Being Persephone


This morning I had one of my little fits.  They come on me this time of year, as I enter Hades–Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then the winter solstice and boxing day.  I emerge in January, and sometimes all the lights come on at once.  It’s beautiful, then, my own early spring.

I’m Persephone.

So, back to the fit.  This particular fit holds the title of, “You don’t love me.”  It’s really amazing how I can apply that title to so many situations.  My partner said to me this morning that if I didn’t know how much she loves me after all the work she’s put in trying to show up or learn to show up she didn’t know what else she could do.  I was like, “Accept me for who I am.”

And therein, as the man says, lies the rub.

Every fall, we come to this.  We both know I will turn into Persephone; and she, boy-girl that she is, will ravage the earth like Demeter, demanding my return.  We grow into our imperfections so deeply at this time.  I suppose every couple has this–their impasse issues, the place they return to, again and again, trying to learn how to grow.

My little trip to Hades will happen no matter what.  I am broken as well as strong.  And here’s the thing–it’s the trip and what I do with it that makes me.  I wrote a blog a couple days ago about the fault in our stars, and this is the true making or unmaking of every human being–not how the stars aligned, but how you relate to that alignment.

I am, as we all are, ashamed of my imperfections and the places and ways I am broken.  But in my most secret view of myself, I am proud of how I relate to that trip to Hades.  Every year, I lean into it more, and I let darkness be my teacher.  My goal is to end up like Ged in the Wizard of Earthsea, a woman who owns herself completely because she has chased and mastered her own darkness.

Of course, if I am to do this, I have to let go of the title, “You don’t love me.”  My partner inevitably disappoints me this time of year, because what I really want is for her to be the one who turns the lights on, and not in January, but in October, November and December.  She doesn’t much enjoy being asked to do the Herculean tasks of my dharma, and resists with all her might.  Much as, one might add, I do when she asks me to turn the lights on for her.

And get this, there is nothing in the world I wouldn’t give to be able to turn the lights on for both of us.  Only I can’t.  I can only turn them on for me.  She can only turn them on for her.  And then, in the light, there is the possibility of communion.

So, I throw my little fit (little, defined as short in duration and imperfectly owned fairly soon).  And she tells me how much she wants to be the comfort she can’t be.  And there we are, so imperfect we’re imperfect at being imperfect.

I want to lean into my fits, my failures, my darkness.  I want to be in them and know them.  I don’t want to pretend I’m more than I am, because then I end up being less.  I want to turn the lights on, one by one.  Because the first person I’ll see, when the lights are on, is not my partner.  It’s me.  The imperfect, fully loving and lovable one that I am.  So I can turn to her whole, and broken.  So I can see her, broken and whole.

I didn’t know, when I was younger, that this was what life is, or could be.  I thought it was all aim for the prize and prove you’re worth it.

I was so wrong.

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Excerpt from Saint John the Divine in Iowa


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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 Odd Congruence


Last weekend–Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday day–I worked with the lovely Emily Culver at Endicott College with a group of middle school students from Lynn public schools.  They were immigrant kids from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Brazil and Iraq.  Our job focused on creating a theatre piece about the immigrant experience.

It was a little tricky.  I’d created a series of questions for them to answer, over-estimating their English language skills.  But then their teachers, who were in the room, along with Emily, started interviewing them.  And we did a pop up–anyone who wanted to could stand up and tell a funny story or any story at all.

The first boy stood and said he hadn’t seen his mother for two years, that she was still in the Dominican Republic, and every time they were on the phone she’d start crying, then he’d start crying, and they’d just cry together on the phone.

Another girl broke into sobs.

So I turned to the group and asked how many of them hadn’t seen family members for a year or more.  3/4 of them raised their hands.  I asked how long.  They called out numbers–3 years, 4 years, 9 years, 10 years.

The way life cracks you open, without warning, looking at children who have left home behind.  The hope they have for your country.  Pandora’s last gift.

I went home and read their statements, and a couple students from Iraq had written about family members being shot, or shot and killed.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether American soldiers did the killing.

Their stories thrummed inside me as I wrote the script, dividing their text, shaping it, keeping it as intact as I could.  It thrummed next to my thoughts of not seeing people I have loved, of violence, of this broken and beautiful world, of how we hope, how we must keep hoping or grow bitter, which I do not want to do.

I have been made better by these students and their stories.  This is what theatre is supposed to do.

And after it was over, after I’d fallen in love with all of them, and had to say good-bye to their eyes looking up at me, wanting what children want–a moment of connect, of love, of you are special–I went home.  And woke the next morning to a phone call I could not have expected, from my sister, with whom I have not spoken in twenty-two years.

Lately, I’ve been calling the mystery at the center of things, “The Grid.”  This isn’t original.  I stole it from a great lesbian detective novel called, “Blue.”

Anyhow.  It seems the grid has gotten interested in me.

Those beautiful children.

Metta for them, and for the odd congruence of them opening my heart so wide I could be in a morning, in a day, witnessing my fears, but inhabited by the courage of hope as I spoke to my sister.

Metta for all of us, as we make our way in the dark toward we know not what, stumbling most of the way.

Reincarnation…Again


I haven’t been blogging.  I feel hesitant to put words down, to commit, to say what I’m doing.  This is because the self-critical and doubting voices in my mind are having a field day already, and each morning I breathe in, breathe out, hear them, hear me.  It’s a kind of sacred thing, that listening.  I’m trying not to judge them.  I’m sinking into their fear, I’m watching the fears–my fears–get born.  And I’m getting up and living as I often have, pulled forward into the next chapter almost against my will.

Sometimes I think, for a moment, that I’d rather just be a yoga and meditation teacher.  Peace leaks out of my pores when I teach those things, I find myself in absolute center.  But a moment is about as long as I can even think it without wanting to laugh out loud because that’s just not who I am.  I am an artist.  Art is my spiritual path, the way I come into being, into aliveness, and while I imagine it would be an easier life to teach yoga and meditation, I can’t do that.  I can’t be that person.

I have to do this thing–going to New York more and more often already, way before I’d planned to, even, to audition, to get acting coaching, to connect with friends (surprisingly, too many to connect with in one visit or two or even three…how is that, when here in Boston I feel so isolated?).  I find it difficult to do this.  I find it difficult to come up with the faith, but luckily I can’t do anything else, so it is necessity that drives me and yoga and meditation that balance the drive.

I did my first audition in NYC in a decade and got the role.  I’m playing the bad mother again.  I don’t mind.  The script’s really good, especially for a short, and I liked the people and my gut said yes.  So…

I hope that I am old enough now to recognize the fantasy successes for what they are–fool’s gold.  I mean, I don’t mind money and prestige.  And poverty can and has made me desperate and miserable.  I’m glad to be financially stable.  BUT.  For so long success was something I needed to prove my worth, as so many of us do.  And now it’s just wanting to be in this necessity, this path, and to dig into what it is I have to learn as a spiritual being having a human experience.  And the fears, the critical and doubting thoughts…they are painful.  But it’s good pain if I’m moving through them, developing more compassion for myself and others, if I’m becoming more humble, if I’m knowing, as I am, that there are so many gifted actors out there, and I’m just taking my seat among them.

In college, my fiction teachers prophesized for me a success that didn’t come as fast or big as I wanted.  When I was 20, people said to me, as they do, “Remember me when.”  This only encouraged me to imagine my life rolling out easily before me like a red carpet, and while I worked hard, I was shocked into reality over and over again by how hard it all was–how I had to dig into myself to write, how I had to struggle with my own pain, try to make sense of suffering–my own and everyone’s–how my understanding of redemption kept changing…sometimes into a faith, strong and sure, in benevolence…and sometimes into doubt, sometimes acknowledging the truth that there are people who don’t make it, who are destroyed by the dark within or without.

I’ve been reading Stephen Cope again, and I know, as I have always known, that I am on this planet to tell what human stories I can know, live, feel, embody.  That’s all.  I know that with a kind of joy, and also with terror.  Because what if I fail?

I lived with fantasy covering my fear of failure for a long time.  But only in the running of Another Country Productions did I veer far away from the telling of my own stories.  And while I believe strongly in social justice and equality, while I am glad Another Country supported the mission of all voices being heard equally, more and more, over the last nine years, the voice that grew fainter was mine.  I’m not supposed to administer anything.  I’m just supposed to tell stories.  And when the critical voices in my head say that my own stories aren’t as valuable, I remember performing my first one woman show at Holy Cross College in 1998 for their Zero Tolerance for Violence Against Women Week.  I did a collection of monologues and performance poems I’d written on the subject, including my own experiences of violence, and, performing them, I felt a kind of transformation occur.  I felt free, I felt inside something true.  Afterward a young women lined up, and waited to talk to me.  More than one burst into tears when it was her turn.  Tina D’Elia turned me on to that gig, and I have to remember that if my dharma is the telling of stories, the performing of true stories, then the way I can best transform myself and the world is through just that.

So, I reincarnate, again.  Good-bye to producing theatre.  Hello to the unknown.  I’m leaping.  I’m not closing my eyes, though.  At least, not yet.