Category Archives: balance

>Mantra for a troubled times

As I was riding home, down Broadway last week in the bright winter sunshine, I was attempted to boost my spirits by taking some solace in my health, family and general robust nature. You see I had just had a dispiriting job interview. I am not alone, but that does not necessarily make things better. It does make them different. Sometimes the fact that we are all in it together, mounts arguments that sooth sometimes and at other times it exacerbates the fear that I , that none of us. will ever find gainful employment again.

I know that I am in a much better place than many of my fellow citizens and yet whatever challenges we face as a nation, we also face personal demons a plenty. I have an ability to go to what my son called, when he was little, “The Dark Place”. This mythical kingdom needs no introduction, for whether we have named it or not, all of us have visited there. Some of us have taken up summer residence or gotten graduate degrees there. It is the place where we can’t get out of our own way, where we are afraid and can’t find a hand to hold, or a cat to pet. And so we simmer and stew in our own private negative juices.

And certainly the current ingredients for the “Dark Place” abound: war, unemployment, debt, bad choices, a lasting legacy of privation for our children and a fear that accompanies even one of these, let alone the concatenation that is in full bloom. But then there are the antidotes to doom.

The antidotes are so simple, so unbidden, free and surprising that they take my breath away. They are friendship, laughter, kisses in corners, questions, conversation, music, dappled sunshine, home cooked meals, gleeful kids, crazy cats and the magic of everyday. Oh everyone’s list varies, this is a quick fix mediation for me, but add to that list serendipity.

And so as I peddled by 1968 Raleigh bike down Broadway from the Upper East Side to the Downtown neighborhoods I love, I chanced a glance at the red stone wall at 707 Broadway just above 4th Street and there it was. Chalked in a neat hand were the words DONATE JOY. I rode past.

No I couldn’t ignore this universe message; I wheeled my bike around and pushed it against traffic and up onto the sidewalk. I stood in front of the message, OK I know it is graffiti, but it changed my mind set as clearly as if someone had shot a personal remote control at my gloom. I was on a new channel. I took out my little camera and click, I saved the image and the sentiment.

I have been thinking about what it means to “Donate Joy.” I attempt to offer smiles to folks on the street, I compliment women on lavish hats, I stop and help mothers with strollers, I make crying babies laugh, I hold doors, I proffer help, but is that joy ? How can I donate joy ? Do we donate joy when we don’t participate in passing along gossip, or hatred or fear or racism? Do we donate joy when we really laugh with our friends and children and not at them? I am still on a path to figure out, not what joy is, because I have the essence of joy sewn to me like a second shadow, but how do I donate it , or it or pass it along ?

I have been detouring and riding past by the scrawling every chance I get. I know it won’t last forever.
After-all it is chalk on stone in a wintery city full of rain and University cleaners. And joy is ephemeral, it can’t be held on our hands or put into a box,
so we have to pass it along quickly before it dissolves.

>Keeping the Beauty in Mind

>Today I had to ride to the dentist for the third attempt at a root canal. I was not in the best mood, still tired, wrung out from an encounter with a former friend who is trying to keep his aged mother, who is suffering form dementia, away from all her friends, as a means of control. It was ugly yesterday and made me cry torrents. I always feel depleted the next day, which is today.

I woke up late, hoping against hope that the dentist would be an another hour, but instead I had to gulp coffee and hop on the pony. I could see I was still groggy and my mind kept me going back to the fight and the sadness I felt and saw in my friend’s eyes when we were separated. I thought about all the people who hadn’t come to see the opera, of all the pushing and conniving, of the wheedling and cajoling to develop an audience for this lovely opera. The level of disregard for a project like this given the economy tanking and the craziness surrounding the political climate leaves me feeling often scared and certainly anxious.

But on this ride, on the first ten minutes of this ride, I gave myself a strict talking to.

DO NOT MISS THIS DAY, I intoned over and over again.


It was crystal, soft air, feint breeze, and my legs and arms felt strong and I was happy to ride my nice old bike, tires full of air, up to 50th Street. My mind roiled back to sadness, missed calls, people I want to see or hold and still I pushed to return to the immediacy of the day. It was warm, I was healthy and I had work to return to this evening.

I had to keep seeing that.

And I did keep trying as I called the bigwig producers who turned me down for one thing or another, and I persevered to get names of other folks to call. Hang up, email, make a package, call another person, hang up send information. Keep sounding as if I believed and not as if I was flagging, and losing heart.

Did they know, this little cast and crew how much goes into turning on the lights and having butts in seats. Do they know how I fret over getting this last payroll to them on the 28th of September and how much I feel like a failure because I can’t and clearly see now that I won’t be offering them big money for all the miraculous stuff they have achieved.

I have to run now, shower, maybe more email, maybe more Advil OK definitely more Advil.

Here we go: week two.

>Being Perfect

>In the midst of all this opera hubbub (what else can I call it) I stumbled into an email conversation with a young downtown mother, who is also a big time Conde Naste editor. She and I are connected through other friends and my daughter, who baby-sits for her. It began as an email in passing, HEY WHAT ABOUT NURSERY SCHOOL? And it segued into being a discussion about the desire of mothers, especially the over-educated, over-wrought, over-worked mothers’ desire to be perfect.

Perfect does not exist, unless it is in the Japanese notion of Wabi Sabi: beautiful ugly. Unless it is in the perfect notion of nature, where things have a moment of pitch perfection and then the leaves fall off, the peach over-ripens and we move to the next season. When did we begin to believe that mothering could be an undertaking where perfection, a no-faults expectation, could be expected or even sought?

My new email friend’s son is just a year old and already she feels she is not enough for him. My son turns 20 next week and he often tells me in vibrant, blue tones how I have failed. I have a litany in my head that ranges from when I zipped his neck in the snowsuit, to making him attend a reading seminar on his birthday before he began High School. I forced him to go to a free summer school program for under reading kids that extended into Saturdays during the fall and spring of second and third grades.

I have embarrassed him endlessly by introducing girls, by asking him to accompany me to theater events. I took him to the Broadway Show The Puppetry of the Penis when he was 13; he tells me he still has nightmares. I have yelled in public, I yell at home. I didn’t push him to be adventuresome in eating, I cooked special meals for everyone because I felt so bad that I had to leave his father and put him and his sister through all that. So I didn’t push enough. Even though we paid for him to live in Los Angles for his junior year of high school, found a tennis coach, a thing he said he wanted, he still feels as if we didn’t visit him enough. Now please remember that this is a very hard working family comprised of two freelancers, with little back-up. We struggle, but have fun doing it. So the fact that his stepdad and sister and I made visits out there, some of us more than once, seems huge to me. But in the end I do very little right.

It is not perfection and it is never enough. This summer he yelled at me, by email, saying I never gave him good advice. This was as he endured two weeks in the South of France. I KID YOU NOT. I have gotten him tutors, helped get him jobs, edited papers, found him a semester abroad in Scotland working at a castle, I have taken him to his driving test again and again and paid for classes. I paid for music lessons and fancy sneakers and I sit up with him on occasion eating Cheetoes after a night of beer drinking. After the LA year, he wanted to drive across country so I contrived to get a story so that the expenses would be off set, and we did drive across country and had a blast. At least I thought we did.

We do enjoy each other from time to time, but underlying it all is the raving notion that I am not perfect, I am so far from perfect and I see it in him. He is gruff and has not learned the dual art of apology and appreciation. I suppose, like my friend with her toddler son, I expect perfection from myself. And when I see my failure at that goal evaporate I am stung and stunned. In fact it happens every time.

I know I am occasionally judgmental and short tempered, but I have tried with all my gumption and power to love this kid, to shower affection on him and to see who he really is and love that, not who I want him to be. BUT . . . he comes home today and I know I will see again my terrible imperfection reflected in his eyes and words. Running away tonight to rehearsal will almost be a respite, a cowardly retreat I know.

>Spinning Wheel

>It is nearly suppertime and I have passed most of the day sitting behind a wheel. No not driving, but spinning clay into bowls. For five hours I took slabs of clay, between two and four pounds and I spun them into bowls. Fat, flat, lifted feet, stuck to the ground… each unique, and I was in heaven.

In my head, there was no missing voice coach, no lack of funds, the clay slabs all got along. I didn’t think I should have nicer here, or more stringent there, I sat and I mesmerized myself. Each bowl for a different person. Do you, gentle readers, recall my insanity at deciding that I “needed” to make all the opening night gifts. Well I now have enough and there are even some extras thrown that may go to my son Henry’s campus apartment, if he stops mouthing off.

I worked on Calling this morning, I gathered, listed, and talked at length with composer Doug about schedules and how to copy music and distribute it, and when to meet to begin writing the next round of grant applications that are due the first of September. It still seems a little like fantasy baseball or knitting for a yet born baby. I know how these things happen, I have seen plays and dance and music evolve from idea to magic under the lights of a flickering stage. But I have never been the one who had the hair-brained idea and then rallied the troops. It feels so different.

At any moment I expect these troops of amazing artists and designers to turn on me, as if we were on a bad hike and rebel.
“We are not taking another step!” they will holler.
I will shrink back and cower, “Why, why?”
“Well, because you do not know what you are doing!”

Shall I say, “What’s your point?”
Or something a tad more philosophical, “Do any of us really know where we are going or what we are doing?”

That might throw them off the scent of fear for a day or two, but I know it will reappear.

All of this life thing for me, making pottery, being a mother, cooking, writing, producing, directing; I am aware there are books and methods that could. . .
NO can teach you how to do it, but then there are people like me who have to feel things or they can’t achieve it. At any rate today I made seven bowls and a big mug complete with handle for Henry, the converted Scottish tea drinker.
So that’s a good enough amount to make me feel productive.

Tomorrow is root canal, getting checks cut, that’s a kind of root canal too I guess.
And Rehearsal, writing grants and whatever else the gods of theater find amusing to toss our way.

>Beyond The Brain We Know

>It is Saturday, which means little when one is immersed close to drowning, in a project of passion. The work piles up and it has to be done. Calls must be made, parties planned, singers scheduled, invites printed, calls made to recalcitrant wine donors and tricky plans made to hang lights, and make dances in a theater space often unavailable for rehearsal at the same time as actors. It is a logistical nightmare, even with all the artistic stuff removed. Making an opera full of sound and fury and tiny set and major light and dance and props and found costumes. And I know you all get it.

But add to this my most insane decision to make all the opening night gifts from clay. This means going into the pottery studio on Chambers Street to throw on the wheel the bowls or cups, or pitchers or planters. Then these have to be trimmed, then fired once, then glazed and fired again. At any point, just like theater they can fall apart. Quit on you like a cast member or you budget. Explode in the fiery kiln or have the glaze run and stick and look more like an elementary school gift that only a mother can love.

So this morning I was going into the studio early. After all the phone calls to new singers, scheduling confabs and dropping off postcards at local markets and restaurants. I was going to sit at the wheel and spin and ruminate. Of course I had a list of all the other things I had to do, and silly as it may seems, calling my kids in France was on the list. I hadn’t wanted to hover so I haven’t called in a few days. I have my special super cheap, bought in a bodega, cardboard calling cards that require dialing many numbers, a skill I am particularly poor at, because my extreme dyslexia often messes me up mid-dial and have to start over. So I was waiting until later.

But I kept getting jangled in my head by my daughter. I do think of her often, but there is a certain buzz that is a real call. So I braved the multiple digits, had to redo twice since the first cards were used up. Tossed them and began again. I got her on the fifth ring and she was laughing. “Hey, it’s your mama.” She is still laughing, so I ask, “What’s up?”

“Well, I was thinking of you so so much and I thought I have to stop thinking about her because I can’t talk right now and I was trying to cancel the thoughts, like hanging up mid-dial, but I guess it didn’t work.”

This is no longer amazing is us. Perhaps others think it is bunkum, a lie, a good yarn to evince closeness, but it is a scientific as any other unproven fact. The earth still revolved around the sun even when folks said it didn’t. And many scientists have been exploring all the portions of our brain we don’t ever use and it just sits there waiting to be discovered and believed in. This is one of those parts. A way to communicate beyond words, and cheap paper phone cards and emails, and text messages and Hallmark cards. It is such a deep, and vibrant communication that even a quick touch where we laugh at being babe to make each other call is wonderful.

I know my son Henry has the ability to some extent, but he is happier believing that the earth is the center of the universe and doesn’t want to believe in magic, or communication beyond the phone or email. Sometimes he enjoys its wacky nature but mostly he wants, “Nothing but the facts, Mom.” I bet in his lifetime there will be scientific data to shore up why Willi and I can call across time lines and phone lines and reach other more clearly than if there was an email saying “Please call me.” That I can ignore, but the buzzing, unanswered shout-out from the south of France while climbing the steps of a cathedral is something I can’t and will never ignore.