Back in April 2020, as COVID was ravaging our world’s self-concept, I turned to Facebook for connection, information, and entertainment (shame on me, but I digress…). I had been creating singing videos (I was actually a singer in another life). Teaching high school dance, theatre and PE tends to wreak havoc on the vocal cords, and since I wasn’t actively destroying my voice in a studio, gymnasium or auditorium, it had started to heal and I re-discovered a passion that I hadn’t been able to fully enjoy for a long time. Over the years, I kept thinking, well, I guess I have to make a choice – teaching or singing. The lockdown and ensuing “virtual instruction” was a blessing and curse for so many reasons, and my vocal recovery was one of the blessings.
So, I would find songs, ask for requests, sing them and post them on Facebook. It seemed to make people happy – I would get some lovely feedback and I’d learn that people would share them on their pages, which made me happy. One of those people was a former Spring Valley dance student, Mona, who has created a beautiful life and family for herself since graduating high school. I was thrilled that she was interested – not only was she finding happiness in my posts, but she was spreading that around. On one of the posts, she wrote, My high school dance teacher…. still inspiring 10 years after graduation. That alone gave me the feels.
But what made it even better was that HER friend, Kelly, took interested as well. Kelly asked if Mona’s former teacher would be interested in sharing her teaching stories. Mona’s former teacher said that she would. A new connection was born. I messaged Kelly, to inquire. She told me that she has a publication called the Strong Women Project Magazine, where she promotes stories of personal struggle and how women overcome them to live their fullest lives. Mona said I’d be perfect for the project and she lamented how she didn’t think of this connection sooner. I immediately thought of my unpublished memoir, and how I wanted to start sharing my story beyond my laptop screen. Maybe this was could be a jump start for my own “next steps.” After all, I can see the retirement finish line and I am starting to think, what’s next?
Of course, as always, I was cautious. I have always been a little risk-averse, especially with sharing things that I work hard on to create. I wasn’t sure if I could trust a stranger with my unpublished thoughts. I messaged Mona to do a little intel, to find out how she knew Kelly, if my work was safe to share with her. She gave me the green light, and I decided to move forward.
I am thankful I did. Kelly proved to be a powerful connection – not in the publishing sense, but in my journey to figure out my “next steps.” The active pursuit to share my story was one that I needed to start, but was always afraid to start. Until now.
I sent Kelly the manuscript of my memoir and she chose a chapter to include in the publication. Turns out, I would be the Featured Artist in the Strong Woman Project – Project 5. That was new to me, in a very lovely way. I felt pride, encouragement, and a boost of confidence that a total stranger found part of my story worthy enough to share. Each SWP issue is a work of art. Kelly is an extraordinary visual artist with a keen eye for connecting her subject with their stories, and I was proud to be included in her vision of a “strong woman.”
Fast forward about 6 weeks. George Floyd, time warp connection to Julie, write a play, collaborate on the conception of The Give Back Experience, make a Facebook group, secure a website, design a logo, write an anthem, get the word out. Pledges of support are pouring in for this new organization, still in its infancy. Julie had taken the idea and RUN with it – started off sprinting, actually, since the accelerated timeline seemed to require that. Then, from out of nowhere, I get a message from Kelly…
Me giving back…Would you and Julie like a photo session so you have photos for your website?
I immediately messaged Julie with the news. Somehow, it felt even more real now. Someone (other than Julie, the historian) would be taking pictures of us because of the idea that we had and that Julie was running with. She was in. It was time for a pandemic road trip to the Grand Bank in Wilkes Barre, PA with my brand-new friend and thought-partner. The insanity ensued.
The photo shoot was…spectacular and weird. I hadn’t been officially photographed since getting my headshots in my 20s when I was trying to be an actress. Now, someone wanted to take my picture for a REASON. For something IMPORTANT. Julie and I rambled on about how we came to be (another story in another post, perhaps) and Kelly listened and clicked, listened and clicked. She was entertained by our banter, our magic, and we left encouraged that we’d have some fabulous pics to look over.
Kelly also asked us to participate in a shoot for her 2021 SWP calendar, highlighting stories of how women overcome personal struggles. I, of course, am happy to oblige and look forward to playing calendar model next month. I hope this is just the beginning of a beautiful artistic collaboration. Stay tuned!!