Wednesday, October 31, 2007

But not all media is like that....

Life, once removed

"People have made all sorts of movies about being 16 or 17 and in high school in America. But no one has ever made a movie about how people hook up and call it love," Katie said to me this morning.

"Then that is the movie you should... I mean, could, make," I said. "We make art out of the issues and questions that haunt us."

I learned this from Sam Keen, who taught me that our thorns, or, as he called them, "the things that get under our saddle like a burr", are the things that shape our character--and are, ultimately, the gifts (or problems) that shape our destiny. They are also, let me add, the themes of our lives. What I mean is, these are the callings, the hauntings, the issues and questions that get us out of bed in the middle of the night. The things that call to us, again and again, all of our lives.

They are our passions, our key frustrations and the undergirding structure of every moment of truth. These fascinations, these allurements will lead is to the most profound satisfaction and if ignored, will lead to our deepest regrets.

As Katie and I continued talking, I asked her, "Why do you think kids today do this? I mean, what is it about the way this generation was raised that's making you experience things this way--once removed from real experience?" Which was, I admit, a leading question.

It led her right where it was designed to lead her, back to one of MY thorns: Media, especially television and the way that, as our attention is drawn to watching other people people experience the things that we BELIEVE that we never will, our "real" lives are taken up, more and more, with meaningless, programmed activities--and by this I am referring to the daily grind, 9-5 jobs, any work that we hate or are bored with yet are compelled to continue doing to pay our bills or debts*, activities performed by rote such as driving long commutes, sitting in bone-numbing conferences, or, as Katie puts it, "going to high school so you can go to college so you can get a job so you can have some money to buy you the things that you think will make you happy."

It can be so tempting to throw ourselves onto the sofa and tune it all out. Believe me, I know, and I wrestle with it every night. But as we watch other people sort out their relationships or do stand-up comedy or climb Mt. Everest or survive a winter in Alaska (or a week on American Idol), the fact remains that WE ARE SITTING ON THE SOFA. And though we may think we are very clear that TV is not real, there's a part of us that doesn't really get that--and the more we set our lives aside to watch, the more agitated we become, the more powerless, envious, angry or, as Katie calls it, "pointless."

And why do we feel pointless? Because that part of us that doesn't get it is the part that needs to be activated so that we can live these experiences ourselves--and it's not activated this way.

Im reminded of a story: When Max was little, he was absolutely hypnotized by the TV, so much that I grew concerned--especially when I tried to draw him away, into other activities and he didn't hear me, and when I did manage to get his attention, threw all-out tantrums when I turned the TV off. I consulted a man named Jaimen McMillan, an expert in spatial dynamics, asking him: Where does Max go when he watches TV? McMillan said, "He goes into the TV."
He explained that children, who are wired to interact with story, as Max clearly was, have a greater tendency to "go in" to TV taking it in so deeply that it becomes a need that must be fed...

Sounds like an addiction, doesn't it?

TV doesn't mean to do this to us. But, it's a narcotic, you see. It draws us in with our taste for story, then, zaps us with white light, hypnotizing those of us who are most vulnerable: The Story Readers.

Stories are, I believe, meant to be drawn into the psyche differently--through words on a page or words spoken in a classroom or around a campfire. When they are delivered by television they are delivered in a base of something else, some emptiness (perhaps it is the lack of interaction that causes us to swallow this emptiness, perhaps it happens as that bright white dot closes the screen when we turn off the set)--It's this emptiness that is doing the harm--not the stories, not the programming, or even the inane advertisigin.

It's the emptiness that we swallow with each dose. An emptiness that makes us crave something to fill it. Like any other addictive substance it numbs our pain, initially, then strips us of our power--and our energy. TV can be especially damaging to our creativity, which requires long stretches of silence and deep pockets of down time in which to spread out and develop. Just the kinds of time that TV requires of us.

But I want to get back to the discussion with Katie, which, interestingly, began with a comment about movies, another form of media that, while not as addictive, is potentially as influential--for better or worse.

Katie and I started taking apart this "hooking up" phenomenon and some of the other monsters that come out from under the psychic bed when we shove our problems underground (by watching TV or engaging in any other activity that numbs us to our real experience.) These are the things we came up with and some of our observations about where they come from and how, perhaps, to address them:

1) Hooking up - or as Katie called it, "hooking up and calling it love" - alienation from the other
2) Cutting, anorexia, addictions to porn and shopping (social addictions) - alienation from the self - in an attempt to control the flow of feeling (patients describe feeling flooded by or numb to normal feeling sensation) ; in the case of shopping, patients are trying to fill an emptiness with things
3) Acute envy and powerlessness - alienation from our own authority/power, no sense of the inherent talents and abilities and soul-callings/longings with which we were born
4) TV keeps us inside on a sunny day; not going out to play/interact with neighbors or with nature; over-consumption of processed/fast food (eating food that's been prepared by machine and is several times removed from the healthy, fresh ingredients with which it began - alienation from Mother Earth/nature's life cycles - no grounding in life itself
5) Alienation from society - our news, politics and underlying social structure is fed to us through media "sound bites", "talking heads", "media analysts" and pundits (or films with a specific socio-political agenda) vs. getting out in the fray and sorting it out for ourselves. In US politics, we can feel so far removed that we cast our vote based on little more than a few minutes of TV coverage, a synopsis in our favorite newspaper, an endorsement of our union's leadership. Where is the discerning self in this?
6) TV Culture - references to TV shows and ways of behaving that one can only pick up by watching, thus requiring those who want to fit in (and who doesn't) to go sit and watch more TV


But now I'd like to open the discussion about how to connect to real experience; indeed, I'm thinking that before we even begin to try and solve this problem, we'll need to go back and define what real experience IS. For I think that many people have moved so far from interaction with the core self that they/we may find it difficult, at first, to even identify those experiences they lack, even though, at a deep level, their souls are longing for very specific things. It's just that we have not been taught (or have not practiced enough) ways of bringing those soul-longings to the surface and processing them in a conscious way (with language, imagery and "real" experience.)

Is that clear? I hope it is. If it's not, please ask me questions. (in comments or by email: I want you to understand what I am saying here.

So, first, what do we want to experience and how to get to that, but in a real way, touching on core/soul longings.
Second, how can we open to the core/soul? Through the arts, certainly. Through collage and other psychic "mapping" and "building" tools, through physical movement (something I sorely need), through group singing??? (an idea that comes to me that would connect us to others without needing to "encounter" too closely; through dream and imagery work...

There are many ideas in this post, and I have recently promised not to post "too long" so I am going to break up my thoughts in several related posts, perhaps over the course of a couple of days. I am also going to bring in some thoughts from other blogs (mine and those of other bloggers) and from some books and other research materials to enrich the discussion.

Ultimately, because this is one of my thorns, I expect to be writing a book about it... today, next month, eventually. This is one of the first steps--and, reminded of something Mary Eileen wrote in a comment on a previous post, perhaps it is time for me to get to this, writing an imperfect first draft. (Or a blog post) and pressing send.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How to Write a Book: One

Start by starting. We learn to write a book by writing one. Each book we write teaches us something new.

In "How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead", a wonderful book by Ariel Gore, Julia Alvarez quotes Robert Frost, who said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." (I'm not sure what that has to do with this discussion but writers love to quote more prominent writers, as if by association, our status will be elevated. On that note, note the way, in that single quote above, I managed to pick up Frost, Alvarez and Gore in one sentence!)

And then note the way that, for some reason, the minute we start thinking about writing a book, we digress into discussion of publication--and celebrity... at least, I do.)

It’s about the work. It’s about the work. It’s about the work.
It’s not about my picture in a magazine, or book signings, radio interviews, or Oprah’s Book Club. It’s not about sold-out lectures or my name in the Omega Institute catalog. It’s about the work.

It’s not about the money or the big house I will buy on the water—and how, when they come home to that house with a friend, my children (who will be in college by then) will not say, “Sorry there’s no bathroom upstairs,” or “We keep it kind of casual,” or worse, “We could go to your house.” It’s about the work.

Not about my brother in law, Roger, and how, every time I see him he asks, “How’s the book coming?” And how I always say, “Great!” even though we both know that, unless it’s finished, he doesn’t believe me. It’s about the work, and not about the day when I tell Roger, “Oh, haven’t you heard? It’s done and it’s been published, and it’s a best seller. And how are you?”

Spike Lee said that the only way to be flashproof is to remember it’s about the work. I have to remember that. In the meantime, I should probably go work on my book.

Next installment... (because I wasn't really finished thinking about this and because I am putting off working on my book)
Keep your pen moving. Show up. Make writing time an appointment that you keep at least as responsibly as you get to the dentist. Imagine that, if you don't write, someone will send you a bill for 150 dollars. Show up. Make it important. Dont stop when you hit a wall (hump, setback) write through it, around it, over and under it. This is the moment that separates the writer from the journal-keeper. This hump-wall moment. This moment when you stand before your embarrassment, your uncertainty, your "I dont know what's next", your "I know what's next and I am terrified to go there" and you write anyway.

Installment after that: A poem by Billy Collins

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.
Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.
The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.
When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.
From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.


Note: Don't do this. It absolutely never works. No matter how clean you get things. No matter how neatly you align all the cups in the cabinet, even if you scrub the black burned bottoms of every pot, pan and roaster until it gleams.

Just sit down, even if you are sitting in a puddle of milk that was spilled by a toddler during breakfast, even if the laundry isn't done and the undersides of those rocks look positively grody, sit your ass down and write.

That's what I'm doing, see? Though I have to admit that, before I began, I did clean out the car.

My addiction

I like green tea, I really do. And I know that, for the moment, it's supposed to be good for me. I like its nutty plain taste and the idea of it--that each sip I swallow is going directly to my cells and plumping their anti-oxidant muscles. But I don't like it as much as I like black tea--served hot with cream or over ice with fresh lemon and one packet of Sugar in the Raw.

And that is just the way it is.

It's how I'm wired, I think. I find it challenging--nigh impossible--to make the transition away from my addiction to black tea. I had no trouble (well, not much trouble) giving up coffee altogether when I was trying to conceive a child all those years (20) ago. I toughed out the three day headache--avoiding all coffee-related kiosks, kitchens, friends and.. er, coffee shops for weeks until the cravings subsided. After I got pregnant, and had Max, I thought I'd just give coffee another try and found it had suddenly gone bitter and unsatisfying and, with the exception of a decaf cappuccino at Art Cafe in Nyack once or twice a year, I have never returned. But black tea... well, that is different. And I can't understand why.

I've given it up several times--when sick, when dieting (caffeine makes me hungrier), when cleansing, when fasting--with no withdrawal symptoms at all. No headaches, no cravings, nada. But for some reason, I keep crawling back to refill my cup.

Why? Well, I like it. It fits my idea of me. It tastes good, usually. It's nice to have a cup beside me while I write. I don't know. I just do.

Tell me about your addiction, if you dare!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Kindred Spirits

Ive been looking around the blogosphere for kindred spirits... here's the first one I found... I'll add more as I find them.
If you like my work, you may like theirs is what I'm sayin'

Painter's Kitchen

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Four feathers, continued

More from BE FULL OF YOURSELF, a book by Patricia Lynn Reilly

A Reversal of Value: The Development of the Humble Self

Our desire for acknowledgment was judged as conceited, big-headed, self-inflated and pompous by our families. Daily, we walked through a mine-field of warnings and admonitions to be humble about our projects, dreams and accomplishments and adventures, to be humble and quiet about ourselves at the expense of our own healthy self-celebration.

Dont be so egotistical and full of yourself. Don't blow your own horn. Dont brag. Pretend you dont know what you know so you wont hurt his ego. Do well quietly so others wont feel intimidated by you. Dont be so obvious with your talents. Dont hurt other peoples feelings by being so good at everything. Youre too big for your britches. Stop showing off. Who do you think you are? Pride goeth before a fall.

The constant repetition of childhood commandments censored our natural desire for acknowledgment and recognition. We were required to be quiet about ourselves, to pretend that our ideas, projects, dreams and talents were small and inconsequential so we would be liked. Humble, discreet, and considerate, we learned that girls are supposed to applaud for others, especially boys.

What specific words, images, experiences, and expectations required the relinquishment of your celebratory self and the development of the humble self? Did you choose to conform by becoming quiet about your ideas, projects, dreams and talents? Were you unprepared for feminism's celebration of women, certain that something was wrong with you because of your inablity to shed the pseudo-humility of a lifetime? Or did you refuse to twist yourself out of shpae in childhoood by maintaining a relationship to your celebratory self and your desire for acknowledgment and recognition? What were the gifts and challenges of your choices?

Well, now...

Full of Myself/Four feathers

Last weekend, I picked up a book called, "Be Full of Yourself," by Patricia Lynn Reilly, at the Green Meadow Fall Fair.I picked it up because I liked the implications of that title--and because, the older I get, the less "full of myself" I seem to be.

Today, I took it with me to Panera, where I planned to read it for secrets that might inspire me to write; and when I opened it, I found four feathers tucked into its pages...and because feathers are one of the ways that my angels talk to me, I knew that I should pay attention, and I figured that the thing I should pay attention to was the page where the feathers appeared. Here's what it says:

Pause to remember your healthy desire for acknowledgment and recognition: the time when you hung all your second grade paintings on the living room wall and sent invitations to your neighbors to come to your first art showing; the time when you asked all the Thanksgiving guests to listen to the stories you'd written and to clap after each one**; or the time when you called your sister's best friend because you knew she'd listen to your ideas--with the same interest she showed to adults.

** as I typed this, a young girl at the table beside mine started clapping.

If you do not remember your childhood, recall the healthy desire for acknowledgment and recognition expressed by your pre-adolescent daughter, granddaughter, or niece: the time she asked if the family could have a weekly "show and tell" time so everyone could be applauded; or the time when she wrote to the president about how to help homeless people and called the White House when she didn't get an answer soon enough to suit her. Allow your daughter, granddaughter or niece to awaken memories of a time when you were full of yourself... in the very beginning of life.

I'd forgotten those times but this afternoon, I am sipping iced tea and thinking about them.

Can you remember yours? I'd love to hear about them, in the comments section of this post or, privately, by email.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My posts are too long

I cant help it. I have a lot to say. Besides, I am using this blog as a launching pad for my career as a REAL writer--you know, the kind of writer who has tens of thousands of blog subscribers and has her work published in magazines and gets to read an essay on NPR now and then. A serious writer, who, even though she didn't finish college, has made a name for herself.

Last night, I was feeling kind of sorry for myself, which happens when I dont get enough sleep and my hormones are doing this thing they do when the moon is doing that thing it did last night (whatever it was). What happens to me is I give up. I simply cannot carry it all - the buying of a new house, the sorting out and supporting of a father in a nursing home and a mother in a new apartment, the visiting, selecting and applying to colleges with my 11th grader, the phone calls from my son who is eager for me to do all the legwork and paperwork involved in his taking possession of the car that his grandfather gave him last month. So last night, I just set it all down. I put on some soft pjs and made myself a little tray with some tea and a small chunk of dark chocolate and carried it into the living room where, I picked up the remote, stretched out on the sofa and watched someone else deal with their drama. It helped.

I like to watch Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Extreme Home Makeover, House... If these shows are not on, I watch the cooking channel: Iron Chef or NIgella Lawson; or, What Not to Wear (my guilty secret).

What I am looking for is transformation--of trauma to triumph, of ingredients and fire to something delicious-looking, of ugly duckling to swan. And I find that, by watching other people figure it out, even though they are not real people, I feel a little better.

Last night, I watched a rerun of Oprah, the one in which a man who has three months to live discusses his secrets for a happy life. That turned me over like a grilled cheese sandwich, let me tell ya! That inspired and humbled me--and I realized that my petty little overwhelm had nothing on this guy's three months to live--and I got up and did some laundry and hugged my husband and called my daughter down to eat some toast with me and show me her beautiful artwork.

And now this post is longer than it was supposed to be... but that is what happens on my blog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Meeting the World - Notes from out there

Well, first of all, try not to meet the world. it's everywhere, shouting, Look at me! with its bright lights and forests of steel and glass pointed at the sky like missles. There is neon flashing and music and huge heaps of stuff that we can use to insulate us from feeling uncomfortable about:
- the fact that we are not as beautiful as Giselle Bundchen and
- the way that our children are little fun-house mirrors, reflecting us back to ourselves--stretching our faults, widening us in the places we would rather conceal under a loose-fitting top, and
- the cold, hard truth that... we are going to die.

Now, of course, there is that other world: all damp and squishy-warm under our toes. If we'd just take off our shoes.
We've been hearing about it for some time now from our artsy friends and some of the people on TV. But we can't go see that other world, not even for a little visit... and we certainly can't take off our shoes. It's too chaotic and we don't know our way around and anyway, we have too much to do.

"If it's not on my GPS system, or endorsed by the AMA or Oprah, well then, it's not worth thinking about." Everyone knows that.

But then that pressure starts to build inside of our chests, that urgent, uncomfortable feeling that seems to be pressing us to get out of the car and stand in the sunlight and breathe.. and all we can think of doing is racing home, turning on the TV and numbing ourselves with organic red wine or rubbing ourselves out with the soft, pink erasers of Zoloft, Tylenol PM, Dancing with the Stars or a creamy decaf, Venti Latte--vanilla shot, two packets of Splenda.

Still, you can't escape the world. As every mystic has patiently explained, It's in you, a little time-bomb of intuition, a pottery shard from the ancestors, a spoonful of loamy soil, pressing outward. It's only a matter of time.

I hold out my hand, palm up, arm extended. I feel the air move around it. I feel the muscles pull from shoulder to elbow, the effort it takes to simply hold it there. And the moment when, for some reason, my muscles seem to panic and pull it back. Resisting the ache in the elbow, the joint pinging with electricity--alarms from my brain warn: Red alert. This is much more than the usual use of this arm. My body pulls it back, my will presses it back out. It hurts, meeting the world.

That is where electricity comes from. Friction, one thing pressing against another. World meeting world.

The place where my ankles cross feels solid, warm and firm. My back in this chair is supported, the soft pillow under my tailbone, my feet wrapped in lambskin boots.


This is the clue, the secret to the great unraveling; this is the truth. Come closer (I will whisper in your ear).
- We cannot control the trouble in the world--all the pain and hand-wringing, war, disease, floods, storms, famine.
- All we can do is this one foolish thing - Comfort ourselves.

A pair of lambswool boots, purchased at Costco to cushion the feet, a glass of Merlot, aged in an oaken cask. A cigarette buzzing through the veins. A cup of tea with cream and wildflower honey.

There, there. It's nothing to worry about. Draw the curtains. Come back to bed.

We are just trying to be comfortable, safe and warm. A chicken in every pot. Seven acres and a mule.
All of our technology, all of this effort and toil toward this single end: The eliminatation of each twinge of pain, each fearful wrinkle, each moment of hunger, of self-doubt, of (Heaven forbid) boredom.

The problem is that as each of these challenges is taken from us, we weaken, we "virtualize", becoming less and less substantial. WIth nothing to push against, our muscles go flaccid, our minds grow dull. We are more comfortable, certainly, walking on our cloud bridges of ideas and drugs and lambswool boots--walking toward the illusion of Heaven on a bright flickering screen. But are we, cloudless and blue, better off. Soon, I imagine, we'll be able to see right through us.

How do we meet the world? Awake, alert, in bare feet, feeling our way across the river, toes gripping the stones, one step at a time.

(This next part is a little stream of consciousness in which I meet the world in a little girl's eyes. If you are easily upset, go comfort yourself and skip the rest.)

Oh, despair
(Don't give up hope)
But, oh, they are cutting down trees, troops are massing at our borders, children are being dragged by the arm from public places to be beaten in private.
(What? I was trying to buy something.)
Oh, how can I meet this world?

I ran to the police station. I made my report. "I have the license plate number," I said, tears running into the collar of my coat. "I wrote it on the back of my shopping list. Here it is."

Sponges, lettuce, eggs.
Child with straight black hair hiding between racks of second hand blankets. "Are you safe?" I whispered, shielding her from view. She nodded, bit her lip, ducked out of sight. How can I meet this world? I think as he comes searching, tossing back winter coats, a terrible giant pushing aside trees, stomping toward a cowering village. "When I find you...!" a snarl hurled like a weapon. She skittered out to the street. I saw her, he did too.

Yes, the officer says, taking the numbers from me. Yes, we will follow up.
And then, I panic. Wait, I say, grabbing his wrist. What if the father blames her? What if she gets it worse because of my report? He pats my hand. I remove it so I can wring it together with the other one, the way my mother did.

Then, I did what I always do to comfort myself. I went out to lunch. I sat down in a pricey restaurant and ordered a chicken Caesar salad, dressing on the side and an iced tea, which I sweetened with a packet of Sugar in the Raw from my purse.

Maybe it was all a mistunderstanding, I begin the process, pushing the worry aside. This is not mine. This is not mine... as I wait for my meal. Maybe she was taunting him. Maybe she'd driven him to such a level that he snapped, went archetypal (you know, the father turning into the bear at the top of the stairs, the giant stomping villages, the big bad wolf). Maybe.

"Im very concerned about the erosion of the physical world," someone says at the table nearby. Ice cubes clink against glass.

"I'm designing bridges," a woman at another table, begins. "Oh," her companion says. "I used to design handbags.".

Me? I'm designing a world where... I can't finish that sentence.

"People drive over a bridge having no sense of what it is," the bridge designer holds her water glass to the light, looking into it like a crystal ball. "What it really is, I mean, as a physical object. They tangle us up with permits, design bids, paperwork..."

At the other table, erosion. "The sea moves closer every year." The levees are breached. The Berthen's house washes into the sea. I pull a piece of paper from my pocket...

brown rice, sprouts, tofu, tamari
A girl, eight, with wide eyes like river stones looking up at me.

A bridge to somewhere else... I bite into my salad, salty, creamy, crunchy, meeting the world.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Taking up Space, Folding over

I will always be grateful to my sister's ex-partner, Kate, who told me, "Amy, you can take up space."

It wasn't that she was giving me permission--it was that her comment alerted me to the way that, until then, I'd been shrinking from living the fullness of myself. Before Kate mentioned it, I hadn't realized the way I'd been moving through life, hugging the walls of each room I "found myself" in, self-conscious and self-censoring, afraid to show up and shine. But after she said it, ouch.

Joseph Campbell used to say that we're having expereiences all the time that hint at our hungers. He insisted that we learn to listen for them, learn to recognize them. This was one of mine. As a Leo, with most of my planets in the 10th and 11th houses, I am designed to shine. Perversely, that "hunger" of mine made it acutely painful to risk shining, the very thing I was "talented" with. I've noticed fate does this alot, crippling us with the very thing with which it blesses us.

I have found it helpful to do as auhor Gregg Levoy suggests in his wonderful book, "Callings," resurrecting "the sort of basic inquisitiveness we had as children, that we usually directed outward, the curiosity that had us down on our knees staring into puddles looking for upside-down worlds, pulling seeds apart to figure out how a tree could possibly fit in there, asking why, why, why." Getting to the bottom of our "why" distracts us from self-consciuosness with fascination. We become so intrigued with the world that we are literally propelled, by our interests, out of ourselves.

The tree inside the seed becomes a metaphor for the truth that we are each encoded for something special and meaningful. Something that, because of us, will be bettered. And that something lures us forward, out of our self absorption into a love affair with the world--through our own particular lens of interest.

What I mean, emphatically, is that each of us is programmed for something that he or she will experience as "great"; a great, personal work. It does not matter whether this great work will add up to being a great parent or a great president, whether we will, ultimatley patent the cure for cancer or decoding the mystery of the perfect golf swing. What does matter is that the things we do fascinate and engages us, that our activities make us feel alive and aligned with our best self, that they lead us, through our love of them. to express, fully and richly, who we really are.

In order to discover that "something", we must turn our attention inward. And we must open our inner eye to the symbolic meaning of things that happen around us. "Everything is archetypal," says Caroline Myss (and Karl Jung, and Joseph Campbell and many others). "Every single thing has meaning." We must develop an inner "poet" scanning the world around us for metaphor and symbolism. This facility for finding meaning in everything, imbues our lives with mystery, magic and faith. Faith that there is an ordering, organizing principle to our lives, that our intuition is a conversation between the inner and outer selves: Between God and the individual soul.

We must also develop a practice of discernment. One way to do this is practice. And a challening practice one might try is this: DO THE SAME THING THE SAME WAY EVERY DAY FOR ONE YEAR.

One of my spiritual teachers tried it. For an entire year, whenever Joseph entered his home, he'd carefully remove his shoes, first the right, then the left, and place them in the exact same place on the floor. Every day. For a year.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," he laughed. The single act of mindfulness, of attention to this one little detail, brought a cascade of insight that left him reeling. One night he'd be so filled with resentment, resisting the practice, he'd kick off his shoes, oh, just anywhere. Another day, he'd defiantly leave them reversed, left then right. Why? Who was he resisting? He'd invented the exercise. He'd assigned it to himself. Who was he resisting?

For my own practice, he suggested I try translating one of the estoteric books I was struggling with into "good writing". Six years later, I have yet to get to it.

"The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives," writes Annie Dillard. And, it seems, that I am spending my life resisting guidance, not finding the time to do my work, not exercising, not doing yoga, not giving up caffeine. I am also spending my life asking questions, pursuing knowledge, reading and listening and learning. And while I am uncomfortable with the quantum leaps my ego keeps planning for me--BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR! LEAD SEMINARS! MOVE TO EUROPE! BUY A HOUSE IN SAN FRANCISCO!--I make my way. Slow and steady, making my way.

Years ago, when I visited her home in Providence--perhaps on the same visit that Kate granted me that permission to take up space--my sister took me out to the garden where she showed me the iris, folded over and tied face to knees, with their own leaves. "We do this to turn the energy back into the roots," she explained. "When we fold them in, they use the energy to strenghten themselves for winter and next season's growth."

This reminds me of the forward bend, my favorite yoga pose. Done sitting or standing, the pose--reaching hands to toes, folded in the middle like an iris, feels the same way, turning the energy back to center, forcing us to look inward.

It helps to have questions to focus our inward gaze where we want it to land. More than the crazy-making questions like, What do I do with my life? What is my purpose/the meaning of life? we must choose our guiding questions with care:

I found these from Sam Keen, at a seminar at Wisdom University last spring.

1) How can I serve others?
2) How can I be the most authentic?
3) How can I/we balance ecology and economy vs. how can we make the most money?

Tony Robbins offers these, which Ive carried around in my planner for years.

1) What am I most proud of in my life?
2) Who do I love?
3) Who loves me?
4) What am I most happy about in my life?
5) What excites me?
6) What am I looking forward to today? This week? This year?

And finally, from Oprah Winfrey, "Everyday, I get on my knees and ask God, 'How can I help you today?'"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

theres a fine line...

between writing in a revealing, personal way and blurting one's business all over the planet. A fine line. And even though I haven't really launched this blog to the public, there are a few people (You, and maybe, my mother or her therapist) reading it. So, unlike a journal entry, where I pour it all onto the page without a second thought, I've been censoring and editing myself more closely, realizing that, in fact, I am writing things that might be copied onto hard drives and potentially, held against me.

For example, my husband and I have bid on another house and yesterday, I began a post about all the things I hate about it. But as I pounded away at the keyboard, I realized that I'd crossed a line between the personal and the too-personal and I didn't post the entry. That was a big step for me.

There's a big difference between a blog and a journal, the former being written in the full light--in front of anyone who might care to read it today or a year from now or when I am 80 and a well-respected author and they are filing my obituary at the NY Times, just in case. (They do that, you know, write the obits ahead of time. It gives them the time to write something thoughtful and well-researched without the pressure of, if you'll pardon the pun, a deadline.) The latter, the journal, written in the protective shadow of a dim lamp when everyone else is asleep is the place for chaos, for all the rages and sputterings and petty grievances, for doodles in margins and different colored inks and little notes to remind myself of the things I cannot simply set aside.

The other thing about blogging, and being new to it, is that now, when I find myself talking with someone who's subscribed to the blog, there's a moment of discomfort when I realize that Im talking about something that they may already have read about. And I don't know why, exactly, but I feel this little blip of dissonance in the flow of conversation as I wonder, oops, did they read this in a post? or imagine them thinking, I hope she doesn't realize I skipped this post

It's like that moment in ordinary conversatin when we catch ourselves in mid-sentence, wondering: Am I repeating myself? Have I told this person this story before? And we feel a little sheepish, a little self-centered. And we walk away, pondering: Exactly how much self-examination is appropriate? At what point does the word "narcissist" float into the room?

I'm sure I'll get used to it. I'll develop a rhythm of posting and a special blogging language and a way of telling stories without revealing too much or saying anything that might hurt anyone. I hope it wont make me too self-conscious or terribly boring.

Anyway, thanks for listening... I mean, if you are.
ANd if you're not, well, never mind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Second blooming

Just letting you know that Ive been posting my head off on my other blogs... if you want to check them out. Especially Second Blooming. where some work Ive had hidden on the hard drive is finally coming together.

And on FLOW, I am beginning to develop the foundation for a truly transformational lifestyle program. I will keep you "posted".

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Envy: Part one

I want to write about how jealous I am of Elizabeth Gilbert and other writers like her who are writing in my genre. And about how I feel all hurried up, like there is something I was supposed to take care of and I better get to it soon or else. And how I am supposed to be sitting there, on Oprah's new comfy couch with Gilbert and Joan Anderson (A Year by the Sea) and Martha Beck (Expecting Adam, etc.) and talking about the time when I found myself in the palm of God's hand (which is what Gilbert wrote about and it really seemed to impress Oprah).

I also was thinking today, as I drove to work, that when I met C. Norm Shealy, at CMED last year, I felt the deepest connection with him, as if I am supposed to work with him. But I don't know how that will transpire.

And I want to talk about feeling like we are "supposed to" do anything and how that feeling is the one that always gets to me... even though I know it isn't true, that there's nothing Im supposed to be doing, that Im doing just fine, that all is well, as Abraham reminds us again and again.


I am so restless and having trouble, as they say, being "easy about all of this." And the "supposed to" feeling makes me feel so powerless, like what am I supposed to DO? What action can I throw at this thing to make it move faster? When I know that, in fact, the real work is going to be sitting, meditation, finding my center and writing from that place. ANd I know that, in fact, unless I sit down and breathe, I will walk right across God's palm and never realize I was there. And my work won't work and I wont make it to the comfy couch.

Do you ever feel this way?

IS it selfish to make art?

So, do you think that it's selfish to write my blogs, to pursue my work with this kind of frenzied attention (you may not know this but since August, I am spending 4-8 hours a day on this work). Is it selfish to make art? That is my question for today.


Last night, I received an email from a woman in the midwest signed, "Truly alone."
I want to talk about how that signature, and that woman, were mirrors for me--and taught me something about myself--something that I am not proud of but that It hink it's important to share.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sorting Dad out

All last week, I was driving Dad's car around packed to the roof with everything he owns. I alternated between feeling depressed and feeling liberated by the idea of owning only as much stuff as will fit into the inside cabin (and trunk) of a Toyota Corolla.

Eventually, I knew I had to begin sorting through it and I'd been meaning to ever since we gathered it all up from Laura's place, and a few days later, added a couple more shopping bags marked RAY from the great sorting out that Mom was doing before her move.

But my life works like this: I leave the house before dawn to get Katie to school and I don't return until its getting dark--and it's time to make dinner. Plus, while I was driving the stuff around, Mom kept calling to ask me to help her pack or unpack.

Don;t ask me why I drove the stuff around. Maybe I thought I'd sort it in between appointments or pull over on my way home from work. Maybe I liked having it with me--tightly packed in the backseat. Maybe I wanted to keep an eye on it.

But anyway, last Friday, when I got to work early, I had the thought that maybe, I could just take the time to do it NOW.

It was 7:45 am and the empty parking lot stretched around me, reminding me of the time when I was 20-something and drove out to Jones Beach at 3:00 in the morning to watch the sun come up.

I turned off the ignition, leaving the battery on so I could listen to NPR while I worked. Then, I opened all four doors of Dad's car and began pulling things out. I started with his clothing--which my husband had consolidated from six cartons to two large laundry sacks. I dumped the contents onto the asphalt and. drawing on my memory of the WHAT TO BRING TO THE NURSING HOME memo, I began.

I examined each shirt, sweater, pair of sweat pants. If there was a stain, torn collar, or if a garment looked old, I tossed it in one bag. If it looked good or if I remembered that I'd seen dad wearing it to a special occasion like a party, I folded it neatly into a pile on the backseat. IN the second laundry bag, I stuffed everything that needed laundering or was covered in cat hair from Laura's pets.

As I worked, Morning Edition playing softly on the radio, the landcaping company pulled up and six latinos got out with leaf blowers and made a lot of noise for about 20 minutes. They must have wondered if I was a homeless person, living in my car. Why else would a woman be standing in the middle of an empty parking lot, surrounded by clothing and personal items. Maybe they thought I had slept there, back behind the buildng where no one would have seen me.

They were so loud that I forgot the radio was still playing and when they left, and I remembered, I thought Id better shut it off before I drained the battery. Just to be sure, I tried the ignition and click click, the car wouldn;t come on. I pulled out the key and crossed my fingers that, as i worked all day, it would recharge it self. (Note: It did)

Anyway, back to the sorting... I looked through five or six cartons of files and documents dealing with his work--as an advocacy coordinator/consultant for people with disabilities. What in the world should I do with all of this? I kept asking myself. FInally, I rearranged things so the files went into the trunk and I pulled the rest of dad's things into the prking lot. Opening boxes I discovered: A carton of medical supplies--syringes and needles from the injecable vitamin therapy that Laura got Dad on but then couldn't follwo through on because, though she is a anurse, she can't stand giving injections. I guess that, since Dad must have oaid for the syringes, she thought he should have them--or maybe she thought the hosptial might like to have them. I tossed them in the dumpster along with four boxes of alchohol swabs, three boxes of gauze pads and two of latex examination gloves. There were person toiletry items: toothpaste, ibuprofen, gold bond powder. And a box of odds and ends: A brass "R" paperweight, grandson Cerulean's little sock, a picture frame (empty), some pens--all of which I saved. I mixed things into different groups--making a box of things to save, a box of things to ask dad about, a box of things that I didnt know what to do with.

When I was finished, I put it all back into the car, tossed half the clothes in the dumpster. And went into the office to work. There I made myself a cup of green tea, and began opening angel letters--reading stories of all the miraculous ways the angels take care of us...

I have to say that, since this Dad thing really took off, I have been pretty sure his guardian angels are in charge--putting him into the hands of the gentlest, most supportive hospital and nursing home staff imaginable, allaying all of his fears and doubts, Sorting things out their way, while I take care of things down here.

happy here

Update on Dad: For those of you following the story on my father's recent admission to a nursing home, when we last left him, Dad was really down, and was planning to make a break out of there.

The next time I visited him there, three days later, he greeted me with: I love this place. he introduced me to Ronald, his roommate, who was neither blind nor deaf, as Dad had suspected earlier. When I arrived, Dad was sitting up in a wheelchair beside Ronald's bed and they were havin a spirited discussion about where they were from and sharing memories of Atlantic City (Where Ronald spent his childhood and Bayside, Dads hometown.

He told me about all the special services he'd received since my last visit--physical therapy, blood work, and the activities he'd participatd in: Meditation and discussion groups. I was so relieved and was able to take down his list of requests without worry or resentment.

Dads list
Photos of family members, including Rosy
His memory scrapbook - the one I made for him last year
a new empty notebook to start a new memory scrapbook - the original is bursting at the seams

When I gave him the scrapbook, at a party at Jenny's house last year (was it father's day? Christmas? I cant remember) I remember that I picked him up in Union City where he was waiting outside with Laura, who'd gotten him down the many stais and out to the curb. And we drove to Jenny's together. I think Matthew was driving that day--and I think they got into an argument on the way home... mkind of making notes here for later exploration, kind of stream of consciousness...

Anyway, when I gve him the scrapbook, he was pretty surprised. He just sat there turning the pages (strong plastic pockets contining photos of family and friends from all parts of his life and some letters that people had written to him for the book) and some awards and newspaper clippings he and mom had saved about his work... he loves that book and I am so glad I made it for him... it might be the best thing I ever did for him, when it all gets added up in the big calculator of karma...

but anyway, he asked me to bring it to him... so today or tomorrow, I will

but first i have to write up my angel column for the week

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Eat, Pray, Stay

Watching Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray, Love" on Oprah this week got me thinking. Why does every self-help odyssey have to begin or end with someone leaaving a marriage? (I know that odysseys, by definition, require a "leaving" but why do we assume that people, especially women (and middle-aged men) have to leave their spouses in order to change?)

No disrespect to Gilbert, I loved her book, and it was clear that her marriage was over and done with when she left. Still, reading a book like this one--or any of the other woman-finds-herself-and-creates-a-new-life books on the market--can leave one feeling as if divorce is a requirement for personal transformation, and to me, that's a problem. Not only because I have tried so many times to leave my marriage only to be drawn back into it by a combination of economics, family realities and, let's admit it, love. But also because it suggests that the problems we're experiencing--the stuckness, the sameness, the lack of inspiration--is the fault of another person, and in a marriage, the handiest "other person" is the spouse.

But what happens when, though we want to change, we don't want to leave? I mean, I love my husband. What I don't like is the life we've made. We rent our home, I think it's time to buy. I long for a more interesting social life, and for heaven sake, a vacation would be nice. Must I dissolve my marriage to recreate my life--and myself? I just don't think so anymore.

Fifteen years ago, I started working on a novel in which a young mother, Natalie Barnett, runs away from home (with her toddlers) and finds herself sleeping in the car on a resort island where her mother has a big summer house. Thinking she'll just stay there (she knows where the key is hidden) until she sorts herself out, Natalie is surprised to discover that the house has been rented (But it's October!) and is, for two months, unavailable forcing Natalie to live by her wits (and the 10 jars of coins she's taken from the pantry shelf). Everything goes along fine until the money runs out and it gets too cold to sleep on the beach--or in the car.

When I began the book, my children were toddlers and I was writing out a fantasy I'd been having--to recreate our family's life MY WAY. I'd call all the shots about where we'd live, how we'd decorate, what the kids would eat and wear, and whether or not we'd watch TV once in while during dinner.

As the story developed, so did Natalie and I wanted her to find someone funny, inspiring and interesting. What's more, I wanted her new guy to be always taking me, I mean, her, places--new restaurants where they'd meet another couple, sharing animated, intelligent conversation about current events and the arts scene/ On the way home, I envisioned them cuddling in the back of a cab, recapping the highlights of the evening in the darkened cocoon of the car.

When winter wind whistled through the cracks in our tiny house, I pictured Natalie and her man on the beach, holding hands and sipping margaritas. And then, in the middle of the afternoon, I imagined them falling into bed, a warm breeze playing over 600-thread count sheets.

I was fully aware, as I furiously scribbled dialogue and chapter outlines, that I was writing about myself. I was also, increasingly aware that I was writing toward some sort of revelation that would be important to my readers (and to me). But I couldn't figure out what it was.

Slowly, it began to dawn on me that this story was only going to make sense if, in the end, Natalie ended up going back home. Because each time I got to the part where Richard was sitting, bewildered and alone in the darkened kitchen, having just come home to find his wife and children gone, my eyes would fill with tears and I'd find myself understanding him. Really, getting the picture of what it must be like to be the breadwinner, solely responsible for meeting the bills each month, isolated by his work from the three people he loved most in the world.

One day, I skipped ahead to craft a scene of Natalie and Richard's reunion, the things they'd say, the way he'd reach out and tuck that wisp of hair behind her ear. And as the scene formed under my fingers on the keyboard, I started sobbing.

I knew why I was crying; because after all the work I'd done to finally get Natalie out of the house that I... I mean, she, hated so much, she was going to betray me and go back to him. And I was so disappointed.

So I stopped writing, storing the manuscript, which had already been accepted by a good agent and edited (for $50 an hour) by an excellent editor, in a wooden box that I moved over the next 15 years from the dining room to the living room to the trunk of my car to the garage to a spot under the bed and back to my car. And today, half of the marked up pages are in my briefcase, at Panera Bread in Nanuet, NY, on a blue vinyl bench beside me.

I pulled them out because I think I may be ready to find out what's going to happen next, now that I'm more comfortable with the idea of staying in my own imperfect marriage. Because as that manuscript was moving around, I was learning what it really means to be part of a family, to share another person's day-to-day, up and down life. And because, my husband and I have both found a way to become the people we wanted to become (and decorate the house to suit both of our taste) together.

I'm still working toward that life I dreamed of--traveling around the world, enjoying wonderful new restaurants with fascinating friends, doing work that inspires and enlivens me. In fact, I plan to start renovating houses (one of my long-repressed dreams) whether or not my husband, whose name is Matthew, not Richard, wants to help me. I plan to live in Europe at least part of every year with or without him. But I am going to do all of these things, and more, while continuing to love him, and be married to him--for better or worse.

What a blessing to have come to this place in my life--to feel free enough within my marriage that I can shift and change right here, beside the guy who's doing just what he wants--even if it's different from what I want to do.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


This is a pledge to myself with you watching: Tomorrow I begin a 7-day juice and yoga fast. Just thought I'd let you know. If it works, I will continue the fast as long as I can. I have 20 more pounds to lose, after doing it this way in June/July last year. I am determined to make my "When I am 50" goal of getting back down to my true size, which is 6. Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I am so in love with me

It's okay to say that, isn't it? I mean, sometimes I just feel really proud, especially at times like this, when I am pushing through something that's really hard and resisting the tendency I have to give up or not do my best.

So even while all of this is going on and I am being drained of my time and energy and lately, money, I am feeling really alive and proud. It's the way I felt when, in labor, I reached transition and it was time to push the baby out and the midwife told me I had a cervical lip, which meant that she had to put her hands in there and push back a piece of the cervix that was keeping Katie from flying into the world. And I said, Oh no you dont and I slid all the way backwards up the wall until I was standing up on the bed (naked). And she said, "Well, you are going to have to just do this so we might as well get it over with" and I said, "Oh, crap," and I came back down on the bed and she did it and it hurt but then that part was over and there was Katie, all wet and squirmy and .... Katie-ish.

And Susan called and said, "Would you do it again?" and this was before the endorphins or hormones that make you forget the pain had been delivered by my endocrine system and I said, "Hell, no! It hurt more than anything Ive ever done!" But then, while I was nursing Katie, I realized: Yes I would. Yes I would. Yes I would.

This is kind of like that.
I feel as if I am giving birth to something really beautiful... and it's me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What to bring to the nursing home

Clothing and Personal Items

The Home’s staff has prepared a list of necessary clothing and personal items for residents. This list is based upon our experience with what residents need for personal comfort, good grooming and adequate attire.

All clothing should be WASHABLE as there is a charge for dry cleaning.
The Home will label all clothing with the resident’s name.
All necessary linen and bedding will be provided.
All luggage must be removed on the day of admission.
Television and Refrigerator measurements must conform as follows:

Refrigerator: 21 ½ inches in height, 25 inches in width, 18 inches deep
Television: 26 ½ inches in height, 25 inches in width, 17 inches deep

Clothing List for Residents who are Incontinent

14 pairs of slacks, 2 pair of slippers (hard back, crepe soles)
14 shirts, 2 pairs of shoes
1 suit, 2 sweaters
2 belts, 1 jacket (optional)
20 pairs of under shorts, 1 overcoat (seasonal)
2 ties (optional), 15 pairs of undershirts
2 bathrobes, 1 hat, skull cap
15 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of pajamas
toiletries, electric razor, Toiletries

As the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale will now be your home, we encourage you to personalize your room with the following kinds of items:

Framed family photographs
Small mirror
Refrigerator (see page 1)
Table lamp
Television (see page 1)
Lap robe

Have a great day.

I pulled my Brittney post

I have pulled my Brittney post because, frankly, I can't stop tinkering with it and it's simply not that important to me.
Well, yes it is. But I dont want it to be. I do not want to care about Brittney. But I do.

Sorry, there it is. She's a kid. She's in trouble. I care.
Call me sentimental, indulgent (others have). Call me anything...

What I mean is, call me Mom. This is just another example of how I am the mother of the world--taking care of everyone, even pop stars who have no idea that I exist.

The other reason I pulled the post is that I (stupidly) sent it to NPR as a commentary... I know, I know, how lame. But wouldn't YOU like to have them announce YOUR name and then hear yourself reading some pithy, well-thought out piece on some bit of socio-politics? I would. And I thought Brittney might be my ticket. Topical, newsworthy, up to the minute. If I could just get the words right. (And of course, writing this, I realize that by thinking that and sending the post, I had joined the masses of people who are trying to profit from this poor girl's crash.)

Maybe that's why I couldn't get the words straight, why it came out stilted and stiff and made me sound like a dope, posturing and positing and having opinions--which is hard enough for me without Nina Totenburg and Ira Flatow watching. It's hard enough with myself watching--and the few of you who bravely subscribed.

This blog is so new and I am so bad at having opinions about anything, tending to see both sides of every argument and understanding why people do the stupid things they.we do. So I'm going to keep my fingers to myself. I am going to practice, here on my little blog chalkboard, where I can erase things and rearrange them before the big scary world sees me.

Which it will, someday. But not today.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I get distracted

Damn, I get distracted. I spent the whole day blogging about Brittney Spears. You may not know this but while I was doing that, my Dad was being ambulance-driven from Hoboken Hosptial to the Hebrew Home for the Aged.

That may have had something to do with the Brittney thing, in the same way that, usually, after visiting Dad, I have to lie on the sofa and watch cooking shows and What Not To Wear. It empties me, visiting him, and then it fills me with things I do not want in me--things like guilt and powerlessness and fatigue and annoyance and the question: Why am I doing this again?

So I lie there, on the sofa, and I put my attention on things that don't matter, things like whether to wear a short jacket or a long jacket with hips like these, and whether or not it's appropriate for someone my age to let my belly show (it's not). And in a little while, some things that matter but are not about Dad or Mom drift back into my consciousness, things like whether I should go and have this bump on my cheek looked at and wondering when I am going to look into Max's financial aid problem and when we need to start looking at colleges for Katie... and paying our bills, which are somehow, though we made plenty of money last month, late again...

... things like that.

In fact, the whole Dad and Mom drama became a distraction too, lifting me out of my life for a month, dropping me, when it was through with me, on the sofa with a glass of red wine and What Not to Wear.

HItting Brittney one more time - Revisited

Maybe it's because I have a 16 year old daughter with a taste for the spotlight, or maybe it's because, last Saturday, at 8:00 a.m., I turned on the TV to find a yoga program and found myself watching, instead, an hour-long special about Brittney Spears--and it seemed as if she used to be a nice kid.

Maybe that's why this whole thing makes me sad.

I've been peripherally aware of Brittney since the day in the car when Katie, then 9, asked me to turn up the volume on the radio. As she chanted along with Brittney, "Hit me Baby One More Time!" I was horrified

"That's terrible!" I objected, and we had an age-appropriate discussion of the difference between love and violence and the way that Brittney's lyrics seemed to be conflating the two. And the way that her song was teaching young girls a bad lesson... that sort of thing.

Little did I know that the whole world would soon be hitting Brittney many more times, humiliating her repeatedly as she tried, desperately, to hold her life together.

Little did I know that I would soon know much more about Brittney Spears than I ever cared, or had the right to know.

I know, as you probably know, too, that she and Justin Timberlake met as Mickey Mouse Club performers and that they had a sweet and secret relationship that lasted three years until the media figured it out and blasted the news onto the front page of every tabloid and gossip column across the world.

I know that when Brittney begged paparazzi to leave her alone to heal from that breakup, they responded by snapping more tabloid cover-worthy photos of her tear-stained face.

I know that Brittney's mother, Lynn, tried to shield her daughter for years. But that Brittney has a taste for the less sophisticated side of life--and that, a few years back, she got drunk and got married in Vegas and that the marriage was annulled the next morning.

I know that Brittney soon married again, to one of her backup dancers, Kevin Federline and that they have two children. I know that, after her second divorce, she started getting in trouble--driving her kids around without car seats, drinking too much, getting involved in drugs--and hanging out with Paris and the other party girls.

I know that some time last year, Brittney shaved her head in what seemed to me a very public, very deliberate cry for help.

And then, one day I logged onto AOL and learned that Brittney had lost custody of her children. And I sighed, feeling kind of sad and confused. First, because that information is not NEWS and it doesn't belong on my AOL welcome screen. Second, because I can't imagine what it must feel like to go through this with the whole world watching.

The thing is: when you record a little song like "Hit Me Baby" and it hits the charts that hard--selling 1.5 million copies in one week and making Spears, only 16 herself at the time, the top-selling female vocalist in history—it transforms the performer from private citizen to public property. And if you are 16 when that happens, you have absolutely no idea what that means.

Everything Brittney has done since the release of that record, has been dusted for fingerprints, investigated for public decency. After all, the critics concur, "She has a responsibility to her fans." But does she? Does she really?

There are many people who believe that those who seek this kind of fame should know what they are getting into. But when you are 16 and a little bit naïve (and what 16 year old isn’t?) and al the world's attention suddenly turns, like the Eye of Mordor in Lord of the Rings, in your direction, you’d better have a pretty strong container—I mean psyche—or you’re going to crack. And when, like Brittney, your fan base is made up of girls between the ages of 10 and 16, and your message is so profoundly provocative, we're going to feel threatened that you'll corrupt someone--or something.

I have to admit that, even today, watching the footage of a little girl in Brittney's audience sporting a tee shirt that read "Hit Me Baby" while holding onto her parent's hand made me... let's just call it, uneasy.

I mean, here is this larger than life media goddess, with long blonde hair and A voice like the Sirens', luring our little ones to the edge of the abyss and telling them, "It's okay to celebrate your sexuality, go ahead and enjoy the lush, full, pleasure of your body."

And we all know that that will never do.

Every iteration of this archetype, from Aphrodite to Madonna, has shown us that when you've made your bed and your brand (and a pretty good living) channeling this kind of energy, it’s going to be very hard to prove that deep down inside, you’re the girl next door.

But the thing is: Our insane (and inane) thirst for celebrity stories catapults kids like Brittney to the stratosphere and then sets up camp outside their doors, waiting for them to self-destruct. But, hey, these kids should know better, right? I mean, they know we're watching. They’ve stood on our pedestals, basked in the light of our flashbulbs. They know the game, right?

Wrong... Or more accurately, kinda.

These kids, raised in the last 20 years of sped up communication and instant celebrity, have no idea what a world without these things looks like. Somewhere inside they probably know that this kind of behavior isn't a good idea. Somewhere, in the place where we all know that the hero always gets the girl and that the end of a comedy always ends with a kiss, they can sense the patterns.

And so can we. But what none of us knows, as we feast on their beauty and talent, and the gossip machine churns pointing out their every flaw, is what we are really up to. We don't understand how all of this is working in US. We don't understand that when we constantly challenge our most gifted young people, "How will you disappoint us?" what we are really asking is, "How and why have we disappointed ourselves?"

As we force each Brittney from her pedestal, unmasked and humiliated, shouting, "Ha!You weren’t a goddess after all!" we are expressing something buried deep in our own souls, something that is trying to get out and tell us something about what's real and what matters. Something that, through the lens of the cameras, Brittney --and Angelina and Lindsay and Paris--can't possibly express for us. When we drive these people to insane measures with our paparazzi feeding frenzy and their images splashed across every cover at the checkout stand, what is really going on.

What I mean is... Brittney is us. And so is every other celebrity. They are archetypal mirrors, projections of our own psyches--and our own light and shadow selves--playing out our fears and failings on the great big stage of celebrity so that we don't have to face our own lives--and the lessons we might learn if we turned our attention back to ourselves.

Deep down, we all know that the real people behind the imagery (the "man behind the curtain")are only human—and that they will, inevitably, show us the heel of their imperfection. And we hate them for it because it reminds us of our own shortcomings--so we shoot them down.

Last year, after Brittney shaved her head, I mentioned my concern for her at work. "They know what they're getting into," my colleagues scoffed. " If you can't take the spotlight, get a different line of work." Others expressed similar views, including, "Once white trash, always white trash."

From what I saw in that E! special, Brittney didn't start out trashy. She was articulate, focused, bright and talented. So what turned her into the irresponsible mother we've been observing in the press? We did.

As I watched the E! special layout the story of Brittney's decline, it reminded me of another death-by-paparazzi story: Princess Diana's. And I can't help but wonder if Brittney's story will end the same way?

It doesn't have to. If Brittney has the inner forces, the psychic container to pull herself together, if we stop expecting her to be more than we would be in the same circumstance, if we all learn from her rise and fall story and finally, grant her the same rights to safety and privacy that the courts yesterday awarded to her children, perhaps she will have the "room of her own", the quiet place in the storm that every young person needs to heal.

FInally, has Brittney's bad behavior ultimately done much damage to her fans--our daughters?

I don't think so. My daughter has always understood that Brittney--and LIndsay, and Paris and all iterations of their type--are just images, made of light and projected onto screens, disappeared with a simple click of the remote.

Katie, like every other girl on the planet, learns how to conduct herself by observing her mother and the other women in her REAL life.

Years ago, Katie told me this story: The week that "Hit Me Baby" hit the charts, Brittney, unaware of the splash she'd already made, went to the mall with her mother. When she was spotted, the 16-year-old found herself surrounded by hundreds of fans, pushing and shoving, calling her name and begging for her autograph. She was terrified, without bodyguards or managers to protect her, she met the force of her power head on.

Im not sure if that story is true. I just know that it circulated, through email and whisper, friend to friend.

"It sounded scary," Katie told me then. "I mean, it might be fun to be famous. But I like going to the mall with you, Mommy."

I'll bet that today, Brittney would like nothing more than to be able to shop, unnoticed and unmolested at the local shopping mall with her mother. I mean, I don't know her... but I just get that feeling.

I pray that we all just back off now and give her that chance.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Today, I changed the colors on my blog and my dad got into a nursing home. It's October 1 but it feels like spring.