Defining Good Enough

Sometimes I really like when everything sucks.

And no, I’m not crazy.  Or at least no more crazy than usual.

What I mean is that when projects, jobs, connections, groups, don’t work, and it becomes super clear that they’re not working, it’s easy to know what to let go of.  It’s easy to enter that life process called flow.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of things not working.  How do I know they’re not working?  There’s no joy in it.  And I love letting go of whatever makes me unhappy.  LOVE!  It’s the most affirmative thing ever.  I let go, saying whoosh, no joy in it.  Bye-bye.  And in doing this, I am also saying, I want joy, I deserve joy, I can have joy.  I just have to choose.  I just have to reach out to the world with both hands and a stupidly open heart.  I just have to say, what works makes me ALIVE.

I could go into specifics, but one of the things that’s not working is all the bus rides to New York for auditions, networking, pay to plays, etc.  The bus rides so exhaust me…and lately I’ve had the 7 and 8 hour rides because of traffic and why do they keep taking 95 in the summer?  Don’t they learn?

Anyhow, I’m not going into the lovely specifics today because I need a nap.  I’ve just done restorative yoga and meditated, so a nap is definitely the next step.  Toward well-being, joy, and general laziness.

I love to let go.  Because it means I’ve stopped trying to make it happen, trying to control the outcome, and I can just be.  Me.  Which is good enough.



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.

Part 3: Ayn Rand & Octavia Butler…Comparing Unlike Authors

You know that book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?  I would add this:  All I Needed to Know about Human Beings I Learned from Science Fiction.

Of course, the subject matter–human beings, the nature of being human–is fundamentally disturbing.  In the early 1990’s, when I read Dawn by Octavia Butler, I hadn’t really faced up to how disturbing, so her book really freaked me out.  In it, humans have destroyed most of the Earth and each other, and an alien race comes to rehabilitate the Earth and save what humans they can.  But they discover that human beings are inherently hierarchical and competitive, incapable of peace (as history also reveals), so they imprison them with love–they bond so that their humans experience intolerable pain if they stray too far away from physical proximity.  They can also enter the minds of their humans.

What freaked me out was the idea that we are incapable, as a race, of living in peace.  That our natures, our unevolved brains, were leading us to destroy ourselves and our planet.  And excuse me for being Ms. Doomsday, but, uh, anyone notice anything happening on the planet that might fit the description?

I think I threw the Octavia Butler book down on the thick golden sand of Herring Cove beach, said some f-this and f-that and dove into the ocean.  Then I probably came back and ate too many chips and hummus combination thingeys.

But here’s the point.  Ayn Rand, the survivor of a totalitarian state, of oppression and terror, had to know what Stanley Kunitz (I think it was him) said.  “There is nothing we won’t do to each other; and no words we won’t use to deny it.”  If you know that, up close and personal, how do you live?  How do you develop faith in yourself and other people?

The answer is simple.  You tell yourself that not everyone is like that…not everyone is hierarchical, not everyone is competitive, not everyone evolved in some Darwinian fashion; there are exceptions, you tell yourself, and me and mine are among them.  Then you go about defining me and mine.  For Ayn Rand, talent, intelligence, non-conformity, innovation, strength, independence, were the me and mine.  For Democrats, compassion and help for the poor and suffering, social justice (to some extent or another, and not enough for me), equality, are the me and mine.  For Catholics, sinners, heterosexuals, believers, are the me and mine.  But it doesn’t really matter, does it?  In each case, for each group, we are attempting to stave off the idea that being human means, among other things, being hierarchical and competitive, needing to dominate, and destroy through that or because of that.

What about Mother Theresa?  Gandhi?  Jesus?  The Buddha?  What about Barack Obama, for that matter?

Yes, yes, human beings do remarkably generous things, even to the extent of giving up their lives.  In the Holocaust, one of the worst atrocities in history, we saw incredible destruction; and we saw heroism, especially in the Resistance and the camps themselves, where people helped each other.  Of course, as Sophie’s Choice reminds us, some people did terrible things to survive, and we don’t talk about that.  They were victims, and targeted, and they became what their perpetrators made them become.   We forgive them for that, even as we cringe.

The question, though, isn’t whether we possess goodness, kindness, generosity, courage, soul.  The question is whether, as an entirety, the human race can overcome its inherently competitive and hierarchical nature.

Ayn Rand’s characters were intransigent in their belief in freedom, they were extreme in following their talent and nothing else; she lacked an understanding of psychology that would have allowed them a fuller complexity.  I think of the driving need to think you can be other than the ones who made you suffer, that you can be utterly distinct–perhaps that’s why it’s most commonly younger people who love her work.  There’s a time in life when you want to be utterly distinct from your parents, if you didn’t admire them, which, get real, many of us didn’t and don’t.

There is nothing we won’t do to each other; and no words we won’t use to deny it.

Oh, how we long to escape that sentence, to say that it is true of everyone but me, everyone but mine.  How we long to have faith in our humanity, to define humanity as only the good.

I am interested in reality.  I am interested in what would happen if we quit defining the world in terms of us and them.  I am interested in holding all of who we are, of what we are capable, the degraded and the sublime, the divinity and the destruction.

Octavia Butler’s vision in the book Dawn is utterly bleak.  In her vision, human beings don’t deserve freedom, because once they have it, they begin to destroy.  At the same time, the experience of their slavery is intolerable.  She leaves the reader with no answer, with only the double bind.

Which is how I leave you, today.  But not without hope.  I hope for one moment, I hope to know peace again, in the next moment, and the next.  I hope to hold us all in my consciousness, with love, knowing that tonight or tomorrow or next week I will be selfish with my partner, or manipulative, or even angry and unskillful in my anger, knowing that I will judge another human being, even if it’s only for cutting me off in traffic.  And then I will bend down, brush the hair off my beloved’s forehead, and tell her this, I see you, all of you, and you are yours, and that is enough for me.

Then I’ll wake up the next day, complaining, asking her to change.

We are all everything, all the time.

May we be at peace with what is.

And may our brains evolve, as they so need to do.

Grace…at Mike’s Fitness

So, the calming practice from this week’s Letting Go of Fear is using the body’s contact points –to earth, floor, seat, etc.–to ground every time you get aware you’re afraid.

I’m like, HOLLA!  Finally an assignment I can do!  Who cares how many times or what caused the fear or what thoughts and behaviors happen.  I feel afraid, I acknowledge, and I calm.

Today is the official first day of the homework, but I started practicing it last night in the car on the way home.  You’re supposed to do it at least 5 times per day.  It’s 5:36 pm and I’ve done it about 200 times.  (This is a slight exaggeration.  I’ve only done it 25-50 times, but who’s counting?)

Anyhow, I’m at the gym after couples therapy–might I digress and mention since my partner and I now both like the Stork, we’re actually working on our relationship?  It was much more fun when we hated him and had an alliance.  Now it’s not so clear he’s going to get voted off the island, though after 25 years, it might be unlikely that either of us will go either.  Anyhow, couples therapy is a good place to practice our calming touch points, especially because the Stork has been a meditator for like 30 years, and when my partner and I get scared and suddenly yell out, “Touch points!” he kind of gets it.  Even better, after I confessed that I inventory my partner’s inner life (like I know what it is) when I’m triggered, and I mimed ringing a bell, the Stork knew it was the temple bell heralding my sainthood.  That gained him about 200 points, especially since my partner didn’t get it AT ALL.

Back to the subject at hand.  Well, back to leading up to the subject at hand.  Anyhow, after couples therapy I went to the gym.  I love the workout high, but I kept doing touch points every so often, because my own thoughts scare me and it’s a sad day because 1) it’s my sister’s birthday and I haven’t seen her in a really long time and 2) Don was slipping out of the world this time last year and I was holding his hand.

I worked out; I did some yoga.  I decided, then, to take a sauna, even though I had no towel or change of clothes with me.  So I stripped down and got in the sauna.  The calming practice came in handy because being naked in public places makes me a little nervous (and the locker room at the gym is kind of public).  So I’m lying in the heat, sensing into the points of contact, and feeling the heat, and listening to my Ipod.  I could feel my pores expanding, and the muscles letting go; I could feel the heat lie itself over my skin, the wooden slats under my ribs…and the very slight smell of cedar entering my nostrils.

Writing is always about trying to put words on the unexplainable.  Suddenly everything clicked in…the song on my Ipod, was, providentially, “No Day But Today.”  I heard the harmonies.  What I mean is that I heard each individual voice and the blending at the same time…and I could distinguish which sounds came through which ear, and the beauty of it slayed me.  The heat, the sweat beginning to bead on my forehead and abdomen, the points of contact holding me, grounding me.  The next song was “Halleluia,” by Sonny Boy Mack.  I could hear him breathe between the notes as the music filled all the space I own, as the slats pressed up against my sacrum, my feet, as the heat continued so steady, and tears poured down my face because it seemed I’d never heard music before, or felt my body against bare wood, or known heat…everything new, everything so terribly real, the senses fully awakened, and who knows why I cried, sitting naked in Mike’s Fitness in Jamaica Plain, thankfully alone in the locker room.  I wanted the moment to never end…I wanted it to stop immediately.

All this seeking…I joke, I know, but I do wonder what life is about, really.  I mean, it’s not ambition.  I emailed my bio in and it has awards on it, and when I won them it was a high moment, each time, but then there was a next moment and a next.  What was notable in the winning were the relationships, the claiming of a voice, the suddenly becoming visible–a moment, a presence, something that passes.

I know that life is about love…but maybe only the love like last night, doing the touch point exercises and then taking my partner’s hand, and, for a moment, feeling the warmth move from her skin to mine, feeling the small bones, the steady pressure–the touch of our hands everything we have ever loved and found precious in each other over these 25 years.

Today, in the sauna, I understood presence.  Again.  I’ll probably forget it, but I knew, without question, that the experience of Halleluia–that level of hearing, feeling, completeness, that grace, that giving over–is the thing.  The one thing.  Life rolls out, one experience after another, and then experience lands, and it’s like oh, I was here to just be with this.  All of it, I might add, the grief, the drama, the sweetness, my partner’s small hand, the beauty of the music, the loss of loved ones.  I am here to be with it.  And then I’ll go, some day, and that will be it…so temporal, so impermanent, so worth it.

If it had taken the last two years of practicing Buddhism to get only that one moment, it would have been worth it.  But the truth is that when I meditate using the body as my anchor, these moments land more often.  I see colors differently.  I smell, hear, taste, feel, everything more.  It’s more joyous and more painful and I need every calming practice I can get to be with it, without running too soon, before I learn, before I deepen, before I am utterly changed.

Awakening to a moment of grace and presence.  At Mike’s Fitness.  The ironies of my life grow exponentially stranger.  Really.  I mean, REALLY.