The Little Things

I was talking to a friend today about the pain I have experienced in letting go of my children over the past four years. I went from being the primary caretaker of my children to being a part time mom pretty much overnight. There was some transition but for the most part, I went from spending every day and every night with my kids to not seeing them for days at a time…not knowing where they were or what they were doing for days. It hurt me, to let go. It’s been a process, a journey and I am still working through it. My friend understood. She’s a mom. It didn’t require much explanation, really. She got it right away. I mentioned how frustrated I get when my non-mom friends give me parenting advice. I do recognize that people who don’t have children CAN actually separate themselves from the experience of actually being a parent to know what advice to give. They (the non-parent folks) are often right. But knowing what to do and actually doing it are totally different things. Feel my pain and loss and sense of isolation…the way I suddenly felt unnecessary in my children’s lives…how hard it was for me..know what that feels like and then you will know that your loving and kind advice to “accept it and stop parenting out of guilt” or “your kids are fine” and “your kids adore you, no one can take your place” while correct, is completely lost on my aching heart.

 

Why do people always try to describe things that simply cannot be understood without experiencing them? Artists, poets, writers,  and musicians dedicate their lives to trying to illustrate the feeling of falling in love, being a parent, spending a lifetime in a marriage or relationship, friendship, grief, birth, death and even divorce. All these big, giant, crazy, knock you on your knees life experiences that simply must be had to understand them. It’s the big stuff that is impossible to describe accurately, the major life events that until you have had them, you can’t really wrap your brain around them. And when you have, the people that you know who have had those experiences too become a sisterhood all on its own. Oh, your mom is dead? Yeah, sister…I get it. You are divorced, back in the work force, sharing your kids with a man you couldn’t be married to and yet must co-parent effectively with…along with his new wife? Mmmm…hmmm, yeah..sit next to me my sister and we will hold hands and know each other’s pain. Did you fall foolishly, madly, deeply in love with someone who wasn’t deserving of your love and turned out to be an asshole? Oh my, that’s a shitty life experience we share, let’s acknowledge that craptastic experience quietly and put it back where it goes, on the shelf of the things we don’t talk about because they are too dangerous. Some things you just have to do before you can really talk them with any authority. And even then, to the inexperienced your words are meaningless.

 

AH, but those of us who have been madly, deeply in love see poems like this one and it takes our breath away…it’s so right in the description.

 

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

BY E. E. CUMMINGS

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

 

Yes, ee cummings, yes, you totally get it. I carry your heart, it’s the tree of life, it’s the secret that nobody knows…

 

And this song that perfectly illustrates heartbreak:

 

 

Ne me quitte pas (click link to hear song)

 

 

Oh my sweet Jacgues I feel you. I feel you. Your pain is my pain.

 

I have been thinking about the little things lately and how much more they matter in the grand scheme of a lifetime.  The tiny little connections that I can grasp, that heal my soul, that carry me forward from one day to the next. I think we focus way too much on the big things (I do) and yet, it’s the day to day that matters most. And as I have been moving through my life lately, I have become suddenly, incredibly aware of the absolute brilliance of these little things.

 

Date night with my youngest at Main Event and playing the Ghostbusters Game (I hate games) and I am doing it, I am shooting all the ghosts with my laser gun and we are laughing.

 

A run alone in Central Park on a trip alone to New York City where time stopped for just a few moments and I realized, “this is who I am, a woman who travels alone to New York City and runs in Central Park alone, and goes to the theatre alone and is fine, happy, not lonely, not scared at all.”

 

My daughter and I, discussing adulthood and she is listening to me, hearing me, actually wanting my advice, that’s new, that’s cool and I remember to shut up long enough for her to speak and she does and she’s smart and I like her.

 

Walking, again in New York, with the sun on my face, the people all around me. I am present. I am seeing everything around me. I am not so lost in my own thoughts that I could be anywhere, I am actually seeing the world around me clearly. I am so alive. All of my nerve endings are pulsating and I see it all around me and I recognize how rarely I feel this way and it’s so good.

 

A talk with my son, my difficult son, where we simply communicate and understand each other for a few minutes. We just chat. It passes quickly but it’s there and I know it will there more often as he grows, as I grow into being this intense person’s mom.

 

Weeping in my seat while watching the Broadway musical Fun Home, she’s singing about the first woman she ever had sex with and she’s overwhelmed and she’s feeling in love and embarrassed and shy and scared and excited and she’s bursting with all the feelings and I am carried into the memory of that moment in my own life and the tears are just flowing and flowing. I almost let myself forget that beautiful moment, it drowned in shame,  I have wanted to destroy it. But I remember it all the way to my toes for the first time in three years, I remember how beautiful it was, how it felt  and I reclaim it, it is NOT tainted or ugly, that moment is MINE. And I own it again. The power of live theatre to change our hearts is miraculous.

 

So, it’s rambling, this post…the way my mind so often is. And I am fine with that. There are about three people who read this blog and this post is for those three people. I love them so much. They know who they are. One of the little things is the freedom to express when love exists, to be truly grateful.

 

Much healing has taken place in my body and my spirit lately and it’s pieced together by so many little things to create a life.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL (imperfect) LIFE I HAVE.

 

 

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Fun Home Actress Beth Morgan

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Happy Mother’s Day

I came across a blog today posted on Facebook that was directed toward those who are experiencing the impending dread of Mother’s Day when their own mother has died. Of course it’s been weighing on me, the coming holiday that I cannot participate in from the daughter perspective. I can certainly experience it from the Mother perspective. My kids will be sweet to me and it will be a lovely day. The blog was pretty simple and offered advice for surviving the day well. Give the gift of your time to other people you love, practice some self care like doing yoga or taking a long walk, allowing yourself some time to honor your memory of your mom, and finally, choose to be grateful. It’s good advice but I have to admit that my first thought was of all of the children out there who have or had crappy moms. In my work I see the effects of really bad parenting everyday. I felt a twinge of regret that I was feeling so sad when there are too many people out there who cannot remember their moms fondly. I felt sorrow for those people who must avoid social media during Mother’s Day for an entirely different reason. I AM grateful to have had a mom that was wonderful beyond belief. Sure she was flawed, made tons of mistakes and didn’t always know what she was doing when it came to being a mom (who does?). But I miss her imperfect self.  I do feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having been lucky enough to have a mother I adored. Cross gratitude off the list, I have that in spades.

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Donna Jean

You were barely 18 when you got pregnant the first time. You were a senior in high school, an honor student, the apple of your father’s eye and head cheerleader. I hear stories that my grandfather didn’t speak to you for years after you got pregnant. I know how it broke your heart and that a piece of you never recovered. I have also heard the story of how your parents forced you to drive to West Virginia  the day after they learned of the pregnancy because your boyfriend wasn’t old enough to get married in Ohio. I know it’s not what you wanted. I suspect it’s the root cause of your inability to connect with your son, my brother. Three years later, at the age of 21, I arrived. From the stories I have heard, everyone adored me. You liked to tell me that my brother would sit for hours next to my crib watching me and talking to me, he loved me so much. That’s sweet and perhaps a little creepy. As a child I remember the day I realized that your name wasn’t Mom, that you had a different name: Donna. I remember the day you tried to explain to me that checks weren’t money and that having a checkbook didn’t mean you could buy things. I had a hard time grasping it and I was pretty sure you were lying to me about it. Why would checks exist if you couldn’t use them? You used to come into my room at bedtime and scratch my back softly or play with my hair and talk. I don’t remember what we talked about but I know that, to this day, nothing is more comforting to me than having my back scratched softly or my hair played with.

I remember the day  you told us we would be going to live with our dad because you needed some time to get your life in order. I knew something wasn’t right with you. I knew. But I didn’t care and I wanted to stay with you no matter what. But he took us and it was the hardest few years of my life without you. I know it was for you too.

My teen years, when I hated you, were tough. I am sorry for the way I treated you and for my anger. I understand now that you did the best you could with what you had. But some of your choices impacted me even more than I understood at the time. Most of your relationships with men  were not good experiences for either of us. You were often a mess and a daughter shouldn’t have to take care of a parent. I know you regretted those choices and I forgive you completely. But during that teenage period, I let you have it. And you took it and you loved me anyway.

Sometime in my late teens, early 20’s we became friends again. Real friends. Adult friends. I got to know your insides. I got to understand you. I saw how you struggled to feel worthy of love. I began to understand why you so desperately needed the attention of men to feel alive. I saw how powerful you were as a business woman, how respected and admired. I realized that you had built a career from nothing, without a degree. You simply worked your way up the corporate ladder from an operator at the phone company to senior management in the business world. I saw you win awards. I saw your confidence in that realm. In those years we got to know each other, really, really well. We talked about a lot of things and my anger over the negative experiences I had as a child became layered under an authentic and intense connection. And so many good memories. When my babies started coming you were there for me every step of the way. You traveled and stayed for weeks at a time and patiently helped me as I navigated motherhood, a much more difficult journey than I had imagined it would be. You adored my children and I loved watching you love them. Even when it drove me crazy that you were too lenient with them or when you spoiled them, I loved how deeply you loved them. When I would drop you off at the airport after one of your visits you would get weepy in the car and try to hug me repeatedly. I found it a little annoying. I knew I would see you again a few months. You were such a sap. I get it now.

As I got deeper into the motherhood experience, the complexity of my love for my kids mixed with the desire to continue being who I was before they arrived was harder than I ever knew it would be. I began to see you through another filter, the mother filter. I began to comprehend what it meant to become a wife and mother at 18. And my forgiveness grew, my respect for you grew, my understanding of you grew.

And then the wonderful Texas year, before the cancer. The year when we both lived in Texas, just miles from each other. That was the year that I suddenly had a family to lean on.You were my family. You offered to pick up the kids sometimes. You had them over so I could do an exercise class. We went to lunch. We saw movies. We did lots and lots of shopping and traveling and sharing meals. I leaned on you hard and you were there, you were always there, anytime of day or night. I needed you so much. Thank you.

And then the sickness and the clinging to each other and the fear and the death. I won’t talk about that. Not here. Not now.

This post is about honoring you.

Tonight, I stood next to my daughter for her senior cheerleading presentation. I felt such overwhelming depth of love for that child that I birthed and raised and is turning 18 in just a few weeks, leaving for college in a few months. My god, the love for my children just keeps on growing, it gets deeper  as I get to know them as individuals, separate from me.  As I learn more about who they are, my love just keeps growing. I know that’s how it was for you too. I feel it in my bones, how much you loved me. It’s in each of my cells, that love.

I would have preferred not to watch you die at the young age of 58 but I learned a lot about who you were during that process. I learned how fucking amazing you were. With your years of chemo, and illness, and fighting. We went to Disney World at the end of your life and you were determined not to miss it, you drove that motorized cart around the parks and you watched your grandchildren have fun. You were dying and what you wanted most was just more time with them, more time with me. I knew you were in pain and yet you suffered for the opportunity to just watch the joy of your grandchildren unfold.

I loved the way you listened to me with complete attention. By my thirties I came to recognize that in your eyes, there was nothing more important then me.

I loved going shopping with you. No one shops the way I do except for you. Oh, wait, turns out your granddaughter Lily can shop like us too…hours in a store without buying a single thing.

I loved the way you sang to the radio, loudly, even when you were off key.

I loved how independent you were, how you weren’t afraid to travel alone. You were incredibly competent and in control by the time you hit 50 years old. You were impressive.

I loved how you color coordinated everything you wore, right down to your eyeliner. (even though I teased you relentlessly about it)  It was so weird and you didn’t give a shit. I loved your bling,  your obsession with toe nail polish and your 15 pairs of different colored crocs.

I loved how much you loved the beach even though you refused to get in the water. I loved your huge seashell collection. I loved the fact that you had about 50 bikinis when you died. That’s a lot of bikinis, mom. When I go to the beach, that’s where I feel your presence the most. I love the beach so much.

I could go on and on and on. Honoring my mother’s memory. That’s saying a lot.

If I could see you again I would tell that it’s really unfair that you left so young, that I need you still, that I love you and miss you. I would probably just want to hold your bony ass hand for a little while. And I would want to tell you about my kids, every detail. Because who wants to hear someone go on and on about their kids besides grandma? I miss having that with you, maybe more than anything else.

So Donna Jean, my mother, my friend, Happy Mother’s Day.

“that which has been your delight”

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Love

I went to watch a friend last night do a pole dancing performance. This is not a strip club thing, it’s a real, empowering, amazing group of hella strong and sexy women showing their hard work and dedication to a very difficult art form. Don’t judge the pole dancers, people. These women will and can kick your ass.

I had a brief life as a pole dancer. I did a play where one of the three characters I played was a pole dancer. I took classes (at the studio where my friend was performing last night) and bought a pole to practice with at home. I learned to do a short routine for the play and I was strong, stronger than I have ever been. Pole builds a lot of core strength.  It also helped me come out of my shell sexually. It began a process for me that was about accepting my sexual self. A journey I am still on and still discovering. But that’s another story and another blog post.

Anyway, back to pole dancing.  I sat next to my friends husband for the performance and we chatted before it began. When I had been in the pole dancing play my X-husband was very uncomfortable with the whole thing, he didn’t want to see the play. He was uncomfortable with theatre in general, although I can tell you with certainty that he did try to understand it and support my love of theatre. He tried but he was incapable of truly supporting me. He would ask me when we argued about it, “What do you want from me, I am home watching the kids, you are off doing theatre…I am supporting you. It’s hard having you gone so much. But you are doing it and I am helping you do it. What about me isn’t supporting you and theatre?” I heard many times from well meaning friends and family that it was nice of him to let me do theatre. Let. Me. Do. Theatre. It was difficult for me to express to him or anyone else what I needed and wasn’t getting. (I did two plays a year, that was our agreement. I was not doing theatre everyday of our marriage…look at me, still justifying my passion for theatre.)

I wondered how my friends husband felt about the pole dancing and about the impending public performance of pole dancing in front of a large audience, many of them men. He told me he didn’t think of pole dancing as a sexual thing and that he saw it the way his wife saw it. He saw it as hard work (hours and hours of practice at home) and a passion of hers to learn and perfect. He went on to say that he hopes she does really, really good and that she is happy with her performance. I probed him a little deeper about his feelings because it triggered in me an unexpected emotional reaction from my own marital experience. I explained that many men might try to be supportive but that the experience of watching their wives be sexual in front of an audience would make it impossible for them to be supportive even if they genuinely wanted to be. He went on to tell me that pole makes her happy and being successful at it makes her feel good and he just wants her to feel good. When she feels good about herself he is happy and they are happy together.

“It’s like theatre. It’s a performance. It’s not about sex. When she preforms well I just feel so proud of her and happy for her. I love seeing her hard work pay off.”

And then my eyes got wet and I figured it out.

I finally understood the unmet need from my married life. The desire for acceptance he could never give me.

I understood what it means to love someone in that moment. My friends husband doesn’t love pole dancing. He doesn’t care one bit about pole dancing. He cares about her. He wants her to be happy, fulfilled, and empowered.

When you are happy, I am happy.

That’s love.

Anything less than that isn’t enough.

Anything less than that isn’t enough.

At the end of the night  we greeted her after an absolutely incredible performance and hugged and congratulated her. Her eyes were sparkling with pride and joy. She knew she had achieved her goal. She was happy.

I watched as her husband greeted her.

“You were incredible. You were so good. I am so proud of you.” His enthusiasm was heartfelt.

And a kiss.

Yes to that love.

Ah yes.

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The Things I Know

Lately I have been feeling that life is a mystery. I can’t figure it out and I have reached an age or a part of my life where I just don’t give a shit. I find myself pondering something deeply and then thinking, oh well, that’s impossible to understand, and then simply letting that unfigure outable shit go. I am pretty sure that the older we are, the more we realize how very little we know. I see my teens with their certainty and I can’t help but laugh at how sweet it is, that confidence in knowing the truth. Adorable teenagers with all of their knowledge. It’s so cute.

There is one thing I know for sure. I don’t have the answer. I have lots of questions. But very few answers. So in an effort to feel certain about something, I would like to blog a list of things I feel like I know.

TEN things Renee is certain about

  1. It makes no sense at all that gas stations leave cases of water, firewood, soda, etc…outside for people to steal. People will steal them, gas station owners. Why do you leave them outside?  Stop doing that. I don’t steal and I don’t drink soda and I am opposed to small plastic bottles of water when you can fill your own bottle so no worries about me stealing your stuff. But other people will steal it. It almost seems like you are inviting people to steal it. Esp. teenagers and drunk people. Oh and drunk teenagers, they will be the first to steal them.
  2. If you meet someone once for a few hours and have a nice chat, don’t send them a love note and flowers the next day. I mean if the few hours included some bedroom time, and it was real good, that’s cool, send the flowers. But if all you did was chat a bit, flowers are overkill. And creepy. Save flowers for later. Way later.
  3. If you once sent an angry email to an x-girlfriend that included such gems as “your face looks like leather”, “the only thing good about you is sex” and “I feel sorry for your children having to grow up with a mom like you”…you can certainly say you are sorry and mean it and they can accept your apology, peaceful resolution can exist. But if they say, please don’t contact me again. DON’T CONTACT THEM AGAIN. GO AWAY. STOP CONTACTING THEM. It’s weird. And it makes you look like an asshole. Relationships end sometimes. Sometimes we do stupid shit and we have to live with our bad choices. It sucks. But every so often, the price of the mistakes we make is the loss of someone we once loved, the forever loss. And accepting that truth, well that’s called growing up.
  4. Raising children is hard. I have three. I have no advice for how to raise them. Well except fucking get ready cause it is the coolest, most ridiculously hard thing you will ever have to do. And it’s joyful and scary and I am still not sure if I have completely screwed it up. I suppose you won’t ever know until your adult children are in therapy and telling you that you really screwed them up. But here’s the thing, if you don’t actually have children THEN SHUT UP ABOUT GIVING PEOPLE ADVICE ON HOW TO RAISE THEM. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. You non parents bitching on social media about how other people are doing it. Stop it right now. Don’t say I used to babysit so I understand. Don’t say I used to work at day care or my sister has kids or I practically raised my siblings. You DO NOT understand. You CANNOT understand. So shut up. Give advice about how to do something you actually have done. That’s an excellent use of your time. Otherwise, just offer love and support and bitch about how badly behaved everyone’s children are quietly in your own home where no one can hear you. And pray that if you ever do have children no one remembers your soap box speeches while your little beast is destroying something or being to loud or acting like a jerk in public.
  5. On a lighter note, Donald Trump won’t be a good president. I feel certain of this.
  6. If you want to be a “thin” body type,  there is a secret to it. It’s a very important secret and I am certain that I know that secret and I am going to share the secret with you now. Are you ready? You must burn as many calories as you take in to stay the same weight you are right now. You must burn MORE calories than you take in to lose weight. It’s called science. It’s very scientific. All the games we play with diets and exercise and formulas for success…they are just different ways of working with the secret. Lately I have been unhappy with my belly fat. It’s there because I eat too much bullshit food (high in calories) and not enough good for me food (low in calories). I am choosing to change my diet quite aggressively in order to lose the belly fat and tone my body because I want to do it. It makes me happy to do it. I find that as I explain the changes in my diet to people who ask me about it that it seems like I am selling something other than this very well kept secret. I just need to say out loud to people, there are many ways to get to the secret but it’s based on a very simple thing: burn more than you consume. That’s it.
  7. Making the choice to eat food that is good for your body and not high in empty calories like delicious and wonderful thin mint girl scout cookies kept in the freezer and french fries  with that yummy pink spicy ranch type dressing that tastes so good and pasta with thick cream sauce is very difficult. Anyone who says it is not difficult is full of shit. Maybe someday you could reach a point where the thought of putting those ranch dipped french fries in your mouth disgusts you. Maybe you can if you are like a Hindu Yogi or some such nonsense. But normal people, it’s hard. That’s a truth I know.
  8. Tired children are assholes. Tired people in general are assholes. But kids, they really need good sleep. Unless you want kids who are assholes, It’s a good idea to try to get kids on a decent bed schedule. I don’t always do it but I know I should.
  9. Running is awesome. I will be very sad when I can’t run anymore. I know it will happen someday. I am 45, the knees hurt a bit. I have a couple of amazing, beautiful, smart, cool, interesting women that I run with. It’s my favorite. I love it so much. Running isn’t for everyone. Some people bike, or walk, or hike or dance. But i feel confident in saying that everyone needs a form of physical activity that brings them joy.
  10. We only have this moment. Every other moment is not guaranteed. I think knowing this makes it a bit easier to get through life, even the hard parts. Because dammit, if this is my last moment, I want it to be a decent one. They can’t all be happy, some will even be really, really crappy. But focusing on the moment you are in, well, we have to do that more. As much as we possibly can.

That’s all I’ve got. Not a bad list. See, I know some stuff.

These 45 years have not been wasted on me.

 

 

Don’t Panic

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The Scream, by Edvard Munch

I just finished playing the lead role in a local theatrical production of a play called Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl. It was a dream role, meaty, interesting, funny, challenging…and best of all, it was age appropriate…all the things an actress wants to be able to do in her lifetime. The ridiculousness of working full time, raising children and being in a play is impossible to describe. Only people insane enough to do it can understand it. If you don’t love theatre you could never comprehend why anyone would ever do it. It’s completely dumb. And I had to do it. My kids had to do it with me and they weren’t too big on the idea, it was very hard on them. Needless to say, by opening night I was physically and emotionally exhausted. But I was still determined, dammit. And I was still in love with the theatre. I was also scared shitless.

My character only left the stage twice for 30 seconds each to change clothes. So when I walked out on stage to say the first line of the play, I was stuck there for an hour until intermssion. The same was true in Act 2. I had to sing (something I only do in the shower or along with the radio), I had to change costumes on stage, I even had to dance a little. Oh, and I also had to kiss four different people…one of them about 20 times a night, the play is all about stage kisses. I got to slap one guy four times, one slap for every five kisses. I had a fight scene where I got thrown around a little. That’s a lot of stuff to have to do in 2 hours, after working a full day, making dinner for kids, driving carpool and shit. I also had a fuck ton of lines. SO MANY LINES. The show rested on my characters shoulders. I had to keep it together. My fear could not get the best of me.

It was a lot of pressure. I became somewhat fascinated, over the five weeks of rehearsal and four and half weeks of performances, in how my body reacted to the stress. Not my mind, but my body. I am pretty self aware and rarely let my mind spill out onto the stage. Ok, well there was this one time when I had a “minor” breakdown about a costume I didn’t feel good about and said something to the costumer that I was later told went something like “I would never fuck anyone in this dress. If someone tried to fuck me while I was wearing this dress I would make them take it off me first.” I don’t recall saying it, I felt like I was simply explaining that the dress didn’t make me feel pretty but whatever, I apologized to her and we got a better dress, thank god.  Other than that one tiny moment where my mind leaked out of my mouth and went completely insane…I kept my mind pretty contained through the experience. I lost close to ten pounds through it all but that was from not eating dinner. There was absolutely no time. I let my youngest kid stay home twice during tech week because he was suddenly very fake sick (this is code for he missed the shit out of me and needed some mommy time). But generally, I was pretty impressed with how I held it together through weeks of five hours of sleep a night and enormous pressure. I even got my real job done.

I have a friend (yeah, you) who always tells me to breathe on stage. It’s totally annoying advice until you realize you aren’t actually breathing and find that when you do, it’s so much better. Oxygen is good. I learned to really breathe on stage during this show. It was very helpful. When our first preview audiences arrived, I became really interested in how my body was experiencing stage fright. I made mental notes of how it was manifesting in my body and how it related to what was going on in my mind. Opening night I was nervous, hyper focused, afraid of making a mistake and derailing the show. It didn’t happen, I was fine…not great but totally fine. I stayed in a state of rigidity the entire two hours. The next morning, I had a nice chat with myself (smacked myself around a little) about why I was there, what I hoped to gain from the experience, and what the point of it was if I was going to spend four weeks on stage terrified of making a mistake. For the second performance I went in absolutely and completely determined to have fun. I danced to great music before I left the house, I talked sweetly to myself and my family. I filled myself with happy, loving thoughts.

I was still nervous. My body did all the things it had been doing. My heart raced before I walked onstage. My hands were shaky. I felt a little sick. All liquid drained from my body and giant balls of cotton filled my mouth. But the difference was palpable. My fear shifted about five minutes into the play into something else, excitement. And that’s what it became for the next four weeks. Excitement. I still felt a little panic every night, some nights hardly at all and one other night I was more physically affected when one of my friends was in the audience (yeah, you again). But generally, I discovered with this play, that I am someone who experiences panic before I walk out on stage. It’s just who I am, it’s how I do it and fighting it only makes it worse. That’s my body, it needs to process the fear. And that’s ok. I get jittery, my hands shake, the liquid drains from my body, I am sensitive to light (which is hilarious because stage lights are ultra bright), slightly sweaty, oh and I also like to burp a lot. When I don’t fight it, it’s mostly gone entirely within about five minutes on stage.

On the subject of bodies doing weird shit you don’t expect and can’t seem to control…I had lunch once with a lovely woman I dated briefly, wasn’t compatible with, and we immediately shifted into a solid friendship. We went to a local hipster pizza place. It was a sunny day, I felt great, happy, light and carefree. This was at a weird time in my life so good days were really cherished. This was one of them. We sat down and read our menus and ordered iced tea. She leaned forward to whisper something…

“That woman at the table next to us is your type.”

“What?” I said, not sure I had heard her correctly.

“That blonde over there, with the short hair…right next to you, she is totally your type.”

I knew instinctively who it was before I looked. I knew it was the woman who had devastated me about six months earlier. The woman who had left me so raw and unexpectedly humiliated. I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw her. Yep, it was her. My mood shifted immediately and I thought, “Oh yeah, she’s my type all right.”

And then something began to happen to my body. My vision blurred, my hands began to shake, my mouth went instantly dry. I tried to take a drink of my tea but my hands were shaking wildly and I couldn’t lift the glass without spilling it. My friend asked what was wrong. I think she might have even asked if I was on medication (she’s a nurse, she always diagnosed me…she also really liked my strong veins and said nurses must love drawing my blood). The knowledge that I was actually having a full blown panic attack in a public place, that it was obvious and in front of the person I had determined would never see me suffer again…was only adding to the panic. It was absolutely horrifying and surreal. It’s not like I didn’t see her all the time. I don’t know why my body decided to go bezerk in that moment. But it did.

Somehow I worked through it. I calmed down. I didn’t start puking or screaming or hyperventilating. My pride took over. No one had to call an ambulance. It was awful but I survived it and I was fine and I think we had a decent lunch in the end.

But here’s what it taught me, and here’s how it relates to the subject of theatre and stage fright…pain must be felt. It doesn’t work to do the tough girl, rigid, I am totally fine thing. The pain, the fear, the anxiety, it must be felt. Resisting it only makes it worse. I mean you can try but that body of yours will take over when you least expect it and it will force you to feel it. And it may happen at a very inconvenient time. So just feel it. Be sad. Be afraid. Be angry. Feel it, let it wash over you, and then let it go.

Over the past few months I have learned to recognize the physical manifestations of stage fright and deal with them effectively. Because of this work, I have gotten to be a pretty good actress. I was always a decent actress. But the last few productions I have been in, I have learned to use the weird shit my body does before I go on stage..to work with it and use it instead of fighting it. It allows me to continue to be present, to breath, to listen.

And those lessons apply to real life too. Because art imitates life in the most unexpected ways.

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A Favorite Moment in Stage Kiss, The Playhouse San Antonio

 

 

Distractions

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Happy New Year.

I have never thought much about those words, Happy New Year.

You say them. It means it’s a new year, go have a good one, a better one than last year. Go do all those things you have been not doing in the previous year.

Now is your chance, it’s a brand new number!

This year I struggled with the words. I said them, multiple times. Texted them. Emailed them. But I didn’t really mean them. I felt a bit like new year’s is a crock, some arbitrary date on a calendar that people use as a milestone to make a bunch of plans for their lives that they can and should make on any day of the year. You wanna quit smoking or lose weight, just do it. Stop picking some meaningless date for yourself that ends up creating disappointment and sadness when you can’t find the motivation to continue after a few weeks.  (Also, it makes the park I run at really crowded and it’s annoying.)

Don’t get me wrong. I have my share of ugly shit that needs a New Year’s Fucking Resolution to fix. But I am not foolish enough to believe that I will walk through the magical door of a new year and suddenly accomplish all my goals. I am, unfortunately, aware that the only thing holding me back from all that I want to be and become is ME. I am the problem. I can fix it all and I am not doing it because I don’t really want to badly enough.

It’s hard. To fix my shit. It’s hard to work through the pain I am holding onto, the anger, the fear…all the things that are keeping me from being the person I want to be.

I have the secret. It’s me.

I don’t do what needs to be done because I don’t want to. This truth is so hard to swallow because it is…well, really hard to swallow. And I don’t wanna. It’s yucky and unappealing.

So instead, I distract myself.

With busy. With projects. With love. With stuff and shopping for more stuff. With social media. With taking care of other people. With criticizing or finding fault in others.

I go, and go, and go.

Because what will happen if I sit still long enough to feel what I need to feel, to think about what I need to think about, to grieve, to settle, to accept, to heal?

It’s too scary.

Let me just get on Facebook one more time.

Let me just accuse my x-husband of bad behavior and obsess over what a dick he is to avoid accepting the reality of post divorce life and the struggles of co-parenting.

Let me work more hours.

Let me buy a new car.

Let me watch more TV or read more books.

Let me overly care for the people I love and do things they can absolutely do themselves and probably should do themselves.

Let me hate that person who wronged me and hope they have a terrible life.

Let me have another glass of wine, or another cocktail.

Let me go shopping and buy some clothes I don’t need and can’t fit in my closet.

I’m not alone in this behavior. It’s quite common. All addiction, I think, is rooted in escapism and avoidance of pain or reality.

I see all the folks on the book of FAKENESS (also known as the BOOK OF MAKING PEOPLE FEEL BAD ABOUT THEIR LIVES BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS HAVING MORE FUN THAN YOU ARE or THE BOOK OF WAYS TO HURT PEOPLE WE ONCE LOVED) who are obsessed with hating the government and beating on Obama and his “muslim ways”…anything to avoid dealing with their own shit.

The problem is the government.

The problem is the way other people drive.

The problem is the stupid people.

The problem is this or that or the other thing.

The problem is my crappy childhood.

The problem is my X or worse, my husband, wife or partner.

Anything to avoid the truth.

Anything to avoid getting real with yourself.

I went for a walk yesterday on New Year’s Day. I felt too shitty to run so I went to my local park and walked five miles. I had planned to make some new year’s day calls to family and friends while I walked.

God forbid I should just simply walk.

It was really cold which is rare for South Texas and the park was nearly empty. About a mile into the walk my phone died. I guess I hadn’t charged it overnight like I thought I had.

So I walked, alone, for four more miles.

I have been alone a lot this week. More than I think I have ever been alone in my life. I am a solitary creature and have always craved alone time. But this has been a very alone week, even for me.

Some weird thing came over me on that walk, some might call it a light bulb moment or whatever.

But I realized just how deeply distracted I keep myself to avoid being present. I’ve known for a while that I needed to work on being present when I am in conversation with others.  It’s something I took into therapy three years ago and have worked hard on, being present in rooms full of people or in one on one conversations. I have improved greatly on this problem.

Yay ME!

But being present with myself?

Nah, I have got some serious work on that. And frankly, the realization that I am distracting myself to death to avoid it, is kind of significant. I didn’t know I was doing that.

So I suppose my new year’s resolution is to be more aware of my tendency to distract myself. To tune out those distractions and spend time undistracted and see what happens, what comes up, where I go when I don’t have anything external controlling my thoughts and actions.

That’s a good one to work on. I can totally do that.

Happy New Year, and I mean this time.

 

 

Stillness, an ode to 6 wonderful people.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. “ Thich Nhat Hannh

 

I have been in this place before, this exact spot. Sitting in the backyard of a friend I have known many years. I am visiting her now, returning to a place I know well, although it has faded in my memory. It’s Oakland, California where I spent the early years of my marriage, where two of my children were born, where my daughter learned to walk and run, where Isabelle the crazy Weimaraner chewed up twenty or thirty shoes. (And a couch once.)The air is perfectly still, the weather ridiculously perfect as only Northern California can be. It’s a non-temperature, slightly cold to a southerner but absolutely lovely to a normal person.

I thought I had lost my connection to this place. I have lost so much in the past few years. But I was wrong about that. I haven’t lost this. Definitely not.

My thoughts are quiet. They are as still as the Oakland air.

As if on queue, beside me Soo says out loud, “God the air is perfectly still.”

“It is”, I respond quietly.

 

I take a mental photograph of this moment. This exact moment is one I want to keep. This woman next to me who I have spent countless hours with over the years, who knows me, all my light and all of my darkness.

The stillness of the air almost feels like a sign.

It matches the quietness of my thoughts.

The feeling of being settled. The feeling of belonging.

The opposite of loss.

I am present in this moment. Nothing is on my mind.

My heart is open.

Inside I feel perfectly still.

 

I knew I needed to make this trip. I needed to remember how connected I am here and how much love I find when I visit.

I needed to remind myself that I am someone who likes travelling alone.

I am happy in the little Airbnb I rented in San Francisco. I have slept well, I haven’t been scared or lonely.

I can cross a city using public transportation, on a bus, on a train, with uber.

I am connected with many people here and they love me as much as I love them.

It’s funny when you feel shitty about yourself you can sometimes believe everyone you know thinks you are shitty too.

No, these people like me. They miss me. They want to rearrange their entire crazy ass lives to spend time with me.

Why would this feel like such a revelation?

When did I get fooled into believing I am less important than I am and that relationships I have built over a lifetime were lost to me forever?

 

The snapshots of this weekend adventure pass through my mind, slowly, there are so many moments I want to keep forever.

Watching Lynn drive gymnastics carpool and introduce me to her youngest child. Getting to see her as a mom. I’m not surprised she loves it. She was always the mama of our little group. Of course motherhood comes naturally to her.

She has smile lines around her eyes now. She looks so good, older yes, but so happy. I try to reconcile this mother of three with the girl I met in San Francisco who wasn’t sure she wanted kids and liked to spend Sunday afternoons at the bar drinking cider and reading the New York Times. She still makes sense to me, this mama version of Lynn and I like her just as much.

 

On Thursday, Lori walked into my room and sat down on the bed and the river of words began to pass between us. It had been years since our last real conversation. Within 15 minutes we sat with tears in our eyes and poured out our hearts as we once did in our office in San Ramon fifteen years earlier. We don’t stop talking until she leaves in a rush, four hours later, trying to get back across the bridge before the commute traffic hits. We don’t bother pretending we will call each other soon. We won’t. We will go back to stalking each other’s Facebook pages. Hopefully so many years won’t have to pass before our hearts connect again.

 

Jayanthi, the woman who never ages, remains the tiny force of nature. But finally her grey hair is giving away the fact that she may be the oldest one of our little friend group. Could she be 50? Is that possible? Her sweet daughter is growing up, and she can’t stop doing ballet spins around me as she chatters excitedly about her upcoming performance in the Nutcracker. She looks exactly like her mother, beautiful and light. I want to remember the way she spins forever.

They have all moved to suburbs now. They all live near each other, support each other, they have even worked together over the years.

Lynn and Jay walk to each other’s homes daily.

I feel a pang that might be called jealousy. But I don’t think so. No, it’s more a feeling of being happy they have each other. And wishing I could be up the street from these two women that I love.

And Beth, something about her makes me me feel as though I have always known her. She makes people feel instantly comfortable.  We sit next to each other in the bar and chat, like we always do, like it’s been ten minutes and not ten years. I admire her now, as much as I did then.
She seems happy.

They are all such grown-ups now, homeowners and parents and people with 401K’s.

We meet for dinner.

Then we go dancing.

Like 20 year olds, we danced the night away.

Just like we used to.

My feet still hurt from the dancing.

I woke up in Oakland, on Soo’s couch…the same one I used to sleep on when my kids were babies. It may be the best couch in the world.

It is. I am certain of it.

 

When she drove me to the BART train I pretended I wasn’t crying behind my sunglasses when I said goodbye but she felt it when she hugged me.

So she knows I love her. Stop the presses.

 

And then I met up with Jason for my last day in the city.

My sassy gay friend, which is a stereotype that doesn’t do his wit and charm the justice it deserves. Or the depth of our friendship.

He teased me again about what a bitch I was when he met me and how much he hated me at first.

He kept saying,

“God you are so mellow now, who are you? You used to be such a fucking bitch.”

“Keep calling me a bitch and you will see just what a bitch I can still be, asshole.” I responded with a laugh.

We walked 8 miles, visited four different neighborhoods, had drinks at ten different bars. My feet really hurt now.

He cancelled his dinner plans so we could keep drinking and talking and walking. Our tongues got looser over the hours and miles. I blush to think of some of the things we talked about. It’s a little fuzzy and for that I am grateful. But the way it made me feel, I won’t forget that…it’s not fuzzy at all.

By 10PM, I was in an Uber heading back to my Airbnb in the Castro to pack my suitcase for the early flight.

 

Something changed in these four short days. A subtle shift of letting go and connecting and remembering and being still and being grateful. Just being.

I loved it.

“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” –Rumi

 

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