books, feelings, sadness, writing

This just in: Write out your sorrows

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.”

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.” ~Isak Dinesen, Danish author

No matter the source, sorrows multiply when you leave them in your mind and heart. I write mine out. Sometimes in a journal, often on this blog, and sometimes in my fiction. A few days ago, I was editing a part of my book, Where the Light Enters, and I realized that I could work in some real-life emotions that have plagued me recently. The moment I did that, I felt lighter. Not free necessarily, but stronger and relieved to see these emotions be given a purpose. We can’t always prevent disappointment, heartbreak, or regret, but we can always use it to create something of value. We can always make it meaningful.

happiness, play, sadness, theatre, writer, writing

Beautiful: Laugh into the hurt – a lesson in playwriting

From Pinterest

Yesterday I went back through the play I wrote over the summer to make some additional edits as I prep it for playwriting fellowship applications. It is a deeply personal work that is layered with lots of bits and pieces of me inside all of the characters.

Many are pieces I am not especially proud of. They are bits that often feel like microscopic shards of glass that I step on over and over again. The hardest part of writing it has been to see the light, the humor, and the release, even in the moments of the play that portray incredible pain and sadness.

People have asked me if it’s a comedy or a tragedy. There are bright spots, and dark spots. It’s happy and sad and happy again. It’s a roller coaster. It’s a different ride for each character because they all know something different. Want something different. Feel something different. They each live the same set of circumstances and yet each has a different lens on them. They’re all trying to heal. They’re all trying to survive the plot and emerge from the other side a better person. It’s a lot like real life. It’s messy, and beautiful, all at once.

beauty, happiness, hope, sadness, time

Beautiful: Sing After Storms

From Pinterest

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them.” ~ Rose Kennedy, American philanthropist

2012 was difficult, particularly the latter half. Our country seemed to be in an odd state of discomfort. Even Christmas, usually such a bright and blissful time of year, was shrouded in something less than joy. Hurricane Sandy, Newtown, the fiscal cliff. Our country took a beating, and still got up to find a new day, albeit one that is beyond-difficult for many.

Then we turned the page into 2013 and we wondered what this year would hold for us. After shredding our disappointments in the Times Square confetti machine and resolving that 2013 will be better than the year we just finished, all we seemed to have left was hope. Hope for more happiness, more beauty, more peace. Somewhere in there, a tiny bit of guilt nags at us. Do we have the right to ask for more joy in the wake of so much hardship?

Hell yes. Joy is always our right, even in the darkest and saddest of times. Especially in those times. Once the clouds clear, and they always do, you go ahead and sing as loudly and clearly as possible. As our voices rise, our hearts follow.

change, childhood, choices, death, family, future, sadness, time

Leap: Lessons from a Road Long Traveled – Remembering My Dad 20 Years Later

My road of choice. From Pinterest.
My road of choice. From Pinterest.

Yesterday, marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing. I’ve been alive longer without him than with him. To even fathom that 20 years has passed makes my mind numb. I remember that evening so clearly that I could recite my actions and thoughts of each minute. I think of it in frames of a film, a shutter action happening in between each. There’s some soaring music in the background that rises and falls in waves like water.

That night I was viscerally aware that I was literally closing one chapter of my life and opening another one with my bare hands. The door between those chapters was heavy and awkward. I knew that once it shut behind me that there was no going back. That feeling is lodged in my heart in a way that used to feel painful and now is just familiar. It’s become one of my oldest friends.

Nothing happens in isolation. As soon as my mind turns those events over a few times, it just keeps going and I follow it along as an audience member, as if I am watching a performance of Sleep No More. At first it slowly trudges to the wake and funeral, to high school graduation, to leaving my hometown, to college and everything that would unravel and then coalesce in that time.

The speed of the frames in my mind picks up rapidly after that. As a young 20-something I thought I would go into politics and instead opted for a career in theatre, moving from D.C. to New York to life on the road. That would lead me to Florida, back to D.C., on to graduate school in Virginia, and then back to New York where I’ve made my home for the past 5 and a half years. That journey flashes with so many characters and scenes and travels across the globe, some happy, some sad and everything in between. It makes me dizzy if I think about it for too long.

I used to feel so much a part of that narrative. No matter how much distance I got from December 1, 1992, I was still that character, playing that role. I was this way because my dad was that way. I played the victim card, the martyr card, the lost card, the hopeless card, the trapped card. I let the role write the script instead of writing it myself.

It took a long time for me to understand how that’s a clear and certain road to disaster. No one wins in that scenario, least of all me. And it took me even more time to realize that it didn’t have to be that way. The beginning of a journey influences its course but it doesn’t define it. It is within our power, responsibility, and right to own the narrative of our lives.

We can fold, toss those old worn out cards into the center of the table, and walk away. It’s okay to leave it behind and continue on in a different direction. It’s healthy to do so. It’s required if we intend to do anything extraordinary with our lives. We can honor our past, our roots, and not feel shackled to them. What happened, happened. There’s no changing it. What happens next? Well, that’s up to us. It’s always up to us.

Wherever my dad is now, I hope he folded his hand, too, walked away from the table, and set out on a new course that was brighter than the one that was here among us. Every soul deserves that chance.

choices, commitment, determination, failure, fate, fear, rejection, sadness

Leap: Ditch Your Fear of Rejection

From Pinterest

I know this is true: because I have no fear of rejection, I have been able to do a lot more with my life than I would have done otherwise.

I’ve been rejected so many times, I’ve lost count. And you know what? None of those rejections killed me. Some of them hurt, badly, but none of them kept me down.

Rejection, that nasty, endless tape of “You can’t…”, “You aren’t good enough to…”, “Who are you to…” is worthless. It runs its mouth and there is no pleasing it. You can’t compromise with it. You can’t reason with it. You can’t take something good from it. It is rotten to the core. All you can do is shut it down.

Here’s the best outcome: you will do something you really want to do, gain confidence, be happy, and then work on your next dream. Awesome.

Here’s another possible outcome: you will pitch yourself into something and it will not work. You will fall down, you’ll perhaps sustain some bumps and bruises, and then you’ll get up. Big deal. You’re strong. You’ll become more resilient with each fall and rise. You’ll live to fight another day.

Here’s the worst possible outcome: you will let the spokesperson for the fear of rejection keep you from trying to do something you really want to do. And you’ll never do it. That’s just sad.

I know which of these paths I’m taking. Do you?

forgiveness, sadness, safety, yoga

Leap: How to Forgive – A 9/11 Lesson

From Pinterest

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~ Paul Boese

While I was at Elena Brower’s 9/11 memorial yoga class yesterday, this quote kept running through my mind. Is it possible for us to forgive the horrific acts of 9/11, and if so, what would it take?

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we can do, and it’s not for lack of trying or wanting to be more forgiving. We’ve made forgiveness more difficult for ourselves because too often we think that to forgive means to forget, even though the two have no business sitting alongside one another. The past cannot be undone. We cannot unsee, unlearn, or unhear even the most painful things, even the things we wish we could erase.

But here’s the trick: we learn from all of them, particularly the ones that are difficult for us. And just because we extend forgiveness, it doesn’t mean that we forget the lessons of our pain. It doesn’t mean that we go back to the way things were before we were hurt. It doesn’t mean that we lose the right to feel loss, sorrow, or grief over the things that have harmed us. It gives us permission to feel all of this, and then some.

Forgiveness means that we give ourselves permission to carry on unburdened. We give ourselves permission to smile again, to feel joy, to part the curtains and let the light in again. Forgiveness means that we release what’s heavy and dark from our past to clear space for the blessings that are now upon us. Forgiveness isn’t about “them” and what they did; it’s about us and what we will do going forward.

loss, New York City, sadness

Beginning: My First Visit to the 9/11 Memorial

Freedom Tower

A few weeks ago I visited the 9/11 memorial site for the first time. The last time I set foot in that area was just a few days before September 11, 2001. I was home for a few weeks during a break from The Full Monty tour. I had never been to the World Trade Center, it was a beautiful day, and I decided to be a tourist in my own town. On September 9th, 2001 I flew back to Chicago to rejoin the tour and from there I watched as those towers came crashing down. I still have a hard time believing how those events unfolded, even though I now work right across the street from the site.

I was not a fan of the design when I first saw it. I wanted it completely covered over in grass, a sanctuary to honor the thousands of souls who lost their lives there on that ground. And though I do think a park would have been better, the designer really does pay tribute to all the people we lost. A great deal of care was taken in constructing the design. There will be no way for any future visitor to forget what happened on that ground.

Flowers to honor those lost on 9/11

The fact that hit me hardest during the visit was the idea that for many families and friends, this site is a cemetery – the only place they have to visit to commemorate the loss of their loved ones. I didn’t realize this until I saw flowers stuck into the craved names of the frames that surround the giant running pools of water. These pools take their shape and position from the bases of the towers. Every visitor is hit by the enormity of those buildings and the force it took to bring them down.

The idea that I could not shake, and continue to think about every day I go to my office, is all of the lost potential that still lies in the wake of that awful day, that will continue to lie there perhaps forever. 10 years on in Afghanistan, many more lives lost, and we are no closer to a free and safe world. I wonder if that collective societal sting will always be there. On the site of this memorial, I got a very tiny glimpse of what it must feel like for all these families and and friends who are not able to move on. It’s a lovely tribute to all of those people but sadly it doesn’t seem to offer us any hope of closure or healing. The overwhelming sadness and injustice of it all is still raw and palpable.

But maybe that’s the trick. Maybe we need to confront that sadness head on. Perhaps we need to sit with it and ask it what it needs to heal. The memorial does give us a physical place to go and grieve, and to be with others who are on the same journey. It does give us a place to go to say goodbye, and in that goodbye there may very well live the opportunity to let go in some small and necessary way.

feelings, sadness

My Year of Hopefulness – Seeing

Today I had my annual eye exam, and with it came the dilation of my eyes rendering my near vision pretty useless for a few hours. In that time, I was unable to read, write, study for my GRE, use my computer, find phone numbers on my phone, clean my apartment, or watch TV. All I could do was get myself home, and then I could sit, and wait for my vision to return. This is the stillness Brian was talking about yesterday. And so, I waited and while I was waiting, I allowed some feelings to surface.

While I was getting ready for my Junior Achievement class on Wednesday night, I couldn’t find any office supplies in my apartment. I used to have a large box of them and they were lost in the fire. I sighed deeply for all the little things that I had to leave behind.

Shortly after the fire, I stopped dating someone I really liked. I wanted to take the relationship up a notch, and he wanted to let it go. He didn’t show up for me when I needed him most. I tried to be friends with him for a bit and quickly realized that our friendship made me unhappy. And so, I released him and have had very little contact with him in the past few months. It’s sad to let someone go, especially someone whom you enjoyed being with. I miss him, or at least I miss the person I thought he was going to be in my life. And I’m sad that he doesn’t miss me.

After Thanksgiving, I would have brought my dog, Sebastian, back from Florida and he would have been running around my apartment now. We would have been playing in the park together, going for walks, taking naps, and having a grand old time together. I’m sad that we lost him too soon, that he never had a chance to be in New York with me.

I’m really angry that a woman set my old apartment building on fire, and that as a result I almost lost my life and lost most of my belongings. I’m angry that a number of people in my life didn’t understand how traumatic that loss was. One friend commented “why are you so upset about it? You got all new stuff.” We’re not friends any more.

The guy I was dating spent the week after the fire giving me daily percentages of how far along the road to recovery I was, while also telling me that I really couldn’t be angry at the woman who set my building on fire. (Brian’s response to this was “Um, whose side is he on?”) And a week later he decided it would be a good idea to tell me that he “wasn’t sure of his feelings for me.” I listened patiently to his concerns, even though all I wanted to do was kick him in the shins and walk away. Since I had found a new apartment, he felt I was now able to listen to his tales of emotional unavailability. Seriously? I saw him a few more times after that, and eventually I did walk away though I refrained from kicking him in the shins.

I’m angry at myself that I didn’t bring Sebastian to New York sooner. He likely would have developed the same condition that caused us to put him down, though maybe a better vet here could have helped him. I wish he was here, and I’m so angry that I didn’t get a chance to hug him one more time and tell him how much I loved him.

Very soon after letting these feelings surface, and going through a few tissues in the process, my vision returned. Logically, I know that the dilation drops wore off though it signified something more than that, too. This time of being physically unable to see let me sit and see things that I have been busy burying. I do feel lighter now, and am able to see a bit more hope peeking through the clouds.

art, hope, loss, nature, opportunity, sadness

My Year of Hopefulness – A letter to October

Sweet October,

Thank you for arriving. I had enough of September and all the trouble she brought my way. A fire that threatened to trap me inside, claiming my home and most of my belongings with smoke, and then lost my dear sweet dog. A sad, sad month.

Now you’ve arrived and I’m so glad to see you, old friend. You are my favorite month because you bring the start of my very favorite season – holiday time. On Halloween two of my very good friends will be getting married and I’ll be celebrating with them as a beautiful and joyous way to kick off these last few months of the year.

Even better, you’ll bring a visit from my sister, my very best friend, along with my brother-in-law, and toddling niece who is one of the greatest joys of my life. We’ll go up to see the rest of my family where we can pick apples and pumpkins and run through corn mazes together. We’ll laugh together and play together and cook together. It’s a vacation I need so much as this heart of mine sets about healing itself and my soul takes a much needed break from the events of September.

And let’s not forget the vibrant, bold colors you decorate all of the trees with. Soon I’ll be jogging underneath a great umbrella of gold and orange and red, thankful for the cool breezes that rustle the leaves and clear my head. My mind is weary and it needs to see nothing but beauty to right itself again.

Taking inspiration from your expert paint palette, I begin this month at the very bottom of my own blank canvas. I imagine that I’m very small and the canvas is very big. I’m looking up at it, holding my paint brush with so many gorgeous colors to choose from. I’ll dab a little here, and dab a little there, only the colors that make me happiest, painting only the things that make my heart sing. October, you will witness someone shining through the sadness and disappointment and frustration and loss. Someone rejuvenated and smiling. And that someone will be me.

Thank you for coming to my rescue. Thank you for welcoming me in with a warm hug and a kind and understanding ear. Thank you for letting me lay down my troubles at your feet and walk on through your days to live my best life yet. I promise I’ll repay you with a painting more magnificent than anything I ever thought these two small hands of mine could make.

books, loss, nature, relationships, sadness, writing, yoga

My Year of Hopefulness – Rest and Relaxation

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Though it’s just turned to Fall, I’ve found myself drawn to re-reading one of my favorite essays every night this week – Winter by Nina Zolotow. I first saw it in Rodney Yee’s book Yoga: The Poetry of the Body. I understand this essay now more than I ever have in the 7 years since I first read it. I pull it out in times of trouble, in times when I’m feeling sad and worn out and confused about how to move forward. Her conclusion makes me a feel a little better, gives me a bit more license to give myself a much-needed break. I love that the only period is at the end of the essay, and that all of the other sentences and phrases run together in one long, cohesive thought, just like life.

And now here I am at the final day of September, ready to release this month in favor of a happier, sunnier October. And some much needed rest and relaxation. A tired heart and mind can only be rejuvenated by rest and care, not by further trial and challenge. So that’s my goal for the next little while – a simple one, really. To just take care of this heart who has endured so much this month, to surround it with love, to nurture it back to its original state. It has done some heavy lifting this month and earned some well-deserved down time. Just like the fig tree, it will certainly be revived.

Last night, I listened to Professor Michael Sandel’s lectures at They were just what I needed. He spoke about how to value life and the utilitarian philosophy that seeks to maximize pleasure over pain. I was lulled into a relaxed state as he told me about Sophocles and Plato, J.S. Mill, and Jeremy Bentham. And fell into a deep sleep between my comfy sheets made of bamboo fiber and topped by a fluffy duvet. I buried myself into my new bed, cocooning and nurturing my weary body and mind, and didn’t stir until the sun came up. So this is what it feels like to heal.

Winter by Nina Zolotow
“In their garden there was always a wild profusion of tomatoes ripening on the vine, and leafy basil, arugula, and lettuce, and glossy purple eggplants, and red and yellow peppers, and zucchini with its long, bright blossoms, and there was always lunch at the wooden table on hot summer afternoons, with plates of pasta and bread and olives and salads with herbs, and many bottles of red wine that made you feel warm and drowsy, while bees hummed and the sprawling marjoram, thyme, and rosemary gave off their pungent fragrances, and at the end of the meal, always, inexplicably, there were fresh black figs that they picked themselves from the tree at the garden’s center, an eighteen-foot fig tree, for how was it possible – this was not Tuscany but Ithaca – Ithaca, New York, a rough-hewn landscape of deep rocky gorges and bitter icy winters, and I finally had to ask him – my neighbor – how did that beautiful tree live through the year, how did it endure the harshness of a New York winter and not only survive until spring but continue producing the miraculous fruit, year after year, and he told me that it was quite simple, really, that every fall, after the tree lost all its leaves, he would sever the tree’s roots on one side only and, on the tree’s other side, he would dig a trench, and then he would just lay down that flexible trunk and limbs, lay them down in the earth and gently cover them with soil, and there the fig tree would rest, warm and protected, until spring came, when he could remove its protective covering and stand the tree up once again to greet the sun; and now in this long gray season of darkness and cold and grief (do I have to tell you over what? for isn’t it always the same – the loss of a lover, the death of a child, or the incomprehensible cruelty of one human being to another?), as I gaze out of my window at the empty space where the fig tree will stand again next spring, I think, yes, lay me down like that, lay me down like the fig tree that sleeps in the earth, and let my body rest easily on the ground – my roots connecting me to some warm immutable center – luxuriating in the heart of winter.”

The photo above is not my own. It was taken in Centennial Park in Sydney, Australia by Mike Bogle. I can be found here.