4 years ago today, I stayed home from my job at the synagogue. Despite it being the day before Rosh Hashanah and my duty to orchestrate a holiday service for nearly 1,000, I instead worked in my pajamas horribly sick with strep throat that was defying antibiotics.
By the day of Yom Kippur I was dizzy and sweating, and croaked to my friend to drive me to the ER -- her vats of chicken soup weren't cutting it.
As the sun went down on the Day of Atonement, the day we Jews are to be sealed -- or not -- into the Book of Life, I lay on a stiff, white cot waiting for the cute doctor to come tell me, "Take 2 and call me in the morning."
Instead, close on midnight, he entered the room, rolled a stool over, sat and declared: "You do have strep throat. You also have Leukemia."
* * *
4 years have risen and set since that Day of Atonement. Defying statistics, I remain alive, healthy, fertile, and in remission. As my hair grew back, my weight rejoined, my stamina strengthened, they have renewed upon a woman who has emerged changed.
"You're a lot bolder than you used to be." "You're more confident than before you were sick." I have heard variations on this theme from friends, and as I prepare today to perform in community theater, reply to emails from my gradeschool teaching job, and confirm a practice session with my bandmate in our fledgling duo, it sure looks like they are right.
These steps in becoming whole in the world sometimes feel like an "Of course."
Of course I sing in public.
Of course I'll model for BodyPaint Day.
Of course I have an art studio, found a fulfilling career, became a cancer-survivor-adventure addict.
Sometimes, though, these changes cause me to widen my eyes in disbelief. Whose life *is* this? Who is this woman who consistently pursues new avenues of self-expression? Surely, not the same wallflower, frizzy-haired, bespectacled teen who still knocks around inside me.
Am I someone new, or simply unearthing the core of my self?
* * *
My relationship with Yom Kippur has shifted seismically since my cancer diagnosis in September 2012.
At the start, I eschewed its entire meaning and the observance of this day. I, instead, chose to engage on that day in activities that were emblazoned with who I am (becoming). I flew a plane one year, visited my favorite museum the next, hiked along the Pacific Coast another.
To be sealed in The Book of Life, I don't need to stand in a crowded room, expounding and pounding my chest with all the "sins" we Jews have committed this past year.
The very idea of some divine Book of Life that we have to be holy enough to be sealed in seems anathema to me, my relationship with "G-d" having undergone a seismic restructuring these years as well.
And yet, there's this creeping idea, this pulse of confirmation of the way I, Molly, Survivor, mark Yom Kippur. As the sun rises and sets on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, I now participate in what brings me joy, fulfillment, unfurling? ...
Of course I do.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Last Friday morning, I received a phone call from the temp agency I’d been working with, telling me, in excited “what a great gig is this” tones, about a possible receptionist job.
On Saturday morning, as is not unusual for Bay Area Rapid Transit, I got onto a train car with a homeless man sprawled out in a blanket by the doorway, and turned right to walk through to the next car. There, I was pleasantly surprised to see a co-worker (the only one I really befriended) from my retail job this past winter and I sat down next to her.
I got to tell the temp agency and my former coworker the same thing: “I just accepted a teaching job for the upcoming school year.”
It felt as though The Ghost of Jobs Past had come to call on me, showing me how my life could have been. I get a call for a crummy temp job--that only days before I would have actually had to consider--just 24 hours after accepting a position teaching 3rd grade at a local Jewish private school. And only a day after that, I run into someone who holds up a vision into what my winter was and what my present still could be: long, hard, meaningless, monetarily and spiritually rewardless hours.
This morning I pulled out my “morning pages” notebook thinking to write about what’s happening now, and I flipped it open. It fell open to a page from February, when I was still at that retail job, and I had just decided I was going to be a school teacher. I have all these “law of attraction”-style invocations written down over that month:
· I’ve made a decision. I am going to teach physics. And math. In high schools. & later college(?)
· I’ve decided: I’ll get a private school job & they’ll sponsor my credential program.
· The future. My legacy. Middle schoolers, I love them! Real holidays. Real breaks. Stable. Stability First.
· I want a job like Jess’s or Chris’s – a cush public or a great private.
· I need a regular job. I need a regular, benefitted, well-paying job.
· I wanna fly a plane for tourists.
There were all the questions, too:
· This will take a lot of work & more schooling. How is this gonna work?
· Will I be able to do a normal job AND the acting thing? Dreams change, right?
· How the heck to I teach this stuff?
· How is this gonna work at all??
· Where do you (inner core) need me? What needs to happen to get there?
I also wrote about the other things that I was struggling with:
· I broke down yesterday – I shared & cried & said how it really is for me right now. I feel ancient, I feel tired, and – not lost actually – just temporarily very, very stuck.
· I am a mess, and I need help to clean and slow things down. I can’t do it all at once and I’m trying to.
· 2015, the year I taught at a private school, was in a musical & play, learned calculus and physics. Right? Oh, and got counseling for cancer. Oh right, that. I need help on that. This isn’t okay. I wanna hear from cancer survivors.
It was the entry after the day I “broke down” to my friends and let them know how much that winter was weighing on me... How broken and tired and hopeless and directionless I felt... The day after I admitted that what it looks like on the outside can kill you if you don’t admit what it feels like on the inside...
It was after that entry, the very next one, that I received the call that I’d gotten the temp job as an executive assistant and would be leaving my retail floor behind me.
It was at that temp job that I made a friend who ended up gifting me funds so that I could afford to accept the part-time summer school job at the cushy private school (and take a physics class at night).
It was the experience and resume-fodder of that private school job that enabled me to speak with recent enthusiasm to the cushy private school interviewers where I got hired last week.
And, true to the last bullet point above, I have, in 2015, taught at a private school, been in a musical, learned physics, and gotten counseling for cancer & discovered a community of young adult cancer survivors whom I cherish.
Oh, and I flew in a plane with a friend and was able to take the wheel for a while.
So, what? What is the take-away from all of this "what it was like & what's it's like now" reflection?
Firstly, and I believe most importantly, I admitted the truth to my friends about how broken I was feeling – and I will not be exaggerating here when I say things were as black as they can get for a person like me, a person who will actively hide behind her shiny exterior while gently suggesting suicide to myself like a lover whispering nothings in my ear.
This was not okay. And I didn’t know how to change or fix it. I put on the armor of the Look-Good every day. Until finally, one very lucky day for me indeed, I told the truth to people who could hear it, and, importantly, help me change it.
It was because of this admission of my truth that I got help: I began to work in earnest on my recovery. I “happened to” read the back panel of the Cancer Support Community newsletter, where they offered free one-on-one counseling for cancer patients and survivors. I was accepted into a climbing trip with survivors like me where I was able to tell them the truth about how much I missed them in my life without knowing what it was that I’d been missing -- like breathing fresh oxygen when you’ve lived in LA your whole life with a 100lb pack on your back.
So, I suppose the take away is mainly for me to say that. To say that this was a hard fucking year. It was a hard fucking winter and it nearly killed me “for realz.” And so, all these cash and prizes now, all the fulfillment of these “manifestations,” all the rewards that seem to be piling in on me now and making me spin with their accuracy of help… they have not been granted by a fairy godmother, magically and suddenly. They have been fought for with the truth, with action, and yes, with the childish hope that what dreams I put out into the world might actually come true.
My former retail coworker asked me on the train car last Saturday, “When did you quit?” “February.” She thought for a moment, and replied, “So six months. You’ve done what you said you were going to do in six months.”
Friday, August 7, 2015
Those of you who read my previous blog will remember my howling about under the Blue Moon last Friday night and expelling from myself “embarrassing” truths, all my truths, in an effort to own them, to be bigger, and to “let go of being small.” You will remember my feeling of exhilaration and self-ownership and silliness. You will remember my expression of accomplishment, a mature releasing of old patterns, a sense that from here on out, I will not shrink in the ownership and embodiment of my truths. **insert Xena Warrior Cry**
Therefore, it would come to you, as it did to me, as a complete disillusion as I drove home from an audition two days later in near-tears in reaction to the obviousness of my total and utter diminishment of self. **insert the raspberry sound of a balloon deflating**
I thought we’d fixed this, Moon/Universe/Life? WTF.
When one enters an audition room, one must go in with a confident demeanor. One must own the room. Pull focus. Be big. And yet, as soon as I opened the door on Sunday and walked down the aisle into the theater before the auditors, I could feel the shrinking coming over me like a storm-threatened cloud, obscuring myself, my truth, and therefore my voice.
I didn’t bomb the audition – I know what that feels and looks like! – but I didn’t do well. I felt insecure about whether I could move out of the light that was on the stage in order to do my monologue and song (Do I have to stand in this one spot??). I felt insecure about the movements I had recently added to my song (Is this totally cheesey, maybe I shouldn’t do them?). I felt insecure about the delivery of my monologue, having rehearsed it one way but a recent audition asked me to deliver it smaller to match that character (But, shit, Hair isn’t a small show – this isn’t the right delivery!)
I barely said hello to the auditors when I walked in, I was so overcome with nerves and fright. And I barely said goodbye as I left. What an impression for an actor to make, eh?
I knew immediately, no matter the outcome of the audition, that this was unacceptable to me – this was SO OLD, this habit of shrinking and being small. I mean, why do you think I banged a damn tambourine at midnight to get rid of it!!
I drove home, went straight to a room of like-minded women and cried really hard about how powerless I felt over this knee-jerk reaction to being seen. About how awful it felt to become such a shadow of who I truly am – and of who I am onstage when I’m not in auditions, when I’m actually acting and cast.
The next morning, in a funk and emotional hangover, feeling numb and reeling from my abandonment of self, I took some pointed action.
I called one of my good friends who's an actress of many years, and said, “I think I need an audition coach. Who can you recommend?”
Because although the habit of shrinking is based on internal beliefs of self and need to be worked out on an emotional and spiritual plane, that doesn’t mean that I just sit in meditation and hope it fixes itself! That doesn’t mean that I shake a tambourine at it and believe it will just be relieved. It also means that I must take action in the practical reality realm to help alleviate myself of these habits that are causing me pain and sincere distress.
Therefore, the highest recommendation for an audition coach in hand (and now with a salary that can support these efforts), I have an audition coach. As I said to her on the phone for our consultation, I need to stop feeling embarrassed to say, "I want to be an actress." Because that shame is part of what keeps me from really committing to it. Part of what makes me only cram for auditions the week before they happen, scrambling to find a “good” monologue, emailing people two days before my audition saying, "I don’t think this song is right, what should I do?," calling up my vocal coach in need of an emergency lesson.
If you (ahem, I) really want to be an actress, I have to admit that to myself most of all, and to the world/others by taking the actions someone who wants to be an actress would take. As with the other truths I shouted under the moonlight last Friday, I need to begin to own them aloud if I am to achieve them.
As I further said to my new audition coach: Look, I don’t even know what kind of actress I am. If I’m a mediocre actress, then I want to know that, and I want to be the best goddamn mediocre actress I can be. If I’m meant for ensemble roles, then I want to kick the hell out of them. And if I’m meant for other roles, then I am ready to accept the help and do the work that it takes to get those. I have no idea where I am on the scale, because I’ve never fully given myself over to embracing my passion and truth. And because my mirror (like many other people’s) is clouded with self-doubt and self-judgment.
So, come, professional helpers, and help me see what I can’t see. Help me admit what I cringe to admit, “embarrassing” (silly, inconsequential, flighty and ridiculous) as my fear tells me it is:
I want to be an actress. And I want to be the best goddamn actress I can be.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
On Friday night at 10 minutes to midnight sitting in my parked car outside my apartment building, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone. I usually do this as a 'before getting out of my car at the end of the night' ritual. I don’t know why. Like I’m getting a few minutes' alone time before I go into the house… but I live alone... with a cat. … so… In any case, I came across a post about that evening's blue moon, looked quickly at the clock and exclaimed, “Shit!”
I shut off my phone, dashed out of the car up to my apartment. I took off my heels, slipped on flats, grabbed my loaner tambourine and climbed excitedly and nervously up the stairs to the rooftop of my building.
Pushing open the door, I saw before me a whitewashed roof with long pipes and what look like abandoned solar panels. Dropping my keys by the door, I carried my tambourine to the center of the rooftop, shielding myself slightly from the view of neighboring buildings, and turned around to see the full, audacious moon before me. Then, I began to jangle the tambourine, and finally I began to sing.
As I’ve come to the part of my recovery/internal work where we are instructed to “Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings,” my mentor asked me how I’d done this step in the past. I told her I usually get on my knees and say some kind of prayer.
“Get the fuck off your knees!” she replied emphatically.
You see, I have a habit of being small. Of minimizing myself, diminishing myself, down-playing and ignoring my own needs out of fear and, mostly now, out of long-grooved practice. This habit of deprivation and hiding causes many problems in my life, mostly because I am surely aware that I am not “meant” to be a mouse.
Being a mouse, though, often looks like me withholding my truths, not admitting what I really want from others and from myself and from life. Things like. … I want to get married. *gasp!* It was near torture to say this aloud to her when we were discussing truths I never tell anyone. It feels embarrassing to say it. To feel it. To want it. “I'm a modern woman, proud brave able! What a simpering, waif-like desire to have!,” goes my internal monologue. And I wither to admit it to anyone else.
My mentor and I spoke at length that day, and she finally suggest-/insist-ed that I get a tambourine, dress up in something exciting and shout this truth, and all my others, to the heavens.
So on Friday morning, two weeks after this suggestion, I finally obtained a borrowed tambourine (you’d be surprised how few there are around!). I texted my mentor that tonight was the night! And then I read online that it was also going to be a full moon, a blue moon in fact. This seemed most auspicious. (For a woo-woo hippie shit chick like myself!)
The evening found me on the roof of my apartment building, fresh from a salsa lesson/live music dance in the city, in a hot dress and pulsing with feminine wiles, furtively tapping this noisemaker in my hand, trying not to feel embarrassed.
And then I began to sing. I started softly and whirled myself into a crescendo, abandoning decorum, delighting in the jangle and thrill of the truth. Gyrating, gesticulating, twirling around the rooftop, I sang loudly all the secret desires of my soul and my heart, echoing a refrain of, “I let go of being small!” and hammering wildly on the tambourine, an elegant, alight grin streaked across my face as I hopped lightly over the pipes, spinning around the roof until all my heart’s desires, all my tiny wishes I’m too ashamed to speak, had poured out of my throat and into the moonlit darkness.
Laughing, giddy, adrenalized, I headed back to the entrance door, calling brazenly to the bulbous moon: “Peace out, Blue Moon.”
Friday, July 31, 2015
It isn’t so much that I’m afraid of heights as it is I’m afraid of falling from heights. Therefore, when, 2 months ago, I found myself in Moab, Colorado dangling on the side of sheer rock face struggling to find a toe-hold in the millimeter-wide crannies, I began to panic.
Now, to pull back the scene a little bit, I was about 15 feet off the ground, strapped into a harness, and attached to a grounding line held by my belay partner only a few feet below. But it didn’t feel safe. It felt like I was stabbing the rock cliff with my feet, trying desperately to find purchase in thin air, my adrenaline kicking up so high I could taste it.
Muscle-fatigued and terrified, I called to my partner below that I wanted to come down – I was done. The rock climbing guide on our trip overheard my plea and walked over from the lines and climbers parallel to me. He suggested that I sit back in the harness, take a break, feel my weight being held, and catch my breath. Then he called up, “You can come down, but if you want to keep going, I’ll help you.”
Later that evening, back on flat earth in front of a crackling fire, he chuckled he could see my shoulders slump at that moment, a moment of resignation, a knowing that, indeed, because of his help, I was going to and was able to keep going. This sanguine moment of, “Shit, alright, fine. Let’s do this.” And, together, we did. He called out places where I could find my footing, and shortly thereafter I was at the top, my heart a fluttering canary, stress-tears straining back in my eyes, weak from fear and exertion – and once safely back the 60ft to the ground again, proud.
He told me of a concept called a “retro-climb.” It is only after you have accomplished this ridiculous feat of effort that you feel pride, accomplished, and glad you did it at all. In the moment, you only feel fear, anxiety, terror. Honestly, I’ve not felt so frightened in recent memory, despite the intellectual knowledge that I was completely safe, held, and cared for. (My naturopath had a field day turning down my maxed-out adrenaline once I’d returned to SF!)
In my own personal work lately, my mentor suggested I seek an internal guide to show me my blind spots. As some of you know, I sometimes use a Shamanic Journey meditation practice that introduces you to internal guides of both human and animal form.
And so, the other morning in meditation, I “went in” to find a guide to show me what I’m missing, since there are whole areas of my life that still feel unresolved and cause me distress (see: "romance and finance"; aka serially single and perpetually under/un-employed). In this meditation, as the title of this blog may suggest, I came across a waterbug.
… Now, the waterbug does not seem like the fancy-dancy spirit animal one would hope for! It’s not a lion or eagle or even antelope. And yet, here it was. I won’t “bore” you with the details of the meditation, but the lesson was clear:
The waterbug floats on the top of the water, not because it is defying the law of physics, but precisely because it knows, believes, and trusts in them so completely that it knows it will be held on the surface. It is not defying gravity, it is embracing the truest knowledge that because of the laws of nature, it must and will always be held.
The rock climbing guide and I had a long conversation one evening about spirituality, and he revealed that his largest question for “God” or the Universe as he continued to expand his life and open his vulnerable self and admit all parts of him was, “Can you really love me that much?”
I replied to him that my question is, “Can you really hold me that much?” Can you really let me know, help me feel, to my core, that I am held? That I am safe?
The waterbug teaches me that it floats because it doesn’t tense and struggle. It floats because it relaxes and trusts, and simply embodies a knowing that if it steps onto the clear surface of a pond, it will be held. And furthermore, having seen that it has been held and carried before, it doesn’t continue to question whether it will be held again in the future!
So this is my lesson for the moment: to embody the true knowing that, like sitting back into a climbing harness, I am expertly and even lovingly held. And, should I ever choose to question (as it can become a choice rather than a habit), there will always be help offered me.
And p.s., if I mess up and tense up and fall through the surface of the water… I can swim.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
When I first moved into my Oakland apartment 5 years ago, I pasted up onto my refrigerator a piece of black-board contact paper. On it, I’ve written a chalk list of tasks with check boxes that I mark with a colorful chalk X when they’re complete, and eventually erase with an old cloth.
At this moment, included on my multicolored check list are: Thank you cards, Laugh, CSET #3, audition pieces, Fall teaching, and Own my Power.
“Own my power” has been on there for some time and this morning, I was thinking about what that might actually look like. Because perhaps it’s not something you can check off on a box. Perhaps it's not something that you actually complete.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between struggling and striving. I have tended to be someone who struggles, mostly against myself, mostly in some twisted effort to move forward that I thwart with habitual fears and paralyzation. But I think these two ways of being may be one and the same, simply subject to a shift in perspective or focus.
There are so many check-list items that I’ve put on my chalkboard, thinking them hard, impossible, and out of reach, but the fact for me has been that each time I have reached for something I didn’t think possible, I had to stretch beyond my normal scope, try a little harder, work a little deeper – and in the end I have “miraculously” accomplished these goals.
Before I had written “audition pieces,” my task was “next audition.” Ages before that, it was “real headshots.”
Each of these seemed like Herculean effort, stretching my own belief in what was possible and in what I could attain. So what is the difference between striving and struggling, if both are reaching in an uncomfortable way toward something new? A truckload of serenity, I imagine!
Striving seems to me to be born of a positive self-image, whereas struggling does not. You may disagree, but for the purposes of this blog, let’s consider it so.
And in all of my strivings, as I’ve reached just that little bit taller, higher, almost tipping over with the effort, not quite in view of my goal, I’ve had to stretch, work, believe, try -- and grow. And here’s where the whole “Own my power” thing comes in:
If I have gotten “bigger,” taller, stronger, more breadth and depth with each of my strivings, then there is never going to be a complete “owning” of my power (whatever I consider that to be: my truth, my voice, my wholeness). Every time I grow a bit in my self-esteem, in my confidence and competence, I outgrow a shell. And the power that I am hoping to own grows with it.
There is no end to it – you simply need to become bigger to fill the new proportions you’re now striving to embody.
Instead of lamenting that this striving is some endless Sisyphean task of perpetually pushing a builder up a hill, this newer understanding feels emboldening. Widening. It feels instead like a miraculous series of open doors, from one room to the next to the next, each holding that new space for the new bits of Molly that I acquire, uncover, and come to believe in along the way.
So maybe I need to modify my chalkboard task from “own” to “embody” my power, and allow that body to grow with each ticked off challenge.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Not like “the birds and the bees”; like the theme song: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…”
In this great rumpus race for which we have signed up by the very nature of being born, we are subject to a variety of experience. Some of these we deem good, some bad, and being pleasure-seeking beings, we are partial to those we deem good.
In my own personal relationship to the universe, life, fate and its many faces/facets, I have oriented my understanding to be one that says, Everything happens for our own good. Even the bad things.
For my alcoholism, I have found recovery, a community, and way of life that brings me fellowship, understanding, pleasure, laughter, and a sense of being deeply understood.
For my childhood, I have come to tell myself that because of my experiences, I've become sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, resourceful, strong, and creative.
For my cancer, I have taken my struggle and survival as impetus to engage in my life more fully, playing in a band, flying a plane, acting and singing in theater.
For all these horrors and more, I can look back and deem them “good,” because they have led me to becoming more useful and engaged as a human.
Fuck. All. That.
That we are thrown against the shores of life brutally onto the rocks of experience, shaping us, reshaping us, and winnowing us down to the raw beauty of ourselves— Hey Universe, would you lay off a minute, huh?
Because perhaps, Shit. Just. Happens.
And that is the worst understanding of all for me. It is the least controlled, the least controllable, the most chaotic, disordered, entropy-laden reasoning for it all.
What it means is that we are not “safe.” And if there is anything I have struggled for in my lifetime, it is to feel safe.
But in this quest, this blazing, self-propelled quest for safety, I have built up around myself an armor, a buffer, a multi-layered sequence of dance steps that I believe if I dodge left, you, it, experience, failure, hurt, calamity will needly dodge right.
Yet, the Universe has its own dancesteps, and sometimes they are to bowl you over like a rhino in a football helmet.
Furthermore, by dodging experience as a whole --monstrous as I believe or fear it to be-- I also dodge whatever good that rhinoceros might be trying to hand me. And therein lies the rub, eh?
As I mentioned a few days ago about the dam, restricting my own self, need, and experience out of fear of what might happen if I let things flow, I am scrubbing up against my own realization that I am restricting myself for fear that bad shit might happen. I am hoping to control the all of my experience so I am not harmed anymore.
Because forget all the above bullshit (which I also happen to believe) about all those bad things becoming or being seen as good things – don’t fucking think that I want or wanted them too. They were all still egregiously painful. And, as I mentioned, human as I am, I don’t want pain.
In my attempt to restrict my experience of pain, however, I believe I restrict my experience of benevolence. Grace. Fulfillment.
And so, I am stymied, victim of my own prison, of my own design to be safe, I am restricted from the greater joys and rewards of life.
“You take the good, you take the bad… “
Am I willing to expose myself, to be vulnerable and open to the whole of life’s experience, knowing that in my disarmoring, I am (also) opening myself to unforeseen goodness?