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Getting a (New) Life: On Finding Comedy After Motherhood

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In his latest post for WBEZ, Nico Lang talks funny business with some radass women in the Chicago comedy scene. I am honored to be included in this hilarious group and perhaps feeling happier still for the opportunity to sit down and shoot the breeze with one of my favorite writers. If you're wondering, the answer is "yes." Yes, I do know that I'm the luckiest jerk among us all.

One reason I know this is because I didn't always feel so lucky. In the piece, Nico notes that I got started writing and performing comedy after my daughter Ida was born. But this didn't happen right away. Because the truth is that my life kind of fell apart when my daughter came on the scene.

While some of us smiled a quiet smile and felt nervous excitement after seeing that plus sign, others promptly blacked out on the bathroom floor, came to in a pile of tissues and hair (I took the trashcan down with me), shook their partner awake at 4:45 a.m. and demanded he "wake up a little first and walk me to work because this one's a motherf*cking DOOZIE," then spent an a.m. rush shift at the café crying in a closet.

In hindsight, this was an excellent induction into motherhood.

The fun didn't stop there. Slowly over the next nine months, the life I wanted -- the one I moved to Chicago for -- began to fall apart. My job disappeared and the dance company I was working with became unsustainable (this was in 2008, the year arts funding went away). It seemed that every opportunity previously set before me shriveled up like wet crepe paper. Party's over. Once Ida was born, the good news ban continued with relentless rejection letters pouring in from graduate schools and artist residencies. You name it, I was rejected from it. I was even somehow deleted from the DCFS database -- the lifeline to my family's healthcare and food. Twice. The universe was NOT interested in Liz Joynt Sandberg. To be honest, at that point I had waning interest in the universe.

I remember an afternoon when I stumbled upon a familiar quote by Baruch Spinoza: "Nature abhors a vacuum." I studied Spinoza in college as a philosophy major, and it occurred to me that 20-year-old Liz probably noted the ideological implications of this statement but never imagined the practical reality of a vacuum in her life. "Your move, Nature," I thought. Apparently, I am a life long learner.

And sure enough, during those long early days as the couch-bound hostage of a meatloaf that depended on my body for food, after the obliteration of everything I intended for my life, something started. It started in the small, weird, imperceptible way that life-changing things usually do. And from there -- from nowhere -- my phase of decimation shifted and changed. Transformation came so quiet I didn't notice it at first.

I found myself diddling around on Facebook. Somehow bolstered by my utter lack of anything to lose, I started typing what I was thinking and sharing it with my pals. I decided to start a blog to have my own space to say a little more. I found a voice that surprised me at first, and a small group of interested and encouraging readers. But the greatest transformation was that I realized that the only way failure had any power over me is if I wanted more than just to participate. I made my goal participation and behold, I crushed it. Parenting reprioritized everything in terms of what actually worked and what really mattered rather than my ideas about what SHOULD work or what OTHERS thought mattered. I transferred that knowledge to how I approached the rest of my life and began my strange, funny flourishing.

The circumstances of Ida's coming gave me the great gift of honestly looking at myself, present tense, and asking, "what are you interested in?" Because apparently what I was good at, or what I wanted in the past didn't matter as much as I thought. How hard it is didn't matter because "hard" was not where I left it. I made a baby out of my guts and then caught her with my own hands -- I was no longer afraid. I had failed in so many ways that I was unshakable. The thing about rock bottom is that it provides a really stable base.

"So what is it you want?" I was, maybe for the first time, able to hear the answer. And it was so weird and unexpected that were I not in such a stripped down state, I probably couldn't have discerned the voice that was barely my own say "Write. Say what you think is true. Make it up as you go." And because I had nothing to lose -- because it felt like everything was already gone -- because I had zero f*cks left to give, I started.

Today's post is supposed to be about a current event. And, aside from the fact that Nico's piece was just published and I wanted to share it, I wanted to remind us all that we are currently becoming. It's not in the news, but it's a BFD. This -- right now, right here, with whatever you've got -- is the right time to start the weird improbable thing that is uniquely yours to do. You owe it to yourself and your kids to be yourself.

And as Spinoza would have it, you just might find yourself, a short year or so later, palling around with the impossibly talented people you used to admire from a distance, talking about the dream come true that your life morphed into. All while the awesome kid, who was the end and beginning of everything, who used to be a baby, is killing it at gymnastics.

You might discover that you're the luckiest one.

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This post originally appeared in Rebellious Magazine.