My Brother

I published this poem at least 20 years ago.

Whispering to Each Other in the the Darkness

I turn off the car radio and sit
with my brother in the darkness
of a Pennsylvania winter. He is crying
and I am looking at the moon. He asks

me to stay, he begs to come with me.
Across the stiff grass is tin shed
that protects him from sudden beatings.
I have been the one to find him, his knees

tucked beneath his chin, dark hair swept
over his forehead, legs that won’t stop
shaking. I have led him inside, my arms
hung around his shoulders like a shawl.

Now, we sit without speaking, and I
am thinking of the warmth of milk
tested against my wrist, the brushes
he pulled through my hair, dolls caps

I placed on his head. “You are my real
mother,” he says. Fingers of streetlight
briefly touch our wet faces,
shadows clasped tight in our arms.

How much is too much?

Today I wanted to write about my partner, but what calls to me as a subject is grief.  I have always hated the expression, “You don’t get more than you can handle.”  I’m all for being positive, or at least balanced and at peace, but seriously?  I have 3 cousins who committed suicide.  I imagine their ghosts laughing their asses off at that one.  I think they would say, “Dude, look, it’s patently untrue.”

Growing up, I had a super American attitude.  Up for any challenge, ready to fight the good fight, thinking I could make it happen, go for it, be a go-getter.  Developmental, to a certain extent, that attitude.  Teenagers don’t know what they can’t do, and I remained a teenager into my forties.  I say this now, knowing full well that I’ve had a life that contained more than I could handle.  More deaths, more losses, more difficulties, more people with problems, including myself and everyone in my immediate and extended family.

I don’t have an answer for the losses that come one after another, without reason, as if we’re all standing at a huge craps table, and some people have dice weighted toward tragedy.  I’ve experienced this, and I’ve watched it–my partner’s cousin lost her husband, her daughter and her mother all in the same year.  I saw her rarely, but I was always studying her to see how she was making it through the days.  I noticed how openly she spoke about the losses, how honestly she answered if you asked how she was doing.  That seemed to be how she was getting through, and I admired and admire her greatly.

I know people going through this right now, and I suppose I’m writing this for them, or maybe just to say what I know, which is what it’s like to stand, bewildered by loss, unable to understand what it means, needing to find meaning, needing to lift the heaviness, if only for a moment.

The first 10 day silent meditation retreat I attended had, as they all do, dharma talks.  They talked about how Buddhism was the bummer religion, starting with the first of the 4 Noble Truths:  Dukkha is.  Suffering is.  I can’t tell you how psyched I was when they spoke about it.  Because here is the down side of our American way–when you can’t make it happen, when it’s too much, when you don’t meet the challenge as you’d hoped, when the most recent loss brings all the others back tenfold, you feel like a loser, like everyone else is happy, pursuing happiness and getting it, while you flounder around looking for a tether.

My dead cousins are like, “Dude, not true.  The ones who think they’re tethered are clueless.”

I think we fight the randomness of tragedy, because it strikes at our powerlessness.  Of course the American way is to get up, fight through, not let it get you down.  But it DOES get you down, sometimes.  And it is worth it to admit, to surrender, to say, yes, too much for me.  It’s nice to have something to believe in, at those times.  Or at least to be at a silent retreat where the talking people are saying that we’re all in the same damn boat, and suffering is completely ubiquitous.  Pick your poison.  Or more accurately, it will pick you.

I have been trying to lean into my losses for years.  I lean in, and then I go watch some more Internet tv.  Because the pain hurts, and you know, I’m not so enlightened that I can sit with it for all that long.  But I do go back–there’s that American thing–and I lean in again.  And I find it’s true what they say–when you lean in, when you surrender, it starts to let go.  It’s there, maybe, but a little smaller, and not a pall that lies over every moment, but a place you can visit and leave.

I want to be free.  I want to honor my dead.  I want to be a good and decent human.  I want to create beauty and bring out what is inside me.  I want to live from a place of peace.  Those are my life goals, and I’m happy with them.  Only, you know, easier said than done.

I now say lovingkindness every day, and today I say it for our losses, for all of us who are carrying more than we can bear, and struggling to bear it anyhow.

May we be well.

May we be free from suffering.

May we be safe and protected.

May we live with ease.

Or, as they used to say in the church of my childhood, Peace be with us all.


PS–Oh, and about my partner.  She makes me believe in love.  Need I say more?


I often wish I weren’t so aware of the temporal nature of things.  Since I am also aware that my announcing to random people that we’re all going to die soon (some of us sooner than others) doesn’t exactly nominate me for life of the party, it seems I have to…what?

We are all going to die soon, some of us sooner than others.

Maybe it’s just that every ending is a kind of death, and in me lives a desire to hold on, to make everything last, to say, as Galway Kinnell says in The Book of Nightmares, “…to let nothing of you go, ever.”

This week my Tuesday night Beginning Meisner class ended (a particularly great class), then my Co-Directing at Stoneham Theatre ended on Thursday (though I just returned from seeing a performance I didn’t direct), and tonight yoga teacher training ended.

I want to hold onto gold, and nothing gold can stay.

Galway Kinnell holds the preciousness of his children up against mortality, and sighs his love with images from the bible, from nightmares…and the ultimate nightmare is death, looming up out of the future, or often, in my case, out of the past.

I fought with myself on the mat in yoga teacher training, and I loved the philosophy sessions, and I learned, and I got better, and without my noticing it, this peace I have been cultivating deepened.  Yes, I still love to sound off, tongue in cheek, but I am serious about peace, and about learning what it might mean to die consciously, to let go, to get a grip in the face of what we all fear, to find courage.

Every ending is a reminder of all the endings that I am still trying to finish, to be done with, to grieve.  So that I may shed the chaff, and lean into peace, even when it looks like pain, or grief, or loss itself.  That I may lean in, and not away, my heart open, willing to be hurt, willing to feel it, the bittersweet, the loving so much, the knowing of the temporal, which is life.

I wish the cast of Prom metta, wherever they go, every day, every hour, whenever they can find it, and wherever they can’t.

I wish the new yoga teachers the yoga they know now, and the yoga they don’t, the finding of purusa, of samadhi.

And I hope my Meisner students return, soon, because I am not done with them, and I hope they are not done with me.

And Don.  The powerlessness.  And the knowing…that he’s here. I can feel the kindness of him as I write this.  I know it isn’t too deep for him, even though he’d probably say, “Wow.”  Then he’d pause, and tell me about his brother, some of the same story he’d told me before, but with something new, and deeper.  May I never forget, may I feel him, in me, in memory, in everything he’s left behind.

Opening my heart to 3 endings in one week, and this death, this year.

Metta for me.  May I be at peace with what is.  May I stay alive, cultivating peace and opening, opening, opening.  To the truth of the world, not as I want it to be, ending after ending, but to what it is, itself, sometimes slightly knowable, after all.

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Back to Therapy We Go

Tuesday night my partner came to the theater from her meditation class to nab a ride with me.  I asked her to drive and then went off on a rant, so I’m sure she wished she had waited for the T instead.

The precursor to the rant happened on Monday, as we ventured back into couples therapy with a therapist I have now named F$#^ing Ugly Head.  But I was not content to go off on only Monday night’s ridiculous couples session.  I had to include the fact, which I will now confess, that after Don’s death and the end of the theatre production, I went back to individual therapy as well, to see a grief counselor (more on this later).  And then I decided to try my partner’s new love, Internal Family Systems, so somehow I ended up with two therapists, which, considering how much I truly, and I do mean TRULY hate therapy, is beyond ironic.

Anyhow, we’re driving down Longwood, past the hospitals and the library where my partner works, the streets empty with those circles of light falling on the pavement, with the buildings in shadow, only the occasional doctor or nurse in green scrubs scurrying across the street.  I was like, “OH MY GOD, can you believe last night?”  My partner’s like, “I know.”

And that was all the permission I needed.  The rant went something like this:  “What is with her hair?  I mean, it doesn’t even have a part.  And that shirt.  I mean, it squashed her boobs, and frankly, I don’t want to see my couples therapist’s cleavage under any circumstances.  And if she asks one of those questions like “How does it feel to be seen by me and your partner?” again, I am going to scream, puke, and then walk out the door.  I mean, I don’t even know her.  I don’t f*&%ing care what she sees or doesn’t see!  Just get a new wardrobe, for Christsakes!  What is with these people?  I mean, the IFS one looks like she’s ready to burst into an interpretative dance at any moment and the grief counselor has little animals on her socks!”

My partner couldn’t stop laughing.  Then she’s like, “Wow, I don’t think this couples therapist is going to last long.  I mean, ‘F$%^ing Ugly Head?’ You must hate her a lot.”


Then I made the mistake of asking her this:  “What do you think about my problem with the Interpretative Dancer’s tendency to diagnose and use labels from the DSM whatever?”

She said, “I think you have a point, but it’s also a really good trailhead for something big underneath.”

Trailhead is an IFS term for any event that leads to pain from the past.  I’d much prefer my partner had been referring to the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel, both paths at the Grand Canyon, where we met.  No such luck.

It took me a couple days to find the rant on that trailhead, which was not funny and was all about having my humanity diminished twice, the first time by people who hurt me enough to send me to therapy, and the second by the therapists, who reframe my experience, label me, analyze me, tell me who I am, and/or seem to get into how sexy, interesting and compelling I am, either hitting on me or telling me they wish they could be my friend/mother/student, etc.  I was crying during this rant, and fashion problems were not mentioned.

I do truly hate therapy.  And here’s the funny thing–the grief counselor, who I actually like, and, in spite of the animals on her socks, is often wise in how she handles me, is the one I seem least interested in working with.  I mean, she let me come in and talk and cry about Don for two months, barely saying a word (which, frankly, I think all therapists should learn to do–KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT).  It’s clear she’s not diagnosing in an extreme way.  She’s irritating, occasionally, but she’s kind, and she’s just really good at seeing and witnessing instead of asking, “How do you feel about being seen by me?”  (To which, BTW, I responded, on Monday, with, “I don’t feel seen in couples therapy,” thereby confounding expectations and pissing FUH (acronym for F$$^ing Ugly Head) off enough for her to add, rather aggressively, “Do you want to be seen?”  I did not say, “Absolutely.  I’m going to start a new trend in streaking any moment now.  I hope your neighbors don’t mind.” <She sees people in her house.>)

Anyhow, the grief seems to have gotten better, and I’m no longer blaming myself for how powerless I was to save Don and get him better medical treatment, so therapy with the Grief Counselor has gotten kind of boring.  I’ve stopped going, at least for the next month, which is incredibly busy with work and yoga teacher training.

But couples therapy–my partner and I have gotten really happy and sweet again, which I attribute to having a butt for my jokes who is not her, and aligning ourselves against the common enemy: the couples therapist.

So while I think that FUH isn’t long for our world, I might as well milk her stupid questions for all they’re worth and just let myself behave miserably while I can.  I am so sick of being Buddhist and skillful with these people.  I am planning on going in to the Interpretative Dancer and saying, “So I suppose you have a thing for Isadora Duncan?”  I am planning on saying to FUH, “Have you read my blog on new fashions for therapists and wearing clothes that are not a size too small?”

I mean, would anyone die?

Of course, my partner reads this blog, so she’ll probably talk me out of the FUH idea, and I’ll have to be all skillful and say, “Let’s get real.  If this is going to work, you can’t ask me those therapist questions.  And, by the way, the next time I’m all vulnerable and telling my partner that she hurt my feelings, which is not easy for me, I’d suggest you not change the F$%^ING SUBJECT!”

Really.  What is WITH these people?

Suffering Is Optional?!&*%#@

What about my poor partner, for whom kvetching is an art form?

No, seriously, this saying has always DRIVEN ME OUT OF MY MIND!  Like, okay, say I’m sad.  I’m just supposed to presto-change-o kill that emotion?  I mean, outside of alcohol, drugs, chocolate, lots of sex, shopping, etc, how is someone SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?

I have a lifetime full of attitudes that may, perhaps, at times, mildly, gently, occasionally need adjustment.  My attitude toward this saying can be summed up in the delightful sentence, “Can you New Age lightweights go get some real grief?”

But in my obsession with Buddhism and yoga, I have been reading The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope (because even though yoga teacher training means I’m reading about 10 other books, I just have to go off on what interests or informs me).  And it turns out that the full saying is this:

“Pain is a given, but suffering is optional.”

Ah-hah!  I wasn’t so off in talking about real grief!  Because the thing is, it’s really, really, really important to draw the distinction between the first and second halves of that sentence.  Pain is a given.  Meaning, it is inescapable.  We die.  We lose people we love.  We sometimes treat each other horribly.  There are natural disasters, wars, epidemics.  Fear, sadness, sorrow, anger, horror…these are a part of life.  You can’t avoid them.  They are not optional.

Then what is suffering?  According to Cope, who is liberally quoting the Buddha, Patanjali and Jung among others, suffering is the constant re-enactment of our own life patterns.  He says that this, really, is karma.  These patterns.  They are laid down in childhood, they are laid down by repetition, they are grooves in the brain.  We fall into them like ruts in a dirt road.  But they are not inescapable.  Of course, here’s the thing: They are not exactly easy to escape.  It’s not easy to find the way to freedom.  It’s just very, very possible.

The Hindu religion and Buddhism were and are very concerned with the nature of suffering or dukkha.  The sages in India studied the mind in order to learn about human suffering.  The Buddha himself, after entering samvega (the full realization of suffering and meaninglessness), wanted to eradicate suffering.

Now, I’m a beginning meditator (even though I’ve been at it off and on since 1987), but not at all a beginning seeker.  And what I know is this–your patterns don’t whoosh, disappear.  They remain, but not so deeply grooved, if you find a way to freedom.  You have more choice.  You are not held by your history to the constant dukkha of repetition.

There’s something else, though.  As you grow into an ability to hold your own patterns, to know them as you and not you simultaneously, as you grieve for the pain at the heart of them, you become sad in a permanent way.  It’s a mature sadness, that is held within freedom.  It’s compassion and understanding, because you have gone into the dark and come out alive.  It’s a recognition of the world of causes and conditions, the world in which war and poverty and pain exist.

I know that grief, fully lived out, teaches us our humanity.  I have yet to read, in Eastern religions, about the power of grief (or intimacy, for that matter, which is also a path).  But I also know that, as one of my meditation teachers said so eloquently, that there are many paths to the moon.  We all look up, we see it, but we take different routes to get closer.

The best thing about meditation and the full practice of yoga is that they are practices.  I think it’s probably best to be in a sangha, a community, to deepen and practice, but it’s just really great that you can practice alone and get freer.  In other words, you DON’T NEED A F*&(ING THERAPIST!

This is a great relief to me.

And, I’m going to meditate again right now.  Because this morning I was super edgy with my partner.  I’d had another one of those moments of seeing her, hearing her, completely separate from my own experience and fear; and, once again, the world shifted.  I realized that I don’t know squat and I’m madly constructing reality all the time and I got her wrong, which is not something I like to see or admit.  Even though she’s more loving than I even knew, even though I felt an incredible opening, a sense of compassion, yesterday, seeing her.  Truth is, this morning, I was just pissed off.  I mean, who is she to make me change how I see the whole world?

I have confessed this to her already.  One might suppose that I would be grateful to her for popping me out of a dukkha rut, but I found it incredibly disorienting, to tell you the truth.  I didn’t know where or who I was without my familiar way of seeing.

Need I mention that I live for these moments?  Popped out of dukkha, admitting I’m crazy, which pops me into closeness as long as my partner doesn’t judge at all.  Which she hasn’t been doing.

I get to be happy for a little bit in my dukkha, unenlightened life.


I mean, what else is there to say?

Right Intention OR Back to Buddhism We Go

While my partner and I were in San Francisco, we did a day of let’s just see what happens.  It was my day to pick what we did, and I decided I didn’t want to plan.

Mind you, I spent 10 years (17-27) traveling the world, and long before I had heard about the concept of being present I knew that the essence of traveling was to forego plans and let experience yield what it would.  I always say I’m a snob world traveler, because I do look down on itineraries, and, until the last five years, vacation spots.  (I now know what it’s like to be exhausted enough to just want to lie in the sun and have people bring me things…plus, as I said in my last blog, I am a pseudo-Buddhist-eclectically spiritual etc. princess.)  Anyhow, for the above-mentioned 10 years, I was in love with traveling for the experience of being present and open.  I didn’t know that–I thought the remarkable experiences and connection were what I wanted.  I didn’t know they came from letting go and opening.

So anyhow, my partner and I got on the road–I was driving, and I thought we were heading to Sausalito when suddenly we realize we’re in Marin County and the next thing we see is a sign that says, “Spirit Rock 500 Yards.”  Spirit Rock is the sister insight meditation retreat site to IMS here in Massachusetts.  I’ve felt drawn there, powerfully drawn, and then suddenly there it was.

And here’s the thing–I have truly learned that in life wherever you go, there you are.  In other words, I stopped traveling as a life plan when traveling stopped working for me, when I ended up face to face with myself and in trouble in Tokyo, Japan, not really understanding what the trouble was except that I was lonely and frightened of my own darkness.  So I didn’t expect San Francisco to alleviate my current state of grief and loss, and I was worried about my partner’s expectations of our anniversary celebration.  Until Spirit Rock, I’d been up and down–sometimes really having fun, but some mornings waking up crying.  (Which, since she didn’t go to work, she got to see.)

Of course, we pulled into the long driveway of Spirit Rock, met a couple in the parking lot who talked to us about the place, then walked inside the community center.  We found the bookstore and the day retreat meditation hall.  I said to my partner, “I just really need to go meditate.”  And I did.  For a long time.  Ending, as meditation often does, with an experience of varying mind states, including, but not exclusive to, grief.  Only, unlike long meditations I’ve done before where emotions and mind states pass like weather in New England, the grief took hold for a pretty long time.  I did some restorative yoga, cried for a while, then did some other poses, and ended up utterly grounded and present.

My partner and I went on a wonder hike–meaning, with the inner experience of being grounded and present we hiked up into the hills behind Spirit Rock.  It was by far the best time of the trip.  I was in love with everything–myself, my partner, the light, the woods, the rise and fall of the land, the wind.  An easy kind of being in love, an opening, an acceptance, the world as miracle.

Before we left, I picked up some brochures and memorized some titles in the bookstore, because, face it, I write this blog as part of a quest, a need for a do-over.  I write, as I have all my life, to understand what I’m not yet seeing.  That I make fun of everything along the way is just a bonus.

So, last night I downloaded two of the books onto my Kindle and of course they are about Buddhist precepts because Spirit Rock IS a Buddhist place, so what else?  And with Buddhism, you always get the life-is-suffering-everything-changes-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it-and-your-mind-states-are-wreaking-havoc-in-your-life optimism that I entirely love.  No.  Really.  I mean, I live in America, where we’re all frantically consuming and pretending it makes us happy, so listening to these people say we all suffer, shit happens, it will keep happening and we’re all crazy is just a great relief to me.

Buddhism doesn’t stop there, of course.  After you accept that life is suffering and suffering is caused by craving and aversion and that suffering can end if you follow the 8-fold path, you kind of have to look at the 8-fold path.  And you know what?  Right Intention is one of the 8 folds.  On the path.

I’ve never read about Right Intention in depth before reading book #1 by Phillip Moffit.  I always thought of it as addressing motivation, making sure your motivations weren’t malevolent, evil or unreasonably selfish.  I’m a moralist, so I thought about Right Intention as moral in a Catholic religion sort of way.  But this morning, reading the book, I started to understand that setting intentions is about how we care for ourselves (and others).  Right Intention is truly a building block for peace of mind.

So, I’ve been thinking about Right Intention, and setting mine.  This may come as a surprise to those who expect only self-deprecating humor from me and this blog, but I actually think I’m not terribly far away from Right Intention.  I’m probably not terribly far away from anything on the 8-fold path.  You know.  It’s just a jump to the left.  And then a pelvic thrust.  Let’s do the time warp again.


Seriously, I have great values.  I like my values.  But I don’t always know what to do with my intentions.  So let me say here that ahimsa, or non-violence, is number one for me.  I want to practice kindness, honesty, beauty, integrity, compassion and peaceful understanding, I want to be in center and presence and utter self-acceptance.  To start.

I think about the play production we just did, and how I didn’t know how to be kind or compassionate when I was so frustrated with some of the people with whom I worked, and I was playing a character who gave a sermon about the nature of humanity and how we are all broken and redeemed, and that kept me thinking about when to be honest, when to stay silent, the absolute need for center and presence when you’re stepping on stage in 5 minutes or half an hour.

I told my partner, before we went to San Francisco, that the likelihood of my grief remaining in Boston was about nil.  Then, I told her what I’d felt and/or thought when I cried or got quiet for a while.  It is so easy to feel love when you do that.  It’s so easy to like yourself, even in a hard moment.

I don’t think I’m far from Right Intention.  I think it’s simply terrifying to be honest and kind.  To say, “I’m frustrated, because sometimes you do a great job and sometimes you don’t, and I’m worried about talking because I might lose all the work I did to prepare for going on stage, and I don’t know what to do to make things change or even if I can.”

I mean, let people really and truly know what’s going on?  I mean, that’s intimate.  That’s really HARD.  Especially if you’re feeling angry or frustrated and you have a role, like being an actor, that requires utter vulnerability and openness and all your emotional energy.  But I wish I’d said what was going on.  Or maybe I did, at least some of the time, and what I needed to do was accept that it didn’t make a difference.

Like, last night my partner was incessantly playing with her new companion, Siri.  I have made cracks like, “I’d like to get polyamorous with Siri,” or, “Is this Siri’s anniversary trip?”  My partner is a GEEK, and she loves techno toys.  I am an anti-materialist and would love to end my Facebook account.  You know.  We’re married.

But the point is, last night I actually said, “I don’t want to want you more than you want me, and I don’t want to pursue you or ask for more time because I feel needy when I do and that feels humiliating and awful to me.”

I don’t remember what she said, only that she understood.  She’d put down Siri temporarily, anyhow.  But then, 10 minutes later, when I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, she came up behind me and hugged me, saying, “I need you, too.”

Of course, the beauty of Right Intention is that once I’d said that terribly intimate and run-on sentence, I was completely freed of the feelings I’d described.  So I was like, “Okay, but I’m brushing my teeth here.”

I’m not sure that fulfilled my kindness Right Intention, but it certainly hit the honesty one.

And I’m since self-acceptance is on my list of Right Intention things to live by I can say that I accept that I am inappropriately funny on purpose because it’s really fun.

It’s Buddhism.  They say, in Buddhism, to give the practices a test drive.

Right here, right now, testing, 1, 2, 3….

Inventing a Self

Sometimes I have so many conflicting thoughts simultaneously I find it completely overwhelming to develop an actual train of thought.  That’s what this subject is like.

So, train #1.  I was doing this grief thing yesterday, and I ended up thinking about the self I invented, the one I wanted, dreamed of, put all my heart into making.

It goes like this: When I was almost 12 years old, my parents moved to a new neighborhood.  I had been bullied badly at the first school, and ended up being bullied as badly or worse at the 2nd school.  But across the street lived another 12 year old girl, another tomboy, and she became my first real friend.  My first best friend.  We went to different schools and the minute I got off the bus she was at my house or I was at hers.  I had failed at inventing a popular self at my new school, so inventing a self was a dream saved for adulthood.  But my friend–her name was Judy–started demanding to know why I looked so sad when I got off the bus, why I hung my head.  “What’s the matter?” she asked over and over again.  “Nothing,” I’d say, afraid if she knew she wouldn’t like me either.

But, she wouldn’t let up.  Did I mention we had certain character traits in common?  “What’s the matter, come on, I know it’s something, what’s going on,” over and over and over and over.  Finally I told her.  She said, “Oh, we can fix that.”  Then she told me my clothes were totally uncool.  I knew this, because my mother picked all my clothes and wouldn’t let me own a pair of jeans.  My friend came with us shopping the next time my mother took me, and she confronted my mother in the store.  “Maybe she wouldn’t get mocked out so much if she had some cool clothes,” she said to my mother.  Who stood there, mouth agape, realizing, for the first time, I imagine, that she might have something to do with her daughter’s suffering.

I got the clothes.

Then my friend made me tell her what happened in school each day.  Who hung what sign on my back, who shot spitballs at me, who pulled on my skirt, who rolled their eyes.  And get this, she told me to make one friend.  Not to try to get popular, but to pay attention to who might not hate me, and be nice to them (without being needy).  I swear, if she ever ran for president, I’d stop my life and work for her.  She was twelve.

She taught me that I could invent my self again, even with people who already knew me.  She taught me that cruelty could end, that even when you feel the most powerless, there is something you can do, or something someone can do to help you.

I didn’t like being bullied.  But what I hated most was how I saw myself–as a victim, as powerless, as incapable of building and sustaining a daily life.

I was very lucky to meet this incredibly precocious 12 year old girl.

I built a self from what she taught me.  I wanted to be strong, independent, I wanted to be different in the best possible way, I didn’t want to conform, I wanted things on my own terms.  I put myself through college, I rode a motorcycle, I had lovers of both genders, I traveled the world, often alone, I hitchhiked across Spain and Portugal, I worked in Japan.  Inventing, from what I’d read as a girl, an unconventional woman strong enough to decide her own life.

And I wrote.

Doing the grief thing, yesterday, I realized that in my life I have loved nothing more than this invention, this creation, this very careful building of life experience, of adventure, creativity, strength.  And I have hated any job, any person, any experience that yanked me back to pre-twelve, when inventing a decent daily life seemed impossible, and only the future held possibility.

Grief makes the chaff fall away, and you look into the center of yourself, your life.  I am my own creation and I am also that bullied girl who doesn’t know the way out.  I am both.  I have loved nothing as much as getting to live what I wanted, what I could make, experience, be present for.  But feelings of powerlessness and doubt are inevitable, and the whole point of growing as a person is to let them come, to know yourself as a part of a humanity that fails, that fears, that falls down and does not know, all too often, how to get back up again.

I cannot so love what I have been able to make of myself that I forget what life has made of me.

And so ends train of thought #1.

#2:  Who cares about inventing a self in the first place?  My thoughts on this subject are entirely derived from my obsessive reading about Buddhism, not to mention the 10 day silent meditation retreat last June.  In Buddhism there is the concept of no self, that self itself is a construct.  So when I was getting all serious about how in love with me I am, and how no one better f*&^ with me and try to make me less, etc, the thought floats in that I really kind of don’t exist at all.

I don’t mean that literally.  It’s just that sometimes, the construct of personality falls away, and there’s just life, unadorned, at the center of me.  Until yesterday, I really kind of hated the Buddhist no self thing, and didn’t get it, but suddenly it came clear.  It doesn’t feel bad, when there’s just life.  It actually feels…neutral.  Perfect.

Like, if it’s true that when we die, personality dies with us, the constructs of our lives fall away, then what is left is just energy.  Life.  What religion calls soul.

I am truly in love with my own constructs and creations, because, well, I am a human being.  But they’re really just here to protect life from the dangers, challenges and hardships of experience.  You take them away, and there’s just a light.  Doing nothing but being a light.

It’s hard to come up with 60 million attachments, cravings, aversions and obsessions with that.  It just is.

No self.



Nothing we can do about it.  Nothing to invent.

It just is.

Procrastination and Yoga

I am right now procrastinating about doing my homework for yoga teacher training.  I mean, it’s anatomy.  I am an artist.  I am offended by details of the physical world.  Though it is neither yogic or spiritual, I am likely to keep not paying attention.

I would like to state, for the record, that I failed biology in high school.  I had it 7th period, and I got stoned every day before school sophomore year, so in 7th period I usually fell asleep.  The teacher let me, because consider the alternative.  A 16 year old me, awake and looking for trouble, defying the nearest authority figure whenever possible.  Believe me, she let me sleep.

Further pissing her off, I taught myself the year’s work in the last week of school and aced the final exam so she couldn’t ruin my summer by sending me to summer school.

By the way, I do remember that fallopian tubes exist.  I do remember the diagram of a woman’s reproductive organs.  Do I need to explain why that remains?  (Consider the word lesbian.  Or at least bi-sexual.  I am always interested in what is immediately relevant to me.)  I also remember dissecting a sheep’s eye.  Or starting to dissect it, and trying to find an empty desk to go back to sleep because it was pretty gross.

Anyhow, I am procrastinating about learning anatomy.  Though I have to admit, when I have overcome my procrastination (as in, studying with the lovely Elizabeth after class yesterday), I have found myself interested in the parts of my body that hurt (now that I am no longer 16) and trying to figure out what hurts when, all of which is in direct contradiction to the mind/body system of John Sarno.  I consider myself in a relapse from Sarno’s mind/body program and I am currently procrastinating about going back to writing about my unconscious rage.

Instead, I am watching a lot of television.

And doing the Grief Recovery Workbook, though I am also procrastinating, today, about looking at that some more.

It’s a nice day.  I sat outside in the sun for a while.

I think I probably have enough homework done to get by.

I also think that as a teenager, from 14-17, my innate, German mother-derived perfectionism and type A sense of responsibility had gone very dormant.

Grief makes perfectionism and type A responsibility look entirely ridiculous.  I mean, who has time for that?

Sitting in the sun it is.

PS–I no longer smoke pot.  Or drink alcohol.  Or coffee.  I don’t eat sugar or gluten or chocolate.  In fact, I don’t do so many things that procrastinating may be all I have left.  And causing trouble.  That, I think, I will never give up.


If you want to find out how powerless you are over the winds and storms of your emotional life, try to avoid the feelings after you lose someone.

I know about grief.  I have these profound statements I say, like, “Learning to grieve is the great task of adulthood.”  Or, “We lose everything, and then we lose our own life.”  (People love how upbeat I am with that one.)  Or, “You can feel your grief, and open to more life, or you can avoid it and become bitter.”

Which is to say, that I am familiar with loss.  As I’ve mentioned, I think, my grandfather had a heart attack and died when I was four; I was sitting next to him on the couch when it happened.  And loss continues–in the early and mid 1990’s, most of the gay men I knew died of AIDS.  I still have trouble, sometimes, talking about my friend Rick without crying.  And, my partner tells me to say, that’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Loss isn’t just death…there’s the friends that have relapsed and disappeared, the people I’ve lost touch with because of moves, family fractures….

So.  If you wonder why I haven’t written on this blog, it’s because I miss my friend Don, and this grief is a storm, and I haven’t wanted to talk about something so private and so very, very hard.

But here’s the general–it’s hard to feel connected to anyone when you’re grieving.  It’s kind of like you’re on this planet–the planet of grief, of whatever grief is doing to you–and everyone else is on some other planet, where daily life is just daily life.  Sometimes–yesterday was a day like this–everyone is on the other side of this plexiglass screen.  And of course, I’m not saying anything about it–I’m trying to do my job, get through the day, crying a lot, as if I’ve just realized I’m never going to see him again…which might be true.  I might finally know that, in my heart.  Not just a Don-shaped hole in the world, but the never of it.

Then my partner holds my hand on the way to the theatre and breaks through the isolation of knowing that.

The touch of the long married.  The wonder of this one person, who drives me crazy, who I have lived with, known, for over half my life, who knows the story of all the griefs… and the screen evaporates.  Not for long.  But enough to remember the world.  Which grief can make me forget.  Has made me forget.  These last months…sometimes I forget I don’t usually feel this way.  I forget I don’t always have these questions, that I don’t always wonder if life has meaning.

When you really grieve, every loss gets rediscovered.  It’s unpredictable–I’m laughing, hard, and suddenly it hits.  I’m looking at someone, and suddenly whoever it is just isn’t Don.  I’m wishing for kindness, and remembering how I trusted him for that.

I’m thinking of the other time grief was like this–the darkness of it, the not being able to see anything but loss, knowing that being with it is carving out something in me I don’t even understand. That I have to make the time to let it do its carving, that busyness is bullshit.

Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey…entering the darkness, the unknown, being in it, absolute surrender, and then when you come out, you’re new.

But when you’re in it, that’s what there is.  The nothing, nowhere, unable to speak, the shadow, the engulfing, knowing, I am alone and there is no remedy for that now…

Yesterday was a hard day.

And as everything comes up for review–because Don was younger than I am, because I, too, will enter that dark, no avoiding it–I look and wonder what I do, what I choose, that has meaning, and what must be let go of in order to live better, now, while I can, in this one moment, which is what we all have.

I don’t know what I’ll choose when this current project is over.  Time off.  Yoga teacher training.  That’s all I know.  And I know that while I thought the current play was a remedy and a remembrance, it has been more of a test, and the remembering has been unexpected and not always welcome.  My character says, “Thy will not mine be done,” and every time I say the words, I know what they mean for me…what I did not will or want, which is loss.

I don’t know what I’ll change, now.  Everything?  Nothing?  But I know  to say thank you to my partner.  With whom I’ve struggled.  Who I have not lost.  Who looks at me with 25 years of knowing in her eyes, letting me know I am not alone.

I am so grateful for those five minutes in the car.  I know she’ll read this, so here it is…thank you.  May you be the one I see, when you need someone to see you.

May I help you to remember the world, when the storms come in, and storms are all you know.

Maybe that’s what love is.  Not the helping…but the seeing, the wanting to reach out and remind.  My open heart, grieving though it may be, but open, at least to someone.  Because there she is.

Why I Am a Glutton for Punishment…or, Couples Therapy, AGAIN

Bless me whatever/whoever for I made the appointment.  Without undue external pressure.  Because though in hindsight I must say that the Sheepdog was certainly certifiable, I did feel guilty for my inability to get along with her.  I often feel guilty when I can’t get along with people.

Being raised Catholic is a bitch.  If you beat the shame, the guilt will get you every time.

So, another appointment.  With a predictable result–mostly after we leave couples therapy I want to get a divorce.  Even if, as with this appointment, I walk in kind of liking my partner, who has shown up for me lately in ways that make me so grateful I literally can’t speak.  Even though we’ve had those laughing so hard moments this week in the midst of the aftermath of death, the undertow of grief.

Why do I want to get a divorce after couples therapy?  Because the couples therapist TAKES HER SIDE.

It’s like this.  She sits there with this angelic look on her face that basically shouts, “I am innocent of all wrongdoing in every moment of my life.”  I sit there looking at the couples therapist thinking, “I’d really like to kill you for just being a therapist in the first place, but I’ll make an incredible effort to be polite instead.”

Who would you like more?

To give this particular couples therapist some credit (a straight man, because hell, I might try every flavor of poison out there), he actually copped to feeling protective of my partner and taking her side, which destroys my chance of getting out of jail free.

This is what you call volunteering for prison, walking into the cell, then throwing the key out through the bars.

This therapist said that there is no room for criticism ever, that criticism kills love, and that the purpose of life is to experience greater and greater states of love.  Then he reads from Eckart Tolle, the favorite of Mr. Don Foley.  (Otherwise I might have screamed out loud.)

Does this therapist have a pipeline to Don?  Or is Don trying to tell me something?  Or are New Age philosophers ubiquitous?

Regardless of the answer to those questions, I still can’t look angelic like my partner, and I am definitely not feeling keyed into this whole greater states of love thing without having Don to talk to.  SO, I think I may just explode into a million pieces if I can’t criticize my partner because SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY.

The therapist says I am supposed to understand that human beings don’t fully mean the shitty things they do to each other.

I don’t buy that.

Of course, my partner does, because she likes things to be nice, and she believes in good intentions.  Well, she believes in her own good intentions and other people’s good intentions, though mine may be in question.  Because I am doing John Sarno and admitting I hate everyone and am afraid of everything because if I don’t my back starts to hurt again.  Besides, I am more or less the Queen of the Dark Side.  Which means that when my partner and I sit down to discuss our interactions, I’m all about examining the shadow.  I like to tell on myself, but I like even better to tell on her.  I like to examine our unevolved brains and our competitive hierarchical natures.  I like to think about how we are embattled within our own psyches, basically living out the archetypal wars represented in Greek myth and sometimes in Biblical stories.

My partner is like, “I just had to pee.”

You might wonder how she has stayed married to me for twenty-four years.

I have an answer:  Time flies.

But, seriously, I have been thrown on my face unexpectedly in the last weeks, and sometimes I think I want a divorce after couples therapy just because grief is such a storm.  There are waves of such darkness.  I don’t have to go searching for archetypal battles and I don’t have to contemplate the meaning of life.  It’s right here.  How short everything is.  The emptiness where my friend used to be.  And I feel alone with it.

Until my girl in New York calls and we start riffing on menage a trois jokes.  And then I tell her about sitting with Don while he was in a coma and telling him my romantic history from 6-21 years of age (someone came in the room and interrupted, which I’m sure Don appreciated).  I realize then that I don’t tell anyone my romantic history and I haven’t told her either.  It’s like we’ve both been married for eternity.  So we confess to our past ridiculousness, and laugh some more, and then our unevolved brains take control and bitch about our partners and how everything in the world and then some is ALL THEIR FAULT.

Oh, to be a girl.  I felt so much better after that phone call.

So, I will drag myself back to the Straight Guy for another couples therapy session.  He didn’t even say, “Sorry for your loss,” which might be a deal breaker right there.  Plus, I feel like a novel in a language he just can’t read, which is predictable because he isn’t trained in certain ways I like.  I will suffer through another hour, and I will want a divorce again, and then I will go to the gym and watch football bloopers on the very large television while my partner goes to her thing, and I will wonder if martyring myself in this way makes me the real saint in the relationship and I will decide that yes, it does, and the fact that my partner has done my dishes for three weeks is only what I deserve.

Or not.

It goes on.  In its absurdity, more than its drama.  Though it is short.  Though it ends without warning.  In theatre newsletters and short plays, in sneezes and nights without sleep, in the hurlyburly and the ashram.  It goes on whether I am here watching or not.

Metta for me, and for my partner, and for Don, and for all sentient beings, on any planet, in any imagination, or anywhere at all.  May we be well.  May we be happy.  May we be safe and protected.  May we be at peace with what is.

Even if that’s a couples therapist reading to us from a book by Eckhart Tolle.

Yes, Don, I know it changed your life.  I’ll go buy the damn book.