We Will Talk About These Days: Diane Bishop

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Diane Bishop smiles in photoInterview conducted by Marcie Bramucci in 2020

Location: Zoom

Diane Bishop was raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, Diane is the oldest of six siblings and is considered the "creative one." In 1995 she was on the fast track to senior management at a large pharmaceutical company when the combination of stress, deafness and an autoimmune disease resulted in permanent disability. It took a while before she realized she didn't really miss the high tech industry and she was grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the arts again.

Diane studied photography and traveled all over the world as an award-winning nature photographer. When she could no longer carry the equipment and lost the sight in her right eye, she returned to her first love of textile arts. Diane had been sewing and embroidering most of her life and won her first blue ribbon for an original embroidery at the age of 8.

She resides with her husband of 28 years in Phoenixville PA. They have a son and daughter and 3 grandchildren. Diane hopes her embroidery will be passed down to her grandchildren and considers it her legacy.

Marcie Bramucci is an artist and arts producer, with experience in theatre, film and television. As the Director of Community Investment at People's Light, she seeks out opportunities and resources for increased access, engagement and connection within and across community. On behalf of People's Light, she is the proud recipient of Art-Reach's 2015 Cultural Access Award for the theatre's relaxed performance initiative and inclusive practices. She leads a cohort of area theatres who collaborate toward increased arts access and inclusion. Marcie has advanced degrees in Theatre Arts (Villanova) and Arts Administration (Columbia) and lives in Malvern with her husband and three little ones.

Leigh Jackson was born and raised in Washington, DC. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor and, now, as the Director of Patron Experience at People's Light, a Malvern-based theatre, where she works to make sure all patrons feel welcome. She particularly enjoys making theatre spaces as accessible as possible.

Could you introduce yourself, your name, if you're comfortable sharing your age, where you live, and describe your experience of disability?

I am Diane Bishop. I live in Phoenixville with my husband, Dave. I'll be 62 at the end of this month. And we have two children, one that lives in San Diego, and one that lives in Malvern, Pennsylvania. And we have two grandchildren and another one on the way.

I have been on disability since 1995 for a combination of reasons. I have an autoimmune disorder. I am severely hearing impaired, bilaterally. And I have heart issues, kidney issues, asthma. The list continues. And then recently, I think four years ago, I lost the eyesight in one eye. I have multiple herniated disk in my neck. So, life is challenging, even without COVID. And my age makes me particularly vulnerable to COVID.

Somebody said something to me recently, and it resonates with me. It's not that our days are that much different than they were pre-COVID. It's just that there's nothing to look forward to. No friends, no theater, no trips. That's the challenging part. That, and getting over the fear. Of course, there's other challenges too.

Could you express to us what a typical day looks like now, for you? And maybe, what did a day look like pre-COVID?

I have insomnia. So, I may go to bed at 11 o'clock, but then I'm up between 2:00am and 3:00am for a couple of hours. And then I go back to bed. And I actually sleep a lot, on and off, during the day. I may do chores around the house. Easy chores, like laundry. But I have somebody come in to clean the house. So, I can't do any heavy cleaning. It's hard for me to kneel. I often have a lot of joint pain.

I do cook dinner. My husband's recently retired, so he's around a lot, and he's working on the outside of the house. So, we kind of go our own way during the day, and then we'll have dinner together. We usually watch TV in the evenings. I take a two- or three-hour nap in the afternoon. And that's about it.

Even before they started to close everything down- it was actually March 3 - there was a doctor diagnosed in King of Prussia, and he had been traveling. And as soon as I saw that on the news, I thought, "oh my God." He could have stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee. And he could have gone to Wawa for a sandwich for lunch.

Read the rest of the interview

And so, March 3 was the last day I left the house, with the exception of maybe two doctors' appointments. Where now, most of the doctors' appointments have become tele-med. But I go in a lot of times for injections, either trigger point injections or cortisone injections in the joint. So twice I had to go to the doctor's office.

But other than that, I was literally in the house for three months.

How much of that has changed? So that was your routine before COVID?

Other than not running errands, nothing has changed. I probably spend more time on my projects, which has been a good thing. I've gotten a lot of work done for the last four months. I've done a number of embroidery projects. Right now, I can't knit. I'm having hand surgery August 7 for a trigger finger. So hopefully I'll be able to knit afterwards. I normally use a frame. And I have three or four different stands that I use that kind of help. They hold it, so you have two hands available.

It was about six weeks into the quarantine that people actually started using Zoom to meet. And so, my embroidery guild started meeting on Zoom. And my family started meeting on Zoom. And so that definitely improved things. And there's the couple of friends I do happy hour with, you know, once in a while. So that helped a lot. I got a lot of projects finished. To have unlimited time to stitch is an embroiderer's dream. That was really great.

I was fairly young - I think I was 37 - when I went out on disability. At that time, I had a six-figure career. I was on the fast track, on the way up in a pharmaceutical company. I was traveling all over the world, and that was my life. And like people that retire, and all of a sudden lose their identity, the same thing happened to me at 37. And so that was very difficult. And then it took me a number of years before I realized I didn't really like what I was doing. I missed the travel, and I missed the social interaction.

I finally got back into creative things that I hadn't done since I was really young. And one of the things that really stuck was the photography. So, I did nature photography for a number of years, until I could no longer carry the equipment. So, I sold all the equipment. And then I had to find another life, another purpose. And that's what people don't understand, I think, about disabled people. They still need a life. They still need a purpose.

So, my embroidery became about stitching a legacy for my children. And then I lost the eyesight in one eye. And I was terrified that I was going to have to find another life. And I had no idea, at that point, what I would be able to do. But fortunately, with a lot of magnification and a lot of practice-- I don't think I'm back to where I was, prior to the losing the eyesight, but I think I'm close.

You have family here in Malvern. How has COVID affected your interactions with them? Have you been able to see them?

I've actually not seen my family, which is mostly in the Northeast, for 18 months now. So, it's been too long. My vacation up north was canceled. And my nephew's wedding for September was canceled. And everybody's afraid to travel. I have a son in Malvern and-- well, for Mother's Day, he came over and he stood outside the screen door and wished me a happy Mother's Day. But other than that, he's had his own health issues, so I've not seen him. I hope to spend more time with my family. I really do miss them.

I'm curious also about what has maybe surprised you in this COVID time? If there are any surprises, anything unexpected?

I think, emotionally, it was strange. There were a lot of ups and downs. There were days that I was quite content, and then there were days where I would stand out on the front porch and think, I'm the last person left on earth. It was different. I had, along with the anxiety, a lot of nightmares, and I guess what you'd call flashbacks. I had a lot of trauma in my life for the first 30 years. I think at times where you feel particularly vulnerable, that's when some of that starts coming back. And I don't know if you ever get over that. It becomes easier. And I also found out that one of the medications I was taking could have been contributing to that. So, I stopped taking that, and things got better.

I have days where I think I snap too easily. And then I feel bad afterwards. But I attribute it to the stress of just staying indoors and not having the contact. Not having, you know, like, the ‘woman talk'. And a way to get some of your frustrations out.

I would run errands. And grocery shop. But all of that has been taken over by my husband since COVID. My husband doesn't cook, and he struggles with reading-- actually, he was dyslexic. So, I would make a very detailed list when he went to the grocery store. And I never knew what I was going to get. I ended up learning how to cook some very different cuts of meat. I'd be making chili, and I would go to get the tomato sauce. And it would have basil, garlic, and oregano in it. And I'd be like, oh, well, this will be interesting. Every week, it was something new. I'd go to get some ingredient, and it was missing. So, then I would be in the middle of it, and I'd have to make something up.

God bless him. I mean, he's extremely protective of me. And even now, he gets upset when I go out. Where are you going? Make sure you have your mask, and all of that.

Now, of course, when I go out, it's very challenging, because I lip read. And I cannot hear people wearing a mask. So, it's very frustrating. I feel like an idiot. And sometimes I just listen and smile and try and fudge my way through it.

But I will tell you this story about my experience with the local hospital. I needed an X-ray. So, I had my slip, and I went-- now they closed all of the doors. And they force you to go through the main door, so they can take your temperature. So, I stop at the table, and they take my temperature, and the woman starts talking.

And I was like, I'm sorry, I am severely hearing impaired, and I don't understand a word you're saying. So, she calls somebody over. And I showed the woman my script, and I told her, you know, I can't hear you with the mask. So, she took her mask off. And she took me to reception and told me to sit down. And she must have said something to the receptionist.

They called my name, and I got up to the desk. The receptionist took off her mask. And she took my slip, and she said, OK, go-- be seated. Somebody will be with you in a minute.

Before I knew it, one of the registrars came out with a rolling computer. And she came up to me, and she hit a button. And there was a woman signing, asking if I was Diane. And I said, I'm sorry, I don't sign. And she said, oh, that's OK. So, she put away the machine, and then she got me to go to the registration desk.

And she took off her mask. Well, then they send you down to X-ray. And there's the receptionist at X-ray. And when I got there, the woman took off her mask. So, then I had to wait in the waiting room. And when the technician came out, she had a piece of paper that said, are you Diane? And I said yes.

Well, every question she wanted to ask, she wrote down. Which was so great. And then not only did she do that, but when we were in the room, she actually got up on the X-ray table and showed me how she wanted me to sit.

And I was so appreciative of the whole experience. I didn't feel stupid. I didn't feel like I was a nuisance. It was the greatest thing. So, I wrote a very nice note to the hospital. And that I was duly impressed that they had trained everybody down to the very last person, which was great.

And one of the nurses in the hospital suggested that I have a card written out that says I am hearing impaired and I read lips. And I should do that. I haven't done it yet. But like yesterday, I was at the post office. And the guy behind the counter was talking to me, and I was like, [so sorry! No comprende. You know, I don't understand.

So, I mean, that part is frustrating.

Have you seen individuals with the clear masks?

No, I have not. I know they have them, but I haven't seen anybody [use them]. But it's something I wish they would try to make people aware of, that the people-- there are people out there that do lip read, that are really struggling. Just so you don't feel like an idiot.

Have you had any particular experiences with masks that led to some kind of challenge, or misunderstanding, or anything along those lines?

Two weeks ago, finally got to the hairdresser. Yay!

I can't lay back in the chair when they wash your hair, because I do have one fusion in my neck. So, I have to lean forward over the sink. The problem is the state is only allowing them to open if you're wearing a mask. That's one of the rules. So, I had to take my mask off and get a towel, real quick. Put a towel over my face while I was leaning at the sink. And the hairdresser was really afraid because I had to take the mask off. So that was...you cope.

As the realities of COVID were becoming more clear, did you anticipate what it might be like, to be in quarantine, or to be navigating COVID? Has it turned out as you anticipated?

I'm one of those people that, when things are difficult, the less news I listen to or read, the better off I am. And so, I kind of blocked out the news and read when I absolutely had to. And then kind of took it in small pieces. My husband, on the other hand, really got into the news and read everything. And then he would try to tell me about it. And I'd be like, "no, not today."

What are some other silver linings, or positives that may have come out of this that you weren't expecting?

We got more work done around the house. Before it got warm, we got the inside painted, so a lot of work done. That was a good thing. I didn't really think about this. [That was a] positive that sticks in my mind right now.

I did not expect it to be as difficult as it is when I go out now. It's almost comical. I wish you could film this, because with the glasses, and the hearing aids, and then the mask behind the ears. The mask keeps slipping off and pulling out the hearing aids.

It's really frustrating. The other day I would have liked to have run another errand. And I was so frustrated. And I just got in the car, took it all off, and couldn't wait to get

You mentioned Zoom, and being able to connect with people that way.

I think that Zoom's really saved the sanity of a lot of people. The family happy hour is chaotic. I can't hear anything. Sometimes I'll ask my husband to interpret. It's just, more or less, good to see everybody. And I mean, it's one, two, four generations on Zoom. With my mother, who seems to take about 15 minutes to get set up every-- not every time, but-- we were doing it every week, and now we're doing it every other week.

A lot of people say this, and it's true for me, all that they miss hugs. They miss hugs a lot. Yeah. They miss the physical touch. And now I'm trying to do socially distanced swimming at a friend's house three times a week. Like water walking. That's an old person's thing.

I wanted to ask what you hope for after COVID. What do you hope will change, what you hope will stay the same?

I think I'm done with the travel. I don't have any bucket list left, as far as the travel is concerned. So, I'm hoping that any travel involved will be with the family. I am the oldest of six, and we're spread out all over the country. But I have a number of nieces and nephews that I just love to spend time with.

I hoped that this would be a short-term thing, COVID. But I'm afraid it's going to be a lot longer than any of us expect. I would be horrified at the thought of my children going back to school at this point. And I know there's a lot of people struggling with that.

Can you speak a bit more about what you feel would be best for the country? Where you hope things are heading?

I hope that after the election, in the new year, that we have some kind of national direction, so that we're all following the same rules, and we're doing what's best for the country. I believe, from the beginning, that there should have been, instead of every state having different rules, that there should have been national guidelines that everybody stuck to. And this interstate travel, I think, is causing a lot of problems.

So, I wish that they had had some kind of policy for that. Some states have quarantines. Others don't. And I don't know how they're tracking that, but it just doesn't make any sense to me. And, you know, having somebody deny what's going on. It just doesn't make sense.

[Is] there anything else that's on your mind that you would like to share, or anything else that we should be inquiring about? I just wonder what else might be on your mind, or on your heart?

Despite the struggles, I feel very, very grateful that I am where I am at this point in my life. That we're both retired and we're fine. We don't have to struggle with the furloughs or layoffs. I know that's an issue for a lot of people. We're doing fine, and I'm very grateful for what we have.

Works by Diane Bishop

embroidered necklace
Beaded and embroidered necklace, in tones of green, silver and white. Four teardrop shaped sections feature three large glass stones, and one smooth white image of the Budha's face.
embroidered purse
Beaded and embroidered purse with an ornate silver handle and gold clasp. The tones are a gradient of blues and greens. The center resembles a peacock's feather, with a large blue stone surrounded by smaller green beads and soft blue feathers.
embroidered purse
Beaded and embroidered purse with a fabric handle and a rectangular shape. The floral embroidery is in shades of blue, green, pink white and purple. The focal point is a large, leafy pink rose, trimmed in gold and resting on the flap of the purse.

People's Light

People's Light, one of the largest professional theatres in Pennsylvania, forges cultural and civic connections throughout our rapidly growing region. In the landscape of American regional theatres, we count ourselves among the few located outside of a metropolitan area. Our home in the heart of Chester County places us at a unique crossroads of rural, urban, and suburban populations. Throughout our year-round season, we produce contemporary plays, classics, new forms of music theatre, and original work. Beyond the stage, we host a wide array of cultural experiences and education programs that inspire meaningful engagement with, and sustained investment in and from, our surrounding communities.

The seven-acre campus at People's Light features a restored, 18th-century farmhouse, two black box performance spaces, scenic shops, classrooms, rehearsal space, picnic areas, and our administrative offices. We also serve as a local polling place. The farmhouse is home to our for-profit business: a premier event venue, The Farmhouse at People's Light, and an on-site restaurant, The Farmhouse Bistro. 82,000 people visit our campus each year. Nowhere else in the region can patrons see exceptional theatre, attend a town-hall discussion, have dinner with friends, take a class, celebrate a wedding, and cast a vote, all in one place.

Our ties are local, our reach is national. We surround our productions with activities that connect us with our neighbors, weaving the onstage work into the fabric of community life. We lead the nation in accessible theatre practices, and strive to create programs and performances that can be enjoyed by everyone. As part of a longstanding history of new work development, People's Light commissions and produces world premiere plays, many of which go on to additional productions across the country. We established a nationally recognized model for locally inspired plays that aim to awaken a greater collective consciousness of our American experience.


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