The Freak Out

I am officially freaking out.  It’s the bad part of grief, the “if only I had…,” the fight against the reality of loss, the self blame, the wanting to have been better (in a relationship that I loved, because I didn’t just love Don, I loved the me when I was with him and the us of us).  It’s combined with performance anxiety about speaking about Don, all the while imagining him speaking in my right ear saying, “Improvise.  That’s what I’d do.”

I’m like, “Of course that’s what you’d do.”

He’s like, “You can do it.  Come on.  Be in the moment.”

Sometimes, of course, I’m just arguing with myself, and I can tell this because the comments get so sarcastic and Don never talked to me that way.

In the middle of this…the fear of saying something wrong, or too personal, or, whatever/whoever help me, repeating something I’ve written here, I call a friend in Oregon and she reads me this:

“In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam cara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. ”
p. 14, “Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom,” by John O’Donohue.

I think, if I imagine I’m just talking to Don, maybe I’ll be okay.  Maybe I’ll still be home.

In Memoriam

I know I will speak at Don’s memorial, but being succinct is important, and I’m not feeling very succinct today.  I want to really try to say this.  However long it takes.  And I can do that here.

Don was my closest friend in Boston.  But he was everyone’s closest friend.  Seriously.  So many people have told me, “He was my best friend,” while he was in the coma.  I believe that this is because Don was so good at making people feel loved. He could be everyone’s closest friend, really and truly.  He had that big a reach.  He had that much room.

I met Don when he signed up for my September 18, 2004 class in the Meisner technique.  I remember him signing up really vividly, because he kept emailing to ask me to look at his web site.  Even though I’d already produced 6 or 7 slams by then, I wasn’t used to teaching actors, who always want me to look at their web sites.  But Don just seemed…so nice, and funny, and kind of cute, I finally caved and looked at his web site.  Which had a picture of him on a boat.  I just cracked up.  I was like, who is this guy?  I just kind of liked him.

The September 18 class was a one day workshop, and it rocked.  Sometimes that just happens–people click, they love the technique (Meisner), and they want more, more, more.  I was, at the time, running an after-school tutoring program in the inner city with insane hours and I told them I could maybe carve out 3 Saturdays before the end of the year.  Don signed right up.  Then I quit that job and offered my very first real training class in January of 2005, and Don signed up for that, too.

With some people, what you remember is their acting work.  And Don’s acting work was very good, but that’s not what stands out to me.  He’d come up to me after class, and face me, looking up (because I am 5’8″ and wear heels that make me two inches taller, and he was 5’4″ and didn’t wear heels), that completely sincere look on his face.  He’d just wait.  Until he had my full attention, until other people quit interrupting, until I was present and completely focused on him.  I think of it now and I realize he had such confidence of purpose–what he had to say was important to him, and he wanted it to be heard, and he knew how to make sure I’d hear him.  Just the way he did this, which was like a small boy with a teacher he really likes, and who he believes will get him if he really gives her a chance…I kind of fell in love with him just for that.

Then there were the things he said.  For example, I gave him a scene about two gay men in Provincetown, one of whom is dying of AIDS.  Okay, yes, I have a certain amount of mischief in me, and no one would call it type casting, so I was pushing at both the guys and laughing inside about it.  During the scene, Don looked at me, really trying, and said, “Is this okay?” And I gave him notes on how to connect better, how to make the relationship more convincing.  It was really sweet, how much he wanted to get it, and how honest he was about it being hard.

Afterward, he came up to me, and waited until he had me (as he always did), and then he said, “You know, I have some gay friends.  I didn’t think I was prejudiced.  But having to think of being gay myself–that was really hard.  Maybe I do have a little prejudice.  So I want to thank you for giving me that scene so I can grow.”

There it was.  Slayed.  He pretty much had me for life.

Of course, that was Don’s gift.  This kind of very simple honesty, absolutely from the heart.  Anyone with any sensitivity was slayed by Don.

He did this over and over.

He was in the Another Country Ensemble for a year, which started out as a love fest for everyone, but very quickly became a burden for me–I was working too much and this was when I really learned I would always be outside any community composed solely of my students.  It didn’t end well, which I now know enough to prevent, but didn’t then.  But as it was ending, Don came up and stood in front of me, and waited until he had me, and he said, “I think I treated the Ensemble like a class.  I just came, and had fun, and didn’t do work to help out.  That wasn’t fair to you, was it?”

I said, feeling shy because I was touched, but also still a little mad,  “No.  I am really burned out.”

He said, “I’m really sorry.  Is there any computer work or anything I can do now to help?”

If I wasn’t so proud, I would have started crying.

Sometimes I think the foundation for our friendship was laid down right then.  But I had been his teacher, and I knew he idealized me, so I was very careful.  It literally took years for us to become friends.  He would call me, and talk about his acting career, which was going really, really, well, better than mine.  He did research, he went on lots of auditions, he got cast all the time.  I was happy for him, and totally jealous, but I was his teacher, so I worked on just being happy and saying the most supportive and truthful things I could.

I’m not really like Don.  I’m hard to get close to.  I’m afraid to let people know what they mean to me.  Don never for a second let me forget how much he liked me, and, as we got closer, how much he loved and trusted me.

He kept working with the theatre company.  He tried directing.  He did the list serve.  He didn’t like acting for live audiences, so that fell by the wayside.  We started to meet and do acting stuff for fun, to make plans about auditioning together, but half the time we’d end up just talking, or I’d try to get him to eat my latest health food concoction and he’d say something like, “I could see getting to like this food if I kept eating it.”

This last year was a big leap in being close to Don, because we started co-directing, and there’s this need for real communication and trust when you do an artistic process together and share control.  It’s incredibly intimate.  So, it can destroy a relationship.  Or it can make it so much better.  Which, in this case, was what happened.

We talked through stories, which led us into world view and what we thought about humanity in general, and found out how much we agreed.  We talked about our artistic processes and how we go at narrative.  I think things through, imagine them in my head, and know ahead of time what meaning I want to get at.  Don thought with his body–not just as an actor, but as a director.  He had to be moving, pacing, waving his arms when he directed.  He had to stand very close to the actors when he gave them notes, sometimes he even walked alongside them as they tried something out.  And if he had an idea, he couldn’t really explain it, he had to show it.  So a lot of the time, he’d say, “I have an idea.”  And I’d say, “Just do it.  If I don’t like it, I’ll tell you.”

Once, we were rehearsing the lesbian love scene in Saint John the Divine in Iowa, and that happened.  He had an idea, and I was stuck on how the blocking should look, so I said, “Go for it, Don.”  So he directed the scene, and it was very sexy and carnal.  He turned to me and said, “I really like that.  A lot.”  Then he paused.  “But I’m a guy.  So of course I like that.  It might not be what you want.”

It was so endearing, that honesty.  I was like, “No, Don.  It’s not what I want.  But it is very, very, very hot.”  Then I tweaked it.  And he was like, “Well, it’s not quite as hot but there’s more of a relationship.”

He just cracked me up.

And he was so loyal.  I had a student who approached him to be friends and he told me it didn’t feel right to him, that it was too much about me, so he wasn’t going to follow up past the first time.  He gave me advice about how to handle it.  Or, when I had a potential investor who wanted me to rewrite the screenplay for Saint John the Divine in Iowa, he said, “There’s one answer to that.”  Then he pointed to the door.

This summer, I started to have some hard times, and I’d call him and tell him, and he’d be like, “When did this happen?”  And I’d say, “Like a week ago maybe.”  And he’d say, “And why didn’t you call me then?”  And I’d say, “I was worried you’d be sick of hearing about it.”  And he’d say, “Would you please just call me?”

We both hate to drive and want people to come to us, and he lived in Newbury and I live in the city, so that was a deal.  We started meeting at Chipotle in Saugus for three hour lunches.  We talked about everything.  Finances, retirement, acting frustrations, panic attacks, our families, our own neuroses, the meaning of life.  I’d always be resisting the impulse to wipe the lettuce off his chin, because if Don and I were the Odd Couple, I would definitely be Felix and he would definitely be Oscar.  I mean, I carry a toothbrush in my purse and go in restaurant bathrooms after I eat to brush.  Don spills food on his shirt at every meal.

Don hadn’t had an acting role in a while, and he wasn’t very employed, and it got to him, and he was just beginning to really try to crack it–he talked about starting to teach improvisation, about going fi-cor (spelling) so he could do non-union as well as union movies, he even talked about directing full length comedies.  He was starting to go to the gym, he was interested in what yoga had done for his friend Dick.

Are any of us really finished when death comes to call?  Don was 48 years old.  His mother had a birthday while he was in the coma.  It’s not what he would have chosen.

I could write about him all day, because I don’t want to let him go.

But if I have to hold on, because that’s part of who I am, I don’t want to just remember, I want to be changed.  I have the kind of courage for facing danger, for taking risks, for living an unconventional life, but I don’t have Don’s kind of courage.  I don’t go up and stand in front of someone and wait until they see me for who I am.  I give up on being seen very easily.  I seek out people like Don, whose breadth of humanity is so generous and free from judgment that I know I won’t have to guess whether I’m valued or loved.  And I certainly don’t find it easy to tell people that I love them.  I can show it through my actions, and I am always aware, but I would love to have Don’s openheartedness.  Really, the tell was in his death.  Down the hall was an older woman who’d had a stroke, with one daughter sitting at her bedside.  On the day he died, somewhere between 20 and 30 people came to the ICU, and usually there were at least 5 sitting bedside, sitting vigil, wanting to witness and be there as he took his journey out of his body and this world, wanting to send him on his way with as much love as they had to give.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  I kept thinking, If you really love, this is how you go out If you let people know you, if you’re not afraid, this is how you live and die. 

I was raised in an extremely image-conscious upper middle class family in which we were all fairly attractive.  I know how to dress, how to project an image, how to look classy.  I was raised to succeed, to marry a doctor or a lawyer, or maybe to become one myself.  I hated those values…and I still do, especially because sometimes they fall over my eyes like a veil.  I am grateful, though, that I am not stupid enough to be caught in them permanently.  Don was a short, overweight guy who was always pulling up his jeans with both hands.  And he was one of the most loving friends I’ve ever had–and that’s something, because I’ve had friends who have fought for me, protected me, supported me through a major grieving process. What I’m saying is that thank whatever/whoever I knew Don for what he was, that my parents’ values didn’t keep me from knowing and loving him.

I will miss him.  I hope never to lose the feeling of being held in such positive regard, to know absolutely my own value when I look at myself through his eyes.

Wherever he is, I hope he still feels held by me…and by every other person he touched.

I love you, Don.  I know you know it.  And that is the second gift.  I am so glad, wherever you are, that you know it.

Humility or Lack Thereof

I know I’m a genius.  Why doesn’t everyone else know I’m a genius?  This has been an ongoing problem in my life.  Basically, if everyone would just listen to me and do what I say, my life would be a lot easier.

I am really feeling that way.

Maybe because I woke up from a dream in which my friend Don Foley opened his eyes and turned into a small boy.  He was wide awake and full of mischief and he pulled his hands out from under the sheet and he had three of them.  He waved them all at me.  “Look!” he said, completely happy.

Then he stood up and walked across the hospital room, shedding blankets and bulk as he went.

And I was outside the room trying to convince his mother that he really had woken up.

I don’t care if he has three hands or ten, really.

It just sucks that I can’t order reality around right now.  Even if I am a genius.  At certain things.

Even if I am so tired I can’t decide if I can really put off everything and go to the gym before I go to the hospital.  I want to work out so hard that my endorphin high alleviates the sadness and fear.

And may I just say that the mindbody program with its endless writing exercises about emotions I either didn’t know I had or knew but didn’t want to deal with is incredibly helpful right now?

Truth is, being a genius doesn’t mean much.  It’s really about letting people in, if they are not dangerous and only moderately insane, which is a very large catagory.

I am now going to make garbanzo burgers, which my partner will probably not eat.

As if that’s my biggest problem.

New Monologue Plans for Visit to Don

Today I plan to talk about my romantic history, starting with Susan Kieress, who I had a torrid affair with between the ages of 6 and 8.

I figure Don will be very eager to sit up and tell me to can it, for Christsakes, who wants to listen to this stuff.

Maybe I’ll fill in with what I think he’s trying to say.

Then I’ll rag on him again for calling me a martyr.  This was when I was explaining that the more successful Another Country Productions, the theatre company, became, the more I ended up giving up acting gigs, having no time to write, and serving the careers of others.  He was like, “Turned yourself into a martyr, huh?”  Which is entirely accurate, so much so that I keep bringing it up, ad infinitum.

All of which is to say that if anyone of you who is a friend of Don’s has better stories to tell, please let me know.  Because my dating and relationship history, while interesting, is also pretty embarrassing, which is why Don hasn’t heard the stories even though I tell him most other embarrassing things about myself.

Yesterday, his eyes were partly open.  I asked him to open and close them.  And he did.  Then I asked him to do it again.  And he did.  We made it through a third time successfully, too.  (Mind you, I’m making this up as I go along.  I learned everything I know by watching Grey’s Anatomy and ER.)  Then I asked him to squeeze my hand, which he didn’t do.  But a little while later he moved his shoulder.

The day before, he grimaced.  It was a real comic Don face.

I’m hoping for some grimacing at my stupid romantic life story.

But it’s hard, you know?  It’s hard not knowing what to do.  I figure that I am, in my not knowing figure it out as you go kind of way, doing some kind of good.  I just wish I wasn’t so powerless.  I want a magic wand, a healing potion, the power of the laying on of hands.

Instead I’ve got my stupid romantic history to tell.  Or how I got away with coming home stoned when I was in high school.

I will work with what I’ve got.

Don Foley

Don’s family and friends are in ICU–he is an incredibly loved man with a talent for making and keeping very good friends.  Everyone calls him their best friend.

Prognosis is anyone’s guess.  The neurologist says it’s a waiting game.  There is clearly some brain damage throughout the brain, but Don is young with a very high baseline, so no one can predict what that means in terms of recovery.  He made some gains: and I’m praying for another good day with more improvements.

On my way to the hospital.

So aware of how stupid it is to be afraid to let people know what they mean to me.  That letting go of fear workshop didn’t really mention that if fear lets go, what’s left is love.

Don Foley is the most honest person I know.  And I love him a lot.

Wall Street Protests: How to Really Change It?

Let’s get real.  It all comes down to campaign finance reform.  Until we get corporate money out of politics, until it becomes illegal for special interests to buy politicians, what we will always have is the current corporate state of the nation, with its greed, its corruption, the rich growing richer.  It’s not Wall Street, it’s the fact that there just aren’t that many Paul Wellstone types in Congress.  (Info: his first campaign was run on $100 contributions.  No one could give more.  And he won!  Of course, he died unexpectedly and I’m sure there are conspiracy theories on that one.)

Anyhow, Wall Street and the banks did a number on this country.  So has government debt.  But if we the people have so little power, and no one truly representing us in government, what should we do about it?  (And why hasn’t Barack Obama enforced existing laws that monitor trading?)

Campaign finance reform.  It’s the real issue.

And why I can’t quite hate John McCain.  It was his issue.  For a while.  It’s why other Republicans just don’t quite trust him and never will.