erin judge writes this

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I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in Los Angeles. Let's hug.

February 14, 2013

like a little prayer

I started my first ever blog in 2003, back when I worked at the Berkman Center. The old Harvard blogware had its quirks, like how any mention of the name "Dave" would automagically hyperlink to this guy. But it was fun to have an outlet, and I wound up hanging around the periphery of the Internet Famous, both online and IRL. In the years that followed, I watched as blogs evolved from Livejournal to Tumblr, from overwrought teen girl angst to meticulously catalogued food diaries to whatever the hell this is. (I call it "Look At This Fucking Ostrich.")

According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial Generation includes those born "after 1980," ergo any time between 1981 and rightnowthisverysecond! That particular delineation makes Yours Truly the Eldest Most Seniormost Millennial (b. January 1981). Despite the fact that I gabbed into a boxy cordless phone all the way through high school, I am somehow nonetheless one of the kids these days. Bieber, Hannah Horvath and me.

And so, perhaps for this generational reason, or perhaps for the aforementioned early-blog-adopter-related reasons, I have of late developed a deep self-consciousness about confessional writing. I still do it, it's just that I usually prefer to wait for somebody to ask me to. Which happens very, very rarely.

I don't operate under the delusion that I am a well-known individual. I'm a comedian and a writer, and I'm fortunate enough to associate with lots of people who have their own Wikipedia pages. Still, I have not been myself for what feels like a very long time. I don't know if any of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers or various blog readers have noticed my absence erratic presence online over the last year or so, and I don't particularly feel like I owe anybody an explanation (except for those NYC comedians whose kind and generous offers of stage time and personal support have not received adequate responses from me). In any event, I do want to explain it, to put something out here, if only to serve as my own record for what occurred that changed and shaped and shifted me during these recent many chaotic months.

Maybe on some level I believe this finally will make it all stop. Maybe I need to do a piece about my Really Shitty Year-Plus because writing about this period in the past tense will at long last put a lid on it, at long last curtail the seemingly endless flow of bad luck, sad vibes, and family tragedy. Maybe it's as simple as I really cannot take any more.

I just want to go back to being okay. I want to be Fun Erin, the good friend and family member who's ready to listen about relationship problems and help out on moving day. I want to be Comedian Erin, the funny and reliable colleague who's a great addition to the line-up and would be perfect for that one role in that new video. I want to be an awesome wife again. I want to feel like myself.

And really, I should just face it: when I'm doing okay, I fucking write about myself on the internet. And talk about myself. And joke about myself. All us kids these days do it. Bieber, Hannah Horvath and me.

So. Here goes. Feel free to stop here. Feel free to read on. Feel free to feel things. I know I will.

*****

My Really Shitty Year-Plus
by Erin

Let me start by saying that lots of wonderful things have happened in my life in the past year and a half. My husband got his dream job, and we moved our primary household to Ithaca, which is staggeringly beautiful and an extremely cool place to live. I recorded and released my first stand-up album, So Many Choices, with the help of Dom Del Bene, the best producer a comedian could ever hope for. I started traveling with the Pink Collar Comedy Tour and co-producing The Afterlife, a weekly NYC show, all with fantastic fellow comedians, and I was very prominently featured at the 2012 Women in Comedy Festival. I cooked lots of delicious food, made a bunch of great friends, and drank Prosecco pretty much whenever the hell I felt like it.

Not long after my husband started his new job, I received a phone call from a member of my intermittently-estranged side of the family informing me that my father had attempted suicide. This was in November of 2011, and the next day I started out on the road to sit on the dais at my good friend Myq's roast at the Boston Comedy Festival. But I couldn't make it all the way there. Depressed and emotionally raw, I turned my car around in Schenectady and headed back to Ithaca. I felt incredibly guilty for not being there at the roast, even though I knew my friends would understand. I hated the feeling that I had to miss out on this especially fun part of this overwhelmingly fun career I'd created for myself. I had no idea how much more missing out there would be in the months to come.

I soon returned to New York City where I was happily performing comedy but miserably working at an especially soul-crushing temp gig. I'd spent lots of time away from my husband, but this two-household thing was a whole fresh bag of worm candy, as they say. I missed him achingly, and we worried about each other all the time.

I finally left that temp gig in February 2012. I told Grandma (my Mom's mom and also my landlord) that I wouldn't be able to continue paying rent on the apartment in Brooklyn, and she generously allowed me to keep it anyway. Being a sweet old lady, she was just so relieved and pleased that I actually wanted to be with my husband. If I still needed to be in the city for comedy, she said, I would always have a place with her, even if she did find another tenant. In the mean time, however, the apartment would be mine, free of charge.

I started traveling back and forth between Ithaca and Brooklyn quite frequently, and I began to reclaim my body from the havoc temping had wrought. Thanks to hiking and yoga, I quickly started getting into really great shape. The travel was exhausting at times, but I felt invigorated and creative.

Then, in late April, I was visiting Ithaca when I received another ominous phone call from the estrangey side. My father had again attempted suicide, this time in a way so gruesome that I will not explain it here. He had been med-evac'ed to a surgical ICU someplace. I honestly didn't think that he would survive.

The next day, my husband's coworkers were kind enough to invite us to a rugby game and the subsequent drink-up. I felt emotionally wrecked and furious and horrified and terrified, and the last thing I wanted to do was to hang around at home. So we went to the game, and then to the party, where I proceeded to drink. A lot. Hours into the afternoon I was swing dancing with my "new friends" (read: total strangers) when all the tightness in my legs (from the hiking and the yoga) and looseness in my motions (from the booze) resulted in an injury I'd struggled with repeatedly back in college. My patella dislocated. I hit the floor. I started to space out by the time my husband pulled the car around, mostly from the pain, which is always pretty severe immediately after my knee pops out. Plus I was D-R-U-N-K. Three days later, when I still couldn't put any weight on my leg without intense pain, I finally agreed to see a doctor. She sent me to the orthopedist who took some x-rays and informed me that my ankle was broken. "But it's my knee..." I protested vaguely as the nurse led me to a door labeled "casting room." She wrapped me up in a hard purple cast and locked my knee in a torture device called an "immobilizer." I stayed just like that for six weeks.

Ultimately, my father did survive. But I couldn't -- I still can't -- wrap my head around what he did to himself, not to mention to all the people who have loved him and cared for him. We haven't spoken even once since then, but he's been on my mind every day.

When you have a broken leg, you're pretty much not allowed to exist in New York City. You just gotta leave. Having always been ambulatory myself, I never quite noticed all the concrete steps and narrow doorways and 18-inch stages and other impediments to accessibility plaguing the city's various apartments and public transportation options and venues. Getting around is one problem; performing is a whole other sack of canaries, as they say. I did a comedy show in Ithaca a week after I hurt my leg, and the chair I was sitting on literally broke underneath me while I was on stage. Somehow, the heightened reflexes of performance adrenaline enabled me to lift myself straight up on my good leg, and I didn't fall. But, having witnessed that awful moment, my very reasonable and non-hysterical husband insisted that I stop performing until I was much better. I took about 5 weeks off from comedy. It was the longest stretch of time I'd spent away from stand-up in ten years.

If you have a regular job and your life gets super shitty, I'm pretty sure you can just kind of hang in there and phone it in for a while. You might get a mediocre performance review along the way, but a typical career path comes with at least a little bit of built-in slack. When you're an "up and coming" comedian, however, there isn't exactly a day to day job you can phone it in to. In the 5 weeks I spent away from comedy, I stopped feeling like a comedian. I stopped feeling like anything. I felt lazy, irrelevant, exiled. I felt like a failure. I'm sure none of my peers viewed it that way, and most were probably unaware that I was even gone. But I felt so suddenly and so utterly alienated from the professional trajectory I'd imagined I was on before my injury. The self-consciousness and career anxiety I developed during that hiatus continue to plague me right now.

I spent the best part of spring holed up in our basement apartment in Ithaca. My mother and my mother-in-law helped out immensely, but mostly my poor husband bore the brunt of my neediness. And wow, was I needy. When you suddenly require both arms to walk, you just become a first-class slob. You can't help it. I couldn't pick up after myself. I had to take baths with my garbage-bagged leg jutting straight up into the air. I know millions of people have to deal with worse. But it was so much more stressful and painful and difficult than I would have imagined a simple broken bone to be.

Eventually, I got my hard cast off, and later that day I drove to South Carolina to start the Pink Collar tour, which started in late May and lasted most of June. My fellow comedians helped me immensely during the tour, but I also had to spend a lot of time lying down and feeling left out. Performing for twenty measly minutes wrung everything out of me. I would finish my set, crutch backstage, and lower myself into a prone position the floor. It seems so dramatic now, but I remember how necessary it felt at the time.

After the tour, I came back to Ithaca expecting one or two final visits to the doctor before I was at last done with my injury. Unfortunately, the orthopedist didn't find any new bone growth on my x-ray. Six weeks later, same deal. And six weeks after that, no new growth. My doctor wouldn't clear me to jog or hike or do anything stressful until my bone started to regrow. For the first time in my life, I truly longed to run, and I certainly took some cheat-hikes around a gorge or two. I felt so frustrated by my lack of progress. I'd been pounding calcium and complying with my painful and boring PT. Finally, the doctor made me get a "bone stimulator," a $4000 piece of equipment that does electromagnetism all up in your area. Based on my understanding, this device ranks somewhere between healing crystals and the AbGymNic (as seen on TV) in terms of sciencyness, but I used it religiously. By November, I finally started to regrow my ankle bone, but I was still not allowed to resume many physical activities.

In late November, as I continued to travel back and forth between Ithaca and Brooklyn, it became really clear to me that Grandma wasn't doing well. Each time I visited, she seemed a little bit paler and a little bit weaker. One day her leg was red and swollen, and she was clearly in a lot of pain.  She went to her regular doctor who presumed it was a skin infection and gave her antibiotics. This happened in late November. When I returned in early December, she was clearly much worse. Finally, a new doctor referred her to a vein specialist. After weeks of waiting and various appointments, she saw the specialist on December 20th, and he told her she had to be admitted to the hospital immediately.

What came after that was one of the worst periods of my life. As my whole extended family converged around Brooklyn for the holidays, Grandma's expectedly brief stay at the hospital kept getting longer and more serious. We spent days in the ER with her, which was extra-crazy since several neighboring hospitals were still closed or at reduced capacity due to Superstorm Sandy. The whole experience was horribly traumatic for all of us, and Grandma's condition just kept getting worse until it was in free-fall. We took her home to hospice on the 29th, and she died hours later, just after midnight on the 30th. Grandma always had a big role in my life, providing all the childcare my working mother needed when I was a kid and taking care of me every summer well into my teen years. I lived in her house from 2009 until she died, and I spent time with her almost every day.

And now, very suddenly, she is gone.

The grief stuff is still very much a part of my daily life. I dream about her all the time. Not as much as at first, when it was every single night, but she's still in there. I've had some other psych symptoms: mild hallucinations, visual disturbances, mood swings, uncontrollable emotional outbursts... all pretty normal for a grieving individual. I've had some intense periods of work and travel and other family crises thrown in as well, so even the aftermath of Grandma's death has been magnified by unrelated sorts of chaos. But mostly I'm still thinking about her, missing her, dreaming about her. All my tears right now, no matter what prompts them, are still, at the one level, for my Grandma.

And that brings us to right now. I have 391 unread emails in my inbox. My website calendar hasn't been updated in months. I desperately need new headshots, but my face is still so pale and puffy from all my wintry sorrows. I owe more people phone calls than I can even list. I'm behind. My performance calendar feels drastically underpopulated for the next three months, and, as much as it pains me to say so, it probably should stay that way. As desperately as I want things to return to normal, I'm nowhere close to healed. My novel is in serious need of a fresh draft, but I can't interact with all the playful characters I created right now. I'd probably just turn them all into wretched gothic wailers flailing around on the moors. The world needs no more of that. At least not from me.

I spent four hours last night constructing this incomplete and barely-spell-checked and winding and rambling and non-chronilogical and TMI-laden post. It wasn't how I expected my evening to go. But even if not even one single solitary person on Earth reads this all the way through, that doesn't bother me in the least. I wrote this to free myself.

On January 28th, I turned 32. I traveled for much of the day, felt alienated from my tourmates by of my grief-driven mood swings, and performed comedy for a small audience in Dallas, right near where I went to high school. I had been hoping for a bit of a hometown/birthday crowd boost for the show; the low turnout made me feel exposed and ashamed.

I've decided I get a do-over on this birthday, and now I think I recognize how it's gonna go down...

Starting from this moment, I'm going to take all the time I need to heal. I'm not going to feel frustrated or guilty, nor will I scold myself when I inevitably feel frustrated and guilty. I will do my best to be patient and kind. Then one day, I'll suddenly realize that I have lots of energy, an open heart, and tons of enthusiasm for my creative projects. Perhaps I'll be spending time with friends, or talking into a microphone, or hanging around the house with my husband. Maybe I'll be scrambling around a hiking trail all by myself, since I finally got a good x-ray in early January and am now cleared to do any physical activity I want. Then, right when I notice how whole I feel, I will tell myself, this is my birthday.

My faith in my resilience is strong. I know for certain that this magical day will arrive before next January 28th. It may even come very, very soon.