I never saw myself as an Artistic Director. For the longest time, I've just seen myself as someone who just does things. A member of the team. A cog.
But something changed in September 2015.
I was riding my bicycle down Lawrence Avenue to a marketing meeting for TUTA Theatre Chicago, and right at Spaulding Avenue, a guy pulled into the bike lane without checking his blind spot, swiped my front end, forcing me into the curb and then to the ground, landing right on my left elbow.
I've ridden a bike for as long as I can remember.
Growing up in small-town Wisconsin, as a latch-key kid, how could you not? A bike was freedom. I could go anywhere. And even had what could have been a really bad incident in Schuette Park when I fell ass over tea kettle down a hill when no one was around at about nine years old. Luckily I didn't break anything.
But in Chicago, I wasn't so lucky.
I started riding a bike in the city about four years after I moved here. Before that, I hadn't ridden a bike in about a decade and once I started up again I immediately fell right back in love. The wind in my face, the constant motion. Being stuck in traffic is a nightmare for me, so the ability to just keep moving forward in a bike lane was a godsend.
Landing on my elbow busted it right off.
OFF. When I hit the ground, I just knew something was wrong. Immediately. You just know, you know? But I had a thought:
I should call Amber and let her know I'm probably not going to make it to the meeting.
The second thought was that I may be able to sleep on it and see how it is in the morning. But then I reached my right hand around to where my left elbow should have been - the area already about three times the normal size - and my brain registered I had no left elbow after a little bit of feeling around.
So I fairly calmly called Amber to let her know I in fact WASN'T going to make it to the meeting. And then I called my husband. Second. I called my husband second. I called the work thing first, the love thing second. By this time a bystander was already questioning the guy who hit me (his, what I can only guess was his young daughter, answered for him), and emergency services were called. I was completely aware the whole time. I still remember seeing the driver walk back to his car through the ambulance window. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware enough to get a picture of the license plate. Nobody else got one for that matter either. He drove away scott-free. Luckily, my insurance covered the incident. I panic sometimes when I think of the what if.
But I think something changed for me that day.
I can say this now two and a half years later. Those next few weeks were a lonely time for me. The Husband still had to work. I had no sick or vacation pay. And but for a couple of friends lending a hand (Amy taking me to the doctor and out to lunch, Stephen stopping by to rewrap my too tight bandage), I was completely alone. The hospital said I shouldn't be alone. But I was alone. I didn't have a choice.
The City of Big Shoulders didn't have space on those shoulders for me.
I don't know what happened to everyone. Help for someone who had broken their elbow. My siblings are all up in Wisconsin, but I thought I would have people that would check in and text and make sure I was okay. I spent a lot of time alone, one-arming it. I honestly to this day have a very lonely feeling about the whole experience. I cried. A lot. Those weeks after my accident are marked by an overwhelming sense of self-reliance.
It took two painful surgeries and some rehab to get me back to "normal." One to put the elbow back in place with a metal plate, the other to take that metal plate back out. It was sometime over the course of that healing year that I had this bug in my ear that my accident was no accident. As my husband says, "Nothing happens without of the reason." You can believe me or not, but I feel like the Universe was literally stopping me in my tracks. Telling me it was time to slow down. That I wasn't taking care of myself and now, dammit, it was time for me to start taking care of myself. Now I had to. I had no choice but to sit still and reset. I had good amount of painful evenings to think about what I wanted out of my life.
When I moved to Chicago at 29 years old, I wasn't sure what I wanted to get out of it.
I just knew that if I wanted to learn more about professional theatre, it was the right place to go. And I was right. Chicago was the right place to go. I feel like it's been a 10-year grad school program. From acting to directing to marketing and theatre administration, it may not have been the fastest grad school, but it was the right grad school for this late-blooming Theatre Artist/Mom of a Special Needs Kid.
Because for as much time as I've spent on this planet trying to prove I'm just like everyone else, I have never once in my entire time on this planet been just like every other theatre artist. My path has never been a straight trajectory. I was hobbled when my biological father left. I was hobbled when I moved out of my mother's house at 14 years old. I was hobbled when I dropped out of college at 18. For the first time. I was hobbled when I gave birth to a baby girl at 23 years old. Extra hobbling for her being an extra special girl. And I was hobbled by crippling low self esteem. An issue that still eats at my brain.
But Chicago healed some of that. And helped me to see the "hobblings" as positives, rather than negatives. Chicago gave me the experience I needed to prove to myself (underline, all caps,bold, MYSELF) that I am a valuable theatre artist. I'm a valuable theatre advocate. And I'm a pretty damn good actor. And recently I showed myself I'm probably going to be a really good director as well.
I came up with The Constructivists lying in bed one night the December after I busted my elbow. I'm not sure why I remember that timing exactly. I was lying there late one night, thinking about the kind of theatre I like to do, the kind of theatre I want to do, and what it is I bring to the theatre universal table. That I may not be the best actor, the prettiest face, the person with that undeniable "it" factor, but what I'm filled with, and always have been, is heart. I'm overloaded with heart. I was gifted with a big ole fatty bleeding heart. And I pump that into every project I've ever believed in with everything I have. But for all that effort, and all that bleeding, my busted elbow made me stop and really question where I was putting that heart. That visceral bleeding heart.
I think if there's one thing the internet has taught me (being on it so much with my day job work and all), it's that you can make art anywhere. I think we're fed a lot that you have to be in New York, or LA, or Chicago, to make great art. Or to be considered successful by a jury of your peers. And I'm sitting here today to say I'm not so sure that's true. There may be more opportunity to make great art in those places, but it's equally true that you have more opportunity to make some not so great art. It's all numbers. And after ten years in Chicago, I think it's fair to say: I'm going to try my hand at making great art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
This Cheesehead is going home. (The Husband is coming too.)