"...the highly structured format means that tons of writing gets done, so that when the workshop is over you can barely recognize your work, it's grown so much."
"...the highly structured format means that tons of writing gets done, so that when the workshop is over you can barely recognize your work, it's grown so much."
Hi al—it’s Chris. Ever since the COVID-19 crisis began to get real, so about three weeks ago–The Secret City/I started holding daily gatherings on Facebook Live, the following week they expanded to Instagram These live events are about 25-30 minutes, and designed to help people feel connected, a sense of community and, if we’re lucky–maybe even inspiration in these incredibly uncertain times. The gatherings are called Quarantime: Daily Artistic Inspiration for Troubled Times and take place at 9am pacific/12noon eastern.
The events have been wonderful–and folks have been coming daily and telling their friends. I write a new piece everyday, inspired by this moment, and I read the pieces during the gatherings. I publish them here on my personal blog.
Rob Weinert-Kendt,editor of American Theater Magazine, reached out last week asking if he could publish one of the pieces. This is Looking at the Rings and I’m humbled to have it included as part of their series on artists responding to the coronavirus crisis.
Wishing you all safety, health, love–and for those who must be out in the world right now, tremendous gratitude for all you’re doing to make the moment more humane. –XChris
I’ve always been a curious person, “You’re so curious,” my dad would say when I was a kid. And I came to see curiosity as an asset. Curiosity leads to searching, to learning, to growing, maybe even to wisdom; But can a person be too curious?
Lately I notice that I’m consumed daily by a desire to know more—and yes some of that is driven by this crisis we’re in but it’s also just a need to read articles, to look up facts, to confirm something that might come up in conversation—“Oh, yeah,” I’ll say, reaching for my phone, “I was wondering that.” And I’ll dive into a mini research hole.
I don’t use my cookbooks anymore, I just enter a handful of ingredients in the search bar and ask what I can make with it. I even read on my phone—the app for Bobby’s and my shared library is on my phone. This is not a rant against phones—I am interested in education, in how we learn things these days. And how we become educated. Who was it that said education is what is left after you’ve forgotten everything you learned? I’ll have to look that up.
I wish I were more disciplined—I don’t keep a journal, I don’t write letters. I have often thought it would be cool to keep a list of every movie I’ve ever seen, wouldn’t that be an interesting way to tell a life story? Or every book? Partly this is because I have poor retention. I can’t remember things I’ve read very recently. Or movies I’ve seen not that long ago. Something about the voraciousness with which I consume things.
What I’d really love is to make a list at the end of everyday about all the things I learned that day. A journal can give you some of that but that’s more of a record of what you’ve learned over time, emotionally, spiritually, about being a human. What I’m taking about is the minutiae of each day.
Just off the top of my head, here are a few things I’ve learned in the past few days: the word sagittal, referring to the seam at the top of our skulls, which divides the two halves of our brain. I’ve learned some of the early history of Mary Queen of Scotts. I’ve learned that I spend way too much money on $5 coffees.
What prompted the word education was when Julie Rowland reached out after Friday’s live show and asked if I was open to some suggestions about the breathing we do here. “Oh god,” I thought, “I can’t even breathe correctly!” And then I thought, “Oh, Chris, settle down, I know you don’t like to told how to do things but this is Julie and you love her and maybe this moment is about learning to be teachable.”
Part of my voracious curiosity leads me to think I know everything. I don’t mean in an arrogant way, not like a know-it-all, ok maybe a little bit like that.
The spirit of the beginner is beautiful, a beginner is vulnerable, alive to possibility. Some of us adopt that all-knowing approach to life as a survival mechanism, my knowledge is so great and far reaching that nothing will ever jump out at me in the dark, nothing unforeseen will happen to me, which of course is not true. Another great word: delusion.
Julie and I set a time to speak she was great, reminded me of some things I had forgotten about the diaphragm and the three-part breath. And I realized it wouldn’t hurt me to learn from someone, to say thank you, to take instruction. I am safe enough to begin.
Here’s something I learned just this morning, someone I know in New York City has now lost 5 friends to the virus. One thing we learn in life is loss. And we learn the distance between those who are fighting for their lives and those who are stuck at home, trying to stave off boredom.
I’d like to learn French while on quarantine. I took French in high school and then went to school for a year in Switzerland where I was supposed to become fluent. Didn’t happen I’d also love to learn Italian, for that trip Bobby and I are always talking about taking to Italy and Greece.
But, really, am I going to do that, listen to foreign language lessons right now? My brain is electric, the world is abuzz, if I have a hard time retaining a book, how am I going to ever remember a bunch of foreign verbs?
The best learning for me right now is to seek calm, to pay attention, not to the outside world so much, but to really look at my day, how the light changes, determine what do I need to take care of myself right now, honor those who are lost and struggling, maybe even acquire a modicum of grace.
Education comes from educe, to bring out or develop—I’d like to develop my capacity to be human.
In my late 20s, I had the vision of moving to India, a place I knew almost nothing about but the dream of disappearing appealed to me and what better place to do that than in the sub continent of subcontinent of Asia.
I stopped in Europe on my way, figuring I would wind my way to India—not exactly sure how one winds from Paris to Bombay but I was young and believed just by wanting something to happen it would.
I traveled by train. In terms of what I saw—fields of sunflower in Northern Spain, the gorgeous hills of Lisbon, an exhibit of Eric Fischl paintings in some small town in France, climbing the tour in Bruges, visiting the Hague—it was glorious. But I was so lonely. I had been so focused on getting away from my life that I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Friends, theater, LA, COMMUNITY. Why did I always think my life was inconsequential?
I sometimes think of life like a huge cruise ship—not a great symbol at the moment owing to our recent knowledge of cruise ships and illness and being trapped—then again, maybe it’s perfect. For right now, let’s say the cruise ship is your life—everyone you know and see and the places you visit and shop are on this ship. One day you realize someone is missing—they’re nowhere to be found. Disappeared. We think things are solid, but they’re not, everything is fragile, temporary. Anyone of us could just go over at any time and be lost to the sea.
When I got back from those months in Europe, I began to rebuild my life. I got a job at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood—a legendary place, originally dedicated to books about Buddhism, it became a central part of Los Angeles’ new age boom in the 80s and 90s. It was the place Shirley MacLaine wrote about in her book Out on a Limb—she had been standing in the stacks when a book flew off the shelf and hit her in the head. People must be into that because folks began to flock to the store—in search of parts of themselves they had either lost or wanted to find for the first time.
My own search for self deepened at that time. This has been a lifelong endeavor that hasn’t felt as much like a spiritual quest as a quest to be whole and sane and to not self destruct, to be present for my own life. To not fall of the cruise ship.
While working at the Bodhi Tree I started seeing a dream counselor. Her name was Mary and she had a cluttered office on the second floor above a Hasidic print shop on Santa Monica Boulevard. In the movie of my life, the role of Mary would be played by Jean Stapleton from All in the Family. She was charming, absent minded and sort of ditzy. She spent a significant portion of every one of my visits trying to find her glasses, which were always on her head.
Her office was nothing like what you’d expect a dream counselor’s office to look like—no crystals, no rich textiles, no incense or chimes, no posters with inspirational sayings. She had an old grey metal desk piled high with legal pads and files, she sat in a black rolling desk chair, I sat in a beat up padded chair on the other side of the desk from her. It felt more like I was sitting with the secretary waiting an appointment for a low-rent private eye.
But she was kind and keen—her ideas of dreams were in some ways very simple: if you dreamed of a store that’s what was in store for you, if you were driving somewhere, that’s where you were headed. I learned a lot from Mary—if nothing else, than to pay attention to what I was seeing every night, look at it, think about it. Dreams are important messages.
Yesterday I got an email from a cruise ship company—I swear, it’s true. I laughed out loud. Are they seriously going to try to sell cruises right now? Ships Ahoy, read the subject line. Inside it began, “Ready to Sail the Seven Seas?”
My life has been driven by visions—the world I want to live in, how can I make that? The art I want to experience, how can I bring that to life. And though my nightly visions aren’t directed like that—there are clear symbols and powerful messages.
What my waking dreams and sleeping dreams have in common is this: whoever I am at the moment is looking for freedom, the freedom found not in escaping but living. Staying on deck, not going overboard.
My dream is to inhabit this life.
Here’s the thing. I’m funny. I’m not one of those—oh, man that guys such a character like kooky funny but I can make people laugh. Most people who have this ability grew up with it—funny doesn’t stay hidden for long. Many of used cultivated this skill as a survival tool, though we may not have known it.
When I was a teenager and first started acting, I was cast as the funny guy, the comic lead or what they call comic relief. And I was good at it—I learned quickly how to supplement my natural gift with the tools of performance: timing, delivery, the whole deal.
Because of this skill and also due to my size, I was often cast in roles playing men who were thirty, forty to fifty years older than my actual age. I would put on the pale pancake makeup, add heayy lines using an eyebrow pencil, then powder the whole face to give the illusion of age. The dressing room air was thick with Streaks N Tips, the common spray-in hair color at the time. For a distinguished look, you’d spray just a little gray at the temples; if you were playing full-on grandpa or, say, a mayor you’d spray your whole head.
Being able to make people laugh is a great skill, and highly praised ability. It can also be an invaluable weapon and, in addition to the community theater I was doing at the time, I was known to use it in classrooms and in jobs.
I liked making people laugh—and yet, late in adolescence I remember thinking, why can’t I do those other things? I was never cast as the romantic lead, never the boyfriend-- Wait, that’s not true. Ha! I just remembered that I was cast as the boyfriend in the musical The Boyfriend! I had to learn to tap dance for that one—a purely joyful artform at which I did not excel.
To be taken seriously—remember how important that was when you were a teenager? As if you had to carve out a place for yourself in the world, fight to be seen, struggle for every bit of attention. And for some of us, it was like that. For others, that was simply how we perceived the world. Some still do.
I came to see my gift—laughter, joy-maker, bringer of happiness—if not as a burden then as a cage. Funny people have power but they often want a different kind of power. Think of all of the big comedians who long to be taken seriously? Jim Carrey comes to mind. Sometimes these attempts are sweaty—we can see them working. But then I think of Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People and I remember that humor is often a cover for a deeply serious person. And that the skill required to humor people can be deadly when applied to a dramatic role.
In my twenties I was still fighting to get out of the funny cage.
But, here’s the thing: My nature was bright. It felt odd when I tried to dim it.
I had an acting teacher back then who suggested we study the work of others, watch as much as you can and really figure out your casting—I bristled at this assignment. “I can do anything,” my thoughts went. But, when I started doing commercials in my thirties, I was often cast as young dad, beer drinker, wearing football jerseys.
Walt Whitman wrote: “I contain multitudes.” However my closet has never contained a football jersey.
Even in my thirties when my acting career began to flourish and I was working around the country as well as making my own original work with companies in LA, I always sort of downplayed my abilities. Maybe some of that was garden variety low self-esteem—sure—but it also was a lingering sense that being a comedic actor was somehow less important than being a dramatic actor.
When we started The Secret City, the events were intimate, small in size and rather quiet in nature—we were looking for the creative spirit and our beginnings took delicacy. But as word got out and the events grew and more and more people started to attend, the energy began to, not change, so much as expand.
The services became radically joyful—the word joy was written into every event and hitting that high note of joy--heart open, body energized, feeling fully alive--was common, and what people came to expect.
Here’s what I learned—Joy is a spiritual quality, and if you can bring people to a place of joy, you have done a great service, you lifted them. Earlier this week someone used the word elevate during one of the shows—I think it was you, Nancy Perlman. Even if the joy is just a moment, you’ve contributed to elevating the vibration of humanity. Joy is serious medicine.
In the work of somatic experiencing, joy is prescribed as a fundamental tool in healing trauma. When you find yourself taking the offramp to a place of terror or despair, try to access a moment of joy—anything that brings that bright spark can stop the slide into trauma response.
When I think of the times in my life when I have felt most alive, I’m laughing with people, making something beautiful together with others, dancing in clubs, getting married, being with dogs—the sadness of my life falls away. Mine has been a truly—and thankfully--joyful life.
I sometimes wonder if I am a fool—and, indeed, in some ways I am, and a fool is not such a bad thing to be, in the world of archetypes, it is the fool who embarks on great adventures,—but I mean, fool, as in dumb, incapable or unwilling to see the truth about a given situation. I say this because I am determined to find value in things that others may just think are shitty.
Being fat, for one. Is that something anyone would wish for?
I’ve been overweight ever since I hit puberty. Even writing that is a an irritant—I hate the word overweight, it makes me think of excess baggage you have to check at the airport, for which they make you pay extra.
I’ve written a lot about the whole idea of fat, what it has meant to me, how it has impacted my life—and also how it has protected me, given me an armor made of excess flesh.
I was messaging with a friend the other night, she had said it’s a nervy time, then asked how Bobby and I were doing. I wrote back, “Yeah, it is a nervy time. We're ok. daily life is much the same on the surface but there's an undercurrent of sadness and a persistent heaviness. Still lucky, fortunate, all those things--but it's heavy.”
Heavy comes from the Old English, of great weight, it came to mean, hard to carry, and is related to the word heft, also, to heave…this makes me think of the word, burden. One of the great words of our language. Burden. A heavy load.
The word grief--from old French--means to burden.
Several years ago I was having a difficult time, I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I reached out to someone who works with highly sensitive people. I asked if I could speak with her.
During our talk she said something profound--You know the handful of things you’ve heard or read that stay with you for years sometimes for life? This was one of those.
She said, “You’ve been carrying a burden, and the thing about a burden is, you think if you keep carrying it will get lighter but of course, that’s not the case.”
As she spoke, I saw so clearly that image of a human—myself, carrying a huge load on his back, wandering through a wilderness, in the darkness, perhaps it’s a rocky terrain, storms lash at the poor human but still they push on, their back bending lower with each mile. “I’ve got to keep going.”
And, hey, tenacity--wonderful--dedication, consistency—all of those qualities that allow us to complete our tasks, are great.
There was a moment in the evolution of The Secret City when I started wearing colorful, ridiculous, outfits. Soon I started wearing fewer clothes, the outfits became revealing—so many years I spent performing, finding the right thing to wear, the slimming jacket, the pants that wouldn’t split, the shirt that was long enough to keep my belly covered, the concealing suit. But suddenly, I started to let my gut hang out, totally uncovered, I even danced foolishly and made it jiggle. And I understood that the weight, my large belly, my big arms and legs, that’s not what was the burden—it was all of the baggage around it. The fear of being seen. The elaborate games I played to make it seem that I wasn’t the size I was. These games didn’t work but they allowed me to believe I was hiding it, or at least, I was complying with the unwritten rules that we should hide what is unacceptable about ourselves.
It is a heavy time. The moments are pendulous. I’m reminded of when my father died several years ago. He had been sick for awhile, so it wasn’t a surprise. But still, when he died, they came, waves—that’s what it felt like. When you’re standing in the ocean, not very deep, maybe up to your knees and then, a swell appears and hits you, full force, right in the torso, throwing you off and under.
The days and weeks and months, really, following his death, I don’t remember being sad, not really, but a drug-like fatigue would come, unannounced, another wave and I would go under, I’d have to lie down. I realized grief was physical, perhaps even more than emotional. The person who’s occupied a foundational position in your life is suddenly gone and the body is thrown off balance.
This time is like that I find—I’m not overly emotional, or not most of the time—but the things that hold us up are gone and the waves keep coming. The sea is stormy and we are small swimmers.
A burden doesn’t become lighter the longer you carry it; the reward you seek may lie in putting it down.
In the late 90s this book came out, it was called the birthday book. Each page had a different day of the year and it was designed to explain how every day of the year impacted the person born on that day.
One side of my family leans toward the mystical—Great Aunt Ruby, whom I showed you pictures of yesterday,—was an astrologer, a palm reader and practiced numerology. On my grandmother’s bookshelves were books by Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce, Krishnamurti and Manly P. Hall.
So I’m familiar with the world of the unseen—and on days I completely believe it, and on others I am a certified pragmatic materialist.
But, this birthday book. My page revealed several things about me, along with other people who share my birthday Ethel Barrymore, Edna Ferber, Napoleon and Julia Child. I like to tell people I am the spiritual love child of Napoleon and Julia Child.
The most telling detail of my page in the birthday book was that I was, more than any other day of the year, driven by the will.
Now, I don’t know about the rest of the days of the year but I I have an inner machine that keeps me plowing ahead, often against logic or reason. The things I do, I do full steam, no second thoughts, no hesitation.
When we started The Secret City, I could see it, the thing I was moving toward, and everyday I would sit down and apply myself to making it real. When I was a teenager and discovered theater, I dove in, head first, and was consumed by the knowledge that it was what I was supposed to be doing.
This drive can be a gift, it helps me make thigns. But I can also be like a mac truck, a steamroller—mowing down any obstacle, impatient with slower people, I don’t have time for questions about the why, I am focused solely on the what and the how.
Ever since this crisis began to be real, like real real, when I got back from LA two weeks ago and Bobby said, “This is happening,” and we bought a bunch of groceries and began holing up here at home, I saw that what I needed to do was spring into action, will something to happen in response to this crisis. I started making these shows to provide ways for us to be together, and it’s been incredible, truly—and I also see how I operate. Stopping is hard for me. And there’s a lot of value in the midst of what we’re going through, to being idle.
I’ve had a lot of addictions in my life, booze, cigarettes, money, food, sex—probably a few more if I stopped to think about it, but I think now that the thing I’ve been most addicted to has been adrenaline. The hormone that is secreted by the adrenal gland, which impacts the body’s systems and prepares us for battle.
In recovery terms the term putting down means quitting a certain substance or behavior. The putting down of adrenaline is—what?—not impossible, no, difficult.
It’s telling that the root of the word pause, from the ancient Greek originally meant, to stop. Our understanding of pause today is that it’s a momentary stop, a break in the action. But, for me—and maybe some of you, if I pause, the world will stop, my work will end, my energy will dry up—I’m sure, because I tend toward the dramatic, as do so many of the fine folks who share my birthday—pausing equals annihallation. Like certain sharks, I must keep moving or die.
When I was starting to learn how to act, I was doing a lot of musical theater, which I loved. Occasionally I would do what is called a straight play. What I never was asked to do was Pinter—for those of you who don’t know, Harold Pinter was a British playwright whose work revolutionized the theater. One of the things he is associated with is called the Pinter Pause—a device he used in his dialog which proided actors with pauses, written into the script. In Pinter’s world, the pause was as important as the line. When we speak, we often pause to find the right word, or to get clear about what we want to say.
Pinter was dangerous, it was a different kind of performer who could actually stop talking in the middle of a scene. The confidence! The selfishness!
My life has been driven by the directive to pick up your cues, no space between lines, keep the pace up. How could I hold an audience’s attention if I stopped talking? What would keep people coming back if I had nothing to say? Like so many things in life, I suppose what I’m getting at, is love, and what that means is what I’m getting at is, trust. How could we possibly be loved if we are idle?
I’ve lived enough to know that pauses can be beautiful—the rest between notes in Chopin, the moment when a dancer holds before moving again, the fermata in music, asking the player to hold, letting the note hang in the air.
That’s what this moment is, right? A global pause. Not everyone is reading the same script but for those of us who are, let’s revel in the permission we’ve been given to stop, to hold, to be.
Something outside of our control--something surprising--might happen.
People who know me well have heard me talk about what it was like when we first moved out of Manhattan and into the woods. One of the first nights here in this cottage, I woke in the dark, startled—I was having one of those, “where am I?” moments when you wake from sleep and are disoriented. I reached my right hand out to touch the wall but the wall wasn’t there and then I realized, right, we don’t live in that apartment anymore, we live in a cottage in the woods and the walls are father apart here—what added to my terror was when I realized that not only was the wall not right there but the neighbors weren’t right there, either. Because on the other side of the walls of this cottage are the woods—fabled places from fairy tales where children disappear and witches try to eat them.
In those first six months I suffered what I like to call my Upstate Ego Death. ‘I used to be somebody,’ I walked around thinking all the time. ‘What if I die here, no one will know—or care.’
I grew up in deserts—I was born in the San Fernando Valley but when I was five my parents moved us to Saudi Arabia, where my dad would be flying a certain jet of which the Saudi royal family had purchased a small fleet. We lived in an expat community on the edge of town—several streets with identical houses on each side all surrounded by one large cinder block wall, over which stretched the Sahara Desert. You could stand on the Coke crate left there for just that purpose and see the tan sand stretch out for miles. Occasionally the sound of bells would jingle from across the distance and soon a dark low mound would appear far off—a Bedouin tribe riding camels from somewhere way over there to somewhere way over there.
When I was seven we moved back to the states and landed in the Mojave Desert where my dad continued to work for Lockheed—something about aerospace companies and barren places. I guess the open air is good for that industry.
We lived on the edge of a new group of homes—this would have been 1970—and at the end of our road, over one of those old highway railings you’d see in black and white movies, lay the Mojave, with tumbleweeds and junipers, tamarisk trees and sand dunes. We would play out there in the summer—my brothers both took up motorcross and would ride the dunes with their bikes. Ocassionaly you’d find a horny toad in the backyard, tumbleweeds blew past out front.
There’s some truth to the archetype of the desert rat—a common nickname for folks who live in the desert. A desire to be alone, a need for open space and wide vistas. Finding pleasure in solitude.
When I first moved to Manhattan from California, I remember stopping in the middle of an intersection to look up the avenue—I realized I hadn’t seen a long distance in awhile and it made me homesick for space and the satisfying loneliness that can come from living somewhere with fewer people. A car horn blared and I moved on.
The woods are something like deserts. When we first moved here people in the city would ask, “Have you met a bunch of really great people?” And, back then, before we had met all these really great people, I would say, “Well, not really; there’s a reason people move to the woods—they want to be alone.”
The word distance is inherently poetic—the two S sounds give it a sensuality, and the contrast between the firm di—and the soft stan—it’s a beautiful word. In addition to meaning the measurement between things or people—it can also mean someone who is or has grown emotionally cold. Then there’s the saying, to go the distance…to persist, to follow through or go all the way to completion.
I’ve been thinking of all the people whose ambitions have been thwarted by this crisis—the kids just about to open in their first Broadway show, the painter whose work was going to be shown in a hip gallery for the first time, TV shows that aren’t going into production, authors whose books aren’t being released. Humans are ambitious—some more than others, yes. But, think of all the ambitions being thwarted right now. Huge waves of frustration and disappointment rising up from earth.
I referred to the deserts I had lived in as barren places—this isn’t exactly true. Deserts contain a rich, diverse web of life—and the energy of a desert can be intense; the wind that came through Lancaster, where I grew up, was powerful and, like the famous winds around the world—Scirocco, Santa Ana, the mistral in France—it brought with it a mood that could change an entire town. Trade winds have moved people around the globe for centuries.
When Bobby and I first met, we spent the first year and a half of our relationship driving around the country, we crossed the continent 5 times, each time taking a different route, the northern, the middle, diagonal, the southern route, zig zag—on one trip, we drove from Oregon to Mexico. It was an incredible time of love and discovery. They say that while driving is one of the best times for people to communicate intimately, because you can say and reveal things to each other sitting side-by-side that you wouldn’t if you were looking at each other, face-to-face.
I have loved the two big cities I have lived in—LA has my heart forever and NYC made me the man I am today. But thinking of those long drives with Bobby, our big shaggy dog in the back, I remember the beautiful, endless sorrow when crossing the plains, the low marbled mountains of the badlands, the thrill of crossing over the Rockies and seeing the extraordinary sculpture of Utah.
Distances are what I remember most.
On Saturday afternoon Bobby came into my office. “Hi,” I could tell by his voice that he was shaken. “What happened?”
He had just called the art supply store here in town, a place he visits 2-3 times a week. It’s a wonderful store and a great resource, especially for a small town like ours. For him the store is a lifeline and allows him to do his work.
“I was calling to see if they had a certain paint I need,” he said.
The guy said yeah but we’re closing at 3. It was 1:30 then.
“Oh, I thought you were open until 5 on Saturdays.”
“No, we’re closing, like closing.”
That morning, the governor had ordered all non-essential businesses to close so I guess that means no art supplies. Essential, meaning of primary importance, absolutely necessary.
I did that thing I sometimes do, especially with Bobby: when he gets upset I feel threatened and so I attempt to calm him down.
“It’s going to be ok,” I said. He looked slightly stricken when I said this. Understandably. Whom am I to predict what will be ok and what won’t be ok? And then I added the dreaded, “Try to take a deep breath.” At East I didn’t say, “calm down.” He handled this ok—I mean, he’s better at my attempts at control than he should be, probably. He took a few deep breaths and then left for the art supply store.
When he got there, he tried the front entrance but it was locked. He could see people inside but was afraid they might have already closed. He ran to the back entrance. The manager was just coming out.
“You have to call in your order.” He said.
Bobby got out his phone and called the store, after placing his order he waited on the steps. An older woman approached and stood behind him, a little closer than Bobby wanted her to be but he adjusted. He recognized this woman as someone who dog sat for us years back. She wasn’t a very good dog-sitter. First of all we had to unplug the modem and other electronics as she’s allergic to 5G, which is, whatever, fine—but the biggest thing is that Sally didn’t like her. When we got back from our weekend away, it was the first time we couldn’t find her—she was way under the dresser in our closet. Whenever I see this woman in town, she asks after Sally and I always am tempted to say to her, “Sally doesn’t like you, don’t you understand?”
But I resist. Instead I try to access the part of myself that tries to be kind and patient with people, my higher self, I guess you’d call it, who sometimes hides from me.
There on the steps to the art supply store, she didn’t recognize Bobby so he reminded her who he was, she asked after Sally. I think he said she’s fine. There was also a couple in front of him, the woman kept looking back at Bobby, like he had a disease or something, which, well, aren’t we all doing a bit of that?
We went to the grocery store on Saturday, I saw myself as someone in a dystopian movie…every person held the vague essence of threat. That old man with the walker, blocking the aisle. Is he ok? Then: The twenty somethings in front of me in line, buying a bunch of beers and laughing manically. Hm I don’t like that. We’re so prepared to be paranoid, to suspect anyone of anything. It’s as if we’ve been rehearsing how to live in a post-apocalyptic world for years.
Finally, a guy came out with Bobby’s stuff, an order that was much bigger than his usual order, enough supplies to last him several months. After they handled the back and forth with the debit card, this guy, whose name is Wylie and is really sweet guy and whom Bobby has seen several times a week for years said, “Well, bye.”
”Oh, right, bye.”
Who knows if they’ll be back? If the store will survive this and re-open? If Wylie will have his job again or if he’ll still be living here? And who knows if this will last three months, a year and a half or more. Will Bobby ever see this person again? And Bobby can probably order stuff online for now—so it’s not that.
Our lifelines, the things that give our lives meaning, are drying up. It’s so important to be thankful for food and shelter and our health--Yes—but the other essentials, the things that make up a life—art supplies, restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, bars and clubs, going out to hear music, neighbors—those essentials are going away for now.
It’s snowing here today, a surprising early spring snow that is softening the fears of the present, reminding me of things that are bigger than our human concerns: weather can be healing that way sometimes. Just as being in nature can restore a sense of perspective.
For now, we are left with a stripped down existence. Life boiled down to its essence. We are being asked to be as resourceful as possible. I’m also going to work on accessing that higher part of myself, the kinder more patient part.
It occurs to me that another essential right now is to bear witness, to pay attention and to listen, deeply—what might the weather have to teach us?
I have been picking a word each day to serve as inspiration for these daily events I’ve been hosting on Facebook. The word inspires these daily writings, too. The truth is the words kind of pick me. I know that sounds woo woo but it’s true: they emerge, through the inky waters of my consciousness, like the answers inside an old Magic 8 ball. as if I’m looking down, after having asked a question and I’m waiting for guidance, which in many ways I am; I mean, to live creatively is to constantly be asking for inspiration.
So I let words come to me throughout the day. It’s good if I know the word before I go to bed so my mind can begin to cook with it.
Last night I had no word. I was forcing it—maybe the word is chaos, no. Maybe it’s suffering but I wasn’t feeling it, which I guess is a good thing. This morning, lying in bed I thought of the word sabbath, something someone wrote in the comment thread yesterday when I said I was taking tomorrow off. But it didn’t feel right. I’m not going to say I started to panic--Oh, God! I don’t have a word! Ok, maybe I did a little. I can enter freefall so easily.
I finally got out of bed and decided to make myself something to drink.
Bobby and I started doing intermittent fasting at the end of January—it’s really been a good experience. I don’t feel like I’m on a diet. Which is crucial. And I’m not restricting, also crucial. We eat between 12pm and 8pm. It’s a very simple, clear boundary and I do well with those.
It’s suggested to start your day with a glass of warm water with vinegar, but that’s nasty. The idea is to have something that will set the acid in your stomach to improve digestion all day —lemons, I thought. I love lemons so I’ll do that.
Standing in the kitchen, I sliced open the lemon, removed the seeds and began to squeeze the juice into the glass of warm water. This lemon, man, it was a spectacular lemon, the juice burst out—squirting into, but also beyond, the glass, drops all over the counter. And, as if it had squirted into my frontal lobe, I had it—the word of the day: sour.
I love sour things. And I love when sour things are sweetened with sugar. I could dive into a vat of lemon curd and happily die. Theres a lemon slushy they make at a restaurant in LA that I really love, it’s essentially ice blended with lemon juice and simple syrup and then poured Into a big glass with a bunch of muddled fresh mint. It’s a perfect drink.
One of my longtime best friends HATES lemons, I’ve seen her lose her mind when a server delivered her iced tea with a huge lemon slice in it, when she had expressly said, “No lemon, please.”
One time she was driving back home from her parents’, about a two hour drive, late at night, traffic was light but then the cars started to slow down and soon they came to a complete stop. Turns out a truck full of lemons had turned over and thousands and thousands of lemons were pulverized on the road and she had to sit in that sour, pulpy air for hours.
I’m not laughing at her misfortune, well, I’m kind of laughing, but come ON. That’s funny.
I hate the idea that the things we don’t want are actually called to us, that we somehow create the very things we worry about. What a cruel joke it would be if all of my advanced and expert worrying was actually making things happen that I fear might happen. Talk about something to worry about.
When I was 18, I spent a long weekend with a friend in the south of France. We had taken the train and ended up in the town of Menton on the coast. We had no money, really, and slept under these slender boats that belonged to a private beach club. We were roused early in the morning by the guys who worked the club. They were unfolding the chairs and lounges and they discovered us when they began turning the slender wooden boats on their bottoms. “Levee vous,” they whispered, “Psst, get up, you have to leave.”
Menton is known for its lemon trees and walking through town in the early morning before the shops were open, the late spring air was filled with a heavenly scent—lemon blossoms and fresh baked bread.
Sour means a bad countenance. When relationships end we say they’ve gone sour. The most famous of all sours, though, the most pungent, if you will, is sour grapes—it speaks of resentment, bad sportsmanship, bitterness. This is something I worry about—becoming bitter.
In the musical Caroline or Change, there’s a show stopping number called Lot’s Wife. It’s one of the most indelible shows I ever saw during my years in New York. The show is about a black maid, Caroline, in 1960s Louisiana. She is beset by troubles and hardship. The final lyric of that song also floats up from the murkiness when I need it, Caroline sings, “Don't let my sorrow make evil of me.”
I’m not a religious person but maybe that’s a good way to send us into the sabbath after all. To pray—however we make prayer, and to whomever or whatever we pray--don’t let the sorrow of this present moment make evil of me.
I’ve been getting the sweetest messages from people—texts and emails, people sending me links to share with everyone, people thanking me for the daily show—it’s been really lovely. Thank you.
Last night someone sent me a messaged me to tell me how touched she was to have me call her name out at the beginning of these facebook live sessions. Yesterday I had referenced Romper Room, a TV show that ran in syndication from 1953 to 1994--it like a schoolroom for preschoolers and the end of episode the teacher or hostess would *look through a "magic mirror"—which was actually an open frame with a handle, the size, and shape of a hand mirror—and recite the rhyme, "Romper, bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?" She would then name the children she saw out there in "television land," saying, for example, "I can see Kathleen and Owen and Jimmy and Kelly and Tommy and Bobby and Jennifer and Martin" and so forth. Children were encouraged to mail in their names, which would be read on the air.
The person writing me said in all the years she watched it, she never heard her name. And her name was JULIE for chrissakes. And, here’s the thing, I never heard my name either. My name is Chris.
I started thinking how important it is to be recognized—for people to see you. Recognized, from the Latin, recognare, cognare means to know, so it means to re-know something. But recognition is different from remembering, and different from recalling. In recognition, we are in the present—we see something we had forgotten about, or someone we know from somewhere else, but also we acknowledge something we may just be encountering or noticing for the first time. I recognize that that person down on the beach in Florida for spring break is not practicing social distancing. Or, Hm, I recognize that-wow- I am not a terribly hygienic person.
This strange time of being isolated in our homes, not going out to eat, not being with groups of people, sitting more with ourselves—it’s a time of recognition.
From recognition we move easily to appreciation—I have been appreciating the house we live in, how safe it feels, how quiet…we’re surrounded by woods and it’s easy to walk outside and be immediately in nature with a creek running by just outside the front door.
I recognize that I love the sound of rushing water as it is this morning after a night of rain.
It’s common knowledge these days that gratitude is a practice that not only enriches our lives but leads to greater mental health. It is actually good for us to practice gratitude. Yesterday a friend of mine said she wasn’t quite up to gratitude right now—and I recognized that as a perfectly reasonable response to the present moment. Instead, she said, someone has suggested she think about the things she appreciates and the second suggestion was to think about the things that you already have that you want—which seemed kind of confusing when she mentioned it.
Recognition can also mean awakening—not everybody feels this, but I feel this time is an awakening—I think a lot of you feel that, too. We are awakening to our behaviors and how they impact the planet and each other. We are awakening to the idea that we could do a lot less and still be happy. We are awakening, together, to the deep understanding that we need each other.
The idea of asking ourselves what are the things we already have that we want---I think I get it and it brings me to tears. I feel I’ve spent a lot of my life not honoring what is special about it, the incredible gifts I have been given, I’ve taken them for granted…and so here’s what I recognize today, what I want of what I already have: I want more of it, more days, more time with Bobby, more naps with our dog Sally, more conversations, more friends, more connections, more trips to Provincetown with naps on the beach, more songs, more art, more writing, more beautiful, delicious books to read, more exquisite performances, more walks, more diners having meals at more inappropriate times, more cute outfits, more laughter, more of all the things I have already.
I am finally recognizing that I am greedy for my own life.
*from asterisk to end of that paragraph, description of Romper Room lifted from Wikipedia