Lynn Crowe Richardson and her husband Jimmy Dale Richardson are born and bred Oklahoma treasures, owners of Teaze dance studio in Midtown OKC, and fixtures in not just the local entertainment scene but also the national and worldwide Rockabilly touring circuits. They are entertainers and creatives who we love dearly. When pandemic hit our state, it hit this beautiful couple in every imaginable way. I am so thankful Lynn took the time to share her experience with me.
March 13, 2020, was the last normal feeling event for Lynn before pandemic changed everything. She had booked a floor entertainment gig at the Osage Casino in northeast Oklahoma. The virus had infiltrated Oklahoma in small numbers then but was not yet spreading a panic. Just a low key rumbling, an unsettled feeling like before a big tornado. Lynn remembers blocking out the casino floor for her feather-adorned showgirls. She remembers distributing party favors and holding face to face conversations with strangers (certainly nobody was wearing masks then), noting that it all felt somehow wrong. She remembers thinking, “Everything is about to change.”
Lynn’s instincts were right. In fact, she was one of the first people here to notice that something was amiss in China, long before the virus was a reality on U.S. soil. With a note of caution and concern that was largely dismissed as fearful or irrelevant, she posted stories about emptied city streets, month long quarantines, and police enforced curfews. She asked astutely why nobody here was taking it seriously. She was, from my perspective, one of our first locals who was heralding the virus on social media. But her livelihood depends on people and lots of interaction. It was a conundrum. This sad irony and basic incongruity of values would come to illustrate much of her coming year. But, as I think you will see, she discovered internal resources that pulled her and her family through it all.
Early on, while doctors were still scrambling to understand the novel corona virus, Lynn and Jimmy both fell ill, twice. They were very sick, exhibiting symptoms like difficulty breathing, fevers, body aches, and even the loss of smell; but neither of them ever tested positive for covid-19, which was bewildering. In March, Jimmy was sick enough to visit the hospital, and the scene there was anything but normal. They waited for nurses in outside tents, and Lynn described the strangeness of not being able to accompany her husband into the hospital when his turn finally came. In September, they were sick all over again; and during this same time Lynn was suffering a tingling in her spine which they suspected was a side effect of the illness. Jimmy has suffered allergies and asthma his entire life, which were exacerbated by the illness. They both recovered eventually, but they suffered plenty in the mean time, depending on affordable over-the-counter medicine and lots of self care to bounce back. Thankfully they are both healthy today.
At every step, Lynn’s telling of these personal stories included a parallel concern for strangers. She said that their ongoing health problems spurred compassion for people who were losing loved ones. Even when their path took them on understandable bouts with anger and frustration, they managed to always arrive again in a place of gratitude for what they have and sensitivity to the fact that others often have it worse. This is exactly her spirit: Simultaneous and heated social awareness with every real personal storm she weathers. My friend is certainly passionate, and the more she told me about her year in pandemic, the more I thought differently about some of the problems I had been hearing about abstractly on the news.
When most people were making mad dashes for emergency quarantine groceries, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, Lynn’s experience was vastly different. First of all, she had always kept bottled water and paper goods in supply thanks to a warehouse membership and a business practice of providing for her clients. So she had no need to hoard. Secondly, a fact that weirdly delighted me when she shared it, she had months worth of rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer already at her dance studio, because that is what they always use to clean the poles and keep them clean and grippy. Amazing! I would never have thought of that, ha! She did say that months later, when her normal stockpile ran out, she had trouble finding more alcohol and hand sanitizer in stores because by then everyone needed it.
The third and most troubling difference in Lynn and Jimmy’s early quarantine living conditions was food supply. The Richardsons keep living quarters inside the dance studio on tenth street and have never had much need for long term food storage; nor do they have much space for cooking and preparing meals. Their careers and lifestyle have always lent more to small bites and late night, post-performance dining around town. When the shut downs happened, of course, and area restaurants closed (in the beginning, restaurants were not even offering takeout), they found themselves with extremely limited choices. Add to that their early and severe health troubles and their sudden loss of income, and they were in a worrisome bind.
Lynn said they subsisted for a while on credit cards and then on gifts of food and medicine from friends and family. She shared with me, “We realized for the first time we couldn’t do it on our own.” Eventually they decided to apply for SNAP benefits from the state. The $350 per month made all the difference. They were able to eat and heal and regather their strength to make some tough decisions.
We have all heard anecdotes about how shut downs affected some industries. Lynn and Jimmy experienced perhaps the worst of it. They normally operate four thriving businesses, all revolving around performance arts, both local and traveling. These are more than passion projects, though that is true too. These are their livelihoods and long term plans made real by hard work. These are complicated housing choices. These are life structures that affect them and their three teen aged children, as well. Overnight, 90% of that hard won business just ended. Virtually all of their income was gone, with no reliable end in sight. Even as Oklahoma’s lockdown restrictions eased over the months, people were either reluctant to be in dance studios, or reluctant to spend money for fun, or, as in the case of the big casinos who did open back up, simply not hiring performers. The sudden and complete loss of income was a blow to them that cannot be exaggerated. Credit cards and savings only got them so far; eventually Jimmy did sell a treasured guitar to pay bills and stay afloat. “
Another expression of the conundrum they faced this year in their chosen industry was travel. Gradually, other states around the country loosened restrictions, and Lynn and Jimmy were offered work. Having missed all of the spring season and much of summertime at home, it made a certain amount of sense to accept jobs in places like Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. Understandably, it was a huge relief to have not just income but also a sense of value, a relief to have something to do. Although most places were not that different from Oklahoma (better safety protocols in large cities, less so in small towns) Lynn said she “was aware of a sense of criticism and public opinion” just for being out and about. There was a constant tug of war over doing the best right thing. “I can only control myself, and I’ve got to be grateful for this job opportunity,” was her resting point. Also, she reinforced, their travel gigs were in spacious outdoor settings. They always felt safe and responsible. It all made her wonder why we have to be so critical of each other, when we are all in this together. She wondered why we weren’t directing more of the vitriol at the government, instead.
Everything was hard last year. Everything, including impossible medical bills for treatment that didn’t help. There were countless reasons to feel increasingly angry at the world, and the online climate of hate speech and division made much of it much worse. Lynn felt that she lost friendships in the midst of everything and watched with sadness as groups in general caved to mistreating each other both online and in the streets. Lynn’s perspective is that all the fighting and negative leadership was keeping everyone embroiled in their anger, rather than freeing us up to solve our collective problems. She realized at some point that no great entity was coming to save us, that it was up to individual humans to support each other. It was an emotional learning curve, but a needed one. It seems to have centered her in self empowerment as well as reminders about who will love you always, who will be there for you no matter what. During those months of isolation, she lovingly reinvested in family ties and lifelong friendships.
Did the heated political climate have an influence on the mood of pandemic, I asked her? “Oh yeah.” From her perspective, she was largely at odds with friends and family in both arenas. People’s feelings about the virus were intertwined with their political belief systems, and many people could not discuss one without discussing the other. It all seemed to heighten the underlying conflicts we have felt since 2017, and also we seemed to have latched onto an ugliness in our language that just wasn’t there before. Despite her own strong opinions on many important topics, Lynn chose to sidestep conflict in person to preserve relationships. (But she did giggle and admit to some passive aggressive venting online sometimes, ha!)
I loved hearing her talk about the teenaged kids in their family, about what good listeners and sharp conversationalists they are, how they care about the environment and seem to possess that spark for change and progress. “They are not so close minded. They are more socially aware, and it gives me hope that things can get way better with this next generation.” What a balm, in the face of concern for the progress we have made since the 1960s, she said.
Since the Presidential election last November, Lynn acknowledges a sense of cautious relief. She said that while things are still not perfect, what we feel now is humane. “I am no longer watching politics all day, no longer terrified of what’s coming next. That alone is a weight off my shoulders.”
Lynn also has clear ideas about how the government could have done more to help small businesses like hers, citing the huge windfalls that benefitted large corporations and the lack of trickle down for smaller entities. She explained to me the complexities of the EIDL and paycheck protection system, things for which I had no scope of understanding, bemoaning the contradictions inherent in grant and loan qualifications for unique businesses like hers. It was more of that conundrum, the constant choice between survival in your chosen life and shifting gears entirely. “We had lots of pressure and distress over seeking temporary work, and month by month we made it, we were so grateful.”
She suggested, reasonably, that there was a lack of monitoring of people who had truly lost their income, yet stimulus checks were going out to so many, without any proof of need. For a while, Lynn appreciated the efforts of former Congresswoman Kendra Horn, who conducted town hall meetings and advocated for businesses when she could. But Horn was not reelected, and after that no one stepped in to help.
Lynn bravely intimated that she had many days when she felt extra dark, like she was “going crazy.” The circumstances grew so bleak, and the difficulty just never let up. Incredibly, even these moments spurred her compassion. She told me it gave her pause to think about people who deal with anxiety and depression even in good times. “I can’t even imagine how people are coping.” Her voice dripped with love like honey.
If all we did was gaze at her intense and ongoing hardships of this past year, we might feel broken and defeated on Lynn’s behalf. But don’t bother with that. Because she doesn’t feel that way! As we talked, Lynn said that it was often “tempting to look at what was going wrong,” but she tried to “focus on what was going right, and there has been a lot.”
She sees how extra down time afforded her the chance to de-stress, de-clutter, and get organized in a big way, finally completing a huge paperless project in her office and working on backlogged paperwork.
She sees that songwriting seeds planted decades ago are now coming to fruition, with her husband scoring a huge new recording deal and touring gig with a beloved musical comrade: “How miraculous to see it blossom now, at such a bizarre time in history.”
She sees fresh energy in Oklahoma City, with more and more parties booking at her studio every week. She sees the beginning of a 21st century Golden Age, a boom for the performing arts, a ribbon of entrepreneurial creativity and determination that wasn’t as necessary last year. She got me excited, reflecting on the 1920s and talking about the possibility of a New Golden Age: “Why not another one now?”
As this new year builds momentum, the Richardsons are healthy and happy and working hard on their goals. They look forward to going on tour, scheduling shows every weekend, and keeping the studio open for classes and parties. Happily, several big festivals that were cancelled in 2020 seem likely to happen later this year. They are excited to regain their financial strength so they can give back to the community, too. Again, this reveals Lynn’s depth of compassion. For all their challenges during pandemic, she is mindful that others have had it even worse, and she sees where people can step in to help each other.
I am excited for their momentum, too, and not just because they are our friends and we love them. Their artistic contributions provide a particular flavor to our local culture that we have been sorely missing. One lesson pandemic has taught many of us is the true value of what we take for granted.
Thank goodness for the people who make art their life, so that we all can live with more beauty and more variety. Thank goodness for the entertainers, the creatives, the musicians and dancers, who teach and perform and share their passions so generously, yet are considered almost disposable. May we not take them for granted in our New Golden Age.
If last March felt like the scary tension that precedes a big tornado, then maybe this March feels like the peace that follows. Lynn described to me, “that beautiful blue, cloud free sky.” and I could feel the depth of hope she must have for this new season of life. All this regeneration. Infections rates are falling. Vaccinations are taking hold. Their business is growing steadily again. And, most important of all, she and her husband made it through what was arguably one of the worst years of their lives. She said they have felt beaten and battle weary, but also excited because, “If we can do this, we can do anything!’
I asked Lynn for her final perspective on everything, for lessons learned and mantras going forward. She took a deep breath and said, “Just be gentle with yourself. Stop worrying about what others are doing.” She talked about times when she had to remind herself, “This is who we are. This is what we’re doing.” And that focus, with a deep sense of compassion and gratitude, is what kept her going.
Dig deep, friends.