NORTH BRUNSWICK – At the young age of 12, Diane Uniman knew she had something big she had to say.
She didn’t know what, or how, or where, but the soprano opera singer said the feeling lingered like “a bird singing of freedom that was in there but couldn’t get out.”
Years later, while visiting Israel, she found herself in a garden, starting to cry and pray. She asked silently about her purpose in life, and realized how to combine the love she has for people and for her art and for her central self: she decided to write a comedy about Arabs and Jews.
“Pyramid Scheme” “just flowed,” she said, and she decided to enter the screenplay into the Pocono Mountains Film Fest. This was the beginning of her path as a writer of screenplays, lyrics, motivational speeches, roasts and poems.
“This creativity in me was bursting … and I knew I had something really big in me, but I didn’t know what,” she said.
Yet the North Brunswick resident was still haunted by a lack of confidence. Even at eight years old, she said she thought she was too old to be a ballerina because the other children she was with had more experience.
She said she finally decided to follow her “authentic self” and once threw out all of her appellate briefs acquired as a criminal defense attorney. She said she burned her bridges and felt like there was no turning back – lucky to have kept at least her diploma. She said she was able to eventually find her way back into law.
However, something was still nagging at her from inside.
Working with composer Kevin M. Cotter, their musical “TINK!…Off The Hook” was featured in John Znidarsic’s “Broadway’s Future Songbook Series” at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium and accepted into the FRINGENYC festival. She said the play is based on the theme of, if you lose your imagination, you lose your way back to yourself, and then the world is gone.
She has won more than 50 awards for her screenplays thus far.
Her most recent project, “Triangle 146,” was nominated for best screenplay at the Garden State Film Festival, the Jersey City Pop-Up Festival and the Beverly Hills Film Festival earlier this year.
It was at the suggestion of her husband, Howard, that she researched the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, and found the story was more about immigration and labor laws than the tragedy itself.
She said she wanted to show how people lived pre-fire, and how disaster doesn’t have to define who you are.
That was evident in her own life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“As I started my journey I started learning the lessons and started helping myself with those lessons,” she said.
Her two lumpectomies were not effective, so the cancer metastasized, necessitating a double mastectomy.
However, inspired by “Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware, Uniman said she would not indulge in end-of-life regrets, such as not following your own goals, and decided to maintain her upbeat attitude.
Saying she was born with a sunny disposition, she said she was frightened she would lose her positive outlook on life while undergoing cancer treatment.
“If I let cancer steal my joy, then I would have died while I’m still alive,” she said. “Don’t ‘die’ with the time you have left.”
She said to give yourself permission to be happy, even while going through something as traumatic as cancer.
And, she said, what better gift to give your children than to show them you don’t fall apart when something terrible happens.
As the author of the forthcoming book, “Bonjour Breast Cancer, I’m Still Smiling,” Uniman said she decided to take an inspirational, comedic, instructional path to offer advice on how to survive. She said although she did not want to dwell on her journey, her brother convinced her to write everything down.
She finished reconstruction about seven months ago, going so far as to call cancer “a gift.”
“I get to write a book. I get to help people. I get to sing about it,” she said. “People shouldn’t have to get cancer to have a new pair of eyes.”
Uniman has now made it her mission to promote optimism strategies.
She was extremely affected by a woman named Jessica, a 33-year-old suffering from cystic fibrosis. Because the disease affects the lungs, Jessica had trouble breathing. After she passed away, Uniman decided to honor her memory by taking three deep breaths each morning as “Jessica’s gift” to never take for granted the simplest factor of life: breathing.
She said her life is all about fun now. She lost the sense of “not making it”. She just wants to live life.
“The pressure is off because of the beauty and joy of life,” she said. “Every day, life is fantastic. Waking up in your nice bed … or having food, we forget because we’re on this side of the world. It’s such a joy to hear a little woodpecker pecking on the wood.”
She said vulnerability is strength. Let yourself be happy. Follow your own path. Stay grounded. Help others while helping yourself.
“At any point in time you really can follow what is inside of you,” she said. “Stroke your spirituality and suspend your cynicism.”
Assuming the moniker Princess Diane Von Brainisfried (brain-is-fried), Uniman takes a comical stance on how to be “royally happy and radically fulfilled.” It is an outgrowth of the philosophy that if you lose your childhood innocence, you lose yourself. She said her credo is kindness.
Uniman’s next goals are to publish her book, continue with promoting “Triangle 146” and attempt to have two of her musicals produced off Broadway.
For more information on Uniman, visit princessdianevonb.com.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.