Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-01-22

That Time Dara and I Met Abbi and Ilana from Broad City and the New Yorker Wrote About It

When Dara was going through chemo last Winter and Spring, sometimes all she could do was watch TV. TV was great because it gave her something to focus on other than the constant state of nausea she was in or how uncomfortable or painful her body felt.

IMG_7020Me and Dara, about a month out of chemo at the Dyke March. She let me paint “Fuck Cancer” on her still bald from chemo head. Because all of my friends know how much I love Broad City I periodically get texts from late adopters telling me I was right about how great it is. I try to live a spiritual existence where being right doesn’t matter to me but I do enjoy being right about cool cultural things that are awesome.

It was really important to Dara from the very beginning of her cancer diagnosis to keep it positive, so she was super interested in finding shows that were up lifting. It was also hard with “chemo brain” to watch anything complicated. She burned through Parks and Rec—so much so that I ended up missing a few episodes of the last season because I couldn’t keep up with her. She was a little stressed knowing Parks and Rec was nearing the final episode available and a friend of hers, Lalta, suggested she turn to Broad City, a new show on Comedy Central executive produced by Amy Poehler, the star of Parks and Rec.

We started watching Broad City right away and absolutely loved it. We have since watched each episode multiple times, and scoured you tube for episodes of their Broad City web series, the pre-curser to the more polished and lengthy Comedy Central show. As a cancer caregiver the belly laughs afforded by the antics of these women were really helpful medicine for my spirit, too, and Dara absolutely loved it.

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Abbi and Ilana are so charming and hilarious. I think it does what 2 Broke Girls and Girls tried to do with the early twenties women living in Brooklyn situation but with an authenticity and reflection that the others miss. It’s goofy, adventurous and New York is an important part of the show, including the street harassment, subway weirdness and other hassles of trying to live day to day here. I appreciate that sometimes Ilana’s character takes on being politically correct but to an extreme where she maybe doesn’t get it. Dara calls the show a modern-day Cheech and Chong for women.

I especially love Lincoln, played by Hannibal Buress, who you might remember from blasting Cosby for the rape rumors and Cosby’s trash talking of the Black community back in October, igniting the recent round of scandal. (If you haven’t watched Hannibal’s original comedy act in Philly about that, do.)

By the point in chemo where we stepped deep into the Broad City hole, Dara was bald bald. Combined with the perpetually youthful aesthetic so common among masculine of center queers she looked even younger, moving towards an 8 year old make a wish kid aesthetic.

20140603_173316I want to say that Dara’s diagnosis was not terminal like an actual Make a Wish kid. We knew that. But she does look kind of like an 8 year old.

It was coming up on her 39th birthday, for which she was in the thick of planning her “Chemo Karaoke” video where she wrote a parody of Pat Benetar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and got a ton of friends together to shoot it in the chemo infusion center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. This was a huge project for her and it was great for her spirits, giving her something to focus on and made chemo kind of a project or a game rather than the really physically, emotionally and mentally devastating ongoing medical procedure that it actually is.

One night after our second round of watching Broad City, I said, “What if you made a Make a Wish video and asked Abbi and Ilana to write you into their show?” Dara immediately countered with, “I should get them to come be in my Chemo Karaoke video shoot!”

So we did it. Why not? It was a low-stakes, really fun way to spend an evening, making the video. And even if Abbi and Ilana couldn’t come to the video shoot, at least it was a way to say thank you for producing art that was really delighting us during a time that was pretty shitty. Obviously their art production is at a totally different level and reach than mine, but it always feels really awesome when people tell me that the things I’ve written, workshops or performances I’ve given made a difference in their lives. It’s never a bad time to make someone feel good about themselves, as my bestie Rachael likes to say.

20140507_230933 (1)They make Broad City toilet paper.

We had no idea how to get it to Abbi and Ilana. I tweeted at the Broad City account knowing it might not go anywhere. Then I thought, maybe through six degrees of separation we could do it, so I posted it on my Facebook wall. Turns out I know someone who knows someone who dates an executive at Comedy Central and that I know someone who went to high school with Ilana. Boom. Within 24 hours we had an email from their manager.

Abby and Ilana were busy writing the second season of their amazing show and couldn’t come to the shoot. But they did invite us to be their guests at their show the night before Dara’s birthday party. We were excited, in all our internetting we never realized they were still doing their live improv show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.

14299828758_e9fc7bab10_zWe got four tickets, so Dara’s friend Allison (second from left) who flew in from Atlanta for the video shoot came with us and our awesome friend Donna (far left) came along as well.

When we got there we had a huge surprise. First of all, they saved us seats in the front row. Then after they came out and performed their first act (a very full energy improvised dance to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom”), they did this whole long intro about a special guest joining them, and it turned out to be Dara! Ilana’s brother Eliot Glazer brought out a cake and sang Happy Birthday and Abby and Ilana gave her a bunch of Broad City schwag.

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Ever relentlessly documenting my life, I videotaped it.

The whole thing was surreal and it was so wonderful to see Dara so happy, when during chemo the state of just not being incredibly uncomfortable/in pain/nauseous/whatever is a victory.

The show was great and we watched them play Fuck, Marry, Kill with Natasha Lyonne. Afterwards we were out on the street and ran into an old friend of ours and were chatting for awhile and realized Abbi and Ilana were coming out of the theater. Dara decided to go up to them and thank them for everything. It was really sweet and a nice connection. They filmed a chorus of Hit Me With Your Best Shot with the gusto of seasoned improv comedians.

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Improving Hit Me With Your Best Shot with Abbi and Ilana:

It was all so thoughtful and fun and really awesome of them to do that for Dara. The next day during the epic shoot for Chemo Karaoke, it was a great story to tell. And the cake was delicious! Billy’s bakery is the shit, I worked around the corner from them for a few months and fell in love with the banana cake. Trust me. Trust Ilana and Abbi. It’s the best one.

While Dara was talking to Abbi and Ilana, a reporter from the New Yorker sidled up to me and asked my name and Dara’s name because he was trailing them to do an epic piece about Broad City. I had to go through this whole fact checking thing after the fact with someone from the New Yorker*.

IMG_20140618_180212They didn’t send me a copy of the magazine, which I think would just be polite, if you’re going to spend time doing ten minutes of fact checking.

Broad City is shooting to the moon right now! Season 2 just premiered and it’s hilarious. Abbi and Ilana interviewed Sleater-Kinney for NPR (I could not figure out how to get into that event). You can catch all of the first season of Broad City on Hulu, and I think for a limited time on Comedy Central’s app and website without plugging in a television provider. You need a tv cable provider log-in to watch Season 2. And it’s worth it!

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Here’s the finished produce of Dara’s Chemo Karaoke video:

*P.S. If you’re reporting something and someone’s name doesn’t sound “real” to you, don’t euphemize it by saying “[H]er girlfriend, who goes by the name Bevin Branlandingham.” Everyone is entitled to use whatever name they want, even if it sounds made up. No need to add the “goes by the name” because it is condescending and unnecessary and will result in many texts and tweets from uppity queers about lack of respect for chosen names. Like why couldn’t he just say, “Her girlfriend, Bevin Branlandingham…” Just saying.

2014-09-16

Post Cancer Treatment Life in a Nutshell

It’s been awhile since I posted substantively and when I get to this point I get into these quagmires, “But there’s no context for me on my blog anymore!” I like this space to be an ongoing narrative of who I am and what I’m doing at the intersections of these identities of queer, fat and femme. So to kick off more posts about what I’m excited about, here’s a newsy update.

IMG_20140816_203125Dara and I had a great “progressive dinner” date where we went to three different restaurants for different courses. This was for the vegan ice cream course at Van Leeuwan in Brooklyn.

Post Cancer Treatment

Dara is doing well post-cancer treatment. She is really loving life, she has a zest that is similar to her love of life pre-treatment, except her zest is more gentle and self-loving now. She has a way of really being present and relaxing into the idea that a day doing nothing is the perfect way to keep from working too much.

IMG_20140822_220118Me and Dara at a rooftop party a couple of weeks ago. I love when you get to tower over a sea of blingie skyscrapers.

We have so much fun together. We had fun during cancer, she often tells me I “made cancer fun.” My opinion throughout was why should cancer treatment not be a series of tumblr post worthy, good photo opportunity adventures? So that’s what it kind of was. But even as we made the best of things, it was still with a bit of a pall covering everything. Without most of that damper we’re having even more fun now. Everything feels a bit more joyful, with the gratitude of not being in cancer treatment.

We’re doing tons of new stuff. We went to a park neither of us had been to at the foot of the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson River to take a tennis lesson. I haven’t played tennis as an adult and I never took to it in high school; I don’t mean to brag but I lettered in badminton. I was all set on racket sports and didn’t need that clunky tennis racket to cloud my badminton focus!

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But tennis as an adult! It’s pretty fun and quite a workout. I’m sold! Dara and I went to another tennis lesson in a different park and it wasn’t nearly as fun, so now we’re on the hunt for the perfect city tennis situation.

She has her zest back but not quite her endurance… she injured her knee and two other body parts within a week. She has insomnia from the Tamoxifin, a hormone blocker that she has to take forever. Or like 10 years. So that’s another ding for energy.

We are hoping to go apple picking and camping this month! And next month we’ll reprise our trip to Southern California we were supposed to take in June when her father passed away suddenly. It feels healing to schedule out the adventures we want to take and folks we want to visit. I feel really lucky we’re able to do that.

Lucky is a great way to describe how we feel post treatment—we saw the movie the Fault in Our Stars, about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. It really hit home how temporary love can be. And even though the length of love is sometimes short, it can still have important, life changing intensity.

I feel like Dara’s cancer treatment was a life changing intensity time for me… as it was for Dara. We’re excited to see what our relationship is like after cancer treatment. I think we’ll both be different after treatment. (This was also why I declined to move in with her after cancer treatment—I want us to just have fun together for awhile instead of adding another pile of stress to the end of what has been a really difficult year for me.)

Macy’s Recovery

20140821_175210Family selfie.

My beloved dog Macy had surgery for a ruptured disc in July and her recovery is ongoing. Her intense separation anxiety post-hospital has finally waned. Perhaps it was taking her to that first tennis lesson with all that noise and flying balls that convinced her that insisting on being with her people 24/7 wasn’t necessary, but she is finally able to be left at home alone again. For awhile I couldn’t even leave her in my bedroom for two minutes without her wailing. It was very intense.

Macy has to begin pricey physical therapy for her hind leg. She is walking on all of her legs, which is huge progress from the surgery, but she’s limping really hard, her body is shaped kind of like a comma when she walks, curved to the right. She can’t jump onto furniture and she can’t push open the doors in the house anymore like she used to, and she’s bearing 80% of her weight on the front legs which can lead to more problems down the road.

I hope that the physical therapy involves hydro therapy because it is very cute to watch in you tube videos. It’s also very successful at strengthening weakened legs so I’m hopeful for a full recovery.

IMG_20140816_214812The third stop on our progressive dinner date, short ribs poutine from Mile End. Macy in her “accessibility backpack” that enabled us to take her all over the place this summer when she couldn’t be left alone. She even went to an outdoor YoYo Ma concert with Dara in the Berkshires! I picked up the backpack on Amazon for $44 and think it’s a great value.

Macy’s only ten years old and she’s otherwise perfectly healthy. Her veterinary neurologist expects that she’ll live out her days (Shih Tzus live to be about 16). So here’s a pro-tip, if your friend’s dog has had major surgery, don’t say anything like “She’s had a great life!” It’s really different to have a pet diagnosed with a chronic illness or an injury than to get a terminal diagnosis! She has had a great life (she was photographed in Time Out New York and Curve Magazine before I ever was!) but she has a lot more life to live!

I am still visioning for Macy to make it into People Magazine and Southern Living Magazine, two of my favorites. Maybe even Oprah Mag. But mostly, I’m still visioning lots of fun adventures for my charming and magical Shih Tzu!

Plus Size Party Girl

Instead of producing monthly parties, I’m now focusing my energy on less frequent bigger productions. Though, in lieu of all of that, I took a hiatus while Dara was going through treatment.

I just finished producing Dollypalooza, an Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton on 9/5 (get it?). It was the biggest production I’ve ever taken on single-handedly. (Way to come back to party planning with a bang!)

bevingroupsingdollypaloozabyJenaCumboDrae Campbell, Miss Mary Wanna, Me, World Famous *BOB* and MILK from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice.

It reminded me of the intensity of Picnic Day when I was in college. That was the UC Davis open house—all departments, student organizations, sports teams, etc… put on some kind of exhibit or event. There was a parade, six stages of entertainment, a student activities fair. Legendary events during my tenure on the Picnic Day Board were the dachshund races in the basketball stadium, cockroach races in the Entemology Department and the fistulated cow demonstration by the College of Agriculture. The fistulated cow was a cow who had a hole cut into her stomach so people could put on a glove and reach their hand into the cow’s stomach to retrieve partially digested grass–cows digest the same food several times. It was rightfully shut down by animal rights protestors in the late 90s.

Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of event, involving a board of 20 and 500+ volunteers. There was a frenzy that overtook me and the entire board of organizers of Picnic Day the week before the event. I remember super late nights in the Picnic Day office laminating photographs into security passes. Dollypalooza was the closest I’ve ever come as an adult to that feeling. I love planning and executing major events, especially unusual ones that bring people joy. The lights in folks’ eyes when I fliered for Dollypalooza let me know I was on to something.

IMG_20140906_153536Me and my hero World Famous *BOB*–as her performance she told an amazing story about meeting Dolly Parton and had everyone from the show on stage at the end to group sing Hard Candy Christmas.

We made almost $700 for the Imagination Library in the raffle, Dolly’s literacy charity that sends books every month to kids in need, and it was an unforgettable show. I am brimming with ideas for next year. But I definitely know I can’t take on anything like that single-handedly again. I’m super grateful for Dara’s help—she did some amazing PR work that got a videographer from ABC News to come by, and some interest from People Magazine. My friend Jess, who brought me to Dollywood for the first time, took over the raffle and made that part so easy for me. We also figured out how to do a contest to send the performer who brought the most people in the door to Dollywood and got a raffle donation from Dollywood Cabins! At the end of the show, I felt like Oprah telling people “You go to Dollywood! And YOU go to Dollywood!”

IMG_6337The gorgeous view from the Dollywood Cabin I stayed in last May.

Mental and Emotional Health

Seeing a counselor with the Lesbian Cancer Initiative was the best choice I made as a caregiver during treatment. She pointed out to me going into post-treatment that I would have an adjustment period, and so would Dara. It is a significant energy shift.

IMG_20140829_162150This isn’t for the LCI but it’s from Callen Lorde, my physical health provider.

I’m in the weird process of looking for a therapist for the first time in my adult life. I’ve got about 50 possibilities from friends and am whittling it down. I am intentionally being really public about this process because my mental and emotional health are really high priorities for me and I want to encourage folks to feel empowered about seeking help. While things feel like the “calm after the storm” right now, I also think that the amount of life traumas I’ve faced in the past 12 months is unusual and I’d like to sort through them with a professional. Last night I had a dream about a friend of mine who passed last November and I’m about to go to Atlanta for the first time since her funeral. Crisis mode means you just scoot from one trauma to the next without digesting time, and I want to make sure I can go back in and digest things. Kind of like a metaphorical fistulated cow demonstration.

So that’s me in a nutshell (I really wish I had a picture of me in a nutshell).

Oh, and the first stop on our progressive dinner date (all in outdoor venues that allowed us to have our special needs Shih Tzu) was crispy kale salad in the backyard of Battersby… It was a great date!

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