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I'm Artist of the Month at Inanna House

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

Inanna House is an amazing organization, and I'm honored to be March 2013's Artist of the Month.

They're doing amazing work for people living with Lyme, a community which I once resisted considering myself a part of. Now, I accept the idea of chronic, but not as a life sentence, or a weakness, or a cosmic joke handed down from the universe from my mother. I only got a 4 month break from disease in my life, watching her disintegrate from MS. The reason I began the MS project is because I had symptoms that I assumed were that; I was also told by all the specialists and doctors I saw it was all in my head. There was nothing wrong with me.

So I started this project to 'cure' myself. If it was psychological, I'd use art to heal the brain and the spirit doing bizarre things to me. If it was MS, maybe I'd learn how to cope. It was neither, and after 13 months of disability, pain, invalidation and tears, I was diagnosed with Lyme.

I still have it, will always, it hides in my cells and on some of the worse days, takes over. And there's no saying when and if I'll ever feel 'good' again. Good is relative. I'm not the athlete I was, or the energetic gadfly, or the person who trusted the medical instution implicitly, or the person who had savings.

But somehow, I'm better now. I have friends who stuck by me, the love of my life. I followed the career I really wanted and I started this project, which heals and humbles me.

So that's good.

My feature in Bitch Magazine

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

IS OUT! BUY IT! Support a major feminist media effort and get a picture of Emily Dickinson flanked by sloths with lasers for eyes. The Pulp Issue, with my feature 'Pulp Nonfiction: The Unnerving Fascination with Prime Time True Crime. Download here!

The LaBarberas- first excerpt from the book!

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

Now and again, I'll be blogging stories from the book. My first is from Tom and Susan LaBarbera.

An aversion to carpeted seats, lonely strip mall highways and bus drivers that scream so belligerently at passengers they pant reaffirm how truly far a 30 minute ride to Jersey feels.  I huddled in my seat to Pinebrook to meet Tom LaBarbera, one of the few people I'd meet with Primary Progressive MS- the version writers lazily script for nightmare episodes of SVU, the one that you think of first when you hear someone has it.

Stepping up to Susan and Tom’s sloping yard, I admired the idyllic quiet, the green, the ambitious mosquitoes.  3 generations- Susan and Tom, daughters Amanda and Kim, their husbands and kids- were converging in Susan’s kitchen. It was an unlikely classroom, setting for a lesson in the silent language of empathy when words aren’t always accessible. I wouldn’t have known it from the noise, though. The fridge door slamming, toddlers yelping and the family discussing optic neuritis apace with lacrosse tryouts and gardening at chaotic speeds and volume. Except when Susan, Reiki master and matriarch talked- then it became quiet.  The kitchen was silent as we all sat together over lunch, as Susan emphatically described the day she and Tom learned of his diagnosis: “This jerk neurologist. He got a phone call in front of us, talking about his oil stock, then he looks up and sees us still sitting there. He says ‘You’re diagnosed with MS and there’s nothing we can do”.  

I get cold hearing this, don't you? Not even a death sentence, just a flat, disintegrating plain.  This was 1979. She visited the library afterward and there was nothing- not a pamphlet, not a recommendation. Nothing. She sobbed in the reference room’s bathroom, the book next to her, a pivotal moment in the life of a couple who had been inseparable since they were teenagers.   1979, with its wispy and hard-to-find research, some ghoulish case studies.  I sought out medical journals and books about coping with neurological disease from throughout 20th century to see what baffled, terrified people read.  

From Foster Kennedy (who also advocated for euthanasia for severely retarded children over 5 years old), 1950:

“The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is not just a diagnosis.  It is also a prognosis, a prognosis of utter disaster to any human to whom it is given.”

A gentler publication, a guide to living with the illness, from 1976:

“One very important fact must be  faced when a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis is established. This is the necessity of living with uncertainty... The patient with MS, and the family, must confront the additional uncertainties of a disease of unknown cause, variable symptoms, indefinite prognosis or course, and no definitive cure. The burden of uncertainty is a heavy one, at time cruel.”

Tom, the provider, the athlete, didn’t read these books, and he struggled. He was angry. He hid the disease from his family for years. She began to help him get dressed, then get onto the toilet; rituals I know.  She worked full time and did these things in the morning, at night.  The disease was never spoken of, those books bought but never read.  But she kept moving, working, the presence of unhappy inevitability hanging over them.  Plainly,  Susan chose numbness, never forgetting what she had read that day in the library while their daughter Amanda played nearby. Not the most saccharine approach, but its what people have to do sometimes.

“This was the life I was supposed to live,” she told me.  One’s inclined to call her a saint- that’s what people said about my father- but that’s not very fair to either Susan or especially Tom, whose wheelchair sat outside the cluster at the kitchen table. He said little and his speech was labored, but he smiled a lot and his grandchildren beamed at him with that crazy pure love.   It's not fair to call her a saint because he is still a person, if, in some ways, changed and diminished. But he is adored. 

“At the time, in our experience, in my circle, we didn’t have this.”   I wanted to ask more, didn’t. I think I was afraid to ask a man what it's like to lose his power, especially when it was so integral to his identity. He finished, “It turns out now... its not so rare.”

I imagined them as teenagers, supernaturally wholesome, at the church fair where they met. He attended a private high school on a basketball scholarship,  and she was a shy junior high student pulled over to his group by a girlfriend. Susan saw him, still sees him, in that moment.   Tom wore a cardigan and stood next to a booth. Surrounded by his friends and an air of  masculine promise, she fell in love with him, her husband and the father of their daughters. I imagined this.  She started a cheerleading squad for his basketball team.  He started walking her home, towering over the petite uniformed girl, bigger than life. What man could ever match this?

“He would walk me to the gate, then to the bottom step, then the first step, then the second step, until the day we reached the top.  He kissed me after one year,  I was wearing stretchy pants. And I wet them. Nothing that happens to kids today can be that powerful, I am sorry for them.”

Her candor stirred me. Unadorned chemistry isn’t a particular feature of a chubby, sarcastic Long Islander teen’s life in the 90’s.  My first kiss was at 14, on an Orlando Hyatt bathroom floor during a high school choir trip with the lights on.  I wrote him a note in regards to the certainty I possessed that we were meant for each other.  He, a senior, handed it back to me and gently suggested I go to college and find myself.  We met up again Thanksgiving break my first year in college; he tried to have sex with me in his parent’s den and I blurted out I didn’t want to get herpes (a de rigeur STI reference for college freshmen).  That's the story of my first kiss.  

So I was impressed by Susan’s teenage instincts which, against our understanding of the age group, tend to be horrible.  They were married after college and started a family 3 years later. His symptoms started right after. But she can still see Tom, a generous and whole young man,  at a fair in a sweater.  What does my father see? My mother, healthy, with a jet black bouffant and gleaming brass necklaces, hitting on him in a Long Island bar long, long before that unbearable end?  This was a few years before Susan and Tom took secret snapshots of each other in front of a carnival booth. Do those pictures last forever for some people? And do they love the newer versions of each other just as much? Susan told me this was the life she was meant to live, so I suppose they do.

I saw Tom that day, speaking slowly, diminished in physicality but no longer locked in rage.  I saw Kim and Amanda’s eyes on their father whenever he spoke, Kim nodding with a different understanding.  She, diagnosed with MS in 2009, is the second generation with this disease.   With her appealing Jersey frankness, she summed how the family’s experience shapes the way she and husband Bobby raise Angelina, Ava and Robbie.  They were beginning lessons in life with that uncertainty of illness, written about decades before, the one we can’t blame, fight, or predict. They were, are, nonexempt.

Tom’s grandchildren will be more educated in these realities as he recedes.  He used to take them for rides on his wheelchair, but he can't now for their safety.  He no longer can read. There are little pleasures- he uses the phone, cheers for his sports teams.  But there is less and less to do everyday. 

But that’ s just today.  “To be afraid of the unknown is really ridiculous. There will never be a guarantee for anything. And everything is mixed.” Mixed into the LaBarbera’s tight, loyal fabric are some terrible things. As much a part of this house as the kitchen, they demand inclusion, and are treated with patient, compassionate gestures. In my head, I mime them-  Amanda squeezing Tom’s shoulder from behind his chair, Ava and Angelina climbing into his bed and laying down next to him to talk. I secretly thieve these actions for amnesty one day.  I remember my mother, and the very real words we used, misfired, and avoided until the day it was simply too late and she couldn’t speak at all. I wonder how we might have communicated had I tried this vocabulary of quiet, acceptance; if I might still have a chance.

Directing for The Dirty Blondes 24 Hour Festival

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

It's been 2 years since I ran around with actors.

Theatre was my career for almost a decade, and what spurred me towards a writing career of collecting stories that might not be heard otherwise. It's my first love and Ahsley Jacobson, co-founder of the Blondes, is my favorite collaborator. The festival was featured in the NY Times this week and I'm very very thrilled to be chosen as a director.

I'm waiting to hear any questions from my playwright about tomorrow's guerilla style attack on the theme- of the 7 Deadly Sins, we chose 'Wrath' out of a hat. There's definitely going to be live ukelele playing, puppetry and some sinister, surprising shit. But that's all I know.

Excited to fuck around until 8pm tomorrow, and the premiere at Galapagos!

Interview with Sarah Burns and Raymond Santana, of The Central Park 5

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

The story of the Central Park Jogger was part of my childhood- the media spin, the NYPD's bluster, the constant refrain of black-man-on-white-woman-crime. It somehow rang.. wrong. Even as a kid.  False and damaging and wrong.

I know now that it's called fearmongering, or rape mythology, or corporate- created Super Predator narratives. Santana was one of five young men of color indicted and jailed for the rape and brutal assault of a white woman in New York City in 1989. Which, when I'd visit with my dad, seemed magical, but dirty, and too big, but magical. Their story is part of the city's mythology, and it was completely fake. The men were freed only recently, their whole lives taken from them until DNA testing exonerated them. Their entire lives.

Read my interview with the filmmaker and biographer Sarah Burns, and Santana. I was humbled.


My latest, on 'The Hairpin'

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

Humbled to be part of a conversation about a subject that seems to carry something of a taboo, and highlights exactly why the right to choose should be inalienable. 

I'm pro-choice, ferociously so; but an unexpected pregnancy and miscarriage showed me the other side of the notion of 'choice'; namely, that I didn't want my choice, that keeping is as hard a decision as abortion, and nothing is black and white. I used to think abortions were an obvious choice, until I was faced with it. And then felt the loss of something that, it turned out, I did want.

The comments on the essay, and Twitter RPs, are a great show of solidarity and compassion. many women go through this quietly, or alone, and are left to grieve. One woman was told her 'clump of cells' weren't even real; maybe true (I know I didn't register mine as anything more) but they were still a part of her. Again, 'choice' is a complicated thing. And a pro-choicer giving abortion a second thought is, of course, part of the right to choose. No right-wing headcase fucking conservative MAN should insinuate themselves into that intimate, difficult decision that, in the end, is only a woman's to make and live with.

The decision, this time, was made for me, like it is for many women.


Cara & Chris

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

The best pair of best friends you can imagine got together in Brooklyn to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of their first photos together at 13. I've known these two for 10 years and remembered how amazing it is to collaborate, be spontaneous, the joy of making little moments and stories.

Our Pregnant Week

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

Our Pregnant Week


I went in for Q-tips. But at the Walgreens, I was reminded of the persistent, recent...bigness of my boobs, and the little nuggets I’d found on my last self-exam. My insomnia had been out of control, and I'd been crying. A lot. I’d missed my period in September, but that wasn't strange. I always skip, vague confirmations from gynecologists my PCOS was culprit.  I picked up the 2-pack EPT anyway - plainly, I just felt eerie. I must have, because when I was grappling with the immutable plastic wrapper over my bathroom sink, my hands were shaking.
The digital stick blooped an hourglass while the other, a 90's standby, spread pink to indicate it was working.  Minutes later, I was howling on my living room floor, faced with a faint blue + sign in one hand, and the digital's definitive, tiny text-‘Pregnant’- in the other. I left the detritus of receipts, plastic, boxes and the digital test on the floor and got on my bike, the + sign burning a decision in my jacket pocket. I rode, trembling, with no cell, ID or money on me, just a pregnancy test. I hoped I wouldn't get hit in my distraction- what an awful CSI:NY opener.  I marched into my friend Dondrie’s kitchen and laid the test on her counter, demanding she say the vertical line was too faint, that all the antibiotics I was on for chronic Lyme Disease (oh fuck, what about that) created a false positive, that there was no way. Not a flincher by nature, she ignored that I’d basically laid a urine sample inches from her olive oil collection and we went through the facts. Jared and I had an accident the month before and I'd taken Plan B immediately, confident in its ability to perform its only role. It was the one time we'd had sex in weeks, as I'd had an abnormal pap in August and several biopsies peppering my calendar- sex was off limits in either direction of that night. One time. But this sure looked +, amongst all the coincidences.  I tried to figure out how to tell Jared.  He'd be thrilled, I knew. He wanted to be a dad more than anything, and we'd been talking more and more about the future and its hypotheticals. Fuck, I had to get home before him. Finding a plastic stick with the word 'Pregnant’ lying on the living room floor wasn’t an optimal way to tell him. I zoomed home, called some feminists, cried more.
Later, we were on the same couch, different planets. Jared was shocked, thrilled and confused as to why, at the other end of the sofa, I soaked my shirt with tears and snot and listed all the reasons this wouldn't work. I wasn't well yet. We had no money. We weren't ready. I wasn't ready. And now I had to make a choice, and for all the Second Sex parroting I’ve done throughout my post-undergrad life, I didn't want my freedom to choose. I wanted it just to go away, which isn't really the hallmark of pregnancy.
I stayed up all night, guilty for disappointing him, horrified by my prospects. I couldn't have a baby. The Lyme Disease- I’m septic, inhospitable to a child.  Worse, I am a child. You can't trust me. Selfish, stunted, I don't want anything that relies just on me. I had a terrible relationship with my own mother and the way she died. I wasn't ready to eat carbs for the sake of another person. When the sun came up, I made an appointment with an OBGYN to confirm the false positive. I made an appointment with my Lyme doctor, who’d say this wasn’t viable, as I’d just started a new, aggressive antibiotic protocol. My new insurance company wouldn’t cover this pre-existing condition. I’d call my father, who’d gently say this wasn't the right time.  Tuesday would be full of outs! Someone would tell me what to do, none of it would be my fault, and I'd bring Jared with me as witness.

No outs. I was pregnant, my blood said so. At one point, as I lay in the stirrups, the OB, Jared and I all had our IPhones out, calculating conception date based on a particular episode of This American Life.  At 4.5 weeks, there was nothing on the screen, but, abstractly yes, there was a scattering of cells hanging out in my groin. At the moment they wanted nothing from me, vice versa. I didn't have to make a choice for a few weeks, she said. She also told me, with her hand on my ankle, everything I felt was normal. That motherhood was never exactly the Right Time. No out from my Lyme doc, either- plenty we could do, she said, if I wanted to keep it. Safe antibiotics, a 1% chance of passing it. She was compassionate, impartial.  The insurance company? Totally fine, they said. "It’s a pre-existing condition plan", the polite but confused gentleman told me when I said he was probably wrong. "You could have 10 conditions besides Lyme and you'd be covered. Thank Obama." Jared and I sat over speakerphone as I lost another opportunity to avoid choosing.
Finally, my dad. He'd definitely tell me to give it up. "Congratulations!" he said. Oh. Why not, he said. Two smart, silly, creative people making a baby is a beautiful thing. We need more of that. Money would come later.  For now, "It's your choice, my daughter".
No outs. Jared and I had to talk about it ourselves. I was calmer. Points and counterpoints and hours.  He supported me either way. He understood the fear, much as a man can. I asked if he'd stick by me, but we both knew he wasn't the one we needed to worry about.

Began the brief period of Ambivalence with a Side of C-Cup. I told a few close friends, who had happy but restrained reactions. Jared told his parents. The concerns were equal- my health was paramount, as I was the real person here, but if there was a likelihood this would work out, what a joy this might be. I began to be infected with peoples’ love. With the sense that maybe my practical fears were a cover for insecurity. Maybe I could do it.  With all the odds- the Plan B, the PCOS pessimism, Lyme, the One Time thing- maybe this little packet of cells, soon to resemble a Jordan almond, soon to resemble me and Jared, was snuggling in, sticking to my sides, sticking by me because it believed in me.  I didn't have ideal health. I didn't have money. But I had love. Love is more than many mothers have. Mother? Girlfriend. Artist. Reluctant sick person.  Self-centered fraud in therapy. Mother? I pored over, a site I had visited probably as often as I thought about names. I thought about how bad of a thing it would be to raise a tiny, brilliant boy to respect women, dress him in seersucker.

I rolled over and looked at Jared and told him we would go for it. I didn't feel good, or happy. But I knew what the right decision was. I wouldn't meet him in his cautious excitement, not yet, and asked him to be patient with me till I got there. I wasn't happy but I was right. I could do it.  He kissed me over and over. We discussed names and the benefits of baptism, which I had previously considered baby waterboarding for superstition's sake but is apparently an effective way of preventing a baby going to limbo plus a significant dollar amount in gifts.
I dazedly filled the progesterone and prenatal vitamins prescription. I got a crash course in acronyms and hormones from a midwife standing at the pharmacy.  I asked the guy at the health food store what he recommended for juicing. I looked at us from the outside- to him, I wasn’t an immature, self-indicting, scared 31 year old who had been thrust a curve ball and was trying out new dialogue on a stranger, rehearsing. I wasn’t those things- I was just a pregnant woman from the neighborhood.  I rode to Prospect Park and sat by the lake, watching the dazzling reflections over the water. I called my dad and Dondrie. She believes in miracles and said a baby is a miracle.

That night I started spotting. A rush of terror and protective love swept over me when I saw it.

The palette I won't go into, but from what I gathered from the obsessives on the internet, this was common.  I got off the websites and message boards, where the frequency of multiple, panicky punctuation (!?!?!,  :),  !!!!) was proportionate to the understanding of 'they're' vs. 'their'. Although many commenters offered 'piece of mind', I still went through a roll of toilet paper that night, obsessively checking texture, color and changes. I called the OB who said to stay calm and off my feet. I went from ambivalent to very afraid.

More spotting, more toilet paper, more googling. The irony of timing gnawed. I watched SVU till the sun went down. I Facebooked Tamara, a midwife friend, who wished me well “whether this pregnancy is what brings you to motherhood or is the pregnancy that makes you realize you want to be a mother." But why would it show up at all if it wasn't going to stick around? Why would it leave me the day I told it I wanted it? Jared played bluegrass into my stomach.

More spotting. Laid down. Jared prayed. I looked at the wall while he did it.

The blood became unmistakably red around 8pm. I sat on the toilet and stared. I tried crying, because I figured that's what you do: that weepy trip to the toilet that 1 in 5 women take in early pregnancy. It was ok. We had gotten attached to an idea. We'd never seen a heartbeat. There was nobody even there. Still, I sat and stared. He came home around 11. His crying made me really cry. I cramped, bearably, and we watched TV. I figured we were done.
2 am it started. Blood. Pain. I couldn’t have imagined this pain. By 3, I was too weak to get to the bathroom and could only lie on the couch, wiping myself pathetically, mounding the trashcan next to my head with red toilet paper and a little vomit. He sat next to my head, wiping blood from my hands while I pictured whirring blenders filled with shiny springs and razors inside me, of a pinball machine shooting a little ball made of fire. I saw a sickly yellow ocean.  The waves would crumble into ochre parchment when a particularly bad contraction would happen. Hours. The on-call OB told a stammering, panicking Jared there was nothing we could do; the ER would give me ibuprofen. All we could do was wait it out. A natural miscarriage means endurance and certain suffering. It hurt to breathe or speak but I whispered apologies for whatever I’d done.  The blood flowed black and exquisite red. Around 7 am, the cramps had slowed to about three minutes apiece. We got in a cab and returned to the same OB office at which, not a week before, I’d sat confused and crying. But it felt like years ago.
I sat on a cotton pad to keep from bleeding on the exam table. Her tone was the perfect physician's balance of frank and sad, and after conferring with my ultrasound, confirmed there was no longer any trace of anything. She was sorry, but reminded me that, on Tuesday, I wasn't even sure I wanted it. That we'd meet again when the time was right. Some bloodwork, to confirm my body didn’t think it was pregnant anymore- sure enough, my once-blossoming hormone levels had shrunk to numbers I now imagined as pitiful, humiliating. A failure. We went home.

What I figured out, exactly a week later: That physical pain is very, very relative, as is the definition of health. I can see a reason to regain my health, outside wanting to get back into my former 5 mile runs, stay a size 8. I want to be healthy for a role bigger than myself. That Jared and I are in it, even if it’s blood and loss. That this is a loss, no matter when. That Tamara was right- this one forced me to see I want it.
Here's what I don’t get- why this happened. Why it has to be so excruciating, that knife twist of trauma plus physical pain and all that blood that’s still flowing as I write and will continue to for another 10 days or so, a reminder I'm a woman and that we gotta carry so much.  I also don't understand why someone would ever try this again, knowing how terribly it might go.  Today, I’m trying to let Sunday night become merely a haunting while grasping at those few Thursday moments at the lake where I believed I was much more than myself. That I could, in fact, be grand.

Rolie Polie Guacamole

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

I have never shot a man in a bear suit in public, and cannot imagine why after today. Shot promos for RPG, a hilarious kid's band gearing up for their Halloween shows. A fabulous afternoon.

So. dope.

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

Shoot an all female, Kosher, secret speakeasy in Midwood? That has a Chassidic punk band?

Yes please.

Stay tuned.

Sometimes, Brooklyn...

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

you're just magic.

On Friday I shot the Bensonhurst Antique Car Meetup (or whatever it's called... seems nobody knows what to call it). But it's casualness, juxtaposed with the seriousness of the tradition, is its charm. South Brooklyn, every Friday, guys and their wheels but "NO WIVES".

I later toured the neighborhood with the editor of the Bensonhurst Bean, who took me there to report on this strange, warm ritual. I saw 86th street, a cemetery, a live commisioned graffiti artist, struggling businesses and old friends. Where you live can surprise you anytime.

Interview for Biographile with Nick Reding of "Methland"

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

I had the honor of speaking with Nick Reding, an author who truly thinks about what's happening to the land in between our coasts. Methland blew me away when I first read it- although the drug epidemic is incidental to the story of a real town decimated by Big Agriculture, job loss and the effects of the Green Revolution, it's still an awesome story.


Shooting for Urban Art Beat at the BK Hip Hop Festival

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

Oy vey, am I excited. Tomorrow at Pier 3 is the annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, where I'll be hanging out and shooting for Urban Art Beat, an organization dedicating to enhancing the lives of NYC youth through hip hop heritage, mentoring, and music workshops.They'll be sharing the stage with Busta Rhymes. That's what I said.

MS on Charlie Rose 'The Brain' Series

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

A terrific, optimistic and comprehensive overview on MS. Even if you live it and know it,they're wonderful speakers and some of this is new to me.

What spoke most, to me, is the conversation about the risk, and potential for high reward, in using one of the 8 treatments for MS. It highlights how far the importance of honesty, frankness and the inclusion of the patient in decision-making when treating.

Submission to Volup2 Magazine

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

So me, Tiara, Dondrie and Bridie had a great Friday, sweet talking our way into the Great Hall of the Brooklyn Museum, playing dress up and generally swingin' around Brooklyn for a photographic submission for Volup2 Magazine's ZEST issue. This mag is everything- inclusive and imaginative exploration of beauty, fashion and narratives. I hope it works out. if not, we still get to see Dondrie in a yellow dress, and isn't that enough?