Tonight I had the overwhelming pleasure of seeing Jessie Bear perform in her new almost one woman show, Type What Now. In the play, Jessie recounts her real life tale of being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and oh what a journey it is. Jessie starts of by talking about her thoughts of self hatred, which we all have. She hates her body and the way every inch of it looks and she tells us all of this at length. Even as she tells it, you can feel the audience judging, not her, but themselves and it’s a powerful intro to say the least. It sets the stage for a play which explores self loathing, guilt, pain, fear and finally joy as Jessie unearths the epic tale of her battle with her very own body.
From here, we see her health start to fall into disrepair. She starts peeing constantly and loses weight and has poor vision. Once she finally goes to a doctor, the doctors go back and forth on what type of diabetes she has, creating some funny if not heartbreaking moments. But here’s the thing, this blog isn’t to tell you about the horror of getting diabetes or what diabetes type 1 and 2 are all about. I’m also not here to recount or even review the play. I’m here to tell you about Jessie Bear, a person who above all other things, I am most proud to call my friend.
I met Jessie a few years ago when she was still in grad school at NYU and I knew then that she was an immensely talented writer. While Type What Now proves this, I want to now add “incredibly brave” to the list of things I think of when I look at Jessie. To bear her soul in this show moved me on a level I could barely understand. I fidgeted in my seat during the parts where she talked about the symptoms and what was happening to her, and cried on and off for the entirety of the show. We all feel hate for ourselves but ultimately Jessie reminds us, we are beautiful in the fact that our bodies allow us to live and “Nothing is more beautiful than a human being who is alive.”
At the beginning of the show, Jessie promised that at the end of the show she would look each of us in the eye and tell us we were beautiful and I was scared. Scared that I would cry my eyes out when she finally did this. Scared that I’d already be a mess. But most of all scared that I wouldn’t believe her when the time came. Yet by the time this moment did arrive I was shaken to my core. Not only had Jessie gone through this huge life changing event, she had survived it.
A while back, Jessie started writing a blog about this experience which would eventually become this play and I remember reading it and feeling scared by it. I was scared by the thought of an incurable disease and she described it and her anger towards it in such detail. Her pain was so real that I admit I could barely handle it.
As many of you know, I myself have not been free of health concerns. Last year I was diagnosed with and treated for lung cancer even though I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life. Because of this, Jessie’s words on the anger we feel at not being in control rang clear and true. But she also made the point that we then must feel joy at every day that we are in control of our bodies. I’m so thankful for knowing that my disease was curable while Jessie still fights hers each and every day.
To Jessie I want to say this: Your courage and wit inspire me everyday. I don’t think I’ve ever said that outright to you because that’s not a thing friends really say to each other even though they should. So I’m saying it now. You are a hero to me and I love you and you are so so so beautiful. Please never forget that. I can’t imagine that after this that you ever will.
All of you can and should see Type What Now, part of New York’s Fringe Festival, if you are able. There are still tickets and three showings left. I urge you to not waste this opportunity to see the most honest piece of theater I have ever had the pleasure to witness.
Type What Now is written and produced by Jessie Bear, Directed by Stefan Hartmann and co-stars Anne Flowers as every other person who met with Jessie during the journey.