My most recent Huff Po blog. Since everything else in the world is such a mess (government shut-down, I’m filled with anger about all of that) — I thought I’d focus on something lighter.
My most recent Huff Po blog. Since everything else in the world is such a mess (government shut-down, I’m filled with anger about all of that) — I thought I’d focus on something lighter.
So I’m just going to say that more will follow and I will try to keep updating.
I’m grateful for Huffington Post, but I miss writing here too.
My beloved Lucy died on May 5th and my ex-husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer this summer. He is doing pretty well and I hope that he will continue to improve. If Valerie Harper can go on Dancing with the Stars, I am hopeful that he can have some good years left. Here’s an old photo of Lucy, when she was just 4 and my ex, Steve. Those were happy days.
I have worked on this play alone, with a dramaturg, and with my writing partner, for many years. Often I would say to myself, “Why are you still working on this? It’s a waste of time.” But something compelled me to go back to it and to keep re-working it and refining it. And the joy of the writing always motivated me to keep at it. And the desire to entertain and also be of service also inspired me.
I never really thought that someday it would open in a theater in New York, with an excellent cast and director and that people would come and see it. I never really imagined that there would be an audience for this play and that people in New York, one of the toughest cities in the world to succeed in theater, would actually laugh and really enjoy it.
This entire experience has been (so far, at least) a labor of love, community, creativity and joy. There have been difficult times, creative arguments, some scary moments, lots of stress, but overall, so far it’s been a dream come true and everyone from the assistant stage manager to the director is enthralled with this production. I think the fact that our director has set a tone of generosity and respect for everyone, has given us all a freedom to be part of the creative process, enjoy every moment, to stay in the now, to take each day as it comes.
I decided to look at one of my Pema Chodron’s books this morning and opened to this passage:
“We never know
When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.
I read somewhere about a family who had only one son. They were very poor. This son was extremely precious to them, and the only thing that mattered to his family was that he bring them some financial support and prestige. Then he was thrown from a horse and crippled. It seemed like the end of their lives. Two weeks after that, the army came into the village and took away all the healthy, strong men to fight in the war, and this young man was allowed to stay behind and take care of his family.
Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad, we call it good. But really we just don’t know.
Learning to live with not knowing has been a challenge for me, but I’m definitely getting better at it. Like so many things in life, it is a practice and you just continue working on it, not until you get it right or perfectly, but until it becomes second nature. And I don’t know if that ever really happens, because even someone as enlightened as Pema Chodron says she struggles with day to day challenges.
Just being alive is a gift though. It’s almost May, the trees are filled with gorgeous blossoms. And I look forward to tomorrow night, to being back in the theater with my wonderful creative family.
I haven’t written on this blog in a long time. It’s mostly because I’ve been extremely busy and so much is happening.
Our play “Scrambled Eggs” is opening this coming week. It’s very exciting and also very stressful. I have never had much confidence, so this is really a stretch for me. I know that every creative endeavor, when you put it into the world, requires some nerves of steel, which I don’t have. But I do have the awareness that life is about taking risks and sometimes you come out okay and sometimes you don’t.
The fun of this experience has been in the work. I have enjoyed writing this for a long time and working with this cast is a joy.
Also, I’ve continued writing for the Huffington Post on various subjects – faith, loss, grief, dancing, divorce, women leaders. It’s been a great outlet for me to write anything I am interested in.
Today, I have mostly been obsessing about the play and how the dress rehearsal had some major mistakes and that the leading man, like me, seems to have terrible allergies. And on and on……my mind can go into the most imaginative and creative disasters.
So once again, Pema Chodron came to the rescue. I was cleaning out my wallet and I came across this passage, that I carry around with me (and forget to look at):
“My teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged us to lead our lives as an experiment, a suggestion that has been very important to me. When we approach life as an experiment we are willing to approach it this way and that way because, either way, we have nothing to lose.
This immense flexibility is something I learned from watching Trungpa Rinpoche. His enthusiasm enabled him to accomplish an amazing amount in his life. When some things didn’t work out, Rinpoche’s attitude was ‘no big deal.’ If it’s time for something to flourish, it will; if it’s not time, it won’t.
The trick is not getting caught in hope and fear. We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude for or against, we’re setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we should just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead.”
As I published this, I noticed that my last blog post included this same passage! Interesting coincidence. I guess it’s important that I take this in.
We’re now halfway through winter and after a rough start, I find that I am feeling quite content. Maybe part of the reason is having work that I enjoy, making sure I exercise and dance, and finding I can bounce back from feeling blue. Realizing that it’s easier to go with the feeling and let it move through me, rather than fight it. Because it does pass and the less I fight it, the faster is seems to go.
I wanted to share three quotes that I’m sure I’ve written about before, but really resonate with me and I hope they do with you:
“It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…..
“If you want to avoid criticism: do nothing; say nothing; be nothing.”
“My teacher Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged us to lead our lives as an experiment, a suggestion that has been very important to me. When we approach life as an experiment we are willing to approach it this way and that way because, either way, we have nothing to lose.
This immense flexibility is something I learned from watching Trungpa Rinpoche. His enthusiasm enabled him to accomplish and amazing amount in his life. When some things didn’t work out, Rinpoche’s attitude was ‘it’s no big deal.’ If it’s time for something to flourish, it will; if it’s not time, it won’t.
The trick is not getting caught in hope and fear. We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude for or against, we’re setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead.”
Pema Chodron “No Time to Lose”
I’ve also been re-reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I can’t believe how much I’m learning, particularly about relationships. Even just saying that there are only 6 more weeks till spring is the antithesis of Tolle’s book. There is only now! Enjoy it!
I have never had an easy time in the winter. I was just looking back at previous posts over the years and every winter I feel blue. I just came from the gym, so that always lifts my mood. Exercise, meditation, reading, gratitude… all of those help.
I’m listening to President Obama talk now about one of the young students, Grace, who was killed in the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I hope that he can succeed in getting effective gun control laws passed.
Here is a quote from Pema, who always seems to be the person I turn to when I am feeling down:
“Rejoice in ordinary life”
“We can learn to rejoice in even the smallest blessings our life holds. It is easy to miss our own good fortune; often happiness comes in ways we don’t even notice. It’s like a cartoon I saw of an astonished-looking man saying, ‘What was that?’ The caption below read, ‘Bob experiences a moment of well-being.’ The ordinariness of our good fortune can make it hard to catch.
The key is to be here, fully connected with the moment, paying attention to the details of ordinary life. By taking care of ordinary things – our pots and pans, our clothing, our teeth – we rejoice in them. When we scrub a vegetable or brush our hair, we are expressing appreciation: friendships toward ourselves and toward the living quality that is found in everything. This combination of mindfulness and appreciation connects us fully with reality and brings us joy.”
“Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior. The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equinimity are our tools. With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta, the tenderness of the awakened heart. We will find that tenderness in sorrow and in gratitude. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. It is available in loneliness as well as in kindness.
Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s always what makes us afraid.
Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather this “I” who wants to find security — who wants something to hold on to — can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?”
I haven’t written any posts since November, when my dear friend Emily Squires was in the hospital. Sadly, she died a few days later.
I just haven’t had the heart to write anything because the fall was so bleak and I’m still struggling to get through the days. I miss Em and life feels so uncertain. This morning, I had to read some Pema Chodron to be reminded that this is just the part of life that is real – that we do live in uncertainty and we always will.
When I fight my sadness, it always seems to dig in deeper, so I will try to sit with it. It’s a bleak January day. We went through Hurricane Sandy (which isn’t over for thousands of people whose homes were destroyed.) We saw a horrible school shooting and still there is a battle over gun control.
I’m sitting with sadness this morning and I’m trying not to fight it. I know this too shall pass and that I have so much to be grateful for. Emily is no longer with us and that is truly sad. I just had a thought though, to call a mutual friend this morning, who is probably also missing Emily.
It’s hard to lose someone you love and I loved Emily. I’m watching my dog, Lucy, falling apart. She is 17 now. I’m not sure of the future, but then who is? I wish for happy endings, but if I’m to be a real warrior, I guess I have to accept that there is no promise of happy endings, just this moment, and growing up and relating to discomfort.
“How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day.”
I’ve been reading “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle and though I read parts of it before, once again, when I am ready, I get the lessons I need to learn. Pema Chodron’s book “The Wisdom of No Escape” sat on my shelf for years before I was ready to read it.
This morning I read this paragraph: “Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness. Happiness is ever elusive, but freedom from unhappiness is attainable now, by facing what is rather than making up stories about it. Unhappiness covers up your natural state of well-being and inner peace, the source of true happiness.”
This past week I have been at the hospital with a dear friend, Emily. I have written about spending time with her and her husband, Len, in the country for years. She is truly one of the most generous and supportive friends I’ve ever known. Emily is in the ICU at Mt. Sinai Hospital and they don’t know what is wrong with her. She’s on a breathing tube and for a few days we thought she had no chance, but yesterday, she seemed to be a bit better. The outpouring of concern has been amazing. I don’t know if Emily knows how deeply she is loved by so many people all over the world.
A few weeks ago I went to two memorial services within two days of each other. One was for a remarkable man, my friend Lisa’s dad, Michael Dontzen, who lived to 89 and accomplished more in his lifetime than just about anyone I’ve ever met. He was a New York State Supreme Court judge, an aide to Mayor John Lindsay, a lawyer, a brilliant man with so much passion for justice, that on his deathbed, just a short time before he passed away, he married a gay couple. This was his last “professional” duty and he was determined to accomplish that despite the fact that he could barely speak.
The second memorial was heartbreaking. It was for a woman named Chris Twomey. She was an artist and a mother of three. Her art and motherhood were intertwined and she was passionate about both. She had breast cancer, which spread throughout her body and after a long, heroic struggle, she finally died, at age 58.
There weren’t many people who were as determined to live as Chris. She loved life, she loved making art and she maintained a sense of humor throughout the years of treatments and tremendous pain.
I met Chris at Friends In Deed, a pragmatic, spiritual counseling center in Soho, New York. I have written about it before. FID saved my life when my life was completely falling apart. One of the gifts of Friends was that it put me right smack into a community that understood suffering, so that I was able to feel less alone.
In her eulogy for Chris, the founder of Friends In Deed, Cy O’Neal, spoke about Chris’s courage. I just happened to be near the front desk the day that Chris first arrived at FID, announcing “I have breast cancer” as if she were saying “I just arrived from Paris.” I sat in big groups with Chris for well over a year, and as Cy said, “She always raised her hand, early in the meeting. She shared whatever was going on with her, which generally included the work she was doing and some difficult aspect of her treatment. She always had a strong spirit and a rich sense of humor and after she spoke, it seemed that she gave everyone else permission to tell whatever they were going through.”
Like a lot of people, weathering the storm of Hurricane Sandy meant keeping close to our battery-operated radios. (Actually, I had a crank radio too, the kind you wind up if you don’t have batteries, but it just made me cranky. If I had to only use that, my arm would have fallen off by day two, and my only news would be spastic, like “flood waters reaching… evacuated and you should seek….”) People were calling in all day with the stories of what was happening, good and bad, giving each other comfort and advice. The radio gave us permission to speak and a means to reach out to one another when we would have been going it alone otherwise.
During those five days of sitting in candlelight and mostly silence, I began to think about community. My neighbors in our building in Soho supported each other emotionally — one neighbor, Martin, was staying uptown with his girlfriend, but each day he came back to the building and dropped off bags of food for his neighbors, fresh fruit, bagels, peanut butter, The New York Times. On Halloween, our next door neighbor, Louise, came over and gave us Tarot card readings by candlelight.
My upstairs neighbor, Barbara, was sitting shiva (a week long mourning period) for her dad, who passed away a few days before the Hurricane. The first few days there were dozens of people who came to pay their respects, but once the hurricane hit, it was harder for family and friends to get there, so my loftmate, Abigail, and I tried to come up as much as we could.
And then, on one of my uptown bike trips, when I had Internet access, I saw a posting on Facebook written by someone who had been helping out in Rockaway Beach. They were delivering blankets and supplies, cleaning out basements, doing all the heavy lifting that needed to be done. But I read this: “People need emotional support. They are suffering.”
And I thought about the woman in Staten Island who lost both her young sons, because a neighbor wouldn’t let her into his home, he was too afraid to open his door. I hope that she will give herself permission to speak of her profound loss, when the time is right, and with a caring group of people with her.
We often give lip service to the idea of “it takes a village” but in reality, we so rarely do come together to support each other. One of the reasons 12 Step programs are so effective is because they have learned the power of community. For most of history, family was our community, but now families are spread all over the place. Often people worked in organizations for their entire careers and felt a part of something. That is the exception now, it’s rare that anyone stays longer than a few years with any job — in fact, the “Millennials” don’t even expect to stay past three years.
In the aftermath of so much devastation and what has been a divisive election — and what will surely be many more hurricanes and tornadoes and devastation — maybe we can try to solve both the physical challenges of dealing with floods and the emotional challenges of how to create a real sense of community so that we truly can “get by with a little help from our friends.”
…that is terrifying me. It really seems to be happening. It’s called “Scrambled Eggs” – and it’s about a woman’s journey from childhood, dating, marriage, kid, career, hot flashes, you name it.
So for anyone who’s ever dreamt of getting your work out into the world and having a play or being on Huffington Post, or doing public speaking (which is what I am working on next) — it’s scary. IT REALLY IS.
But I just have to take it a day at a time and have faith that it will be fine.
Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, I had meetings with studio executives in huge, fancy offices on studio lots and they were effusive about my writing, “You’re like a female Barry Levinson, or Woody…” And that terrified me. I didn’t want that kind of pressure, so I bailed. I got married and moved back to NYC and had a baby and quietly did my writing and didn’t try all that hard. I tried, but being a woman, and being out of LA makes it very difficult.
I wouldn’t change a thing, it is all perfect.
I went through hell for a few years, it was one of the most intense and elevated periods of my life – divorce, death (my mother’s) and now I can write about it all and watch the play get produced next spring and hopefully inspire other women (and men) to not give up on their dreams. It may not happen in the time you imagine it will, or the way that you imagine, but it can still happen.
Last month, one of my Huff Post blogs landed on the mainpage of AOL. I even heard from my divorce attorney! I heard from people I haven’t heard from in years. This is such an adventure and as scary as it feels sometimes, it is exciting and fun – kind of like a roller coaster. Oh, wait, I hate roller coasters.
You can follow this journey, I will post updates and info along the way.