Archive | February, 2013

The Silence of Snow

27 Feb

When I was a little girl and my family would travel to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I would always pray for snow. Sometimes I was obliged and would marvel at the way the white flakes began to dust everything like powered sugar. We would even go ice skating on the lake which fed about every girly fantasy I had from living in a Currier and Ives painting to being Dorothy Hamil and winning Olympic gold.

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The only time I’ve lived in a snowy climate was in New York both in and near NYC. The day I arrived it began to snow and proceeded to for three days straight. The newscasters called it the blizzard of 1996. My mother had made a suicide attempt a few days prior. That first night I slept ten hours. When I awoke I looked out the window and saw that snow enveloped the yard like thick icing on an enormous white cake. I continued to sleep ten hours a night for weeks on end. During the days I would write and then go for long walks in the bitter cold, comforted by the still quiet the snow created. While snow brings eventual slush and mud, for me it has always brought hibernation and peace.

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It began to snow yesterday. I am on a work trip teaching in the Midwest. And once again I felt my soul secretly delight, knowing that the visual landscape reflects a microcosm of my tendencies towards introversion and stillness. Inclimate weather gives us all permission to go within; to reflect; to stay home and read; or to simply crawl under the covers and rest. In today’s rushed fast paced world, I welcome that.

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When you live in a climate where everything is a riot of sunshine and color, I welcome the contrast.

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And when it really snows, the ensuing quiet is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The silence of snow is profound.

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Practicing Serenity

22 Feb

I realize when your mother takes her own life it can make you somewhat hyper-vigilant to loss. For years I knew my mom was vulnerable to suicide. She had made a previous attempt jumping from a balcony, puncturing a lung and breaking a few ribs. I’d also received many calls from the ER informing me that her blood alcohol concentration was dangerously high. And all of this was hopelessly beyond my control. And so you live in fear and you say the serenity prayer daily. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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I have a cat, Hafiz who is losing weight despite eating huge amounts (and his thyroid level is normal). Hopefully, his ailment is stemming from a food absorption issue and not cancer. I love this cat like he was a new born infant, probably because I don’t have a child of my own.

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When my mother died, Hafiz was a great support.

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But after my mother died, I stopped attending Al-Anon meetings, the support group for family and friends of those suffering from alcoholism. I’d had enough of meetings, thank you very much. I wanted freedom from the impact this insidious disease had on my life. And with my mom (and father) deceased, I naively thought suffering would dissipate. I forgot that freedom comes from working a program. And all of us, no matter our situation, have to work some kind of program in life, because let’s face it, life is just too hard otherwise.

So as I watched my nerves unravel trying to figure out Hafiz’s condition and whether he is going to live or perish, I suddenly understood the connection. You can’t schedule death and you don’t always get to say goodbye. The fact that I travel frequently to teach, and thus have to leave my precious boy in someone else’s care, pushes every control freak button in my body. And the thought of losing Hafiz without being able to say goodbye triggers the profound loss that came with not being able to say goodbye to my mother.

But if I am to acknowledge that I do indeed have a Higher Power, then I must surrender my mom, Hafiz, and myself to His care. I must allow myself to feel my feelings and then let grace wash over me. And I must keep repeating these words: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Are We All A Bunch of Hungry Birds?

15 Feb

A Hollywood director friend of mine recently said to me, “I hate LA. It used to be everyone in LA was trying to be an actor. Now everybody is trying to be someone. And no one can fuck’n act.”

In today’s world of reality t.v., everybody wants to be noticed for doing nothing of merit. People think the cameras should come circling in on them because of the way they sip their coffee or toss their hair. But before I bash Hollywood wannabes, are we all just a bunch of hungry birds wanting attention? Are we all trying to “be” someone?

The writer I most respect does not blog, tweet and rarely posts anything to FB. Yet he is prolific. He also has thousands of followers because he is so damned good at what he does. He writes.

My director friend studied at Yale where actors bust their balls to develop their craft and then continue doing so for a long, long time. So when Jessica Chastain (who studied at Julliard) says she has been doing this FOR YEARS, she means it. Now poised for an Oscar, let us not forget what it took to get her there. Artists like Chastain aren’t trying to be someone. They’re being their art. They’re living their lives.

So as I sift through the daily twitter feed, I feel how easy it is to be pulled into other people’s energy and inner worlds as all of us clamor for a worm from the mother bird. And that’s okay because twitter is a powerful, valuable medium and we’re all in the nest together. But the world I most want to inhabit is my own because that is the only space from which I have the time, energy and motivation to offer something to the outer one. And you? What feeds and sustains you, and what do you think it means to take flight?

What Would Jesus Pack?

4 Feb

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I have disliked guns ever since Bambi’s mother was shot. I was too young to make the connection that the meat I ate each night at dinner involved killing an animal and that if I really didn’t believe in hunting, I shouldn’t eat meat. So please know that just because I dislike guns, I’m not implying that we all go vegetarian, or that we should never own or shoot a gun.

Owning assault weapons is another matter though. I don’t see it as a right to own these anymore than it is for individual citizens to own anthrax or nuclear missiles. We regulate the latter; why not the former?

Friends of mine in the D.C. area marched on Washington for gun control recently. Someone snapped this photo of a woman’s sign. If a picture says a thousand words, this one speaks volumes for Jesus, although a revolutionary, never resorted to violence. He didn’t say, “Let’s stock pile our weapons and be on guard just in case the Pharisees want to take us out.”

I am not saying that we should never engage in physical self-defense but if the Son of Man never did, why in the world do we glorify guns so much? Why do we downplay their enormous destructive power and instead make it seem hip and cool to decimate a crowd, whether in a movie or in real life? And why are guns thought of as seductive as sex, often equating the two and their power together?

Gun advocates claim that people kill; not guns. And this is true. Yet guns are instruments of killing and they allow individuals to get the job done with extreme efficiency. Why then have they become idols? What concerns me about high capacity guns is that we have become an impulsive and entitled society. This means that people are more quick to anger and hurting others when things don’t go their way. And guns facilitate that impulsivity and entitlement with little time for stop, listen and think.

We blame the mentally ill for the majority of gun violence in this country and yet only 4% of homicides are attributed to those with mental illness. Most violence comes from someone with a temper, a vendetta, entitlement, or evil.

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This letter was a plea from Gabby Giffords, the senator shot at a political rally in Arizona. She isn’t asking that we ban all guns and become pacifists. But she is asking that we stop devaluing life by claiming it is a right to have weapons of mass destruction with little to no regulation. And I ask that we stop thinking violence is so damn sexy and cool or just innocuous. It’s not.

Creative Types – Are We All a Wee Bit Crazy?

2 Feb

As both an artist and psychotherapist, I have long been frustrated by the myth that in order to be creative, we have to be just a wee bit crazy. First off, I don’t like the word “crazy” because it’s stigmatizing. It lumps mental illness into one big stereotype and marginalizes those who suffer from symptoms of a disorder. But besides that issue, why the belief that in order to be creative, we have to suffer from emotional instability or mania?

It is my firm bias that we are all inherently creative. We simply live in a world that beats this impulse out of most of us. We stop drawing when we’re scolded for coloring on the wall or are told that the dog we drew looks like a space ship. Or we’re told to become an engineer and not a writer because writing won’t take us anywhere… Not to mention that art and music programs are the first to be deemed irrelevant and cut from school budgets.

I also have a strong bias that if we are suffering from any type of adversity, creativity helps affirm life.

So perhaps here is where the myth comes from. Creativity is a fire energy. It’s strong, active and borders on manic properties. But like all fire, it needs to be channeled for constructive use. The high voltage is of no use to us if it blows out our system. Rather than sensationalize this phenomenon, glamorizing it as a necessary ingredient in the creative process, what if instead we learned how to channel it for its most effective use? What if we mastered the art of integration, bringing it into balance with all other facets of our lives?

Creativity is a balance of fire and ice. Yin and Yang. Ideally, we want to soar to great heights while simultaneously staying grounded. What is crazy is to mute that divine life force. But what keeps me grounded is to remember where that force actually comes from. Thoughts? What keeps you both grounded and creative? What gives you divine inspiration + motivation?