Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How I Met My Mother

Pardon my drop off the face of the earth.  Life got a little nuts.  My Gremlins were SCREAMING at me to get back to you:

“You’re a flop!”
“No one can count on you!”
“How do you expect anyone to want to read your blog if you don’t write it!”
“You’re a bad girl!”
“You’re irresponsible!”
“You bite off more than you can chew!”
“You can’t live up to your commitments!”

I managed to quiet them with a handful of (appropriately named) Bully Sticks (the link is so you know they're a real thing) and Rawhide, took care of my life and now am back to you.....and my Gremlins.


So, a few nights after I my revelation about my Gremlins guarding the gold of truth in my heart, I had a bunch of friends over to read a play, Easter, by August Strindberg.  I love to cook, so I decided to really immerse myself in the Swedish-ness of the play.  I found a Swedish cookbook online from the turn of the century and in it a recipe for swedish meatballs and pancakes.  I found some lingonberry jam and pickled herring at Ralph’s, pickled some vegetables and we had an all out smorgasbord while we read the play. 

When it was over, everyone left, except for a young woman I’d just met in acting class.  She stayed, ostensibly to help me clean up, but within minutes she was sitting on my kitchen floor balling her eyes out.

She was going through a huge, painful transition.  She had two new jobs she was working to try to make ends meet.  She was newly single, just having split up with her boyfriend of two years.  She’d just moved into a new apartment with a new roommate, and, even though she was in her late 20s, was just now trying to negotiate life on her own, without financial support from her parents.  She was a newer actor, and was also just trying to find her way in that as well, and I suspect that hanging out all night with a bunch of us comparing notes on all of our fancy auditions had triggered a little self doubt in her.  It had triggered self-doubt in me, and I was one of the ones comparing notes.....

“I just don’t know what to do, you know?  My mother wants to give me money, but I don’t want to take it.  I mean, I want to take it, but I---I know I shouldn’t take it, you know?  And I know if I don’t take it, it will hurt her feelings.  And they--my parents, I know they don’t think I can, you know, be an actress.  I mean, they don’t say that, but they, you know, think it.  I can tell.  I know they want to be supportive, but they make me feel like I’m just, you know, pathetic....”

She paused for a moment and heaved a huge, sad, silent sob.  I handed her a cocktail napkin for her runny nose.  She blew and sniffed and squeezed it into a ball, then stretched it out into a long rope, then back into a ball.  “I’m so sorry.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I guess, I’m just, I’m working these two jobs, and I like them both, I do.  But I’m just, I’m not used to all this.  And I haven’t had time to, you know, catch my breath.  I just feel like a hamster in a wheel.  You must think I’m pathetic.”  She blew her nose loudly and the cocktail napkin which had begun to disintegrate left some tiny white specks on her wet, raw nose.....

“I don’t think you’re pathetic at all, “ I said.  “You remind me of myself.  And I’m flattered that you feel comfortable enough to confide in me.  You should feel good that you’re letting yourself feel all this.  A lot of people would just shut down.  They might get sick and not realize it was from clamping down on all their feelings.  It’s overwhelming what’s happening in your life.  But you’re doing great.  It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and sad....”

She sobbed again and I thought, “Oh, crap!  I’m making it worse!”

“Yeahhh, yeah, you’re right.  You’re right.....”

Okay, well, maybe I’m not making it worse.  I decided to press on:

“Listen, maybe you can have lunch with your mom and tell her how you feel.  I think if you say it out loud, all this stuff - about the money and about what she thinks of your goals - I think if you talk about it with her, you two will understand each other better and she’ll know how to help you in a better way than just giving you money.  It sounds like you want her emotional support, and maybe she doesn’t know that or know how to give you that.  I bet she’d like to be there for you and help you and mother you.  I bet she’d be grateful for the opportunity to do that for you, especially now, when you need her the most.  Maybe you could tell her how to comfort you by first letting her know how you’re feeling.  You might be afraid of scaring her, but I bet she can take it.”

She smiled and cried and laughed all at the same time.  “Yeah....yeah, you’re probably right....My mom...she can do anything.  You’re right.  I’ll talk to her this weekend.  Thanks.....Thanks for letting me....vent and, uh, cry....I needed that......”

After we said goodnight, and I was alone with the pickled herring and the meatballs, contemplating Strindberg and his own little Eleanora and her not-really-stolen yellow Easter lily, a huge sad sob suddenly overtook me, and I found myself reaching for another cocktail napkin, this time for my own runny nose. 

What is this?  Why am I crying?  Where is this coming from?  Why was I getting so emotional about comforting a woman I barely knew?

But then, after I had put away all the food and cleaned all the dishes and sat down on the edge of my bed to sob some more, I realized, I was getting emotional because, my subconscious didn’t know the difference between me and this woman.  My subconscious heard those soft, soothing comforting words, and didn’t distinguish herself from my new, young friend and instead, just let her hair down.  She let go.  Kind of like when someone asks you “what’s wrong?” and even if there isn’t anything wrong, suddenly your body’s physiology takes over and takes on that question and reacts like something is wrong.  My body was really longing to be comforted and soothed and stroked, and there I was doing just that, so she/I heard those words as if I was talking to myself, and it felt purging which made the tears spring to my eyes.  (Does this make any sense?  You can let me know in the comments!!!)  I never talk to myself that way.  Why not?  I’m so kind and wise and caring with my friends.  Why am I not like that with myself?

I laid my hand over my heart and listened to it beat and I made a pact to be more nurturing to myself and to speak more lovingly and in soft, soothing, mothering tones to ME!

I sniffed and smiled and wiped the white lint off my red, runny nose and thought about how I was going to introduce my Mothering Voice to the Gremlins that were guarding the gold........and uh, chomping on those Bully Sticks.....

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gremlins Are Guarding the Gold

So, I listened again for the voices.

This time when I opened the five story closet door of my brain even more crap, new crap, crap I’d never seen before, came careening down on me.  I felt my stomach tighten, my jaw clench, my hands ball into fists, and I began to write furiously:

“You should shave your legs.”
“You need a manicure.”
“You spend too much money on grooming.”
“You spend too much money period.”
“You should have gone to the bank.”
“You shouldn’t have drank so much last Tuesday.”
“You should watch your mouth.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“You’re too trusting.”
“You’re so naive.”
“You’re wasting time.”
“You’re not good in bed.”
“You’re boobs are too small.”
“You should cut your hair.”
“You’re never going to get a job with long hair.”
“You’re hair is too straight.”
“You wash it too much.”
“You spend way too much money on make up.”
“You spend way too much money on clothes.”
“You spend way to much money period.”
“You spent way too much money on this stupid coaching crap.”

I madly tried to keep up with myself.  My brain could cough out abuse faster than I could get it down.

~Then there was silence~


Hm.  Wow.  Yeah, if some else was saying this stuff to me, I’d tell them to go fuck themselves.  I’d call them out for harassment.  I would not be their friend.  I would not be their wife.  And if I was their daughter, I’d move very far away.  If they were my boss, I’d quit.  If they were my therapist, I’d find another one.  It’s abuse.  Emotional abuse.

But the perpetrator was me. 

I thought about what a good friend I am to all my friends.  I’m so supportive and loving and nurturing and patient.  I always make sure that everyone I’m close to knows they can call me at anytime of the day or night if they need to talk or just hear a voice.  I find the silver lining for everyone’s situational cloud.  I make sure that everyone knows they’re right where they’re supposed to be and doing everything they're supposed to do.  I’m a good friend to everyone.

Everyone except myself.  I’m an asshole to myself.  I abuse myself.

During my next session with Anna, she encouraged me, now that I had the voices out walking around, to get to know them.  Who are they?  What’s their story?  What are they doing?  What’s their function?

So, I went back to my journal with the rose petal-pressed pages, and waited for the voices to come out to play.  It didn’t take long for them to show up.  Once they were there, I started writing, not what they were saying this time, but my impression of them.  Kind of like I was painting their portrait with my words on the page.

“The bad voices are like parents.  Scolding me.  They don’t understand and are threatened by this notion of a higher calling.  My calling to be an actress and a writer, and an artist.  It’s a voice that they can’t hear.  So they don’t believe in it or trust it.  Or maybe they can hear it, but they tune it out because it feels haughty and immodest to them.  Like some kind of snobbery.”

Then something interesting happened.  I suddenly felt the need to “communicate” with the bad voices.  I wanted to talk back to them.

I put my sparkly pen again to the page and wrote:

“But to be an artist and to tell the truth in that humble, not haughty.  My husband says acting is lying, but it’s just the opposite, it’s telling the truth.  Sharing my heart.  It’s brave.” 

Then something even more interesting happened:  The voices answered back.

“No one cares about you and your truths and your heart.  That stuff doesn’t matter to anyone else.  They’re unimportant.”

I stopped again and reflected on this notion that no one cared what was in my heart, what I had to say....

.....then I put pen to paper again and continued to write:

“Well, history has shown me otherwise.  The moments in my life when I have bravely shared something so personal that I thought was super stupid and I was embarrassed for sharing - those were the moments I felt most respected for my work.  Oh, and I felt the most happy and proud.  And fulfilled.  And loved.  Oh, and joy.”

The gremlins were quiet.  And a smile curled on my face as a thought started to form in the five story closet of my brain that was now considerably roomier and most definitely quieter:

.....Maybe the gremlins are a gift.  How’s that for silver lining?  Maybe they’re a way for me to find what I am supposed to share, like a metal detector that gets noisy when something valuable is below.   The gremlins are guarding the gold.  They don’t want it to get out. They’re protecting it.  And they think they’re protecting me from embarrassment and shame, but really they’re preventing me from answering the universe’s prayer for me, which is to tell the truth, onstage and in my writing.  That’s my heart’s desire, my joy.  They’re actually like little children that need coaxing and coddling to open up and let go of their shyness and let me embrace my truth, and share it. 

They’re like cobwebs covering my heart or as Anna says - wet blankets....

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Five-Story Closet of my Brain

During my first session with Anna, she zeroed in on and brought my attention to two very peculiar things present in my life:  Wet blankets and Gremlins.  Yeah, Gremlins.  Who knew?

She asked me to spend the next week listening for and writing down all the negative voices in my head.  Always the “good student,” I did what she asked, not realizing the range and scope of the endeavor upon which I was embarking. 

I sat at my desk with my journal and listened....

In no time at all, I tuned in to the chirping cacophony of bunk in my brain.  It was as though I’d opened the door to a closet---no, a know what?  Make that a five story HOUSE full to the ceiling with crap.  The door practically burst open, it was so full of paraphernalia, and an avalanche occurred.  It bowled me over.  It buried me.  I could barely write fast enough to get down all the junk that came hurtling down on me.

“You don’t work hard enough.”
“You ate too much.”
“You’re not a good actress.”
“You’re not pretty enough.”
“You’re not pretty, period.”
“You wasted the day.”
“You get too nervous.”
“You’re getting fat.”
“You’ve got issues.”
“You’re selfish.”
“You’re not a good writer.”
“You’re too old to make it.”
“You never get enough done.”
“You’ll never realize your dreams.”
“You’re not emotionally strong.”
“You try to do too much and none of it well.”
“You’re a fraud.”
“You’ve wasted your life.”
“You’re living in a cloud.”
“You’re life is meaningless.”
“You’ve got nothing to contribute.”
“You’re stupid.”
“You’re selfish.”
“No one likes you.”
“No one takes you seriously.”
“This coaching thing is just a waste of money.”


After about five minutes I had to stop.  What the hell was I doing?  I thought this coaching thing would help me.  This did not feel beneficial.  I made a concerted effort everyday, without even realizing it, to quiet this tumult.  It took an extreme amount of energy on my part that I didn’t even know I was expending, but at least I made the attempt.  This summoning felt completely counter productive.  Here I was, giving power and vox to these demons, writing them down in black and white---well, purple sparkles in this particular instance---so that not only did I have to hear them, but I also had to LOOK at them as well, SEE them staring back at me, accosting me from the rose petal-pressed recycled papered pages of my journal with the metal heart on the cover that was meant for recording my sweetest memories and creative thoughts.  What the f@#k?

Anna explained that these were the Gremlins.  They came to rain on the parade.  To make a mess in the microwave.  To wreak havoc.  And ultimately to keep me from my heart’s desire.  She said they traveled the terrain of my brain bearing huge, wet, stinky wool blankets, which they would throw on any fire that burned inside me.  These dampened shrouds of doom and gremlin-gloom would quickly extinguish any light, any bliss, any excitement which bubbled up inside of me.  Wet blankets.

I started to doubt the cogency of this approach to journalling.  It seemed counter productive.  Oh, and I hated it.  It didn’t make sense.  It gave the voices more power.  Writing it down made it true, made it real, made it so.  Screw that!

So, I stopped.  I know what’s good for me and this is not it.  I cleaned up everything from the avalanche and shoved it back into the closet of my brain, and sat there in silence staring out the window contemplating Tony's teeth and the money I’d spent on this coaching endeavor.

Then a chirp from the closet door broke the silence:

“You’re a quitter and you’ll never get anywhere in life.”

I felt my jaw clench and my heart pound.  Then I picked up my purple sparkly pen, laid my hand on the doorknob of my noggin, braced myself, and opened the five-story mansion closet door.....

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anna and the Painful Truth

So, even though I liked Steve, I wasn’t devastated to find out that he would not be my personal coach.  I pictured him as this younger, cuter, sprier, tanner, Orange County version of Tony Robbins.  Maybe his teeth weren’t quite so big, but I imagined that when he smiled, a little cartoon glint would sparkled over his top front incisor like it did in a toothpaste commercial.  Over the phone he was very likable, but not totally relatable, at least not to me anyway. 

Apparently, Steve was actually the coach coordinator...the coach broker, or the coach trafficker---whatever.  He was the gatekeeper of the coaches.  And while we were still on the phone he told me he had already picked out the perfect coach for me.  He got quite excited about it.  (I imagined his cartoon tooth glint was probably sparkling to the point of being blinding with all his mustered enthusiasm for me and my new coach.)  Her name was Anna, and she was also an actress and had spent time in NYC auditioning and performing just like me.  I gave Steve my credit card number over the phone with the intent that as soon as our tax refund money arrived, I would just pay it off.  Right.  Away.

A few days later Anna and I spoke.  She was nothing like Steve or Tony.  She was very calm and grounded and real.  Her voice sounded like it came from her guts, very sure and reassuring, not like she had to poop.  And she wasn’t married to a super model.  At least, if she was, she didn’t mention it to me, and she did not have a suntan that I could hear through the phone line.  We set up a time for our first session.  Then I was sent a long questionnaire about my life and my goals, my accomplishments, etc. which I answered with great detail and sent it off to Anna for her perusal.

Now, before I go on, you’re probably wondering why I even need a life coach, aren’t you?  I seem pretty healthy and happy and together, don’t I?  I mean, I haven’t shared that much with you, but you can tell I’m pretty sane and intelligent and have my shit together, right?  And it’s true.  I do.  It’s kind of astonishing what I’ve accomplished.  But....

....I just turned 40, and I feel so painfully far away from my dreams--painfully being the operative word here.  I don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential.  I don’t feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, what I was put on this earth to do.  I feel like I spend all of my time TRYING to do what I’m supposed to do and TRYING to live my dream.  And “trying” sucks.  Trying is agonizing.  And I’m sure it’s very common to feel this way, especially in this economy, but I’ve felt this way my whole life and I want it to change.     NOW.         

And I thought this life coach thing would help.....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Awakening the Giant Within

When I was 17 something made me go out and buy a Tony Robbins book: Awaken the Giant Within.  The only reason I don’t feel like dork admitting that is because I was 17 and what kind of a jackass would judge a 17 year old?  ........Ok, I actually do feel like a dork admitting that I bought that book, but that is beside the point.... 
I read the book from cover to cover.  It had a profound effect on me.  It was such a positive voice, and I was grateful for the hope and possibility it presented.  Even at that time, though, I understood that there was a stigma surrounding Anthony Robbins.  He was viewed as sort of a dork himself, with big teeth, and admitting that you subscribed to his--- well, subscribed to him was a little like admitting that you watched that soap opera, Passions.  The one with the witches....
I kept that book on my shelf for years.  I admit that when boys came over, I would turn it around so just the white pages were visible (well, they were sort of yellowed with time) and no one could see that big, huge, tell-tale, Tony Robbins toothy grin.  Then, one day rather recently, I was trying to figure out what to do to help my husband’s daughter.  I don’t call her my step daughter.  I don’t think of her that way.  She’s more like a friend I have by default.  We probably wouldn’t choose to be friends if it weren’t for my husband, but we accept each other and have done a pretty nice job of embracing the situation.  
She has had a hard time finding the motivation to get on with her life.  She’s 21 and did not graduate from high school, is not interested in college, at the time did not have a job and was living at home with her mother and now with us.  I didn’t mind her living with us, but I did find her existence rather depressing.  She slept until noon or later, watched tv, text messaged her friends and “looked for jobs” on Craig’s list (I use the quotation marks because that was ostensibly what she was doing, but my husband and I can neither confirm nor deny her efforts to find a job and neither could she.)  
I wanted to help her without being a pain in the ass and alienating her.  My impression was that she didn’t feel very good about herself, that the reason she didn’t want to do anything was because she was afraid she would fail.  It seemed like she had been disciplined with criticism and judgment and it had taken its toll.  I went to my book shelf and pulled down all my self help books.  Well, not all of them.  I didn’t want to overwhelm her, but Tony and his teeth were at the top of the stack.  I told her it was kind of a silly book, and that the guy on the cover was obviously a dork, but that this book had really helped me focus on the positive and stop the rantings of negativity that roamed and ravaged inside my head.  I said, “Just read a little bit before you go to bed.  It’ll really help.”  I could tell this endeavor was dead in the water before we even got started.  She took the books and stuck them in the cubby beneath her bedside table and continued texting her friends.
Thinking creatively and positively, I thought, “This girl loves her iPod.  I’ll find a CD of Tony talking.  I’ve heard people swear by his tapes.  I’ll load up her iPod with inspirational speak from toothy Tony.  I googled “Tony Robbins” and found his website.  Of course he has a website.  And there I found a plethora of inspirational videos and testimonies and free mp3 downloads...well, I may have imagined the mp3s....
The other thing I found was a questionnaire to complete to apply for your very own personal coach: your own personal (possibly less toothy) version of Tony, hand selected to suit your needs.  “Wow,” I thought.  “That would be an amazing gift for my step daughter.  That would be amazing period.  I want one!”  I’d always wanted a personal coach.  What an unrealistic luxury that would be.  Having a personal coach seemed sort of like having an expensive parent, one that would cheerlead you through the downs of life, and tell you how great you are, while at the same time, omitting the fear and worry that most (my) parents have that things might not turn out the way you were wishing they would.
I felt like I do many times at Christmas when shopping for gifts for other people.  This is not the time to be shopping for myself.  I’m trying to help her.  I discussed the coaching with my husband.  He was reticent about spending so much money on yet another thing that probably wouldn’t shake his daughter out of her lethargy and apathy, and I understood his hesitation.  It was true.  We’d thrown good money after bad trying to give her the tools she wanted and needed to get up off her dead ass----I mean, get out there and face the world, and nothing had worked.  
After my husband fell asleep, I decided to fill out the online form.  That didn’t cost anything.  What could it hurt?  I did it and-- “whoosh” sent it off into the electronic super highway.
A few days later I got a call from a guy named Steve.  He asked me a lot of questions and told me about seven really inspiring stories in which Tony Robbins was a major character.  He talked to me for about an hour.  I liked Steve.  He was exactly the way I expected he would be: kind of feisty and scrappy in an appealing way, excited, positive and married to a super model.  He mentioned that a few times.  I thought it was cute.
So, I did it.  I signed myself up for a life coach.....