Moving Insanity


We’re having one of those times. You know, when we look at 20+ places to find a temporary living situation, and the paperwork to Canada keeps getting lost in the mail, and our jobs are the most stressful they’ve been, well, ever, and the people that say they want our furniture continually renege, and we’re throwing away so much stuff it’s like having our life histories stripped away.

Until there we are, looking at each other.

Each morning, we get up, she takes a shower while I either groan, sleep or play with social media. And then we meet in the living room, where we do 10 minutes of yoga stretching, followed by 10 minutes of meditation, followed by a brief share on where we are, and then we just stare into each other’s eyes for 3 solid minutes. I’m not kidding. We call it present time. We make each other the object of our waking meditation. If we zone out, we close our eyes until we can zone back in.

I am hanging onto these times in the morning, when I see my partner, when I feel her beside me, moving her body, groaning about the strains from shoveling, when I listen to her, when I focus only on me. when I say metta.

We keep catching our own insanity. This is what meditation does. And every time one of us catches ourselves taking shit out on the other person, or leaving the sense of teamwork, and comes back in, trust builds back from all the terrible moves culminating in this, the worst move of all, except for the us of us.

I told my partner the other day that I married her so I could watch that bowlegged walk she does for the rest of my life.

We are dropping out of the known into some other thing. We know not what.

I have thrown away so much stuff! So that I feel unburdened and untethered. I have thrown away copies of manuscripts, I have donated books I love, I have given away clothes…sometimes it physically hurt.

Then I look at this person. See her. 30 years, we’ll have on June 8. We watched our wedding video yesterday. We are truly not those people any more. She has a different gender identity. I have a different name. Those 30 year olds were gorgeous. And we are wise, and love with a knowledge of everything it take to love and break, and rebuild, over and over.

I am beginning to admit that I might not change anything, even though I’ve screwed up so badly at times that I myself find it hard to believe.

I let go. Of everything else. But me. And her.

With no idea what’s coming.

I wrote a short novel about love and grace in our times. You can read it for free on Amazon until March 11.


Saint John the Divine in Iowa, my screenplay that won the Meryl Streep-funded Writers Lab, told the story of an Episcopal Priest fighting to balance the needs of her congregation and her gay daughter. Priest Kid tells the daughter’s story…of having a mother who’s a saint, but who loves humanity as much as she loves her. It’s about good people, about hope and politics in families, about redemption. If you want a break from hate, as I do, this is the story.

Priest Kid

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The Anniversary Approaches


About 20 years ago I had a friend who told me that if I stayed with my partner we’d have to go to couples therapy for the rest of our lives.

She wasn’t exactly a big fan of the relationship.

So as our 26th anniversary approaches, and I revisit, well, everything because the over-examined life is…well, worth living though it could be suggested that I might give myself a break once in a while (note to self:  get off my back!), I remember what she said and the extreme emphasis she put on every syllable.

Now anyone who has read this blog knows that my partner and I go through couples therapists like toilet paper (sorry, couldn’t think of a better comparison).  In fact, we have just fired The Stork for the 2nd time.  We don’t exactly like couples therapy.  My partner even begged me to not even look for a new therapist for a while.  (This is new, since I’m usually the anti-therapy advocate.)

So, we can’t be in couples therapy for the rest of our lives.

Nor can we be like that ad for E-Harmony saying, “My wife is a blessing to me,” or “I finally found a man of quality.”  We more closely resemble Ben Affleck’s Oscar remarks to Jennifer Garner.  “We’ve worked really hard on this marriage and marriage is hard, and it’s the best work there is.  Thank you for working with me.”

Add to the above statement the following:  “Because I know I am an unbelievable pain in the ass and completely whacked out.”  (Me.)  “Because I know I am an unbelievable pain in the ass and that my neurotic monologues about details drive you crazy.”  (Her.)

So, to get to my point.  Closeness is hard!  I mean, yes, of course, it feels good, maybe better than just about anything else, but then you get really scared and you start to freak out, so you have to distance a little (or a lot) just to not freak out in super unskillful ways and then your partner senses you distancing and starts to freak out and gets all clingy, and then you freak out that she’s getting all clingy just when you need space and then you have a massive fight and have to work on admitting all your own bullshit so you don’t get a divorce.

I exaggerate.  But only slightly.

26 years.  That means we’ve known each other for 30.  The other day I woke up and said, “How come I married such a goofball?”  And she said, “I don’t know.  Why do you think?”  And I said, “I guess I couldn’t find anyone better.”  And she said, “I’m taking that as a compliment.”  And then she hugged me for a really long time as if I’d said the best thing ever.

The truth is, I’ve never found anyone I liked more even if she is incredibly neurotic and can’t make a decision to save her life and buys every pair of pants in her size on her Gap credit card and then brings it all home so she’s have MORE time to decide and then loses the receipt and has to keep 12 pairs of pants from the Gap.

However, right now, this week, I bought her two pieces of furniture for her birthday, because believe it or not, that’s what she likes, but the colors were just a shade off and she’s like, “I want to do something small for my birthday so we can save our money and you can go to New York and be an actor.”

Like I said, I couldn’t find anyone better.

Of course, three weeks ago she yelled at me and I felt really hurt and she was appalled at herself, and I had to admit I’d raised my voice first….it was an exception to our usual, but there have been years where that kind of fighting was our usual, though thank whatever/whoever it is now some 15 years in the past (1998 was a suck year in this marriage).

Anyhow.  It upsets me that romance is idealized so much, because wanting the fairy tale, believing it’s the thing, led me to stay in my first real relationship, which was romantic, and passionate, and eventually destructive.  It upsets me that we understand so little about intimacy.  How much forgiveness it requires, how much being in reality.  I can only know my partner if I am willing to see her, as she is, and I can only see her as she is if I set aside illusions about what it means to be human, as well as all my illusions of how love will save me.  Then I can know the sum of her.

My partner is incredibly unbelievably loving, and she loves to take care of me, and she can be generous, and connected, and grounded and so inside her own goodness…and she can be mean, and passive aggressive and wanting her own way no matter what, and sometimes she tries to change me and sometimes she’s just plain grouchy.  Besides the daily neurosis which is alternately my entertainment and my frustration.  Is she a blessing, a moment of grace?  Yes.  But sometimes grace is kicking me to change where I really don’t want to, and sometimes grace is turning and telling her (or her telling me) that I’m me, and this thing that bothers her isn’t changing because I don’t want it to.

What I love about marriage is the attention.  Both the attention she gives me and the attention I get to pay, the way my consciousness rests and wrestles and battles its way to more light, all the time, as I fall into shadow with my partner, as I work my way out, or as we do it together.  There may be periods of pure light, but the shadows will fall, again and again, because that’s what marriage is…continuing to pull yourself, each other, the coupleship, into growth, into closeness, into the kind of knowing that comes from admitting all of who you are–insecure, gifted, warm, distracted, loving, passionate, moral, broken.

I have never known anyone as well as I know my partner, and so I have never loved anyone as much.  I am humbled by knowing my partner, and frustrated, and enlightened, and brought down into my own failings and then made better by how much I love her, which causes me to work on those very failings, or at least on more honesty, all the time.

It’s not ideal.  Or maybe it is.  Maybe this private, wonderful, irritating life is the ideal.  Only Jesus, can someone besides Ben Affleck admit how irritating it is?  How difficult?  He had it right.  It’s such hard work.  And the best work there is.  Marriage is a human making experience.  I am made human by the struggle, by the forgiveness, by the sheer fun and ridiculousness, by seeing how I want to get even when I’m hurt, by seeing how hard I’ll try to stop hurting the person I love most.

26 years.  My narcoleptic genius of the mundane will read this on her Facebook page and then she’ll say, “How about a little more on your faults?”

 

PS–I could have written more about marriage equality.  Metta for the Supreme Court.  May they have the sanity to know that making second class citizens hurts all of us.

 

Letting Go of Fear


I have no fear, I have no fear, I have no fear, I am fearless, I have run with the bulls, I have no fear, I have no fear…

Frankly, running with the bulls is beginning to look appealing at this moment.

My partner and I have now done 2 of the 8 practice groups on Letting Go of Fear at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center.  The first week, you needed to acknowledge 3 fears a day.  This week, you need to also track how you know you’re afraid–where does it show up in your body, actions, emotions, checking out, etc.

I have decided that watching 3 episodes of America’s Next Top Model in a row on my partner’s laptop probably needs to go on my list of checking out because of fear list.  Because why the hell else would I watch that stupid show?  Unless it was to validate how mean women can be to each other?

Then, of course, my partner and I had a fight.  I am morally bound not to say what jerky thing she did.  So I am not saying it.  Notice me being moral.  I cannot tell you how difficult this is because I think the whole world should be ON MY SIDE.  Of course, this is impossible, because my partner does her meek, I-am-an-angel routine and people are like, “Lyralen, clearly she doesn’t mean it.”  This makes me want to kill.

Then, my yoga group is in this place of not yet having defined itself and I am in a panic, because unsafe groups freak me out.  You know, when, in Buddhist terms, everyone acts unskillfully, at first without knowing it with all good intentions, and then, later, from a place of being triggered.  Some people would trust it would all work out, but I’m remembering the Unitarian women’s group and how, after the leader left, there was so much struggle for control.  The first time someone was mean to me, I quit the group.  And you know, I don’t think that was a mistake.  People continued to get their feelings hurt…and no one wanted that, but it happened anyhow.

Mostly, though, because I like to globalize, I comfort myself with thinking about delusion, disappointment and lies.  Outside of the obvious fears–death, violence, etc–I am most afraid of lies, particularly my own, but almost as much the lies of other people.  And I don’t lie, lie; I’m ridiculously honest.  But I have delusions, and like my angel of a partner, I project an image to color how people see me, and that, too is a lie.  Everything in Buddhism and Hindu/Yoga philosophy is about dukha (suffering) and its causes.  Avidya, translated as ignorance or misperception, is perhaps the greatest cause of suffering.

My current delusion:  that the yoga group will be different from every other group I’ve ever joined, and will be safe, non-harming, without back-biting, power struggles or judgment.  What I should know: every once in a while you get a group in which struggles are minimal and everyone grows, but you can’t ever tell ahead of time when that’s going to land.  What I know: the miracle groups like that are highly structured, usually ahead of time, to minimize group dynamics and struggles for leadership.  But then, that’s me wanting to control things to do what I know.  There are no guarantees what I know will work.  Or that what’s failed in the past will fail again.

My ongoing delusion: that my partner and I are truthful people.  I mean, COME ON!  We both come from families in which delusion, denial and image-projection reigned.  It’s impossible to avoid these things.  They are samskara, the patterns burned into our brains.  This is so DISAPPOINTING!

I found myself, this week, flashing on a memory of my parents coming to meet with the disciplinarian at my high school.  My father, Mr. Charismatic, turned on the charm.  He was seemingly cooperative, funny, warm, caring.  My mother sat silent in her chair, exuding rage and ice.  I watched them, furious, but tempted to be charmed by my father, even though we were all there because of him and only the disciplinarian didn’t know that.  I had a moment of empathy for my mother, because how could she ever compete with that charm?  He was good.  Really good acting ability.  It was a performance, and she knew it, but no one else would, and she knew that, too.  She used to complain about it to me, but I didn’t like her well enough to try to imagine her life.  The impossibility of telling the truth when his performance guaranteed no one would listen.  The suffering and silence and fear of judgment–and the judgment.  “Everyone likes him better,” she used to say.

I say that about my partner.  I say it as a joke, but this week, thinking about my mother, I realized it’s not really funny.

It’s like this–we’re in couples therapy.  (OMG, yes, this again.)  I’m sitting there, projecting strength, confidence, and an attitude of I-don’t-need-anyone.  This is a performance, of course, and the therapists all buy it.  My partner sits there projecting meekness, I-am-an-angel and if you help me that’s great.  This is also a performance.  Besides the fact that the couples’ therapists are all insane, the performances make it impossible for anyone to help us.  Because neither of us is telling the truth.  As afraid as I am to admit it (putting that on my homework sheet for the week), we’re actually in couples’ therapy because we need help.  And as for who wants the help and is willing to accept it–the performances would have to be dropped to find the truth about that.

And because I study Buddhism, I know that underneath that performance is another, and another, and eventually, hopefully, we stop trying to fix it by figuring it out and just sit with the fear, and the suffering, knowing these things are not who we are.

I’ve been doing that this morning.  Watching the fear and hurt in my body, knowing they are not me.  Watching the thoughts that arise, the self-doubting thoughts of fear:  Am I as crazy as my parents?  (Clearly, no, but I am like them and this is disturbing.)  Am I fated to live out their samskaras?  (Clearly yes, but samskaras can be avoided and eliminated.)  If I drop my performance, will I be safe?  (Jury still out on that one.)

I claim to be committed to the truth at all costs.  Then, the truth is that I lie, in my performances in life, in the stories I tell myself that are inaccurate.  In this, I am like every other human being, not worse or better.  And so, stripped of the latest layer of delusion, I sit, with truth as I can see it, just being aware.  And there is peace.

This blog comes with a warning–if you decide to take the Letting Go of Fear workshop to learn what you’re afraid of, or that you’re afraid, BEWARE!  You will get what you came for AND THEN SOME!

Of course, learning to find peace in the deeper samskara patterns creates new freedom.  Just don’t expect it to be a really fun ride.

Ayurvedic Pre-Cleanse, Day 2


I am not hungry.  In fact, I am embarrassingly full.  This is because I went to Whole Foods and bought 10 organic avocados this morning (they’re legal on this pre-cleanse).  I figure I’ll work my way through them by lunch.  They’re $2.19 each, so that’s approximately $23 a day, but hell, it’s a small price to pay for some degree of satiation.

I ate another warm smoothie for breakfast with avocado and a ton of rice protein powder (also legal).

I may actually feel a little sick.

Before I went to Whole Foods, I ate a very small amount of the green soup.  Turns out my partner doesn’t like the soup.  She was eating it last night, making one scrunched up face after another and I said, “Please don’t tell me this means I have to eat it all myself.”

She said, “No,” rather unconvincingly.  Then her eyes both went to the side.

I looked at her.  Her eyes went to the side again.  I was like, “Yes I am going to have to eat it.  Whenever your eyes go like that, I know.  I am on to you.”

She said, “My eyes didn’t go to the side.”  Then her eyes went to the side again.

It should be said that since she subscribes to this blog, she received yesterday’s 2nd blog at work, read it immediately, then called me.

“Are you okay?” she asked when I picked up the phone.

Turns out she thought I spilled the entire pot of soup and then somehow got it into Tupperware.  She thought she’d be eating floor soup.  Maybe she imagined me lying spread eagle in the soup and aduki beans and wondered if I’d get up by the time she arrived home from work.

Anyhow, and get this, she said, “You know, you’re supposed to enjoy this cleanse.  If you’re all stressed out about it, your body will hold on to toxins and it won’t work.”

I said, “I plan to enjoy complaining about it.  Does that count?”

She just looked at me.

I said, “I mean, I’m Jewish now by osmosis.  And if I haven’t learned to kvetch after 25 years with you, I’m in big trouble.”

She said, “You may have a point there.”

Then I’m thinking, “Enjoy?  Enjoy?  I would enjoy flying to Costa Rica on the miles we’ve saved on Jet Blue and lying on a beach doing nothing or occasionally renting a surfboard if the waves are the right height.  How is that supposed to compare to eating gruel and coating your body with oil every day?”

Of course, if this cleanse performs the miracle I’m hoping for, I might actually be able to digest my food in Costa Rica without taking 25 vitamins with every meal, which would be quite a boon.

And, for what it’s worth, I’m no long embarrassingly full.  I’m only a little full.  Maybe I’ll go to the kitchen and heat up some water and sip it.  You’re supposed to do that about every 15 minutes.  By the time I’ve finished with the water, I probably won’t be full at all.  Then I’ll have to stare at the 9 1/2 avocados that are left.  And decide whether eating another one is a good idea.  Or whether I should wait 3 minutes.

It’s a good thing I work from home.

Prom


The devised theatre piece I’m working on at Stoneham Theatre is entitled PROM, and we’re making it from scratch.  The people involved are so talented and smart it’s like going to heaven.

Which, for some reason, has me thinking positives thoughts about my own proms, remembering them.  I mean, of course, I hated prom.  I am too non-conformist to like prom, and perhaps going to my proms kicked whatever desire to fit in was left right out of me.  I mean, two evenings of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and not knowing why.  Not fun.  Why did I go?  Maybe because I wanted to be another girl entirely, maybe because I was beginning to realize I would not have one normal American experience–that everything I did:  high school, dating, prom, college, adult life–would be outside the boundaries of normal.  I had half-embraced the notoriety of this, but I still wished for the dream we are all promised.  Of course, because of this, I remember both my proms as nightmares.  But the truth is, both had really good things about them.

It’s senior prom that has captured my attention.  I didn’t drink by then, didn’t get high or do drugs like the other people my age, had no intention of partying or having sex.  I just wanted to go and have it be…something.  I asked my friend Reed to take me–I was 18, so he was 20 or 21, and so beautiful.  Long dark hair to his waist, smooth unblemished skin, dark eyes, slim hips, part Native American, he had grown up outside the norm, was a hippie and had hippie friends.  We worked together, and had become close, which surprised me at first–he seemed so out of my league, really, when I first started at the restaurant…older, beautiful, sophisticated, very, very smart.

Anyhow, Reed took me to prom.  He asked me about the other girls, the teachers, about the facts of my life at this school–which I never told anyone about.  He was attentive that way, caring, the whole night.  I felt so awkward that my other conversations felt painful, so it was mostly just us.  I was embarrassed I couldn’t have a better time or make sure he did.  So it wasn’t until now that I remember how wonderful he was to me.

When I dropped him off–no after-party, just prom and the letdown, and going home–he kissed me.  We’d fooled around a little once (which he followed by calling me up as soon as he got home to tell me that he still respected me and I shouldn’t worry about that), but we were friends.  No romantic anything.  But it was the sweetest kiss–I remember it now, the little smile on his face as he bent toward me, the feel of his lips, that attentiveness, that generosity.  It was a kiss that said, I love you, and I am going to give you the best prom kiss I can, because I am your friend and you deserve this.

I think back to that girl, to her terrible hope that prom would lighten the hardships in her life, and in the middle of learning that it wouldn’t, that nothing would, this gesture of kindness, generosity and love.

When he pulled away I looked at him in wonder.  I had kissed before, of course, but it still was a first–to be kissed by someone who knew and loved me, who understood, who gave out of understanding.  I hadn’t been in love yet, but remembering, letting myself really know that kiss, I feel a sense of awe.  How lucky I have been in my friendships.  How well I have been loved.  How much people have wished goodness for me.  How lucky I was to have him.

And here’s the funny thing–I understand his tenderness toward the girl I used to be.  He used to say, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to be like once you get out of Catholic school.”  I was terrifically young in some of the ways I approached life and life’s passages.  But Reed and I grew close because we were both so sensitive and smart, because we had trouble with our families, because we could talk to each other in a way we couldn’t talk to other people.  We spent hours on the phone.  We spoke the same language.  I think we just liked to be together.

And here’s the thing, I might not have been able to say to him that I knew what he’d been trying to give me, but I would bet you anything he saw it in my face.

“Thank you,” I said before he shut the car door.

Metta for Reed, still back in hometown USA.  May gestures of kindness and love follow him everywhere.  I was a very lonely girl.  And he loved me.

Partner Lesson #7: Creating a Monster


My partner HATES pretentiousness of any kind.  Therefore she often hates the world of theatre, where people are always remembering that the next gig might come from whoever is right in front of them, and are therefore to-your-face nice most of the time.

My partner is also not terribly ambitious.  She loves a daily life, and a sense of meaning, and the idea of making a difference, but she has never dreamed of being rich and famous.

But then, this spring, she had an acting role for the first time.  In Saint John the Divine in Iowa.  We couldn’t find someone 40+ who was truly butch and could play the comedy and the heart of the scene, and when she read it with me she did really well (surprisingly, since mostly she sits there and reads everything in a monotone trying to get me to let her off the hook (she doesn’t enjoy being the line-learning helper)).  So she ended up in the play.  Shaking, on opening night, with the cast being sweet to her and teaching her how to handle the nerves we all get.  And then she got her first laugh.  And her second.  Then she got her own private round of applause at the end of her scene (which began to happen regularly).  Then she figured out how to make the scene better, how to keep it alive.  In other words, she sort of became an actor.

Then she’s all like, “It was fun, and I liked the laughs, but I wouldn’t do it again.  I didn’t get hooked or anything.”

Then she’s like, “But I was good, right?”

In other words, she sort of became an actor.

Then, this weekend, we’re driving home from our weekly date night, and she tells me she wanted to go down to the Sandra Bullock set and just walk around because she had a fantasy that they’d like her look and offer her a part, and then she’d talk them into giving me a part and we’d both be in a Sandra Bullock movie.

I was like, “OH MY GOD!  YOU ARE SUCH AN ACTOR!  I AM GOING TO DIE!”

So, lesson #7 is that no one is immune to fantasies of Hollywood.  Not even my neurotic love of a partner.  This is so disappointing, on one hand, since her hatred of pretentiousness is really kind of great.  On the other hand, it does give me endless get-out-of-jail free cards when I start obsessing about myself and my performances.

Do not doubt I will use all of them, even if they are endless.  I will be dead and still using my get-out-of-jail-free cards.  Watch me!

**The end of 7 blogs of partner lessons.  My partner had a topic she wanted to suggest, but I told her to go get her own blog.  But since I’m about to start a theatre gig, and will be heavily unavailable, I may give her a guest appearance on this one.  No doubt this will also lead to unforeseen consequences.  I’m starting to have 2nd thoughts.  Right now.