A thumbnail (the details are all here in this blog, at least from 2011 onward, with reference to 2010).
At the end of 2009, things were looking up. I had finally finished my PhD and was dragging myself out of the worst of the grief over my miscarriage in 2007, a day after my wedding.
But at the very end of the year, my 19 year old cat died while I was in the US (at the time I lived in London) and then on that day I had what turned out to be the last phone conversation with my father on his birthday (same day my beloved cat died). A few days later, at the beginning of 2010, he was rushed to ICU, and I flew out to Sacramento to see him before he died. I have written about that prior, but that floored me...but also clearing out his storage area I found photos of my grandparents when they were young. So while I was in a grief fog clusterfuck, I also found a seed of what would become my life for most of the decade, writing about my grandmothers. But first, months of grief fog for a father I barely knew, who I lost twice, once in life and then again in death.
This decade has been like that. Oh joy, then death, then in the death grief fog a seed...and something grows...then joy, then death, then...rinse repeat.
My second marriage, begun with such hope and joy that was cruelly crushed the first day of our honeymoon (the miscarriage), was disintegrating in slow motion by 2010 and by 2011 had ended. That along with wanting to work on this book about my grandmothers—which desire also had contributed to my closing up my London based theater company, Apocryphal—led me to make a leap with no safety net back to the states. I say no safety net because when made decision no job or place to live, but I was rich in friends, one of which let me stay at her place to make that decision.
In the summer, I spent time with my cousin Darcy, celebrating her remission from cancer, and researching our shared grandmother, my mother's mother, in Minneapolis. Earlier that summer I met the lost part of my grandfather's family, lost because he had had to change his name during the Red Scare to save his job. I found clues to his real identity in all the stuff in my father's chaotic storage unit in January 2010. Again with the seeds.
Then, poof, back in NYC...where I discovered Inwood at the top tip of Manhattan when trying to find someplace I could afford, and moved here. That was a great find. The parks, the green, and then in October, the beginning of autumn in Inwood Hill Park was a revelation. This was October 2011. I had found a job at Bronx Community College and then later at Hunter.
|Ugo the IWW (Inwood Writing Workshop) cat|
I then am shortlisted for a full-time teaching post back in UK in May 2012 and fly back to interview and audition for it. They choose someone else. My ego is bruised, but I am so grateful for the ability to come back to NYC that this is the feeling that takes over.
My stepfather Tom sends me a lovely affirmative note about this.
A week later, Tom is in the ICU. He dies a few days after my birthday, Bloomsday (during which I read him Ulysses) and Father's Day. I am holding his feet when he dies and feel giant waves of love that almost knock me over. I am devastated and moved. I have a dream of a net and a diamond. Indra's Diamond my mother says. She is more bereft than me. Who wouldn't be?
I end up finding my own apartment on the top floor of a five-story walk-up in Inwood. Tom left all his kids including me (his step-daughter) a small amount of money, which was enough to furnish a new place (with Ikea and Housing Works and Freecycle). I got it all ready for me to live in, including my own study. I began to work more in earnest on my book. And decide to take some extra time to sort out my life.
Then comes Hurricane Sandy. Happily, my apartment survived and Inwood had electricity, so was able to host people up here who were stranded downtown. Sadly, we lost some huge trees in Inwood Hill Park. The beginning of understanding how vulnerable NYC is to climate change sinks in.
A couple months later, a friend who I had met at a meditation retreat where we were accidental roommates talks me into online dating, and I meet my future husband almost immediately.
Didn't see that coming. I was just trying to get a date before I turned 50.
|John and me in Montreal at Botanical Gardens Valentine's Day 2013|
On the happy side, I kept working on my book, got support from a crowd-funding campaign (all this is in blog circa 2014) and other votes of encouragement. John helped me with all of this and has been a relentless (in a good way) cheerleader of my work. I was given fellowships to residencies, and that helped, too. I directed a staged reading of ''whatever God is..." and Ian W. Hill directed My First Autograce Homeography (1973-74) at The Brick, all in 2014. My first short story publication as an adult also happened in 2014 with The God Thing, which has since been nominated or been a finalist in some awards, which is gratifying.
There have been many highways and byways with the book, The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani, and with luck it will get published fairly soon. That is a long story that I cannot give details about, because much is in process. But it had been a steep learning curve for a theater chick to figure out publishing, and wow, it's different, but OK.
However, I was beginning to figure stuff out and making some headway when I came back from a lovely yoga retreat at Kripalu in December 2016 to a phone call from my mother that David Berry, my ex-stepfather, the playwright, had died suddenly of a heart attack, boom. I have written about that a lot too. But his sudden death floored me. It was two months after the DTs struck the US, and I was convinced that is what killed him, a gay Vietnam Vet artist. What greater insult than a homophobic insane person who had 'bone spurs' that he used to weasel out of service in Vietnam.
I lurched through another series of months in a grief fog, but also managed to finish another book I had begun in September. However, I was adjunct professoring, and it was killing me. I was exhausted all the time, and the pay, in case you don't know, in terms of hours work, is basically minimum wage.
I realized it was killing me right around the time I read a book that is the most iconic book of the decade for me: The Body Keeps the Score. I mark the time I read that book (early 2017) as the moment when I realized I was not a broken toy. But instead had a normal response to severe traumatic events. I cannot overstate how important this moment was. How healing, and how much my life has changed since.
From then on (Feb-March 2017), I mark as an existential shift in my understanding of myself and the world. I quit being an adjunct and decided to go full-time freelance, which has worked better than I could have dreamed. I decided to go to Westray, one of the Orkney Isles in Scotland in June, where I had not been since 2010. I had written my PhD there, and fallen in love with Orkney in 2003. It has always felt like a spiritual home, and some part of me feels severed from my soul until I get back there. I had postponed this trip a number of times because of my relationship with John and trying to work out schedules and time, etc. But I knew this time I could postpone it no more. My mother and John were going to go with me, but then could not for separate reasons.
|Two stones from Ring of Brodgar in Orkney|
I stayed on in the olde Manse overlooking where the North Sea and Atlantic meet and revised my second book, Girls Meeting God, to get it in shape for submission, and taught my first ever private writing workshop, on this small Orkney Island, which was a success and a revelation.
John meanwhile was able to sort out his Canadian albatross, and so when I returned, we were in much better shape on many levels.
Thus began the life I have now: writing, teaching writing workshops, coaching writers, reviewing manuscripts, editing, and sometimes back to theater.
Speaking of which, when the #metoo movement began in 2017 that allowed me to write my stage text On the edge of/a cure. Working with MoveOn and their text team to help elect Doug Jones in December 2017 allowed me to have a reading of this play. I did not realize until seeing this political work effect a positive change how paralyzed I had been...ever since watching DT stalk around behind Hillary Clinton on the debate stage. I could not move during the debate. Literally. But did not realize how totally paralyzed I was in terms of a certain kind of voice until I wasn't.
On the edge of allowed me to speak about things in a way I never have done before. It was also possible because of reading The Body Keeps the Score and Leigh Gilmore's Limits of Autobiography. In 2018, another play I had written in response to another trauma response I was having because of various terrorist incidents, Shit, was produced by IATI as part of their play development program. I got to see another director work with my texts and that was lovely.
Other reading that inspired me along this journey include Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Quartet, Joan Didion's everything, Jennifer Egan's writing, and the ongoing ever present influence of Doris Lessing. With some key assists from James Baldwin and David Foster Wallace. Yeah, it's weird, I know that. If you know me, you understand the breadth, depth, and gaping holes in my weirdly selective knowledge of Whatever.
2018 saw the expansion of the freelance work, up to and including starting a retreat for other writers in Westray, an experiment that succeeded enough to repeat it in 2019, twice, and yes, going again in 2020. I also tried again in the spring of 2018 to heal from the traumatic miscarriage in 2007. I went to a workshop at Kripalu hosted by outside teachers that was so wrong it was almost hilarious. But when I went to the Kripalu yoga classes I felt at home. I made a decision: I would become if at all possible a Kripalu yoga teacher so could be part of carrying on this important lineage, which is the opposite of spiritual bypass faux positivity crap that makes my skin crawl.
Back track to the shit storm of 2016, to remember that was the year also that my beloved cousin Darcy's asshole cancer returned. So the drumbeat underneath all my activity was: how long does she have left and how could I help? The answer was: all I could do was make phone calls and send crystals and gifts when possible, and she would die in September of 2018. My biggest fear in leading the retreat in 2018 was that she would die before I got home. Instead I just got a severe case of frozen shoulder. And the news Girls Meeting God was a semi-finalist for a book prize. The gods are fucking weird. In 2018 John was able to travel to Westray with me, and we had a week together as a 5-year-delayed honeymoon, so that was cool, too, but again all was overcast with the reality of Darcy's illness, the shoulder, and starting a writing retreat. Someday, we will have a proper honeymoon.
I was able to get to St. Paul at the end of August to see Darcy before she died. I wrote about that, too, and someday maybe that will get published. It took me well over a year to write about it even as a short essay. She was the closest I ever had to a sister so the word 'cousin' doesn't cut it as a term to describe her meaning to me. Suffice to say her dying plummeted me into a grief fog that was so complete, I have almost no memory of autumn 2018. I do remember trying to revise my book and sending it in, leading a workshop somehow, going to her memorial in November and then my memory does not return until December 2018 when I went to a very good healing workshop run by Aruni, who is a Kripalu veteran teacher, on grief, loss and renewal. Without that series of days and sharing with a few other people who were equally poleaxed by grief, I am not sure I would be functional.
The one thing I was able to do consistently throughout 2018 was text with MoveOn and that helped the Dems flip the House anyway. Did thousands of texts a day, like clockwork. I am proud of the work I did and the many, many others who did so, too.
Then in 2019 I focused on healing. I had intended to do yoga teacher training in October 2018 but my shoulder ixnayed that. (The body Does keep the score.) I began studying Qi Gong with Alicia Fox, which was transformative. I decided not to try to write because I was exhausted. I taught two workshops, though.
Artistic discoveries of this year that were revelatory include Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim in January and April, her paintings gave me life. The fact she knew a hundred years ago her work was not legible until the future was amazing, and now they quiver with meaning. In October, I discovered Betye Saar at the new MoMA. She is in her 90s, and only now being discovered. If you are a female artist, you best live long to see your work recognized in your own lifetime.
|Graduating on Summer Solstice at Kripalu|
At the 2018 retreat I worked on a novella and short story. The short story White shoe lady won the Nomadic Press chapbook contest in May and was published in December, and the novella I am about to begin revising. In the 2019 retreats, I began writing about my nonlinear journey through yoga. I am writing a lot now. If I had not allowed myself the long down time, though, I don't think I would have the reserves I do now.
During 2019 my workshops and retreats doubled and I now have numerous coach clients, and my own work is beginning to find a home. I am now teaching yoga, which may not seem like a big deal, but me it is huge, because to teach the way I do means embodying radical self-acceptance and compassion, so it keeps me honest.
|the shelves that John built! So much more space & writing can breathe (me too!)|
In other words, instead of rushing off somewhere Else to heal or whatever, I am here, in my own space, in my own skin, in my own life. I am 56. It has taken this long. Oh, and I finally created a website, which relates to all this, because I brought together all my various moving parts. The Unadapted Ones. Check it out. Most likely my next blog post will be there, the one that greets the New year and new decade. This is the one that sums up the decade this blog covers. Maybe I am more settled now. I fear saying that, however, less it calls upon a real or psychic earthquake... I began this blog in lieu of a website in 2011. I wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up...
For 2020, I am present and accounted for, accepting reality as it is rather than as I would hope or fear it to be (as much as possible, understanding no one human ever totally can do that). If I keep staying sober one day at a time in February, I will be 33 years clean and sober. I should add without that rock solid ground, None of this is possible. And without the companionship and counsel of many other people who also stay clean and sober one day at a time, I would be bereft.
So...Happy New Year. Happy New Decade.
Find what brings you joy and go towards that more. Accept what is weighing you down is in fact weighting you down, and if possible, slough it off. And if you have any trauma in your background, and you have not read it yet, for the love of all that is holy read The Body Keeps the Score.
Let's help carry each other to shore.
|path to Maes Sand outside of West Manse in Westray|
|the water the shore the distance the light the shadow...Westray|
|le puffins at Castle O'Burrian, Westray|