May 14, 2014

More Than A Stage

Listen To Your Mother Chicago's "Oscar Selfie" of two photos in this post not taken by Balee Images
Last year, because of your incredible support, I was able to go to BlogHer. And it was amazing. I met so many people, learned so many things, and grew as a writer, a blogger, and a person. (Is that an exaggeration? I don't think so.) But one of the most profound experiences for me was the open mic, a Listen To Your Mother production.

I'd heard about it. There was no way I wouldn't have heard about it. Motherhood? Storytelling? Live shows? You can bet people linked me to it over and over again. But I didn't really understand what was so amazing about it until I heard Ann Imig speak at the Voices of the Year. She's the genius behind Listen To Your Mother, and holy cow, that lady has passion. And humor. And grace. And to say that somebody has grace when they're advising you to find your inner luchador, well, that's something.

I knew she was the brain behind Listen To Your Mother, and I wanted so badly to tell her how amazing it was that she'd not only conceived but built something that had gone so completely viral. It's one thing to write a blog post that a million see across the world. It's another thing to create a movement of storytelling and sisterhood.

The LTYM Chicago producers with Ann Imig after the show
But I had no idea how to say that. And so, before the open mic Listen To Your Mother production at BlogHer, I had one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I bumped into Ann Imig, said hello, and then stared, gape mouthed, smiling awkwardly, trying to find any kind of words to say, "You're amazing, and right now you're my hero, and I want to tell you all about my life and I want to be best friends and please don't think I'm crazy." And she smiled a bit uncomfortably, and walked away. I stood there, embarrassed and awkward enough to think I could shout something witty after her and make her want to have a drink with me and talk motherhood and storytelling. And maybe she could tell I wanted to do that, so she turned around. And I was still standing there, gaping after her like a lumbering monster from a cheezy horror movie.

It was mortifying.

But then came the open mic. And I stood up in front of the women who I'd come to love through their writing, and I read to them. And they applauded, and thanked me, and hugged me, and now we're best friends forever.

Me reading at the Listen To Your Mother BlogHer open mic
Yes- this is the other photo Balee Images didn't take
Something like that.

And I swore to myself that next time I would audition for Listen To Your Mother. Maybe because I'd humiliated myself in front of Ann. Maybe because standing on stage is cathartic and moving and beautiful. Maybe because just jumping into an open mic isn't the same as getting to know and love a cast.

Whatever the reason, I started trolling the Listen To Your Mother website. I trolled it. I stalked it, and the minute the call for auditions was out, I was on it.

I auditioned the hell out of my piece.

And I got into the show.

I thought, Next time I bump into Ann Imig, I won't humiliate myself!

I went through weekly panic attacks about what to wear, what to eat, whether or not to cut my hair (I didn't), my shoes, my undergarments, and a giant forehead stress pimple that appeared a month before the show and never went away.

Second rehearsal- yeah, that's a giant stress pimple on my forehead
Then our producers decided that I was going to go first, and everything got a little bit more frightening. Whatever I wore was the first thing the audience would see! Whatever I said would be the first thing the audience would hear!

If I screwed up, I told myself, I would ruin the show for the rest of the cast. And the last thing on earth I wanted was to do anything to hurt those women.

There is nothing like being part of a cast. You're a family, even if only temporarily. You care about each other, you care about each other's families, you care about each other's success and happiness. You want everyone to do their best, not just on stage, but everywhere. And you want to help. Sharing a stage in a cast is different from sharing the stage in an open mic. Open mics are every man for himself, self promotion and flights of fancy. A cast though- a cast is more. It's a commitment.

I love these ladies
It's a commitment to work your ass off on your piece, even if you're far away during rehearsals- like Kari.

It's showing up to rehearsal at 36 weeks pregnant, or with a two week old infant fresh out of the NICU, or performing on stage, alone, at a month postpartum... like Andrea.

It's sharing life news about the growth and maturity of your children with your cast mates before the show and knowing it will bring them to tears, like Meggan.

Meggan telling us her amazing news before the show
But Listen To Your Mother isn't just a single cast. Being part of the Listen To Your Mother family is being part of a much bigger whole. It's casts in 31 other cities who you share a bond with, it's learning that you are more connected to other people through this thing, this welcoming, warm, and enormous thing, than you ever knew. Many of our Chicago cast members went to other cities to see their shows, and many other cities' cast members came to our show.

One of those visitors was Rebekah from Milwaukee, who I worked with as a VISTA a decade ago on the south side of Chicago, hauling recycling through the worst parts of Chicago's housing projects just as the city began dismantling them. Back in 2003 she'd meet me beneath underpasses and ride the truck with me through Cabrini Green at six thirty in the morning. She's a mom now, too, and a Listen To Your Mother alumnus. And now those are more bonds that we share.

Getting ready for the show
So no, it wasn't just about getting on stage and speaking to more than five hundred people about what it means to lose yourself in motherhood. It wasn't just striding from the wings into a glaring spotlight in a bright red dress and zebra print shoes and commanding the attention of more than five hundred strangers (and some very good friends). It was about becoming a link in the chain of women and men who have joined together to give voice to the joys and struggles and absurdities and tragedies of motherhood.

Becoming friends at the first rehearsal
The moments that stand out to me aren't at all about standing on the stage. The memories I'll cherish are sitting backstage and singing "On My Own" with Andrea to quell our nerves.

Giving Crystal a gift card to a sex toy store after the first rehearsal, because yeah, I'm just that kind of socially inappropriate.

Watching Hyacinth start to break down during the second rehearsal, and knowing that I was going to cry before it happened because it happened every single time I even thought about her Snow Bear.

Our second rehearsal already felt like a reunion
Sharing Pittsburgh love with Kim as we drove a ridiculous three blocks to a restaurant where we didn't have a reservation for a party of sixteen.

Watching Keeley nurse her infant during the first rehearsal and, as she entirely understands, both being grateful it wasn't me and kind of wishing it was.

Driving to the show with Julie and sharing our anxiety, laughing and comforting each other.

Melissa's glowing pride for my inclusion in this year's BlogHer Voices of the Year.

But maybe, just maybe, the moment that will forever stick in my mind will be the few seconds after the show when all the alumnus of Listen To Your Mother in the audience came onto the stage and we all posed for a photo together.

It's an honor to share the stage with these people
One of those alumni was none other than Ann Imig. She came straight up to me, and she told me she loved my piece. And as I blathered and thanked her, she gave me an off kilter smile.

"I remember you! I met you at BlogHer last summer, didn't I? At the Listen To Your Mother open mic?"

My stomach fluttered and my cheeks burned as I remembered staring after her with my mouth agape.

And once again, I found myself totally at a loss for what to say.

So thanks, Ann, for giving me a voice and a stage.

Thank you all
Thank you, my cast and family, for the memories and the fun and the joy.

Thank you to my friends and family who supported me through the whole of this wild and crazy experience, who I know are waiting with bated breath for that youtube channel to light up with hundreds of stories from hundreds of women as 32 shows are made available for any and all to see.

Thank you to Aunt Genocide, and Nancy, for driving all the way to Chicago from Ann Arbor, just to sit in the audience and support me as I talk about the same things you hear me talk about constantly anyway.

I love you so much.
Thank you, everyone.

Thank you for everything.


  1. Yes. I LOVE this. So well written, as always.
    And what, Crystal got a sex toy gift card?! Where was mine?! ;-)

    1. Hey, you didn't tell me you were fresh out of a ten year dry spell!!!

  2. This was so lovely, Lea.
    Also, where's my sex toy gift card?!?

    1. Maybe next time I can get the sex shop to sign on as a sponsor, and just put them in everyone's goody bags. ;)

  3. awesome! beautiful! amazing!

  4. What a great recap, Lea! I'm so glad you were in the cast, and I can't wait to see your video. Will I see you at BlogHer this year?

    1. I wish!!!! But my daughters are all three flower girls in Minnesota during the BlogHer Saturday.

  5. Glad I could make it, it was a wonderful trip ^_^

  6. So amazing! I wish I could have been there! I'm sure it was an incredible show!



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