INWIWA (in-wee-wah): acronym; “It’s Not What I Want”

(Preface: I have an amazing mother who, despite not officially being a therapist, has been mine for the past 21 years.)

When I was in elementary and middle school, my mom used to help me study at night, and one of the ways she helped me memorize material was by creating fun acronyms, where each word stood for some part of whatever I was memorizing.

When I was a teenager, in the midst of one of the frequent, yet treasured, 2 a.m. therapy sessions with my mom, the acronyms made a comeback.

INWIWA (pronunciation “in-wee-wah”): It’s not what I want.

Say it out loud. Go ahead. Give it a shot.

As funny as it sounds, and it does sound ridiculous, this acronym has been one of the most important parts of my life, one of the building blocks creating me (Disclaimer: I’m still under construction.) How long has it taken me to be able to say that with conviction? Too long. But it’s a process. And each time I’ve said it, thought it, or written it has been a step to finally being able to cut through the crap, identify what I want or don’t want, say it, and believe it. No backpedaling or explanation needed.

When I finally said it, it was freeing. I took a deep breath, let it out, and felt proud of myself (another big step).

On this occasion, I said it about taking the next step in a side business I’ve joined called India Hicks. IH is a direct sales company created by British designer India Hicks that offers women the opportunity to empower themselves through their own business of sharing IH’s extraordinary collection of gifts and accessories.

I recently became an independent ambassador and have loved being a part of this company, but I am also still a full-time student and human being who is about to enter the real world, and that’s enough to wrap my head around without all the extracurriculars and other jobs/roles that we all have. So, when I received a corporate lead about someone interested in joining the company, I was thrilled, but immediately felt my chest tighten and my brain kick into high gear.

The anxiety of following up with a woman I’ve never met and professionally welcoming her to IH while trying to get organized for my final year of college and the idea of trying to manage a group of ambassadors while trying to manage my own life and prepare for the real world (and have a little fun, too!) was overwhelming.

Moment of Truth: I don’t need that right now. And that is perfectly okay. It’s a good and positive thing that I was able to identify that. It’s empowering to know that and say it out loud.

(That’s what IH is about, too–allowing women to empower themselves through a personal business that can be as big or as small as they want.)

I want to be a part of the company, I want to have Get Togethers, to use the beautiful product, and to support this community of women, but I don’t want or need to manage and keep up with my own team right now.

My Revelation: That’s okay. It’s not set in stone; it may change in the future. But truthfully, right now, I don’t have time. And there are things right now that are more important to me right now. Things that are my higher priorities. And the time that I do have, I choose to devote to those things.

I am one of those things.

It’s important to give yourself the freedom, permission, and power to set your own priorities, to know your own boundaries, and to say “no.”

And in that way, you can be a little selfish. Allow yourself to be selfish–or call it self-defense, if “selfish” is too negative for you, because it truly is self-defense. You know what you can and can’t do. You know what you want and don’t want to do, too. And you’re the only one who truly knows those things, and who can truly defend them. (More words of wisdom from my mom.)

When you do that, it’s a great feeling–it’s easier said than done–but it’s a great feeling. Trust me.

I told my mom that I had decided that I don’t want to be an IH director right now. You know what she did? She smiled and said, “INWIWA.”

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

xKatherine

 

 

 

The Guy Who Found Our Doll (part II)

“Previously on Notes from the Undergrad…” I told you about the unbelievable gift my family and I received at my grandmother’s funeral from George Wagner, the property master of the Broadway hit Hamilton.

Two weeks later (and days before my final exams), I hopped on a flight from Atlanta to New York to join the rest of my family for the once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet George, “the guy who found our doll,” and stand in “The Room Where It Happened” on the very stage upon which my grandmother had performed almost seventy years ago.

After dinner with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins, we walked to the Glass House Tavern to meet George for a drink. I can only imagine that a group of nine grown adults jumping up to embrace and thank him the second he walked through the door must have been a bit overwhelming, but we were so excited to thank him for what he’d done for our family. And, to George’s credit, he didn’t immediately turn around and bolt out of the door. To the contrary, he was the most friendly, charming, and truly humble person, graciously accepting our thanks and sharing his side of the story with us.

As he had written in his note to us, he had been called to assess the damage in a spot in the house of the theatre where the railing had detached from the wall. This technically wasn’t even his job at the theatre, but someone needed to deal with it and George offered. (What a guy!)

When he had cleared the dust and debris out of the hole in the wall, he found the scrap of paper with my grandmother’s name on it and, though he could have tossed it in the garbage, being a theatre history buff, he decided to look her up.

A quick Google search of “Marian Burke Guys and Dolls” brought several results, the first two being her resume on Playbill.com and her obituary. When George realized that she had lived in Wyckoff—not far from his New Jersey home in Kinnelon—and that her funeral service was being held the very next day, he mounted the program insert and wrote the letter to our family, deciding to personally drop it off to the church the next morning before the funeral. (Again I say, what a guy.)

After telling us his story and being treated to the variety act that is the Carey-Wright family anywhere we go, George led us across the street to the Richard Rodgers Theatre and behind the barricade outside the stage door, where audience members and fans were still waiting, probably wondering who the heck we were and why we got to backstage.

Of course, as a family of theatre people, we were all in heaven getting to go backstage in a Broadway theatre, particularly the one currently housing the biggest show on Broadway—getting to see and touch the gorgeous costumes, see organized prop tables set up just like the ones we’ve worked with, and to actually see Grandma’s picture on the backstage door was a dream come true.

That would have been enough, but then George led us onstage and into “The Room Where It Happened.”

George told us that several years ago the theatre had been restored to its original design, so we really were seeing the same view that Grandma had seen when she starred as Sarah Brown.

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The view of “The Room Where It Happened.”

There are hardly words to describe how it felt to stand on that stage, under the lights where my grandmother performed in her most famous story; to see the spot in the wall where George found the program insert; and to share that experience with my family. And of course, we had to sing a few lines from Guys and Dolls. You just can’t pass up an opportunity like that—well, at least my family can’t.

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My dad, his sister Brianne, and George on stage.

The next morning, the Tony Award nominations were announced. Hamilton was nominated for a record-breaking 16 awards, more than any individual show in the history of the awards. Now, I’m not saying that our visit to the stage had anything to do with that, but the nominations were announced the very next day…

It’s still surreal to think that we stood in “The Room Where It Happened,” that we’ll be telling “The Story Of Tonight” and of Grandma for the rest of our lives, maybe one day to our own children, and someday my children and my cousins’ children will tell our story to their families. And so the show goes on.

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The whole “cast.”

In the finale of Hamilton, the company sings: “You have no control: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

Well, we may not have control of who lives or who dies, but it seems my grandmother took a little control of who tells her story, and she gave us a truly amazing story to tell.

Thanks for reading, and please share our story if you like.

xKatherine

 

The Guy Who Found Our Doll (part I)

It’s said that when a loved one passes away, they find ways to send those of us still hanging on messages to let us know that they’re okay, to communicate with and console us. And I believe that that’s true. I’ve certainly heard enough stories to believe it. But it hadn’t happened to me until my grandmother, Marian Carey, passed away.

I come from a family of show business, of storytellers. So here’s a story for the books.

Acting, singing, and, if not dancing, “moving well,” all the world’s a stage and the Careys and Wrights are the players. My cousins and I learned at a young age that everything’s a “bit,” everyone’s an audience, and “ya gotta be off book.” It’s a true blessing—and a constant competition!—to be part of a family with so much talent and passion.

It all started with my grandmother, Marian Burke. Born in Pittsburgh, Marian made her way to the “Big Apple,” New York City, and found her calling on the wicked stage of Broadway in productions such as Kiss Me Kate, Top Banana, and, most famously, Guys and Dolls. She was the second woman (ever!) to play the leading role of the Mission Doll, Miss Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, understudying the original leading lady Isabel Bigley.

Grandma’s story of the night she took over the role has become legend in our family. She remembers being told to come down to the stage and run through the choreography/blocking of the role of Sarah Brown just to make sure she was sharp, then being told that she’d be playing the part that night only a few hours before the curtain! She was shown the program insert that would tell the audience that she’d be playing the role of Sarah that evening. Going, as any good Catholic girl would, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pray, she lit as many candles as she could afford to light before grabbing a chocolate shake and returning to her dressing room, formerly used by the famous Ethel Merman. A portrait of Ethel hung behind her and smiled through the mirror. Despite Grandma’s nerves, the show went on, and so did she!

 

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Miss Sarah Brown (Marian Burke) on her pedestal, encouraging sinners to “Follow the Fold.”

Fast-Forward: My grandmother’s wake was held on April 18, 2016. The next day, during the sermon at her funeral mass, the priest told us all that he always tells the grieving family that their loved ones will reach out to them in some way to reassure them, etc., but that he had never gotten proof as quickly as he did the morning of the funeral. That morning, a letter had been hand delivered to the church by a man named George Wagner. The letter read:

Dear Carey Family,

My name is George Wagner. I am the Propertymaster at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. It was renamed from The 46th Street Theatre a number of years ago. It has been the home to many hit plays and musicals, including the original production of Guys and Dolls. As some of you must know, Marian Burke was a cast member in that original company. I suspect that she was a member of the chorus, and also understudied the role of Miss Sarah Brown, the female romantic lead.

Yesterday, a bracket holding a handrail to the wall in the upper mezzanine pulled out of the wall, and I was tasked with assessing the damage. In the process of cleaning out brick and plaster dust from the hole in the wall, I pulled out two other items: a cardboard bottle top from a long forgotten bottle of Fayette Orange Soda, and a program insert from the original 1950 production of Guys and Dolls. I mounted the insert, and would like you to have it as a tribute to Marian’s love of music and the arts, and as a token of my sincerest sympathies. I did not know her, but I will always remember her.

Sincerely, George Wagner

Now, as you can imagine, in the middle of her funeral mass, this story was more than enough to send us off the edge and into tears.

After the service and burial, we opened a smaller envelope that was inside the letter. Mounted on a piece of cardstock no bigger than an index card, was a crumpled scrap of paper that read:

“At this performance, the part of Sarah Brown will be played by Marian Burke.”

The program insert from when she took on the role in 1950.

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To say that we had chills would be the understatement of the century!

What’s more, the Richard Rodgers Theatre is currently home to the musical Hamilton, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama on April 18th, 2016—the day of my grandmother’s wake. On that very day in 1951, 65 years ago, Guys and Dolls won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.*

Now, Marian Carey was never one for subtlety, but this was beyond belief–that 65 years later, on the day of her wake, the right person was called to the right place at the right time, and found the program insert from the most famous story she ever told us. The story that we’ve told countless times since then, about the show and the program and the shake and Ethel Merman.

How many series of coincidences brought George Wagner to that theatre, to assess that particular spot on that particular day, where he found and read that tiny scrap of paper that he could easily have just thrown away, and took the time and effort to mount the scrap to preserve it and get it to Marian’s church on the morning of her funeral?!

Thanks to Grandma, “the family curse,” as we lovingly call it, of theatre, singing, and just generally entertaining anyone who’ll listen has lived on in our family, even through the tough times, and the stories have lived on too. Of course, saying “So Long, Farewell” to Grandma was hard, but, as always, she managed to be a showstopper once more. As my mother said, “Only Marian could make an entrance at her own funeral.”

We immediately tried to get in touch with Mr. Wagner to thank him for being the “guy” who found our “doll,” and for all he did to bring this incredible gift to our family. He even brought Grandma back to the theatre in a way, posting a picture of her from Guys and Dolls and a copy of the program insert on a backstage door. (We’d been telling the story to anyone who’d listen, and apparently the cast and crew of Hamilton had too!)

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Backstage of Hamilton: the Musical

We soon set up a meeting with him in New York City. After meeting him and hearing his side of this amazing story, we got to see an exclusive glimpse of his world with a backstage tour of Hamilton! Part II coming soon…

 

*Fun History Fact: Guys and Dolls did win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1951, however, as writer Abe Burrows was an enemy of the House Un-American Activities Committee, it was decided that no prize would be officially awarded that year.