Monday, November 19, 2012

Unhappiness is in me, my friend Emily is ill

I've been reading "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle and though I read parts of it before, once again, when I am ready, I get the lessons I need to learn.  Pema Chodron's book "The Wisdom of No Escape" sat on my shelf for years before I was ready to read it. 

This morning I read this paragraph:  "Don't seek happiness.  If you seek it, you won't find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness.  Happiness is ever elusive, but freedom from unhappiness is attainable now, by facing what is rather than making up stories about it.  Unhappiness covers up your natural state of well-being and inner peace, the source of true happiness."

This past week I have been at the hospital with a dear friend, Emily.  I have written about spending time with her and her husband, Len, in the country for years.  She is truly one of the most generous and supportive friends I've ever known.  Emily is in the ICU at Mt. Sinai Hospital and they don't know what is wrong with her.  She's on a breathing tube and for a few days we thought she had no chance, but yesterday, she seemed to be a bit better.  The outpouring of concern has been amazing.  I don't know if Emily knows how deeply she is loved by so many people all over the world. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Permission to Speak - HUFF POST

A few weeks ago I went to two memorial services within two days of each other. One was for a remarkable man, my friend Lisa's dad, Michael Dontzen, who lived to 89 and accomplished more in his lifetime than just about anyone I've ever met. He was a New York State Supreme Court judge, an aide to Mayor John Lindsay, a lawyer, a brilliant man with so much passion for justice, that on his deathbed, just a short time before he passed away, he married a gay couple. This was his last "professional" duty and he was determined to accomplish that despite the fact that he could barely speak.

The second memorial was heartbreaking. It was for a woman named Chris Twomey. She was an artist and a mother of three. Her art and motherhood were intertwined and she was passionate about both. She had breast cancer, which spread throughout her body and after a long, heroic struggle, she finally died, at age 58.

There weren't many people who were as determined to live as Chris. She loved life, she loved making art and she maintained a sense of humor throughout the years of treatments and tremendous pain.

I met Chris at Friends In Deed, a pragmatic, spiritual counseling center in Soho, New York. I have written about it before. FID saved my life when my life was completely falling apart. One of the gifts of Friends was that it put me right smack into a community that understood suffering, so that I was able to feel less alone.

In her eulogy for Chris, the founder of Friends In Deed, Cy O'Neal, spoke about Chris's courage. I just happened to be near the front desk the day that Chris first arrived at FID, announcing "I have breast cancer" as if she were saying "I just arrived from Paris." I sat in big groups with Chris for well over a year, and as Cy said, "She always raised her hand, early in the meeting. She shared whatever was going on with her, which generally included the work she was doing and some difficult aspect of her treatment. She always had a strong spirit and a rich sense of humor and after she spoke, it seemed that she gave everyone else permission to tell whatever they were going through."

Like a lot of people, weathering the storm of Hurricane Sandy meant keeping close to our battery-operated radios. (Actually, I had a crank radio too, the kind you wind up if you don't have batteries, but it just made me cranky. If I had to only use that, my arm would have fallen off by day two, and my only news would be spastic, like "flood waters reaching... evacuated and you should seek....") People were calling in all day with the stories of what was happening, good and bad, giving each other comfort and advice. The radio gave us permission to speak and a means to reach out to one another when we would have been going it alone otherwise.
During those five days of sitting in candlelight and mostly silence, I began to think about community. My neighbors in our building in Soho supported each other emotionally -- one neighbor, Martin, was staying uptown with his girlfriend, but each day he came back to the building and dropped off bags of food for his neighbors, fresh fruit, bagels, peanut butter, The New York Times. On Halloween, our next door neighbor, Louise, came over and gave us Tarot card readings by candlelight.

My upstairs neighbor, Barbara, was sitting shiva (a week long mourning period) for her dad, who passed away a few days before the Hurricane. The first few days there were dozens of people who came to pay their respects, but once the hurricane hit, it was harder for family and friends to get there, so my loftmate, Abigail, and I tried to come up as much as we could.

And then, on one of my uptown bike trips, when I had Internet access, I saw a posting on Facebook written by someone who had been helping out in Rockaway Beach. They were delivering blankets and supplies, cleaning out basements, doing all the heavy lifting that needed to be done. But I read this: "People need emotional support. They are suffering."

And I thought about the woman in Staten Island who lost both her young sons, because a neighbor wouldn't let her into his home, he was too afraid to open his door. I hope that she will give herself permission to speak of her profound loss, when the time is right, and with a caring group of people with her.

We often give lip service to the idea of "it takes a village" but in reality, we so rarely do come together to support each other. One of the reasons 12 Step programs are so effective is because they have learned the power of community. For most of history, family was our community, but now families are spread all over the place. Often people worked in organizations for their entire careers and felt a part of something. That is the exception now, it's rare that anyone stays longer than a few years with any job -- in fact, the "Millennials" don't even expect to stay past three years.
In the aftermath of so much devastation and what has been a divisive election -- and what will surely be many more hurricanes and tornadoes and devastation -- maybe we can try to solve both the physical challenges of dealing with floods and the emotional challenges of how to create a real sense of community so that we truly can "get by with a little help from our friends."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The play is the thing

...that is terrifying me.  It really seems to be happening.  It's called "Scrambled Eggs" - and it's about a woman's journey from childhood, dating, marriage, kid, career, hot flashes, you name it. 

So for anyone who's ever dreamt of getting your work out into the world and having a play or being on Huffington Post, or doing public speaking (which is what I am working on next) -- it's scary.  IT REALLY IS.

But I just have to take it a day at a time and have faith that it will be fine. 

Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, I had meetings with studio executives in huge, fancy offices on studio lots and they were effusive about my writing, "You're like a female Barry Levinson, or Woody..."  And that terrified me.  I didn't want that kind of pressure, so I bailed.  I got married and moved back to NYC and had a baby and quietly did my writing and didn't try all that hard.  I tried, but being a woman, and being out of LA makes it very difficult.

I wouldn't change a thing, it is all perfect.

I went through hell for a few years, it was one of the most intense and elevated periods of my life - divorce, death (my mother's) and now I can write about it all and watch the play get produced next spring and hopefully inspire other women (and men) to not give up on their dreams.  It may not happen in the time you imagine it will, or the way that you imagine, but it can still happen.

Last month, one of my Huff Post blogs landed on the mainpage of AOL.  I even heard from my divorce attorney!  I heard from people I haven't heard from in years.  This is such an adventure and as scary as it feels sometimes, it is exciting and fun - kind of like a roller coaster.  Oh, wait, I hate roller coasters. 

You can follow this journey, I will post updates and info along the way. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tracks of My Tears - Latest Huff Post

Cry baby... It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to... Big girls don't cry... Tears of a clown... Don't cry for me Argentina.... Crying over you...

There are so many songs about crying and tears. Country western music has broken hearts by the pickup truck-full. From the laid-flat classic, "I've got tears in my ears from lying on my back in my bed while I cry over you," to the GPS-specific, "Billy broke my heart at Walgreens and I cried all the way to Sears," nothing beats country music for getting it all out there.

But I'm no country western gal. I'm a fairly tough New Yorker -- tears were never high on my profile. Not since my father would send me to my room -- "I can't talk to you when you're crying. Come back when you've stopped" -- and I learned to put a plug in it. My friend Karen told me her mother admonished with the ever popular: "Stop crying or I'll really give you something to cry about." The message was loud and clear: no whimpering.

Even PMS couldn't bring me to tears. I was suicidal, homicidal, many -cidals, but I never cried. On rare occasions, like watching a sad movie or listening to a sad song, they might leak down my cheeks, but not for long. I'd convinced myself I'd never be a weepy person.

If there was a crisis, it was Robin to the rescue, Robin in charge. No tears -- no time, too much to do -- just the facts, decisions, action.

We all know people who fall apart if they lose their favorite pen -- those are the drama queens and kings, who seem to always be in tears about something. Then there are others who are barely affected by the death of a parent. Let's put these groups aside and focus on the rest of us -- the majority of us who, while not emotionally dead, prefer to keep emotions in check, particularly when it comes to sadness.

I lost a lot a few years ago: my marriage, my job, my mother, my daughter moved 3,000 miles away, I had to move, and then I lost my beloved dog, Lola. I've written about it. I was sitting alone in my apartment, minus everyone -- and I started to cry.

Then I couldn't stop. The floodgates opened. And I didn't care.

For many years, on those rare occasions when I cried, I'd get a headache. But when the grief is so intense, the tears wash over and seem to take out all the toxins and pain; at least that's my non-scientific analysis. I felt lighter. No one loves the sound of a baby crying, but once they're done crying, they look so peaceful, so relieved -- or maybe that's the parents that are relieved, but it does seem to be a part of the natural order of things.

So often in caregiving/grief groups I've attended (where my crying looked more like bawling), I've heard many people share, "I don't want to cry" or "I'm afraid to cry." I've also heard, "I don't feel like crying," which is perfectly appropriate, but my experience with crying has led me to love it. When I was younger, if someone cried in my presence I felt awkward. Now I sit with them and just try to be there in the privilege of that moment.

I spent years in therapy NOT crying, talking about antidepressants and wanting whatever new one I'd heard of. "Don't you think I should try Wellbutrin? What about Celexa? That sounds good." My therapist would say, "Okay, if you want to. But I don't think you really need to." Eventually I tried an antidepressant for a year or so, and it helped, but I gained weight, and I couldn't feel much of anything, and I had no sex drive, so I went off the medication and continued to search for a newer, better drug.

I don't think I ever used more than a few tissues in many, many years in my therapist's office.

And then, my life fell apart and I used all the tissues. I sobbed through entire deluges, while my lovely therapist, Mike, nodded and smiled. "This is great, Robin, this is really good."

"This is probably going to turn out to be one of the best periods of your life."

Are you crazy? I'm drowning! I can't stop!

Eventually the river flowed to a stream. Slowly the tears trickled to a stop.

And in their place came:


And most of all: empathy... compassion... for everyone in the world who is suffering. Everyone. I want to go to the Congo and stop the fighting and the rape. I want to go to the Middle East and get people to talk about their anger and their sorrow. I want people to wail their pain and share it and not worry about how they look. I want people to listen to each other instead of screaming and fighting.
In other cultures people weep together -- they believe in the power of a good cry. Why aren't more of us angry about the state of this country and the world? I don't know. I think maybe we're all trying not to feel.

Tears on my pillow... tears in heaven.
Cry me a river. Let it wash me clean.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy


Day 1: Sunday, October 29. 2012, SoHo, New York

There’s an edginess all over the city, as people prepare for the storm.  We had plenty of food in the house, but I stopped by Met Foods in NoLita to pick up a few more things and the line was so long, I decided to forget about it.  I live with a loftmate, Abigail, and she has her car out, so I imagined that she would pick up whatever extras we needed.

Wrong.  She went to Trader Joe’s and the line was so long it met the line for Whole Foods which is a block away in Union Square.

But we have buckets with extra water and they’re in the tub.  We have food.  We have a gas stove that can be lit with a match.  We have plenty of flashlights and my best purchase was headlamps.  I think we’ll be fine. 

Day 2: Monday, October 29, 2012

A waiting game. We stayed home most of the day, put on some music and exercised.  I took a short walk around the neighborhood, the wind was picking up, but no rain most of the day.  Spoke to a few friends on the phone, most of them downtown.  I know a few people in evacuation zones, but I couldn’t reach them.  Most of the day I was on Facebook and Twitter, reading and writing updates.  A post I wrote called “Tracks of My Tears” went up on Huff Post, about the healing power of tears.

Monday night we went upstairs to pay a call on my friend Barbara, who is sitting shiva for her father who passed away last Thursday.  Her mom is with her too, but she is suffering from some dementia, so it’s a bit challenging.  We sat with them in the kitchen and listened to the wind, which was extremely loud and scary.  We couldn’t tell how much it was raining, but I came downstairs and called my daughter in Brooklyn and as we spoke, we got disconnected after what Zoe thought was lightening that lit up the sky.  She found out later it was the Con Ed transformers blowing up.  By around eight pm we lost electricity, but somehow we still had our internet connection.  I was able to keep up on Twitter and Facebook and finally went to bed to read.  It seemed as if most of the wind had died down from the intensity of a few hours before and we knew that the tide had breached the sea wall – but we thought Con Ed had just turned off the electricity as a precaution at that point. 

Day 3: Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I woke up, turned on my iPhone and saw many Facebook comments.  I posted “I am going to make a cup of coffee and try to find out the extent of the damage.  “It’s bad,”  a friend in Brooklyn wrote. One friend from Spain mentioned the explosions of the transformers at the Con Ed plant, and I got a few emails from the previous night and then all internet connection disappeared.  There was a brief window at 7 am that was shut fifteen minutes later.

Lucy is my 16 year-old beagle, and she can’t climb stairs and it’s impossible to carry her up and down the four flights, so we put out towels for her in the loft and within one minute, I slipped on a towel and fell flat on my back.  I landed on my tailbone and my first thought was, “Oh, no, I’m going to be paralyzed and there will be no hospital to take me to and no ambulance will come.”  Fortunately, that only lasted about a minute and a half, but it hurt and I’ve been living on Advil. 

Our land line is part of our cable/internet so we had no way to communicate and even the fantastic Crosby Street Hotel across the street, which has a generator for their main floor, was struggling. They had no phone lines and all their guests were being transferred to uptown hotels.  We knew that uptown, most of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx were fine – just parts of Manhattan south of 39th, from river to river, most of Staten Island, large areas of New Jersey and 90 percent of Long Island were without power.  I couldn’t even reach my daughter to tell her we were okay. The streets were empty (imagine the streets in SoHo without any shoppers?) and very few cars.  Abigail and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and saw lots of tree branches down and one small market had a huge line outside.  People were escorted around the store, one at a time.  Most seemed to be waiting for coffee. 

In the afternoon our neighbors returned home from uptown – they had friends who came and picked them up so they could get supplies, take showers, get their phones charged and fortunately they had a landline that worked.  I called Zoe to tell her we were safe. She was smart – she chose to remain in Brooklyn for the storm instead of coming into Manhattan. So did Abigail’s son, Nate, who lives in Williamsburg, right near the water. He was fine too. 

Last night we cooked Brussels sprouts and heated macaroni and cheese – and honestly, it was one of the rare times we sat down and ate a meal together.  We’re both usually running somewhere. 

I finished a novel (not memorable, but a good diversion) and am now starting on a book about Hillary and Bill.  I don’t miss television and I enjoy listening to the radio, but mostly I miss the Internet. It’s a relief to not have phone calls and emails, quite honestly.   I don’t know how that’s going to feel later in the day and by day four, I may be losing my mind, but I do know that at least forty people have lost lives in this terrible storm and the city has suffered serious damage.  I love New York City – so whatever we have to deal with, we’ll manage. 

It’s very odd to be in downtown Manhattan now, which feels a bit like a ghost town right now. 

Day 4:  Thursday, November 1, 2012 

We drove to Brooklyn yesterday to see our kids. We drove across the Williamsburg Bridge, there wasn’t much traffic.  We picked up Nate and went to eat in Zoe’s neighborhood.  It was so good to see them and also Zoe’s roommate, Ashley, and to eat a hot meal at David’s Brisket in Bed Stuy – typical NY, Muslim restaurant in African American neighborhood, serving Jewish food.  When we drove back, we heard that starting today you can’t drive into Manhattan over the bridge without at least three people in the car, so it’s lucky we went yesterday.

Balthazar had a big barbecue in front of the restaurant to cook all the meat they had that was going bad.  I only had three dollars in cash left and that bought me six giant shrimp with cocktail sauce.  Not bad!

Last night, on Halloween, our neighbor, Louise, came over and read our Tarot cards.  It’s actually been lovely spending time with neighbors and reading. 

This morning I turned on my phone and found out I had cell service.  Still no power.  Will check the news and see what is happening.  Today, I’m going uptown to take a shower and eat something healthy.  Still have milk for my coffee, grateful for all the small things.  Grateful to be alive. 

I’m at 88th and CPW, just took a shower, ate a good meal and will head home to Lucy soon.  Never had a better shower in my life! 

Day 5, Friday, November 2, 2012

Today I feel very depressed.  I could barely drag myself out of bed.  I listened to the radio last night and heard about people who have lost everything, a mother whose children were swept out of her arms on Staten Island.  Family run businesses that are going to have to close, and it just feels like more bad news on top of more bad news.  I feel like my interior life is matching the reality of my exterior life: dark. 

It’s hard to know that so many people are going on with their lives and work in the rest of the country, and that those of us in lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn and Queens, Long Island and so much of New Jersey are suffering.  I am just tired.  I’m tired of not having a good, hot meal, and I don’t even feel like cooking anything.  The high pitched sound we have been hearing for days, coming from the freight elevator at Scholastic Books seems to have finally stopped.  It was driving everyone crazy. 

Maybe this will be the last day of no more lights.  Honestly, I’m having a hard time understanding why it’s taking Con Ed so long to get the power back on.  I am tired of listening to the sad stories on the radio.  I’m tired of upbeat messages of gratitude.  This sucks.  We have no healthy food in the loft and I feel angry.  It does feel like East and West Berlin. 

I guess I need to have some faith.  I’ve been praying and meditating this morning, but so far I still feel pretty blue.  I feel so bad for those who have lost family members and homes and jobs.  I’m grateful that my daughter is safe.  I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and that right now I am okay.  But if I’ve learned anything in these past few years, it’s okay to feel my feelings, whatever they are.  And right now they are sadness, depression, a sense of hopelessness and fear about the election.  I need a hug. 

4:30 pm

I’m lying on the couch napping, when I hear a scream.  My first thought is that one of the candles started a fire – but then I realize as I open my eyes that Abigail is whooping it up because the lights came on.

I take back every angry, awful thing I said.  This week has been a gift in so many ways….time with neighbors and friends.  Quiet, no phone calls, emails, no Internet, urban camping.  Now all our efforts must go to helping those who are still suffering, still have no power, who have lost their homes and also to the election.  My wish is that President Obama, who has done a great job dealing with this crisis – no one can solve all the problems of a storm of this magnitude – will come out as a strong leader and win the election.

I think we all have to take seriously the reality that we live in a new world and we can’t waste any more time debating global warming. We have to start getting prepared, even as we clean up from the disaster of this storm. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Out of my head

Huffington Post just put up my latest post and so far there has been very little reaction. I think I know why.  It was written by my head. The others just poured out of me.  This one was very much about explaining, trying to recapture the initial impulse of an earlier post.  And then this morning I read this quote, from 2009, that I had posted, and it was a good reminder:

"My teacher Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged us to lead our lives as an experiment, a suggestion that has been very important to me. When we approach life as an experiment we are willing to approach it this way and that way because, either way, we have nothing to lose.

This immense flexibility is something I learned from watching Trungpa Rinpoche. His enthusiasm enabled him to accomplish an amazing amount in his life. When some things didn't work out, Rinpoche's attitude was 'no big deal.' If it's time for something to flourish, it will; if it's not time, it won't.

The trick is not getting caught in hope and fear. We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude for or against, we're setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead."

Here is the post:

Fire Away:  A Husband, A House, A Mortgage, the Sequel

A month ago I wrote a post called "A Husband, A House, A Mortgage, A Baby and A Lightbulb Moment" in which I talked about having had what I thought was the "American Dream" and how in the end, it didn't feel like the "prize" I had imagined it would be.

My marriage ended in divorce. We sold our home. My ex and I are not only not in love, we don't even communicate. Everything I had dreamt of having essentially imploded, leaving me to question most of the values I had held dear in the first half of my life.

I received over 1,000 comments and attacks on this blog and after awhile, I had to stop reading them. The blog was not meant to say my ex husband was to blame any more than I was. It was not meant to say that marriage, a home and a family are not worthy desires. It was simply to say that for so many of us, life is not one size fits all. We all have different paths. What works so well for so many families does not work for everyone. And that is not the end of the world -- it is simply the beginning of a new world.

Recently I was in a workshop with several men who talked about their families, their wives and their children. They were so proud and devoted to them, and I felt a pang of envy. To anyone who thought that I was saying that I don't believe in love -- or that I was critical of men -- I apologize. If I didn't believe in love, I wouldn't want to live. Love is, for me, the single most important part of my life. I am surrounded by love and though I do not, at this time, have a partner or a spouse in my life, that doesn't mean that there is no love.

I love my daughter, deeply. I love my dog, Lucy, who has been with me for over 12 years. We rescued her when she was 4 and even at 16, she's hanging in there. I lost a beloved dog, Lola, a year and a half ago when she was only 9. It still kills me to think of her. I love my friends and my family. I love writing. I love babies. I love New York City. I love this entire country and I also love many other countries. I love ice cream. I love people who can put their beliefs front and center and make a real difference in this world. I love spiritual teachers like Pema Chodron -- she saved my life when everything felt like it was going wrong. I love meditation. (I even feel not completely stupid when I chant now.)

I actually love my ex husband. I just don't want to live with him. And it's pretty clear that he is relieved not to be living with me.

When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I believe that walking down the aisle was the equivalent of my "Rocky" moment, climbing up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in my wedding gown and raising my hands in triumph. I believed that my life was now complete.

And then I saw how challenging it was to keep a marriage going when two people wanted different things out of it. I wanted simply to have a partner and an ally, to know someone had my back and wanted to spend some time with me. He wanted to come together when he wanted to, and that turned out to be, in the end, not at all.

I was not right and he was not wrong. It simply was what it was.

In losing that "Rocky" triumph, I found myself. I found that all the external things I thought I wanted were less important than the internal work I had to do. I found a core of strength I didn't know I had, to help my parents die, to be a good friend to others. To try to know God, or whatever that "higher consciousness" is.

I do believe in love. I do believe in marriage and kids and a home and all of those desires of human connection. I just believe that our lives can be complete and joyous without all the external prizes we think we must have.

Despite a difficult divorce and some very painful losses, the past three years have been some of the best years of my life. Were they better than the early years of my daughter's life, when we were a loving family and we were all together? They were different; not better, not worse.

It's an amazing feeling to fall in love and plan a wedding and embark on a life with the person you believe is your soul mate. But sometimes the person we chose at 24 or 29 or 37 is not the person we can live with at 40 or 50 or 60. Should we be miserable for the rest of our lives because it didn't last? Or should we move on and accept that life has other plans for us?

A year ago, I started studying swing dancing because I hoped that dancing would lift my spirits after a horrible divorce. It did. Recently, one of my favorite dance partners told me that I had to go into more challenging classes in order to improve. I think that's true now about love, too. I think it's time to come out of hiding and put my heart on the line again. I'm scared to step on my partner's feet in an advanced intermediate dance class. And I'm also scared to get my heart broken again. But I know that if I don't take chances in life, I might as well just die right now and forget about the remaining days, months or years. Where would be the joy in that?

After that blog post got so many critical comments, I talked to a few successful writers I know about how they handled criticism and personal attacks. One of them, Michael Eigen, a therapist and author of at least twenty books, said to me, "If you go out into the world, you will be attacked by others. If you stay in your cave, you will be attacked by yourself."

I'm ready. I feel that Pat Benatar has taken over my soul and is singing, "'C'mon and hit me with your best shot... fire away."

Which is also a good song to dance to.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Only Way Out is Through

"The only way out is through" is often mentioned at Friends In Deed.  I remember the first time I heard it, I hated it.  But I think it's really true.  Latest Huff Post:

The Only Way Out is Through

The first time I heard that I thought, “Damn!  I don’t want to go through this.  I want to go around it, over it, under it.  I want to sleep through it, wake me up when it’s over, fast forward me to happy days are here again.”

“It” is a dark night of the soul, which by the way is a misnomer.  It generally is dark “nights”—although I have heard of people who have a spiritual awakening in one night, most notably Eckhart Tolle, who was suddenly enlightened and began immediately writing bestselling books.  But for most of us, “a dark night” is a longer period, often a year, maybe even a few years.  And if you are simultaneously an agnostic, an atheist and a believer, as I considered myself for most of my life, it is a challenging path out of what feels like hell.  (“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Winston Churchill.) 

You can, if you want, try to avoid the pain – drinking, drugs, sleeping, lying, stealing, cheating, shopping, sleeping around, eating gallons of ice cream, bags of potato chips, staring at the television, gambling . . . you can do any or all of those things but sooner or later the grief you are avoiding will show up in a meltdown, a pile of debt, another divorce, an illness, an accident, or any number of other possibilities.

My dark night was years of caregiving and then a tsunami of loss. My life became a blank canvas that had to be re-painted at a stage in my life when I was not expecting it. I feel like I should have made a t-shirt for that first year so that if anyone asked me how I was they could just read the t-shirt:

~ separatedmotherdieddaughtermoved3000milesawaynojobnohome2dogs ~

When my dark nights began, people recommended books. First was Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart:

“I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us...It was all about letting go of everything.” 

Then came The Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore:

“Many people think that the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy.  But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation, and you never get rid of problems.  Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with the people and the life around you, to really live your life.  That may sound obvious, yet many people spend their time avoiding life.  They are afraid to let it flow through them, and so their vitality gets channeled into ambitions, addictions, and preoccupations that don’t give them anything worth having.  A dark night, may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living.  It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.”

I definitely needed a new start, so then I read…

Getting Naked Again: Dating, Romance, Sex, and Love When You've Been Divorced, Widowed, Dumped, or Distracted by Judith Sills.  I managed that pretty quickly, thanks to the "divorce diet," it was much easier than I imagined it would be. But it didn’t change anything; I was still deep into my dark nights.

Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford was helpful: “Breaking up a marriage may be as common as Main Street nowadays, but when you finally do it, the psychological experience seems as uncharted as the dark side of the moon.”  That made sense to me.  And – if you were the complacent partner in the marriage and you suddenly stand up for yourself, all hell breaks loose.  I could see that happened in my divorce.

In fact, my divorce was such a nightmare, that I had to turn to the Psalms:

“Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
‘Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.’
I pray for whatever you send me,
and I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
for I know that even now you are here.”
            [Psalm 4, Stephen Mitchell translation]

Somehow that brought me comfort.

Recently, I read this very powerful quote by August Gold: 

 “To enter the conversation with Life we only have to change one key word: We have to stop asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?' and start asking, 'Why is this happening for me?’  When we can do this, we’re free.”

And this:  “Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites.”  Richard Rohr, Falling Upwards.

Over the last twenty or so years, I have watched many friends walk through hell.  I didn’t understand how truly difficult their lives were at the time because I had no reference point.  I understood it intellectually, but not deeply, not emotionally.  I have watched friends deal with cancer and illnesses I’ve never even heard of, deaths of beloved spouses and children, long term caregiving, loss of homes, businesses, jobs, and deeply painful divorces. 

Now I understand. Now I understand that no one is immune, nor should they be. I wouldn’t trade any of my dark nights.  “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

The only way out is through – which it is kind of like a birth, or re-birth.  It is a path to a more meaningful life, though it might not feel that way at the time. It is the path to a second half of life that is deeper and about tuning out some of the noise of the outside world and listening to that inner voice in the quiet of a dark night.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Out of the Depths

This is my latest Huff Post, which came out of a workshop I did last week on public speaking.  I told the story and everyone liked it so much, I decided to write it up.

Out of the Depths

It was the lowest point of my life.  My 23 year marriage was over. We’d been talking about it for a long time, but finally he was ready. 

I wasn’t.  I had just lost my job.

My daughter, who was 21, decided that she wanted to move to San Francisco.  Three thousand miles away.

I was thankful that my mother was still alive, having survived two hospice stays she seemed indestructible.  And then she died suddenly.

I never felt worse, or more terrified, or more alone.

One afternoon my cell phone rang.  It was an area code I didn’t recognize and normally I would have let it go to voice mail, but I picked it up.

It was a director, Matt Penn, calling to tell me that he wanted to do a staged reading of a play I had written with Gary Richards, at the Berkshire Playwrights Lab in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. And that the reading would be happening in ten days. If I hadn't been so out of it, I would have panicked, a big, ugly hyperventilating panic.

The play was to be performed on a Wednesday night and I took the train up on the Sunday before. I waited at the station and watched as everyone got picked up or drove away and soon I was all by myself.  I tried to call the intern but got her voice mail instead.  I stood there thinking, what the hell am I doing? It seemed just like my life—I thought I knew where I was going and why, only to find myself stranded and alone.

Finally the intern called, apologetic.  She had picked up the actors, but had forgotten about me.

She came back and we drove to a little meeting house in the woods outside of Great Barrington and I met Matt and the rest of the actors.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and kind. Gary couldn’t come until the night of the reading because he was teaching. I’d seen readings of this play, Scrambled Eggs (the sub-title is, in my mind is: “The Wisdom of Insecurity”).  It’s a comedy about an everywoman – Karen – who is overwhelmed by life and she is loosely based on me and parts of all my friends.  She’s married to Dave, who is not so much based on my ex, but a fictionalized (funnier) version of him.  We see Karen at various stages of her life – struggling to figure out how to do it all – and how to maintain her equilibrium. 

We were all invited to Matt’s beautiful home for dinner that night and I got to know the cast members.  At one point, Matt was barbecuing and he asked me to join him.  He and two of the other directors of the Lab were talking about the play and how much they loved it, but thought that the ending needed some work. 

Didn’t they know that I was essentially out of my mind and couldn’t concentrate enough to write a grocery list, let alone a new ending??

I tried not to look like I was having a nervous breakdown and when we got back to the inn, I took my cell phone out to the parking lot, the only place I could get a signal, and I called Gary.

“Gary, they want a new ending!”

“Ah, don’t worry about it.  Just write something funny…you can do it.”

“GARY, I don’t know what the f*#k to write!”

“What?  I can’t hear you…”

I lost the signal. Amy Van Nostrand, who was playing Karen, saw me as I re-entered the inn and offered to go over the script. 

YES. Yes!  We went up to my room and read almost the entire play aloud and we bonded when we discovered we were both getting divorced.

We talked about the ending and we had some good ideas.  The next day I raced to type it up as the actors went into rehearsal.  I ran over at the lunch break and showed Matt what I had. He laughed and said, “close, but not quite.”


So I kept writing and running over and finally by the end of the day he was satisfied.  Then I had to race back to Manhattan for a tech rehearsal of a solo show I was performing at the Midtown International Theater Festival. Nothing to do that entire summer except that one week I had the reading and three performances of a solo show. In one week.  And I could barely get out of bed and brush my teeth. 

I went back to Great Barrington Wednesday afternoon in time for a run-through and then Gary arrived right before the show.  At every other reading of my work, I’d generally felt the need to be sedated, but this time I felt pretty calm.  I didn’t know a soul in the audience.  Maybe no one would show up?

The Mahaiwe is an incredibly beautiful theater that opened in 1905 and was newly renovated.  Gary and I sat up in the balcony and watched as the theater filled up.  We didn’t know this at the time, but Matt had done a local NPR interview about the play and said, “this play is headed to New York.”  So the theater was packed, there were at least 450 people.  We could watch people laughing hysterically,  slapping their knees and elbowing the person next to them.  I started to laugh and I laughed for ninety minutes and watched the actors bring the play to life and the audience eat it up.

At the end of the reading, I felt something I had forgotten was possible.  I felt happy. I could breathe… for the first time in months.  I could feel the power of laughter, to bring you out of despair and to make you feel alive again.  

I also realized that I if I truly had a purpose, making people laugh is not such a bad purpose to have in life.

Three and a half years later…life is so much better.  Divorce didn’t kill me, it made me stronger.  Amy is stronger too.  And she will be starring in a production of the play next April, at the Beckett Theater in New York City, just as Matt predicted. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A little bit of muck

I was talking to a friend earlier, who was feeling down. I was glad I called, it's good to be able to listen when someone is feeling blue. I suggested that she might want to go for a walk to feel better, as I was doing and then I remembered that the truth is, this is life and we aren't supposed to always feel great. I'm sitting in the muck right now, feeling worried about the election, the economy, my own future, my daughter, my poor old dog, Lucy, who isn't doing all that well. I am sitting in some sadness and worry and it's perfectly okay.

I saw a story on Rock Center about the Daily Show and how there are several dogs who come to work with their owners. They said it really helps everyone to cheer up when they can pet the dogs.

So here's my dog, Lucy, from several years ago, wearing a $6,000 sapphire, emerald and 24 carat gold necklace. She looks very royal, doesn't she?  (The necklace does not belong to me!) 

Please let President Obama do a good job at tonight's debate...please.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Falling Upward

I have been reading a new book called "Falling Upward" by Richard Rohr and essentially it's about, as the book jacket describes:
"In the first half of life, we are naturally and rightly preoccupied with establishing our identity -- climbing, achieving, and performing. But those concerns will not serve us as we grow older and begin to embark on a further journey. One that involves challenges, mistakes, loss of control, broader horizons, and necessary suffering that actually shocks us out of our prior comfort zone. Eventually, we need to see ourselves in a different and more life-giving way. This message of "falling down" -- that is in fact moving upward -- is the most resisted and counterintuitive of messages in the world's religions, including and most especially Christianity."
If I've experienced anything in the past three years, it has been this. Reading the book affirms so much of what I've been learning. And though it may sound bad in some ways, actually it is good! It actually is great. The years of pain and sadness have given way to wanting to share in the deeper truths that I have been learning. This morning, in a chapter called "A Bright Sadness" from the book, I read this:
At this stage, I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one God loves, or that my role and place in society deserve superior treatment. I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods and services, quite simply, my desire and effort -- every day -- is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received. I now realize that I have been gratuitously given to -- from the universe, from society, and from God. I try now, as Elizabeth Seton said, 'to live simply so that others can simply live.'"
This is a big shift in my consciousness because for so many years I craved "specialness" and recognition. And I wanted stuff. I bought "stuff" and though it brought me very little satisfaction or joy, I still wanted it. (This is not to say that I would turn down any presents that anyone wants to give me. Ever.) But "stuff" isn't a priority. I love being curious about life now. I love the life I'm living and much of the thanks go to all the spiritual teachers I've encountered along the way. It started with Mike Eigen (a therapist who writes a lot about spirituality) and continued with Pema Chodron, who I believe saved my life, and Eckhart Tolle, and Regena Thomashauer, and Friends In Deed, and then my dance teachers and too many others to name. I'm not quite sure where it's all leading, but it definitely feels like a move upward - and outward. It feels that it is about paying back and giving to the world a bit of what I've received.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sitting with it

Lately, it seems as if I have heard of a number of friends and acquaintances who are dealing with some difficult situations.  I think that the economy and the struggles that so many people are having financially, is often at the root of it, but it also goes much deeper.  It is a struggle with aging parents, illness, young people searching for jobs, opportunities.  A very difficult election.  

I am at another crossroads and I'm not sure where it is leading, but if I've learned one thing in the past few years of studying Buddhism and spirituality it is to stay in this very moment.  It's one of the hardest lessons, since we human beings are always looking towards the future and worrying about what is coming, rather than appreciating and staying in the present. 

I went to help out a friend this morning who is about to give birth and is in a difficult situation with her new husband.  I can only imagine how hard it is for her to stay in this moment, when in six weeks she will be giving birth to her baby and life will get even more challenging.

One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to show up - so that was what I did.  I listened and helped her unpack and just sat with her.  And now I am sitting with my own anxieties, as I have many days over the last few years.

I love what I have been learning lately from August Gold, a spiritual teacher.  She says:  "Life is a conversation.  We need to stop asking 'why is this happening to me' and start asking 'why is this happening for me?'" 

In reading about the Kaballah it says:  "This challenge is an indication that there is a great amount of Light to be revealed here!  I may not understand how yet, but I can make the effort to see why this opportunity has been given to me.  I can choose, instead of reacting or worry, to continue the development of my soul.  I can choose to not allow negativity in, and as I do this more and more, I will grow my certainty in the Light.

Negativity has power over us only when we allow it to.

So my choice now is to put on my shoes and go for a walk and get out of my head and my apartment.  And stay in this very moment, which is a rainy autumn afternoon, and be grateful for all the blessings in my life.  Starting with the fact that my daughter lives in Brooklyn and last year on this day I was visiting her in San Francisco. 

Enough sitting, it's time to move my feet. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Joy of Divorce

This piece came to me a few weeks ago and I held off sharing it for awhile.  It's challenging to write about divorce when I know that there was very little joy in it for my daughter - but I do think that ultimately, it's been good for all of us.

Here is the link:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two good Buddhist teachings

I just finished re-reading the Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell) and in reading the notes at the end, there were two good stories I wanted to share.

Honoring the Tao means respecting the way things are.  There is a wonderful Japanese story (adapted here from Zenkei Shibayama Roshi's A Flower Does Not Talk) which portrays this attitude:

A hundred and fifty years ago there lived a woman named Sono, whose devotion and purity of heart were respected far and wide.  One day a fellow Buddhist, having made a long trip to see her asked, "What can I do to put my heart at rest?"  She said, "Every morning and every evening, and whenever anything happens to you, keep on saying, 'Thanks for everythingI have no complaints whatsoever.'"  The man did as he was instructed, for a whole year, but his heart was still not at peace.  He returned to Sono, crestfallen.  "I've said your prayer over and over, and yet nothing in my life has changed; I'm still the same selfish person as before.  What should I do now?  Sono immediately said, " 'Thanks for everything.  I have no complaints whatsoever.'" On hearing these words, the man was able to open his spiritual eye, and returned home with great joy.

And the second story:

A poor farmer's horse ran off into the country of the barbarians.  All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"  After a few months the horse returned with a barbarian horse of excellent stock.  All his neighbors offered their congratulations, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't a disaster?"  The two horses bred, and the family became rich in fine horses.  The farmer's son spent much of his time riding them; one day he fell off and broke his hipbone.  All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"  Another year passed, and the barbarians invaded the frontier.  All the able-bodied young men were conscripted, and nine-tenths of them died in the war.  Who can tell how events will be transformed? 


Sunday, September 23, 2012

You Should Be Dancing

Another Huff Post piece:

There are certain moments in your life that you remember forever.

This is one of mine: I'm pregnant and it's 1987. Dirty Dancing has just opened. I see it alone, during the day, at the Paris Theater in Manhattan. I'm unemployed, nauseous and my hormones are all over the place. From the moment I see Patrick Swayze teaching Jennifer Grey to dance, practicing the lift with Grey in the water, to the scene at the end of the movie when she flies off the stage into his arms, it practically gives me an orgasm. I dance out of the theater, I feel so alive, so ecstatic, the combination of Swayze's dancing, and beauty, and my hormones are almost too much to contain. I'm sure I saw it at least three more times before I gave birth to my daughter, Zoe. And probably a hundred times since.

Ten years earlier, in 1977, I was living in Los Angeles, working in television, and it was one of those LA winters when it never stopped raining. Ever. I was just about ready to kill myself. I'm from New York, where we have actual seasons and real weather that changes. So I went to see the movie everyone was talking about, totally depressed, and as soon as the music started to play and Travolta was seen strutting down that Brooklyn street, holding that can of paint, I was mesmerized. I fell in love, with John, with Brooklyn, with dancing, with the music. I bought the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I danced in my living room. One weekend, I went to the mall in Century City and the choreographer who'd supposedly taught Travolta to dance for the film was there giving a demonstration. He picked me out of the crowd to dance with! It was my big moment! I danced and I could follow and it was thrilling! I was no longer even remotely depressed.

As the Don Henley song says: "All she wants to do is dance."

I started dancing when I was 5. First tap, then ballet, I was enthusiastic, but never fantastic. I loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and I adored Gene Kelly. I studied jazz, modern, African dance, I was up for anything. I loved going to dances, concerts, any opportunity to dance and I was there. After college, I moved out to LA and focused on work and found other physical outlets, first running and then yoga. I loved the endorphin high running gave me, and I loved the discipline of yoga. I missed dancing, but somehow it got lost.

When I got married and had Zoe, we danced together when she was little. But then real life took over, raising a teenager, working, being a member of the sandwich generation, dealing with my parents' illnesses -- there was no thought of dancing, there was just survival, the couch, and television and books to escape into.

In 2009, after 23 years of marriage, my husband and I split up, my mother died and I went into a deep hole. It was a time of intense grief and I just had to work my way out of it, slowly.

And then, in the summer of 2010, I was invited to dance in a flash mob in Washington Square Park. I love flash mobs! As I learned the dance (we danced to Nina Simone's song "Feeling Good"), I began to feel... good. Really good. Alive. I enjoyed learning the dance, being part of something, connecting to the music. We danced in Washington Square Park in honor of Gay Pride Day, and we staged a mock lesbian wedding at the end of the dance. We were a motley crew, not one of those big professional flash mobs, but we all had fun.

A month later, in August, I met a man on who, among other things, taught tango. He was going to go to a milonga (tango dance) on the pier one Sunday afternoon, so we met for coffee nearby, before the dance. I was curious, so I went along to the milonga and watched as he danced with a few of his students. I was wearing my sneakers, and was hardly dressed for the tango, but he insisted on showing me the basic steps.

After we danced, he said to me, "You picked the steps up immediately. You are a dancer."
Wow! "I am a dancer." That was all I needed to hear! I raced out the next day and bought practice dance shoes. I showed them to my neighbor who said, "Those are kind of ugly." I was thrown off -- I thought they were great, but maybe it was the dancing itself I was thinking of. Even so, I stuffed them in the closet and forgot about dancing. It felt like too much effort. Then November came and I thought, "What can I do this winter to keep myself from having the winter blues?"

A little voice said, "dance." So I called Dance Manhattan, a dance studio that has been around for 20 years, and I found out about beginning classes. They suggested I try swing dancing first. I took one class in November and then kept dancing in December, taking two classes, then three, all winter, all spring, all summer and I am now completely hooked on dancing. The music alone is joyous and upbeat, and I've met so many people who are as obsessed with dancing as I am. I have a new community, new friends, and my passion for dance has absolutely changed my life. It's opened my chakras, my feelings, made me love men again, and given me ridiculous amounts of pleasure.
You can't buy joy. You just have to feel it. You may have work that gives you great pleasure, but feeling it in your body -- whether it's dancing, playing a musical instrument, running, biking, hiking, rock climbing, whatever it is (obviously sex is great, too). I believe that dancing saved me from antidepressants, got me out of the hole and literally changed my life. Even if all you do is put on music in your living room and take a dance break, I promise you, you'll feel better.

Lately, I've also started doing a new form of movement called Qoya, which combines yoga and dance. My fabulous Qoya teacher read this beautiful poem by Rumi to us at the end of our last class:
Dance when you're broken open.
Dance when you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Maybe you don't hear that tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
Music. Dance.
A brilliant city inside your soul!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dark Nights of the Soul

I have been writing and reading about spiritual teachings for several years and I always love to share what I am reading. There are several books I'm reading now, one is Brene Brown's new book "Daring Greatly" which is wonderful and the other one is "Dark Nights of the Soul." I love this quote from the beginning of that book and I find that it so relates to my own life and also Pema Chodron's work about happiness and acceptance:

Many people think that the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy.  But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation and you never get rid of your problems.  Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with the people and the life around you, to really live your life.  That may sound obivous, yet many people spend their time avoiding life. They are afraid to let it flow through them, and so their vitality gets channeled into ambitions, addictions, and preoccupations that don't give them anything worth having.  A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living.  It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.  

Here I want to explore positive contributions of your dark nights, painful thought they may be.  I don't want to romanticize them or deny their dangers.  I don't even want to suggest that you can always get through them.  But I do see opportunities to be transformed from within, in ways you could never imagine.  A dark night is like Dante getting sleepy, wandering from his path, mindlessly slipping into a cave.  It is like Odysseus being tossed by stormy waves and Tristan adrift without an oar.  You don't choose a dark night for yourself. It is given to you. Your job is to get close to it and sift it for its gold."

Thomas Moore

I didn't choose my "dark night" three years ago when everything I believed were the most important parts of my life left me, my family, my home, my job.  Those things defined me for many years and suddenly I had to "re-define" myself - during my dark nights.  It was the greatest gift, the time I spent and continue to spend, sifting for the gold. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Three years

One year ago, I signed my divorce papers and it was the beginning of a new life and an entirely new chapter.

In November of 2011 I found dance.  I'd started dancing (as I wrote here) in a couple of flash mobs, but then I decided to sign up for dance classes and ever since then my life has changed in many profound ways.  First of all I found something really joyous that I love to do.  I've met many people who love it too and many really great men.  Men to dance with - not necessarily the love of my life, but men I really enjoy.

My morning practice of reading, writing and meditating has changed a bit.  I've been chanting in the morning, which is very peaceful.

In August, my daughter Zoe moved back to New York after three years of living in San Francisco.

She arrived the first week in August, which is when my first piece appeared on the Huffington Post.

I've now had five pieces published and yesterday Zoe and I did a Huff Post Live on adult children moving home with their parents.  She did find a great apartment with a roommate and they are happily living in their own place now.

If you're new to this blog and you or anyone you know anyone who's going through a difficult time, go back three years to April 2009 and start reading.  There is a great deal of information about how to get through loss and grief a day at a time. 

And the present feels very exciting!  So stay tuned.  I never expected any of this, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds next.  If you've had any interesting surprises lately, I'd love to hear about them. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A husband, a house, a mortgage, a baby, a lightbulb moment

 My latest HuffPost:

I had it all. I had the American dream. I lived in a beautiful loft in the heart of SoHo (okay, I know some of you want the house and the picket fence, I wanted a loft in New York City).
And I had the baby, the most wonderful daughter. And two dogs. I had everything I'd ever dreamed of and I was deeply, deeply grateful.
I had the wedding, with a beautiful dress from Paris with lace, made in the 1920's -- very much my style. I had a honeymoon at a lovely resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
We moved to New York City a few months after we got married to pursue our dreams. I was 34, not that young, but old enough to know what I was looking for. It had taken hundreds of dates, blind dates, fix-ups -- there was no internet dating in those days. I'd lived with other men. It had taken hard work, but I was determined to find the love of my life and have it all. My career was in television writing and I was about to break into films. I could hear the biological clock ticking and I desperately wanted to have a baby. I had dated men in my business and I finally found someone who was an artist -- intelligent, talented, articulate -- and he made a living. He was a bit lonely and depressed, but I was going to rescue him and make him happy with a family and a home and everything that would answer all of his prayers -- and mine -- and we would live happily ever after.
And we did, for a time. It was great.
It lasted until about a week after the wedding. And then, subtly, I sensed a shift. He had been attentive and available before, and within a few months after the wedding, I felt the door close. It wasn't obvious, but in the first year of our marriage I wrote an essay that was never published called "The Myths of Marriage." And the funny part was, I had taken a course years before about dating and marriage and one of the main points was that we present ourselves one way when we are trying to "get" someone and then once we "have" them; we let our guard down and we show who we really are.
I knew that and yet, I acted like I really enjoyed cooking though I hated cooking. And he acted like he really enjoyed spending weekends with me, when he really wanted to work seven days a week. But we made a commitment and we worked at it and we became a family.
There are few things in life more rewarding than finding someone you love, who loves you, who knows you and over the years, through all the difficult life experiences, is your ally and your friend and your sounding board and your lover. Those kind of relationships are hard to find.
But after 23 years of marriage, we got divorced. I deserved more and he deserved to be who he was (turns out he didn't really want to be rescued). And my beautiful lace dress from Paris? I had rented it from a costume house in Hollywood. Maybe even then I knew that you can't hold on to some things forever, no matter how beautiful they seem at one time in your life.
Here is my suggestion: Be you. Don't try to be anyone else.
Also, live your life with pleasure and do what you love and what is important to you. Work hard, play hard, don't be waiting for someone to complete you. Complete yourself.
A great marriage is really a dream for most. It takes honesty -- knowing and presenting who you really are. It isn't for everyone; it takes effort and a great deal of compromise and patience. It is not the Nobel Prize of life. It is no longer even the American dream, or any dream. Perhaps you saw Eric Klinenberg's piece in The New York Times about living alone in which he reports, "More people live alone now than at any other time in history... In Manhattan and in Washington, nearly one in two households are occupied by a single person... In Paris, the city of lovers, more than half of all households contain single people." Even in Paris -- my beloved city of lights -- even they had a light bulb moment: living alone, or at least unmarried, need not be stigmatized or pathetic or necessarily lonely.
I don't know if I will ever get married again. Divorce was one of the worst experiences of my life, which led me to one of the best and most productive periods of my life. I am not waiting to meet the next man to love; I am busy, working hard, grateful for my life, dating, dancing, enjoying my daughter, my friends and a rent-stabilized loft in SoHo, which I share with a good friend. Not a man. With men, I dance. And right now, that's working really well for me.
Dreams are for when you are asleep. Life is what happens when you are awake. It's never what you expect. Enjoy it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Age of Grief (or How Loss Transforms You)

It seems like every day I speak to a friend who is either racing off to the hospital to see a parent who’s ill, or a spouse, a friend, or dealing with their own illness, or divorce, or job loss. It’s not that I don’t know people whose lives are great – but the reality is that millions of us are dealing with difficult challenges. 

As Pema Chodron, the Buddhist writer says in When Things Fall Apart:

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”

In 2009, I had my own personal “tsunami.” My 23 year marriage ended, I had no job, my mother died, my daughter moved 3,000 miles away, and I had to move, with two dogs. Life dealt me a hand that left me broken.  I felt like I was under water and couldn’t breathe.

A dear friend pointed me in the direction of Eckhart Tolle’s book, The New Earth and I read this:

“Whenever tragic loss occurs you either resist, or you yield.  Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego.  You are closed.  Whatever action you take in a state of resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create outer resistance and the universe will not be on your side: life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in.  When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary your action will be aligned with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness, which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen.  If no action is possible, you rest in the inner piece that comes with surrender.  You rest in God.”

This became like a mantra to me. (A long one, I know.)  I typed it up and carried it with me.  And honestly, circumstances and people did become helpful. 

One night at Friends In Deed in New York City, a “pragmatic, spiritual crisis center,” I attended a workshop on grief. I told myself I was willing to go anywhere for help, but it didn’t hurt that Friends In Deed was just up the block.

Here is what I learned:

Grief is the natural response to loss. Loss is a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity. Grief now becomes a lifelong companion, never leaving you in the beginning, softened over time, but never leaving completely. If the person meant anything to you, the loss of them will visit you, sometimes when you least expect it.

The five stages of grief Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—are helpful, but perhaps the stages are not linear and maybe there are better models.  And what about relief?  What about guilt?  

Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.  

There are three levels to grief – the first level is the loss of the person, the life.  The second level is the practical issues, the loss of income, a home, structure.  The third level, the constant reminders: you pick up the phone to call the person, you cook for two instead of one, you look at the chair he or she sat in.

First comes disintegration, then eventually reintegration..."the new normal."  The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return.  Grief is natural, like breathing.  Try to let it happen, let it run its own course.  One day you’re on the floor and then surprising yourself, you find you’re going out on a date, something unimaginable just a short time before. 

Here are some myths:  you'll get over it.  You'll transcend it.  There is a right way to grieve.

Truth:  Your loss will transform you.  This is the experience, and it is what it is.  Tell your friends what you need.  Let them know you can use their help.  If they ask, and you don't know what you need, thank them for asking and ask them to maybe ask again.  Soon.

The transformation is often for the better.  Not always, but usually—especially if we find ways to get out of our own way. I gave myself to the process, and it is a process, and now I’ll avoid the word journey, but it was and continues to be.

The tried and true methods of dealing with grief and anger, though they can be effective in the short term:  drugs, drinking, eating too much, are distractions from the process. 

The good news: human beings are resilient.  We are amazingly strong.

What helps with grief?

Talking helps
Not talking helps
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)
Hitting a punching bag
Sad movies

Maybe you were grieved last week when NBC cut into Olympic coverage to give a sneak peak of the new show starring Matthew Perry called "Go On." In it, they find the humor and pathos inherent in a grief counseling group. I was lucky enough to find Friends In Deed, but there are many kinds of groups out there, one that will suit you. You may even feel most comfortable in an online community. The main thing is to take your grief seriously, as loss is a necessary part of living. It needs to be respected and not ignored (as Perry's character finds out in the first episode) - and you need to feel that you are not alone.

The tsunami that hit me ultimately has been the greatest gift of my life.  It added depth and understanding to my life and what else would I have to share?  Tips on how to deal with curly hair?  (Not that that isn’t very important information.) 

But I am now a far more empathetic person than I was when frizzy hair was my biggest problem. 
Friends In Deed is located at 594 Broadway, Suite 706, New York City,