In Pursuit

Of a place where laughter

outweighs distrust.

Where boredom has shrunk

to a four-letter word.

Where my mind is stretched,

my body worn,

but my soul still smiles.


What bad

outweighs the good?

And what good

will cause the bad to shrink?

How much will money matter

when there are stories to be told,

adventures to be had,

mouths to be kissed,

lessons to be learned,

and fun to be had?

Can people

outweigh the cost?

Can laughter

outweigh the risk?

Has stable become

yet so overrated?

What freedom can be found

when unstable



become such friendly, familiar words?

Take a deep breath,

Eyes wide open.

Hand in hand with fear and fate,


In. Out. Up. Over.


Whatever is next.




You’re not a writer, not anymore.

You’re not a reader, not anymore.

What are you that is more than just

a girl sitting there with stories in her head?

Stories to tell

Words to share

And, yet.

The page stays blank.

The blog unfilled.

Your mouth stitched closed.

The books gather dust;

too embarrassed to face their words that come so freely.

Nothing comes without change.

So what are you willing to chance?

I Am the Woman You Should Fear

Yo soy la mujer, que debe temer.

I am the woman, you should fear.


A frightening thing to behold.

A woman in charge.

Unafraid of the challenge.

Unafraid of you.


Not another trophy for your case.

No placeholder.

No prize.

I know all your games,

And I play better.

Winner take all.


Make no mistake.

Woman I am, but

Meek I am not.

Not your doormat, scapegoat, or pawn.

This is my world, my time.

Bow down to your queen.


You saw only the roses,

Let’s show you the thorns.

I gave you fair warning.

We play by my rules here.


You just didn’t believe me.

I am the woman you should fear.


Running In My Veins

Sometimes I think it’s ink that runs through my veins instead of blood.

I breathe stories and colors instead of oxygen.

I find nourishment in the small gestures,

the connections and essence I watch people leave in my wake.

His hand lingers on his glass,

flirting with the whisky drops left, flickering in the candlelight.

She smiles at nothing in the dim light of the bar.

They trace the grain of the wood on the table to avoid the answers staring in their faces.

Moments, shared human lives, as we live,

blundering through this reality.

Here I find my calm. Satiated, centered, floating,

I pick up a pen, open a vein,

and begin to bleed.

Cancerous Nostalia

Breathing in the warm and bitter smoke

of toxic memories and drunken nights,

the taste of paper and tobacco seared into my brain

joint too closely with you.

The ember and glow light up

the hidden concave lines of your sculpted face,

the sharp jaw that pierced my heart

and breaks through the walls I try to bury it in.

The haze in my memory floats away like the smoke

we blew downwind off of rooftops.

Just the scratch of the match brings me back,

the past illuminated by flame.

A time of youth and beauty,

both glorious and dangerous.

A time best forgotten. Locked away,

hidden like the pack I resist in my drawer.

Like you.

Hidden away and reminded not to touch.

Until the nights are too long, the stars too lonely.

So I climb out to the roof

for one more long drag.


Life changes quite rapidly, have you noticed?

When I last posted, I had made decisions about the next six months of my life. I everything planned out and had a future in mind. The only variables were the boy I had just met and grad school looming in the future. It was going to be a wonderful and structured summer. I knew where my life was going and what was happening.

Then on a whim I rented a car and drove up to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to see a new musical I had been involved in years ago. I told none of my friends or former colleagues I was coming. It was just a spur of the moment trip. I also thought it would be fun to surprise them if things looked quiet in the office.

I stop to pick up flowers as I cross into town and finally check my phone that had been on silent the last three hours. Something close to 16 missed messages. 5 from my former boss/mentor and the rest from my good friend, and his current assistant. They had seen my name on the house report, was I really coming to see the show? Where was I? Was I here yet?

Then the two that would change everything.

“Do you want my job?” (This is an old joke as her former intern. I laughed to myself and didn’t respond)

“No, I’m serious this time. I just gave notice…”

I walk into the office and am promptly picked up and deposited in her chair. “See ?”she says, “I fixed the problem!” After more chaos and hellos from old friends and colleagues, I sit down with my mentor. I ask if he’s serious about this all. And while he’s still wrapping his mind around her departure, he’s serious. If I want the job, it’s mine. He’ll be putting out a search in the coming weeks, I should expect a call.

“Weeks” becomes one, we have an informal chat about what this would mean and the actual duties of the job. He’s interviewing two others, I’m still first choice if I want it. I won’t hear from him for about a week or so.

It’s less than 24 hours when he calls back with an offer. What’s my decision?

I remember being in my office in New York, between Madison and 5th avenues. I’m doing well, by all definitions I’m successful. But this job isn’t the one I want. It’s barely in the field I want to be in. I look around at my framed pictures and bulletin boards and folders of materials for the incoming students and suddenly feel trapped and stifled. The chains of academia suddenly are a crushing weight on my aspirations.

So before I barely think the words. Yes. Yes, I’ll take it. Send me a contract and we’ll begin negotiations for my arrival in Massachusetts.

My boss arrives several hours later. I give notice at the end of the day. I have done many scary and crazy things. Giving notice at Syracuse University still may be one of the scariest things I’ve done so far.

And somehow, I float on my way to dinner with an old friend. Who nearly drops his laptop in his shock at the sudden turnabout.

The weight was gone. And I had two weeks to pack up my life and try starting a new one.

So here we are in the Berkshires, helping run a theater company. My mentor/boss and I share looks and laughter over our desks of how utterly insane we are to be here and the utter insanity we deal with on a regular basis. But every night, the show goes on, the beautiful moments happen, and we make some art and make some difference.

And it makes all the difference.


First Impressions

For anyone who has ever done Summer Stock Theatre, the terms “company manager” and “change over weekend” come accompanied by a wince and gratitude towards the crazy men and women who willingly elect to become the temporary parents for hundreds of actors/interns/staff/etc. and steer the ship through the chaos of 24 hour work calls. Or shudders of horror in recollecting those who were not up to the task.

If you haven’t done Summer Stock Theatre, take pride in your sanity. Imagine a small town in the middle of nowhere with just a theater as the major attraction, maybe there’s a lake or mountain if you’re lucky. You hire and drive/fly/train/bus 300-500 theatre professionals for three to five months, stick them in rental houses with roommates and shared rental cars and hope for the best. There are anywhere from 10 to 30 events that happen in this small time span, plus parties to celebrate all of them, all of which are under the watchful eyes of rich donors, patrons, and members of the board of directors for the theater.

Imagine everything that could possibly happen in those three months, never mind go wrong, and you have a rough estimate of Summer Stock and only an inkling of what it means to be a company manager for these crazy circuses.

Unsurprisingly to anyone, I spent two years on a company management team. The two women heading the team are the best company managers I have ever met, and even they had a fifth of whisky in their shared desk by July.

It was the end of July and in the span of 36 hours we had 56 people departing the theater for their real lives and 26 arriving for the final show of the summer. People had to be driven to airports, train stations, bus stations, with massive amount of luggage in tow. The open rooms had to be flipped (cleaned) to return rental houses to owners or prepare for their new tenants arriving. The tech crew was working in overnight shifts to take down one set and put in another, we had to coordinated 4 meals for them and keep caffeine and water flowing.

We made a plan. We practiced the plan. If we kept to the plan, it was all easy. We even had 6 hours each to sleep! We all had copies of the plan in our back pocket. We started at midnight on Saturday. By 8am Sunday, I was picking up a group headed to bus station when I heard a noise downstairs. The boiler in our biggest house looked as though it had been stabbed and there was a foot of boiling water in the basement.

And there goes the plan!

I am calling everyone on my team while tossing luggage into my car. I get the first group on their bus and turn around to take the second group to the train station. An actress felt bad about the mess she left behind and decided to run the dishwasher to help us. I arrive in time to watch mountains of suds ooze across the linoleum. I’m covered in suds and shoving laundry to catch the water when my boss arrives with our handy man in tow. I grab the actors leaving with me and drive the hour to the train with soap still in my hair while my boss tries to salvage the plan.

I have a lovely breath of silence on my ride back. I return with refills of supplies and to the team being mostly back on track. It’s only a few hours of work later when the company phone rings.

The AC unit in a lead actor’s apartment unit is missing. His contract requires one. We have one window unit left in storage. I am handed the unit and off again to the next town over where he’s staying.

He is a charming, older actor who has been working at this theatre company almost since its inception. He’s a favorite among the staff so I’ve heard plenty about him though this is our first time meeting. He offers to lend me a hand as I work to install the unit in his room, which I readily accept. We’ve got it settled in the windowsill when I reach up to close the window to secure it. And watch him let go of the unit. As our last AC unit tumbles out of the window towards the asphalt below, I am struck with the horror of how this is going to end. The unit will smash, I will have to interrupt the plan once more to track down the petty cash to buy a new one, assuming we can find any left in stores this late in the summer, and there will be an additional layer of chaos tossed into our already maddening stretch. I don’t remember making any decision or choosing to act, I just remembering thinking “No!” before diving out the window to catch the unit by the electrical cord.

The world stopped, stunned for a second at the sight of a tiny 22 year old girl dangling out of a second story window clinging to the cord of an AC unit suspended maybe a foot above the pavement below.

Not knowing how to break the stillness I uttered the obvious. “I caught it.” The laughter that roared out of my companion was enough to shake the house.

He went outside to the ground level to help pass it back up so I could haul it back into the window. We successfully secured the unit in the window, and made sure it worked before both of us collapsed again into laughter.

We made it through the rest of the changeover weekend. The end of the 36 hours stretch was created with whisky toasts and an immediate collapse into our beds.

The summer continued as normal. The story of the crazy intern and the AC Unit spread through the company. I was given a helmet in case I felt like diving through any more windows.

The summer ends and we all go back to our regular lives in cities across the country. We all stay in touch and laugh over our misadventures this summer. We see that our old favorite actor will be performing over the winter. Of course we have to go see him.

We meet him backstage and he is overjoyed to see us. He introduces my friend and I as the best company management team he has ever seen. He winks at me before continuing, “And I have a great story to prove it…”

First impressions die hard, but they often leave behind great stories.

Kevin Bacon Challenge

There’s a running joke among my friends. I can beat Kevin Bacon, with me it’s not Six Degrees of Separation, it’s two. Maybe.

It gets rather ridiculous. With the existence of social media, it’s worse than ever before.

The final straw for a friend of mine happened at a random fundraising event we were invited to attend. The event director was an actor who I’d missed by mere weeks when we were both seasonal employees at a theatre company. After his departure, his headshot was pasted in every dressing room as a joke. I recognized him instantly. We’re now friends on Facebook and run into each other everywhere.

So a challenge was laid forth. I had to top the ridiculous instances of connection with mere strangers. I had to find a story of two degrees of separation that involved a dog, only the dog.

She was rather displeased to find I already had one.

My final year of school, I interned at a costume shop as an assistant to the head costumer. I spent weeks in a basement surrounded by clothing from any time period you could imagine, sorting, cleaning, cataloging, and preparing paperwork for designers. My favorite moments were when designers would come in to discuss the pieces that had to be built from scratch. Hours would be spent poring over watercolor sketches trying to match fabrics and discuss silhouettes. Bolts upon bolts of fabric would be brought out, it was always exciting, colorful, and the heart of the creative process, taking the idea and figuring out how to bring it to life. Many of these designers had small dogs that they would bring along. You could always tell when the dog had been around the costume shop before. There was one who came in several times, a snooty french bulldog named Paul. He would walk into each dressing room and sneeze before sticking up his nose and walking out. Twice I was sorting costumes when he made his rounds. I had never felt so judged by a dog before. When his owner began comparing fabric, he would roll his eyes and stomp over to his traveling crate until she finished. His precise judgement, eye rolls, and general behaviors were hysterical to watch. His owner was close friends with my boss (as well as incredibly talented and working on a large show that season), because of this, I got to watch Paul roll his eyes at our staff every week while I was working there.

Fast forward over two and a half years later. I’m working at a different regional theatre in a different state, nearly two hundred miles away. I’m now in the management office, I’m the apprentice to the Managing Director. Instead of costumes and watercolor sketches, my day-to-day now involves contracts and tax forms. I’m working in my shared office in an ancient house turned office building when I hear the soft click of nails on hard wood. There’s a familiar looking french bulldog that has somehow wandered into our office. He raises a judgmental eyebrow at the artistic office across the hall. In surprise, “Paul?”, slips out of my mouth before I have put it all together. The dog is as surprised as I am, clicks his way over to my desk before rolling his eyes and extending his head (and permission) to be pet. As I reach down to pet him, I hear the thud of footsteps from the other end of the hall. “Paul, what on earth are you doing here?” I ask of the dog as I check his tag to make sure, and indeed somehow this snooty dog and I have found each other again. An out of breath actor I’ve met only once hears me and runs into the room. He looks curiously at me and I look back at him just as puzzled.

“This is Jess Ford’s dog.” I say. He stares at me rather confused.

“I’m Jess Ford’s husband” is his response.

Of course. The man I heard her talking about to my old boss, about how Paul wasn’t sure if he accepted the new beau in her life. Two years ago in a costume shop miles away. Turns out he’d been in the audience for both shows I’d worked with her on, we chatted at the company parties about her designs and the shows. She came up for the opening weekend of his show and laughed hysterically when she realized that the common connection was discovered through Paul and his familiar attitude.

Two degrees of separation. It’s a thing.

The world is a tiny place.


A Ghost Story

Is there anything better than a ghost story? Some of my favorite moments are the ones spent huddled around steaming mugs of tea and whisky and whispering fantastic tales of things we cannot explain.

As someone who grew up in colonial Connecticut and Rhode Island, ghost stories are my bread and butter, have been since as far back as I can remember. And here’s one of my favorites:

If you’ve ever spent time in Newport, RI, you’ve at least heard of Blood Alley, now of course cleaned up to be known as Brick Alley.

There’s a lovely restaurant that sits at its mouth as the Brick Alley Pub. I went there once when I was 13 with a handful of cousins. We finish our meal and run out to play in the cobblestone alley that holds legends of pirates and pirate brawls. The youngest of us stops and asks if we hear that noise. What noise we ask? The drumbeat, she says, the steady drumbeat. Like a heart. We all strain and hear nothing. So we promptly ignore her. She’s only 6, she must be hearing things after all.

Two years later, my sister, mother, and I decided to attend a ghost tour. We follow a local college student, dressed in Victorian funeral garb, across the docks, main squares, and alley ways of Newport. Every location has a story of what has happened here, and what continues to happen as these stories continue to haunt us. There are stories of burning ships, unhappy hanged men, and mischievous children that refuse to leave our world behind.

After an hour or so, we begin to wind our way through Blood Alley, you can see where the former entrances to pubs and brothels have been wore away, restructured to cleaner manners of business. In the dark that is broken only by the flickering lantern carried by our guide, it is easy to turn shadows into the watchful eyes of lost souls guarding their territory. As the unease settles in, the guide begins her next tale.

A man is cleaning his ship when he sees a dark opening in the rock face by the wharf. He goes for a closer look and finds a tunnel. Thinking of pirates and hidden treasure, he goes to explore its length. He is quickly chased out by the rising tides.

The next day he sets out again, this time at low tide, accompanied by several of his friends. They follow the length of a tunnel until it leads to a sudden shift in size. The tunnel beyond them is too small for them to continue. But a child, a small child, could fit.

What Charles Dickens tells us is true, no one cared much for the orphans in those days.

A small orphan boy is picked up off the streets. He is promised a coin or two from the fortune he is certain to find. He is given a lantern and a drum. He is to beat the drum in a steady beat as he walks. The men will hear the drum above ground and follow him through the town. When he finds the treasure, he will beat a frantic, rhythmless pattern and the men will dig down to bring him, and the treasure, up.

The plan works. The men can hear the drum and begin to follow the beat as he leads them through the wharf, through town and Thames Street, and into Blood Alley.

The men are excited, entering Blood Alley is proof that the treasure must be real. Pirates have been here and have left their gold behind. The boy will find it any second now.

As their excitement grows, suddenly, without hesitation or warning, the drumbeat stops.

It’ll start back up in a moment, they think. He’s seen the treasure and is in shock. He’ll signal us any second now. As the time stretches on, the men decide he must have gotten scared and race to the wharf to beat him when he exits the tunnel. They are there in minutes, taking a direct route rather than the winding chase they followed earlier.

The tide comes in, the tide goes out.

With it comes the lantern, the drum, but no boy, no body.

The boy is never seen again, the men decide against disturbing the forces at work. The tunnel and presumed treasure are abandoned.

Life returns to normal.

But they say, you can often hear a slow, but steady, drumbeat making its way through Blood Alley. It never lasts long, no one past the back entrance of the pub can hear it, but if you stand in the alley, not so far back, you can hear the steady thump of the poor orphan boy still looking for his treasure.

My cousin still to this day will not enter the alley, she never wants to hear that drum beat again.

How It Began…

It’s a commonly known, and commonly mocked, love of mine. Since I could read I’ve had a love of language, but since summer 2005, I’ve been involved in a longstanding affair with the words of William Shakespeare.

Though while that was when I first began devouring his plays, I was always destined to be with The Bard.

I was born in a blizzard in 1991, a lovely palindrome of a year. My parents were not told what gender I would be, as the doctors had been unable to tell from the ultrasound. But like all McCombs babies from the past century, it was assumed I would be a boy. Imagine the uproar when I appeared lacking the expected genitalia. With no female name even considered, I was quickly given a family name from my mother’s side. The newest addition to the McCombs Clan would be not Jack or Donald, but Katherine.

But Katherine quickly did not seem to fit this new and prickly infant. My mother, being an avid theatre goer herself, quickly dubbed me Kate. “for you are called Plain Kate, And Bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the Curst” (Taming of the Shrew; Act II Scene 1)

As she loves to remind me, I was not a pleasant child.

I was 14 when she enrolled me in what we all still affectionally refer to as Shakespeare Camp. It was all downhill from there.

There was a girl in the corner with hair that fell nearly to her knees and a mischievous glint in her eye that asked me if I was Kate the Curst. When I tentatively answered yes, she responded with “A title for a maid of all titles, the worst!” She needs no other introduction.

Over ten years later, we are still best friends. We’ve played the evil sisters in King Lear together, directed poor school children (and even unluckier college students) in countless scenes and plays, sent each other terrible Shakespeare puns for Valentine’s Day, and are those girls that harass the poor kid on The High Line who quotes Shakespeare for tips. (If you ever read this sir, we’re mostly sorry.)

We now live in separate cities with new separate lives. She works for the Mathematical Association of America in DC and I still roam Manhattan and Queens in my many hats. But even long distance, Shakespeare still acts as part of the major glue of our friendship.

We both still send out and share Shakespearean Valentines over the internet. I found a sampling posted on Facebook.12670609_970046643090320_2107517520056317066_n

Not to be outdone, I received one from Pinterest:

It’s been pinned so many times, I’m struggling to find the original creator to credit. Whoever you are, you’re my favorite.

For my last birthday, I received two books. One on Shakespearean themed cocktails, and a second on Shakespearean interpretations of contemporary pop songs or Pop Sonnets by Erik Didriksen. I flip through at random often and am consistently delighted. I’ve suddenly discovered an appreciation for Carly Rae and T Swift.

With over 25 years defined by history’s greatest storyteller, is it any wonder that my life has become defined by a myriad of stories that I continue to live and tell?

I am so excited to share them with you.