Oh, hello there
This hiatus from The Sparrow’s Song has been a challenging one for me. I made every excuse to just let it go, the idea has run its course, all of the things that made sense to stop the entire project came into my mind while I wasn’t working on it. The truth is that the more I made the excuses to walk away, the more I found a reason to find my way back. But how? I had a few interviews that have not been published and a lot of interest from people who wanted to be interviewed. It was still missing the connection I was originally inspired by when I created this space. I brainstormed and stared at a blank document page over and over trying to find the words and the inspiration. Writer’s block and imposter syndrome continued to win - but I had an idea that took me a while to formulate how to put into action. What if I organized an ‘event’ of sorts, which encouraged genuine conversation, vulnerability, and holding space for others? How would that come together? Who would I ask? Would it even create the vibe and ‘story’ I was envisioning?
As I thought about this a few faces kept coming to mind over and over around my table - and the Who started to present itself and the How shortly came after. All of it lead me to a group of people who Welcomed us Home after our fire in 2015. A group of people I have been friends with for decades. A group of friends who come together in times of need and in times of celebration, that still has Christmas Caroling parties - I refer to them as my ‘Theater/Music Friends’ from High School. There are so many memories, so much history, that this idea and concept seemed to match this group perfectly.
Friendship that spans decades is a rare, beautiful, and special thing - but do these people really know you, as you are in the here and now? That is what I put to the test creating a safe space where we could also hold space for each other while we answered random questions in front of each other. It’s easy to recognize friendships made early in our lives, they hold secrets and bonds made in our formative years - but do they really grow with us? Or do they keep us reverted to our past selves when we are around each other? The roll we play in these relationships are usually born from who we are comfortable being when we are around each other - but is that who we actually are? I finally asked the group if they would be interested and it worked out that 6 people could attend. I am excited to introduce them to you since this resulted in me getting to know my friends all over again. We were together for 6 hours on January 15th 2023, and everyone answered 2 questions each. The format that this post will read in is different than you are used to, as this was not a normal interview or experience.
TW: Chronic Illness, Terminal Illness, Early childbirth/NICU stays, Suicidal thoughts, Mental Illness, Trauma
As everyone arrives Stephanie takes portraits of her friends and seats are taken at the table. One friend is late creating an energized atmosphere as time passes before we start. Everyone is present and Stephanie introduces the project and conversation instructions.
Stephanie Coiro, 33: “When it is your turn to answer, draw a question from the bowl. If you draw something you do not connect with, or feel uncomfortable answering, you are absolutely allowed to draw again. Pass the question you’d like to answer to me, and I will read it to you and record your answer. I will be taking notes, and maybe even take some candid photos while we are speaking. Everyone else at the table will listen as you each answer your questions - no responses, just holding space for you as you take your own space answering. This is about being heard, and hearing our friends while evaluating what mask you may wear in this group, and if you are able to let that go. Now, reach under your seats, whoever has the yellow shovel taped there goes first.”
Laughter ensues as the instructions are accepted and everyone searched for under their seats.
Jon prevails with the small shovel, and we get started.
SC: “Tell us a [funny] story or memory you have that doesn’t involve anyone in this room.”
Jonathan Wibben, 33: "Hmmmm….."
He struggles with the ‘funny’ part of this prompt, because the first person who came to mind to talk about is Rick Holmes, a Pillar of the Kings Park community that we just lost. Rick’s memorial service and wake was held the Friday before this Sunday gathering. He has been on everyone’s minds, especially since he was a big part of the Theater and Music life at the High School. Honestly, Rick ran the show for stage crew, lighting, all of it for all of us kids, and his passing has had such a huge impact on us. So, as the moderator I let the ‘funny’ descriptor slide and allowed Jon the floor to process. Jon described being a freshman at band camp, lost at a new school, he found Rick, a custodian, and asked him for directions. Later Jon found out that Rick was so touched with the fact that Jon spoke to him like anyone else, not like an invisible part of the school, and referred to him as a ‘special kid’. What stood out the most is that this first encounter lead to a respect that Rick would hold for Jon all throughout his time at KPHS. Jon missed his audition for the senior musical, Godspell, and director Ryan Flatt was pretty disappointed and angry. Jon at the time was concerned for his girlfriend and his phone call with her took him away from the audition, Jon now knows how that was problematic on the surface but at that moment in his life it was a pressing issue that needed his attention. Rick Holmes went to bat for Jon, convincing Flatt to let him audition. It cost Jon the lead role in the end, but he still got a main part with his friends during the last musical of his high school career. Recently Jon had regrettably fallen out of touch with Rick, but he has never forgotten him, and he has always been grateful for his acquaintance. This integrity and mutual respect really helped lay the groundwork for Jon as a director and a teacher, all because one lost kid needed help finding his way to the field for camp.
An awkward silence falls when the answer concludes due to the fact that Jon went first so snaps are held all around. The bowl of questions is passed onto the next person, our friend Peter.
SC: “What is the one thing you would change about your current reality? Why aren’t you making it happen?”
Peter Mastrocquinque. 32: “I would have taken more risks” he starts, referencing his career path as the top example of that statement. Peter is a Director in the Digital Rights Administration for Universal Music Group and alludes to the fact that maybe he would have pushed himself to explore the performing aspects of the arts (since he does work for the business side of things). The advice he was given while finding his footing was that if you want to pursue the arts, you have to give it 1000%, and Peter didn’t think he had that type of commitment for it. Truthfully, he works to live, he doesn’t live to work, and likes how his career affords him that balance. This job also lead him to his wife, Stephanie, and that fact alone reminds him that he made a great decision - but if he had to answer what he would change, he would have considered/taken more risks. The arts are always there as a hobby, but what holds him back is being out of practice/not knowing if he has ‘the chops’ - regardless he is aware that it is an option if he ever wanted to step back in. It’s the constant hustle that he knows he doesn’t want, and that he is ok with not having in his current every day, which keeps him satisfied in his choices.
A direct, and simple answer filled the room and had us looking at our friend in a higher esteem, him sharing that observation of his life, yet concluding in a good place felt complete - and the honesty was real. Everyone in that room knows how talented Peter is, after all, these are my ‘theater/music’ friends. The bowl is then passed to Lauren, my friend who has been very anxious about this gathering. Lauren plays her hand to her chest - she reaches in and the first question she pulls wells her eyes with tears.
SC: “If you could talk to a different version of yourself, past or future, what would you say?
Lauren Thorp, 33: “Buckle Up” She chokes out through now streaming tears, she is obviously talking to her past self with this statement. Lauren breathes out “Be patient, don’t be afraid of the future, stop focusing on your mortality, stop being ‘strong’. Lauren was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2020 and soon after became pregnant with her twin boys who were delivered via emergency C Section at 26 weeks. After 3 months in the NICU the boys came home, where they have been for a year and are thriving. This question is loaded, and we all know it, especially for her. She then takes a breath and gets out the statement that her life is completely different than she ever pictured. “Fuck this question” she laughs. The humor deflection is noted but welcomed, and the complexity of explaining to your past or future self just what is happening in the present is heavy. She tells herself to enjoy her youth more, and her future self that she’s going to accept more self care, and more help, to set herself up for success. After more tears and pauses she says to all versions of herself, "Anyone who tells you that God sends their hardest battles for their strongest soldiers can ‘suck a ….. I did NOT sign up for the war."
[There are days where Lauren wakes up unable to walk or talk but the majority of her friends don’t know the severity of her diagnosis or symptoms because she is constantly putting on a brave/strong front. Her breakthrough shifted the energy, everyone was seeing Lauren for the first time behind the mask she chooses to wear. A pause was granted, hugs were given, before moving onto the next friend at the table.]
After an emotional peak the energy settles as the bowl of questions is passed across the table to Brandon. Jokes about the shovel being passed are made as well, just in case we need help ‘digging deep’
SC: “Is there something that you have dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
Brandon Hardy, 32: After some thought his answered echoed that it isn’t so much that he isn’t doing the things we wants to do, it’s becoming the person he wants to be. Brandon describes that one of his ultimate goals was to work on sets for Broadway, and that happened right after college for him. He was hired to design and build sets for The Addams Family on Broadway, which was incredible, but came with the self awareness that maybe he wasn’t quite ready for this to happen so soon. Really the inner reflection posed the choice of saying no, and never knowing what could have been, or saying yes - potentially failing and it would be worse than saying no. He said yes, learned a lot of lessons in the process, but achieved something he didn’t think would be in reach so early in his career. Because Brandon took the express train to this big dream, he had to check his inner compass. “Figuring out who I am is like a math problem I am set out to solve, but I keep getting distracted by side quests and I am evaluating if that is bringing me closer to, or further away from the person I want to become.” Brandon concludes this answer with more of the message that he may be doing the things, but he is trying to figure out which of the things will bring him closer to himself, and what new goals could lie ahead.
Snaps are given, a sense of hope and levity come through as the questions are now passed to Emily
SC: “What has been on your mind lately?”
Emily Caladriello, 34 She immediately starts with some vocal runs and then puts words to thoughts -“So…..lately, as of December….”
Emily lets us into a series of events that unfolded late 2021 into 2022. It all started with a panic attack on December 18th 2021 and because of the Omicron spike, they were afraid to go to the hospital. Emily had no idea what was happening when it first hit her, and later on learned that she had a panic attack and it lead to a series of events that caused her to stop sleeping. Her body became used to functioning on 1 maybe 2 hours of sleep and that lead her to have a hypomanic episode. “Lately on my mind has been a lot of flashbacks and PTSD” Last January the insomnia and mania became so bad that two trips to the hospital did happen, even with the anxiety surrounding it, “I needed help, I really needed help” Emily goes from misty eyed to strong voiced through her entire sharing. She concludes that she is on medication but had a bad reaction to one prescription which was scary. Emily now has a system that is working for her but still has no diagnosis. “Honestly it was so hard, and it still brings on an emotional response for me, but because I went through that.- I feel like I can get through anything.” Even with that feeling of triumph there is still an uncertain feeling about her future. “Can I be a mother with this anxiety?” She shares, genuinely afraid of the mistrust her brain and body have given her over the past year. And with all of that hardship and challenge being true, she also lives in the fact that she survived something she never even thought would happen to her.
A heavy silence passes as everyone struggles not to respond in the moment. A shift is being felt as Jae takes the bowl of questions as the last person in the round who will answer. Holding space has almost been easy for everyone - listening, absorbing, but now that the rawness is really being shown, the bonds everyone shares is coming to the surface. Jae pulls their question and passes along to me
SC: “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the last year?”
Jae Hughes, 34: With projection - they start “Ok, 2 things:”
- “I have suffered with ADHD my whole life, undiagnosed but it was alluded to in my childhood and was never pursued by the people in control of things at the time” Jae seems frustrated and relieved all at once when describing how they’ve been searching for answers for what seems like their entire existence. “Why am I holding myself back?” was a question they toiled with into adulthood and so much self doubt could have been prevented if they were given the tools to figure this out earlier in their life. So right now, Jae is learning and unlearning habits to help them propel forward in their life. While it doesn’t define them, it’s a new part of things to walk with - and Jae is learning how not to be so hard on themselves.
- “Go after what you want.” We as people hold ourselves back from so many experiences because of things like self doubt, and Jae is no stranger to that. There is always someone with more experience, better connections, or even more talented. Jae fell in love with StarKid and one day saw they were calling for a non-binary character. They tried to talk themselves out of it so many times, but decided “What’s an Instagram DM actually going to do?” Worst case scenario they would be ignored, but the best case scenario happened - and Jae became a part of the project for a group that they were a fan of. It’s surreal, when we let ourselves ask for what we want, and ultimately see it come through. “I can’t do anything else but be happy in my life” they conclude their answer with.
When Jae finishes up I break a rule, and directly respond to Emily and Jae. My position here is cumbersome, I love these individuals as friends, and I am taking notes and observations, but my human nature gets in the way as I share my own mental health struggles with Emily and allow her into the reality that not all moms have their shit together all of the time, and that’s ok. Lauren chimes in too - that you don’t have to be perfect to be a Mom, but talking about it, and self awareness is what leads to succeeding in those roles with whatever burdens we bear. So much of modern Motherhood is misunderstood, because we as a community share the ugly bits and take accountability for our behaviors and emotions - which is a really positive thing. I look at Jae and commiserate also - which leads to a round of group hugs, with me holding Emily as we open up further about the dark parts of our brains, and how we survived them. The hard part of finding the right medication for depression or anxiety (as prescribed by professionals if that is what is best for you) is that it comes with the risk of harsh side effects, like thoughts of Suicide, and if you are reading this, and experienced that - you are not alone. Help is out there, and please, talk about it.
We all absorb that extra release. The entire time I was finding where I belonged as the organizer and moderator and I used my voice to direct conversation but also comfort during the transition of answers - now, all bets are off as the emotional walls crashed down between everyone. There is a pause, a side conversation, and a shake off as we look around at each other with pride, because these questions had us all on a journey with each other that we probably did not expect. It is agreed upon that another go-around should happen.
Drinks are refreshed, bodies are stretched, and the bowl of questions is passed back to Jon. He reaches in, lands on a question he likes, and passes it to me.
Act 2 will be released Wednesday, January 25th