What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?

I thought this question got answered once and then that was it.


And it’s not like I’m one of those people who didn’t know.  I mean, every once in a while, when I’m fantasizing about this easier life that fits more of the status quo expectations, I remember that it was never like I had much of a choice.  Until I started teaching, I stayed at jobs for an average of 1.25 years if that.  I got bored.  I moved on.  I shed office jobs, 9-5 work weeks and other things that didn’t fit fairly quickly.  I know that parents–particularly those of my own parents’ generation–have this idea that you can force yourself to work at jobs you hate.


And it wasn’t like I was ever not creating.  I mean, outside of my run-ins with writer’s block in my twenties, but really, even then, I was always making something.  I kind of couldn’t, and can’t, stop.

What I didn’t know is that it was possible to run out of road even with things you love.  For example, I found I LOVED teaching.  I mean, lie on the bed wondering how I could even deserve to do something that made me that happy kind of love.  Especially in the arts.  After not sticking with any job for more than 2 years, tops, in my life, at 30 I started teaching Creative Writing in all its forms and that lasted for about 11 years.  But when I stopped learning new things to teach in poetry and fiction–meaning that when my artistic life started to turn to theatre–I started to be bored.  I know it’s all so mature to say that I have a choice, but even if that’s true, teaching something that’s already past for me isn’t a choice I like to make.  I like to teach on my own growing edge, because I truly love teaching and the best teaching happens exactly at that place, where I am teaching what I need to learn, or what I am learning, or what I have just learned, or what I’m incorporating, synthesizing, into my artistic aesthetic or world view.  Teaching is so alive and creative, then.

So what do I want to be when I grow up?

First, let’s debunk the growing up part.  I have already reached my full height–I’d gained most of it by age 13 (I was taller than the boys in 7th grade)–so literally, it’s just not happening any more.  And I agree with Shonda Rimes–there are no real adults, just children with larger bodies.

But what do I want to be?  Well, present, alive, kind, moral, loving, joyful, peaceful, creative, spiritual…I could start with that.  And end with it.

The only reason the question is reappearing is because I have sworn, once again, to give up producing theatre.  Honestly, if there was a 12 step program for theatre producers, I’d do daily attendance.  One day at a time, I will not produce theatre.

Did I mention how much I dislike producing theatre?  Of course there are rewards–getting to pick the projects, getting to create the organizational structure, setting the standards, establishing a mission.  But the drawbacks–you know, I have never truly enjoyed producing theatre.  I enjoy directing, acting, writing, teaching, creating, collaborating with colleagues (especially people like my friend Jeannie Marie, who is brilliant), but I do not enjoy producing.

The fact that producing paved the way for some of the best teaching I’ve done in my life is not lost on me, but.  But.

And now, the Meisner technique, which I love, love, love, isn’t enough.  My growing edge is now movement theatre, collaborative work, bringing the connection of Meisner to the body.  Opening actors to levels of creativity beyond the script, which is the Meisner technique in some ways, but addressing it directly so actors become true artists–that’s the work that’s calling, rather loudly.

So, I’ll be a certified yoga instructor by the end of the summer.  I may travel to New York to train with Faye Simpson some more.

And, I applied for a teaching job.  In a school community.  Which would keep me doing all of the above with no producing.

There’s never any guarantees–that they’ll call for an interview, that it will be a match, that I won’t be applying elsewhere.

But change is in the wind.  It’s been blowing through my life for the last three years.  Loss, illness, training at Celebration Barn in 2010, listening to these weird intuitions.  The weirdest:  I have had a feeling that when I quit dyeing my hair, I’d be my true actress self.

I DO know what I want to be when I grow up:  present, kind, moral, honest, loving….

I DO know that I can’t not be an artist and teacher.  It doesn’t seem to be in me.

I DO know that I don’t want to produce and I do want to study yoga and I don’t know what I’ll make next, but it won’t be something I’ve done before or in the last ten years.

And I know that when change is in the wind, it’s best to be curious, it’s best to have a sense of adventure.  Surrender, accept, let the wind take you, because fighting is misery and there’s enough of that around without creating more for yourself.

I am here to see what happens.

I Have Been Replaced!

No, no, not in couples therapy.  I know that would make for great drama, but not such a happy life for me so NO!

And, to be honest, I won’t really be replaced until 1/1/2012, but today it’s official:  the new Artistic Director of Another Country Productions to take over in 2012 is Lyndsay Allyn Hicks.  Here’s her FB page:  http://www.facebook.com/lyndsay.allyn.

You have no idea how happy I am.  Now I can be the actor-writer-acting teacher person that is ME.  I’ll still be on the board, but in a very supporting role.  Leadership is Lyndsay’s.  Imagine cartwheels on this page!

Lyndsay directed me in ACP’s Boston Theatre Marathon play by Melinda Lopez this year and I fell in love with her then.  I was already impressed by the three plays she’d directed in SLAMBoston, and by her acting in the slam and staged readings she’d done with us.  She is super-collaborative, very funny, and her directing is so clean, her character work with actors so rich, her ability to find timing so amazing…and her values so in line with the original mission of Another Country, I count myself unbelievably lucky.  She’s directing this weird expressionist piece I wrote this summer for the upcoming SLAMBoston, UNCENSORED.  The piece is very centered on movement and constant transformations of reality, and has a distinctly Buddhist flair (now there’s a surprise).  The lead is an 11 year old girl with more stage presence than God.  I’ve only tried to explain the nature of existence in this 7 minute play, so it’s not in the least ambitious, but you should probably take a look at it anyhow.  I have no idea how well it will fly, and that kind of creative risk is just so fun.  I don’t mind falling on my face once in a while.  For one thing, it makes the necessity of blogging about my faults so much less.  And, the possibilities for hitting something out of this world only come when you lay everything on the line.  So, there we are.

Everything changes.  Especially in my life, as I look for the next adventure, which may be just acting, just writing, just teaching, just being in one moment at a time, but these particular moments of expression, of opening, of holding the door so one student after another can walk through.

Just to mention…today in the Full Training about half the class cried.  They said they wanted to learn how.  So, you know, I try to deliver.

But it was totally intense.

Metta for all açtors crying in Meisner classes.  And for everybody else, not trying to learn to cry on demand.

Nantucket Flight, Acting, Mind/Body, and the Rocking Acting Class…the day before 9/11/11


I will say this about the mind/body stuff:  I am, at this moment, procrastinating about writing about rage.  It is still morning, right?  At 11:37am.  I have 15 minutes to put in this morning.  Or soon.  And I will do it, because guess what?  I have not worn the sacroiliac belt since my appointment with the lovely and kind Dr. Martinez.  I have slept on my side for the first time in two or three years, which meant I actually slept well.  I have had very little pain.  I am a skeptic, so I keep saying, really?  I’ve had two days break from it before.  BUT, usually just turning on my side is enough to ruin it, and I slept on my side all night for two nights.  So, one day at a time, I have a perfectly healthy back, hip and sacroiliac joint.  I also, it seems, have a lot of unconscious rage, getting conscious, have to figure out what to do with it, but it is, according to John Sarno, completely normal.  The evolution of the human race and its collective brain has not yet reached a point in which we’re not all packing rage into the amygdala or whatever.  Unless maybe you’re the Buddha, and he was tortured by Mara even after he awakened.

Sometimes I get the feeling I’m waking up, again and again.  Not that I’m enlightened, because I still love to swear.  Only maybe not quite as much.  I may even be giving up my attachment to being a person who loves swearing and who believes she is REACTIVE.  That would mean I am learning no self.

I left a space there for no self to happen.  Just in case.



But, I digress.

SO, I FLEW TO NANTUCKET YESTERDAY.  Lest you think I am so enlightened that I grew wings, I must mention that the pilot and co-pilot of the single engine plane that took me (and my partner) to Nantucket were really fun to hang out with.  I love small planes.  I love hovering above the earth, looking at how bodies of water honeycomb the coast of Massachusetts.  I love the city stars shining out of buildings, the snaking of cars up 93 at night, the press of headphones, the microphone in front of my lips, the way the plane leans and dips, the instrument panel.  I love the company.

And, I’ve had a handful of auditions in the last couple weeks and I approached them differently.  Usually I prepare and prepare.  I do yoga, I warm up my voice, I do sense memory work or I listen to music that makes me cry, I get all available to myself and the work.  But this year (September really does feel like the start of the year to me) I decided that if I was going to step down as Artistic Director and just be an actor, I had to make auditions no big deal.  As in, memorize enough, do 10 minutes of yoga, 10 minutes of meditation, and go do it.  And you know what?  I had fun.  Acting…I might mention that I LOVE ACTING.  I mean, LOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVE.  I have sort of kind of maybe I don’t know given up my attachment to acting–like, I can be happy if I don’t act, and I don’t have to be a star or anything, but really, life is improved immensely by more acting with really talented and kind people.  So, auditions can just be…normal.  So I can do a lot more of them.

On top of this, my fall class in the Meisner technique looks to be AMAZING.  I haven’t taught the full training for a couple years, partly because I know how intense it is for me (not to mention the actors, who have to have a level of emotional stamina and commitment).  Yesterday’s class rocked my world.  I was happy all day.  Everyone in the class took a huge step forward in their ability to embody the Meisner connected- uninhibited-present-moment-reality.  I got so excited about their scenes I decided them in class 2!  I can’t wait to teach the next class.

So, as I enter this day, this anniversary of terror, I have with me these very simple things–a healthy body, a feeling of flight, and the freedom of acting and watching other people enter the liberating creativity I love.

Always, the paradox.  We love, knowing we will die.  We feel joy, even while remembering the smell of jet fuel, the clouds of gray dust hanging over Ground Zero the Saturday after the event.

I saw those clouds from the roof of an apartment building in the Village, while I did the Meisner repetition exercise with my partner Carl.

September 11 is also my brother’s birthday, as if he didn’t have a hard enough road to walk.

Lovingkindness for all of us, always.  As we erupt, as we remember the need for peace.  As we extend our hearts to each other.

New York Requiem

By Lyralen Kaye

For Jonathan


Papers flew in the air like birds,

he said, and it looked so


a sea of drifting papyrus

drifting remnants of trees.


Of course, the soot came later

raining ash and char.  And later still,


to clean away the airplane fuel.


I found a man’s business card

in the grass, he said.  One

of the papers.  One of the burials.

I wish I didn’t have to go to

services any more.


But they looked like wings.

You could imagine them falling

for other reasons, you could imagine


dropping feathers

of hope, you could imagine

dancers riding the airwaves

you could imagine another


another world, another life.



Urban Legend 9/11/01

By Lyralen Kaye

They said

a fireman

found the



balanced on it

like a


like an angel,


that one

right sliver of


through the



into the


and walked

away clean.


we wanted

to believe

in him

as we stood

in the



the dust





toward heaven,

how we

wanted to

hear his


in the Times


where the music


cacophony of


had died,

where no cars


where no


changed color,


we wanted

to see him


the windows

of Carnegie

Hall beside

the tiny


how we


to raise

our voices

to say

he was

coming, he

was coming

after all.

Whispering to Each Other in the Darkness by Lyralen Kaye


I turn off the car radio and sit

with my brother in the darkness

of a Pennsylvania winter.  He is crying

and I am looking at the moon.  He asks


me to stay, he begs to come with me.

Across the stiff grass is a tin shed

that protects him from sudden beatings.

I have been the one to find him, his knees


tucked beneath his chin, dark hair swept

over his forehead, legs that won’t stop

shaking.  I have led him inside, my arms

hung around his shoulders like a shawl.


Now, we sit without speaking, and I

am thinking of the warmth of milk

tested against my wrist, the brushes

he pulled through my hair, dolls caps


I placed on his head.  “You are my real

mother,” he says.  Fingers of streetlight

briefly touch our wet faces,

shadows clasped tight in our arms.

The Teacher or At What Cost Humility

I have been finishing Jack Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  And crying.  Perhaps because in all the other reading, I found such a focus on Buddhism, on meditation, on one single path, and while it’s all been interesting and invigorating (I come alive when I’m learning something new that really captures me, intellect, heart and soul), it’s also been a little bit frustrating.  Because I’m not new to spirituality or contemplation or solitude.  Or mysticism.  Or the examination of my own inner life.

Jack Kornfield has now encompassed most of the exploration I’ve done.  He talks about Christ, about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, about the hero’s journey, about battling the poisons of our life, only to find out that they are our greatest teachers.  How the wise heart knows such paradoxes, how the anger and confusion of the struggle open into compassion for all things (okay, except therapists…in my case).  I never expected to find my own archetypes in a book about Buddhism.  I mean, I thought Buddhists didn’t use archetypes.

Or maybe I cry because at the we-know-we’re-all-crazy-including-me week I did in Arizona, I had to examine who my father was in his life and in mine, and I had to let go of the idea that he loved me enough to be responsible for my strengths.  Which leaves me with the task of taking credit for the good in my life.  In my spiritual practice, the one before Buddhism, I might attribute that to some spiritual force, some greater light, that moved through my life, or that I was lucky, blessed, gifted.  But in the way I’m understanding this now, the good and flawed person I have become, that I was becoming in childhood, in adolescence, in my wild early twenties, is my own creation as well.

Or primarily.

Sometimes stating the obvious can be incredibly difficult.  And I think what reveals itself is that I not only have to take responsibility for my mistakes (something that I know how to do, since I examine my life a lot), I also have to take responsibility for my goodness, my truest contributions.

And so I come to teaching.  I’m reading Jack Kornfield’s book, that speaks eloquently to the pitfalls of leadership for spiritual teachers.  And I think, “I’m just an acting teacher.”  But I think that with a sense of worry.

In Japan, where my academic teaching career began, I taught the 18 year old students whose test scores had not been high enough to get them into a Japanese university, not even one without significant prestige.  This meant, and they knew this meant, that their futures were sealed.  In the very hierarchical corporate culture in Japan, they would come in at the same level as their peers with degrees from Tokyo University, but no matter their performance, they would never rise as high.  The ceiling was set.

I taught English as a Second Language in Semmon Gakko, the rough equivalent of an American community college.  I was just an ESL teacher.  But my students came to me with a sense of discouragement, with a feeling of less than, with worries about their futures, with a desire to escape a trap.  I was informed of this in my first weeks, and I felt then, and still feel now, that where I could open a door, I should.

All teachers have the capacity to change lives so irrevocably that their responsibility is immense.  The word in Japanese is sensei, and it carries heft, it is a position of extreme privilege in that country.  My students called me that:  “Sensei, sensei!  Come and look, sensei.”  A colleague said when they did that it was like the parting of the waters.

I was 26 years old when I taught in Japan.  I know I opened doors.  I worked very hard, and I connected with my students, I made time for them, I listened, I challenged them in the classroom to think and care about the world.  And, as would be true in my long career in teaching, I made mistakes.  The worst was with a young man who had a crush on me.  My supervisor (an idiot) was egging him on to pursue me romantically, and I felt two things–one, I was closeted and involved with a woman and two, I felt, even at 26, with a 22 year old student, that I shouldn’t date my students.  Not during the time that I taught them, and not after.  I told him no.  I told my supervisor no.  I argued with my student about whether a teacher should date anyone she teaches.  And I said no again.

The young man showed up at the airport as I was leaving Japan to come home for good.  I think he wanted to come with me.  I was saying good-bye to friends, I was angry he was there staking a claim on me I hadn’t given him, I felt stalked, and I was unkind.  I told him to leave me alone and I walked away.  I was shaking, I was so angry, and that felt terrible.

Throughout the time I taught him, I sought to open a door for him.  He didn’t understand that it wasn’t personal for me, that caring about my students couldn’t be personal, couldn’t be selfish, that I couldn’t seek to meet my own relational needs and be in integrity.  He didn’t understand that he didn’t know me.

Also, when he showed me photos of his gun collection, I was a little freaked out.

Students of mine from Japan learned enough English to come and get degrees at good American universities.  I had told them how to do this, I had pointed them toward the right resources.  So they wrote.  They came to my house.  I have told stories about my “To Sir with Love” teaching moments in Japan ever since, but I don’t think I’ve admitted to myself how wonderful it is to change someone’s life.  And how frightening.  Like, what if you get it wrong?  What if you get angry like I did in Narita Airport?  What if you get scared when a student won’t accept no?

I’m just a teacher.

I ran my own business teaching Creative Writing in Portsmouth, NH from 1990 through 2000, when I switched to theatre more or less permanently.  I started out in 1990 teaching classes for women and my specialty was freeing creativity, working through writer’s block.  I taught women from 20-80 years of age, but it is the older women I remember best, because some of them had wanted to write their whole lives, and what emerged, as I gently and sometimes not so gently encouraged them, were their own unique voices.  I taught women to have a voice.  That just seems like such an unbelievable privilege.  I see their faces, in this one class at the University of New Hampshire, looking down at their papers after the completion of a writing exercise.  One woman said, “I didn’t know I thought this.”  I felt…so humbled.  Not really unworthy, but lucky to be in that moment with her.

I also had a man come to my beginning fiction workshop who had a non-terminal version of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  He had already lost so much physical functioning that walking was extremely difficult.  He wrote about his fears of becoming less than human.  I was, then, 32.  When he became too ill to attend classes, he wrote to me and told me that in this part of his life, writing, and my classes, had given him sense of meaning and purpose and satisfaction he hadn’t expected. He thanked me.

Everyone comes in the door with a context.  If you teach, you have to work with that context with sensitivity and integrity.  The man I’m referring to had a lot of pride.  So I tried to only accommodate him where he could bear it.  I opened the door early and let him struggle up the stairs without help.  I wanted to help.  But I was trying to figure out how to keep from impeding on his sense of dignity.  I hoped I chose correctly.  I think I did.

It is just hard to know, sometimes.

For most of my life, I’ve taught other adults, and every year, or every semester, there is one student who wants a personal relationship with me outside of class.  Sometimes it’s other lesbians, sometimes it’s mothers who have lost their daughters, sometimes it’s just a person I really like, someone I might want to be friends with in a different context.  But every time, I doubt–should I?  I usually feel as I did in Japan…that I can’t be a teacher and a friend at the same time.  I can be friendly, but I can’t get close to people, I certainly can’t ask for support (a part of friendship) until they’re out of classes for at least a year.  At least.  Five years is probably more realistic.

Of course, there are exceptions, when it’s easy.  Which just makes everything more confusing.

The worst mistakes I make are in trying to handle this particular boundary.  Because other adults don’t understand.  They think they see me for who I am, that there is no transference, no idealization.  Then I wonder if I am authentic enough in classes, because I know that I’m a ton more messy in my personal life.  But I think it’s absolutely unethical to bring my own unprocessed struggles into class.  The students do that.  The teacher holds the space.  If you’re going to err, err on the side of more boundaries, not less.

I think my students assign to me the responsibility for their awakening or growth, the same way I assigned it to…well, my teachers.  It is very, very difficult to have gratitude to someone and to still know that the gift, the strength, the goodness is in you.  The teacher opens the door.  Yes, a teacher must have knowledge, and sensitivity, and boundaries, and skill.  But the courage, the decision to walk through, belongs to the student.

The truth, for me, is that I can tell when I’m not ready to know my students outside of class because I get really unhappy.  I can’t act in plays or movies with them if it’s too soon without feeling miserable.  I’m teaching them in my head.  I’m aware of the dynamic.  I can also tell when it’s okay, when enough time has passed…because there’s a feeling of ease.

And let’s face it, as an acting teacher, my job is to observe and comment on the creative instrument of artists who use their bodies, voices, spirits, personal histories and emotions in fully living out the stories they tell.  It’s intimate.  There has to be trust.  I am telling people I don’t know that I see tension in their bodies, that I see inhibitions, that I see moments of passion and truth. I do feel humility as I do this, as they ask me to, as they let me.  I feel humility as people open up, and joy, and satisfaction, and gratitude that I know how to do this thing, and am good at it.  And frankly, it feels good when my students love and enjoy me and my teaching.  I even feel good that I’m always asking the questions of how to be in right relationship (very Buddhist) with my students.  That I’m aware they love me for my skills and talents and for the freedom they learn, not because I’m some kind of paragon.  I try to remind myself of that frequently.  Because I’m primarily self-employed, I don’t have someone observing me who can tell me what they think, who can keep me right-sized.  I do seek outside accountability, but the trick is that I don’t have to.  I see, in other teachers who work outside traditional settings, the tendency to make their own rules.  This can create exciting and innovative education.  It can also make classes that are like really bad and dangerous therapy groups.

The problem, for me, always comes when I doubt the response of my own body.  When I act like I don’t know what I know.  Or, when a student says, “I’m an adult, I can handle being friends with my teacher,” and my body feels…sinking in my stomach.  Or I have this uneasiness, an aversion I should listen to, Buddhism or no.  I have never known how to articulate this, and more than once I’ve talked myself, or allowed myself, to be talked out of it when it was actually coming in loud and clear.  Though, to give credit, I’ve also more than once held the line when it made someone angry.

It’s been very confusing.

But right now, reading Kornfield’s book, and having made this mistake more than once, more than twice, sometimes it seeming to be okay, sometimes seeing I caused pain and experienced pain…seeing that I can’t easily be myself with my students, I stay in role…seeing the expectations of the student are so far above what I can reach as a person (but not as a teacher in a classroom), I know, I don’t have to make this mistake.  I can stop questioning myself and just choose.  To not take this particular risk.  To trust my body, always.  To trust I know what I know, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

What I loved this morning in reading Jack Kornfield was his acceptance of the inevitability of such mistakes…and their inevitable questions.  Freedom is in knowing we will do our best, we will try, doubt, question, fall down, get up, be determined, make headway, fall down again.  Oh, America.  How we ask each other to be so…image-based.  Successful, accomplished, interesting, pseudo-perfect.  It is so much more valuable to be honest.

What I know…not what I’m reading or thinking, but what I know, is simply this:  humility grows the best teaching.  It grows the best relationships.  It allows mistakes and giftedness to exist in the same room.  It makes me eager to grow, and unafraid to listen.  It loosens my defensiveness and my dislike of criticism.

Humility is the wonder of my own gifts, the grace of getting to use them, without pride, without ego…and, paradoxically, acknowledging my own need for limits, whether I can explain those limits or not.

I used to say that pantheism meant that life was a spiritual practice.

I am sure I will leave this place of humility and forget, periodically, what I so deeply know.  But for this moment, I am grateful to Jack Kornfield, and for recognizing that the work of my life counts, as do the pain, the mistakes, the times of looking at all of it and saying, okay.  I am.  Alive.  In the storm and the eye of the storm.  Imperfectly.

Peace is unconditional.  In whatever storm there is, I can drop into it, because it is always there.