Dianna Wynne Jones, My Hero

So.  I own every book Dianna Wynne Jones has every written.  She is what J.K. Rowling should be–a fantastic writer of fantasy.  Fanciful, wildly creative, hysterically funny and super touching, filled with farmers who create human/animal hybrids, with political issues and wisdom, her books have entertained and enlightened me for 25 years.

I buy her books as soon as they’re released, in hardback, so I’ve been watching on Amazon for the next one, which just didn’t show up.  So I googled her and found out she died last March.  The thought of no more Dianna Wynne Jones books makes me incredibly sad.  No new universes, new magics, new lost and gifted children, no more unlikely relationships….she’s probably the most creative writer I’ve ever read, and reading her books consistently made me feel happy and glad to be in this world.

So.  I will miss you, Dianna Wynne Jones.

I loved Fire and Hemlock, Hexwood, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Sudden Wild Magic, Conrad’s Fate, The Pinhoe Egg, Deep Secret most, but really, anything she wrote on any day would do.

I plan to read all her books over again this year, just to celebrate her life, and the gift of her talent and imagination, which is joy, which remains as joy.

Right Now, Today, It’s All about WRITING

I thought of doing a 7 day stint in which I did not allow myself to talk about therapy.  But we’re seeing the Sheepdog on Monday, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to it.

But in the meantime…

I’ve spent some of the last few days writing and rewriting plays.  I wrote FEMALE GERIATRIC ZOMBIES UNITE and then played with it some, I revised THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD, PART 1, and I also did some work on VESSEL OF GLASS.

Of course this means nothing to you, dear reader, but to me…well, I wrote a comedy about an insane director and her equally insane assistant director as they cast a play for a demographic they don’t…well, enjoy.  Then I revised an expressionist movement piece about grief and awakening.  I know that the Buddha didn’t come to his awakening through grief–it was compassion that led him to explore his own mind to find an end to suffering.  But I have awoken through grief, as most of us do (if we awaken), so I wrote a Buddhist piece about grief.  In it, a child is tortured by her own mind, the equivalent, for us contemporary people, of Mara (who tortured the Buddha).  I always think that if you’re going to write about human suffering, you have to balance the content with form and language that is utterly beautiful.  Maybe I’m strange, but I think sorrow can be beautiful.  Think of the arias sung by Maria Callas, or the tragedies of Shakespeare.  Darkness is more about refusing to suffer when that is what life happens to serve up.  Refusal is addiction, is acting out, is sadism, is going unconscious about who we are and how we go about getting what we want.  So yes, accepting suffering without self-pity is beautiful.

Finally, I worked on a rewrite of Vessel of Glass.  I have more work to do since a couple years ago I had a staged reading at the Nora Theatre, and there were lots of suggestions (most of which I disagreed with, but not all) that I need to incorporate without ruining the poetry of the language.  Yes, perfectionism again.  I want every word in everything I write to be rhythmically correct.  No weird sounds, no odd repetitions–it’s like all writing is poetry and every word, every sound, every consonant and vowel…counts.  Or you lose the song in the language.

When I write, the world disappears and it isn’t that I’m all lost in story, it’s that I’m lost in the concentration of making meaning clearer and beauty…just making beauty.  It’s miraculous, to enter this place, to get to feel the expression of what is inside me.  In Vessel of Glass, three women try to love each other, and the obstacles to the love are difficult.  The first and youngest woman has been abused, the second is a closeted lesbian nun and the third is a menopausal mother superior who had no idea she could want a child or that this particular child would show up on her doorstep.

Writing about nuns forced me into dealing with the sacred.  I was at Brandeis University on a scholarship in playwriting, and my workshop leader said, “If you have a character who is a nun, you must deal with the question of faith and God.”  I was like, “Shit.  How did I get myself into this one?”

He was right.  I am so grateful, and I am glad to be in it.  Religion, which I often hate, is nevertheless always about people trying to be better and find meaning, no matter how misguided they are.  It’s to easy to create beauty when people are trying to be better, even when they fail–no, especially when they fail and realize it (remember, sorrow accepted is beauty).

You know, all my life I have wanted to be a bird.  I wanted to grow wings, I wanted to soar like Icarus, I wanted the lift and heave in my muscles, in my body–when I do yoga, I love half moon, or handstand…any asana that takes me up and away from gravity.  Writing lifts me like that.  Not just any writing.  It has to be creative, it has to be art, it has to have poetry.

There’s a Pablo Neruda poem called POETRY that talks about this.  Here’s a part of it:

I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure


pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens


and open,


palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,


with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry


likeness, image of


felt myself a pure part

of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.

This is why we write, late at night, early in the morning, whenever we can.  Nevermind the bill collectors, the houses we could have owned earlier, the trips we might have taken, children we might have had.  Nevermind the food we couldn’t buy in one year or another.  Nevermind the relationship troubles as we try to serve this god of beauty, of terrible truth.   Nevermind.  I am soaring, falling, I am lifted up, I am a bird, I have escaped the cage of daily life and nothing can ever be the same; I will never go back to being grounded in any permanent way, I will never forget, never give this up…I will stay in the wind, alive, awake and so….

I write.  I lift a pen.  I say a word.

Let there be Light.


And we are one.

Metta for everyone who loves beauty, who picks up a pen, who says a word, who dances, sings…whether in public or private.  The one extending gesture…I do this because I believe in the world still, in spite of every darkness, in spite of every flaw.

I believe.  That our beauty may save us.  One of these days.

Female Geriatric Zombies Unite

This is the title of the play I wrote yesterday morning.

What do you think?

It has a cast of 8 women.

Who may take over the world.

I did due diligence and sent it to my staff at ACP and they all gave it a thumbs up, so we’re including it in the slam in November.  I hope it’s as funny as they think it is!  Otherwise you may find me cringing under a chair, asking myself why I think I can toss off 10 minute plays at a moment’s notice.

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.

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.

Inception: Saint John the Divine in Iowa

People have been asking me why I wrote the story.  And I keep thinking of the staged reading, because after it was over there was this wonderful discussion about marriage, love, fidelity, acceptance, gay rights.  But as people were leaving, the man who filmed the reading came up to me, very close–you know, close enough to smell.  He leaned forward so he was looking me directly in the eye (very Meisner technique, since he was my student at the time) and he said, “She seems very, very lonely.”

I knew that he was asking if I felt that way.  I ducked it–who wouldn’t?–but of course I did feel that way.  I’d been fascinated by the idea of gay marriage passing in Iowa and the what if of the story definitely arises from that fascination.  I couldn’t help wondering and imagining the individual lives of gay people and their families in Iowa.  But what I needed to explore was this idea of a woman of integrity, a woman so deeply grounded in her own values that she didn’t question herself, didn’t have doubts about who she was.  I wanted to explore the loneliness of leadership.  A priest, a minister, who is strong in her leadership, is inhibited by her own values in sharing who she is, because she can’t talk to anyone in the congregation about her feelings about anyone else.  Leaders, spiritual leaders, can’t be unprocessed in what they share, so there is always a remove, a space, in which who they are in the moment can’t quite be known.  They have to be so conscious.  I thought, so let’s say someone in this position gets thrown a curveball, and it’s really too much for her, at least for a while.  How does she handle it?  Who can she go to?

It’s not like I haven’t been thrown curveballs and struggled with exactly those questions, really afraid I’d get it wrong.  And I have gotten it wrong.  Just not very often.  Thank WHATEVERWHOEVER.

I amused myself by torturing Reverend Alex with a particular curveball–she thinks she’s the most liberal person and then gets completely freaked by her daughter’s gender queer lover.  I made her disintegration kind of funny. Because face it, we are all just so absurd in our egotism and the ways we think we’ve got it down, only we never do.  In the presence of all those higher values, what we keep learning is no one does it perfectly.  We all have unacceptable thoughts.  We are all inappropriate at least once in a while (or if we’re not, we’re so judgmental that that becomes inappropriate.)

My subjects as a writer are women (mostly), homophobia, spirituality/religion and the nature of love.  I don’t write about anything else.  Those are the imprints.  Those are the passions of my life.  I don’t see why there can’t be some humor mixed in, though.  I mean, think of how ridiculous we are when we fall in love.  The incredible high of illusion.  Seriously, the minute a friend tells me this time the new relationship is healthy I struggle so hard not to fall over laughing.  What is healthy, anyhow?  Speaking in “I” statements all the time?

I digress.

So, why did I write this?  Because I fell so deeply in love with Reverend Alex.  I loved her strength, her spirituality, her absolute commitment to social justice and to her daughter.  I loved her good judgment and I loved that it breaks.  The best thing about this project so far is getting to talk and write about these things–about integrity, spirituality, sexuality and their relationship to meaning.  About the girlfriend, Younger Alex, who is just as strong, but younger, fierce, confrontational and unafraid.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think I’ve spent 30 years writing a way into seeing my own goodness so I could believe in it with Reverend Alex’s kind of confidence.  I mean, it matters so much how we are in the world, the stance we take toward freedom and justice, but also toward kindness and peace and gentleness with each other.  I’m probably at least as (if not much more) screwed up as everyone else, but when I create these characters, I get to see the movement forward into grace, and to know I know what that is.

It is my hope that writing about it carves a visible path that other people can recognize.  That each character is a journey through which we know ourselves–so flawed, hurting people we love, reaching them, comforting them, saying yes, saying no, all of it.  Maybe the inception of any piece of writing is just this: I open my arms, I take it all in, I say, yes, whatever it is, I will hold it.

(PS–For those of you who read my last rant, I have to say this is probably some version of tonglen and then I owe an apology to Pema Chodron.  I’ll put her on the list. Which is, of course, very long.)

Film-making. Really. I will try to stick to the subject.

In film fund-raising 101 they tell you this:  “Whatever you do when you ask people for money, don’t tell them it’s so you can realize your own dream.”

In my own case, this is not a problem.  It’s almost embarrassing.  I am living so far past what I dreamed for myself that I can’t say it’s my dream.  My dream was to be a famous, Nobel-prize winning, best-selling novelist.  I did complete a novel.  I did get an agent.  I did receive extremely glowing rejection letters.  Note the word rejection.

Of course, then a friend of mine asked me to come audition for a play, and I drove home from the audition crying my eyes out.  I walked in the door, still crying, and said to my partner, “I think I’ve been in the wrong art form my entire life.”

I have learned that no matter how driven and ambitious and passionate you are, there are always sudden turns and curves in life.  I have learned that no matter how well I think I know myself, there’s always a new surprise lurking.

Surprise #1: I really do like acting better than writing.  Not by a lot, but still.  Surprise #2: I don’t like writing novels that much.  I much prefer plays and screenplays.

Anyhow.  I said I’d attempt to stay on subject.

So if film-making isn’t my dream, then why am I doing it?  Well, I love film, and I love acting for film, so I’ve been around the medium, so I started thinking in it, and then I wrote a screenplay (or two) because that’s how the stories started to come.

This particular story–Saint John the Divine in Iowa–called to me.  We had a staged reading and people wouldn’t leave.  They seemed to just want to talk.  And I started really wanting to just make this story.  This one story.  It just so happened that it was about marriage.  I mean, I didn’t write about gay marriage to be political.  I wrote about it because I care about love and how people get to love each other.  I wrote this story out of the best that I have in me, and I am passionate about that–about goodness, and morality, and what I’ve learned about love.  With all the political and important messages that might be in this film, I just want to make the story because I think it’s beautiful, because I think it says something deeply human about our struggles to love each other, and that, in the end, is the message that I care about.  How do we love each other?  How do we learn to love well?  How do we suffer in order to be better?  Living those questions and making art about them is my real dream, I guess.

Rule broken.  (It is guaranteed that this will happen.  I break rules.  Whenever I can.)

Of course, film-making, or more precisely, film-fundraising, is incredibly, incredibly difficult.  How do we suffer in order to be better?  We ask people for money or help and get disappointed at least 25 times for every time we get a win.  I’ve been writing about religion and faith without saying that my faith in my ability to get this done is tested all day every day.  I was told by the first person I asked that if I didn’t have 20 millionaires on tap to ask, then to do something else.

You know what they say about writing a novel?  If you want to write a novel, go into a room, lay down, and wait for the feeling to pass.  If it doesn’t pass, poor you.  Go to the computer and write the damn thing.

This is exactly like that.

I fought for my novel for a while, a pretty long while, and I kept get “almost.”  Eventually I gave up.  The novel still sits in a drawer, and I still think I said something beautiful about the redemption of women’s friendships, but it’s painful to take out the novel, because I feel two things–1) that I let the book down and 2) is there something wrong with it I just didn’t see?  And then I read it, and it’s not perfect, but I still think it’s very good and true, so it comes down to okay, my artistic life needed to change, but I shouldn’t have given up.

So, tests all day every day… to belief.  To belief in myself, in the project, in what I am doing with my life, temptations for all the things that I already know how to do and are, therefore, easier.  Worry that someone on my team will find out how hard it is to be up against these tests and lose faith because of me.

But today I’m reading Sharon Salzberg on metta…lovingkindness.  Turning lovingkindness on oneself is her topic.  I have craved honesty all my life.  I have craved belief.  So I am continuing to believe, but I am saying that it is very difficult and challenging.  Because I can’t stand not saying what is.  I mean, really.  I grew up with a lot of people who couldn’t stand saying what is (I grew up upper middle class keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and got out asap), but I never understood why they couldn’t stand telling the truth then and I barely understand it now.

Anyhow.  May the stories of all beings be heard.  May all beings live in truth and grace.  May we be free from suffering.  May we find peace.