I Will Always Love You

My younger sister, Betsy, just left to head back to Washington, DC. She came to visit me in Chattanooga for the weekend to celebrate her 37th birthday. It’s crazy when your younger sibling turns 37. Not only do I keep thinking I’m 37, I feel more like 27. Funny how the mind needs to be convinced that the body is not what it once was. I wake up with cricks in my neck, not from a night out of dancing, but from sitting on the couch in a slightly different manner than my usual lounge posture.

With my husband out of town for the week and a freezer full of pre-made dinners, I had plenty of time on my hands to prepare for her arrival. She’s been living alone since the beginning of the pandemic, and while she is the strong one in the family, I know it’s been really hard on her, if for no other reason than she often feels like she has to be the strong one. Being that I’m the middle child, I often had no problem flailing my emotions about, making it very clear I needed attention. I have since grown out of it, for the most part, but I still have my moments.

I was 28 years old before I realized that being a MIDDLE child meant I had a YOUNGER sister… meaning I wasn’t just a middle child, I was a big sister, with some one to look after other than myself. It was groundbreaking. We’ve been close ever since.

I set my intentions ahead of time, I had recently read the Art of Gathering and I learned that a good gathering isn’t just about the decor or the food, but about the intention you have for the gathering and how well you carry it out. My intention for her time at my house was to create a space for her to feel celebrated, but more so, loved and special; knowing this helped me think through what might make Betsy feel that way.

Since she lives a busy life in DC, she doesn’t often have time to do the things she’d like to do: cook, decorate, take a bath. Living alone means she’d probably even more so like to be on the receiving end of someone cooking for her, someone decorating her space, and… well, the bath she can do on her own.

I spent the week preparing for her arrival, from making the decorations and hanging them, to making the cake and the cake topper…

Though Josh and I have been living in Chattanooga since November, we have to yet to find a kitchen table we like… partly because Josh keeps saying he is going to make one, but we going on month four of that not happening, so I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I went down to Wal-Mart and grabbed a cheap folding table to cover up. We used it once and spent the rest of the time eating at the kitchen counter or on the couch. I guess it’s true that decor is a mere addition, take it or leave it, compared to the over all purpose of the gathering and being together.

The day she flew in she had already spent an extra three hours in the DC airport due to delayed flights. She was getting in much later than planned and I knew she’d be tired, not just from the flight, but the work week she had just come off of. I wouldn’t be able to fix her energy levels, but I could certainly make her feel welcome, and hopefully get her laughing after a long day.

I dressed for the occasion and awkwardly waited for her to come down the escalator in the Chattanooga Airport…

After waiting a while, enduring stares and little girls saying “Mommy, look” while pointing at me, Betsy finally started to come down the escalator. As soon as I saw her I began playing the Sisters song from White Christmas, you know how it goes…

And in no time, though tired from travel, delayed flights and a DC work week, she laughed out loud as I continued to sing and act out the song until she reached me.

“Welcome to your birthday weekend!” I yelled, and proceeded to keep playing and singing the song until we reached the car. I may have overdone it a little, but I’m still a middle child, sometimes I can’t help myself.

When she got in the car I had snacks and an itinerary for the weekend, letting her know she didn’t have to think about or plan a thing, it was all taken care of, all she had to do was enjoy it.

I’m not sharing all this to say “look at all I did!” (Maaaaybe the middle child part is saying that), I’m sharing it to say, it took me 38 years to do something like this for someone who’s been a part of my life all 38 years. It was long overdue and I’m grateful I was allowed the space in time to make it happen for her. I’m sharing it to say, I realized it’s never too late to make someone feel loved and special.

I played Hanson when we walked in the door, our childhood obsession. With the house decorated at each corner, she’d let out a little scream as she’d see something new. I had snacks at the ready while I finished making dinner.

After dinner she took a bath, an often daily ritual for her until pipes in her apartment burst and she hadn’t been able to take a bath for weeks. We joked about how anxious she must be since she’s only been able to take a shower, “yea,” she laughed, “sometimes I take two baths a day!” I suppose that’s what happens when you live and work in Washington, DC… you take two baths a day, not just to relax but to wash all the politics off!

She thanked me for everything and turned in early. I knew she was tired, but there almost seemed to be a sadness about her, not a heavy sadness, just a sense I had that she couldn’t fully express excitement. Times before I may have asked what was wrong, but this time I had a feeling she just needed to be where she was at, and I didn’t need to take any of it personally, wondering if she expected more or if I got the right kind of cheese. It wasn’t about me and so I let her go to bed, telling her I’d have homemade cinnamon rolls ready by 9am.

On the day of Betsy’s birthday I woke up early to prepare breakfast. Hot yoga was scheduled for 10am so I figured she’d be up much earlier to have time to drink coffee and eat. At 9:20am I still didn’t hear any stirring upstairs so I started to text her. Just before I hit send I heard her bedroom door open and her slowly walking toward the stairs, “ow, ow, ow,” she said, “I think I need help.” I ran over to the stairs, “what the heck happened?” She was slowly trying to maneuver her way down and began laughing when she couldn’t make it.

“It might be from sitting all day, but just before I went to bed last night, I felt a pinched nerve and I couldn’t go to sleep, I just laid there in the happy baby position.” We both started laughing. “What do you need?” I asked, “want to get back in bed and I’ll bring you coffee?”

“I think just water,” she said, “I’m going to take a bath and see if that helps.” I was pretty sure her taking a bath meant we were going to miss yoga, but she managed to make it in-and-out in time for us to go, stretching her hamstrings out before getting in the car, “ow, ow, ow.”

“Welcome to your late thirties!” I said.

After yoga we went and got smoothies, returned home and Betsy decided to take another bath. We both laid down for a nap, her having been up late with a pinched nerve and me having been up early making cinnamon rolls. Wow, I thought to myself, baths and nap time, we really are getting older.

I took her to get a pedicure at 1:30, during which she fell asleep and upon returning home again she took nap number two, after which she took bath number three. I guess that’s how she celebrates her birthday, I thought, lots of baths! To each their own.

After all the baths and naps, we got dressed up and went out to dinner downtown. We talked about previous birthdays, what our family looks like now and if she had an ideal man, what would he be like. “I don’t really have a type,” she said, “I’ve dated a South African, an Israeli, and a 50 year old. I’m open to any type of person, I only have two requirements: that he be emotionally intelligent AND available, and that we share the same spiritual beliefs. I’ve loved people who haven’t shared my beliefs, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s just too hard on the relationship to differ on your core beliefs.”

We were home by 9:30 pm and dressed for bed shortly there after. I had her blow out her birthday candles, being too tired and full, she passed on having a piece of cake. She opened the present I made her, a corgi birthday crown in honor of our family corgi (who she is obsessed with), Benny Boy.

After she went up to bed I sat on the couch with my own piece of cake and small glass of champagne. Josh called to say goodnight and we talked for a while. I told him I knew Betsy was glad to be here, I knew she was enjoying it, but it didn’t feel like she was. I wasn’t getting this excited reaction I would assume one would get when they’ve done everything I did.

Josh reminded me that sometimes people just need a safe place to be themselves no matter how they are feeling. “She might not be able to express it right now,” Josh said, “but you know she loves being there.” “I know,” I said, “I guess in some selfish way, I just want to feel it!” I knew doing things for her wasn’t about getting a specific reaction from her, and that if it were, I’d end up transferring my disappointment onto her, creating an uncomfortable environment to be in, all because I wanted more recognition. “Let her be where she is at and keep loving her there,” Josh said, “you’re so good at that.”

The next morning I had a Dollywood mug with her name on it and a Dolly Parton card sitting by the coffee maker. I wanted to set the tone for the day that this was it… the day we go to Dollywood!

Now that I live in Tennessee, Dollywood is my happy place. I’ve been three times since moving here four months ago- that’s about how many times I went to Hollywood living in Southern California for eight years! The week before Betsy’s visit I went to Dollywood for Passholder’s day (Yes, getting a season pass was one of the first things I did as a Tennessean), and unbeknownst to everyone, DOLLY PARTON WAS ACTUALLY THERE! She waved at me when she saw one of my homemade Dolly crowns and I momentarily forgot to keep breathing.

Before coming, Betsy had said the one thing she for sure wanted to do was go to Dollywood. Piece of cake.

I was laying in bed drinking my coffee when I heard a knock on my door. Betsy popped her head in, “I LOVE MY MUG!” she said and she scurried over to sit on the end of my bed. We sat there talking for hours, there she is, I thought to myself, not because she expressed something I wanted to hear, but because she was finally expressing herself, talking, asking questions, laughing, the Betsy I know when she’s not weighted down by work, family drama, or living alone.

Had I made a comment like “oh you finally decided to show up,” or “nice to see you finally being expressive,” I think it would have killed the moment. A comment like that would have shamed her for simply being tired or worn out from life, making her feel unsafe to feel however she feels. Unnecessary commentary is what I am learning to discern, and I knew making a comment about her suddenly seeming lively would have made her feel bad about the days prior; something she didn’t need to feel bad about because there was nothing wrong with the days prior.

We drove two hours to Dollywood and spent the rest of the day there feeling like kids all over again. We both wore our crowns that donned our favorite things, hers, a corgi and mine, Dolly.

We drove the two hours back to Chattanooga listening to Dolly Parton’s America Podcast the whole way. Betsy had not only officially caught the Dolly bug, but she had finally felt rested and able to enjoy herself. “Next time I’m gonna take a vacation before my vacation so I don’t feel so tired on the vacation,” she said. We laughed and I was relieved I never made an issue of what I perceived to be her lack of enthusiasm. We had another day and a half together, relaxed and fully enjoying each other’s company.

By the time I took her to the airport she started crying, “I had such a good time,” she said, “I don’t really want to leave.” I made some stupid comment I read off of Pinterest in response, “Oh, don’t cry cause it’s over, smile cause it happened.” It kinda makes me gag now, especially when she responded while still crying, “well, I can do both.”

I laughed, “yes, you can.” She was right. And that’s what makes her the strong one, not an avoidance of emotion, but realizing she can be sad and grateful at the same time. She can be tired and lonely and worn out AND still enjoy herself and every opportunity she is given. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that life is a mix; a mix of emotions, not always compartmentalized by seasons, but often times experienced simultaneously.

Perhaps Betsy wanted her birthday to happen at a different time, when she felt more rested and had more time to enjoy it, but life just happens, without asking if we are ready, rested, or prepared. She turned 37 when she did, and I could either meet her there and love her, or I could complain that she wasn’t acting as happy as I’d like her to be.

When I returned home she left a note on her bed, thanking me for the whole weekend, for every thought and detail that didn’t go unnoticed. “I will never forget this weekend,” she said, “you made ME feel loved and special

I will always love you!”

Stand Your Sacred Ground

Joining a yoga class in Southern Tennessee looks a lot different than Southern California. For starters, bread. It’s often the topic of conversation in my Tennessee class, everyone salivating while in side plank. Apparently there’s a bakery in town called “The Bread Basket” that not only serves up amazing bread, but decadent pastries. Our teacher listed out each one she tried over the weekend, the cheesecake brownie not being her favorite, but it was in front of her so she ate it anyway.

“My husband does that,” a middle aged woman called out as we switched from right side plank to left, “I don’t get it, how can you eat something you hate?”

“Hate is a strong word,” Joe, a middle aged man transplanted from Chicago, yelled out from the other side of the room, “No one said they hated it, just that it wasn’t the best… but I agree, if it was just sitting there in from of me, I’d eat it too.” Most of the class agreed, and the teacher stood her ground as well, not just in side plank but in the cheesecake brownie, “if it’s just sitting there looking at you, you can’t not eat it.”

“So JJ,” Joe says, addressing me since I’m the newest person to the studio, “you’ll start to notice the only thing we talk about here is food.” I laughed, “Oh I did notice,” I said, “and I love it. In California all they eat is tree bark!” The whole class laughed and I remember thinking that felt better than most of the stretches I’d just done.

“You’re right!” Joe yelled as he pointed at me, “out there on the west coast, I went a few years ago, beautiful resort, all they served us was twigs and berries, I was like ‘where’s all the food? You call this a buffet?'” I laughed at Joe’s very obvious Chicago accent that he says “has gotten better” since living in the South. “The best class of all is next,” Joe says as he rolls up his mat, “my favorite class… lunch!”

The ladies all agreed, one mentioning she was trying to avoid Taco Bell and may have to swing by Zaxby’s instead. “See ya later, California,” Joe said to me as we walked to our cars, “see ya, Chicago!”

When class ended I thought about how funny it was to intermittently talk about bread and cheesecake brownies the entire time. That would never happen in a California yoga class, I thought to myself, and I laughed as I mimicked the conversation the whole drive home.

I love that my Tennessee yoga class is an older group of people who are trying to take care of their bodies, but can’t quite bring themselves to give up bread. As Joe says, “it’s a classic!” I hid the fact that I was gluten-free so as not to elicit any groans or typical questions like “what’s a gluten anyway?” I do enjoy finding really good gluten-free bread, but it’s just never going to sound as good as the more simply put “bread.” Joe’s right, it’s a classic.

To be honest, I thought my transition from California to Tennessee would be a lot harder. I miss the ocean and still feel it tugging at my heart from time to time, but knowing I have planned visits keeps me sane this far inland. Outside of that (no ocean), I really love it here. It’s more simple and laid back. The people are kind and not trying to compete with each other. The pressure I always felt to do more, be more, make more has gotten quieter. It’s not that I don’t feel it at all, but I feel it much less, and certainly not on a daily basis.

This past weekend I got to perform in a comedy club for the first time since COVID cleared my calendar two years ago. I was excited to get to perform in my new town, but also nervous because even though I now call Chattanooga “my town,” I’m the new kid on the block. Deep down, I didn’t yet feel the right to call it my town, but also deep down was the desire for the neighbors to welcome me in and affirm I’m home.

I worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday writing, editing, crafting and reciting my 10 minute set. Three days of work, all for ten minutes.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received by the crowd, no “unknown” comedian ever really is. That’s currently what I’m called in the entertainment industry, “unknown,” whether for writing or comedy or art, it’s always the same response to any submission I turn in… “being an unknown, we can’t risk not having a guaranteed audience.” My favorite was from a publisher who said, “your writing is strong and stories are relatable, but being an unknown, I’m not sure who would care to read your work.”

Yea. That one stung a little.

So in order to become known, you can’t be an unknown? Did we all not start somewhere? I hear older comedians or even musicians complain about how easy kids have it these days to make it big, “we didn’t have social media,” they say, “we had to do real work out on the road.” Though social media has given comedians and musicians an easier platform, it’s also given everyone an easier platform, making the market so saturated that the standard to be noticed is a minimum of 300,000 followers (and that’s for an “unknown”).

With people scrolling and swiping through content so fast, it’s less about talent and more about statistics– most of those stats being your social media following and what you can already bring to the table aside from your talent.

But! I was given a shot this weekend. Without having a huge following in this particular area, The Comedy Catch in downtown Chattanooga took a chance on me. Okay, they actually had me audition, but it was in front of a live audience, in the hopes of getting booked as a headliner in the future. That’s good enough for me and all the chance I need!

I’m not sure how to describe it other than I felt like I had finally found my people. The crowd was electric! And as I navigated through my transition to Tennessee, growing up Southern Baptist and surviving middle school, it seemed the audience had been through it all as they keeled over in laughter; almost making me forget what I was going to say next because I was caught so off guard by the volume of their laughter. The show went so well the club asked me to stay and perform for the late show which I was not originally scheduled for.

While that sounds like a dream, I almost said no because I had not mentally processed performing twice in one night. I get anxious easily and I was feeling so good after the first show that the thought of performing again made me nervous… again. Plus what if I didn’t do as well? I wanted to end on a high note.

It’s funny how I can complain about not being given a shot and then as soon as I get one, I realize how late it is and how much more comfortable my bed sounds. Josh encouraged me to stay for the second show, “I really think you’d kill it twice,” he said. I nervously agreed, and he was right- I realize unknowns probably aren’t supposed to say this, but I killed… twice.

I was flying high on adrenaline Saturday night and well into Sunday evening. But so it goes with entertainment that by Monday I was starting back over, submitting footage to clubs, asking to get booked, only to be met with the same term, “unknown.” The higher you ride on the adrenaline, the harder the fall when you come crashing back down to reality. Even now I feel like a total basket case, the paranoid kind that Green Day sang about in the 90s: “Do you have the time to listen to me whine, about nothing and everything all at once?” My mind playing tricks on me… I killed, right?

I had to remind myself that just because I worked up the nerve to perform two back to back sets (and kill both of them), it didn’t mean every club in America needed to line up to book me, though sometimes it feels like they should. I pulled out my journal this morning and noticed a quote I had written in it last year by Brene Brown, “Don’t shrink back. Don’t puff up. Stand your scared ground.”

“Yep,” I said out loud, responding as if Brene had just said it to me, “I didn’t shrink back this weekend, I showed up! And then I think I puffed up.” Which is why I was feeling so discouraged, it was the puff deflating, reminding me I still have work to do. “Now to live in the tension of the two,” I said, “neither shrinking or puffing.” I took a deep breath and laid on my sacred ground that is the bed, “I just gotta keep plugging away.”

I checked my email and received two more rejections. “Don’t shrink back,” I whispered.

And now, on with day…

Stand your sacred ground.

———————–

*As a Tennessee resident, I’m trying to book shows here, so if you live in the Nashville area and would possibly like to see me perform live, please consider emailing Zanies Nashville at boxoffice@zanies.com and request JJ Barrows as a comedian. Clubs only book who people want to see, which more often than not translates to… “knowns.”

**Or if you have a club or theater anywhere in your area, please consider emailing them and requesting JJ Barrows as a comedian. The audience holds way more power than the comedian does.

***Should I hear from Zanies or any club in your area, I promise not to puff up!

Socially Distant Surf Contest!

“Everyone wants to know the story behind the stories.” -Kramer

For any of my friends and pals who follow along on my Instagram…. Here’s a little bit behind why my previous (and more to come) onslaught of stories include asking people to help me win a surfboard via Instagram! And why this might be the only surf contest I could ever come close to winning 😂🤣.

It’s socially distanced by default cause it’s all on social media! Head here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQyKkN7HK… to check out @mamalasurf on IG to like my photo…

Costa Rica Clouds! (Like this Photo on @mamalasurf’s Instagram profile to help me win!)

and anyone else’s surf photos… honestly who ever wins is gonna be stoked out of their mind and it’s kinda cool that gets to happen to someone!

The contest ends August 20th… Two days after my birthday, YIPPPPEEEE!!

Mental Health matters, and the ocean is my potion (OMG, did I just make that up!?!).

I don’t surf to be the best, I surf to feel alive!

I surf because I love it and for my own mental health, and I’m pretty sure all these rad women feel the same way too! Good luck, ladies!

And also please like my photo 😂 https://www.instagram.com/p/CQyKkN7HK…

(Contest takes place on Instagram… Directions included in video for my older generation friends!)

Stay in Saturday, Ep. 7: “CREATING” JOBS!

This week we’re taking on the topic of, drumroll please…

JOBS!! No easy thing in Quarantine!

I don’t know how to create more, but I know how to create!

Whether you have a creating type of job and are trying to get creative with how to do your job, or you’ve lost your job, or you hate your job anyway… if there’s one thing most people have an opinion on, it’s jobs.

I don’t have answers, but I have a few ideas, some of which I’ll expound more on next week. Others are me just trying to make the best of things during a tough time! Here’s to hoping things work out with everyone’s job or job-to-be!

SHOW NOTES:

To see my full stand up special: http://www.drybarcomedy.com/jjb

View/buy my Art: http://www.instagram.com/jjbarrowsart and www.society6.com/jjbarrows

Check out my book: http://www.itscalledaspade.com

GET THE SAME COOL SHIRT AS ME AND SUPPORT ANOTHER ARTIST: http://www.juliescoolshirts.com

Anything else: http://www.instagram.com/jjbarrows OR http://www.jjbarrows.com

Stay in Saturday, Ep. 4: Piece by Peace

WOW Life happens fast! I’m actually a week behind in keeping this updated! This is last week’s episode of The Stay in Saturday Show, so feel free to read no more if you already caught it! (And if you did, thank you!!)

(This week’s is still uploading, so I’ll be back with another post soon).

Until then, incase anyone missed it…

“Piece by Peace”

Whether you’re going out or staying in, I hope you’ve had a great week!

I’m not gonna lie, this was a tough week for me, I waited a little too long to feel better in order to put my show together, but then I realized, maybe I could just include the reality of how I feel instead of pretend it’s not a real side of me.

There’s a bunch of pieces to all of us. This week may be a liiiiiittle different, but it’s made with the same heart and desire to make people laugh, as well as connect to our own emotions, whatever they may be!

I sometimes feel like I am two different people, protesting my own thoughts and emotion throughout a given day, this episode allows there to be room for all sides of each of us, differences of opinions and all.

I hope everyone is safe, sane, healthy and happy(ish) out there!

Happy Saturday!

Love, jj

💜💙🧡💛💚

The Stay In Saturday Show

A new show while stuck inside!

Whether it’s actually Saturday by the time this is seen, or just another day that ends in Y, I’m coming to you each Saturday while we’re all a little stuck inside for a little while. I’d love to hear from YOU… what’s quarantine like for you? What do you want to see more of, less of, what are some highlights and bright spots of this situation?
There’s enough bad press out there so we won’t dwell on that, but I would like to hear from everyone else what this experience is like for them.
Feel free to comment, send pics, messages, videos, I’d love to include content from other people as well. Seeing as this is just the beginning, I’ll fill you in with where I’m at on all of this and how we’ve been getting through it. Hope everyone is staying safe, sane and creative out there!
Don’t forget to subscribe for continued updates!!
Or Find me on Instagram @jjbarrows.
Art, comedy, books and more at http://www.jjbarrows.com
💜💜
Music: Next To Me (8 Bits) by Sleeping At Last covered by Mike and Steve of Reign The Kindo Beyond The Sea by Ray Coniff & His Orchestra Viva La Vida by Coldplay covered by Steve Petrunak

The Corona Diaries

We got into Santa Barbara around 4pm yesterday. We flew in from Nashville, leaving the house around 4:30am to catch a 6am flight that routed us through Seattle, then Portland, then finally home after all direct flights were cancelled. Needless to say, I was exhausted. We got home in time to shower and start doing laundry, except I passed out before I could even get the clothes from my bag to the laundry basket.

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I awoke to my husband coming in the room to change clothes in a bit of a hurry, “I’m gonna run to the grocery store just to pick up a few things.” After traveling for two weeks we didn’t have much food in the house, I figured we’d go tomorrow but he said the governor had just ordered a lockdown on California— no one was to leave their house except to exercise, walk their dog or go to the grocery store. All businesses except health care providers were closing. “Stay home!” was the message.

Truth be told, after the stress of traveling in the middle of the Corona Virus spreading, I was looking forward to having to stay at home for a while without the pressure or expectation of having to be somewhere or be someone. 

In our travels we had made it to Michigan when things weren’t totally crazy yet, rumors of Corona spreading to California and Washington were starting to take place, but mostly we were just on the receiving end of text messages from concerned family members. I was aware that things were happening, but knowing my own self and need to remain mentally strong, I filtered what news I let in. Anxiety, panic, fear— All things I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars on therapy working through so they would not have a grip on me, crippling me from living my life. Mental strength will not make me immune to a virus, this I know… I still have to do my part to practice daily routines like washing my hands and taking my vitamins.

While mental strength will not spare me, it will keep me thriving and engaging in those daily routines that matter to get me through the tough times– to call loved ones, write letters, move my body and actually do the things that are being suggested we do to take care of ourselves during this weird time in history. 

I had two shows in Michigan, packed crowds and everything still seemed normal— a little panic around the globe, but it seemed far away and the audiences in front me seemed ready to laugh and not at all like they had to rush off to the grocery store to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

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The hoarding had not yet begun, that I knew of. My last show was on a Thursday night. I woke up Friday morning to the headlines: “The NBA is canceled. Broadway’s gone dark. Disneyland is closed.” I had one simple thought, “Oh crap.” That was the moment I felt the severity of it. I read a few things and checked my email, the rest of the comedy festival I had been a part of was canceling the rest of their shows. People were complaining they weren’t notified ahead of time, “how come the festival wasn’t more organized?” I’m sorry but what company, organization or hospital was totally prepared for a pandemic to hit in 2020, really? A few psychics claimed they predicted it, and who the heck knows, maybe they did, but I don’t think you’re going to find a comedy festival relying on a psychic to help them prepare for what to do in case of a disaster. 

“Grace, grace, grace,” I tell myself. We all need to extend more grace, or at least I do, hard as it is. Grace to the hoarders, they’re scared. Grace to ourselves as we figure out how much to eat, where to get soap, and how to be nice to people when we feel stuck and exhausted. And grace to the underprepared companies and organizations who are finding themselves in this type of a situation for the first time and are also trying to figure out how to navigate it. We all have a bunch of feelings right now. Minimal facts and lots of feelings makes for a scary combination– an “us versus them” mentality and that isn’t going to help anyone. I don’t have answers, but I have grace for the people who are also getting on my nerves as they spread anger, panic, fear and anxiety faster than the virus itself. 

We left Michigan and proceeded with our trip. We arrived in Nashville where I was meeting up with my potential manager. “Meeting up” turned into being quarantined at he and his wife’s house as more news reports broke that businesses were to close and people were highly urged to stay home. Prior to arriving we had plans to stay with a friend but she had gotten the flu, saying it was “just the flu,” and I thought to myself only right now would people be saying “JUST the flu,” as if it was no big deal. Even still, we did not want to risk getting sick in the midst of traveling, and again I had to mentally navigate what was no big deal and what was a harsh reality.

We arrived in Nashville on a Saturday and things were still a little on the normal side. We went out to dinner the first night and brunch the next morning. Not a lot of people were out, but places were still open, people were still active. The air seemed different, but not yet eerie. By Monday morning the atmosphere shifted. Shops were closing, restaurants were on a to-go order only system. My friend texted me that she went to Chipotle and a guy ran to the door, dropped her order outside and quickly shut the door. It sounded like a drug transaction. 

We spent days talking shop, sharing our stories and getting to know each other in a way we maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise given our situation. Tuesday night, Josh and I debated going downtown, just to get out of the house. Not everything was totally closed yet and one of our friends had wanted to meet up with us, the one who had the flu but was now better. I did not want to go, I didn’t feel comfortable going out knowing we might bring something back with us, especially when it’s something you can’t even see. Maybe if it had just been us, but staying in someone else’s home, who were older than us, not to mention, someone I wanted to manage me so I didn’t want to be the cause of his death before we even signed. I mean, I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s death at all (yes, my mind went there), but I was definitely looking forward to working with him in the long run. I also didn’t want to disappoint my husband or our friend, both who seemed eager to meet up in the midst of this chaos, and I struggled internally as we got in the car to make our way downtown. We weren’t even five minutes into the drive before the silence broke. We pulled the car over, talked it through and turned the car around. 

By Wednesday we at least needed to go for a walk, but with it raining outside we felt a little trapped. We finally decided on going to the mall just to walk around. “NO ONE TOUCH ANYTHING” was the rule. Almost every store inside the mall was closed except for the arcade and Chick-Fli-A. The arcade? Gross. Of all the places to be open, the arcade is germ central! Chick-Fil-A? Praise God. Waffle fries, please. And some of those anti-bacterial hand wipes. The mall was almost silent, save a few noises from the arcade, making it the perfect setting for a horror movie.

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We peeked in a grocery store on the way home just to see the empty shelves— no meat, cheese, bread, toilet paper, soap— entire aisles cleared out. The eerie feeling was in full effect. I had Lysol wipes in my pocket so if I had to touch a door or anything I was fully prepared. That was when it hit me, maybe Bob Wiley wasn’t so crazy after all, he was just before his time. (For reference, see movie “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray— a must watch during quarantine).

 

Wednesday night we sat around the dinner table, sharing jokes and memes we’d come across throughout the chaos of everything. At first I thought the jokes were hilarious, but by day four I just wanted to hear a joke that wasn’t about Corona. They all started to sound the same, and who came up with what first? Did that even matter? I would think of a joke or write a thought down and then I’d see it on someone’s Twitter or Facebook account. Dang it.

It makes sense, we’re all experiencing the same thing, and comedians are always looking for the punchline in a given situation, so everyone is coming up with the same stuff. “I feel like for comedians, once this whole thing is over it’s gonna be a race to see who can get to the stage first with all these jokes,” I said. 

 

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Almost every show I had booked up through April has been cancelled so far. I don’t mind if someone else gets to the stage first with the jokes, honestly, I’m already tired of hearing them. And yet still, I am a walking contradiction who in her exhaustion still thinks she needs to share her own jokes, or maybe fears she won’t be seen as having skin in the game if she doesn’t. Honestly, it’s a relief to know we all have to rest for a second. The stage can wait. 

By the end of the night we had gone over the rest of our business matters. My husband poured us a drink and we toasted as I signed with my new manager. The world felt like it was falling apart, and here we were planning our future, clinging to the hope that despite our current circumstances, our future would be bright and full, with plenty of toilet paper for the taking. 

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Josh and I woke up at 4am the next morning to pack our bags and head to the airport, which brings us back to where I started— after a long journey with two layovers and an attempt to do laundry, me waking up to my husband getting ready to go to the grocery store because the state of California was going into lockdown. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to text me what you need?” He asked.

I was still a little groggy, “I’m confused, why do you have to go right now? I’m so tired. Can’t we go tomorrow?” He said it would probably be worse by tomorrow and we just needed to get a few things. My husband is never chomping at the bit to go to the grocery store, so it seemed important. I said I would text him what I needed. “You don’t want to go with me?” He asked. I laughed, “do you want me to go with you?” He paused and smiled, “well, yea. I don’t know what to get, I’ll get lost in the cracker aisle and we’ll end up with cookies and crackers for meals.” I love him.

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As soon as we walked into the store I wanted to leave— the lines, the empty shelves, the sense of panic, I felt it all and I wanted to get away from it. I told myself to remain calm and walk slowly. Wait my turn, just breathe, I’ll be home soon. I’m not gonna lie, as a true introvert, I LOVE this whole social distancing thing. We saw two people we knew in the grocery store. My automatic response when I see someone I know in the grocery store— pretend I don’t see them. My husband’s automatic response— “HEY GUYS!!” Sure enough, he flagged down the people we knew. My only relief was that we did not have to hug hello and it was FINALLY socially acceptable! It was the rare feeling of “this is amazing” while out in public. 

Yes, I love to entertain people and I feel alive when I am on stage, that is very real, but functioning in everyday life is a much harder story for me. Sometimes my biggest fear when people meet me is that they’ll be disappointed that I’m not like what they see on stage or on screen. Which goes back to what I was saying prior to all this— anxiety, panic, fear are things I already struggle with, I have to work hard to push through them. I’m sure this narrative is true for a lot of people, I’m not unique in that way. That said, Introverts, now is our time! Stay home, don’t touch, limit contact— we’ve so got this! I suspect the extroverts will now get a dose of what it’s like for us to function on a daily basis in an extroverted world. Grace, grace, grace. 

Today we cleaned our house and then I called Richard, my 80-year-old (former) neighbor who lives in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Once a neighbor, always a neighbor. “Oh I’m so happy to hear from you,” he said, “you know I been worried about you— how are you? Are you feeling okay?” I told him I was great, mostly just tired from traveling. He kept telling me I needed to take care of myself, I told him the same thing. “What about you Richard, how are you doing?” I asked, “You need to be taking care of yourself!” I didn’t want to add anything about his age, knowing the elderly are some of the most vulnerable, they already hear that enough and I didn’t want to add to the weight of it.

Staying mentally strong is just as important for the elderly, or as I have recently learned, they like being referred to as “the older.” “Oh I’m fine, I’m doing great, don’t you worry about me. I’m still cancer free and it’s the best I’ve been in years. Plus I know what they’re saying about this thing and I don’t need to be worrying about me… I’m in my golden years, I can’t be thinking about how can I make it last longer, I’m gonna let someone else do that thinking. It’s you I’m worried about, you have a whole life ahead of you!” 

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I called to check on Richard because I was worried about him and here he was worried about me. I had to assure him multiple times that I was feeling great. He asked about my family and my husband. “I bet you sure are glad you got someone to be with during all this,” he said, and I agreed that it was such a gift. “Yea, it does make it better,” he said and he was quiet. I thought of him being alone and even though I knew he was “fine,” I worried about how and when he would get out to get food. I’d ask and he’d keep saying not to worry, he was doing fine and had enough. To my friends in Ocean Beach, please check on Richard.

Before we got off the phone he said “You know, there was this coach from North Carolina, Jimmy V., he had this quote ‘don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,’ and that’s what I want you to hear right now. Of course he died from cancer shortly after saying that, but that’s not the point.” We both laughed a little, not at him dying, but just the delivery of trying to motivate someone with “don’t give up” followed by “he died.” Maybe leave that part out in the delivery.

“But he didn’t give up,” Richard said, “and that’s what we gotta think, not to give up.”

What does it look like to not give up right now? With so many businesses closing, people begging people to support their company, their career, their art, their music— we’re all in the same boat. Most people are trying to figure out how to make this work, how to get financial support while they aren’t working. And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answers are. I know that truck drivers, delivery workers and health care providers are some of the most important people in the world right now, more so than any celebrity, artist or musician. We NEED this over looked population of people. At the same time, people are connecting through music, movies and comedy, things to keep their minds clear in the midst of the struggle. I see people giving away free content online to keep people motivated— free yoga classes and couch concerts. The online community has become an important part of staying connected while social distancing. What gets created in these dark times has the potential to be very powerful.

After Richard and I got off the phone I googled Jimmy V. and found the speech he gave before he died. He said something very profound while battling cancer, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. But it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul, and those three things are gonna carry on forever.” We cannot control a lot of what is happening right now, but we can control how it affects our minds, hearts and souls, which will greatly affect how we function and treat other people in the midst of this. 

As we continue to quarantine, while appreciating the connection of the online community and social media, may we leave time and space to just be present. I think this was one of the greatest things Coach Jimmy V. had to say, and so I’ll end my processing with this…

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

It may be so hard right now, but here’s to having something really special at the end of it. 

Hang in there.

carbonated holiness

I just got off the phone with Richard, my old neighbor— old as in I used to live by him, and well, yes, he is of an older generation.

I mailed Richard a copy of my book a few weeks ago. I wrote about him in the last chapter and I wanted him to read it, to know he’d been the kind of friend worth writing about. I had written about my Grandmother in the chapter before and I planned to give her a copy for Christmas but then she passed away on Thanksgiving. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” I love the song but sometimes I hate that it’s true.

More and more I’m sad I didn’t send a copy to her sooner, to let her know she’d been the kind of woman worth writing about, something I don’t think she thought of herself as. It was after my Grandma passed that I knew for sure I needed to send Richard a copy, I needed him to know he was loved and missed, especially because I knew he lived alone and I didn’t know how often he got to hear those words anymore.

So a few weeks into the New Year, I mailed Richard a copy. Last week he texted me, “Thank you so much, it is so good, give me a call sometime.”

I called him tonight and he was elated, “I’ve read it twice!” he said, “the whole book!” I was shocked, was that even possible? I guess it’s not that long. He kept going as I pondered the amount of time he’s had it to be able to read through it twice, “I couldn’t stop reading it, oh I just love it. It’s answered a lot of questions, you know!”
“I bet,” I said and we laughed.

“You know, I loved very much that you called me your favorite neighbor, but you know, you made a big mistake in there.”

“I did?” I asked. (Oh no, what?)

“Yea, a big one. You called me your 70 year old neighbor, and I’m not 70…” he paused.

“Oh, you’re not!?” I said a little embarrassed, “how old are you?” Hoping I didn’t offend him.

He was quiet a second more…

“I’m 88!” And he let out a huge laugh. I was so relieved. “Boy, you really made my day with that one,” he said.

“Well see, Richard, there you go, you look great for your age, even better than I thought!” I laughed, still slightly shocked.

Richard just kept laughing, “oh that made me feel so good, I thought to myself ‘why, I outta go out tonight!’” And I could hear what sounded like him slapping the couch as he laughed. “Laughter really is carbonated holiness,” I thought to myself, something I read by Anne Lamott earlier in the week.

Richard has been getting cancer treatments the last 7 years and he told me he had his last one this past Wednesday. “I’m good now!” He said, and I tried not to cry as I told him how happy I was. He asked me repetitively if I was good and if I was happy, the same Richard I wrote about years before when I used to live by him.

“You know, I loved your book so much, I took it with me to my doctor and I showed him the part where you called me 70! He laughed and said ‘See, Richard, I knew we’ve been doing something right!’ Haha, can you believe it!?” And we both laughed at my “big mistake.”

He thanked me for calling him 70, he asked me to please stay in touch and he told me one more old war story. “I love you,” he said as we got off the phone. “I love you too, Richard,” I said as I tried not to cry again.

I don’t know the totality of what life is about, but I do know there’s these little portions of each day in which I get a glimpse of it, overwhelmed by the beauty of it and moved by the connection found in it. I know no other option, and so even on the hard days I move forward, thankful for these glimpses, these portions of day in which to laugh with an old neighbor and celebrate that “he’s good now!” That is all we really have— right now, and right now is what I am most grateful for. That, and carbonated holiness.

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More stories and adventures at: jjbarrows.com, and itscalledaspade.com

 

A Comedy Story

In December of 2016 I was pretty depressed. This isn’t one of those, “and then I did this and now it’s all better” stories, but I did do something and I have better days in the middle of the tough ones.

I started going to a Stand Up Comedy course. My way of getting “over” depression is to find something I like and something that terrifies me and do that. As much as I hate feeling nervous, it makes me feel alive.

I’ve always loved comedy. Other than T.G.I.F every Friday night and Saved by the Bell every Saturday morning, I grew up on Robin Williams (my heart still breaks), Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Lily Tomlin and Bette Middler, as well as Happy Days reruns so I was quite the Henry Winkler fan. Later in life I discovered Gilda Radner and I thought she was the greatest. There’s more too, but that’s good for now.

It’s not that I’m “over” depression. It never really goes away, even when it does disappear for a bit, it lurks or hides near by. I used to go through these really dark, heavy seasons and come out of it saying “and now I’m finally all better,” each time thinking I was over it, naive to the fact that life goes on and so tough times do too.

By December of 2016 I was 4 months into my depression, some days physically unable to get out of bed. I called a therapist and prayed and pouted and for 4 months nothing lifted.

I dreaded the beginning of the new year, I didn’t want to start it that way, I wanted an ending more than I wanted a new beginning.

I watched a lot of Netflix, unable to laugh but aware that what I was watching was funny. I’d say things to myself about wishing I could do that, frustrated I couldn’t, unsure if it was because of how depressed I felt or because I never really believed in myself enough to try.

I don’t even know what it was, other than knowing something had to change, as I had every reason in the world to be happy but wasn’t. I decided to do something I always wanted to do but was too afraid to do. I decided to sign up for Improv classes, except they were full. I noticed a Stand Up class, terrified of the notion, but feeling terrified at least made me feel something. Depression thrives in our comfort zones.

Desperate for change and in need of something to make me feel, I signed up for classes in January of 2017. I almost dropped out day one because everyone was funny and I was intimidated. But I made myself go back the next week. My teacher told me I had something special, which oddly enough, terrified me.

I realized I tend to want to just get by, do enough to make it look like I’m doing a lot, but not enough to actually take big risks, try hard things or even allow myself to be really good at them. People wouldn’t know, but I know. I tend to tone down JJ for the sake of making people comfortable, or at least to keep any expectation off my back of being better than I was before. Maybe it’s me I’m trying to keep comfortable. It’s lame, but it’s true.

I almost didn’t go back the third week because I didn’t know if I could be as good as I was the second week, but I began to learn it wasn’t so much about being good as it was just being true to yourself and having fun.

I began to just enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it instead of trying to become the next Gilda Radner. I think depression creeps in when I’m trying to be someone I’m not, when I’m hiding in my comfort zone, or when I forget that the little things matter, like doing something just because it makes me laugh. Or eating the cookie dough before you bake it.

And then, there was this…

After a few weeks into my second session of classes, I got to be an opener at The Comedy Store in La Jolla.

I’m not saying life is all better now and the dark days are gone. Truth be told, today is Good Friday and it has a reputation of being a really dark day, which was the case for me. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t still good moments, ones that make me feel really alive, even if only for 10 minutes… it’s totally worth it.

The little things matter, so does each little minute, and that’s enough to keep me going.

The story isn’t over, Sunday’s coming.

really living

I watched a girl run back and forth from the ocean as it washed up on shore and retracted back. If you were to just see her and her alone you would think she was playing with the ocean’s edge. If you were to zoom out you would see another girl filming her, over and over again, trying to get just the right look for the picture or the video or whatever they were uploading to social media.

I watched them “do over” the picture multiple times, wondering what the caption would say, probably something to the effect of “playing at the ocean’s edge,” or “so happy to be at the beach.” The funny part to me in all of this was that neither seemed to be true. The girl wasn’t playing with the ocean’s edge, she was repeatedly trying to get the perfect looking picture. And I’m not so sure they were happy to be at the beach because they barely noticed it due to looking at their phones the entire time I watched them, even while they were walking. The vastitude of the ocean lay restless beside them and they barely noticed until they wanted it in the picture.

I got frustrated watching them. I got frustrated because they weren’t really living but giving the impression to someone somewhere that they were. I thought about the people who follow them on Instagram or Facebook who see the pictures of them “enjoying” the beach and wondered if those people would be jealous or feel lame for not adventuring out like them. I thought of people being jealous of a false reality and I got frustrated. I got frustrated because I know I’m one of those people who sees other people’s pictures and think I need to do more with my life, now wondering if those people really live out what they post or if they just repetitively try to get the perfect shot to make it look like they are really living.

I got frustrated too because the honest truth is, I have been one of those people who posts a false reality. It’s not malicious or intentional, it’s just too cool of a shot and I want to be admired for it. So perhaps when I got frustrated with those girls, I also got frustrated with myself. There is grace for them and there is grace for me, but I don’t want to abuse that grace by continuing the false reality.

I love capturing life, but it’s easy to get too caught up in capturing it that you begin posing it instead of living it. I want to really live and hopefully capture some memories along the way, not miss out on life happening around me because I’m trying too hard to get the perfect picture.

I went for a walk on the beach and I picked up sea shells. I stared at the water and the shells in my hand. I dug my feet in the sand and wrote words with my toes. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I took a picture in my mind. The water sparkled and I smiled, not because there was a camera but because I was really living.