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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

This is the last picture my dad took of me. Mum e-mailed it to me this evening.

Blah. I'm grinding the regular daily. We had a performance of Hamlet this morning which went quite well (I broke down very appropriately and expectedly in Ophelia's mad scene). I've spent the rest of the day trying to catch up on all things Gamut-related which have slipped as a result of my musical directorship - and I do mean all day. I've been home for five hours and I haven't stopped working - e-mailing, editing pictures, updating the website, sending out press releases. Sigh. So much for practicing and composing and getting into college and all that shit.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Saturday, February 25, 2006




More later. Have to go teach a class.

Monday, February 20, 2006

These were taken at the theatre a couple of weeks ago.


I'm focusing a little better. Matt and I stayed up last night finalizing the Frog and Toad program. Lots of music stuff to do tonight.
Jason and Lucy read this at Dad's funeral today. I had a lot of trouble focusing while I was writing it, and I'm sure there are things that I wanted to say that I forgot, but I don't think it matters.
Dad didn't have an easy life. But then, perhaps none of the people I know well have had truly easy lives. He and I possessed a closeness of experience, of lives tempered in the same fire. We shared so many times together, both good and bad, that we barely needed to speak to know how the other was feeling. Sometimes he would just look at me, and I at him, and we would understand each other. There are emotions and reactions that Dad and I shared that nobody else could possibly comprehend completely, and I will miss knowing that there is someone else on the planet who went through all those years with me.

Dad wasn't an intellectual man, but he had an enormous influence on my intellectual tastes. He was the first person to introduce me to crosswords. I remember how happy I was to tell him the first time I solved a clue in the Courier Mail at the age of seven. Years later, crosswords are still my puzzle of choice. Dad didn't read books, but he inspired and nurtured my lifelong love for detective mysteries, British comedies, and foreign films, from which I can extrapolate most of my other tastes - everything from my fashion to the music I listen to. Like my dad, I love to travel as much as I can. I must have inherited that from him, because there's nobody else in my family who enjoys venturing far from home. When he made his journey to Europe in August, I admired him for it, and I couldn't help thinking that, if I were in his situation, I'd want to do exactly the same thing with the last months of my life.

I enjoyed watching my friends' faces whenever they heard my dad speak for the first time. There was always a look of confusion as they heard a pure Queensland outback accent, complete with Australianisms like 'struth', pouring from the mouth of a short, unassuming Chinese man. He used to tell me proudly of the shock on the faces of work colleagues he'd met in person for the first time after speaking to them only on the phone. They couldn't reconcile the way he looked with the way he sounded. I loved how he broke down that stereotype. Dad made me proud to be an Australian-born Chinese, and in the same way he did, I find myself revelling in breaking down stereotypes, both as an Australian and as a Chinese woman.

He could have a temper sometimes, but he had a sense of fun, too. Dad was the first person in my family who talked to me as an adult when I was a teenager, but in some ways, he saw the world through the eyes of a child. Sometimes, when Mum wasn't watching, he and I would indulge ourselves in luxuries like pizza and movies from the video store. We travelled together to Disneyland when I was nine, and I still remember that holiday as one of the most wonderful of my childhood. He had simple tastes and was easy to please. I never heard him complain at birthdays or Christmas as long as there was enough chocolate, cake, and sweets for him to eat, and I wonder how much of my own sweet tooth can be attributed to him.

Family meant a lot to Dad. Even when we were at our most chaotic, Dad fought to keep us together. Sometimes I don't know if that was the right thing to do, but it shows how much he loved and needed us.

I know that he was very sick towards the end. Part of me hurts that I wasn't able to be there to comfort him, but another part of me is glad that one of my last memories of Dad is of a man whose face lit up with a father's love when he saw me appear suddenly in the doorway of a hotel in London. In my memory, he will always have his dignity, and I think he would appreciate that.

I can't be at his funeral today, but time and place are meaningless to Dad now. I thank Mum and Trevor for looking after him in a way that I don't know if I would be brave or strong enough to do. Mum, you are an amazing woman, and you can live the rest of your life knowing that you willingly did more than anyone is called upon to do, and that I love you for it. Trevor, thank you for being there for Mum. She wouldn't have been able to do it without you.

And Dad, wherever you are, I hope you are at peace. I love you.

Lucy sent me the most wonderful e-mail describing the funeral. It was raining, and there were giant crows everywhere (I even heard one of them cawing while I was on the phone to Jason before the ceremony).

Lucy and Jason are the best gallows humorists in the entire world. They get it. They get everything. I love them so much.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Many people have been asking if I am going to attend the funeral in Australia, and if the problem is a matter of cost. I've even received a few kind offers of loans, and advice on bereavement fares. I guess most people don't realize that it takes around 30 hours of travel each way to get to Australia from the East Coast of the USA. I would have had to have left yesterday, which would have placed me in Sydney probably only the night before the funeral (Australia's East Coast is sixteen hours ahead of EST) and even if I'd left immediately afterwards, I wouldn't have returned to Pennsylvania until next Thursday at the earliest, heavily jetlagged and in much worse shape.

A Year with Frog and Toad opens Friday night. Not only am I one of an almost equally weighted five-member cast, I am the musical director. I could go into detail explaining all the things I have to do in the next week, but instead I'm just going to say that there is no question that I need to stay here.

I've known for a long time that it was highly unlikely I would be able to attend Dad's funeral. I came to terms with that months ago. Funerals are for the living, not for the dead. I might have considered going if Mum were alone or not coping well. She's sad, but she's doing all right, and she has Trevor. I'll see them in August as planned. I'll see Dad then too.

Small things are making me cry. I think that's normal, though.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mum has asked me to write something for Jason and Lucy to say at the funeral. I'm just letting that idea mix through my head for today. I'll start putting words down tomorrow.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Joseph Shong 1949-2006
Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2006 19:31:53 -0500
From: Melissa Dunphy

On 14 February at 4pm AEST (Feb 15 at 12:00am EST), my dad, Joe Shong, passed away from advanced prostate cancer.

Some of you knew him, some of you only knew of him, and some of you might just be readers of my blog who keep in touch, but I wanted all of you to know. He died peacefully and in his sleep in hospital. Although I'm sad, he was extremely ill towards the end, so it is good to know that he is no longer suffering. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February of last year. I last saw him when I travelled to London in August. He would have been fifty-seven next month.

If you would like to pay your respects, you are welcome to attend a short service on Monday morning at 10:30am. He is being buried in the "Chinese 7" section (off Necropolis Drive) of Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. If you plan to attend, please arrive between 10am and 10:15am. If you wish to send flowers, they can be organized by contacting Ray's Florist on +61 2 9737 8877 or by e-mailing them at with the amount you wish to spend and the type of arrangement you would like delivered.

I have already received an outpouring of support, and I thank everyone for their kind words and thoughts. It has meant a lot to me, and I'm sure it would have meant a lot to Dad too.


P.S. If you are male and over 35, please have your prostate checked annually. Please don't forget, be too squeamish, or think it won't happen to you. I love each of you too much not to tell you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My dad passed away at 4pm yesterday (midnight last night US Eastern time).

I read the news in an e-mail this evening after wrapping up a rehearsal. Despite all the warning and expectation, it hit me like a brick to the face, and I broke down dramatically all over the actors who were still in the theatre. Everyone has been very kind and wonderful, and said just the right things, or not said anything at all, which is just as good.

There are so many thoughts in my head, I don't know how to put them down. I'm all right. I'm functioning. I guess a year of anticipatory grief has done as much as it can to prepare me for this moment.

I was going to book my tickets to Australia (for later this year) this afternoon. I put it off because I couldn't decide whether to go to Uluru or not while I was down there. Now I'm continuing to put it off because I can't think. I can't think.

I called my mother a few days ago and had another wonderful conversation, but I came away with an image that has haunted me, and will continue to for some time. Dad had almost no control over his bowels, and almost every morning he would wake up having soiled the bed overnight. Mum would have to come in and clean him up, and every time, he would cry and cry because

Oh, I'm crying again.

Anyway, my point is that it is sad that he died, but it's also not sad.

He died with dignity. He had fallen over while Mum and Trevor were helping him take a shower in the morning, and later in the day, they couldn't wake him up. They took him to the hospital, where he was given morphine, and his stomach and bladder were pumped. He died peacefully and in his sleep.

I'm glad Mum didn't find him dead. I'm glad he died in a hospital, and in peace.

After he passed, Mum talked to him in his hospital bed. She swears that as she told him that, whatever one might say about how he lived his life, I owe my life and upbringing to him, tears came out of his eyes. She started to cry again while she was telling me this. "How? How could this happen when the nurses told me he was already dead?" I don't know. But it makes me cry again too.

Mum is all right. As all right as she could be. I'm glad she had her bipolar breakdown and hospital stay recently, so she's well enough to deal with this now. When she picked up the phone, the first thing she said to me was, "Don't cry! If you cry, I will start crying again. Gung-gung keeps crying and making me cry," but of course, I cried, and she cried with me. She's in fully fledged funeral organization mode. The funeral is on Monday.

Gung-gung. I almost feel worse for him than for anyone. He's ninety years old, and he just watched his youngest son waste away.

I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end.

There's so much more in my head and my heart, but it flies away as soon as I try to articulate it. I think I should try to get some sleep.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

There's my name and a crop of my picture on the Adbusters website.

C-c-c-c-c-crazy busy. Stayed up till 5:30am on Thursday night getting all the music tracks ready for the drum recording session on Friday. I managed to catch three hours of sleep before a full day of rehearsal, and the actual drum recording went until midnight. It sounds awesome, though - especially since Banks organized for the recording to take place in the Sunoco Theatre of the Whitaker Center. If anyone ever needs a drummer, contact Patrick Siler of Sycamore Productions. And if anyone wants a wonderful engineer, find Mike Banks.

On Saturday, I taught a class in the morning, performed in Beauty and the Beast, recorded the trombone part in the afternoon, and rehearsed into the evening. Oh, wait, it's still Saturday. Good god.

Anyway, I have much more to do tonight, so this is a particularly short and pedestrian blog entry.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Awesome things happened to me today. I am one happy camper.

First, I received the first midi files from the pianist for A Year with Frog and Toad, and I have nothing to worry about! They're awesome. He totally knows what he's doing on the keys. I just hope I get enough (or all) of them in time to record the drums and other instrumentalists. Tonight Matt and I recorded Joe on the guitar on those tracks and a couple of the snail's songs.

Second, some recording scheduling conflicts magically righted themselves, and all the other musicians look on track too. I'm actually starting to look forward to the process of putting all the music together, as opposed to dreading failure with every fiber of my being.

Perhaps most wonderfully of all ... remember the Adbusters competition I entered back in November? I won! I get a new pair of Unswooshers, the totally bitching evil-free shoes from the arch enemies of Nike.

Life is so great! I work myself half to death for the promise of days like this.

In other news, Moonlight's surgery was apparently a success, although she still hisses whenever Tripoli comes within a few feet. I have my fingers crossed that the behavioral problems will lessen now, though.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I just spent three hours at H&R Block getting my taxes done. My preparer said it was a good thing I was organized, or it would have taken much longer. We owe $3,000 in taxes. Three thousand fucking dollars.

West Chester called. My application was delayed because, since I am a permanent resident, I ended up on the "international students" pile. Apparently they're processing international students this month. I told her that I am applying for a music program and need an audition date, and she said she'd rush it.
Some things have a way of working themselves out, and some things don't.

I just got off the phone to West Chester University. After putting in my online application on January 9, I never received any further correspondence from them, so I rang to see what the hell is going on. The admissions office checked their records, and apparently I'm nowhere to be found in the system, despite my web application clearly listing my status as "Payment accepted, data sent, received, and confirmed!" complete with exclamation mark.

Fucking fantastic.

They're returning my call after the webmaster gets back from lunch. I guess it's a good thing I didn't want to audition in January or February. God fucking damn. This is freaking me out.

I'm a ball of worry about everything at the moment. The singing is coming together for Frog and Toad, but I'm paranoid about the instrumentalists. I haven't had a moment to collate my compositions or create any new ones. Music123 appears to have gone completely downhill in the last few months, and now it's going to take them two more weeks to ship me a violin shoulder rest - for an order I placed in mid-December. I wanted to use my violin to record my incidental music for The Glass Menagerie before my WCU audition, but now I don't know if I'll get up to speed in time. Mind you, I've been completely lax at practicing the piano, cello, and the voice as well. My sleeping patterns are completely out of whack, and I'm constantly tired. After forking out $120 for that sewing machine I found on Amazon, one of Matt's friends sold him a better one for $10. And worst of all, I can't think of anything to do but whine on my blog. Arrrrgghhh I hate myself and I want to die.

I did have a beautiful conversation with my mother last Wednesday, at least. Dad has come home. It's not good news - it's more of a deathbed situation. He has no appetite. Mum kept trying to force him to eat at the hospital, to the point where he would scream at her and cause terrible rows. Eventually, after discussion with doctors, she decided to stop pressing the issue. The doctors give him four months or so, so it's unlikely he'll last until Matt and I visit in August. I don't know which is the lesser evil: seeing Dad on his last legs, or visiting his grave. God.

Anyway, Mum began to tell me about how guilty she has been feeling lately for all the things she had ever done to Joe in the past, and I assured her at length that she has nothing to feel guilty about. Joe certainly wasn't an innocent, and was free to live life as he wished. And Mum is acting incredibly selflessly (if any act can rightly be called truly selfless) right now. It was a great phone call.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I meant to mention the other day how completely enamoured I am with Dakota Fanning. She blows my mind. I was watching the SAG awards the other night (usually I don't bother watching awards ceremonies, but this one interrupted my regular Law & Order schedule) and I caught Dakota presenting a special award to Shirley Temple Black. Dear God. The girl, who is all of eleven years old, managed to speak with more poise and professionalism than anyone else at the podium all evening. Honestly, what the hell is up with actors who can't speak in front of people at award ceremonies? Here's a tip: act like you're a really good MC. You know, use your acting talent.

I don't care if people think that Dakota hasn't yet tackled a difficult acting role or is micromanaged by parents and coaches. She does it so well that I'm a devotee. I sincerely hope her career makes it through to adulthood, and I really think it will because her schtick is so much more mature than most child actors.

Mixed with the admiration is a good measure of intense professional jealousy, naturally.

The other highlight of the SAG awards was S. Epatha Merkerson receiving her statue from Benjamin Bratt and explosively thanking her divorce lawyer. That might have just been the L&O withdrawal, though.

My latest project is was making a guitar case for Matt's ludicrous bass. Unfortunately, my sewing machine just kicked the bucket. I've had a cheaparse Janome (I think it's worth around $100) since our wedding, but things have started to go wrong with it. The thread started breaking at the foot occasionally a few months ago, and now I can't sew for two minutes without having to rethread. Unfortunately, the "25-year warranty" states that after the first year, I have to pay for labor and postage to have it fixed, which I fear would come to more than it's worth. I tried opening it up completely and playing with the guts, but it doesn't seem to do much good for very long. So I'm considering getting another machine. I'm thinking of this one, since I tend to sew pretty heavy material, such as the kind with which you make guitar cases (probably why my old sewing machine is about to give up the ghost).

Apologies to anyone that I haven't contacted and whose e-mails I have ignored. I've been busy and tired and antisocial lately. It's honestly nothing personal.