Star Spotlight 17: Julie (Mama!)

So, my mom and I. We go way back.

It’s hard for me to even know where to start with my mom. I could wax poetic about her many strengths, and all the ways she’s enhanced my life. I could tell you how things wouldn’t be the same without her (true), how so many inextricable elements of my personality have been shaped by her (also true), how I couldn’t ask for a better birther (also very true). In addition to all of that, however, I’m feeling compelled to “zoom out” a bit: to look at my mom from a more objective viewpoint, rather than all the ways she and I are connected. It is within our connection that I personally find so much sustenance, so much joy, so much fulfillment. But my mom is more than just my mom. She’s a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people, and those too bear naming and celebrating.

Julie is one of the most affirming people I have ever met. She has a way of really listening to people, and combining this with her intuitive understanding of what it is they really want. Usually, at its core, that’s to be seen and heard. Julie knows this, and gives feedback that reflects back specifically what she has witnessed and experienced with someone. This is directly applicable to her work as a theatre director; she’s able to shine a light on everything that’s going well, and gracefully advise as to the areas where work still needs to be done. She has a truly incomparable ability to give compliments in the places that really count.

Julie is an amazing theatre director, but the skill-set her job requires extends far beyond the stage. In some ways, she’s an advisor and coach to so many; a pillar of how to effectively communicate, and to point people where they need to go by giving them the answers. Instead, she teaches by sharing the information that will help others learn, thus helping to cultivate skills that they will take with them even after a theatre production is complete. Yes, most of her work directing is most directly related to giving “stage directions” — but ‘lest we forget, this whole world’s a stage! Through her interactions with her actors and crew, she demonstrates a commitment to her values of respect and compassion, and never compromises her art. She hones in on others talents, and navigates from a space of presence, focus, curiosity, playfulness, and clarity. She is astonishingly hard working, sometimes sacrificing little bits of her sanity (or at least, good nights of sleep) to ensuring whatever production she is involved in will be unwaveringly well-formed, beautifully crafted, and live up to her high artistic standards. Julie is quite an inspiration, and rightfully adored by those lucky enough to work with her.

Julie is deeply caring and empathic. She has a sense of the state of the people around her, and responds to their emotional needs accordingly. She can shape-shift from goofy and gregarious, to subdued and peaceful, depending on the status of the room or those she is corresponding with. She stays true to her authentic nature, but is sensitive enough to gauge the climate; not to bowl over folks with enthusiasm if they are needing consolation, or bring others down if they are wanting to celebrate. Another way to characterize this would be “deep attunement,” which Julie has in droves.

Julie is soulful and quietly spiritual. Her deeply Catholic background informs her life, and though I don’t think she would currently call herself “religious,” I feel a connection in Julie with some greater force. This force sometimes looks like the divine feminine; sometimes like some wild Hawaiian goddess that she pays homage to when hiking on Kauai or Maui; sometimes like Dionysus, patriarch of the theatre; sometimes simply like the vastness of the Puget Sound or the grandeur of Mount Koba. By engaging in quiet ceremony or jubilant song, she honors these energies — I have sweet memories of the ritual she orchestrated to honor the rite of passage of my first menses; she’s also led us tromping through our yard, to sing to the trees and spread wassail. I also see Julie’s understated daily rhythms as forms of meditation and ritual: a walk on the beach, a gentle yoga practice, harvesting and preparing greens from the garden, lighting a candle for dinner each night, a conversation with her sister or husband. I am inspired by the way Julie opens to the wisdom and depth these simple practices bring to her life.

Julie epitomizes what I would call “graceful, grounded melancholy.” She is in touch with her emotions, and allows herself to truly experience them. She has helped me appreciate how amazingly rich a melancholic spirit can be: how honest! How deep, profound, and connected! Sometimes, however, this leads to a magnificent pain. When those around her are hurting — be it people she knows personally, or when there is a state of greater cultural dis-ease, she has a hard time dis-entangling herself, and not carrying around the weight of loved ones, nations, our world. When the hurt surrounding her is strong, I feel it in Julie’s spirit, see it in a sadness that contributes to a forlorn mood and restless nights. Moments like this, I long to rescue her — as I imagine she is longing to rescue whoever she is grieving for. Instead, we both do what we can: hold space, hold each other, call on the strength of family and community and connection.

Speaking of: Julie places a tremendously high value on family. She has stayed in close relationship with her 5 siblings, their families, and her impressively large extended family, and makes a point to keep up on the happenings of their lives. Her capacity to listen so fully comes in handy here; a “listening without agenda” that allows her to be respectful and responsive, and identify areas where support is needed before providing it in whatever way she can. She models a deep commitment to her roots, a willingness to stick with folks even when the times get tough; to provide powerful comfort and warmth and familiarity, and additionally to call on and ask for it when appropriate.

And, this is where I can’t help but get a little personal. My mom, goodness me. I’d be so bold as to say we have a special connection that started forming in the womb (or earlier, depending on what your thoughts on life before birth are). She gave me me my first nourishment, took me on my first adventures, nursed me to health — both literally, and metaphorically — many times. It feels only appropriate that now, 30 years later, my mom and I embark upon a pilgrimage together. We are both in the midst of our Saturn returns (my first and her second), both learning how it feels to be in relationship with ourselves and each other in a renewed way. Our lives look a whole lot different now than they did when I was 1, 5, 10, 20 – heck, a whole lot has changed even since I turned 29! But some things stay the same. The love and affection we share. The ways we have the ability to expose each other’s most confident and most vulnerable parts, alike. Our ability to giggle and cry — in each other’s company, if not always in unison. The ways we practice graceful, respectful communication, but sometimes devolves into a stubborn match of wills and wants and wonts (I’ll take full responsibility for my role in this, thankyouverymuch). Our ability to comfort each other, to be supportive, to provide a safe container to truly be ourselves.

Julie, mama, thank you for you. For your generosity, and for being such an amazing caregiver. For being a GREAT listener: engaged, kind, enthusiastic, and full of valuable quips and advice. For being there, even when I pushed you away, or gave you grief, or made it nearly impossible to love me. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for all you bring to the world.

Please choose a charity for me to make a donation to on your behalf.

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