Really, now—? Was being a member of the inaugural cast of Nashville's Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) in April, 2014, truly "life changing," as I and others involved had dubbed it? Last week, in an internal dialogue, I pondered the question. In the days that followed, numerous experiences and awarenesses affirmed that assessment....This is Nashville. We do story. And, *historically* we have been a kinda bonded, close-knit city guised as a small town. So, it was natural that Nashville LTYM knocked it out of the park and broke national attendance records for a one-night performance. It also was not surprising that our first cast bonded almost like glue. Why? It was more than our city's strong sense of community. It was perhaps that we all stepped from behind the curtain to reveal parts of ourselves that some of us, including me, had never or rarely revealed before. Not to a whole stage. And then a whole world of You Tube. We were giving voice—our own and for others—to the joys, highs, and lows of being a mother, having a mother, a special needs mother pining for an empty nest, a single mother, even not being a mother, and more.
From the first rehearsal and every time we heard her read, one LTYM sister took our breath away when she shared a poem she had written about her mother. Who was this lovely beauty of seemingly quiet strength; enviable poise and grace; and a heart, voice, and presence that felt like warm, gentle, loving embrace and a kiss to our spirits? We came to know her as J'laine. J'laine Vest. We'd come to learn bits and pieces about her life: that she was a published poet (40 to count, plus a book,) a playwright, author of anthologies, and teachers manuals. By the time she finished high school, she had written a book of poetry, a book of short stories, and was halfway through her first novel. She received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Arkansas. For three years, she was co-director of the Writers In The Schools (WITS) program that taught poetry to students across Arkansas. She has taught English and creative writing at many high schools and colleges, including two years overseas in Prague. And she continued her magic with the fabulous Nashville-based, A Novel Idea, which teaches youth to write prose, poetry, and novels.
Actually, we didn't know all that about her. Because J'laine was much too modest to ever tell any of us these things. Her new friends had to discover them. She reached out to me and voluntarily edited book queries and proposals, press releases, and a non-profit prospectus. Give me more, she'd ask. And mean it. She showed up at Grace's art shows and pop-ups. She was love. She was support. And I am but one of many in several states who experienced some portion of awe and wonder of this dear soul.
We learned late last week that J'laine suffered a freak accident a week ago today. A fracture to her skull caused irreparable brain damage and she died on Monday.
J'laine: thank you for being a part of our small LTYM tribe. Thank you for being a mother to your stepson, daughter, and young son. Thank you for being you. Thank you for gracing us with your presence, though for too short of a time. We are so very grateful that you gave us the following gift of your voice, your essence, and your amazing talent in these words:
Rest in peace, dear one. So many love you very, very much. For our loss, there are no words.
Audition slots for the Nashville Listen to Your Mother, 2015 filled up in rapid speed. (There were 80 slots last year, from which our cast of 13 were chosen.) Can't wait to see the new slate of talent. Mark your calendar. You won't want to miss it: Sat. May, 20, Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Also coming to 39 cities across the country near, on, or around Mother's Day. Ten cities were added this year. Each city will have its unique Listen to Your Mother cast drawing mostly from local storytellers living in the region. View more of our local stories: 2014 Nashville cast. And, nationally, find topics, other cities; 2014, and other years.