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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I’m Crazy, You’re Crazy: What are my partner and I doing now?


Yes, I may fall over dead from admitting this.

We are doing a couples spiritual practice.

Here I go.  Falling over.  Bleck.  Urgh.  Uck.

Why, you may ask, do I fall over from admitting this?

BECAUSE I AM WAY TOO COOL TO BE NEW AGE!!!!!  I SWEAR!  I MAKE FUN OF EVERYTHING!  I AM THE QUINTESSENTIAL BAD GIRL!

And I get up every morning and do this thing called a renewal with my partner.

Who, by the way, I love.  I am also too cool to admit how much, but I suspect she knows just from the way she looks at me.

And get this, the renewal practice really helps me.  Not only be closer to her, but to live better.

I AM TOO COOL TO LIVE BETTER!

I’m still going to do it, though, because it makes us both happy.

Here’s the practice–

We get up.  I refrain from commenting on her breath.  We lie there in some kind of stupor with two hot water bottles and several Buckies (pseudo hot water bottles) all on my side of the Sleep Number Bed because I am always cold.  I pull on my Snoopy fleece pajama bottoms.  She puts on her glasses.  Then we lie in a stupor until one of us says, “So, you want to do it?”

We answer four questions:

What can you admit you’re powerless over today?

How can you turn this over to some spiritual deity you don’t believe in for the next 24 hours?  (Okay, that’s not exactly it, but the whole letting go and trusting that you don’t have to know thing…that’s the idea.)

What do you need to bring to the Light?  (We take turns talking about things we’re ashamed of, which is always fun.)  (Sometimes I like to talk about how great I am in this section, because, well, I mostly like to talk about how great I am.)

Do you recognize that whatever/whoever or some wise part of yourself knows all this about you and loves you just as you are?  (Some days, the answer is a flat out no.  This indicates staying in bed for at least 24 hours.)

Then we say metta for ourselves.  Occasionally we actually get up and meditate.

And yes, there have been 12 step programs in my life.  It took a lot for me to admit I wasn’t a deity myself, but eventually I had to do it because LIFE WAS KICKING MY BUTT.

Anyhow, I feel a very uncool tenderness for my partner these days.  The life in her, the struggle, the uncertainty, the goodness…so much goodness.  And my hope that she sees it.

Which does not mean I always refrain from talking about her bad breath.  I mean, since I’m not a deity, I have to have some compensation.

Excerpt from Saint John the Divine in Iowa


Image

I was telling someone that the piece of writing of my own that I love the most is a sermon that’s part of a play & screenplay.  The character is Reverend Alex, and I got to play her.  I was saying that while I LOVE acting, like big passionate love, often, in performance, it ends up a little disappointing–like I’m not ultimately present, or I’m not connecting as well as I’d hoped with my scene partner, or the laughs don’t come the way they did the night before.  Of course you roll with that, but when it comes to this monologue, it was different.  Just getting up and saying these lines, that are my manifesto,  to say them as a woman committed to a spiritual life in community, to a life of integrity and love, so that the words became bigger than me or my life, meant more to me than any other artistic moment I have ever experienced.  I got to do it 14 times.  Here are the words.

(Frances exits.  Reverend Alex walks forward and addresses the congregation.)

 

Reverend Alex

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Grant us peace.

Reverend Alex

In the Gnostic Gospels Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is inside you, it will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what inside you, it will destroy you.”

Most of the time, when we think of bringing forth what is inside us, we think of the gift of who we are that comes from God. Our ability to love, the truth of our self-expression, the naming of what we want in life, the claiming of our own strength.

But sometimes what is in our hearts is dark. Sometimes we find fear, or jealousy, or weakness, our deepest flaws, the ones that hurt the people we love. Jesus knew about this. In the garden of Gethsemane, he said, “Father, let this cup pass away from me.” He knew what it was to be faced with something he might not be strong enough to accomplish.

I imagine Him alone in that garden, with darkness falling, with the soldiers on their way, and I think of what He did not tell his disciples, of what He must have felt He had to suffer alone. I think of His return from that death, when He could finally say, this is what I understand to be my Father’s will, this is what I have seen that I can now share with you.

Be part of me. Touch my hurt. See how I am wounded and redeemed at the same time.

Jesus knew about wanting the cup to pass and having to drink anyhow. We can turn to Him for this. But we do not have to be alone in Gethsemane. We can learn to turn to each other. When we bring out the dark side of our own hearts, we say, “I am weak here. Help me with this.” We heal in the humility of acknowledging the human condition we all share. We confess our weaknesses, knowing we are already forgiven. We are all, one way or another, in need of the Light that comes when we bring forth what is inside us.

(Slowly, the light fades on Reverend Alex.  As it does, Jesus appears, the lights shift. 

They look at each other, and this time, she does see Him.)

 

Reverend Alex

Everyone wants to be known.  Everyone.

 

Jesus

(Softly.)

Thank you.

(Lights go to black.  End of scene.)

The Whole of It


A couple months ago I was eating an early dinner with a theatre friend of mine, and he started talking about life lessons, and why he was here.  He said that he was on this earth to learn how to deal with his anger.  He’s not a particularly psychotherapeutic guy, so I was surprised.  But then we had this really honest conversation about our lives and the center of our own personal struggles.  His is anger.  Mine, I told him, was to learn to hold all of it, evil and rage, violence and darkness, joy and simple beauty.

What happens when two young men set off bombs at the Marathon is simple.  They upset our world view.  They force us to wonder what life is, what is the nature of the world, what does it mean to be human when people commit acts of mass murder and atrocity.

What does it mean?

The courage and heroism and coming together that immediately followed  helps restore us to balance, to the idea that a normal life is possible. Or at least that goodness reigns, that terror cannot break us.

I am struck today, with the city in lock-down, of how connected I feel.  Connected to the city of New York, and to whoever decided to play Sweet Caroline at a Yankees game.  Connected to the people who have died so suddenly, and so young.  Connected to their families, who must grieve the way I would grieve if I lost my partner, who I love, love, love and have no other words for the depth of my love.  And connected to the bombers, because my fear connects me to them, and because I have lived through violence before, and so cannot see it as random or unusual.

I am a person who practices Buddhism, and generally a person who finds it difficult to latch onto religious stories (though I deeply appreciate their beauty and meaning).  I believe that there is a mystery at the heart of the world, and that human beings are capable of experiencing that mystery, but perhaps not capable of understanding it, or at least not understanding it with our minds.  I take comfort in not knowing, at times, not having to have answers.  I take comfort even in knowing that the story I am telling now may not be fully accurate, even though it is the truth as I have lived it.

My friend struggles to heal his anger.  I struggle simply to hold my own experience, and the amplification of my understanding of the world that is derived from that experience.  And my experience comes from being raised in the kind of alcoholic family in which violence was the norm, not the exception.  Yelling, raging, swearing, physical violence–I grew up with these things.  My parents, locked in a death grip that was as much composed of hatred as anything else, hurt everyone around them.  And I know, I know, supposedly this is a personal revelation, but why?  I understand that many people don’t have this level of experience, but we’re all screwed up, and alcoholism is pandemic in this culture, so while I honor my own experience, I also want to say this as not a huge deal–I want to make a point about violence.  And the point I want to make is that it is a part of us.  It’s a part of being human; it always has been.  It doesn’t go away.  I very much wish it would, but if my job is to learn to hold all of it–the ugliness and the beauty–then it’s reality at all costs for me, and the reality I know is that violence is a part of being human.  It’s a part of all human stories, a part of all times in history.

This brings me an odd sort of peace.  Wishing something wasn’t true doesn’t make it go away–it just makes me less capable of coming to peace with the world as it is.

And the world as it is–with symphonies and theatre, with ocean and poetry, with the look of love on my partner’s face, with the way she’s always touching me in her sleep, with the people who run forward to help, to heal, with the ones who touch us with their grief, with their music, with their faith, with their moments of grace.

Boston is in lock-down and I am holding this, now, one present moment, one truth.  The desire to protect all of us that has caused this lock-down.  The madness somewhere, desperate and angry and young.  I don’t have to forgive, but I do have to know it all, because I have taken that as my own healing task–to simply know and hold.  Reality, truth and mystery.

I truly experience, at times, and right now, that every single person on this planet is connected to me, and me to them, as if we were all sparks from one great light, one great mystery, living out all aspects of human potentiality together.

I would love to create peace for all of us.  I would love to be only peace myself, but I am anger, hurt, beauty, fun, brokenness, wisdom…I am not only peace.  I supposed I try to hold onto knowing all sides of life because that is as close as I can get.  My  peace has grief as well as love at its center.  But then grief is love, isn’t it?  It is the way we honor the loss of what we love, the way we say someone or something mattered in this very temporary life.

Metta for all of us.  And I do mean all.  With my most fervent wish that the violence will end today, and for always, I still say metta for every human soul.  I am holding, and I find that I am angry and horrified, but I am, in this moment, free of hate.  I might not be tomorrow.  But if we are all one, then in this moment, I hold horror and heroism and love, the knowledge that I am not alone, and I wish lovingkindness, because that is all I know to do.

May we all be well.  May we all be happy.  May we all be safe and protected.  May we all be at peace with what is.

Not About the Cleanse…. OR, Meditating My Ass Off


I seem to be at a transition point in my life.  Here are the factors:

  1. I closed the production arm of Another Country Productions.
  2. It looks like the rest of the company may follow, and that these last Meisner classes may be it for a while, if not for good.
  3. I am doing my 2nd devised theatre gig in a row and loving it.
  4. I am teaching yoga this week at Fitness First in Arlington and it may turn into a regular gig.
  5. I am leading a meditation group on Tuesdays.
  6. It seems taking yoga teacher training for no apparent reason had an apparent reason–as in, I am now a yoga teacher.
  7. I have no idea how I’m going to make a living except it seems it may have something to do with yoga and meditation.

My reaction to all of the above was to go to Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and to meditate for 4 hours on Thursday and then 9.5 hours on Saturday (not counting the time off for lunch or the hour that I bailed and slept in the hall).  I will also be taking Michael’s Letting Go of Fear workshop on Tuesday nights through November.

The yogis call this samvega–it’s kind of like hitting bottom, or having a mid-life crisis.  You feel an interest in something else besides what you’ve been doing, you are compelled to get quiet, to look for more meaning, to change.  Of course, I’ve been in samvega for at least a year and half now, interrupted by the theatre production of Saint John the Divine in Iowa, which made the need for samvega all the more obvious.

I’m not in control, of course.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  It’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane and then turning around to see if you remembered to put on your parachute.  Really exciting and absolutely insane.

Many people from my yoga teacher training class are holding on to their jobs as they start to get gigs, and I would certainly do that if it worked for me.  Or if the universe seemed to believe I was capable of letting go smoothly and gracefully, which I am not.  I hold on and can’t let go, so I seem to have this repeated experience of things ending without a ton of action on my part (except the painful gripping as whatever-it-is slips out of my grasp).

Perhaps the more salient question is state of mind.  What is my state of mind?  Hmmmm.  Well, there’s abject terror.  I mean, money.  I mean, change.  Lovely.  See how it will go.

And then there’s relief.  A desire to kick the old out the door.  Excitement about the adventure in the moments when the abject terror takes a mini-vacation.

But mostly there’s this current that runs through everything, and it runs through me, saying, wait, do nothing, see, deepen, sit with, do nothing, sit with.  Watch the feelings and thoughts go by and do nothing to change them.

When I’m not doing that, I’m rewriting my second novel (149 pages in, and entitled You Can’t Get There from Here) and working on a memoir (40 pages in) and occasionally sending out the odd play.  This is mostly because sitting around watching to see if things happen is anxiety-producing and boring.  Writing gives me a sense of purpose, plus, I kind of forget where I am, which can be a relief.

It also brings up more samskara (patterns burnt into the brain that we relive).  Like, I was thinking, “Hey, I can self-publish the novel on Amazon.  I know that the idea of publishing completely freaked me out in the mid-nineties, when I finished the original book, but compared to the stuff I’ve done since, it’s nothing.”

I would like to say that this is complete bullshit.  I work on the old novel and I’m like, wow.  I really knew how to write fiction back then.  The lyricism of the language is really kind of great.  Then I’m like, shit, this books is f*(&ing dark as hell.  Will people think this shit happened to me?  (Most of it didn’t.)  Or will they think I just like to torture my characters?  Then I start to freak pretty much just as I did almost 20 years ago (I had an agent them, and I tried to hide the freaking from him).

And finally, I’m thinking, you know, I haven’t changed that much.  I still write outside the box enough that the usual publishers wouldn’t touch this novel.  For example, it has a lesbian protagonist, but she’s kind of an anti-hero and a total player in the bar scene where she picks up women and dumps them pretty much every other breath.  And her family is really f(*&ed up, but I play with perception enough that sometimes you understand why she’d drive them crazy.  Lesbian publishers…they turned it down originally, much faster than the mainstream houses, actually.  I always thought that a sexually acting out lesbian wasn’t a popular notion for lesbian presses.

Then I think, why am I so outside the box?  I mean, John the Divine in Iowa is also outside the box.  It’s like I want to shake audiences into looking at themselves, sometimes with a trickster’s mischief, sometimes with a deadly seriousness.

Oh, right! I do want to do that!  I don’t admit it, even to myself, but since I’m mostly living outside the confines of the mainstream, and since I’m angry about some of what I see that other people don’t seem to see, this outside-the-box thing could also, truthfully, be a  in-your-face-not-backing-down thing.

It’s a good thing I meditate.  I am cultivating peace with what is, including my inability to leave well enough alone.

Actually, I have left well enough alone twice in recent history, and while I found it particularly challenging, it was also rewarding.  No mess.  No one hating me into eternity.  No me hating them either.

If I publish one of these books, what mess and for whom?

I think I better go meditate some more.  And think about sitting with the fear that is my answer to the above question.

Buddhism:  our feelings and thoughts are not who we are.  In fact, we have no self and we barely exist.

Oddly comforting.

Samskara: Round and Round and Round We Go


You can’t cure the mind with the mind.

In other words, thinking is useless.

Okay, it’s not useless.  You need it to bake bread, till the earth, work at the corporation.

But here I am, back investigating the nature of the world ala Buddhism.

So…you can’t think your way out of a paper bag.  Or a pattern of bad relationships.  Or an inability to tolerate ticking clocks (yes, of course that one is me!).

I am enraptured by thinking about samskara, knowing it won’t do any good.  But still, I have to find some way to spend my time.

Seriously, we’re all in the business of repeating–in relationships, in work, in decisions.  Somehow, we make the same mistakes again and again.  Somehow, we keep walking down the same street.  The utter powerlessness and frustration, the inability to change at will, the way the flaws in our own characters persist and persist.

When I stop fighting it, it’s just samskara.   The Jungian complex.  The human condition.  The very thing that puts money in therapists pockets.

I like to image it like wood-burning kits you get when you’re a kid.  A metaphor:  etching lines into the wood, making patterns, labyrinths.  You can’t erase them.  Life burns them into your brain–what they call neural pathways–and they become your fate as much as anything else.  The first relationships, the first losses, the way we say, “Never again,” and yet when relationships and losses come, they are eerily similar, always.

Why, you might ask, would anyone be enjoying thinking about such things?  Maybe because I’m starting to see that there is only surrender, and surrender is such a relief.  All my life, I keep trying to wrestle my samskara to the earth with will and force, with the hatred of the repetition, and now I’ve just let go and it’s suddenly okay.  I’ll relive it or I won’t.  I don’t have to know how it’s going to turn out.  I can just wait and see, and trust that in the moment, I will know.

Of course, there must be effort, at times.  There must be an attempt at something.  But if I wait until I know, then perhaps that will be right effort.

There may be such a thing as right effort, instead of effort flung around at everything, diligently working every moment, trying, trying to get it right, make it right, prove some thing that no one wants you to prove anyhow.

This is my brain on meditation.

This is my remembering Don, and his last two phone calls to me, and the feel of his hand, swollen, as he lay in his hospital bed.  This is my gratitude for no samskara with Don, for the newness of knowing him, for how honest we both were.

The terrible letting go of loss, the necessity, the continuing to love.

The letting go of who we once were, not knowing who we will be.  The enough of that, the relief, the moment rising up and filling everything.

Good-bye Don, again and again.  May you be free from all samskara, well-loved and loving.  May you be free.  May you be welcoming, as I am, the unknown into your heart, curious, if nothing else, at how it might change your fate.

A Little Self-Aggrandizement…Or NOT


The best thing about me is that I truly know how full of shit I am.

No, really.

Having spent last week in the company of so many therapists, I realized that the deepest danger is in believing your own bullshit.  In other words, believing that you are somehow better and more enlightened than other people.

Of course, I often believe this.  But, back to the first sentence, all the meditating has taught me just what a load of crap that belief ALWAYS is.  And when you face that belief in people who invest in it, who live from it, well, it is definitely cringe-worthy.  As in, “I can’t believe I act like that sometimes.”

The enlightenment of the cringe and identification can only resonate if you recognize that you probably act like that a whole lot more often than you realize in the present moment.  Then you can descend/ascend (it’s not clear) to new levels of humility, making you much more bearable to live with.

Of course, this is me we’re talking about.  And therapists.  So I’m like, “Thank whatever/whoever I’m not as stupid as you a*(hol$#S.”  I mean, give me a break.  Do I really have to practice enlightenment with therapists?

It seems I do.  Though since my partner and I have gone through 6 couples therapists since last September (okay, 3 of them we only saw for one-two sessions, and we only saw FUH for 3 sessions), with the Stork-man the hands-down favorite (we lost count of how many session with him, but it’s probably more than 15), I still have to be grateful to the grief counselor with her animal-patterned socks and keep myself from yelling at the new IFS therapist who dresses like an interpretative dancer and continually explains things to me that I ALREADY KNOW.

From the point-of-view of Hindu philosophy, I am obviously exploring my samskara truly, madly and deeply.  (Samskara are life patterns, complexes, re-enactments of old issues that re-occur forever or at least until you reach enlightenment.)  I would like to say, for the record, that I hate it when people don’t seem to recognize how smart I am (telling me things I already know) and when they limit what I want to explore.

I don’t know how to have humility about how smart I am.  I’m really smart.  Maybe I could practice thinking that intelligence is a gift I didn’t earn, awarded at birth through some accident of genetics.

Naw.  I’m just really smart.

But not better than other people.

Oh, comparison.  The truth is that therapists go around thinking that they’re better because the human condition is truly overwhelming and we really have no idea what we’re doing, though we keep telling ourselves that we do.  Just getting up and facing how little we truly know is an act of courage.  I’d much rather criticize the therapeutic profession than admit that I’m terrified I’m going to miss the boat entirely, off on some samskara or another.  Smart–yes, but that can be just another way to create some super-intellectual bullshit that has no relevance to how to live a life well, in search of enlightenment, grounded in peace.

When I know how full of shit I really am, when I fully admit how little I know, there is only surrender, which is unconditional and exists as a possibility in every moment.  In other words, I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t have to.  I ground into the moment, and I trust in some source of Light or goodness that will open up a way I can’t see yet, and that it will be hard, wonderful, right.

That may just be another story, but it’s the one I’m going with for now.  Because guess what?  Samskara often falls away in the light of surrender.  I don’t know why, but it truly does.