In just over a year, two very dear friends of mine passed away, and I wanted to say something not just about them, but about a trait that they shared. I wanted to say something in general about the kind of friend they were, the type of love they offered, the shared character of their kindness and generosity.
They both deserve their own individual remembrances; they both deserve a better writer than me to memorialize them; they both deserved a better friend than me. But they both believed in and loved me, and so I want to do the best I can by them.
Marilyn Blake and Meg Brulatour were two extraordinary women who guided me and opened doors for me in different aspects of my life.
I met Marilyn when I first started volunteering with Richmond Shakespeare; I was only just beginning my journey with Shakespeare and Marilyn was one of the first Shakespeareans I met. I had read most of the canon and was looking to expand my horizons by seeing some performances, but being too broke to buy tickets and also wanting to get an insider view of how Shakespearean theatre is made, I reached out to Richmond Shakes and offered to volunteer. Marilyn responded, and responded, and responded. For the better part of a year, she invited me to participate in every aspect of the operations of the company. She welcomed me with open arms and guided me through a dozen different jobs with the company, never judging me for my ignorance. Years later, when she was doing some volunteer work with the kids in the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center and the staff asked for a Shakespeare teacher to work with the kids, she recommended me, and I taught a six week Shakespeare theatre program at RJDC. Marilyn and I stayed in touch until her death at the end of 2018. She’d shoot me an email whenever there was something Shakespeare-related going on. We’d run into one another at various theatre events or on the VCU campus where she taught the occasional Spanish class.
I met Meg because I grew up with her daughter, Mary. Meg was always a “cool mom,” one of the few parents that we liked as much as we liked their kid. We’d spend hours at Mary’s house chatting with Meg, listening to her stories about books or her past life as a radio DJ and English professor. My friendship with Meg really started in earnest when she took an interest in my writing. At some point Mary passed along to Meg something I had written, a zine or a blog entry or something and she reached out to me to offer praise (and criticism) and guidance. Thus started a years-long email correspondence wherein Meg would lovingly rip to shreds various pieces I would send her, peppered with book recommendations. When I started working on self-publishing a collection of short stories, Meg painstakingly edited hundreds of pages for free, giving it her full attention, and following each recommendation for a re-write with an example from one of her favorite books, “if you want to know how to communicate this idea more succinctly using dialogue, read these two paragraphs in the McCarthy I sent you…” or something to that effect.
I attended a surprise birthday party for Marilyn in 2016, and we were invited to offer a toast to her, and I said something then that held true for Marilyn until she passed away, and is also true of Meg. I said that the way Marilyn showed love — at least to me — was in opening doors for me, enabling me to do the kind of work I wanted to do. Marilyn Blake made me a Shakespearean because when I was at my most nervous and vulnerable, she brought me into the fold and coached me through my first nervous days working in theatre. That is a unique quality, and one that requires a lot of work. It’s fairly easy to be the kind of friend that you get coffee and gossip with, but it is exhausting to put in the hours helping someone achieve their dreams because you believe in them. It’s difficult to want someone to be better, but I think that’s the most important thing you can do for someone you care about: help them to become the kind of person they want to be. Sometimes that requires nurturing and comfort, and sometimes that requires constructive criticism.
I tend to think in practical terms. For an artist, I find very little comfort and interest in the ineffable. To some, friendship might mean a shoulder to cry on or the sharing of an inside joke, but to me, friendship is advice and collaboration — it’s working together to get things done; it’s creativity. The strongest bonds I feel are with people that I have worked with on things that are important to me.
Because of Marilyn, I now do a lot of work in the world of Shakespeare. Because of Meg, I’ve actually become a half-decent writer. Because of the efforts of these two amazing women, I’m a bit closer to my dreams. I have a lot of friends that I can gossip with over a cup of coffee, but I only have a few that I think have elevated my art and creativity. I am so lucky to have known both of them.
I hope to someday be the kind of friend to others that Marilyn and Meg were to me. I hope to be the kind of friend who puts in the work to make you a better person, who adds to the substance of your life in a meaningful way. I hope that I have the courage to offer the tough criticism that causes you to improve, and the strength to nurture you when you are unsure of yourself. I hope that as I grow older, I become as wise and patient as they were with me when I was foolish and stubborn. I hope that I grow up to be half the person that they were.