The Golden Spot

About six or seven years ago, my friend Edith gave me a gorgeous succulent plant for Christmas. I love having plants around the house because they remind me of my great-grandmother and I looked forward to adding it to my mini home garden. Another friend who witnessed the gift giving told me that if I clip the ends back then it would bloom every year, and she advised me with such authority that I took her word for it without double-checking. Since I clipped the ends it hasn’t bloomed, not once. I thought I’d destroyed its ability to flower and have always regretted that ill advised pruning.

A few days ago I looked at it and saw two blossoms with more on the way. It only took seven years. Something beautiful that I thought I’d destroyed lives again and is more beautiful than I imagined it would ever be. This past year, the past few months especially, have been all about faith, process, and renewing hope in dreams I long took for dead. The process of renewing hope in something you want badly is a painful one. It’s difficult and there’s so much risk involved, but it must be done and I’m finding myself hungry for new challenges and new breakthroughs.

Speaking of challenges, my friend John recently reminded me of how beneficial The Artist’s Way is and I’ve decided to go through it again. I remember the freedom and inspiration I felt last time I did it and I can feel my excitement growing. My main obstacle with pushing through new things is and has always been negative thoughts and fear, so one thing I’m using to help with this latest attempt at the book is running…which I hate.

A few years ago I found myself dipping my toe into the Cross-Fit craze. There’s a Cross-Fit box near my home and I was making good money at the time so I took the plunge. In one of my first classes I was doing a rep of something horrendous involving crunches, a medicine ball, and burpees when I felt my body begin to revolt. My thoughts began to race and in them I heard, “I can’t do this. This is too hard. I can’t do this.” I started to make up my mind to stop and another voice crept in and said, “You can do this. You’re being asked to work much harder than you’ve worked in a long while and you’re not used to it, but you can do this. Don’t give up.” Mind over matter.

I listened to the voice and kept going, and over time I felt my body and endurance getting stronger. I applied this mind over matter/self-encouragement principle to other areas of my life—college, writing endeavors, self-discipline—and I saw fairly significant results. Several weeks ago my lovely friend Kathy was recently encouraging me to challenging myself with running, which I hate doing, and she said, “The worst parts are getting started and coming to the finish, but once you get going you’re in the golden spot.” Words to live by. Words to create by.

Again, mind over matter. Having a physical activity that mirrors the mental act of overcoming challenges and pushing yourself to do your best is key for me. So far this month I’ve run twice a week and plan to increase it to three times next week. Let’s see what blooms next.

The Permanent Delegate

It was reported today that yet another act of vandalism towards the Jewish community has occurred, which was the second incident in a week. Our current administration is littered with open racists, misogynists, and homophobes. Rights of America’s disenfranchised and vulnerable are being attacked, and around the world men, women, and children continue to be slaughtered and tortured in the names of gods and men. This poem I encountered in high school springs to mind and my heart breaks at its relevancy.

The Permanent Delegate
by Yuri Suhl

My name is Jew
I come from the land of skeleton
They beat me in Berlin, tortured me in Warsaw
Shot me in Lublin, and I am still here
The ash of my bones a glowing monument,
A fiery headstone

I am the scorched hair of a virgin’s bright curls
Smoothed and patted by anxious hands.
I am a maddened mother’s futile tears
Soothing in vain a hundred anguished hurts.
I am the boiling of blood the shriveling of flesh
Smoldering ash of six million.
Ashes of body, of brain, of vision, of work
Ashes of genius and dreams
Ashes of God’s master stroke, man

Count the limbs gentlemen
Match them if you can in pairs,
It can’t be done.
For I am one ghost out of six million.
Out of all the ashes I have become one
And the dream lies broken
And spit on.

I am here to tell you gentlemen
It’s a lie
The world is not yet Hitler-Free.
Millions see it, condemn it
Cry out my pain and warn you.
But you are moved
Like a granite statue by the prick of a pin.
Therefore I have come
Uninvited, unwelcome
Bringing a message from the land of skeleton.

I am grafting my ash to your souls
I am hanging my dreams around your necks
I am blotting out the sun from your day with my shadow
And I am tearing the quiet of your night with the shrieks of my torture.
I will pick at your brains with my maggots
And I will beat at your conscience with the hands
Of a million dead children.

Yea, though you split the atom to infinity
You shall see my face before your eyes
I sit at all the round tables
At every conference, I am a delegate
My credentials signed by six million from the land of skeleton
And you will never get rid of me
Until the world is Hitler-free.

Ambien Dreams

Have had insomnia for a few months so my doctor prescribed Ambien. Here are some of the things I dreamt about while under Ambien’s influence.

#1 – I’m with my mother and her boyfriend in a supermarket, the same supermarket in all of my dreams, and I’m trying desperately to find an iced honeybun. All I can find are cinnamon rolls and none of them have the caloric content listed. The more I search, the more I’m filled with shame. Now I’m in line with a shopping cart full of milk, bread, etc…no honeybun. My mother and her boyfriend are at the cashier. Her boyfriend is Jay-Z (my mother is not Beyonce). The cashier notices them and I’m mortified that she’s going to say something or make a scene. My mother is way too old for Jay-Z. Jay-Z also happens to be married. He pays for the groceries.

#2 – I’m in a rabbi’s office. He’s also a divorce lawyer. A man I used to love (in real life) and I have gotten married and are now getting a divorce, rather, the man is leaving me for another woman. We’re waiting for my soon to be ex to arrive and the rabbi/lawyer tells me that my husband is an idiot and is making the wrong choice. The rabbi/lawyer is Louis CK except that he’s dark haired and dressed like an orthodox Jew. His paternal sweetness makes me want to cry. Husband shows up and is greeted with silent rabbi/lawyer scorn. “She loves you, you know. You’re a schlemiel.” The ex leaves, stunned, and the rabbi/lawyer sits me down and makes me pour out my heart. It’s the first time I can admit how much I love the man who’s leaving me without embarrassment or shame. Suddenly, I notice that the Louis CK rabbi/lawyer has an earring in his right ear. I think, “This dude is very cool.”

#3 – I was a spy and the villain (I didn’t know she was a villain yet) gave me a purse shaped like a black cat that opened at the neck like a Pez dispenser. I put something in it, but I don’t remember what…something she gave me. They showed the tuxedoed man I was with (my spy colleague, I think) and me into a dimly lit room that you might find in a wealthy older man’s house. Dark red and black leather everywhere. Fancy pen in a pen holder on the desk, beverage tray with decanted spirits, huge globe on a stand… It was cold. The moment we were in there I knew they were going to kill us. I pulled a transporter device from my pocket that looked like a stopwatch and I put my arm around my colleague so that I could save him too. For some reason, my skin had to be on his skin for transport so I lifted up the back of his dress shirt and and put my bare arm against his skin. He had no idea what was going on so when I did this he misunderstood. He turned to me with this soft look in his eyes, said, “Oh, Shaun,” and moved in for what I presume was a kiss. I pushed the button on the transporter and the next second we were in the parking lot. We looked up and the floor we were on exploded. I noticed he had forgotten the cat purse that I really liked and he said, “Yeah, sorry.” I then realized that the thing she had given me which I put in the cat purse was probably an explosive of some kind so it was good he’d dropped it. Although I didn’t mention it then, his tender misunderstanding had deeply moved me.

20 Years

video-undefined-22A0241D00000578-86_636x358I’d seen an advertisement for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy during my junior year of high school and there were two things that grabbed my attention: “acting” and “New York.” I’d fallen in love with the danger and mystery of New York ages ago and longed to live there, and acting…I lived and breathed it. I decided then and there that I would go to that school. The audition was in St. Louis, MO, about a four drive away from me, and I bought a bus ticket, booked myself a hotel room where they were holding the auditions, and three months later received word that I would soon be living in New York. So, fresh out of high school and full of a distorted sense of invincibility I made my way into the arms of destiny, history, and adventure. I remember feeling that my life was about to begin, and I remember my excitement being tempered only by the heartbreak and worry on the faces of my grandmother and great-grandmother. I remember thinking that their worry may very well be justified, but live or die, I had to go.

I arrived here about 10 days early so that I could enjoy the city before school started and stayed in a hostel on 148th and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem. I had about $200 to my name and I was scared to death. My roommate in the dorm-style dwelling was a stripper named Jackie who resembled Aileen Wuornos. She had curly, blondish hair and a friendly, easy way about her. She seemed as fascinated by my Midwestern naiveté as I was by her profession and transient way of living and our mutual curiosity became a bond of sorts. She decided that she would be my protector and city guide, and on my second day she brought home a subway map and circled all the stations to avoid after 11pm, and showed me how to find my school, Lincoln Center, CBGB’s, Times Square… I remember sitting on the roof of that hostel at night with this wild and tenderhearted woman who had come to represent the strangeness and beauty of New York to me and feeling that I was home. That feeling has never left me.

That was 20 years ago this month. It’s been a long, winding road since that wonderful week on St. Nicholas Avenue and I’m grateful for every moment of it. I wonder where Jackie is today. I hope she’s alright, and I hope if she ever thinks of me that she has an inkling of how much her kindness meant to me. I hope, if I’m lucky, that I’m able to be a Jackie for other wide-eyed kids full of dreams and hope. I hope I can do this beautiful city proud.

Happy Anniversary, loves.

The Heart is a Muscle

Have you read How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps? It was written by comedy writer, Aaron Bleyaert, and it is one of the most stunningly gorgeous things I’ve read in a while. It was like someone drizzling warm, melted caramel all over your tongue while a brook babbled nearby in the summer sun…if you’re into that kind of thing. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and read it. I’ll wait…

Did you read it? Incredible, right? The first time I read it my heart hurt so much I nearly retched. I actually had to take a break and come back to it, and after making it all the way through I sat there stunned and hurting. I’ve been him, I’ve been the girl who obliterated him, and it was excruciating to relive it via Aaron’s words in such detail, especially as I’m trying to get ready for pilot season and I really thought it was just about weight loss. I learned so much from reading this and I’m humbled by his bravery and the bravery of people like him. He leans into the pain. He walks right up to it, memorizes its scent, and walks on, broken and unashamed.

My natural instinct in the face of heartbreak, or any emotional pain really, is to avoid it and pretend it doesn’t exist. That, to me, seems logical. If you touch a stove and it burns your hand, remove your hand — avoid the source of suffering. But, here’s the thing…the heart/soul doesn’t work that way. Any emotion we feel is like water — you push it away and it seeps in anyway, maybe not in the area you’re pushing it out of, but it gets in, baby. You can drown in it, or harness it’s power to feed yourself and others. That’s something most of us kind of know, but seeing that principle vulnerably eked out so beautifully and devoid of judgement in Aaron’s post drove the point home in the way memorizing a passage from a self-help book won’t do. His courage inspired me. I cried for him and the beauty of it all I decided that day that I’d be a bit more like him and lean into the pain a bit more. I decided not to push away the thought of lost loves who memorized my idiosyncrasies and held me so closely their heartbeat rang in my ears, friends who proved inconsistent after walking with me through storms, people I’ve wounded horribly by being fearful and careless…or on a less personal note, image after image of children fleeing Syria with more memories of terror than joy, or news headlines announcing the senseless loss of 10 college students in Oregon. I want to memorize the scent of these wounds and ask God to help me make perfume from the pain.

I’ve actually been trying to do this more actively for the past few years, but the stress of school and political turbulence has taken it’s toll. This week was a much needed reminder to get back to that place and the odd thing is, leaning into the pain hurts less than avoidance. It begins to feel sort of beautiful after awhile. You feel connected…and brave. Funny that. I’ll find the balance one day soon, but until then I’ll just let my heart break and see where it takes me. Lifelong goal: live bravely and make art that breaks my heart.

The heart is a muscle…muscles get stronger the more you use them.

B”H

Hope and Risk

Yesterday, as I was on my way to an appointment, a woman with a beautiful French braid along the side of her head was staring intently at a woman who’d just gotten on the train and had sat near her. She got the second woman’s attention and told her there was something on her…feathers, or something. The second woman was having trouble seeing where it was so after a brief hesitation, the braided woman reached over and gently picked the feathers from the second woman’s face and hair. I was so struck by this random kindness and gentleness by both of them that I had to remind myself to stop staring. It seems so small, but the fact that the first woman took a chance and basically groomed another woman in such a tender, maternal way and that the second woman received it was one of the loveliest things I’ve seen in a while. There are so many beautiful things in this world that are nearly impossible with risk, right? How many memorable moments begin with a tiny leap of hope and trust? How much generosity is in that leap?

I think this is all swirling about because of a playwriting class I began last night with Rogelio Martinez at ESPA. One of the things he spoke about was how much trust and hope we need to do what we do…to pound our hearts out onto a page in hopes that it’s a beautiful, meaningful thing even if no one agrees. Lord, have mercy.  I suppose we leap because we must. Without risk…without faith, hope, and love we die. 

Artists, lovers, subway mamas…I am in awe of you today. It could be the lack of sleep has made me maudlin, but let’s pretend it hasn’t. xo

History lover

My Amazon.com delivery arrived today and in it were Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 and Old New York in Early Photographs, 1853-1901: 196 Prints from the Collection of the New York Historical Society. I cannot describe or explain the joy I felt when I pulled these two beautiful books out of the box. I’d been wanting Gotham for the longest time, and I scour the internet frequently for the NY Historical Society photos that I now own. I felt loved and pampered… book nerd style.

I don’t know why history does this to me. It makes my heart beat faster…perks up my senses…makes me come a bit more alive. I feel inserted into time, perhaps. You choose your place in time, or it chooses you. There’s so much power in that. Perhaps, I’m moved by the idea of not being forgotten. Perhaps I’m moved that I can look at photos of people who lived before me, see what they built and know that their lives are remembered for that one moment. Maybe I crave a safe, pseudo-connection that I’ve romanticized. In any case, I’m really happy those books arrived today.

Addendum: In a separate delivery later today, I received a biography of George Appo that I’d ordered. George Appo was a notorious pickpocket and con man in the Five Points area during its “heyday.” His entire life is representative of that area…biracial family, born and raised in poverty, opium addict, self-taught survival… It interests me how people born outside of privileged society learn to create their own culture. Now, when I’m going to find the time to read all of these books is another tale all to itself. I AM NOT ALLOWED TO BUY ANY MORE BOOKS!

(I think I mentioned this before, but if you’re interested in reading more about the Five Points district, or late nineteenth century New York, this is a great book. I first learned about Mr. Appo and the area that raised him there.)