Welcome to All You Seekers of the USA

Are you wondering what happened to America? The America we remember? Welcome to my Blog. Please feel free to respond. I yearn for responses and dialectic.

Search This Blog

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Career, A Vocation, A Life

After studying acting with Richard Seyd for the last six months (has it been that long really?) and having a tiny bit of success with film, both my own and others, I feel ready to shift gears into a new life.

The problem, however, is always economic. I have been on my own since I was sixteen years old, struggling to keep my head above water, to educate myself, to find work that was meaningful and worthwhile and still develop my talents and abilities that are challenging and certainly not economically easy: writing and acting. This is of course everyone's struggle who was not born with a silver spoon.

I have been reading about the famous Harvey Weinstein whose phenomenal success is legendary and was surprised he grew up in a coop in a New York City borough, not poor but certainly working class. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised since his drive to succeed is very aggressive and from what I can tell at times ruthless. We become desperate creatures when we wish to rise above the fray and leave our hard scrabble roots behind.

My life for the last 20 years has been teaching. Richard Seyd has said a few times in our class that we teach what we need to learn. I wanted to learn film, all aspects of it because in my heart of hearts I wanted to become a filmmaker. I am distantly related to Fellini so some of this desire is genetic, rooted in the Italian storyteller and commedia, yet ignored for generations by a working class family. I love movies, film actors and dreamed as a child of making and starring in movies. Now I find myself slowly integrating into that life. I ask myself is this all too little, too late? The film business is notorious in America for being geared to youth and perhaps rightfully so. It is a physically demanding occupation. I have to tell myself repeatedly "Better late than never." And it is.

I have a few years left before I retire completely although I have gone into a pre retirement phase which means less money, less work and more flexibility in my schedule for half the year so this is all good. My home has become a burden and I want to rid myself of it and the ties to the past life in a way that is respectful of the last 25 years, a way that honors the work I have done, the lives that I have affected and that have affected me. I am hopeful and excited about this relocation to the south because, truthfully,I am much happier down there. Everyone says it is so ugly, there are no trees, the air and traffic is horrible. All this is true. But beauty is where you find it and even though it is not nearly as pretty as where I am, it is where I belong. You teach what you need to learn and where can I learn about film except where the industry is? Every nerve and fiber in my body wants me there...but still it is sad to move on, leave behind an old life and find a new one. Leave behind the ornamental plum tree I planted in my backyard to honor my father. The Japanese maple that falls gracefully over the wise Buddha. The apple, fig, pear and lemon trees in the front yard. The stream that runs below on my quarter of an acre. The redwood. The ancient oak. How strong our dreams can be that they pull us away from such beauty. We teach what we need to know.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Good Bye Forever and Hello For Always

Carla Zilbersmith has passed on. I have been reading for days now about the process of dying and how our consciousness lets go of this earthly realm. All my life I have been terrified of dying and it has guided my actions and in-actions. It is the reason I chose a path which was not really me and was afraid to choose a path that was untried and scary. My fear of death pushed me away from everything I passionately desired again and again.

Carla's very public exposure of what it is like to die, on both her blog, in her film and on Facebook, gave me a gift that nothing and no one else has ever been able to give me. It has shown me it is not such a horrible, terrifying thing to leave our known consciousness and enter into another. It is not the worst thing that can happen, this thing we call death, even though it takes us away from the immeasurable gift of life. It has shown me that step by step if we stay aware, we can go in a way that ennobles ourselves and others.

Carla lived her life with passion, hope, kindness, honesty and an awareness of the moment by moment beauty that is with us all the time. And she showed me how to do it by simply being totally present the very last time I was lucky enough to spend an hour with her. She was so there ALWAYS for everyone she cared about even when it might have been detrimental to her well being. The day I visited her a few months ago she smiled at me with that deep and loving smile and said, "Don't worry. You have a generous heart. You will be fine." It meant a lot to me to hear her say that. I so wanted her approval and love. She gave it generously to a fallible, not always there human being because she knew I needed it. That was Carla.

Her sharing of her death in a very real and messy way, made a lot of people uncomfortable. It freaked a lot of people out. It made some feel very guilty for how they had abandoned her. It even made some people demand that I stop sharing news about her. But it also made some people take a good long look at their lives and the choices they have made. It made some folks write me loving letters of support and compassion.

I learned from Carla how to be a human being: vulnerable, messy, stupid, fucked up, wise, witty, risk taking and compassionate. I learned these things because she was all these things with me, at one time or another, and her being that way allowed me to be that way as well.

I do not have an incurable disease. I have a curable disease: fear. And now because of watching how she dealt with all of this I have a deeper, rock solid courage. Not a bombastic, in your face courage to stand up to injustice - I always had that. Now I have the courage to simply be and when I open my heart to others who are worth opening one's heart to (not everyone is there yet, are they?) I believe in my heart of hearts that those people will embrace me and I them. It has begun already.

It took me a long time to see how truly good people can be and it is because of those who loved Carla and those she loved that I genuinely believe in the inherent goodness of people. It is because of Carla's example that I can see beauty in this world. Despite all its decadence and craziness, all its perversions and meanness, all its falling short, it is a "wonderful world." Such a gift Carla Zilbersmith has given to everyone whose heart opened up to her and to whom she deeply touched. Such is the power of a soul in grace.

Good Bye Forever, Carla and Hello for always.....be at peace in your next life...for no one can extinguish you. No one ever will.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Friend Carla is Dying

My friend and colleague Carla Zilbersmith is no longer eating, has written her last brilliant blog by choice and is in the final stages of the inevitable from this horrid disease ALS aka Lou Gehrig's Disease. She was diagnosed with it about 2 years ago and like clockwork, it has ticked away according to its own insidious plan. I don't quite understand why something this unfair is happening to one of the funniest and wittiest humans on the planet but it is. The last thing I feel I have the right to do is question life's randomness when Carla doesn't seem to be doing so. She is now surrounded I am sure by loving caretakers, adoring parents and a son who I first saw nursing a few weeks after she had given birth. It was in fact the first time I had met Carla herself. I remembered thinking when I first saw her - in those rare flashes of insight one sometimes gets - that this woman was both strong and very fragile. Maybe it was the red hair and pale skin. I knew then as I know now that her particular gene pool was unique and like a shooting star, burning quickly. Because of her rarity, I became fast friends, prone as I am to love the beautiful and one of a kind.

Carla and I were on and off again friends. Sometimes our creative energies blended perfectly and sometimes clashed. It didn't matter. I recall telling her I thought we would be friends til our dying days. I had no idea how quickly and how devastatingly that time would come. And now it is here. Dying days.

I have an elderly 89 year old mother who is also dying but she has had a decent run, albeit not a particularly happy or easy one. She, like Carla, is now housebound, rarely venturing outside the sanctity of her home. Why would she when the world can be so incredibly unforgiving to the disabled, the elderly, the ill?

I also have a 13 year old dog companion who was diagnosed 2.5 years ago with congestive heart failure and given hours to live. Some people would think I was crazy the way I fought to find him the best cardiologist, paid stiff prices to get him on medication and nursed him back to the living. Of course, I have no children so it makes a lot of sense in light of that. Luis is also dying now. He can not climb, run or play the way he once did and it is just a matter of time before his little brave spirit says bye bye, reluctantly I am sure.

Like Carla, Luis loves life. And like my mom, crippled with arthritic pain, he hangs on to it for...dear life.

Dear life. I don't think we recognize, most of us, til it is too late just how dear it is regardless of what befalls us. And that is why we cling to it, beyond all hope until the pain becomes so overwhelming that we decide, it is better to go gently into that good and long night. I think Carla made that choice recently. She decided that enough is enough. I hope I also have the wisdom to know when to let go, when to know that the universe is calling me home.

On Wednesday night at 7 PM at my college I am showing the documentary that will make Carla's journey and her battle with ALS much more known in the wide world. Perhaps the film will speed up the cure for an ugly disease that claimed my uncle Carmen's life as well. ALS grabs people, the young particularly, by the throat and wreaks its havoc on the muscles until no breath, no swallowing, no control is left. Carla recognizes the importance and futility of having control and that is why she has chosen to let go of life by her own choosing. She knows how to use humor fearlessly in order to push away the demons. It is something we can all learn from.

I have tried to learn from watching Carla's battle, her good nature and her integrity. I think because of her I am a better human being. And I don't say this lightly. I had significant flaws behind the mask of toughness I wore. Significant. Now I feel that it's okay to have flaws, to be vulnerable and in fact it is actually a very good thing to be human. If my life were endless and impenetrable, I would be a wall. And nothing could ever make it inside and behind the barrier. Because of Carla, and the harsh treatment of life in general over the last few years, I can grab at life like the hungry human I really am. I can go for it for however much time I have left.

And that's the real lesson here. Carla knows how much time she has. I think most of us are in a long state of denial about death and so we miss out on much in life we really want. We don't have the discipline, the passion and the awareness that says clearly, THIS IS IT, folks. It's not a dress rehearsal and there's nothing else like this ever again. Imagine the enormity of that.

So thank you beautiful and unique Carla for the gift your blog has been to a lot of us. Thanks for the shining example of the way to handle an incurable devastating illness. I hope I die from old age in my sleep. Who doesn't hope that? But if something hits me hard, some horrible thing waiting down the pike, I and many others have the memory of what it looks like to live and die in a state of grace.

I only hope I can come close to what Carla has provided: a role model of the Divine in the every day. Carla the butterfly, the Gerber daisy, the clown, the helium balloon....I will miss you, my fine fine friend. And like hundreds of others, I will always love you.

Encore. Bravo. Standing ovation.

Read her blog folks....


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Body Parts Know, Don't They?

We are the first place they look when the rest is mysteriously and suddenly dead. Often there is some mysterious substance called DNA underneath us that apparently is a door to the universe. Some people think we keep growing after the rest dies but in fact the rest is shrinking so we are creating an illusion even at the end, aren't we? When alive, we get filed, buffed, clipped, polished and painted if we're lucky and if we're very very lucky we are pampered in salons. Too often, however, we are neglected, gnawed at, picked at until we bleed at our base, and then we split, chip, become jagged and ugly. When that happens you bring out the big guns, the dreadful clipper, and unceremoniously reduce us to our nubs telling yourself, "Oh they'll grow back stronger now." You delude yourself through us. We are your helpmates as you get older and lose calcium because we can tell before even the doctors test your spine and hip for osteo that your bones are softening. Please for gods sake pay better attention to us. We are so much more than this earthly shell. We are the final tip when you point to the stars. Like arrows we are what your eyes follow when we play a piano. We are your pick when you strum the strings of a guitar. We can turn a man or woman on just by being run gently across their back and shoulders. We can flick the insects from the leaves of your organic gardens. We can help shape a pot on the wheel and then decorate it without the use of a tool. We are the tool. We are the way you see the universe of your body in a grain of calcium. Honor us and when you do neglect us, and you will, remember we will be here for you when all else ceases, when the heart stops beating, the legs stop moving, the eyes stop seeing.
Take a moment to look at us today like you never have before.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What does it mean to have the life you dream of?

Retired from teaching. An occasional class of my choosing. No Internet. No obligations. Endless days of sunshine stretching on forever. Writing my plays and screenplays. Practicing my craft. A warm climate. And no financial worries. The perfect life. Good health. Close friendships. A wonderful lover and deep connection: spiritually and physically. Gardening. Trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica, Alaska in June, London, the Amalfi Coast. Good health. Good health. Good health. Emotional and physical. Profound sleep, no interruptions. Appreciation. Meditative practice consistent. Inner peace and tranquility. Love. In every single shape and permutation in every place I reside in the interior and exterior. Riches, vitality, good health. Consistent exercise. Completion of projects. A conscious presence in this world and the next. Remembered after I leave.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Prayer for an Insomniac

Going to sleep I resist like anthrax because of the dreams I don't have and the climb into bed alone and the worry about the way the world is headed and more importantly the way my neighborhood and my city is headed even on the freeway every night I drive home from work almost every night there is some lunatic gangbanger driving 100 miles an hour with 2 or 3 cars in hot pursuit of him and I know he has a gun and I can't get out of his way fast enough and just last week an old guy was killed in a collision with one of these lunatics and the hold ups and the drive bys and the global warming and the economic meltdown and the endless emails from survival companies in Montana and Chinese imports and oh god there is nothing not to worry about and I close my eyes and hope the herbal sleep aids and the adult CD of lullabyes and my little dog curled up at my feet and the sound downstairs of the housemate in her own cocoon will get me past the night terrors that come from long ago and now because there is so much to be frightened of and worried about and there's nothing I can do about any of it so I let go when I realize my terror is impossible and real at the same time. And then later I awaken maybe 5 AM and I wander the house and read from the Internet and hear the stillness until the sun comes up and I see it. A green bean popping up in my garden poking through and the heat from the sun steaming the shingles and the light oh the luscious light of early morning and the world is new and the impossible happens I feel no fear for a moment one moment and I am so grateful I am alive amen

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flamenco shoes

The 100 pound Flamenco dancer/teacher said to her newest and oldest student, "I have a beautiful pair that don't fit me quite right. Wear them and they will make you feel sexy and when you dance the Flamenco your passion will be fearless and consume you." She brought them from her closet where I glimpsed dozens of Flamenco dance shoes in a million different colors and dresses that fit her skinny frame tightly and made her look like a wild electrified energy rod. Here I was just fifty, newly divorced and wanting so badly to be skinny and sexy again and I was now convinced these shoes she placed on the floor near my feet would bring me back to a state of grace. "How much?" I asked. A hundred and fifty. They were from Madrid after all and hardly worn and she was charging me just twenty dollars less than when she had purchased them a few months ago. They were blood maroon with a strap across the face of them and studded heels so that when I moved my feet, the familiar clicking sound of the Flamenco dancer resounded and echoed across the dance floor. "Well, try them on, " she said, knowing even if they didn't fit me I was going to purchase them any way. I slipped them on and walked and fell in love with the way they lifted my rear and straightened my back and I made a singular dance move with assurance and pride and I beamed. "I will take them, I said and we both smiled. Three weeks later I stopped taking dance lessons and the shoes sat, still sit, in my bedroom closet because I made the fatal mistake of wearing them to a jazz club and while on the street, the blisters they caused made my feet bleed and my toes got infected and I ended up not being able to walk for a month. I have never worn them since that day but I can not sell them or give them away. I would like to have them dipped in bronze the way they used to dip baby shoes in bronze and plant a rare orchid in each one of them. A reminder to never try to be what you are not: skinny and under 30.