The Silence of Bees


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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 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.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Ends Can Be Embraced

That part of my life is over now...teaching for the last 18 years at a community college is beginning to come to the end days. Running a theatre department that I revived from nothing. Now a new energy is in place to take over. My energy is facing elsewhere: filmmaking, acting, writing. The hardest part is relinquishing the control and saying good bye to my child...that particular theatre...and strangely my friend Carla is dying, really dying from ALS and she and I were the jumpstarters of the program for the first year...she's leaving the earthly plane forever...and this house, my home, clearing it out, giving things away...knowing my time here is also coming to an little beloved companion dog Louie, how much longer will those mitral valves hold out? He was supposed to have died 2.5 years ago and he is 13 years old and my little Honey...blind now, losing her hearing at 15 years old, how much longer? And the ancient cat Lily who sleeps all day and is 18 years old, how much longer for Lily as well? And my mother turning 89 on March 19th and knowing full well every single day may be the last...all these endings. But I am not sad. I am grateful. I can feel the preciousness of every single moment in a way I could never before. I know it's fragility and its impermanence and its rare decaying beauty. I embrace the change because it is reality and reality is the best and truest high there is....this god I have this moment by moment by....forever, don't I?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Is No Longer There

What is no longer there…lush green vegetable gardens a water pump a half acre of beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, the sun blasting down on my 40 year old mother as she picks out weeds smoothes the soil and I play in the backyard under the enormous willow with its flowing branches and the music from a transistor radio plays somewhere inside the house as my sister gets ready for her date and we wait for the afternoon to pass. My mother insisting I eat a string bean raw and the crunch of it between my teeth and the richness of the afternoon because of nothing in particular except here in this time and place something still feels intact and real and a neighbor drops by in my tiny neighborhood by the water and life seems rich and perfect and whole. My father rushes into the backyard in a frenzy and examines the take from the garden his mouth watering demanding that we eat soon because he does not have much time and must get back to his job and put the finishing touches on a patio he has just poured and he is hungry so hungry for his pasta and the fresh tangy red sauce my mother made from the glowing garden tomatoes. He barely notices me making a mess as usual in the mud and dirt while my sister leaves through the front door for a summer date with girlfriends her hair curled, lipstick blood red, her skirt short enough to show her knees. Summer. I say the words in my mouth like I am eating a ripe cherry. I love the summer. Freedom, no school, freedom. Do whatever I want all day long. Bliss. I know it will end as each day passing kills my freedom but it can’t it mustn’t because once this day is gone once it is over it is over bye bye forever and even as a child I sense how fragile this is yet I take it all for granted. My mother stays forty and beautiful, my father virile and strong, my sister kind,  smiling, excited about her life unfolding before her. Somewhere inside I am already grieving.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Remember when .....

September 1981 Amherst Massachusetts. Nervous frightened an undergraduate in a creative writing class the teacher walks in tall, imposing looking scholarly and artsy at the same time, I am intimidated by his attitude. He barely glances at me; it is as if I do not exist. His eyes scan the room and land at the rear where someone is sitting who he stares at, lets his gaze swallow this person. I turn to see out of curiosity why whoever this is is deserving of this intense focus. A tall, depressed looking woman, younger than me, her head buried in a thin paper back book, gives him no recognition back. “I am Kirby Farrell. I write,” he declares. “I’m a writer and my job is to teach you to find your voices. Some of you already have been looking. Others…” his eyes now find me…”Well, others might take a very very long time.” The air is heavy with tension, nerves. Sweat. A bead drops from my forehead but I am too self conscious to wipe it as it slithers down my cheek. I shift in my seat like a trapped animal in a cage. Outside the warm autumn of Western Massachusetts radiates with undergraduate laughter, chatter, whispers. I hear leaves crunching under feet taking their time to get to or from their destinations. I gather my things ready to rush from the room, the words “who am I to think I can be a writer like these people?” running like a circular saw slicing my insides to pieces. No one in my family has done anything. I shouldn’t even be in college. This is a mistake, a big fat stupid mistake. Then a hand taps me on the shoulder. The woman from the rear of the class has moved into the empty seat behind me. She whispers, “Do you have an extra pen or pencil? Mine just ran out of ink.” I reach into my backpack and pull out the only pen I have and give it to her. Her coal black eyes see into me. “You have another, right?” she asks. I mumble something stupid. Kirby steps forward and smiles at her. He calls her Monica as if he and she are lovers. “He’s full of himself,” she says softly to me. “Don’t let him bother you.” Are we now friends for life? Is she my lifeline in the sea of academic muck I will have to wade through? Later, weeks later, Kirby tells me Monica’s father is a famous author. And I remember her words to me. “You have real talent,” she said. “Everyone else in that class is full of shit. Including the teacher.” She's a friend. We run, eat, get crazy together, swap stories, are silly and save one another's lives. And she shares intimate stories of what it's like to be the daughter of Richard Yates. I believe now, after recognizing her burden, it is better that no one in my family has succeeded in the outside world. When I pick up a pen,I believe for the first time ever I have something to say. She helps me shape words, ideas. I fall in love with her entire being. I feel respected, seen. And when she becomes homeless and manic, I invite her to sleep on the sofa in my apartment I share with two other people. I know now, 30 years later, everything in your life can change when you give someone your only pen.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beware The Narcissist

Recognize anyone like this? Beware...

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

NPD is a type of psychological personality disorder characterized primarily by grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. Narcissism occurs in a spectrum of severity, but the pathologically narcissistic tend to be extremely self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ perspectives, insensitive to others’ needs and indifferent to the effect of their own egocentric behavior.

It is not uncommon for persons with this disorder to frequently compare themselves to the accomplished, well-known and well-to-do. They feel entitled to great praise, attention, and deferential treatment by others.

Those with NPD crave the limelight and are quick to abandon situations in which they are not the center of attention. Defects of empathy may cause narcissists to misperceive other people's speech and actions, causing them to believe that they are well-liked and respected despite a history of negative personal interactions.
Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are often ambitious and capable, but are unable to cope with setbacks, disagreements or criticism. These emotional limitations, along with lack of empathy, make it difficult for such individuals to work well with others and to build a successful career (Kernberg 2003, 2004, APA 2000).

Diagnosis of Narcissistic PD

Considerable overlap between the characteristics of different personality disorders makes diagnosis of NPD a challenge. Grandiosity, lack of empathy and exploitative interpersonal relations are not unique to NPD, nor is the need to be seen as special or unique. The differential diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is typically made based on the absence of certain behaviors. Borderline Personality Disorder has several conspicuous similarities, but unlike NPD, is characterized by self-injury, whereas narcissists are rarely physically self-injurious. The need for constant attention is also found in Histrionic Personality Disorder, but HPD and BPD are both relationship oriented, whereas NPD is characterized by the avoidance of intimacy. Psychopathy, or Antisocial Personality Disorder is differentiated from NPD by the psychopaths' willingness to use physical violence whereas narcissists rarely commit crimes Kernberg 2003, Vaknin 2007).
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), a patient must exhibit five or more of the following traits in order to be diagnosed with NPD:

Could Have, Would Have, Should Have

By this age I should have had grandchildren. A close relationship with my sister. A deep and loving sexual relationship with someone. More maturity. More selflessness. Less anger. More compassion day to day. More discipline. Success as a playwright internationally. Success as an actor. Better health. More physically fit. Less self righteousness. Less defensiveness. Less material goods and a richer spiritual life. A deeper bond with others. Living in a  stronger community. Deeper ties with others. Less isolation.  I should be debt free. I should have owned outright my home. I should have been able to move to Los Angeles and be more involved in the theatres I belong to. I should feel happier, less depressed. I should have decided about Judaism by now. I should have less of a trigger when it comes to my emotions. I should be more stable and balanced. I should eat healthier. I should be thinner. I should be more disciplined about everything. I should not be so lazy. I should be smarter. I should not have to worry about money. I should have more prestige and be valued more highly by colleagues at work. I should value my colleagues more at work. I should have healthier relationships.

I see that I want a greater sense of community and to get away from the computer by getting out more into the real world. I feel like when I first moved here I had that but now that the computer has taken over my life, I am losing touch with real people and engaging in real ways and this concerns me a lot. I suppose I don’t go out as much because I am afraid of getting attacked or worse killed by a stray bullet which I guess is a little ridiculous but that happens to people as they get older and feel more vulnerable and fragile. I wish I could get my courage back to take more chances. I wish I did not feel all the time that my time was running down and out. I really wish my friend Carla was not dying and we could turn back the clock and I could appreciate her more when I had her as a colleague and friend. I wish I could take more risks emotionally in the real world and everywhere else. I wish I had learned to stride rather than take mincing steps. I wish I had learned to reach for the stars and moon and the sun and not just shadows.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The First Day of....

Yesterday March 19th was my mother's 89th birthday and I was not there with her to celebrate it. I live in California and she in Massachusetts and I can no longer fly home whenever I feel like it due both to financial and physical limitations. Every year that she gets older so in fact do I, and now I am too old to wish myself into a new life like I have so many times in the past. Now I am pretty much stuck with both the body, mind and life I have created.

So here on the first day of Spring in 2010, I get to size myself up and ask if it has been worth it so far....after all I have no children, the mark in an Italian family of value and worth as a woman. I forfeited that reality for both emotional and physical reasons and because as they say "it was not in the cards". Actually looking back now the choices I made were all pretty much made when I was about 8 years old.

The blog below this one pretty much explains it all: I rejected 100% the path my mother had laid out for me. At least the surface path. Because I think underneath that surface path, the roles decent women should take, which in her opinion were clear in the 1950's and 1960's, she watched and waited and, dare I say, hoped for my rebellion. I think I was her under the surface path where she had so long wanted to walk but could not because of fear and the oppressive nature of being a woman back then and of course, my father, the eternal chauvinist.

I never received much encouragement to be who I wanted to be. I risked the ire and rejection of my mother and my older sister if I did and yet here I am today: a filmmaker, an actor, a writer, a college professor, owner of a beautiful home, with great and remarkable friends, foster mother to children in Bolivia and Cambodia, and embarking on what is most likely my most intimate and longest relationship to date with a man I have known for 25 years.....all signs of health and growth and commitment.

I wonder about the other women in my family from later generations, nieces most especially. I have 4 nieces, 3 of them who ended up having children and one who seems lonely and a little lost although she still has time to find herself. I wonder how strong their mother's voices were in their heads and if they had the courage to stand up to that figure and speak the truth: To say with deep conviction: I am not you, mother. I am independent of you, both emotionally, financially, spiritually and every other way and this is my life, not yours. Of course, maybe you do not need to say that unless she refuses to let you go. Then I suppose a dramatic scene is called for if only to act as a breaking off climactic moment. But doing it in your own mind and heart is pretty much the only way you ever do claim your own life and "grow up", isn't it?

It is the first day of spring. I am truly blessed to have this life, to own this life I have created out of dreams and whispers. It's also the first day of the rest of YOUR lives, nieces. As an act of faith in yourselves, you might choose one thing you are afraid to do...write that children's story, draw that picture, make that movie, dance that only have so many springs and yours are winding get to it...don't waste another moment...find the time, make the time. Reclaim yourselves.

When mom is gone either metaphorically or for real, make sure you are able to locate that under the surface path because, truthfully, it's the one she really wants you to walk anyway, despite her fears and protests. Trust me, I know.

Today is the first day.......

Karma Free Writing: Things My Parents Taught Me

Ann Randolph, that great and brilliant actress and one woman show, sent us a recommendation. She suggested we look into Karma Free Writing which begins today, the first day of spring. Check it out at

So here is my Day One...very ought to try it

I learned I was funny
Too sensitive
Non musical
(Out of control at times) I choose this
Loved animals
A gardener
A scavenger
Very very brave

Flying down Blueberry Hill a hundred miles an hour on my winged steed, a red Schwinn footbrake bike like mad dogs were nipping at my feet. Hollering to my friends Joey and Jason ten feet behind me that they were girls and realizing I was a girl and not a boy. Feeling the loss of that as they laughed at me and said, "Who you calling girls, girl?" And wanting to be a boy, wanting very much the physical limitations lifted so I could fly over the hill and into a world of endless possibilities in which no one could say, "No you can not be that, do that, want that, know that because you are the wrong sex." Coming home sweaty, knees bleeding, exhilarated and proud that I beat my buddies once again on my mad quest for adventure in mundane places and seeing my mother standing, arms crossed at the front door, looking disappointed in me because I was not frilly and clean and unblemished. Hearing her ask me for the hundredth time, "Why are you so out of control?" And shutting down my listening as I rushed past her shouts and into the kitchen where I would stand in front of the fridge looking for fudgsicles to feed my lust for ice cold chocolate which was the only thing that could or would soothe me from her looks of disgust and disdain and her realization I was never going to be like her other daughter, the princess, the cheerleader, the winner and stuffing my feelings along with the fudgsicles and my own disappointment in myself down my throat, worrying I was not good enough to be as good as I actually was in math and other male subjects and realizing I might end up like all the women in my family with kids or worse: without themselves.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Broken Society

The Broken Society

Published: March 18, 2010

The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

In a much-discussed essay in Prospect magazine in February 2009, Blond wrote, “Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry.” In a separate essay, he added, “The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures.”

The task today, he argued in a recent speech, is to revive the sector that the two revolutions have mutually decimated: “The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station.”

Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the “village college” so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.

Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations. His ideas have made a big splash in Britain over the past year. His think tank, ResPublica, is influential with the Conservative Party. His book, “Red Tory,” is coming out soon. He’s on a small U.S. speaking tour, appearing at Georgetown’s Tocqueville Forum Friday and at Villanova on Monday.

Britain is always going to be more hospitable to communitarian politics than the more libertarian U.S. But people are social creatures here, too. American society has been atomized by the twin revolutions here, too. This country, too, needs a fresh political wind. America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Say Yes

Say Yes

when two violins are placed in a room

if a chord on one violin is struck

the other violin will sound the note

if this is your definition of hope

this is for you

the ones who know how powerful we are

who know we can sound the music in the people around us

simply by playing our own strings

for the ones who sing life into broken wings

open their chests and offer their breath

as wind on a still day when nothing seems to be moving

spare those intent on proving god is dead

for you when your fingers are red

from clutching your heart

so it will beat faster

for the time you mastered the art of giving yourself for the sake of someone else

for the ones who have felt what it is to crush the lies

and lift truth so high the steeples bow to the sky

this is for you

this is also for the people who wake early to watch flowers bloom

who notice the moon at noon on a day when the world

has slapped them in the face with its lack of light

for the mothers who feed their children first

and thirst for nothing when they're full

this is for women

and for the men who taught me only women bleed with the moon

but there are men who cry when women bleed

men who bleed from women's wounds

and this is for that moon

on the nights she seems hung by a noose

for the people who cut her loose

and for the people still waiting for the rope to burn
about to learn they have scissors in their hands

this is for the man who showed me

the hardest thing about having nothing

is having nothing to give

who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away

so this is for the day we'll quit or jobs and work for something real

we'll feel for sunshine in the shadows
look for sunrays in the shade

this is for the people who rattle the cage that slave wage built

and for the ones who didn't know the filth until tonight

but right now are beginning songs that sound something like
people turning their porch lights on and calling the homeless back home

this is for all the shit we own

and for the day we'll learn how much we have

when we learn to give that shit away

this is for doubt becoming faith

for falling from grace and climbing back up

for trading our silver platters for something that matters
like the gold that shines from our hands when we hold each other

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree

where the fruit would grow to laugh

for the ones who know the math of war

has always been subtraction

so they live like an action of addition

for you when you give like every star is wishing on you

and for the people still wishing on stars

this is for you too

this is for the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn't have to

for the time you taught a 14 year old girl she was powerful

this is for the time you taught a 14 year old boy he was beautiful

for the radical anarchist asking a republican to dance

cause what's the chance of everyone moving from right to left

if the only moves they see are NBC and CBS
this is for the no becoming yes

for scars becoming breath

for saying i love you to people who will never say it to us

for scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine

for the dime you gave away when you didn't have a penny

for the many beautiful things we do

for every song we've ever sung

for refusing to believe in miracles

because miracles are the impossible coming true
and everything is possible

this is for the possibility that guides us

and for the possibilities still waiting to sing

and spread their wings inside us

cause tonight saturn is on his knees

proposing with all of his ten thousand rings

that whatever song we've been singing we sing even more
the world needs us right now more than it ever has before

pull all your strings

play every chord

if you're writing letters to the prisoners

start tearing down the bars

if you're handing our flashlights in the dark

start handing our stars

never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart

play loud

play like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken

and you're their last chance for sun

play like there's no time for hoping brighter days will come

play like the apocalypse is only 4...3...2

but you have a drum in your chest that could save us

you have a song like a breath that could raise us
like the sunrise into a dark sky that cries to be blue
play like you know we won't survive if you don't
but we will if you do
play like saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that we give every single breath
this is for saying-yes

this is for saying-yes

--Andrea Gibson

Friday, February 12, 2010

My Friend The Screenwriter

I have a good friend who is a talented screenwriter. He has worked with the most imaginative and creative directors in the world. In fact, his name is on some groundbreaking films as a creative consultant. I won't mention his name to protect his privacy and will just refer to him as W. I met him in a workshop he was giving in Marin county about 20 years ago. At the time I was working on a story idea my colleague Carla Zilbersmith had given me while we sat and ate a Chinese meal at a now defunct Berkeley restaurant. A lot has happened to the three of us since then. Carla had a gifted and promising career as a singer and actor for many years and then contracted ALS, a wicked disease; W. worked in house at one of the most famous studios in the world as an esteemed colleague of the biggies, got divorced and left his lucrative position; and I actually grew up, a rather notable accomplishment for one who was rather thick headed and decidely without any role models to show me what growing up actually meant. I suppose I accomplished other things as well like dragging a dead theatre department back to life, writing some surprisingly good plays and film scripts, making an award winning short and establishing myself as an innovative teacher. I also went through a painful and gut wrenching divorce, got in a lot of serious trouble at work and became a militant anti Bush person openly supportive of some pretty controversial figures. Like I said I was growing up. I saw W. today after about a year of not having contact and we had a long, leisurely and delicious lunch together. We shared intimacies about our lives in a way neither of us was capable of in the past. It felt really great. But we also talked about that story idea that W. had asked to take control of 3 years ago. He's been developing it into a screenplay off and on for a while. I used to think he would never finish it because he was such a perfectionist and well, frankly, I just could not imagine the reality of what he was doing. I could not imagine the depth that he was seeking in this story through these characters because I had only seen the film as a popcorn movie, nothing more. But W. had always envisioned something great in this story idea. It had captured and obsessed him for years and today for the first time I understood why. The story's scope is enormous. Not only does it shapeshift and time travel but it deals with the most important parts of our collective lives: the loss of American ingenuity and community. He's in it up to his armpits now and he said it was the most important creative endeavor he had ever undertaken and I believed him. I think he's writing as if his life depends on his finishing it and you know what? It does. I don't know what this is going to turn into for him, for me and for Carla but something tells me that when W. finally types Fade Out, he will have written something remarkable. Everything we artist types do should be aiming at that star, everything we do should push us past our preconceived notions and tight boundaries into the possibility of the extraordinary. I am learning that in my acting classes, in my attempts at writing, in my teaching and interaction with students and friends and in my close personal and intimate relationships. It's a great lesson to learn because every moment of every day feels richer to me and I feel more alive. I wonder where this knowledge of the divinity in each of us sat for most of the years of my life. I think it was hunched down inside a cave poking its wary head out, looking for a safe haven. And finally, finally, I realize there is no safe haven. Everything is fraught with peril so why not just jump into the abyss while you have the chance and go for it? W. is doing that. Carla certainly is. And now I am doing it as well. I suppose there was a reason the three of us connected two decades ago. Our time is now. And guess what? So is yours.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cruelty and Humor

I don't have much of a sense of humor when folks make jokes at others' expense. I find it petty and, regardless of the wit involved, mean-spirited. I don't care if the person who says it is a stand up comic or a co worker or family member. If it is said in a way that lacks any awareness of another's feelings, I don't laugh. I don't appreciate cheap shots. When I was younger and had self-esteem problems, I wouldn't speak up when such nonsense was leveled at me but that is no longer the case. A person gets one chance with me and then I say adieu. Here's the reason: 99% of the time, a joke or remark made at another's expense is really a reflection of the joker's low sense of their own worth. I think the best way to get them to see they need to do some inner work is to have nothing to do with them and hope they just may wonder why. The other reason I walk away from them after letting them know how I feel is selfish: I don't want to waste precious minutes of my life around people who don't like themselves and in turn, don't really like me. I don't want to lose a nano second around misfits who make a living off self hate. They are in actuality losers. I am not a loser. So to the person who made a personal remark to me that was out of line and untrue: look inside yourself and ask yourself why you felt you needed to pass judgement on me so quickly without knowing me. If you're reading this, you know who you are. I venture you are just really terrified of anyone getting a little too close for comfort. How sad. No wonder you are alone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Wise Mistress of the Imagination

I began writing again a few days ago. I'd noticed a contest for a one act and looked through my dozens of unfinished scripts and decided to yank one out of the slush heap of the abandoned. I really love when this happens, this beckoning. This one is a 2 character piece which is something I have never been able to handle before because my imagination tends to expand outward once I begin a play. In this case, however, the story of the long love affair that goes amiss between a man and a woman and then full circles again set against the backdrop of a failing America is irresistible. It's perhaps about many of us in a lot of ways; at least I'm hoping it has a universal quality to it. The tug on me to write this is really not about entering a contest. There's something else going on here. The recognition, perhaps, that a love from the past that would not be entirely extinguished may just have been the one true love of my character's life. And I wonder if there really is such a thing as a second chance when damage has been done both to the heart, mind and body of the relationship. Can we heal? There is after all the deeper Platonic love that won't die but what about the sexual love? What happens if that leaves? Is it true once that is gone it will never return? There's also the passage of time. So much has happened in the US during the 30 year span of the play. I like the way I am fracturing time, mixing up the decades, pulling from real events; I like the way this play has the potential to make a statement about both the personal and the political. The grand master of that blend was of course the late great Arthur Miller. Not coincidentally I am also working on a piece from A View from the Bridge in Richard Seyd's acting class where I am Beatrice Carbone, the neglected wife of Eddie Carbone who has an obsession with his 18 year old niece, Catherine. My play is nothing like A View except that it is about love: love of a man and a woman and love for a country's ideals and the sadness that comes to everyone when we betray each other and those ideals. Now that I think of it, I suppose it is a bit like Miller's piece. Any way it is good to be back, to be pulled at by the muse again. When she disappears under the onslaught of grading papers and writing course outlines and fixing up something else that has gone wrong in my 100 year old house, I think she will never return. But then one day she whispers seductively in my ear and I am pulled into the love affair with the pen. Or in this case, the keyboard. And then time becomes meaningless for a while as I disappear into the lives of these imaginary people speaking words they are saying for the first time and directing me through the labyrinth of imagination. (Aren't I lucky to be able to do this?) So here's a task for you: let your imagination seduce you in some small way today and as you do, be present to what that moment is like when you let yourself fall into her clutches. I would propose it is a lot like falling in love. Every time it happens, it really is a second chance.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Remarkable Carla Zilbersmith

I will confess. I adore Carla Zilbersmith. She is not only a brilliant writer and the one time possessor of the voice of angels but she is also, and I say this in no small way, the most honest and courageous human being I have ever known. Carla is facing and dealing with Lou Gehrig's disease that has stripped her of the ability to move and speak to a great degree. She is facing her death in a manner that leaves one deeply moved and changed. I saw Carla yesterday for the first time in 2 years although I have attempted to maintain a connection with her since she became ill, either through emails or her blog. I admit to being frightened and staying away out of that fear and I am not proud of that. But yesterday I finally did what my heart told me to do and I went to visit her, to show her a plaque that will hang in the college theatre honoring her and the students who receive a yearly scholarship named after her. It was a wise choice because it was a real choice, borne out of love and deep respect. And, frankly, it was propelled by the simple fact of deeply missing her presence in my life. It is Carla's presence that has always had an amazing effect on everyone. A few people didn't "get" Carla; they read her and her jokes too literally. Carla was always about irony, at least when she was being a shitkicker. That feisty, funny and wise person is alive and well in Carla. I saw that yesterday; but there is something else there now: a deep and compassionate humility for those she loves and the very world we all live in. Carla has few enemies but there are people in her life, one in particular, who has been extraordinarily destructive and mean-spirited. I suppose one could say this person is "troubled"; I think sociopathic is more like it. That person will get their comeuppance one day; the cruel and selfish nature of this person will bring about their own inevitable destruction. I have NO doubt about that. Carla, on the other hand, lives in a beautiful home of bright color with young people, some former students, as her caretakers and wise and beautiful old friends who rush to her whenever she is in need. And her father, Jack, a beautiful man of great strength, is by her side at all times, helping her cope and taking the love that emanates from Carla's extraordinary smile and heart and giving her love in every look and touch. I have not even mentioned Carla's deepest and most profound joy, her son Maclen. Carla says it best in the songs she wrote and delivers in her last remarkable CD. I have been honored to know this woman. I knew when I met her 18 years ago that she would have a profound impact on me and she has. Few people have had such an impact in such a way and I asked myself after I left her home yesterday, why? I think it is because Carla always tells the truth; she always knew when to call someone out on their bullshit and she did not have to do it with language. One penetrating gaze from Carla could rock and shake up your world and guess what? It still does. I know Carla is going to leave us soon although if there was something, anything I could do, to change this outcome, I truly would do it. She is an important person and her legacy is truth. Never let anyone tell you differently. Carla's life and the things she has done with it, the people she has helped grow and grow up (me included) will NEVER forget her and will make certain others know her name. This is how legends begin. It is how people really do live on. I confess. I adore Carla Zilbersmith.

Friday, February 5, 2010

In The Garden You Love

I spend a lot of time in my outdoor gardens growing things: fruit trees, vegetables, flowering plants, ornamental plum trees, Japanese maples, rhododendrums. Hundreds of plants each with their own lifecyle, passing in and out of the seasons. It's the way I was raised; my mother was a great outdoor gardener, both flowers and vegetables and even now at 89 years old, she seems to tend to her beautiful plants in her indoor window boxes as if her very life depended on it. And I suppose in a way, it does. Her gardening has sustained her through the majority of her very painful and challenged life. There is something profoundly peaceful and Zen-like about watching something grow. I never had children although I feel like I was part of the raising of my niece and nephew since I lived for a short time with my sister and her husband when Maria and Russ were babies. And I am connected to them despite whatever obstacles are put in our way. The connection is deep and mysterious. That's the way it is when you nurture anything I suppose. My little dog Luis has the same deep tug on me. I have had him since he was a tiny pup and now 12 years later in his waning years, the deep and profound love I have for him is more powerful than ever. He is my wunderdog. Hell, I named a screenplay after him. What we love lives on both within us and outside of us perhaps for eternity. Even when people and animals you love die, they are still in another way alive, in memory and thought. Just because the Japanese maple looks dead in winter does not mean it is. It comes back in its newest incarnation, more beautiful and stronger each time it makes it through the winter. And wherever there is a spot where once stood growth that is no longer there, I can vividly recall its shape and substance as if it still were. In my backyard garden I have a very large and very ancient oak tree. A few years back an unscrupulous tree guy told me I should take it down because it was dying. "You could put a patio there," he said matter of factly. And I thought about what he said because in truth the tree is dying. Each year there are less and less leaves and more and more of its branches fall to the ground. If I were practical, it would come down. Something about its demise, however, is quite lovely. I think it will tell me in no uncertain terms when it is time to go. It hasn't told me yet so my belief is it should be left in its dignity to live its remaining years any way it sees fit. It still provides shade and beauty. What it lacks in youthful vitality, it makes up for in wisdom. I look forward to the spring this year. It may be the last year I spend in this house. Whoever knows about these things really? So in April, I will begin the cycle again. Luis will sit by me in the garden while I dig up the soil and plant vegetables. He will lick at his paws, roll around in the grasses and chase squirrels, those dastardly critters. And I will say prayers and incantations to the flowering plum and the azalea and the old oak so they will stay just a little longer and fill the world with beauty. I can not get over what a remarkable gift this world is. Even the bees know that which is why they are sticking around when the human species works so hard to destroy them. You stick around too. No matter how bad it gets. Stick it out. It is so worth it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Staying positive...

I was feeling particularly blue last night after returning from an afternoon spent at my place of work. The changes that are taking place at my college, financial and people-wise, are sweeping. I think every aspect of life in higher education will be very different from now on and I am not sure how I feel about this. California has badly managed its wealth and now its piss poor, particularly in regards to its students. This is very sad to me. The shrinking of the availability of classes, the pulling back in innovative growth, the increased tuitions all make it harder and harder to achieve a higher education in our country. What concerns me most is the bleak future many of these students are facing. If we do not turn this state and our country around I fear that we will become a terribly stratified society of haves and have nots, much worse than what we are seeing today. And the areas in the arts will be the first to go. I worked for the last 18 years to build a theatre department out of thin air. No budget, little support, it was my joy, hard work and enthusiasm and the support of fellow theatre artists like Carla Zilbersmith, Casy Cann, members of The Shotgun Players and a few others here in the Bay area that made it possible to grow a barely breathing-on-life-support department into one that has a full time young man with enormous potential running it, committed to making it a successful program in the eyes of the rest of the college and the state. This is a good thing because when I leave in 3 years (hopefully), I can feel good that something I got off the ground will last. They are breaking ground in the next few years for a performing arts center (the funding apparently was already in place before the economy took a nose dive) and that is certainly needed. But what saddens me is that now this young man has to think about ways to please the management to stay alive. The whole point of the theatre dept was to make people think, shake people up, move them about what was happening in our country. To that end we did plays like The Laramie Project to promote tolerance for gays. We did The Vagina Monologues to raise money for domestic violence against women. We did anti war plays written by local playwrights when the Iraq debacle began. We stuck our neck out over and over again and we took our hits. We made enemies. But we made some very cool friends as well. I fear those days of making it real and political are going to be softened now by doing perhaps solid but very different kinds of work. I don't think this new young leader of the department wants to piss as many people off as I did with the work he does. He's more of a collaborator than I was. I take my hat off to him for those skills. But boy, there were moments we created in that little theatre that will live forever for those who were present to see them. And somehow in the run of my life, I feel blessed to have been a part of it. It's all different now and the baton is passed to the young. My wholehearted support for what they will do. Good bye rebel rousing, thought provoking, occasionally extraordinary theatre. Good bye to Cindy Sheehan standing on our stage after a play handing out a scholarship named in honor of her son, Casy. Good bye to Nikola Tesla mesmerizing an audience in a one man show that would eventually land in Los Angeles and tour Australia. Good bye to Carla and me running around on stage in goofy costumes doing Jake Zilber's piece in which we had to belch on cue and speak in double pig Latin. Good-bye dear sweet time of my life. And yet something stirs within. I think I have the urge to cause some trouble some place. Just not quite yet. I need these next 3 years to shift. And maybe grieve a little.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Good Health

We take a lot for granted, don't we? Good health for example. We never bother to think "WOW, I feel great today and I've felt pretty terrific for years. None of my bones are broken. No brain tumor is growing. No cancer/multiple sclerosis/diabetes/serious mental illness, nothing. " Nope. We just go along from day to day taking our health for granted. Then of course something goes wrong and we swear and wave our fists at the heavens demanding to know why me? The way we treat our good health is a metaphor for the way we live our lives. Every day we wake up (which in and of itself is kind of miraculous) and go about our business. Like it was no big thing that we survived another night. Most of us have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge, some form of companionship, human or otherwise. There's no one shooting at our front door (usually). We're not dragged out in the street and taken to some unknown location and beaten senseless by the government. We have clothes to wear, warmth in our homes, friends, family of one kind or another, animal companions, we take trips, fly in airplanes, gamble in Vegas (despite what Obama says) and we get to have sex once in a while. And we take all of this for granted as if it's never going away. But it will go away. It may be hard to fathom this but trust me eventually you will be dust. Dust in the wind. So tomorrow morning when you wake up maybe say thank you that you have one more day. It really is a gift you know.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jealousy: That Green Eyed Monster

It started when I was a baby. My father showed me some attention, seemed to prefer me over my sister and brother and the result was a childhood of endless teasing and "getting even" on the part of my siblings. They won't admit to it and most likely do not remember what they did but boy did they make my life hell. Especially my sister. Every chance she got to "get even", to undercut and undermine me she did. Why? She felt unloved by our father and in fact, she was unloved by him. Sadly, he himself, unloved and unloving, couldn't tolerate her. Why he seemed to like me who knows? I doubt it had too much to do with me and a lot to do with his own ego. But interestingly most of the men in my life never liked my sister. She seemed doomed from day one and turned out to be, please excuse the expression, a ball buster, a castrator of men. I look at her now across from me at this funeral banquet after she buried her 70 year old beaten down, ignored and generally disrespected husband and I can't help but see the sad child behind the contorted and bloated aging face. Hard to believe as I gaze at her that she was once a beauty, likened to Natalie Wood. Hard to believe what pain and repression does to a human being. She has a vicious streak in her that she wields to get her way, to make life hell for others. She is all about getting even. About threats, subtle and veiled sometimes, other times manipulative and cunning. There are people where I have worked for the last 18 years who are a lot like my sister. One woman, a sad, chubby and angry human being, is always out to undermine me. I think she too was very unloved as a child, rejected on some deep level by her caretakers again and again and trying to make up for it by puffing up her ego. And she seems to have the same need to "get even" with me as my sister, particularly when she doesn't get what she wants. I have tried with these two women for many years to get along. To make peace. And I have failed. Maybe I am just having too good a time with my own life. I think this really pisses a lot of people I work with off. I teach pretty much what I want, courses mostly of my own design and I enjoy it very much. I make movies, win awards, have friends all over the world, get up on the stage, am told I am doing "lovely" work by a great and inspiring acting teacher, fall in love unexpectedly and I breathe it all in. It's a wonderful life I have. So what I think the problem is with these women is they just are not doing what they love on a day to day basis. My sister really wanted to be an actress and instead became a secretary, developed a false self and buried her deepest desires. And this other women should have followed the path to being a fiction writer and instead lost her way. But mostly I believe they chose those paths, they sold themselves short, because they felt they did not really deserve to be happy. Somewhere deep inside them that little child screamed out to be loved, to be special and heard nothing in return. I've done a lot of deep feeling therapy in my life to heal that little kid and she is, I am pleased to report, pretty much in love with herself. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I really do like myself as a person. So it allows me to be more forgiving, more understanding of what self hate can do to a human being. I have to smile when I look at these women now, partly because I know the struggle they have to love themselves but maybe even more so because I finally realize they can't harm me. That whatever they or anyone else thinks they can do or manages to do to "even the score" or "get what they want", they can not in any way diminish my life. My life is my own. I roll with the punches, laugh all the way to the bank and reach out to those I can most affect in a positive way. In short, I love just about every moment of every day. So my advice to you, dear reader, whoever you may be is don't sell yourself short. You really are a child of the universe. And don't spend time getting even. Because you can't. You can only get on with it.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Watching Pink last night on The Grammy's took my breath away. Not only do I envy the powerful strength in her arms and legs but her lack of any apparent fear or nervousness was simply astonishing. Granted, I admire and envy singers. They have such a readily accessible performance tool...they open their mouths, breathe in air and the resultant expulsion of sound can be at times sublime. But Pink's twirling in mid air, suspended by a thin sheet of cloth, belting out the lyrics to Sparkle was not just a great piece of theatre. It was something else: a death defying act that would not admit any possibility of failure. She simply would not have it. What a tribute to life itself as well as the human body in its prime. I wonder why every moment of every single life can not be exactly like this. Why can't we recognize the power in the simplest thing? I know dying people often have this appreciation of nearly everything they experience, everything that comes into their range, animate or inanimate. Well, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it? They KNOW they are about to lose it all ... they know fairly accurately when they will cease to exist. Their senses become heightened by that recognition. Quite often they see life moment to moment. But the rest of us...we aren't so certain. We know somewhere in the back of our minds we will die but because we don't know quite when, we fool ourselves for a great portion of our lives into thinking somehow it is endless. But in truth, neither you nor I have the slightest clue when it will be snatched away. When something inside goes haywire or something outside plows us down unexpectedly and the end comes, will we swing from a sheet, dripping wet, saying to hell with fear? Will we risk everything for the moment? Will we dangle upside down 25 feet off the ground, belting out the lyrics to a song we wrote? Or holler the name of the person we most love? Or laugh so hard and long that our last breath will freeze a smile on our face? Will we finally seize the moment and render it sublime? Imagine if everyone one of us every single day made every moment like Pink's moment. We would all sparkle into eternity.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

How Do We Handle Loss?

It is tough for Americans to admit defeat. We are a society of believers in the dream of forever expanding... outward. We thrived for many years on growth, on more and more, bigger and better. And now we have moved into a constrained and restricted period and, frankly, that makes us angry. It makes us feel defeated. We are not a nation of folks who enjoy or even want to look within. Most likely we are fearful of what we will find there. It's not the unknown more readily conquered like the West or even the Middle East. A few years ago at the funeral dinner for my dad, soon after 9/11 and immediately after the invasion of Iraq, my brother, a regular working class guy who has busted his butt his entire life to take care of his family, said something that upset me at the time. He said (regarding the invasion of Iraq) that at least Bush "did" something. It was hard for me to take in. I had marched for weeks pre invasion against the "war" and here was my own flesh and blood condoning it. I felt separated from him and the rest of my family who never spoke up in dissent over what he was espousing. His second statement that we should just "blow them all off the face of the earth" I dismissed as hyperbole and silliness. But now I think, looking back, that his reaction was probably pretty significant and symbolic of the frustration many blue collars feel when confronted with "intellectuals" and left wing thinkers. They don't get "us" any more than we get "them". This has created a division in America that is a huge challenge. It is a tear in our fabric that needs to heal. Obama is trying and failing to heal it. After all he is a Democrat and an intellectual, subject to suspicion and a million projections on his very essence. And one wonders at times if he is not just another cog, nothing special, in the political wheel that drives America's policy. This split between the intellectual versus the regular guy is one reason why Coakley just lost in Massachusetts and why Kerry lost the Presidency a few years back as well. It is the college educated liberal versus the so called teabaggers. I don't know how to bridge that gap in our country any more than I know how to bridge the gap in my family. Having left Massachusetts and more significantly a working class life to embrace the artist's and the intellectual's way (I am after all a college teacher) has estranged me from my family in ways I can not fathom. It is the split between us and them. It is the division in America. And while America's slow demise, its collapse under its own weight, is maybe not such a terrible thing, I can understand why it feels that way to many. When you have been on top so long, it's a painful admission of defeat. It means you have to change. It's not easy having to change. I have trouble changing a small thing like washing dishes in the sink rather than the dishwasher. Would it really be possible for me to adapt to an entirely different way of life? After all, everything seemed to work so well for so long, it's only natural to wonder why everything has gone so wrong so quickly. Who do we blame? Well, the teabaggers blame the intellectuals and the intellectuals blame the teabaggers and we all blame "Washington". I suggest, however, that maybe things were only really okay in this country for a very short time, perhaps during WW2 when we had a clear and true threat and we could be heroes and fight for something no one could argue about: the human desire to be free. After all a nation built on the backs of slaves, how long can that nation exist without having to pay back what it took to get born? Now we are at payback time. Paying our debts, both psychically and monetarily, is the task we all now face for years of wealth and ease, for bigger and better. The expansion has ended and now we have to look elsewhere for growth, we have to look inward. That "eastern" concept feels a little alien to all of us. Even those who have been practicing yoga for a few years still stop at Starbuck's for their morning coffee, don't they? So what do we do now? Here's an idea. What about that place where we all reside, teabaggers, artists and intellectuals, Republicans and Democrats, that place of stillness we achieve now and then when the din of the forever babbling ceases and the world just is the way it is? In that here and now place, aren't we all really pretty much the same? Politics aside and in the hope that we can conquer a much more difficult inner terrain, maybe we need to BREATHE. That's it. Just breathe. Long, deep, clear and wonderful breaths. Maybe we all need to ride the wave of breathing. It's hard to be screaming at others if you are really breathing in the day. If you are really taking in the beauty that is life. Such a brief time we are here, spinning around in a larger and infinite universe. Maybe we just need to take care of one another, not in spite of but because of our differences. Now there's a thought.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Mornings

Don't you just love this time of year? The dreaded income tax. Five hundred slips (at least) to sort out. Every year I tell myself I will create a better system than tossing slips into a box and every year the same thing. Do you do that? If you have a better system, can you tell me what it is? I don't know. Maybe I just resent the hell out of having to pay the behemoth that is our federal government. I mean I wouldn't mind paying taxes if I could see the good that comes from the money they take. Perhaps I am too narrow in my vision. But my instinct tells me that there is mostly waste and bloat now. Hell I can see the waste in the community college district where I work. When I started there nearly 2 decades ago, much of the administrative work was done by the instructors. We divided the work up, got it done and we were not even paid extra to do it. But apparently that was not quite good enough because the management needed to "manage" us better. They needed in truth to get control over us. Can't have lowly teachers having that much power. Poor little naive children they are. I personally think they just needed to give their lives meaning because from what I could tell they were pretty superfluous to the day to day running of the college. So now 18 years later we have deans and senior deans and vice chancellors, the list is endless. And we have this gigantic budget to pay all these people who sit in their offices all day doing...doing what exactly? Well what we used to do for...nothing. And that is probably pretty much the case with the federal and state government as well. We are collapsing under the weight of our own bureaucracy. I want out. Do you too? I know a lot of people who want out. I don't need a big house but I can't sell it yet because well, I need a place to live still while I inch my way towards retirement or death, whichever comes first. Besides as we all know too well: this market sucks. So except for the really wealthy, we are basically all trapped in a life that has too much stuff and weight to it and not enough air and space. I want my life back. The one I had when I sat under a tree and wrote a story all day long and listened to the birds and watched the ants crawling around near my toes. I never knew what I had when my only ambition was to do nothing more than just be with the precious gift of time on my hands. Joni M. was so right. Don't it always seem to go.....well enough procrastination. Now back to the dreaded sorting of the slips like some ancient ritual that should end in a bonfire but instead will end with a check to my tax accountant. This really sucks, doesn't it?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lots to chat about

I have a lot to say but I don't want to get too heavy. Instead I would prefer to talk about my latest and best venture into acting. I started studying with Richard Seyd up here in the Bay area in the hope that when I move to the Los Angeles area, I will be able to continue with him. I spent a year at Strasberg Institute in Hollywood a few years back and while it was fun to be in such a multicultural and multinational group, I didn't really learn much. To make matters worse, it wasn't cheap. Seyd is British and I think that makes all the difference. He's not so much into the actor getting into the feelings of the character as much as he is attempting to get the actor into thinking about what the character is doing and saying. He likes his students to engage their minds. I think that is what is sorely missing in America. We are all about "feelings" and "going with our instincts" and not too much about thinking (for the most part) as if thinking were in opposition to those other things. Seyd claims and I tend to agree that understanding the character intellectually leads to clarity about feelings and a deeper and stronger connection to the character one is playing. I am currently working on a scene with my acting partner Mick, a drummer and teacher in the Bay area. He's a cool guy, a sweet guy but I keep wondering if he really understands this guy on a gut level, intellectually and emotionally. The scene is from Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, currently on Broadway with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johanson. I am playing Eddie Carbone's (Mick's) wife, Beatrice or "B" as he calls her. The scene is when Beatrice first confronts Eddie albeit in a roundabout way about his feelings for his 18 year old niece Catherine. I'm having trouble with the scene because Mick does not appear to me as in any way aware of Bea's presence. I get the feeling I don't even have to be up on that stage. Mick would do just find without me or anyone else. And the trouble for me with acting has always been the same. What do I do when the chemistry is off or a fellow actor is so blocked from certain feelings that nothing I do will make any difference? Or in this case, when I just can not seem to impact him? My friend and director, Andrew T. told me to push the actor by knowing clearly what I want from him and doing my damned best to try to get it from him. Maybe. But then am I not "acting" when I should be listening and responding? I just don't know. It's a mystery unfolding.

What does this have to do with our currently dismal state of the Union?

I think sometimes when I watch Barack that he is "acting" presidential, balanced, intelligent but I wonder what Barack the human being really wants to say and do and I wonder if he will have the courage it will take to push back and push hard. To expose himself up there on the world stage. To cut to the chase and get the job done. And I wonder the same thing about me as well.

A work-in-progress. Let's not bring the curtain down too soon.

Where or where has the U S A gone?

We should all be wearing black clothes and arm bands. The USA is officially dead with that last Supreme Court ruling. What would Parker Lam, the iconoclastic writer and anti hero of The Silence of Bees have thought about the direction into fascism this country has just taken? He'd be livid with disgust. And I can not help but wonder what Richard Yates, the real writer that Parker was loosely based on, would have thought about corporate America taking over everything. Did you see Revolutionary Road last year with Kate Winslett and Leo DeCaprio? If not rent it and watch it. Better yet read the novel. Written decades ago it was visionary in its scope of what business and corporate America would do to our soul as both a nation and our individual souls as human we have to make this personal. We have to ask what the hell is this doing to us as a society and why have we allowed it to happen?

Let's start with the honey bees. Did you know they are disappearing? They are simply dying in the hive or fleeing from the hive. Do the bees know something we are just beginning to sense? The sad fact is that if the bees go, it's not long before we will too. Remember pollination? No bees, no life.

So why did we allow this to happen? Better yet what did we do to stop it from happening?

I got this in an email and it does say what we all now know (from John Nichols):

Tom Paine gave us the phrase "these are the times that try men's souls" to describe moments like this. With the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case of Citizens United v. FEC to strike down the barriers to corporate campaigning, we are being asked to give up what remains of our democracy and accept that the United States will now be an advertocracy --where our elections and our governing processes are fully defined by corporate spin and spending.

It's a nightmare scenario, truly a "try men's soul" moment. And in traveling the country in recent days, speaking at public events and doing dozens of broadcast interviews, I have heard the despair.
Is there any hope for democracy?

I don't have the answer to this obviously but I know there is a solution. I just don't know if "we the people" are willing and/or able to find the solution and then act upon it. Frankly it scares the crap out of me.

And I know that the disappearance of the bees is tied into the corporations somehow. Pesticides, pollutants...someone is profiting greatly from the business of death, aren't they?