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.

Rent-a-Friend


Yesterday one of the company members who reads this blog was over and we had a very satisfying therapy-bashing session, in between watching youtube and talking art.  We got very in sync talking about therapy as rent-a-friend.  It made me think about this past company member who is an adult child of an alcoholic, and she said when she first went to therapy and the therapist told her about being an ACOA, and the shame, the feeling of needing to be in control, the low self-esteem, she felt so understood.  Then she read one of the classic ACOA books and realized the therapist probably said that stuff to every ACOA and every ACOA would feel that understood.  Suddenly it didn’t seem the therapist was so wise.  It just seemed like she’d read the right books…books anyone could read.

BUT, this is not going to be just another sounding off on therapy.  I’m not interested in the arguments about what make therapy works.  Scientifically, no one can prove that it works at all.  Anecdotally, some people swear by their therapists and give credit to their therapists for saving their lives.  And then there’s me, who wanted it to be good, only it wasn’t.  The therapists kept falling asleep, or telling me I was sexy, or telling me they loved me, or firing me for not having problems, or getting overinvolved.  And there’s my partner, who fades out of therapy with straight people, feeling as invisible as when she walked in the door.

Here’s the thing.  I once had a therapist I liked.  She was not a rent-a-friend.  Why?  Because she didn’t listen and make sympathetic noises and ask me how I felt.  She drilled me, over and over again, to figure out what my intuition told me about my life.  I’d tell her what was going on, and she’d ask questions that forced me to do the work, getting me to realize I knew what I knew.  If I really couldn’t find my way, we did guided visualizations to locate my intuition.  I’d been really intuitive since, well, birth, but had been talked out of knowing what I knew as all women (maybe all people) are.  She trained me back to listening to my very own self.  I was 28 years old.

Not rent-a-friend.

I know I’ve mentioned the therapist I pretty much tortured, which was very fun for me.  (God I miss that!)  She’d disagree with me and I’d say, “Who do you think you are, God?”  or “You could be wrong.  Is that something you even consider?”  When she asked me why I needed her to laugh at my jokes, I said, “Because they’re funny.  Maybe you should consider getting a sense of humor.”  With her, I crossed the line from provocative in an extremely irritating way to be insulting and even mildly abusive.  She’d say, “That’s over the line.”  I’d be like, “Really?  I didn’t know that.”  (I was very young.)  She’d be like, “Yeah, you have to stop that behavior.”  I was like, “Oh. Okay.”

Not rent-a-friend.  I mean, what friend would have put up with me?  AND, I didn’t even like that therapist for most of the years I saw her: I still don’t think we were very compatible.  But she taught me boundaries.  It was education.

Therapy has no standards.  Some therapists are licensed, some are not.  If a therapist loses his or her license, s/he can continue to practice.  Those that are not licensed can pretty much do what they want–they are only in danger of civil action, not criminal.  The practice of therapy is so wildly diverse, and therapists often describe themselves as eclectic, so you can’t really tell what they do when you try to interview them over the phone.  They’re like, “Come in and pay me $175/hour to see if we mesh.”

I am an ARTIST.  A REACTIVE artist.  I don’t have $175 to throw at therapists to find out if I hate them as much as I think I do.

The therapist who commented on this blog talked about the value of the therapeutic relationship, of “clicking.”  It’s who you work with, not what school of therapy they practice.  It’s the relationship that heals.  I have heard this over and over again.

Boy does it sound like rent-a-friend.

I had a life crisis when I was 30, when I was grieving and my two best friends stayed overnight at my house, they called me every day, they helped with meals, they told me they loved me.  No therapist, ever, could bring that level of closeness into a life.  I have known commitment; I have been held in my deepest suffering by people who truly loved me.  That is what I think of when I think of healing.  Or friendship.  Or love.  And my friends were flawed, as I am–we let each other down, we hurt each other, sometimes badly, but that’s part of the game, that’s part of the learning, that’s how we find out who we are.

I question whether turning to a therapist removes the necessity of healing with each other.  I think our society has grown so mechanistic and disconnected that rent-a-friend is what we know of intimacy.  It’s true; there are very few people I would grieve with, I would hold, I would set aside the demands of my life to show up for, to commit to, but there are some.  The times I have given or received this kind of love have been so meaningful…and no, you don’t want to live at that level of intensity, but it’s a gift when it comes to you and you know it’s a path you are meant to walk.  How we duck it.  How we want to pretend there is another way.  But knowing each other, deeply…how else can healing happen in our lives?  Paying someone to listen to our problems…it’s not the same.  It can’t be.  And thank whatever/whoever for that.

I believe in healing.  I do find paying for attention humiliating, so if I go to therapy–any therapy, couples therapy included–I am not seduced by compassion or chemistry or “click.”  I want education.  I don’t want to be told how dysfunctional I am and that I don’t know what I know.  I want to learn more, I want to grow, I want someone who can teach me something I haven’t yet been able to learn any other way.  I mean, I know what it feels like to be a twenty-one year old woman sitting in a room talking about her pain while the fifty-year-old therapist snores in her chair.  The thought of rent-a-friend, after that, just makes me nauseated.

I fantasize about creating a way of healing that will be as community-based as shamans in a tribe–people who are grown up to serve.  I listen to my partner do Internal Family Systems co-counseling on the phone, I watch the way she and her long-term partner in IFS heal each other, though they have never met in person.  I think, there must be a way.  To stop all the pretending–that we’re okay, that success is all that matters, that we don’t need each other as much as we do, that we don’t need a spiritual life with each other as well as on our own, that we don’t need, perhaps, to grow our own food, or find some way of getting closer to the earth and her rhythms.  I dream there is a way to be closer than church community, and I come back to art, to the communion of two actors in a co-creative story, and I know that even this isn’t enough, though it’s part of it.  I am looking for a way to take my turn in holding what is broken, and to take my turn in being held.  I am looking to be able to share joy and levity in between the broken times.  Not just in my marriage, not just with my closest friends. But in the world…a remade world that isn’t so lonely.

There’s always Silenceville.  There’s always poetry.  There’s always the trust that if I let go, it will simply appear.

But not in therapy.  I just don’t believe that the real healing happens inside those office doors.

 

PS–Yes, to my therapist friends, I have been holding back on telling you that this is what I really think.  Because I LOVE you and I did have that therapist who told me that holding my tongue might be a skill to consider.  (She’s the one who needed the sense of humor.)  BUT, the whole thing about the blog is it can either get us talking in new ways, or you can just pretend you didn’t read it and then we can go on as we are.  I’m not going to bring it up.  At least, I think I’m not.

The Truth about Couples Therapy….Finally


So, the Poodle, or Couples Therapist #3, this round.

First, to state the obvious, you don’t go to couples therapy if your marriage is in good working order.  You go because you have hope, love and a need for a change you can’t make happen on your own.  You go vulnerable.

My partner and I have been together for twenty-four years.  We have had huge ups and downs, and we’ve had times of evenness.  I loved the evenness, the daily life that stretched into months and then years, the closeness, talking, laughter, quirkiness, inappropriate jokes, the times lying in bed laughing our heads off.  It’s hard when things get rocky and you don’t, at first, or maybe ever, understand what made you fall off the plateau.

Because there are plateaus.  At least, this very long marriage for me has been about growing into different levels of closeness, slipping back into old patterns of relating, being sorry, learning what love is, and what it isn’t.  Or, we’re always just getting a little less crazy, rather than ever becoming the poster couple for queer longevity.  Mostly, over and over, we learn what’s inside of us still to be healed.

Then we go to the Poodle.  In the moment, I’m just…in the moment.  But when she told us our relationship was dysfunctional, and then told me I might have a couple skills to rub together, I didn’t hit the roof right away–I felt hurt.  I felt disrespected and pathologized and diminished, seen as less than who I really am.  I was shocked, because we heard about the Poodle through the network of therapists who bring Buddhist mindfulness into their practice; and Buddhist psychology refutes the disease theory.  In Buddhist psychology, pathology, symptom and diagnosis are replaced by a practice of knowing, and going deeper, and finding what’s there.  It’s a spiritual practice, at least from what I’ve read, not a medical practice.

Consider how much I must love my partner to endure the search for a therapist who will not disparage us.  Consider the inevitability of being diagnosed and pathologized, because THAT IS WHAT THEY DO.  I keep trying to put words on how much I hate it.  I mean, to be a human being is to struggle, all your life, with the paradox of your own possibilities for darkness and light.  We have addictions, we betray ourselves and each other, we are unconsciously manipulative, we shame and judge each other, we play one up competitive games, we use each other to fill the wounds left by people in our past.  We do this.  And we love each other, we witness, we extend kindness, generosity.  We are capable of both murder and heroism.  I hate therapy because every time someone tries to put a diagnosis on me, my partner, or both of us, they ignore the truth of our human contradictions.  It becomes the medical model–what is wrong with you?  (Pathology.)  I’ll tell you.  (Diagnosis.)

I am a terrifically flawed human being.  I have faults, and darkness, and struggles.  But I just don’t think there’s anything really wrong with me.  Yes, I’m afraid of intimacy, and it’s hard to be vulnerable, and I can be reactive and bossy.  But does anyone really believe that I’m going to eradicate these very human faults once and for all?  I mean, get real.  Isn’t love about being in the ring with each other’s faults, having humor about them, learning to accept, not take personally, the other person’s struggles?

I have investigated healing because I so deeply needed it.  The first 20 years of my life were difficult, full of unexpected losses, sudden change and real pain.  Healing is terribly difficult, painful–a lot of the time you don’t know what you’re doing, or if it’s right, or if it will really help.  You have to take a lot on faith–a faith that something inside you does know the way, and the wild intuition that makes no sense is actually a guide.  I have healed.  Certainly not everything, not even close, but I have healed.  I mean, profound change, entering the unknown, coming out different, really feeling I had something to offer the world.  The hardest thing in my life now is that often in normal life there’s no place for that knowledge, not enough people to share it with–I can feel alone with what I learned.  I can say I entered the cave of darkness, but what I really feel is that I entered the sacred.  There is a state of consciousness in which all of what you are can be held, felt, and accepted.  Some people would say integrated.  I have known that place and I am different because of it.  So really, how dare some therapist, in the first session, tell me that I might have a couple skills?  It takes real heroism to heal and grieve.  I felt, looking out of that knowledge at Couples Therapist #3, that she knew nothing, and how dare she try to diminish the place in me that knows the sacred, that has learned how to heal?

What is with these people?

I sincerely wonder if they would know healing if it hit them over the head.  Repeatedly.

Couples Therapist #1 raised her eyebrows in disbelief when my partner and I started talking about the good times.  WHAT?  It’s impossible to have trouble once you’ve found a way of relating that feels good?  That is happiness, for a good long while, even though there is still work to be done?  And really, in a marriage, when is there not work to be done?

On Monday, we are supposed to go back to see the Sheepdog, and truth is, she doesn’t have that super edge of one-up diagnosis and pathology.  She doesn’t seem to categorize us so extremely.  I don’t like her boundaries AT ALL, but maybe because she herself is gender queer, she’s given up on the idea that there’s a one-size-fits-all mental health definition.  Maybe she knows that health is…something that exists alongside our craziness, and that we can have a day of real health followed, at some time later, by some real fucked-upness.  I hope she does know this, even if she does turn into a dog in between sessions.

Last night my partner said she’d read an article about psychotherapy being a very new art form.  The article said that no one really knows what works, and there are all these schools of psychotherapy, and every school believes they have the answer.

Science has recently told us that the brain is endlessly plastic and human beings are capable of changing all throughout our life cycle.  But here’s the thing–we have a 50%+ divorce rate.  Someone’s not changing somewhere.

I recently did this crazy thing and went on the FB page of someone from my past.  When I knew her, she was this insane party girl, not terribly moral, very flirty, didn’t really like other women that much.  On her FB page?  She’s in her mid-forties, writing about tailgate parties and getting a stiff drink after, well, pretty much any life experience.  It was painful to read.

Like I said, someone’s not changing somewhere.

I know people can change.  I’m Irish, and I saw it fairly early when my uncles started getting into AA. (There are so many alcoholics on my father’s side of the family they started their own 12 step program called “Families Anonymous.”  I have always wondered if people not in my family were allowed to attend.)  You want to see someone change?  Watch an addict get sober and stay that way.  That’s change.

And what do 12 step programs have that therapy lacks?  A spiritual foundation.  Addicts self-diagnose, and then they are given a spiritual practice of honesty and humility.  True, addicts can and do pathologize themselves.  But everything I know about healing is that it has to involve the sacred.  HAS TO.  You can’t make it through the darkness alone.  Something has to lead you, and it’s not a human being, or not just another human being.

We get so stuck.  We are afraid we can never change.  I’m afraid I can’t change, even though I’m so different from the 19 year old girl who stood on the edge of Mount Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona, the sun beating down, the desert stretched like a sea of beige and rust below my feet, the sky so big, everything seeming possible and sad at the same time.  I have her spirit, her longing, her big hope, but when I turn away from that vista, and walk back into my life, it’s a different life, and I can feel it when I smile at a stranger–I am no longer so completely alone.  I no longer have such distance between me and the rest of the world, even when I’m lonely.

I only know this: diagnosis and pathology are not an answer to loneliness, or relationship struggles, or spiritual searching.  Healing is, perhaps, not often found in therapy.  (I read a study that showed therapy didn’t change behavior, it just made people feel better.)  But it is to be found.  I know this, too.

Metta, metta for all of us who need to heal, to deepen, to find each other.  In other words, metta for all sentient beings.  We need it.

Humility Week: The Spiritual Answer to WHY? And, RESULTS?


I went back over my posts and found that right before I started Humility Week, I wrote this thing about being a teacher and the humility involved in witnessing the growth of other people, the luck of that, and the privilege.  I know that the spark for Humility Week came from that post.  Intuitively I knew that what I felt about that post–both embarrassed and exposed–were things I wanted to explore.  Because, really, why write a blog at all?

I started writing this blog because the team of artists working on Saint John the Divine in Iowa insisted I should.  I imagine they thought I’d write about making the movie, but it ends up I couldn’t do that.  The ups and downs of film fund-raising, the constant discouragement and disappointment, how difficult it is to ask for money, to find people who can actually do that work with you–I found myself reeling in the the struggle, I had doubt, resentments, personal disappointment, sudden breakthroughs–all these intense highs and lows, and, as you now know, I am reactive, and I know it, so I was trying not to be and it was really hard.  I have real confidence in the story, its value, its worth, the need for it to be told.  But since I was struggling, and I have also had a terrifically ambivalent relationship with producing theatre, and knew I was coming to the end of that work (last production is this November’s SLAMBoston, UNCENSORED–going out with a bang), I was worried about how my transition would affect the team.  Probably writing about all of it would have been another lesson in humility, but it was too close, too unprocessed, and therefore not wise.  So, I wrote about what had started to consume me–these questions about spirituality and meaning, which are the underpinnings of the movie anyhow.

The blog is a journey, as it turns out, not of film-making, but of meaning, of humanity, and, of course, now, of #$%^ing couples therapy.

I believe my intuition led me to write about my faults in order to tear down the walls around my heart.  Buddhism is about softening, about easing out of the emotional scar tissue of our lives into a different way of being, that allows for the existence of scars, but lets us open through them or past them or with them.  I also want to tear down those walls for other people, because if it’s this much of a burden to bring a perfectionist, overly-responsible, controlling, can’t-end-anything-but-have-to-hide-it-all process to life for me, it must be the same for other people.  It’s true I have had to train myself to make small talk, and I’m still not very good at it.  I’ve never had much tolerance for the presentations we make of ourselves.  I’ve always wanted real contact–and then been afraid of it when I got it, at least half the time.  The purpose of writing anything is to discover something you don’t know, and then to share it, to open to the world and open the world to you.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog or Saint John the Divine in Iowa or a poem or whatever.

I received an email from an old student a couple days ago, telling me she’d been reading my blog.  She told me I could use what she said, so here it is: I was that gifted child; I was bullied; I struggle daily with control and what feels like a “light-speed processor” as you so perfectly put it. I block vulnerability and letting go, I run when I sense an ending. I frustrate myself and my partner with my seemingly neverending need to talk through my thoughts, or be constantly self-evaluating. I battle with myself for why I am the way I am and what this means and what I should be doing with my life and why I’m not there yet and why is everything/everyone so slow, etc.

I cried when I read it, so glad that what I’d written meant so much to another person.  Really, this is a big answer to why write.

The other part of it is the writing about my faults.  That particular 7 blog journey had two potential outcomes:  self-flagellation or self-forgiveness.  Or, I could have turned it all into comedy, but that wouldn’t have been truly honest, so I didn’t.

I ended up with self-acceptance.  I mean, really, the list of faults are endless.  It’s one thing to say “nobody’s perfect,” and another to explore exactly how imperfect we all are.  I didn’t grow up with an understanding of okayness.  Like most of us, I saw adult behavior that was really wrong, disrespectful of other adults and certainly of children.  I saw denial, silence, putting up with, excuse-making, and pretending to be perfect.  So I came into adulthood trying to find a moral life that would guarantee my own behavior wouldn’t cross the boundaries of what I believed to be right and good.  I had no idea how much I would screw up.  I had no idea that to be human equals being flawed.  It can even mean being broken.  (I have graduated to flawed, just as in control I have graduated to venial.) (Really, where do I come up with this stuff?)

The result of writing about my faults for a week is this:  I feel almost unbearably happy.  I don’t have to change.  I’m just as screwed up as everyone else, I’m mostly moral and good, I drive the people I love crazy and this is all just really normal.  I’m not doing anything really wrong–I mean, I can see that.  I can see I’m going to try not to hurt people and I’m going to anyhow, because I’m still growing myself up.  I don’t know, it’s like writing about my faults opened the perfectionist door and I got to spring free of it.  I could turn cartwheels.  I really don’t have to be perfect.  It helps, of course, that I received that email thanking me for doing this.  Not having to be perfect connects me to everyone.  Perfectionism is the ultimate wall–no one can get in to the places where you hurt, doubt, fear.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s nice to connect where we’re strong.  But we live in the balance.  We are never just strong.  We are never just weak.

Of course, I got a comment on my blog saying if I really want to get out of couples therapy, I should write about my strengths.  And I can tell you right now, THAT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  I mean, any more than it already has, because I did sneak them in along with the faults.  There’s a limit to how vulnerable I’m willing to get, so I’m not going to talk about how much I value myself, and how beautiful and brave I think I am.  Beyond saying it right here, in one sentence.  Too vulnerable=not very safe, and I titrate my emotional risks in order to keep my sanity.  My love for myself is private.

But, I am going to rest in this temporary happiness, this almost-definitely-temporary humility, this utter okayness.  Let it expand through my cells, through my bones, through my back, which today is relaxed and pain-free, not, I’m sure, coincidentally.

I have always known writing as spiritual.  Any time we create beauty, any time we tell the truth, we touch mystery.

I am touching it right now.