinterpreted second amendment of the Constitution. Hopefully the book will then describe the citizens' uprising that put an end to easy access to guns, a force similar to the civil rights movement, the women's movement and gay rights advocacy.  

We can talk about mental illness, the inadequacy of available services for those who need psychiatric intervention. We can debate this subject, with its entrenched opinions on either side. Facebook and Twitter have been plastered with pleas for prayers, along with posts about how "God was taken out of the schools," as if that were literally true or the reason for the slayings. The NRA has had no comment, unsurprisingly, in the wake of the massacre of twenty six and seven-year-olds, not to mention the six adults who were killed trying to protect Sandy Hook's children. This tragedy calls for a complete overhaul of how we view gun rights in this country. It triggers renewed cries for school safety. It encompasses the desensitization towards murderous rampages depicted in video games, and a culture that glorifies violence in movies and television. We have failed our nation's innocents. Because of our inaction, our apathy, our capacity to forget such atrocities within weeks or months, twenty small children were slaughtered.

If an enemy missile had hit the school America would be responding militarily. But because this act was perpetrated by yet another loner, outcast, "crazy" man, we accept it as part of the "price we pay" for our freedoms. That is unconscionable and should be roundly denounced. Simple transactions that allow one to purchase high-powered firearms is what caused the horror. Guns do kill people. Assault weapons, with the capacity to annihilate scores of victims in seconds, have no place in our so-called civilized society. We need to rise up and spearhead a serious campaign to mitigate this carnage with unflinching resolve. The President, Congress, governors and elected officials at every level should make gun control a priority. Sweeping the horrific, steady stream of shootings under the carpet is over. We must act now. As one commentator put it on a morning show today, "After this nothing can ever be the same." It is time for real change.     


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Republicans Finally Get the Memo

It's hard to believe that the losers in the 2012 election are shocked by the outcome. Did they really think their plastic, prevaricating candidate could fool the American people? A politician whose spokesman once said that their camp wasn't going to "let fact-checkers run our campaign" was clearly not going to allow a little thing like reality get in the way of his mission to take the White House. The GOP was betting on white men and seniors to put them over the top. Instead, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and a lot of angry women delivered a whopping victory for Obama. It's time for Team Red to wake up and smell the coffee. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and others have pointed out that conservatives have been living in a self-styled bubble, thinking they could insulate themselves from shifting demographics. They clung to the illusion that strides minorities have made were some sort of meaningless blip on the radar screen. They've been stranded on an island of denial, vainly struggling to preserve a Wonder Bread world. For Republicans, multiculturalism is a dirty word. Democrats proved that, as Dylan so aptly observed over forty years ago, the times they are a changin'.

The mandate demonstrated that putting the first black president in charge of the country was no fluke. Team Blue mobilized against GOP efforts to suppress the vote, they were determined to give Neanderthals like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Joe Walsh the boot, and were eager to prove that both genders should share power. Twenty women are headed to the Senate, gay marriage was approved in four states and Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. This is cause for celebration, not an excuse to go back to "the good old days" of June Cleavers, closeted homosexuals and people getting busted over a single joint. Slowly but surely, America is shaking off its puritanical leanings and there's no turning back.

Republicans risk becoming obsolete unless they get a bigger tent, stop trying to control women's bodies, stop impeding the liberties of same-sex couples and cease obstructionist tactics that block progress. There's a clear need for fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, debt reduction and bi-partisan cooperation. But we won't get there with half of the country believing we're a nation of "takers" rather than producers, the 1% should retain their tax breaks and the affordable health care act is a socialist plot. The people have spoken and the message is clear: we stand for inclusion, reproductive freedom and the right of privacy. Hopefully the Republicans will heed the call and revise their strategy. If not, the elephants may be destined for extinction.            

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Misogynists

I'm a woman living in 2012 America and I cannot believe what this presidential campaign has wrought. Men are standing up with straight faces pronouncing that rape is open to interpretation, that women possess the ability to "shut down" fertilization, and it's God's intention that rape victims be impregnated. How did these guys pass Biology 101, graduate high school, and why are they legitimate voices in the Republican party? Why are they not being laughed out of the building, indeed, run out of town on a rail? Team Red has surrendered to the extremist right wing; the religious fanatics, the Tea Party and a host of other desperate characters who want to eviscerate women's rights. The Taliban apparently has its share of fans in Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and the GOP ticket, Romney-Ryan. And that's just to name a few.

It's beyond me how women can support this unholy alliance, a turn-back-the-clock madness which has taken hold of politicians and voters with a vengeance. I respect those who are pro-life, but are reasonable enough to recognize that exceptions exist for cases of rape, incest and the health of the mother. For the life of me, I can't fathom those who seek to overturn Roe V. Wade and return to the ugly, deadly era of back alley abortions. Easy for "severely conservative" men to take such a position, but Republican women? How can  mothers advocate a society in which their daughters face the grim, devastating outcomes of unwanted pregnancies without access to safe, legal abortions? These same people think abstinence is the answer to teenage sex, that it's not essential that their children be armed with contraception. They believe equal pay for both genders doing the same job is debatable. And most telling of all, they abandon the precious babies they claim to care so much about the minute those infants enter the world; kids who'll need Head Start, food stamps and affordable health care to stay alive. Make no mistake, this is an all-out war on women.

Sisters, we need to rise up. We need to be doing everything in our power to see that Obama is reelected: phone banking, canvassing, getting out the vote. There are a plethora of reasons why Mitt Romney is not a viable choice for the White House. Leaving aside all the issues he's vacillated on, his archaic stance on women's rights should strike fear and terror into the heart of any female. Yesterday I watched footage of the President casting his early vote in Chicago. He was greeted by roughly a dozen volunteers, all but two of which were women. Everyone with a half a brain knows that both candidates are targeting suburban mothers and "waitress moms." In this critical election we have the chance to be the "deciders." The Supreme Court hangs in the balance. Our futures and our daughters futures are at stake. 



Thursday, October 18, 2012


I posted the previous entry, "Romney's Female Problem," without mentioning the glaring facts of his anti-women policies on reproductive health. I assume my readers are well aware that Mitt flipped his abortion position and would now, supposedly, deign to allow it for the life of the mother, rape and incest. He's been all over the map on this point, like so many others. Women can't trust Romney for a host of reasons, not least of which he wants the government to control women's bodies.