Persecution by Construction

Okay, for those of you who live in Boston and are having a boring summer, there’s always the 2 weeks of unlimited yoga for $25 which is being offered by a number of studios.  I did Iyengar at Down Under Yoga…and I did about 16 classes for that $25.  As I think I’ve mentioned, halfway isn’t quite my style.

Am I promoting this studio?  Well, I love it, so please don’t come so I can have it all to myself.  Yesterday I did a handstand, twice, (with help).  I have also done a headstand.  So, if I’m being all Buddha, I must practice dana (generosity) by mentioning that this studio ROCKS.  And Iyengar yoga actually helps my chronic back pain because according to my kharma I was in 4 car accidents between June of 2000 and April of 2003.  One of them was absolutely my fault, 2 were absolutely not, and 1 who knows.  If you care about blame.  Which I must, because I absolutely have to make the point that I’m not that bad a driver.

What other point am I making here?

I think I was winding my way around to announcing after March, April, May, June I have finally done what I usually do all the time: I read a novel.  Of course, the novel’s title is SITTING PRACTICE and the obese caterer whose wife gets paralyzed turns to Buddhism and vipassana meditation for help but she still cheats on him because he’s kind of crazy.

Ask me how I found this book.  It fell off the library shelf into my hands.  Well, practically.

Anyhow, it was weird to read a novel.  After all this non-fiction about non-self and the 4 Noble Truths and suffering and meditation and the yoga sutra, it was like, imagination?  Someone else’s?  Living inside the sensory concentration of meditation and the physical concentration of yoga creates an altered state of consciousness that remains in between practices.  They call it mindfulness.  For example, I was driving down the street and there was a Deere construction monster in front of me and another one twenty feet down the street, and the cop wasn’t paying all that much attention to who should be able to drive forward so I had to wait A WHILE and I had this thought, that I’d had a million times before, which was:  “Just my luck.  Of course there’s construction when I’m late for yoga.  My life is misery.”

I was like, OMG, I feel persecuted by construction.

And I decided that I was insane.  Or at least as insane as everyone else.  Or at least no more enlightened in spite of the last 4 months.  I was like, so meditating makes me aware that I feel persecuted by construction?  Thank you, meditation.  Of course, going back a few blogs, you will also find that I feel persecuted by refrigerator changes and chairs moving, which I also learned from guess what? Meditation.

Does anyone really want to know this stuff about themselves?

So, I read a novel.  About a guy who gets into meditation.  Because he feels persecuted by his emotions, particularly his aversion to his paralyzed wife’s atrophying legs.  Can I tell you how much I love that he feels persecuted by this?  I LOVE when anyone anywhere really opens the door to the dark side and says, here, look.  OF COURSE, he feels persecuted by those feelings (and by the fact that he can’t have sex with her because of them).  He wants to think he’s a really loving guy.  He wants to think he’s not superficial.  Only, he finds out he’s everything.  Meaning, dark and light.  Loving and superficial.  His intention drives him forward into becoming better, but he feels all kinds of unacceptable things.

Like being persecuted by construction.  I should mention that I own stock in Deere, so the irony just goes on and on.

I would like to state, for the record, that I feel unacceptable things.  For example, I may be the only person in Boston who didn’t love the Chihuly exhibit at the MFA.  I found it so aggressively phallic that it disturbed me and had me thinking a Republican thought about the NEA, which is so beyond out of character I wondered if I had been possessed.  I was like, doesn’t this guy have any other fascination?

I also have an unacceptable feeling about the huge cardboard box that arrived through UPS the other day.  I really, really, really want to crawl inside and let it roll down the hill near my house like I did when I was a kid.

I am now going to go do handstand preparation in order not to indulge that unacceptable feeling.  Because I don’t think my chronic back pain is up to a roll down a hill in a box.  Hmmm.  Maybe one of you would like to do it for me so I can live vicariously?

Insanity, everywhere you look.

Manna from Heaven

So.  Three people spontaneously decided to donate small sums of money to the film.  I hope what moved them is contagious, I really do.  Because the money is the hardest thing with films, especially independent films with uncompromising producers (that would be me).

Here’s the thing.  I am a strange mixture of bad girl nonconformist with type A overachiever.  So as an artist, I wanted to just go…go for what interested me, go for that voice that calls from beyond the boundaries of the expected, learn whatever it had to teach me, pay any price to hear it all the time.

I was twenty-one, twenty-two.

In creative writing workshops, when I wrote lesbian stories, this forty-something man would scrawl his phone number on the pages with the sex scenes.

Meanwhile, the teacher talked about arc and specificity, about keeping the reader at arm’s length.  The class generally didn’t like what I did.  I went and got drunk after.  Then I’d rewrite and rewrite and to get the craft.  I wanted the craft.  I wanted the craft and truth, but I didn’t know how to make them come together.  I was fascinated with a multi-perspective view of the world.  I didn’t want to commit to one way of seeing.  I wanted to show that there were too many ways to choose from.  (This revealed an early tendency toward Buddhism, which states that all ways of seeing are constructs or dreaming anyhow.)

My teacher nominated me for the honors program in spite of the brutal critiques.  He told me I was thick-skinned (clearly he didn’t know about the drinking after critiques).  Then he told me I should go to graduate school, where they would kick the voice out of me, but I would learn craft like anything.  I said, “I don’t want to go anywhere where I’m going to lose my voice.”  The critiques were bad enough.

I could talk about the intervening workshops and editors, all of whom, up until Stuart Spencer, my playwriting god, tried to lead me back to craft, craft, craft.

I’m an overachiever, so I have craft, craft, craft.

But that voice?  The one that called from beyond the boundaries of the expected?  I was thirty-seven when I heard it again, ringing out of Angels in America by Tony Kushner, who clearly didn’t obey all the rules when he wrote that very amazing play.

What does this have to do with the small donations?  In 2006 I started writing a memoir, just for fun.  I thought, f$%^ it, I’m going to throw away all the rules, all the craft-craft-craft, and write how I want.  And I won’t show it to anyone.

The memoir exists beyond the boundaries of the expected.  It was, up to that point, the best thing I had ever done.  It does possess craft, because face it, craft is now a part of me.  But it breaks into the sound of who I truly am.  No keeping the reader at a distance.  No hiding, no showing off what I can do with the craft.  That’s a lie.  I show off, and then I say, “Look at me showing off!” which in my logic somehow doesn’t quite count.  Like, do I really believe I can get away with anything by being honest and funny?  It seems I do.

So, when it comes to the screenplay, I get feedback that would turn the story into a strong woman who is screwed up and her long-suffering husband.  Because the fact that they are both flawed and you don’t quite know who to blame–and this is true of the young lesbian couple as well–is, well, anxiety-producing.  It seems.

But the Episcopal priests really like it.  They say ambiguity is Episcopal.

Those 3 donations that fell from the sky?  They give me hope that I can have my voice uncluttered by the expectations of craft or ease of vision.  They give me hope that this film can whirl in from beyond the boundaries of the expected and surprise all of us.

So, 3 people who shall remain anonymous, living on the other coast, thank you.  Such small things can change a life.

Inception: Saint John the Divine in Iowa

People have been asking me why I wrote the story.  And I keep thinking of the staged reading, because after it was over there was this wonderful discussion about marriage, love, fidelity, acceptance, gay rights.  But as people were leaving, the man who filmed the reading came up to me, very close–you know, close enough to smell.  He leaned forward so he was looking me directly in the eye (very Meisner technique, since he was my student at the time) and he said, “She seems very, very lonely.”

I knew that he was asking if I felt that way.  I ducked it–who wouldn’t?–but of course I did feel that way.  I’d been fascinated by the idea of gay marriage passing in Iowa and the what if of the story definitely arises from that fascination.  I couldn’t help wondering and imagining the individual lives of gay people and their families in Iowa.  But what I needed to explore was this idea of a woman of integrity, a woman so deeply grounded in her own values that she didn’t question herself, didn’t have doubts about who she was.  I wanted to explore the loneliness of leadership.  A priest, a minister, who is strong in her leadership, is inhibited by her own values in sharing who she is, because she can’t talk to anyone in the congregation about her feelings about anyone else.  Leaders, spiritual leaders, can’t be unprocessed in what they share, so there is always a remove, a space, in which who they are in the moment can’t quite be known.  They have to be so conscious.  I thought, so let’s say someone in this position gets thrown a curveball, and it’s really too much for her, at least for a while.  How does she handle it?  Who can she go to?

It’s not like I haven’t been thrown curveballs and struggled with exactly those questions, really afraid I’d get it wrong.  And I have gotten it wrong.  Just not very often.  Thank WHATEVERWHOEVER.

I amused myself by torturing Reverend Alex with a particular curveball–she thinks she’s the most liberal person and then gets completely freaked by her daughter’s gender queer lover.  I made her disintegration kind of funny. Because face it, we are all just so absurd in our egotism and the ways we think we’ve got it down, only we never do.  In the presence of all those higher values, what we keep learning is no one does it perfectly.  We all have unacceptable thoughts.  We are all inappropriate at least once in a while (or if we’re not, we’re so judgmental that that becomes inappropriate.)

My subjects as a writer are women (mostly), homophobia, spirituality/religion and the nature of love.  I don’t write about anything else.  Those are the imprints.  Those are the passions of my life.  I don’t see why there can’t be some humor mixed in, though.  I mean, think of how ridiculous we are when we fall in love.  The incredible high of illusion.  Seriously, the minute a friend tells me this time the new relationship is healthy I struggle so hard not to fall over laughing.  What is healthy, anyhow?  Speaking in “I” statements all the time?

I digress.

So, why did I write this?  Because I fell so deeply in love with Reverend Alex.  I loved her strength, her spirituality, her absolute commitment to social justice and to her daughter.  I loved her good judgment and I loved that it breaks.  The best thing about this project so far is getting to talk and write about these things–about integrity, spirituality, sexuality and their relationship to meaning.  About the girlfriend, Younger Alex, who is just as strong, but younger, fierce, confrontational and unafraid.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think I’ve spent 30 years writing a way into seeing my own goodness so I could believe in it with Reverend Alex’s kind of confidence.  I mean, it matters so much how we are in the world, the stance we take toward freedom and justice, but also toward kindness and peace and gentleness with each other.  I’m probably at least as (if not much more) screwed up as everyone else, but when I create these characters, I get to see the movement forward into grace, and to know I know what that is.

It is my hope that writing about it carves a visible path that other people can recognize.  That each character is a journey through which we know ourselves–so flawed, hurting people we love, reaching them, comforting them, saying yes, saying no, all of it.  Maybe the inception of any piece of writing is just this: I open my arms, I take it all in, I say, yes, whatever it is, I will hold it.

(PS–For those of you who read my last rant, I have to say this is probably some version of tonglen and then I owe an apology to Pema Chodron.  I’ll put her on the list. Which is, of course, very long.)

Yelling at Pema Chodron in My Head

I am almost finished reading Pema Chodron’s book WHEN THINGS FALL APART.  Which is a good thing, because otherwise I might start screaming until they come cart me away.  If she says the word tonglen one more time in the last three pages I WILL start screaming.  Or pounding on drums.  Something loud and obnoxious to express my feelings.  Which may be entirely non-Buddhist.  Or maybe not.  My friend Melina says it’s all about just knowing the truth of what is.

So tonight I went to the xo9289*@&^*#.  I’m not allowed to say.  Let me call it the place where I go to talk about how crazy I am because everyone I know is crazy.  That’s the truth of what is.  The world drives me nuts!  Including Pema Chodron!  Her voice on the page is so peaceful I want to kill someone!

Here’s the thing.  Tonglen is this practice in which whatever unacceptable thing you’re feeling–like resentment of a writer who writes about tonglen–is something you then globalize to connect with and have compassion for everyone on the planet who also has resentments about writers who keep mentioning tonglen.  You breathe in all that resentment, and you breathe out peace to everyone suffering from the same resentment you’re suffering from.  (Let’s get real.  How many people are nuts enough to resent Pema Chodron?)

So.  The truth of what is.  I am the oldest of six children in an Irish Catholic family (though my mother is German, the 75 some relatives on my father’s side still makes me Irish).  That makes me responsible for everything!  Racism, homophobia, the lack of world peace, the unfair responsibility Barack Obama had to take on following a moron like Bush…it’s all my fault.  So I’ll be damned if I’m going to start breathing in world resentment on top of that!

I think I feel better now.  Of course, I knew what I was going to write because I just meditated and I started blogging in my head during meditation.  Earlier this week I wrote two Oscar acceptance speeches during meditation, which I must admit is a new low.  I have also been forgetting that I’m supposed to do nothing to alleviate my physical discomfort in meditation and instead to get curious about knowing it deeply and then investigate it.  Turns out I’m a compulsive stretcher (I have chronic back pain).  In this way I avoid being curious about my pain.  But tonight I did remember and tolerated my pain for about 3 minutes.

Obviously, a return to Silenceville is in order.

In the meantime, I’m going to yoga every day, checking out Iyengar for the first time and loving it.  I’m actually driving 35 minutes each way to Down Under Yoga in Newtonville and it is WORTH IT.  Especially since I paid $25 for two weeks of unlimited classes.  I’ll get in at least 14 classes because, well, let it never be said that I do things halfway.

Of course, I just finished my second round of physical therapy, which was much less helpful than the first round, so I decided to put myself on a yoga plan and see what happens.  I will do anything to avoid surgery.

Pema, do I now have to breathe in the avoidance of surgery?


About the film.  Talking to investors or potential investors is hard.  Sometimes they want things I don’t want to give.  I think I may plant a 100 dollar bill in the ground and see what happens.

Or, I may just watch the AMAZING AND FABULOUS Sara, Emily and Chyna work on making the teaser go viral.  This week, we had over 5000 new views.  I am breathing that in (since it is not a negative emotion).  It’s only 3 minutes and 30 seconds of my work, but there are people seeing it in Argentina.  That touches me.  As does the help of Don, William, Anna, John, Marc, Tina…all the people who keep spreading the word.

Someone said to me this week that the story is a good thing in the world.  You know, tonglen or no tonglen, there is always a reason to feel the wonder of humility.  The luck of being the very one you are.