Tag Archives: the memory palace

red balloon alexandra wrote autism speaks cancer

I don’t believe there is a reason for everything. There are events, things that can’t be made sense of, that simply defy reason. I don’t believe in reasons for some things.

But signs. I believe in signs. Good ones. Like hummingbirds. And Friday the 13ths. And red balloons. I believe in red balloons. Like this one I saw float away from the Rose Bowl on Saturday, at the Autism Speaks 5K.

You could say that it was a red balloon that brought me to the blogosphere.

I’ve told the story more than once, but here’s the Reader’s Digest Condensed (ish) Version:

Summer 2010: I read online about a call for artists. An art auction to benefit the Gulf Spill cleanup. A blogger’s words to inspire an artists’s work. I was a magazine editor, a writer and photographer.

I email: are non-blogger artists welcome?

This is how I met BlogHer.

I’m sent a few sentences by someone I do not know. Powerful words. I style an inspiration board, a photo collage-style I do often, using the words of the unknown blogger, tacked alongside things I believe in: cookie fortunes, quotes typed on 3×5 cards, tutus, Kodachrome slides, ballet flats, sequins. A photo of a red balloon.

I tack things to the board, rearrange them once, twice, place the red balloon in a corner. The red balloon about life. About a life. About loss. About cancer.

Note to Self by alexandrawrote

Note to Self, by alexandrawrote (featuring words by Edenland)

I send the photo file off. I go to see the blog from which the words came. I see familiar words I don’t want anyone to recognize: B-Cell Follicular Aggressive Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

This was how I met my friend Eden.

The cancer Eden’s husband survived took the life of my beautiful cousin about 8 months prior. I’d carried that balloon in memory of her in the LLS Light the Night Walk. What had meant something only to me in that collage took on a whole new meaning. Our collaborative art project took on a new meaning (and wouldn’t be the last one).

I don’t believe cancer happens for a reason. But I believe in red balloons. I believe in their ability to defy gravity. I believe in their ability to fly.

Sunday, while editing photos from the walk, I saw the photo I had snapped of the red balloon leaving Los Angeles for some unknown destination.

Then had an email from Look Good Feel Better, and, well, you know…signs.

The Look Good Feel Better campaign has a simple, powerful, beautiful mission: to help women living with cancer feel beautiful. I love that. When they asked if I might post this video, I was all over it.

I love that while we fight to find treatment and cures for cancers like B-Cell Follicular Aggressive Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, we can also help women feel a bit more like themselves in the midst of treatments that often steal from them the familiar face they used to see. The ‘them’ they used to know. The energy they used to know. The ease with which they took some things for granted, like my cousins did in scooping up her babies in her arms.

My cousin was still the same talented, fabulous woman when her long, dark tresses were replaced with beautiful headscarves. She looked chic with her Jean Seburg hair. But these choices weren’t ones she made. They were made for her. By cancer.

From LA to NY, I didn’t get to spend as much time my cousin, her magically musical husband and their beautiful babies as much as I wanted to. We emailed a lot. We sent snail mail. The last thing I ever sent were a pair of ballet flats, a Liberty-esque print. I have a thing for ballet flats as anyone who knows me is well aware. Why send flowers when you can send shoes? Floral ones.

I remember a note that said something about stopping to smell the flowers, or tiptoeing through them or something light and silly because sometimes we needed to be light and silly. The shoes were pretty. Cancer is not. So, I sent a little bit of pretty.

She told me she loved them, though I don’t know how much she got to wear them. When I bought them I imagined seeing her wearing them in person the next year. But the next year didn’t come.

The following autumn at the Light the Night Walk I carried two balloons – one in her memory, the other in honor of Eden’s husband. I wish I’d worn floral shoes.

Please watch this video from the Look Good Feel Better campaign, and learn more about the cause by visiting them online, on Facebook and twitter.

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master class

JAZZ HANDS, 1983

We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else. – Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I had an email yesterday informing me that auditions were open for a Master Class with a director I knew long ago. My acting career was short lived. Actually, if there is a descriptive that falls between short-lived and nonexistent, I believe it would be more fitting. I haven’t acted since college, but by the age of fourteen, I certainly knew I didn’t want to do it professionally. And I have that director to thank for it.

From as early as I can remember, I loved to perform. Sing “Happy Birthday” to me in a restaurant and I’d hide beneath the tablecloth, but standing on stage before a hundred people I’d happily sing, act or dance. Looking back at a long gone Disney show I was on a few episodes of with my grandmother, I’m surprised to see I didn’t play to the camera. At five, I was more comfortable in front of a camera than I am now. In a tutu or sporting jazz hands, above.

The summer before high school, I spent my second year at a Shakespearean drama camp I loved. We had improv and dance classes, stage combat, fencing and costume making. Most of the kids there had parents in the industry, below- and above-the-line. Maybe their parents, like mine, felt it was fine and well if we wanted to join the family circus, but first you had to study. I mean, this was the sort of place where one sent their six-year-olds to play Pyramus and Thisbe instead of making lanyards and swimming all day.

Each summer season ended with a performance of various scenes from Shakespeare’s works in the great amphitheater nestled in the canyon. Initially, I was disappointed when I was cast as Gertrude in Hamlet – at fourteen I wanted to play Ophelia or Juliet or Kate. The Prince of Denmark’s mother? Not so much. Yet I took my director’s words to heart, the gravity and the burden of telling Laertes that his beloved sister, Ophelia, was dead. I would practice my lines in the early evenings, pacing around our swimming pool. (I didn’t see the irony then.)

One day during rehearsal, we had a guest. An actress and director, she of the Master Class. She was the head of the theatre company that held the camp. For whatever reason, on this particular day, I decided to reblock my entrance. It just seemed right that I should come through one doorway instead of the other. My director asked what I was doing. The visiting director was livid. And deservedly so. Who was I to reblock my entrance? I didn’t have an answer for her. I was mortified. Too embarrassed to cry. She said, You’re an actress, not a director. And in that moment, I realized I wanted to be on the other side of the stage. I thought my entrance was better through door number two. It wasn’t my place to make that decision, but I wanted it to be.

I began high school that fall, and I began to write with a new sense of excitement and purpose. I wanted what was on the page to come to life. That moment of shame was a gift in disguise. It saved my parents years of tuition studying drama at Yale for naught. (Humor me. I was fourteen. I thought anything was possible.)

I grew up hanging around sets and cutting rooms, seeing all the hurry up and wait of making movies, and yet, I loved nothing more than reading a script and seeing those words come alive on stage and screen. I loved the words. Loved watching people transform into the characters on the page. I realized I didn’t want to play those roles as much as I wanted to create them. Blocking entrances as I deemed fit.

I deleted the email. I wasn’t interested in the workshop. I took her Master Class that summer afternoon years ago, and it had made all the difference. xo a.