Monday, May 13, 2013

Why I Write

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” –Anais Nin

“Writer’s often write their best when they are feeling their worst.” –Susan Cheever

It has been mentioned to me, tenderly, and with much love behind the concern, that my writing may be a little too, well, frank, leaving readers to perhaps worry about my well-being. Let me say, I am beyond blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me, and want me to be “happy.” But as the wise Kahil Gibran once said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” I am, like any other, at times full of joy, and at others melancholy. This is the gift of life. No need for concern. In fact, it is the person who cannot embrace their sorrow, who keeps it locked away, stored in places only to manifest as life threatening diseases, who warrant concern. I am an artist, I will always dance on the edge of extremes. I will always love deeper, and cry harder. I will always show the world my highs and lows. This is who I am.
Secondly, I would like to talk about why I write. When I was in the first stages of sobriety, I consumed recovery memoirs. These courageous writers who told the world their story (Susan Cheever and Caroline Knapp, to name a few) saved my life. Through hearing of another’s pain, through their story, I was not left alone to navigate the rough seas of early recovery on my own. I am sure when they published their memoirs there were a lot of people who were concerned about them, about what other people would think, about being so…honest, but they did it anyway because they knew their story needed to be heard by people like me.
I write not only to purge, to be set free, in a way only the truth can do, but to heal myself and others. Sure, it would be easier to leave my darkest essays for only the inside of my journal to see, but then who would I help? Me? Potentially, but in this life, I am not out to help only myself, anymore. I am here for a greater purpose, and if I can help another through my writing, if I can provoke a thought, or cause another soul to question their choices, or to hear my voice and want to change, then I have not risked looking foolish, or “unhappy,” for nothing. Of course, I am still searching, aren’t we all? And if not, then why.

I love you all from the bottom of my heart. How blessed I am!

Friday, April 26, 2013

To Thine Own Self be True

When I received my coin for ninety-days sober, some ten years ago, it read, “To thine own self be true.” I remember holding the gold, or some rendition of, coin in my trembling hand, and reading the quote as tears streamed down my cheeks. Looking back, I’m still not sure why I was so moved by this quote. Perhaps it was because I knew I had been fooling myself for a decade, pretending to be someone I wasn’t, longing to be more than I was. Perhaps I knew, to resounding relief, the gig was up.  I could, alas, be who I truly was. But who was I?

A decade later, close to ten years of sobriety under my belt, with seismic life alterations, I am still wondering who that “self” really is. I remember when I first started out in AA, I would hear people talk about doing the “work.” Meaning, the real work did not lie in the removal of alcohol, the real work was fixing what was broken on the inside. I remember thinking, I get it, or I’m fixing it, I pray, I’m nicer, I don’t lie anymore, blah, blah, blah, and my life DID get better simply by removing the alcohol, but I didn’t really change all that much. Because here I am dry a decade and longing for something more. In AA, we call it the God shaped hole. It’s that intangible emptiness every alcoholic feels and habitually tries to fill with booze, ironically booze made me feel closer to myself, or at least, free to be myself without inhibition. So, I got married, had children, poured them into my God shaped hole, but my dear friends in AA were right, again, only God, or as a reflection of God, our true self, can fill that whole. So here I am back to square one. Who is this true “self?”

Here’s where this famous quote can be misconstrued. Coming from years of false bravado, I am one to be heard saying, that’s just me, that’s who I am, I am stubborn, or I love to travel, or I’m a grouchy morning person. I wear my identity like a badge. I was running the other day and heard the song, “It’s Time,” by Imagine Dragons and found myself singing out loud the line, I’m never changing who I am. I felt this sense of pride, but then immediately laughed at myself knowing, after years of this behavior, that this was a juvenile approach to life.

Holding strong to who we are is all fine and good, but what if these characteristics we think define us, don’t serve us anymore. What if being true to “thine own self,” leaves us wanting, or anxious, or unhappy.  I’ve been cleaving, arrogantly, to parts of myself I had thought were attributes, but are really thought patterns that are keeping me from who I truly am at my core, which is love. For example, determination, now determination is a good thing to have when it’s used wisely, but determination at the expense of letting my life unfold organically is detrimental to my family and me. I read a quote from Adyashanti in a wonderful blog, A Flourishing Life, which goes, “You must choose between your attachments and happiness.” The blogger, Gail Brenner Ph. D., goes on to talk about how she was stuck in “if only.” Mine go like this, if only I had a bigger house, more free time, more money to travel, etc. These desires push me to work harder, to write more, to perfect my existing house, to perfect my parenting skills, and so on and so on. These thought patterns are the attachments Adyashanti is speaking of, attachments which are keeping me from happiness, contentment and pulling me further from my own self.

So the question remains, how do I change these thought patterns, which are now so deeply carved into the vastness of my psyche? I look at it as another habit I must kick, and let me tell you, again, AA was right, quitting alcohol was a lot easier than quitting life long thinking patterns. Thinking is involuntary, and drinking was premeditated. When I quit drinking I simply employed all of my will, which is iron clad from German and Nordic ancestors. I set my mind to quitting and I did, through prayer, support, and yes, determination. Now thought patterns come from the unconscious, I do, indeed have the power to change them, but when I’m toting two toddlers from daycare, or running through the grocery store like I’m on The Amazing Race, I’m not conscious that I’m mentally rolling a film about how I’m going to make my million, or how I wish I lived anywhere but suburbia.

According to my recent devouring of meditation books, this is when tools from meditation are employed. Apparently, after a certain amount of time, your meditation practice seeps into your daily life. You will be more conscious of these seemingly unconscious thoughts, and better equipped at changing them. I am a novice when it comes to meditation. I know how to pray, but to sit and shut my mind off for any given amount of time is as hard for me as a 25,000 feet ascent. But I am quit certain this is the only way in which I can find my true self, the only way in which I will be able to break my habits.

So, I set forth on a new endeavor. One which will, again, ten years later, alter the course of my life. I embrace it with open arms and I pray I have enough will power to stay the course. This morning, with a free moment to meditate, I chose to check out websites of interior designers I admired instead. Oops. This is going to be harder than I thought because just as I felt the pull of alcohol to make me feel better, I feel the pull of wanting, and the need for all my stuff to make me happy. Maybe I fear what will happen if I let go of my drive for more. What would I become? What would I have to show the world who I am? I would just have me, and my own self. Scary stuff.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


It’s been a particularly tough winter. Not tough in the way of life threatening illnesses, or loss of job or house, thankfully, but tough in the way that on several early mornings I awoke to sick crying babies, with a migraine of my own, and asked God to get me through the day-which, of course, he did.

So, yesterday, in an attempt to restore my depleted soul, with my wonderful mother watching my toddlers, I ventured into my long lost home, NYC, to attend a yoga class at Virayoga (my very first yoga studio). I owe a lot to Elena Brower, the founder and owner of Virayoga. She not only introduced me to a practice, she introduced me to a way of life.  At twenty-eight I was three years into an unhealthy co-dependent relationship, struggling as an actress, and numbing my pain with alcohol. I had never taken a yoga class, passing it off as weird new age-y non-exercise (remember, this was the 90’s, long before the rise in yoga’s popularity). But a very good friend had started taking class with Elena when she was at a tiny studio on third and 17th street, and begged me to go.

I walked in with my usual chip resting comfortably on my shoulder, the chip I now know as plain old insecurity. I placed my mat down and watched as the room of people sat cross-legged, or lying down, waiting for class to begin. I remember thinking to myself that I would have to go for a run afterward because there would be no way I would get a work-out from this “resting” class.

Elena entered with the presence that has made her one of todays most admired yoga teachers. She began the class with a reading from a tome on eastern thought, and unfortunately I can’t remember the specifics, but her voice and its message reached inside of me, like a whisper alerting me to how cosmically my life was about to change. As class began, I found myself organically following the poses with intensity. Elena’s honest approach to yoga was the elusive balm, unbeknownst to me, I had been searching for. After an hour and a half of shifting, breathing, and realigning my body and mind, we found our way to shavasana, final resting pose. Elena put on, and this I will never forget, Norah Jones. As I lay there with my body pulsing with an unfamiliar life force, I sobbed. I sobbed silently, releasing so much pain and paradoxically nursing so much joy at what I had found.

That was twelve years ago, and I am still a devout yogi, lapsed since having two babies in two years, but devout non-the-less. Yoga transformed me. After that class, I slowly started to learn how to live from my center. In time, I quit the booze and the man.

This brings me to yesterday, where I was physically and mentally leveled. I was coming off two months of household noro-virus, bronchitis, sinus infections, and pink eye. Which translates to no sleep. I was depleted, and desperately needing a break, but as every mother can attest to, also feeling guilty for leaving my children for the day, especially since that very morning I had lost my center, yelling at them both. Yuck!

I walked through the city, enjoying every freeing moment of it, but I felt torn. I missed New York, I missed my freedom. I wanted it all back, but could never give up what I had now. I found myself in my familiar quagmire of wanting freedom, but needing my family. For those of you familiar with Anusara yoga, you can see the theme emerging.

Virayoga is on Prince and Broadway, and the very smell of the second floor studio brought me back to a precious time in my life, a time when I was single, sober, and living in Manhattan as a graduate student. It was a five-year period of intense introspection, learning, and solitude. It was bliss. Of course, if I am brutally honest, it was also a time of yearning for that true love, for the family, for the days of baking and story telling. Oh, if I could only talk to that silly young woman now.

My yoga teacher yesterday wasn’t Elena, but the class was a true Virayoga class, with the same thoroughness I remember from my first time. It was a slower pace than my Long Island-squeeze-it-in during pre-school class, focusing more on our alignment, and rooting into the earth. As I was about to space out and think of the Dosa I was going to consume after class, I heard my teacher say, by doing our poses correctly we create stability which in turn leads to tremendous freedom. Bam! This was, in essence, all that I was painstakingly grappling over, freedom versus stability. But here she was telling me that there could not be one without the other. In order to enjoy freedom, we must have stability. God spoke to me through yoga, again! The reason I felt incomplete before, when I had all the freedom in the world, was because I didn’t have stability. My feet were not rooted anywhere, my foot was shifting in my warrior pose, so to speak.

Now I have both, maybe less of the freedom, and more of the stability, but slowly I will bring them both into balance. Maybe force myself to take the hour train ride into the city once a week. In addition, more freedom inevitably creates in me a desire for more stability. So, the more I venture out and bathe in my solitude, I yearn more, with a primal instinct, for my family.

Now you can see why yoga is not only a practice. It teaches us how to live in the world, it answers questions to life’s hard ones, and it brings stillness to a chaotic heart. I could go on, but I’d need a lot more than a blog post. Thank you, yoga, and thank you, Elena. Namaste.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Twenty from my Thirties

 Lists are fun, so here is one I came up with after my 40th.


-Alcohol isn't for everyone. 
-My parents were right…about pretty much everything.
-Not all people who believe in God are good.
-Acting, as a career, is 80 percent luck, and 20 percent hard work (this one I figured out too late, after I had anymore energy to care, and well past my prime (in actress years, that is))
-Not all handsome men are assholes (Luckily, I didn’t miss the boat on this one. I married the one that taught me this, which is better than an Oscar. Trophy’s don’t kiss you back).
-Roller Blades are not popular anymore.
-Sun worshipping does cause wrinkles. (wah, wah).
-Home owning is expensive. Furthermore, life is expensive.
-Becoming a parent is not all kisses and bedtime stories, but character building and soul enriching, none-the-less.
-Health is not something to be taken for granted (ie. Midnight pizza slices and huge intakes of sugar will not keep me around long enough to see my grandkids)
-Yoga heals, rebalances, and replenishes my soul.
-Prayer works.
-One outfit from Anthroplogie is better than ten from Forever 21 (exceptions to the rule being Old Navy pj's and other disposable items).
-Breast-feeding is not as easy as many mothers make it seem.
-As noted in last post, all babies are not created equal.
-Regrets are futile.
-Patience is a work in progress.
-I have nothing to prove. God loves me the way I am.
-You get what you give.
And last, but definitely not least, to steal a line from the late great John Lennon, love is all you need!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ronnybrook Farms breakfast boost

This discovery has transformed breakfast. Imagine french toast slathered with this butter, pancakes, croissants, and just about anything that needs a sweet cinnamon kick. (BTW comes in garlic flavor, as well.) Ok, so it doesn't fall into the top ten anti-inflammatory food category, but just be light-handed with the spreader.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Bitter End

One Friday night in June, I had the rare chance to go back in time, or at least attempt to. My old friend Jen Chapin had a gig at The Bitter End on Bleecker and Thompson. For those of you who know Manhattan, the street is synonymous with youth, and my lack thereof I so viscerally came to terms with Friday night. 

Not quite sure what I was expecting, a twenty-something revival with all the head shaking excitement and beer buzz of my former self, perhaps. But there was little head shaking from my present day exhausted self, no care-free buzz from my non-alcoholic beer, no “the night is but a fetus” feeling stirring in my gut, just an exhausted mommy hoping the gig didn’t run too long for fear of only grabbing five hours of sleep before my 6am wake-up call. 

But still, I went there expecting to recapture something. Something to remind me I’m still alive, that I still have what I had. But what did I have compared to what I have now? Two beautiful children, an amazing hubby, a simple, but fulfilling life. So why did my nostalgia get the better of me? 

Before the gig my husband and I decided to head over to the new Highline on the west side. I say, “new” because anything that has been built in the last four years is new to me. A depressing fact since this is coming from a New York City inhabitant of twelve years. I find myself becoming the “visitor” I used to scoff at as they looked around the city saying things like, “That was never there when I lived here,” or, “What happened to my favorite pizza joint?!” (yes, in fact, I think I used the word “joint”) That’s another weird thing about parenthood. Suddenly, I find myself saying words I’ve never said but only heard on “Happy Days,” like “joint” and “Holy Cow.” 

While at the Highline, I was overcome by the realization that everyone was at least ten or (hand to mouth) twenty years younger than me. This was not a new experience since I have been into the city several times since I migrated to the suburbs, but for some reason walking with my husband’s hand in mine, feeling less like an object (which every young woman in New York is, let’s face it, and we love every moment of it) and more like a grandma. Yup, a grandma. I may have had my new dress from Anthropologie on. I may have had a trendy cinched rope belt on, around a fairly slim waist, but I was no longer an option, if you know what I mean. 

That’s ok, I thought, as I swung my husband’s arm back and forth as a child would do with her father. It was then I remembered something a friend of mine said to me several years back after admitting she’d been a bit depressed. “I finally came to realize,” she had said, “the world is no longer my oyster.” Oh, GOD! Those words found their way deep, deep into my no longer turning over skin cells. Perhaps it stung worse because my father used to say that the world WAS my oyster, all the time. He no longer does. 

After we walked the Highline we decided to grab some food before we headed to the show. So, in all my humiliation, I had to whip out my IPhone to find a good restaurant. How far my finger is from the pulse. Even after searching, the only thing I could come up with was something familiar, “Pastis,” the 2005 hot spot (ironically, the very year I began to care less about where I drank my martinis). And as I expected, the place was packed with what seemed to be tour groups from everywhere outside of New York City. What a bust!

But I would be a real stinker (there are those words again) if I failed to admit that I could be anywhere doing anything with my husband and I would be having fun. And the truth is, the worse the environment the better, for us - more to make fun of. We laughed at the young off-the-bus Texan girls hoping to meet the banker husbands, and the bridge and tunnel couple who asked the waiter to sit in the corner seat so they could sit next to each other…wait, that was us. 

As we got out of the cab, in front of The Bitter End, I was again reminded of my age, that being the oldest of anyone in a ten block radius. I was thrilled to find nothing had changed of my old haunt. The same blue awning, the same wood face, and the same gaggle of excited patrons out front smoking cigs. I darted across the street like a teenager. 

I walked through the door forgetting I came with my husband, maybe even forgetting I had a husband, dead sober, but the buzz from the smell of music and beer gave me butterflies. I was twenty-four again. Living with five girls in a duplex apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. I was sexy, stupid, and drunk with possibility, and just drunk. And then my husband grabbed my hand. “Do you want to get a table? There’s a two drink minimum.” Wah, wah…back to reality. 

The truth is I’ve been sober for close to ten years now. My husband was a lightweight and got drunk off two drinks, which he’d already consumed, so two drinks for both of us were out. Though back in the day, my roommates and I would plunk ourselves at the front row table to watch our roomie belt out ballads and exceed the two drink minimum by four, and this was after pre-game cocktails and possible cab roadies of brown bagged beer. How I missed those nights, but how I didn’t miss those mornings. 

So we got a table, because my husband could probably sense my need to relive something special, and because he’s just awesome. He ordered his beer, poor guy, and I ordered my non-alcoholic one. There are really only so many of those you can have before you feel like you’re carrying a small baboon in your gullet. Which always amazes me because how had I once thrown back a six-pack of the real stuff and cheese fries without feeling any mild discomfort or need for a maternity dress? 

Jen approached the stage with all the grace and beauty she once had, and again, I was brought back. But where was the cute sax player my best friend had hooked up with in the recording room? Where was the crazy drummer from Switzerland who walked around our apartment in his underwear (the Swiss don’t wear boxers, either)? Replacing them was her husband, an amazing acoustic basist, a forty something drummer, talented as well, and two guitar players of equal or greater age range. Don’t get me wrong, their talent lacked for nothing, in fact age refines art, but I felt old by default, as if the act of art appreciation made me older. 
I wanted the younger Jen Chapin band, the one that blasted riffs and spliffs after gigs. The band who’s songs I sang out loud.  “He’s just a manchild!” I can still see me now, standing front and center, eyes closed, buzz a-buzzing, singing my soul out. “Well, he’s handsome and he’s got a nice car. He’s straight out smart and he knows he could go far.” Back then I didn’t care what the song was about. I didn’t think much deeper than my beer glass, but that night, sitting there with my husband, thinking of my children’s bedtime routine and if it was done accurately enough to defend against meltdowns, I listened to “Man Child” in a whole new light. The dreadlocked boy, was my boy, grown up, and living like a Man Child, and I realized I will never be able to capture the innocence of my former self. I will never not listen to lyrics deeply, thoughtfully, and passionately. I will never be as carefree, as drunk, and as ignorant as I was at that first Jen Chapin concert at The Bitter End. That girl is gone, replaced by a stronger, more serious mother of two toddlers. Do I miss that careless girl? Of course, but the way a soldier misses wartime, with pride for having overcome, having made it out alive. 
After the concert I briefly spoke with Jen, now the mother of two young boys. I felt the same sense of earned pride met with a humble approach to life. While we were once the center of our own universes, we are now deeply aware of the intermixing of all universes, and of the importance of this knowledge and how teaching our children this will be our legacy. I hope one day my children will go to The Bitter End and listen to music just like I did, I just hope they will be a little less clueless to the world around them and their responsibility to make it better. As I hailed a cab, my husband a foot or two behind me, I noticed a fairly, “fairly” is an objective word, young man checking me out. Bam! I still got it. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shelter for the Spirit

 A good friend of mine gave me a book several years ago, when my husband and I were looking for a house. The book is called, Shelter for the Spirit, How to Make Your Home a Haven in a Hectic World, by Victoria Moran. For whatever reason (if I recall I was reading “The Glass Castle” and couldn’t rip myself away, and/or I wasn’t yet a homemaker in the truest sense, therefore the book did not resonate), I put the book on the shelf. It is safe to say that I am now a homemaker with a capital H. Now, I make home, pancakes, beds, slow cooker meals, snowmen, forts, and just about everything else domestic. So, in the way God works his magic, the book appeared from beneath another pile of books a week ago, and figuring now was as good a time as any to learn how to make my home a haven, I dove in.

Am I glad I did! Lately, my grumblings have gone something like this; my house is too small, too ugly, too smelly, or cooking is the biggest bore, and I’m so tired of sweeping, fluffing pillows, picking up toys, food shopping…you get the point, the underlying theme being bored of homemaking. (Example: I must stop writing now to go food shopping).

Shelter for the Spirit reminds us of the spirituality in all this. Like the importance of cooking healthy meals for our family, she goes as far as saying a home cooked meal has a life force which, if produced with love, satisfies the receivers soul. I believe in this, though it’s definitely hard to grasp when your 23 month old spits a wad of chewed dinner on the table, or your three year old takes two bites, and says he’s not hungry. But maybe if I can remember that this is only temporary, and I am still nourishing them even if they do only take two bites. Maybe if I can smile while I chop onions, instead of saying things like, “why do I even bother cooking when no one eats anything?” Maybe if I shift my energy, my family will shift theirs.

“A house can reveal the extent of your assets, but a home reveals the extent of your heart.”- Victoria Moran

This is the first line of her first chapter and boy did I need to hear it. Of course, like many other motivational quotes, I know these truths implicitly, but I still don’t live them. Why is this? I know a bigger house will not make me, or my children happier, but I still find myself saying things like, “I hate this house,” as I tiptoe up the old creaky stairs which always wake my sleeping children. I still find myself searching Pinterest for my “dream home.” I still find myself stuck in the “if, then” mentality which plaques our society. Instead of living now, loving now, and being now. From now on I vow I am not going to talk “bad” about my house (Moran scolds this, as well). I am going to LOVE my house, tiny and all!

“Home is life in its most fundamental distillation. Seemingly humdrum occupations like making your bed in the morning and checking the doors at night link you with the passage of time and the rhythms of humanity.”  -Moran

I actually took some time to think about this and all the rituals that I complain about on a daily basis. Instead of seeing the monotony as torture I shifted to see the grace in keeping my home safe, calm, and beautiful. I began to see myself as the goddess of home, rather than the witch of domesticity. Moran goes on to say, “We live in a time and place where it takes courage and determination to give home priority status, or even realize it might be a good idea to do so.” How true is this?! The homemaker, or stay-at-home mom, is just that, “home” maker, and until we glorify “home” life, make it a haven for our family to grow spiritually, we will devalue our roles as the keeper of such a sacred place.
I can’t say that everyday I am able to remember these truths, but it has completely shifted the way I look at my job, and the importance of my duties. Now when I fold my son’s adorable toddler underwear in my musty basement, I remind myself of the importance of this, and how one day I will look back and hopefully I can say, “Damn right I was a homemaker, and I was an awesome one!”