(I reserve this blog for work updates. But occasionally there is some crossover between work and not work. This is one such occasion.)
A couple months back, I finished directing my 20th episode of television. For each of those episodes, I had a routine I consistently followed, usually by the third or fourth day of prep.
I called Joyce.
I would call her at her home near New Haven while I’d be driving to the studio or about to have dinner. She’d always pick up and say “Oh darlin’ I’ve just been thinking about you!” I’d then tell her the storyline of that episode – tell it to her from my memory as if I was telling someone about a movie I had just seen. It would help me immensely. I figured, if I can tell someone the story of the episode as if it’s already aired, then that means I can see it clearly in my mind and will better be able to bring it to life on the screen.
We started this routine on my first episode back in October 2014 and the episode turned out so well we both figured we should do this every time. I would call this woman who was probably 25 years older than me who had no TV service, no social media presence, no experience in the film or television industry and barely understood how the internet worked – yes, that’s who I’d call. She was my secret weapon.
Because Joyce was, quite simply, one of the greatest storytellers I have known.
She could weave a metaphoric tale or relate a true story from her incredible life – she grew up in a dozen different countries around the world – in a way that made you feel as though you were there, as if you could taste the fruit from Libya or hear the sounds of South Korea in the morning.
She observed the world as a writer-poet-philosopher might and would sit down with us at our table in New Haven and wonder and marvel and explore with us. She fearlessly approached strangers and would strike up conversation, discovering new stories and worlds through them. She guided us through moments of joy and pain, elation and grief and everything in between.
If only we could be guided by her now.
Joyce died Wednesday night with Valarie and Valarie’s mother by her side.
Five years ago, a terrible disease that had been silently eating away at her without any of us knowing nearly consumed her entirely. From her recovery bed, she promised us she would live so she could throw our future babies in the air. Incredible doctors and her relentless spirit allowed her to keep that promise and more. We all hoped – more than hoped, practically begged – that she would emerge from it and share more of her life with us.
It was a gift, these last five years. But still, not enough. Future plans unfulfilled. Future trips together never taken.
It’s difficult and nearly impossible to describe our relationship with Joyce. Too old to be a sister, though she was perpetually youthful – so not quite an aunt or a mother. But she did fill us with sage like wisdom in ways I can’t describe, in a manner that cannot be replicated. She was truly one of the most unique and indescribable people I have ever met. And I still have no idea how old she was. But it didn’t matter – it never mattered.
She was timeless. And now eternal.
In a couple weeks, I’m going to get a new script for a new show. In the back of my mind I’m going to say to myself – call Joyce. But then I’ll catch myself and remember. And remember.