I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason. I also believe that in order to have plenty, there also must be periods of drought. I’ve been super lucky in the love and health sectors of my life recently, but getting a handle on the financial side has been slow as molasses since coming home from Taiwan. I’ve settled in nicely with the team at The Container Store since October, and it’s time for some more good work news!
I’ve taken on two new part-time jobs that actually feel in-line with my role as a storyteller and activist in the world! I’ve become an assistant for a woman named Flora who has ALS. I’ve also accepted a job as an acting teacher at Urban Academy, a high school in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
For the last two years, Urban Academy has hired me as an acting coach and to help direct winter productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” Both were experiences that left me fulfilled and inspired. When Urban’s regular acting teacher ended up unable to teach this semester, they called me! A fellow NYC Kid, I am in awe of the resilience, courage, strength, and smarts these kids possess. Whether or not any of them think of acting as anything more than an elective to take instead of a more “academic” class, it is thrilling to get to share what I love to do with young, hungry minds. The respect and play that I’ve witnessed from my class in the past two weeks could be a lesson to some professional actors! I will share more about my experience teaching the class in future posts, and jump now to more about Flora.
A couple of weeks ago a good friend from college contacted me out of the blue to say that her boyfriend’s ex-wife had been diagnosed with ALS and was looking for an assistant. She wrote, “I’m not exactly sure of all the details of what she’s looking for in an assistant, but it’s a very flexible job and it made me immediately think of you.”
A few months ago, while the Ice Bucket Challenge was still trending, I watched a documentary about ALS, “So Much, So Fast.” I knew minimally about what a beast ALS is, and I got scared. I was reading this Facebook message on the train and since I had no service I couldn’t immediately respond. I planned to reply once I got service back, but then I got in my head because I didn’t know how “involved” a job like this might be. So I kept not responding until, luckily, my friend followed up with me the next week.
Then I thought of a moment in my play, “Lillian Smith: Being Heard,” when I ask the audience to think of the people that they chose to segregate themselves from, or, in plainer language, to not spend time with. What was keeping me from helping this woman? We remove ourselves from situations, or just avoid them entirely, out of fear. I was afraid.
I was scared to respond because Flora is sick. I was scared because she has a debilitating disease, because many would say she is dying. Then I thought about how I’m always looking for something to be an advocate for and this could be the perfect opportunity for me to help someone who needs immediate assistance. How much might I learn by helping Flora with everything from finding a wheelchair accessible apartment, to filling out Social Security forms, to ordering seamless, to filling out health care proxies? The only answer I kept coming to was: A lot.
When I met Flora in her third floor walk-up in Boerum Hill, where she’s been housebound for months, I pretty much already had the job. She stayed seated in a leather chair that seemed large enough against her small frame to gobble her up, and spoke with honesty, humor, and more curse words than even I employ on the daily. She told me that the doctors say she has 2-5 years to live. That her ALS started with her hands so she needs someone to help with emails, filling out the archaic, still hand-written Social Security and Disability forms, shopping for presents for friends, and the like. The first order of business would be to find her a wheelchair accessible apartment so that she can get outside. She did assure me that she can still walk, but “looks strange” when she does and gestured to the wheelchair in the corner as “the elephant in the room.” (I found “the elephant” in the hallway outside her apartment the next time I visited.)
A born caretaker, Flora was concerned that helping her would be depressing for me and that it might get overwhelming. I told her she’s got more to worry about than my potential feelings about working with her, and assured her that I would let her know if it ever feels like assisting her has become too much to handle. She ended the meeting saying, “Let’s kick some ass!” If I didn’t already love her, now I did.
To be an artist in NYC, in Taipei, almost anywhere in the world, often means working job after job that has nothing to do with your art to make ends meet. From food service, retail, temp jobs, cleaning houses, walking dogs, teaching yoga, to nannying, if I haven’t done it myself, I bet I know someone who has. A good friend and colleague, Lorna, calls these jobs that you’ve gotta take to make ends meet so that you can do your art, “Joe Jobs.”
I’ve always embraced the term with open arms, because, no matter how happy I am and have been mixing drinks, selling gems or bins; no matter how much I love my coworkers and employers, I would drop it all if acting or writing work sustained me. Since it doesn’t yet, I continue to work my several part-time jobs, and search for more career-related ways to sustain me.
I am thrilled that these two new fantastic gigs actually seem to fit in with the overall vision I have for my life and life’s work. For that reason, these don’t feel like “Joe Jobs.” I am psyched to be going down these paths and to continue to share my journey!
Learn more about Flora and donate to her medical fundraiser here.