Dear Alexandra Silber,
I want to start my blog this way because I think life is too short to go on without telling someone how much you mean to them.
I’ve actually found this hard to write even though when the idea fell into my head driving back from New York one night, I swear I had written a perfectly eloquent novel. So this may or may not be my third attempt (three months later) and I’m determined to make this one sound less dramatic and not creepy at all.
Wow– me in a nutshell.
Al, nothing I can say to you can be condensed into 140 characters. It would sound (and I guess it has been sounding) like I like your hair and like, everything else. What I’m really trying to say there is cutting your hair short is just the icing on top of my admiration for you. I feel like you do nothing less than extraordinary– nothing less than inspiring. You and your haircut has done more for me and my outlook on life than any Chicken Soup for the Soul or any daily quote accounts on Twitter and it all started with Maria Callas.
That’s hard to understand, right? Maybe? Ok. I’ll step back a tiny bit.
A lot of people ask me what happened. Truth be told, I have yet to uncover the whole story, what it really was that set me off my sanity.
I’ve always considered myself a strong person– someone who took care of other people instead of myself because I never really had problems…or I did but I possessed the ability to (with a bit of fortitude) suppress them which is why 2016’s frightening turn of events came to a surprise to myself and anyone who knew me. To put it simply, I crashed. I went to school one day, came back swearing I could never go back. Soon enough, I was being taught from home and as soon as I got those hours in, I would go back into my room and turn the lights off. Even crying wasn’t something I did often. Just a lot of silence. This terrible, terrible battle with mental illness forced me to drop out of regular school, become isolated, and questioning life and why I still bothered– and it ruined my life.
Maybe I let it happen or maybe it was inevitable. And it did feel pretty damn helpless. Once the constant busy-ness stopped and a second of space cleared up, guess what decided to move in? It sucked so much but at the time I saw it as…I’m hurting, life is pointless, I’d rather not feel than feel alive.
This started right after my 16th birthday which had been spent in London and Paris. As glamorous as that sounds, the idea had came up because I wanted to run away from this bleak life I was sort of already sensing.
All it really did was open up enough free space in my messy mind for depression, anxiety and their children to find lodging so when I got back the mortgage was fully paid and I was trapped. On a lighter note, I assure you this ended at the end of August. Eight months is a long time to say the least and during that time it felt like my body was alive and my spirit was a rotten corpse I had to drag around.
But in the middle of that terrible period was the Tony Awards. June: I hadn’t seen my friends in a while, they developed new inside jokes, and all planned to get jobs–a development in adolescence I was missing out on. The one thing that could make me smile was broadway even if it was just one night. I saw you get married, immediately remembering you from Master Class (playing my actual spirit animal, Sophie de Palma) and wondered what you had been up to.
Then I discovered your blog.
I repeat, YOUR BLOG ENTERED MY LIFE.
I’m pretty sure it was July. You had tweeted a link to a your birthday post and I got LOST. At the time, I was doing two academic courses in summer school* (I don’t recommend) just to catch up so if by some miracle I found the strength, I would be able to come back to regular school in September. At this point I had reached my lowest of lows. In fact, the week before I had gone to New York saw the worst night my parents have ever seen of me. But hiding under all that was the fact that I was binge reading London Still. All I’d known about your story by mid-July was that you had moved to Scotland which even by itself sounds DOPE.
My Dad died.
I moved to Scotland.
*(“Daniele why’d you get a 68% on the biology test?”
“Because in summer school MY broken mind CANNOT memorize and learn a thick-ass booklet on plant reproduction and on which direction and through which arteries deoxygenated blood passes just in three days while also trying to cram months of English class in said time. Also LONDON FUCKING STILL.”)
Then I discovered the Broadway Radio podcast. I had watched your interview on AOL Build which had also touched on the story of your encounter with adversity but somehow it didn’t click as much as it would later on. And to be honest, it took a bunch of listens to REALLY get that revelation I had, the one that compelled me to write this (inevitably) creepy and dramatic letter.
The podcast was mind blowing and gorgeous just by how wisely you spoke and how the connection between your decision to go to Scotland and how your mother met your father was made. I literally stayed up until the next day thinking about how too good to be true it was.
“We’ve all been in that place where we’re looking up to see the bottom and when you are in that place, you are in a very powerful place even though you might feel disempowered because there is nowhere to go but up. And so you might as well aim for the stars and do something crazy because it can’t get any worse.”
In an act of desperation, I went to New York for two days at the end of August. Everything seemed to click back together like a puzzle– the puzzle being my life and willingness to live it. It happened in three stages, you, Al, being the third and most powerful one. With one sentence, you pulled me out of this deep, deep, seemingly never ending darkness.
⅔ uplifted and driving back to Toronto late at night, staring out the window and at all the stars, I put on that Broadway Radio podcast and listened to it for the 100th time. Maybe it just caught me at a good time. Maybe it’s all I’ve needed to hear. Or maybe you have super healing powers. In that moment, almost an hour into the podcast, everything changed.
“I thought, okay I’ve been cut off at the knees at this crucial moment of my development. I have all these dreams and know I possess all these dreams and intelligence and talent but no one would blame me if I curled up and died too. If I went to a college near my home and got married and had a bunch of babies– a dream that I do not disparage if it is actually your dream but it deeply, deeply was not mine. Basically what I mean is sort of spiritually capitulating to adversity. And that’s option one. Or the other option that I felt quite profoundly, is that in the face of all this loss, and death, and despair, I could really, really live and have a huge, scary adventure. And it can’t get any worse so I might as well try.”
In the face of all this loss, and death, and despair, I could really, really live
In the face of all this loss, and death, and despair, I could really, really live
I could really, really live
Al Silber, you and your words and your story mean more to me than you will ever know. I had been reading your blogs. I read how about the passing of your father, your life at Interlochen, how you moved to Glasgow and went to The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and how you really lived. I didn’t take it in account how this could help me. All I thought while reading London Still was, damn this girl is a great writer and she has done such incredible things! Apparently I was blinded by your sunlight.
Somewhere between listening to this incredible in-depth interview with Broadway Radio and going to New York for the first time in two years, I realized something very important that has and will change the game for me.
In the face of a tragic event in your life, you moved to Scotland. You got on a plane and went to Glasgow.
You said, “in the face of all this loss, I could truly live.”
Immediately I thought, wait… Why am I stopping myself from truly living? For 8 months I did what you said was the first option, I curled up in a ball and died.
You moved to Scotland and I thought, WAIT YOU COULD DO THAT?!
Then I thought, wait… Who on earth has lead me to believe that you couldn’t? Why was my body so convinced that curling up in isolation was my only option left?
I haven’t booked my flight to the UK and I don’t plan on moving out of the Toronto Suburbs where I grew up yet. But you and your strength and endurance helped me realize that I can. While in New York, I drove by NYU and saw a prospect that actually wasn’t as far from reach as I set myself to believe for years. For years I convinced myself that it just wasn’t possible to get out of here. Depression is a scary thing. All you see is a narrow hallway of darkness and just shadows and echoes of people trying to help but you can’t fully understand how it could ever get better. Somehow, your words and story came through to me and somehow that’s what stuck, that’s what pulled me into the light. I have a whole lot more living to do.
In the face of this loss, I can truly live.
Very rarely do I get inspired in the way you have inspired me just for being yourself. You speak with so much poise and wisdom and without wanting to sound too much like my twin, Sophie de Palma, I’d love to get some from you, frankly.
In a way, you did to me what Maria Callas did for Sophie. You showed me that it is all there. All you need to do is listen.
I’m going to come see you in Fiddler before it closes if it’s the last thing I do…
- Because I’ve never seen it before and it was actually the first show my mom ever saw when she was a kid; which had inspired her the way Sister Act inspired me in 2011. I’d really love to share that moment with her.
- Because I’d like to thank you personally, though how incapable I am of expressing my gratitude will never be enough.
Other random things I want to mention:
- Ever since I could remember, I wanted a cat named Bernadette Peters and when I found out your cat’s name is Tatiana Angela Lansbury, I thought, wow even her cat-naming skills are inspiring.
- I’m so excited for your books but that clearly goes without saying.
- My favourite of your blog posts are Serving Maria, We Do it For That Guy, and West Side Story: An Exploration just to name a few.
I’ve always wanted to start a blog but feared nothing I had to say mattered enough. But I’m thinking if there’s a chance I could do for someone what Al did for me then I have to do this. (Also, I like to talk and not everyone likes to listen, so at least here I can get some words out whether someone cares or not.)
It took one empty and happy mind returning from London to put me into a hibernation-like depression. And it only took my fourth listen to a podcast on the drive home from NYC for my lights to turn back on.
Maybe the podcast caught me at a right time during the road trip but I really believe you said the one thing that I needed to hear, the one thing that was going to open it all up for me.
All that’s left so say is- though I feel like it doesn’t cover it all-