Low Hanging Fruit … A Play by Robin Bradford

JulianGreen_JessicaWaldman-Photo_by_MarioParnellPhotography

I’m excited to have the opportunity to see and review a play next month, and I thought I’d share a preview with you here from the press release for the event.

Low Hanging Fruit

3Girls Theatre Company (3GT) presents the San Francisco premiere of Bay Area-based playwright, Robin Bradford’s Low Hanging Fruit, which tells the compelling story of four homeless women struggling to survive on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. All military veterans, the women face nightmares brought on by their combat experiences and cluster together for quasi-safety in a small tent encampment they’ve nicknamed “The Taj Mahal.”

Low Hanging Fruit is a response to the dramatic rise in homelessness among women who have served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The play focuses on the aftermath of war as seen through the lives of four homeless women veterans struggling to survive on the streets of LA. The term “Low Hanging Fruit” refers to a person that can be persuaded or manipulated with little effort, suggesting that the individual is on the bottom, the easiest to reach.

Interspersing traditional dialogue with slam poetry and music, Bradford’s play catapults the audience from the present lives of the homeless characters into the devastating memories of their lives as soldiers. The play draws our attention to the shameful treatment of our returning vets and more specifically to the returning women, who are not often the subject of post war dramas. Living in a tent encampment under a freeway in LA are: Cory (Heather Gordon), a lesbian with physical as well as emotional battle scars; Maya (Livia DiMarchi), a Latina poet who dreams of a better life; Yolanda (Cat Brooks), an African American prostitute, drug addict, always looking for her next “hit’;” and Alice (Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel, reprising her role from the LA production), an African American mother hen who watches carefully over her brood.

These women have created their own encampment under the freeway with a handmade cardboard sign that reads “Taj Mahal.” Shared military experiences equals trust in their world, and they respect one another enough to exist semi-peacefully. That is, until Cory befriends a 14 year old runaway named Canyon (Jessica Waldman) and invites the girl to stay with them at the Taj Mahal. This immediately tests relationships, pushes boundaries, and raises painful memories. Cory, in particular, who is desperate to make a lasting connection with Canyon, relates a story of war that is truly horrifying, involving not only foreign enemies, but also a commanding officer, thus shedding a light on the vile treatment that some women have faced in the military.

The play doesn’t try to explain why these veterans are homeless: it’s simply a fact given our society’s acceptance of homelessness in America. There isn’t outrage, no character rallies against the poor treatment of the returning women soldiers, but rather they accept it. It is this acceptance that makes the biggest statement. Watching these women struggle, fight, and cling to some kind of hope for themselves, we are watching the reality that perhaps no one cares, or cares enough. In the absence of societal action, these women draw strength, love, and empathy from each other.

As the play moves forward, and each character is faced with possible life changes, whether it’s Cory’s budding relationship with Canyon or Maya’s hope for getting off the streets and taking her friends with her, “Low Hanging Fruit” never relents from its central message: there is always hope, even when it seems the world doesn’t care. After serving in combat, too many of our veterans return home with varying degrees of trauma and literally fall through society’s cracks. This play seeks to open up conversations about what happens after we say “thank you for your service.”

The play premiered in LA in 2014 and went on to present month-long runs in North Carolina in 2015 and Michigan in 2016. It plays at Z Below in San Francisco from 7/6/16 – 7/30/16.

Community Nights

I am thrilled to see that there are community nights associated with this event. Four different organizations will be featured, so people attending the play on those nights (each Thursday, at 6:45 pm) can learn more about our important local San Francisco organization. There will be donations accepted for these organizations throughout the run of the play; they aren’t asking for money but instead for the things they really need to support the community.

Thursday, July 7                   North Beach Citizens, requesting new socks / underwear and other gently used clothing

Thursday, July 14                 Compass Family Services, requesting hygiene products

Thursday, July 21                San Francisco Suicide Prevention, requesting tea

Thursday, July 28                 Coalition on Homelessness, requesting blankets, socks and diapers

Play Schedule

July 6 – July 30, 2016

Previews: Wednesday, July 6 and Thursday, July 7 @ 8pm

Opening Night: Friday, July 8 @ 8pm

Thursdays and Fridays @ 8pm

Saturdays @ 2pm and 8pm

Saturday July 30 ONLY @ 2pm

Sundays @ 2pm

TICKETS

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Ups, Downs, Extremes … Balance? (The Confusion of Losing an Online Friend)

The last post that I wrote here on this blog was about Riding Full Circle Through Depression with my sister, a post about how I felt, in a way, like I had conquered my own battle with depression just a little bit because of a success I had in accomplishing a posse end goal of wanting to go horseback riding on the beach.

Shortly after I wrote that, I came online to discover that a good Internet friend of mine, someone who also battled severe depression and whose journey was not so dissimilar from my own, succumbed to suicide this week. My initial reaction to the news was a mixture of shock, sadness and fear (which I wrote about here).

As the days have gone on, I’ve continued to have a wide range of emotions. Life feels filled withe extreme news right now, in both good and bad directions, and there are moments where I feel like I’m in the middle of that achieving balance but most of the time it’s swelling clearly one way or the other.

This difficult news came during a week or so of other difficult news from other places around my life. I want to keep the details private because the stories are not my own to share; they are hard experiences of death, illness, sickness and life changes that are affecting some of the people closest to me in my life. Good friends, my beaux, people I love are being impacted by really tough things in life. It seems like it’s happening all around me right now.

All of those things are affecting me, as I pull to the center and hold the stillness for some of these people. But Wink’s suicide affected me, personally, in a strangely more direct way. I say strangely because I didn’t know Wink “in real life” but had communicated with her periodically over the past several years online after interviewing her about her experience with Asperger’s, loneliness and severe depression for my book, Crochet Saved My Life. Even when we weren’t communicating directly, I was abreast of many things happening with her through social media and blogging. She felt, in a way, like a close friend, and in another way like someone I didn’t know at all and that’s brought up a lot of strange feelings in and of itself. Those feelings are complicated by the fact that we specifically met and connected over the topic of depression, a journey that we’ve both been taking for many years.

I wrote on my crochet blog about these feelings (linked above) and received so many responses this week from people who are also feeling similar things. Many, many people are saying that they are experiencing grief over losing Wink and they don’t quite know how to place it since they “only” knew her online. Our society doesn’t have a good way of understanding or handling the impact of this type of loss yet. Many have said that they don’t feel like their families understand why they are crying and devastated over losing an Internet friend. There’s a sense of isolation.

So, so many of these people have shared their own stories with me (on my blog, in my Ravelry group, through other social media channels and in private emails) about how depression has affected them. Many have said that they were suicidal in the past, some that they are struggling with suicidal ideation now (note, please seek the support that you need if you are feeling this way – reach out to friends, family, crisis hotlines or even the ER). Others have shared their stories about people in their own lives who have caved to suicide.

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It’s been hard, in a way, to read about all of this struggle and sadness. And in another way, it’s been so incredibly uplifting to see the crochet/ craft/ online community come together to give each other support in this time. So many people have reached out to me, left comments on the blog post by Wink’s sister and connected to each other to encourage one another and express their feelings about this loss. I had known immediately that I wanted to do something to honor Wink and channel my many complex feelings while helping the community so I created the #MandalasForMarinke project and it’s gotten tons of amazing support already. I hope it’s helping people as an outlet to craft through their feelings and I hope it will achieve my aim of raising awareness about the difficulty of depression.

This is just one of several amazing things on the positive side of the spectrum of emotions. Another is that I just got accepted to be a Text Crisis Counselor (like a hotline but via text; see video below for more info on how this helps people).

Apparently only one third of the applications this round got accepted so that’s an honor and I’ve started my intensive training for that this week. It’s a great next step for me in terms of giving back to the community, helping others experiencing mental health and other crisis issues and figuring out what I want to do with my own graduate degree as I move forward. In addition to these things, there’s been other great news in the lives around me, touching the people I love.

So there are these extremes – of loss and sadness and of growth and connection. In the big spectrum of life, this creates balance and I get glimpses of this balance in moments during the day. But in such quick back-to-back succession, these extremes are in deep contrast to each other and can feel overwhelming in some moments. I’m grateful to have the community support that I have and the internal resources for self-care that I’ve developed over time.

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Riding Full Circle with Sister through Depression

horseback riding

My sister was here last week to visit with me. It’s always so wonderful to have here. My siblings are my best friends and the only thing I’d change about life in San Francisco is that I wish they were here with me. She was only here for a few days but we packed in a lot of lovely experiences together. On her last day here, we went horseback riding down in Half Moon Bay, an experience that pulled me full circle through a tough time.

You see, my sister once did try to live here for a summer, checking out whether or not it was the place for her. It was during the lowest depths of my depression, right before I got diagnosed and got help. I didn’t know what was wrong and I didn’t understand how to cope with depression. It was an awful time. The worst part was that I really wanted to enjoy my sister’s stay, to do fun things with her, to create memories, to celebrate our adulthood together … and I couldn’t.

It’s hard to explain depression from outside of it. We did do things sometimes that summer and sometimes I laughed and had fun. But I often couldn’t do anything. Or I fell apart. I remember one time we went to some kind of comedy day down by Yerba Buena and there were all of these people around, mostly kids, and I just started crying and I couldn’t stop and I felt like I was going to implode. I had to have my sister call my best friend who also didn’t really know what to do for me. I don’t recall how the day ended. Sleep, eventually, I suppose.

Everything just felt hard that summer. On the one hand, my senses were dulled and I couldn’t take pleasure in anything. And on the other hand, my mind was constantly ruminating and producing feelings of anxiety. Everything scared me. I got my first Zipcar rental while she was here and the whole process – figuring out how to get the car, get the gas, drive again after it had been awhile – terrified me and upset me and made me cranky, and snappy, and stressed and then I felt guilty and bad and sad about being cranky and snappy and stressed.

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So that summer, I had suggested that we go horseback riding on the beach. It was something that had been on my “life list” for many years, probably something I saw in a movie or read about in a book that sounded magical and stuck in my mind. My sister thought it was a great idea. But I couldn’t do it. The cost, the drive, the ride … it was all too much. I kept saying we’d go soon and then being upset about it. My sister was fine with it all. She was mildly disappointed that we weren’t going but she’s laidback and was having a good time here on her own anyway, taking art classes and going to festivals and exploring the city. And yet, I felt terrible that I couldn’t take her.

That was six years ago. So before she came to visit me this time, I said that the one thing I wanted to do was to go horseback riding on the beach. I wanted to tie that loose end up into a bow. So we went. And I was a little anxious, because I hadn’t been on a horse in a long time, but I wasn’t debilitatingly anxious. I was fine. Because I am mostly fine now.

We rode an hour on a trail on the bluffs above the ocean then another hour on the beach itself. My horse was too tall, my stirrups didn’t quite feel right and when the mare would gallop I’d get scared enough that I’d have to WHOA her to stop. But I wasn’t petrified. And I wasn’t depressed. And I wasn’t stuck inside of my own head. I was able to look around and see the stunning beauty of the area. The trail wound through some beautiful flowers. And I have to say, riding on the beach actually is as magical as the movies make it seem. The waves crash on to the sand near the horses and you’re up there so tall and you’re part of this magnificent natural beauty in a way that is entirely distinct from standing on the sand on your own.

By the time that the two hour ride was coming to an end, I was definitely ready to be done. I was sore all over. I was tired and hungry. But I was so happy. I knew that it would be a good accomplishment to complete that activity but I didn’t expect to feel as elated inside as I did. It was as though there was this incomplete thing that was still waiting inside me to be done and when we finished the ride it was finally finished and I felt whole. It was like that loose end had been hanging there inside of me all of this time, itching just a little beneath the surface to cause tiny discomfort, and now it’s all tied up and the scratch is gone.

I live with chronic depression. That summer was the worst of it and I’ve gotten steadily better ever since. But I think of my illness like a cancer, with remission and not necessarily cure. It comes back sometimes and I have to be diligent in treating it. In fact, I’ve noticed over the last months that I’m more anxious than I was for awhile, that my downs are a little lower, and I eye that carefully, checking to see if it’s a normal reaction to what’s happening in my life or if it’s something that needs more care. I’m not always healed, but I’m well enough to ride horses on the beach with my sister and love almost every minute of it.

sisters beach

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Families with First Order and Second Order Change

During one of our classes the first weekend of this semester the instructor brought up the common scenario of an adult returning back home and suddenly behaving the same way that s(he) did as a teenager. There were so many understanding nods of agreement in the class, from people I know well enough to know that they often do battle with their families of origin in a way significantly different from how they interact with their chosen families. While I understood the reason for this, and I could recognize that it commonly happens, I didn’t feel it resonate as something that is true for me. I’ve been sitting with that ever since the class, mulling it over, and I reached the “aha” moment when I realized that there has been such a significant shift in our family dynamics over time that our new homeostasis doesn’t match the old homeostasis we were in when I was a kid … so of course I don’t feel like a kid in that home anymore and yet I do fall into a certain role or pattern that is different from how I interact in my other situations in life.

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It’s World Mental Health Day

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“World Mental Health Day is promoted by the World Health Organization to help raise awareness about mental health issues. The day promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and what the world’s governments and health organizations are doing in prevention, promotion and treatment services. This year’s theme is living with schizophrenia.” – PsychCentral

Crochet for Schizophrenia

I’ll have a post up today on Crochet Concupiscence about the ways in which one woman has used crochet as part of her total wellness plan in living with schizophrenia.

A Recent Setback

For my post here, I wanted to talk about depression instead, because that’s what I personally deal with. And I wanted to be open about a setback I had recently that was hugely frustrating and reminded me how difficult it can be to get adequate mental health care when you need it.

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Borderlines (Favorite Quotes)

I recently read Borderlines: A Memoir by Caroline Kraus. This moving book tells the true story of the author’s experience of losing her mother in her early teens and how that grief made her ripe and raw for enmeshment in a mostly platonic relationship with a woman with borderline personality disorder. It’s intense and interesting and sometimes funny.

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I always bookmark my favorite lines that stand out in every book I read. There were a couple from this one:

“Looking back, I see San Francisco as a curious siren. Almost everyone I was about to meet had migrated west for their own vague reasons, following some strange instinct that promised hope. It was a place that seemed ripe with possibility.”

“There is a particular kind of depression of the spirit sometimes associated with the deep introspective stage of transition and change. When this occurs, the Bear is a reminder that there is a prallel between depression and the natural state known as hibernation, when involcvement with the outer world is minimized in order to focus more energy on the inner processes necessary for a successful transition.”

“Memoir is, fundamentally, a literary investigation – a mystery that is cracked by re-creating dialogue and translating settings and action into words. But these are the vehicles to truth and not in themselves the end. There are the facts of this story, and then there is what I make of them. The curved lens of memory adds its angles to the process, shaping every setting, stretch of dialogue, and scene. But the aim of memoir – to transcend personal experience – is a corrective voice to that lens. In the end, the most distilled, captured “truth” is what the author has gleaned, with earnest motivations.”

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Recent Reads: This Fragile Life

One of the books that I read recently was Charlotte Pierce-Baker’s memoir This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son. It’s a wonderful, touching story of what it’s like to be the parent of a young adult diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It wrenches at the heart without being self-pitying, informs without being focused on an educative aim.

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The story has an interesting perspective because Pierce-Baker and her husband are married, affluent, educated African American parents without a knowledge of mental health issues in their family. It addresses the difficulty of seeing her son arrested for drug issues (due to self-medicating the bipolar), the benefits of having money to help with his mental health problems (and the limitations of that) and the hard experience of learning how to help her adult child and when and how to set boundaries.

Her son’s poetry is woven throughout the book. It’s beautiful to see her use his words to share his story in both his voice and hers.

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What I Learned from T-Group

This week I’ve shared a little bit about my T-group experience in grad school including what I learned about holding space and what my initial goals were. Today I just want to wrap that up by sharing the summary that I wrote in my final paper for that grad school course.

kathryn vercillo

In the beginning, I thought that my experience was somehow separate from “the group” experience. I learned in a very deep internal way that it was not. This has taught me a lot about myself, stuff that I think I will be processing for months or even years to come. Now that the group has come to an end, I’m able to look back on the experience with a more objective eye. What I see is that in the beginning of this group I was excited to throw myself into the group experience but I did/ said some things that I can see now were a way of sort of distancing myself from the group. In our early sessions I disclosed that I was having trouble focusing because of medication, which was true and I think it was fine to say that but I can also see that it had the potential of having a distancing impact in that I was admitting to being unable to be fully present in this group at that time.

Additionally, my early stages of self-disclosure were really, I can see now, related to a story I was telling myself about myself and how I don’t really fit into groups or am different from other people. On one of the first days I talked about how I don’t really care what other people think about me. It was a neat experience to hear someone else in the group verbalize that differently for me (adding that I do seem to care about other people’s feelings) and so it was valuable for me to have brought that up. That said, I think that it again could have had the potential of distancing myself from the group. I admitted in a later session that I really do hope that the group is there for me during difficult times and that I do want to be a part of this group but I can see where I continued to have a battle with how much emotional investment I wanted to put into the group. I believe that I did my best to show up and be as present as possible in each session, so I did the work, but it’s interesting to look back and see some of the defense mechanisms that I put in place in those early stages of the group to help protect myself in that way.

I think even towards the end of the group I was doing something similar when I shared that I was having doubts about whether or not I belong in this program. Again, this is also true and was valid and probably important self-disclosure. But in sharing this I do think that what I was doing was in some way saying to the group, “I’m still not sure that I want to be here” and looking for additional confirmation from the group that they do want me to be a part of the group (which I got.)

So what I learned, basically, was that I function well in groups and become an important part of groups but that I sometimes tell myself a story that I don’t quite fit in and therefore implement many different devices that I skillfully hide even from myself to make sure that I don’t get over-invested in a group in a way that might cause me emotional harm. I’m not sure how I could have invested more emotionally into this particular group but I think now that would have been the riskiest thing I could have done. When I was talking about risk-taking, someone else gave me the feedback that he felt that I had taken risks and gave some examples. I agreed that this was a form of that type of emotional risk and getting more involved with the group in that way, which is positive to look back on. In thinking about all of this, it reminds me of the reading we had by Jourard, where it talks about the ways in which we are known and the fourth way is through “the self that is seen through actions in our present-time interactions”, which is of course what T-group was all about. Whether I wanted to or not (though I did), my true self was going to come through in this group setting in some way or another although there is value in being conscious of how that is happening both in that moment and in reflection.

Finally, I learned from this group that there is so much value for me in seeing how other people process their lives, experiences and relationships. One of the other (related) stories that I have been telling myself about myself for too long is that I am somehow broken. I have always felt that I don’t quite do things right or well enough. It was so immensely powerful to me to watch each and every member of the group share how hard various emotional things are for them and how they have “meltdowns” and “breakdowns” and to see them describe these things in ways that are very similar to my own coping mechanisms. Although there are a lot of things about myself that I can solve in my own head, I can’t mirror my own experience. Only others can do that for me. In watching people I respect and admire and can view as role models share their difficulties and their ups and downs I was taught in a very deep way that the things that I am doing in life are just fine the way that I’m doing them. I learned in a deep way through this group experience that I may be unique but that I am not different from others in some broken or maladaptive way. Wow!

 

Reference: Jourard, S. Being Known – Issues in Self-Disclosure.

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My 4 Goals for T-Group

This week I’ve shared a little bit about my T-group experience in grad school including what I learned about holding space. Today I wanted to add to that what I originally set as my four goals or intentions for the group as the group began. To give you some context we met several times for several hours each day over the course of a week, then we had a few weeks break and met again several times also for several hours. These were the goals I initially set.

It's even better than the best frozen yogurt in the city and a New Orleans iced coffee at the same time!

Goal One: Thoughts and Feelings

The first goal I set was to practice associating the feelings in my body with the thoughts in my head, a practice I’ve been working on personally for a couple of years but want to increasingly develop. This relates directly to the T-group goal that says it is “important always to distinguish feelings from thoughts” (Krober and Kahn).

Goal Two: Loving-Kindness

The second was to practice loving-kindness in terms of acceptance of others and to own that when I get irritated with people it tends to be because of something going on in my own mind, not their actions.

Goal Three: Think Before Speaking

To that end, my third goal was to think before speaking, meaning that I really wanted to get fully in touch with myself (both thoughts and feelings) to be sure that I knew where each was coming from before I interjected feedback towards others.

Goal Four: Spontaneity

My final goal, which was to allow myself to be spontaneous, seemed a little at odds with my third goal of thinking-before-speaking but it seemed important to practice spontaneous authenticity while still being generally aware of where most thoughts and feelings arose from as I shared them.

Response/ Feedback

In my initial paper where I shared these goals I got this insightful and helpful comment back from the teacher:

“What the T-Group gives is an opportunity to practice in a deep way being “spontaneously authentic” while still being clear about what we are sharing. This ties into your second goal. As you get better at recognizing your feelings, it is possible to share them spontaneously without directing them “at” someone else, even though you are giving them some feedback (that is to say, sharing with them the impact their behavior had on you.)”

Reference: Krober, T. and Kahn, M. What the T-Group Teaches.

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