Today I was supposedly not working while I organized a photo shoot, wrote 2 contracts, filled out the ticket types on another contract, applied for insurance, wrote ads for Meisner classes, etc, etc.

I am supposedly not working right now.

The suckiest thing about being the oldest of six children is this overinflated sense of responsibility.  I wonder if there’s a contest for enabler of the year.  I could apply.  On the application there would be certain catagories:

  1. What you’ve done that other people could have done just as well.
  2. What you’ve done that other people could have done better if you admitted you didn’t know everything.
  3. What you’ve done that kept other people from facing the consequences of their choices and actions.
  4. What you’ve done that went so far beyond the call of duty it entered into the ridiculous.
  5. What you’ve done badly because your tendency toward multi-tasking led you to try to juggle fourteen tasks at one time.

I would like to state for the record that I hate over half the things I’m good at.

I would like to state for the record that I don’t know everything.  And that doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m right.

I would like to state for the record that I have only told my partner that she should obey me without question twice in the last two months.  (She didn’t tell the couples therapist.  I think she thought I was joking.)

I would like to state for the record that I need a personal Shiatsu massage therapist to move into my house and give me massages instead of rent.

I would like to state that I am always terrified things won’t get done.  I blame my German mother for this, as I do for pretty much everything.

So, as I continue to supposedly not work, I will also state for the record that the NE PATRIOTS ROCK!  And they obeyed me without question when I told them to sack Tim Tebow.  And the Broncos obeyed me when I told them to fumble.  Seriously, I made these statements out loud, and then they happened.  I would believe that I am crossing over into omnipotence except I couldn’t mentally get my partner to do my dishes today while she was home sick, so obviously I’m still falling short in that catagory.

I would also like to state for the record that I hate the last two weeks of December and can’t wait until they are over.

I am grateful for Julia Short and Joan Mejia.  I don’t really feel a whole lot of metta today, but if meditation counts as work, I guess I’ll go do it.


The Stork Bites Again

I have a birthmark on the back of my neck, commonly referred to as a stork bite.  It’s just a red mark that I’ve had all my life.

Mr. Stork, I would not have minded if you had skipped Cleveland Clinic, and dropped me off somewhere else, bite or no bite.  German mothers are a pain in the ass.

That said, we now have a couples therapist named The Stork Man.  Two sessions ago, he had a conniption fit and rolled around on the floor for a while.  (This is a slight exaggeration.)  So I wasn’t enthusiastic about returning yesterday.  I asked my partner to help out.  She got him to sit outside the back window so I wouldn’t be scared of another conniption (this is also a slight exaggeration).  Then she told him to please not have any more conniptions and that he talked too much and took her side and spoke for her.

I would like to state, for the record, that I may have to stay with her for another several centuries now.  Whether I like it or not.

I told him his conniption fit scared me so much that I had fourteen heart attacks within an hour of leaving (this is also a slight exaggeration).  Then I told him how much I hate therapy, which I have told him several times before.

At which point my partner and I did this couples communication model.  You say what you saw, heard, felt in your body at some moment in your relationship, what story you told yourself about that, what you felt about it, what you did about it and what you would have preferred (like, I’d prefer to be God most of the time).  Your partner repeats back what you’ve said intermittently–just to show she’s listening (I almost got caught spacing out twice).  In other words, we actually talked to each other in couples therapy.  After interviewing five therapists, for a total of 14 sessions, we actually had a conversation.

Well, they say, “Progress not perfection.”

Perhaps we’ll talk to each other again in a few sessions.

In the meantime, I came home last night to do marketing with the lovely, wise and ancient Patterson twins (who are both in their twenties, but are more efficient and intelligent than 40 somethings and have more insight than people who have lived for 400 years…okay, another slight exaggeration).  Instead of working, we talked a lot.  They listened to me rant for quite a while, but I made them apple cake, so I hope it evened out.

And then I went to sleep.  And woke up thinking about Don, because I will call his parents today and maybe go see them tomorrow.  I miss Don’s voice.  I have always been such a sucker for gentleness, and Don’s voice was very gentle.  It made me feel cared for.  Even if we weren’t talking about anything very personal, just the sound of his voice…

Couples therapy, productions, mishagas, my own insanity…I just wish, every day, I could trade something to get him back.  I’m not okay about him dying, I am not my normal self (or my abnormal self, which is the same thing), I am not over anything.  Sometimes everyone I know seems to be standing on the other side of a river.  I’m on the side where Don used to be, and they’re on the side of not knowing he’s gone.  They look at me as if I’m not followed around by this absence, they look at me as if the absence is over, and I am an invisible woman, a silent woman, a woman alone on this riverside.  Except when I visit his parents.  They’re on this side of the river.  They might even have to build a house here.  I hope not, but they have been through so much, who knows.

I wish we all wore armbands.  I wish to say kaddish for Don Foley, every day.  I wish for it to be heard.

Metta, metta, metta.  That there may be kindness for me, for who I see, even for who cannot see me.

The Beauty of Not Knowing

For the last few months I have been in situations in which I am convinced I am right.  Other people are also convinced that they are right; and they disagree with me.  I would like to state for the record that I am righter than they are.

Good, I won.

And so it goes.

The problem is how to live with each other once you’ve both decided how right you are.

I mean, I can defend myself pretty well.  In some cases I’m arguing with people who have never been married about what marriage is like (I’ve been married for 24 years).  In another, I’ve been arguing about how my thursday group should proceed when I have 7 years of experience with variations on this group and they have 6 months.  So, righter, righter, righter.

But I have grown suspicious of righter, if for no other reason than it’s a great relationship killer.  We can both be so right that we can’t stand each other kind of thing.  And there’s so much subjectivity.  I understand, for example, that while I know a lot more about marriage than someone else who’s not been married, I don’t necessarily know what marriage will be like for any one person.  I know what marriage is like for me.  I know the problems my partner and I bring to each other, I know our baggage, I know all the things we try to get closer without getting too scared, I know that we keep trying to figure out what distance is good for love.  But maybe the idealism of the never tried will lead to something I can’t even see.  I mean, it’s likely that I’m right, but it’s not certain.

At the same time, it is so hard to give up being right.  At least for me, obsessed with the truth as I am…and believe me, I am!  I have a nearly photographic memory, I can quote back whole conversations, I seem to memorize events as they happen, because I want precision, I want truth, and I’m willing to dig up whatever muck, whatever darkness I have to withstand, to get to it.  (I can miss the lighter side of life at times, but my great sense of absurdity–therapists with PUPPETS!–helps balance that out.)

I have a great deal of trouble letting other people have whatever truth they have.  I have a great deal of trouble dealing with denial.  I am not patient.  I get frantic when I think my partner isn’t seeing something for what it is.  (I was always the Emperor’s New Clothes kid growing up, and I don’t seem to have gotten over it.)

The problem with other people’s denial is that when I try to go to the place of not being right, of not knowing, I feel utterly crazy.  That’s one of my tests–if I’m calm when I admit I don’t know, the other person is probably every bit as right if not more so, or else it doesn’t matter.  But if there’s denial, I lose all my quasi-Buddhist acceptance and become a maniac raving for truth.

I become someone who is right.

It’s so strange.  Even when you really are right, being right is dangerous.

I love to say, “I can always be wrong.”  I have to go on my own best judgment, there’s no replacement for listening to yourself.  I have to trust my intuition and my own goodness.  So I guess the thing is to know I have to trust those things for me, and to admit when it comes to other people, I have no idea.

When I’m teaching, I’m critically aware that what I see must be monitored.  Meaning, I have to follow some instinct about what will be most helpful for a student to hear–I can’t shove my knowledge, training or education into anyone’s head in one block.  I have to be so aware that I can be wrong, I have to be willing to back up or step forward at a moment’s notice, I have to be present for what is.  In other words, the accuracy of my perceptions should be there–I mean, I get paid for something–but I have to live in humility in order to let the student’s need and readiness drive how I give information.

I have to be willing to be wrong all the time, or I can’t be right for anyone.

I guess it’s a convoluted mess.  And I don’t know much even about this topic.

How nice, to not have to be responsible for knowing.

If a blog about not knowing doesn’t know, can anyone read it?

This One’s for You, Katie

My very first blog request.  With a subject suggestion.  Well, I don’t know what more I have to say about my current acting class, Katie, but I guess I’ll find out.

They asked to continue last night.  I’m not a super-effusive person, so expressing gratitude seems, well, so understated coming from me.  But I am grateful for more time with all of them.  Their plan is for me to invent the classes from my knowledge of who they are and what they need to grow as actors, which is a bit of a dream for me as a teacher.  I’ve been feeling that after the last 7 years of teaching Meisner pretty much the way I learned it, I wanted to branch out and really create curricula from what I see that actors need.  And also, of course, from my own interests in the boundaries of craft.

Dream class.  I truly hope it works out.  I would love 10-12 more weeks with them.  And it’s funny, because often at the end of the Full Training both I and my students feel it’s time for them to move on.  With these actors, I think almost all of us want to continue.

Teaching is a thing.  I’m the oldest of 6, and my closest sibling is 13 months younger than I am.  I pretty much took charge of him, they tell me, so he didn’t talk until he was three.  I was always like, “Peter wants more birthday cake.  Peter wants to play with that toy.  You should get Peter X, Y & Z.”  Let it never be said that I lack in opinions.  Let it not be said that I did not need some kind of codependency recovery at a VERY early age.

But I kind of loved it.  I taught them to walk, to ride bikes, to tie their shoes.  I heated bottles and tested the temperature of milk on my wrist.  Later, I taught my sisters about birth control (in our very Catholic family, they weren’t going to learn it any other way).  I helped one sister to get into shape for field hockey tryouts.  Then I taught 3-5 year olds how to swim when I was 14.  I taught aerobics in my twenties, and then taught ESL in Japan, and finally opened my own business teaching writing in 1990.  I started teaching acting in 2001, and opened the Meisner business in 2004.

Teaching is like breathing for me.  I do it without excess effort.  Because I grew up teaching and because teaching was always equated with loving someone smaller and younger, with being my very best for my siblings, the first time I stood up in front of a classroom, I knew what to do.  I remember being in Japan, with 50 of the lowest level English speakers who were my homeroom and who really didn’t understand anything I said.  I had studied a very minimum of classroom management and a semester of ESL methodology.  It could have been a total disaster.  I was 26.  I had been given, by the administration, the choice to choose 3 class monitors or to have an election.  Are you kidding?  I chose.  I picked the young man I thought was likely to cause me the most trouble, a girl I thought might be picked on, and another girl who seemed very centered.  There’s a thing–if you win over the strongest personality in a group, all the rest will follow.  Sakuro reminded me of Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter, played by a young John Travolta.  And he was mine from the minute I asked him to be the monitor.  He used to leap out of his seat if other students were talking and tell them to shut up.

I don’t know exactly what I did with that class, but I did love them, and they took me in, they chose to trust me.  I did dialogue journals and I wrote back to each one of them every other week.  By the end of the first semester they understood every word I said. I made bad mistakes with them, but what I remember is that warmth–50 students and me, sitting at our class party, everyone laughing.  It was a deal, because these were the kids rejected by the major universities, the ones uncertain about having any future at all.  They needed someone to be on their side.

Teaching, to me, is really kind of holy.  Opening the door to a language, to an art form, to creative freedom, to self-expression…people have to trust you if they’re going to walk through that door.  I’ve taught 60 and 70 year old women who wanted to write their whole lives, but who were blocked by the fear of claiming a voice.  They came to me like children, saying, “Can I?  Will I be judged?”  They asked me how to trust that what they have to say was valuable.  I knew this.  The lexicon was writing craft, the lexicon was, “Write a shitty first draft.  Don’t censor.  Find out what’s there.  Be curious.”  But what I was really saying was, “Yes, you have words inside you that need to be said.  You have a story that counts.  Let it come out any way it can.”  My female students talked about what it was like to have a feminist teacher, but really, I taught all male classes with the same approach and saw the same vulnerability everywhere.  Craft, getting good at it, finding the limits on your own talent, comes second to the human act of sharing, telling, being heard.  My students went on to publish, win contests, get into grad school, but the first movement of creativity is believing what’s inside you is beautiful or interesting or both.  I have never understood how anyone can teach and not know that.

I also believe that education in general is the way to a better life.  When I bitch about therapy, it’s because it doesn’t teach enough, maybe.  It’s all about relationship, not necessarily about learning when it should be.  To move from one economic class to another, to find a way out of destructive early life experiences–nothing is more important than education.  We all need to learn that there are many worlds within one, and that we are not fully entrapped in whatever experience holds us in the moment.

Also, for whatever it’s worth, my teachers, throughout my entire life, adopted me, advocated for me, helped me.

It came so easily that for most of my life I took it for granted.  But I don’t feel that way now.  I feel blessed to be a teacher, to have the experiences of classrooms where people learn and grow.  I can’t imagine not having this as part of my life.

Dream class.  Dream profession.  (Along with writing and acting.)

In the middle of the craziest year in recent memory, there is this.

Noel Coward OR: Choose–Boring Love or Insane Love

The lover who pushes every button and totally gets you or the lover with whom you have calm but no chemistry so you’re always lonely.

Who wants these choices?

I say it’s on a continuum since I’ve had the absolute extreme of the lover who pushes every button (ages 19-22–off and on, of course), and I’ve had the sweet lover who I just didn’t dig into.  Or let her dig into me.

The extreme button-pusher I have a name for.  I call her my ex-girlfriend the train wreck.  If you’ve read my last blog, you’ll know that name indicates I am definitely still, after almost 30 years, living in my reptilian brain where she is concerned.  For the first 6 months we were together it was mind-blowing bliss, passion, melding, Juliet and Juliet, Cathy and Heathcliff.  There was a lot of sex.  A LOT.  Then the honeymoon ended.

We call these things addictive relationships.

As a cure for The Train Wreck, I took up with the Sweetheart, who I did love, but with whom I couldn’t seem to fall in love, probably because we weren’t really close and I didn’t want drama again, so I was a little guarded.  (Me, a little guarded.  HA!  Understatement.)

Therapists tell you to pick the Sweethearts over the Train Wrecks, and they are, no doubt, right.  But really, Sweethearts are just as much trouble, though they won’t tear your life apart.

In Private Lives, arguably Noel Coward’s most produced play, two Train Wrecks (at least with each other) meet up accidentally after they’ve both just married two Sweethearts.  They are, of course, miserable and bored with their Sweethearts, so they run off together for some hot bliss before quickly reverting to Train Wrecks again.  (I can testify that this is pretty much how it goes.)  The turning point of the play, though, is when the two Sweethearts find that they are insanely attracted to each other and turn into Train Wrecks themselves–with each other.

If you can follow all that, you will understand that Mr. Coward’s comedy actually uncovers some pretty violent and reptilian behavior–which is why we laugh.

My partner and I have been each other’s Train Wrecks (though never as bad as my first!), but we have been something else, too.  Not Sweethearts.  We have been each other’s Sun-in-the-Solar-Plexus.  Not fighting, not freakishly passionate, but that warmth at the center of things when you feel loved and accepted and it comes like a gift, being on the same side.

Then, of course, after a couple years, we go back to a milder version of Train Wrecks.  I don’t quite know why.  Some couples’ theories would say that we return to what needs to be healed.  It arises, through the contentment, to force us to grow, because human beings either grow together or destroy each other (dramatically, as Train Wrecks, or through atrophy, as Sweethearts).  It’s a nice theory if you’ve got the time to keep growing.

I have had students–not acting students, for some reason, but writing students–who have left their Train Wrecks (or who have stopped being reptile food) and have gone on to another kind of marriage, which they describe as Sun-in-the-Solar-Plexus.  I hardly ever meet people whose first marriage is a Sun-in-the-Solar-Plexus.  Anyway, I keep wondering if they ever slip toward Train Wrecks or not.  I mean, is that possible?  Have my partner and I missed the boat somewhere?

But what I really think is this…so many more people read my blogs about couples therapy than any other subject.  People my partner works with read it and some even confess they’re trying to figure out their own relationships and identifying with us.  OMG, please do not take me for a role model.  I am insane!  I know so little about anything!  (Except when I’m fighting with my partner.  Then my omniscience is astounding.)

I digress.  I think we’re all trying so hard to figure this out.  Because love is so powerful.  Because we need it so badly.  And how do we get it?  Beyond all the platitudes with their half-truths, how do we tolerate being close to each other when our reptilian brains keep flashing the danger sign?

I don’t know the answer to this.  I have learned only a very few things about intimacy:

  1. Go slow in getting to know people so you don’t freak out.
  2. Once you’re in, be honest as much as you can be.  Meaning, be honest, but don’t tell so much you want to kill.
  3. Make fun of everything (especially yourself and your relationship) and laugh a lot, since that makes you less homicidal and reminds both of you that you’re reptiles because you’re human and for no other reason.
  4. Know that vulnerability doesn’t really ever get easy, but it’s a necessary evil.
  5. When you know your reptilian brain has completely taken over, go lock yourself in your room.
  6. Let the adult gorgeous in you take the lead whenever possible.
  7. Don’t loan money.  Give it away or say no.
  8. Don’t expect your partner to make up for all the ways your parents hurt you.
  9. Have a spiritual center of your own.  Cultivate it daily.  Like, meditate!
  10. Stand up for yourself and hold onto you.  It’s the best way to hold onto her.

Wow!  That’s more than I thought!

But if you want to add to the list, please do so.  We’re all trying to figure this out.  Metta for us as we try and fail, try and get gorgeous, try and try.

Just Another Girl on the Bus

The actual expression is “Just another bozo on the bus.”  But I find it insulting to call myself a bozo, so I’m just not going to do it.

Anyhow, I’ve spent the week watching my partner fight with her co-counselor, which has been easy to do, since the fighting has been exclusively on email.  I’ve read emails and given advice for how to take the jabs out, which is advice I am much in need of receiving.  Sometimes there’s a part of me who wants to leave the jab in just because.  Just because causing trouble is such fun, even though it can turn a friend into a lunatic in a heartbeat.  I have been counseling my partner not to be like me.  Ever.

Anyhow, as I’ve read these emails, I’ve found myself praying not to be like either of them, not to get triggered, see the other person as a threat, behave or speak unskillfully, or, to put it more bluntly, like an obnoxious asshole.  And as I’m praying to whatever/whoever, I am also knowing that the chance of that prayer coming true is exactly zero.  Zero, zero, zero.  Probably writing this email about something my partner is trying so hard to work through is unskillful.  Metta for her as she searches for a way through the land mines of fear and hurt and disappointment, as she tries to be close to someone, as she tries to figure out what belongs to her in the confusion of conflict and insanity.

I keep talking about our unevolved brains, and here it is, watching from the outside, getting to really see it.  When the reptilian brain gets involved (face it, it’s pretty much always involved and often in control), we lose any sense of self mastery and we’re off into the games of one-up, control, blame, shame, judgment and all the other lovely traits our old brain uses to protect us from emotional harm in relationships.

They call it codependency in therapy, but I’d rather call it the reptilian brain.  I am having an image right now of an alligator eating my old therapists.  That is my reptilian brain at its carnivorous best.  I don’t know which part of my brain is enjoying it so much, but I am enjoying the image.  A lot.  So much more fun than codependency.

Anyhow, here I am, with my reptilian brain, watching and recognizing the one-up, the I’m better than you, the here’s what’s wrong with you, the here’s how great and innocent I am of all wrongdoing except maybe one small thing which I will give you as a consolation prize.  Here I am.

I’m sure if Don had lived and we had kept getting closer we would have engaged on the reptilian level.  We did, just a touch, about 3 weeks before he died, for the first time.  But you know, after 7 years, we could take it.  After so much working together and letting each other disagree, I think we could have taken more of it, and admitting we’re all reptiles some of the time and starting to laugh about that is my idea of real intimacy.

I don’t know how my partner will crawl out of this one.  I am trying to help, because it’s so interesting to be on the outside, and then to have these conversations with her about when we turn into reptiles with each other.  It’s so painful for us, for the long married, because we long so deeply to just feel loved, and then these years come in which, well, that’s a bit hard to find.  There’s so much at stake.  And forgiveness…you have to come to this place I’m in right now, where I really know I’m just on the bus with a bunch of other reptiles who are sometimes also gorgeous and spiritual and loving, just like me.  There’s no better than.  There’s only with whom I can be more gorgeous than alligator.

It’s like this–I worked with a woman once, and every time we had a meeting I left with a migraine.  I didn’t feel like a reptile with her.  I felt like reptile food.  I was definitely triggered, every time, but I couldn’t get to my own power, and even when I did it was like sliding backwards down a slope that had rocks at the bottom.  I just couldn’t stand up for myself enough, and that gave me a headache.  Was this woman a reptile?  She was certainly very aggressive and powerful.  But no matter what my opinion of her, the fact was, I couldn’t hold onto my power or my voice.  I tried.  And that was the problem.  I tried and I couldn’t.  So I ended the relationship.  Which she saw as a reptile thing to do.

Oh, how scared we all are, all the time.

But the point is, there are people I can’t walk through the fire with, and no matter what’s going on with them, it’s only my business to say that yes, we’re on this bus, we’re equals, but I don’t think I’m going to sit next to you because when I do I turn into a reptile or reptile food too easily or too quickly or too often and I can’t get to gorgeous often enough.

I am trying to teach my brain to remember this.  Because there is humility in knowing when someone is too much for me.  When I can’t be gorgeous, only reptile.  There is humility in telling someone with whom I’m often gorgeous that I’ve just turned into a reptile, and I’m sorry.  I pray for humility.  I pray to know how often I am wrong, and I pray to remember I am gorgeous at least as often.

Grief holds these lessons.  Because when there is loss, death, trouble, what is unimportant is scraped away by the pain, and you are left with this–how can I be gorgeous just a little more often?  Especially with the people I love?  But also with the people I’m wanting to blame for my own inability to be my best.

I may only remember this for two more seconds, but they’re a good two seconds.

Metta for all of us.  Let our hearts grow big enough to love each other in all our reptilian and strangely beautiful dark/light.

Meisner Students Rock

Okay, I’ve had a couple of rough Don days.  And the truth is, even without grief, and all joking aside (for at least the next sentence), I often don’t trust people very much.  Not just therapists.  I mean, I never trust them.  They think they can change me and that’s trouble from the start.  But I also find that it doesn’t take much to put me in a defensive and self-protective stance, wondering what someone else is after, what they are trying to take from me that I don’t want to give and sometimes, when I feel really threatened by what someone wants or did or said, wondering if my sense of self can survive their anger when I say no.

This has not been a quality that has enhanced my relationships.  In fact, everyone I’m currently close to has called me on it at one time or another.  And I try.  I try to remember who my people are when they’re being unskillful, when they’ve scared me or whatever.  But it’s all that intimacy/struggle/angst and so uncomfortable and not fun.

So it seems incredibly important to note when other human beings do something kind of wonderful.  Like tonight, in the acting class I teach, one of my students actually asked me how it would be for me if she, or any of the other students, auditioned for my play, one in which I’ll be acting.

I mean, she asked how I felt!?*!

Of course, my feelings are complicated.  But I have never had a student ask before.  It’s just kind of amazing that someone would actually think about me, and what might be hard for me or uncomfortable, how I might struggle with the boundaries.  Which, in fact, I do, I have, I will continue to.

But then, these are the students that stayed after class the week that Don died and formed a line so everyone could hug me.  One at a time.  And mostly they really held me, tight.  They weren’t form hugs.  They were comfort at a time when comfort seemed nearly impossible.

I am holding that in my mind right now.  I am letting them change my life.  I am thinking that perhaps part of the reason my friendship with Don was so wonderful was actually because he started out as my student, and once we worked through the teacher/student thing (which took years to really get rid of), the foundation of me being my very best for him stayed as first trust.  His trust in me.  I learned to trust him more slowly, but I think he trusted me right away because he thought if I was that trustworthy as a teacher, I must be as a person.  Good for both of us that he thought that.

I see now, of course, that he was my teacher, too.  He taught me that I am worthy of the faith of others. He is my standard for how to treat other people and how to be treated.

And I think of my current students holding me, and I think, okay.  I have been holding them since the day they walked in my door, and I will continue to do so.

Anyone in Wed/Sun Meisner, if you’re reading this, I am saying metta for you.  May you all be well, may you all be happy, may you be safe and protected, may you be at peace with what is.

Which is just another way to say love.

Or thank you.  Really.  Thank you.