CREATIVE HEROES: Jade Th’ng

17 04 2016

When I started this series my idea was simple; interview people who were living fully creative lives. I often say our lives make sense in hindsight. That’s especially true when you reflect back on your life as a creative journey. The interviews, so far, have been people looking back on long, adventurous journeys. This interview is someone at the beginning of their adult journey.

jade cover

Jade Th’ng is a talented, smart, beautiful woman in her mid twenties. As a child she preferred crafts to dolls and Office Depot with its endless supply of markers, pens and pencils, to Toys R Us. She would be the last one to finish when working on a group creative project, paying attention to the tiniest details. She was drawn to music. She says it has it own language; one that all musicians—around the world and throughout the centuries—understand. She also always loved the sound of applause. Her audience could be just her parents when 4-year old Jade sang the entire Sound of Music score to keep from going to bed to 17-year old Jade performing an oboe concerto in front of a full theater.

Crafts

Creative projects

As a teen she was still creating; sewing and making jewelry, painting and drawing, baking and decorating cupcakes. She started a jewelry business with her mom called Nekkid Girls Designs. I know all this, because I’m that mom. Both her father and I are graphic designers, so she grew up in a home where creativity and making things were just what we did.

Performing

Always performing

Jade entered college as a music major. She hit a roadblock her sophomore year when she recognized she was not thriving. This future of being a musician did not fill her with passion and her grades suffered. Changing majors was a hard, tear-filled decision. She meandered for a while and it took her 6 years to graduate. She ended up with a liberal arts degree with three seemingly unrelated concentrations; Italian, film, and communication. Her Nana never understood and kept asking when Jade was going to cook her an Italian meal, since she was studying Italian.

jewelry

Jade made her first pair of earrings at nine. She’s still making jewelry.

Learning Italian allowed her to be an au pair in Italy one summer for the only daughter of a pair of doctors. She polished her writing skills with a quirky and funny blog chronicling her adventures called “Twenty-One in Tuscany”. Her jewelry making skills creatively connected her to the strong Italian mother in a way that nothing else did. She also returned home with a wonderful authentic lasagna recipe and her  Bellini’s now make brunch a memorable event. So her Italian did make her a good Italian cook, which pleased her Nana.

Italy

Jade in Italy from a summer as an au pair. She brought a great lasagna and Bellini recipe home.

Student jobs included waiting tables, bartending, and working in production on TV commercial sets. Her sewing skills put her in the wardrobe department and she once made a caveman costume for a small budget commercial. Her attention to detail led her to assisting Louisiana’s top food stylist for several national commercial brands.

In her meandering she took a class that ignited a new passion—screenwriting. She discovered while her classmates were all writing dramas; she had a talent for writing comedy. She once filmed me for a mockumentary to talk about the evils of Comic Sans (my own personal nemesis).

After graduating, she knew she wanted to pursue comedy and set her sights on Chicago. She studied comedians she admired, like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. What many of these comedians shared was learning comedy and improv in the windy city, Chicago—1000 miles away from the sleepy, southern city she grew up in. So off Jade went last summer, to what is her unofficial graduate school. She’s taking comedy classes at the renowned iO Theater, she’s honing her writing skills, she’s getting her work produced on stage, and she’s waiting tables to pay the bills. She has also found a creative tribe of friends who are creating their own art while starting their own adult lives.

I know one day all her skills will fuse together. It will make sense in hindsight. I don’t know where her journey is going to take her, but I do know that creativity will always be a part of her life. She is making her dreams happen. She is living a fully creative life. That is why Jade, my baby girl, is a creative hero. She will always have my applause.

Click here to watch an extended conversation with Jade (be sure to watch the very end—it’s the best part).

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Click here to read other CREATIVE HEROES stories

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Love is Eternal

10 04 2015

Over the last few months I’ve come to realize that my baby girl is a grown up. No where was it more apparent than when I watched this poised, confident, beautiful woman deliver a eulogy at her beloved Nana’s memorial service. Here it is:

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A Eulogy for Jimmie Dee Lehew McLeod

By Jade Lee-Mei Th’ng

Over the past few months, my mom and I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family paying tribute to my Nana. These visits were, naturally, filled with stories and pictures of a vibrant, younger woman who lived a full, happy life. My whole life I’ve been told stories about the “good old days” and tales of “old Baton Rouge.” I would always eat these up because they added new dimensions to the woman that was Jimmie Dee.

It wasn’t until recently that something dawned on me: the woman in these stories wasn’t really the woman that I knew. Yes, the woman is these stories seemed happy, but she was also a woman who lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life husband. It’s not that she was a timid, unheard voice, but she just lived happily supporting her husband and his business.

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When I was five, in the spring of 1996, my grandfather Lloyd McLeod passed away. My Nana moved in with us for a span. After his death, she had a major health decline that seemed bleak, but despite everything, she recovered a new woman. She was a woman who no longer lived in the shadow of someone else, but demanded her own spotlight.

This is truly the only version of her that I know: a woman whose voice was heard. She made sure of it. This is also a quality that she has passed down to my mom and me. Three generations of women who strive to have their voices heard.

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An experience that made me realize how special our intergenerational bond was when my Nana, my mom, and I were cast by the Quaker Oats Company in a (non-aired) commercial in 2002, when I was 12.

oatmeal bowlOne day, my mom told me that Nana had seen a casting call in the paper  for a Quaker Oatmeal commercial looking to cast multi-generations of family members. To appease her, we went to casting armed with a secret weapon: an old family oatmeal bowl. As the story goes (a story I only heard about that day) when my great grandfather, Jimmie Dee’s father, left home at 18, he was given a hundred dollars, a new pair of shoes, and a sturdy white bowl that he proceeded to eat oatmeal out of every day.

Needless to say, the Quaker Oats folks ate it up! Next thing I know, the three of us are being flown first class to Boston to film a national oatmeal ad. They put us up in an expensive, trendy hotel, walking distance to more sights than we even had time for. They also paid us each quite a chunk of cash, so as a seventh grader, probably missing school for this by the way, this was unreal.

In spite of all the luxury, the best part of the whole trip was actually the day we filmed the commercial. While Nana’s greatness could not be captured in 30 seconds, all the people and crew on set could most definitely appreciate it.

When it was our turn to be on camera, they had rolled out a prop of a giant 6-foot tall can of Quaker Oats. The director asked us various oatmeal-related questions, but after a while we just didn’t have quite what they wanted. To play around a little, the director pulled my mom and me out, and left Jimmie Dee in front of the camera. He asked her, “So why do you like Quaker Oatmeal?” She paused briefly, and then responded, “Well, it helps keep you regular!” Everybody on set died trying to keep their laughter quiet.

“Do you think the Quaker Oats man is sexy?” he asked, reading her personality like a book. She looked up at the face of the giant, smiling Quaker and turned back to the camera, “Well, I’d have to see the rest of him first.”

Her greatness was eventually left on the cutting room floor, but who knows what could have happened if viral videos existed then. Most importantly though, I know that somewhere, someplace, someone still thinks about that and laughs. And I’ll be damned if she didn’t make the day of everyone in that room.

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In addition to her feisty personality, Jimmie Dee was also a woman known for her style. A special moment for my mom and me happened a couple of days after Nana’s death when we went to the nursing home to clean out her belongings. Not long after we started, a lady comes into the room and asks, “I’m sorry, but I would just love to have one of her hats.” Moved by this, we let the woman pick a hat (one that she said she always admired) and gave her another one of Nana’s favorites.

The special moment that day was when an elderly lady in a wheelchair came in. She couldn’t speak, but sat there looking longingly at us. After a moment my mom asked sweetly, “Would you like a hat?” The woman nodded. We picked one out and put it on her head. Then, she hugged my mom and suddenly began sobbing. Naturally, my mom and I burst into tears too. After she left the room, we finally realized how special the hats were.

A few minutes later the same woman reentered the room, and mom asked, “Would you like another hat?” She nodded. This time she picked out the leopard print hat. “You know that when you wear this hat you’re going to have to be sassy just like Jimmie Dee, okay?” As quickly as this lady erupted into tears before, she erupted into laughter. It was infectious. When we left later that day, we saw her with that leopard print hat (which was really a few sizes to small) perched on the top of her head, her face beaming.

I know that this would touch Nana because she genuinely loved putting smiles on people’s faces. She was a woman who learned to use her voice to speak her mind, but she also used her voice to bring people joy. I can say that that is one of the greatest lessons that I have learned from my grandmother, Jimmie Dee. She lived the life that she wanted to live and found happiness in bringing others joy.

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In the last few months of her life, Nana slipped away a little more every day. Some days she was disoriented, some days she hallucinated, but never once did she not know who I was. That was our relationship. I am her only grandchild, and she is basically the only grandparent I’ve ever known. The love that she showed me was unconditional and unfiltered. In her final weeks, she was having a lot of trouble communicating and getting all of her words and thoughts out. But no matter how bad the day, whenever I told her, “I love you, Nana,” she would hold my hand and respond clear as day, “I love you too.” These were her last words to me, and her love is eternal.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

I am Jade Lee-Mei, daughter of Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrinne, daughter of Minnie May





Driver’s Ed by Guest Blogger: Jade Th’ng

8 09 2013

I am honored to have my daughter, Jade Th’ng as a guest blogger. She recently finished up her degree from LSU. She’s waitressing, bartending, picking up behind-the-scenes production work on commercials/videos/films, making jewelry, writing, traveling, making music and living her life. I am very proud of her. She tells a story that I have thought to write about, but this story is better from her perspective. 

My baby girl and me

My baby girl and me

DRIVER’S EDUCATION

ALONG WITH THE MAJORITY OF 15-YEAR-OLD AMERICAN YOUTHS, I only had one thing on my mind: driving. Well, boys too, but mostly driving. I had a romanticized idea of what it would be like to receive my license. I would see all of my friends everyday, decide when I saw my parents, and take impromptu road trips whenever I pleased. This, of course, was nothing like what the reality turned out to be, but young Jade didn’t know that yet.

Only one small thing stood in my way: driver’s ed. This was no huge deal to me because I was taking the class with my buddies: Kelly, Laura, and Anna. I wasn’t intimidated by something that everyone in America is required to do, I mean, it seemed that the success rate is pretty freakin’ high. I knew I was a good student, and I did an awesome job driving in circles (for five minutes that one time) in an abandoned Kmart parking lot with my mom. I was ready to make driver’s ed my bitch.

The class was uneventful, predictable even. I only fell asleep five times (and only fell over in my seat once).

One thing I will never understand is how the American Driving Academy handled lunchtime. It was completely unsupervised, and the 35-or-so teenagers were allowed to go anywhere that they could walk to. I must note that the building was located on the extremely busy, four-lane Siegen Lane, which was not exactly pedestrian friendly. In hindsight it was extremely dangerous, but guess that the American Driving Academy was so loaded on insurance that they just didn’t give a fuck. I don’t know, it makes no sense to me, someone could get kidnapped.

My buddies and I decided to take a trip down to Blockbuster because we decided the was just had to have some candy (a decision I still stand by). On our return journey to the ADA, giggling like the fifteen-year-old girls that we were, cars flew by us as we walked up the road. Suddenly, Laura screams, I hear a man’s voice, and see arms reaching out of a truck. We all scream and run (for a short time, but once we were out of immediate danger, we returned focus to our candy). We had literally almost been kidnapped. I’m not sure why that didn’t scare us more now that I’m looking back on it.

drivingI PASSED THE CLASS WITH HONORS (that’s how I’m choosing to remember it). Now it was time for the driving portion of the course. Mr. Shoemaker, a nice, boisterous, soon-to-be-retired man was my driving instructor.  He picked me up at my house for day one of driving lessons in a sexy, tan Ford Focus. He explained  how he divided up his three days of instruction: day one was country driving, day two was city driving, and day three was highways and interstates. So we set out to the country, driving down Greenwell Springs Road.

There was not much to see and not many people around, which is good because, as it turns out,  five minutes in an empty Kmart parking lot does not make you an experienced driver (which was a surprise to me). One thing that I found exceptionally hard on that first day (but have since mastered) was watching the road while also checking the speedometer. I don’t know why this was so hard, but the second my eyes went to the speedometer, I just could not stay on the road. It’s not as bad is it sounds, just a little bit outside the the line. I was getting better minute by minute, I swear.

I even survived the frustrated eighteen wheeler that tailed me for a few minutes before passing me. Did I mention that it had teeth with fangs on the front of it? It was scary as hell, but I emerged a stronger person. I think maybe I got too comfortable after overcoming that terrifying ordeal.

About an hour into the lesson, that pesky speedometer-eyes-on-the-road thing happened. No biggie. Except, I guess this time it seemed a little worse to Mr. Shoemaker because he reached over to help me get back on the road. One little thing, though. I also turned the wheel to get back in the lane. Our combined steering wheel turning caused the poor Ford Focus to overcorrect.

Suddenly, we were flying across the next lane and all control was lost. We rattled around until we landed upside down in a ditch on the opposite side of the street. Unfortunately, Greenwell Springs Road has no shoulder to aid reckless driver’s ed students. Fortunately, it had rained the day before, so the earth was soft, and our flip into the ditch was as gentle as a flip into a ditch can be.

It took me a few moments to register what had truly happened. I was hanging by my seatbelt, staring at a cracked windshield that had grass peeking through it. My purse was on the roof of the car by my head.

I don’t know why I felt the pressure to be the first one to break the silence, but I said a line that I believe will forever make me qualified to be a sitcom star: I guess this means I don’t pass. Cue audience laughter. Then, cue my tears.

Now with me uncontrollably crying, he instructed me to unbuckle my seatbelt and crawl out the back door (which was less crunched than the front).

An officer arrived promptly, no one was hurt, and we managed to calm down. Although Mr. Shoemaker kept pacing and saying things like: “Thirty years teaching and I’ve never once been in a wreck”, “I can’t believe this happened”, “I’m about to retire, how could this happen to me?” I didn’t say anything, but come on. Rude.

After a couple months of mental recovery, I retook the driving portion. (Mr. Shoemaker insisted on being my instructor again. God knows why.) I passed obviously. I swear I am a GREAT driver (I knocked on wood as I wrote that). Turns out that they now use my story as an urban lengendesque teaching technique, and apparently my story has reached all corners of the country. I don’t know if people believe it or not, but trust me, it’s true.

Jade and I on a road trip after she got her license.

Jade and I on a road trip after she got her license.

A Mom’s Perspective: You can trust her, it is all true. My sweet baby girl flipped and totaled the Driver’s Ed car her first hour behind the wheel. It was the best worst accident she could have, no one was hurt, it didn’t go on her record, everything was covered by the Driver’s Ed insurance, and it made her a better driver because she knows how quickly a bad accident can happen.  And Jade’s story is so unbelievable, she’s considered an urban legend. Maybe I should rename this story, “my daughter…the legend.”

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