Call me a navel-gazer, but as the Jewish High Holidays approach, I get reflective.
At work, I’m neck deep in preparation for them, and acutely aware of their significance on the calendar than I ever was: Two years ago, at the end of September, I was diagnosed with Leukemia on the evening of Yom Kippur, our “day of atonement,” the day on which we are either “sealed into the book of life” for another year … or not. It’s a pretty significant day on the Jewish calendar, and I have come to hate it.
I hate what it “means,” about being sealed or not into the book of life. I hate how much changed in an instant, with one sentence told to me by a doctor. I hate remembering the sore throat that began the whole prelude to my ER visit, which kept me working from home, and feeling so badly about it since it was a brand new job.
But, what remembering this day also does for me is cause me to reflect on what has changed, and what has happened in the two years hence. I have endeavored to create “a life worth living” for myself against all the internal railing and nay-saying, against all my own self-sabotage, against all the foot-dragging and self-immolation I had previously submitted to.
In the last two years, I have dragged myself kicking and screaming into a life I consider worth living.
This isn’t to say that I’d done nothing beforehand, but here’s a list of experiences I’ve had & actions I’ve taken in the last two years, post-cancer:
- Hosted my Creativity and Spirituality Workshop
- Began blogging daily again
- Went to Hawaii for the first time
- Got a bedframe for the first time since childhood
- Sang at a café with friends
- Joined their band on bass
- Played shows out, nearly once a month
- Started ushering at Music shows for free & have seen,
– Red Hot Chili Peppers
– Doors guitarist Robby Krieger play “People Are Strange” with Warren Haynes…!
– About to see Dave Matthews
- Bought a car
- Celebrated July 4th near my old hometown with my mom and
- Busked on the streets of Oakland and SF singing Christmas
- Got real headshots
- Auditioned for plays and musicals
- Got cast in 4 shows
- Modeled for friends
- Submitted photos to modeling agencies
- Visited Seattle for the first time
- Visited Boston to try out a new relationship experience
- Dated with craziness
- Dated with less craziness
- Got laid well
- Got laid poorly
- Visited a best friend and her newborn baby for a week
- Hiked Tilden & Marin
- Took accredited acting classes
- Took voice lessons
- Flew a plane(!) — and landed it 😉
Any of these things could have happened beforehand (and some were indeed happening, with less gusto, determination & regularity), but most of the activities on this list are new to me.
I was talking with a friend a few months ago, another cancer survivor, and she said that she feels complete with the world – that if she died today, she’d be okay with that. I noticed how not okay I’d have been with that; virulently not okay. Granted, she’s about 10 years older than me, has a daughter, teaches in a way she loves, is married.
And I think those are key differences. Having created your own family, having a career you feel impassioned about. Those are items that are not yet on my above list, and I want them to be before I expire, thank you.
I do however, write this list to reflect to myself that there are things that I’ve done that are miraculous, fun, and inspiring for anyone to have done, let alone l’il ole me. I forget this, frequently.
It’s hard to admit this here, and it’s not precisely the entire truth, but if I were to expire sooner than later… Well, I won’t say, “If I died today, I’d be okay with that,” but that I am exponentially grateful for this role I’ve recently landed. To play in a musical, comedic role at a community theater is the cat’s pajamas. (If I have to go soon, I hope it’s after we open!)
When I returned from teaching English in South Korea almost 10 years ago, I said I was coming home to “break onto Broadway.” Then instead, I got sober!
And now, 8 years since then, I’m taking steps that are developmentally appropriate to that dream. It’s in the right direction, even if I never get there. It’s my impassioned avocation, even if it’s not a vocation.
I do not wish to expire soon. I have more experiences I want to add to that list, and more sanity and evenness I wish to accrue. But I feel more comfortable now than I had been even a few months ago in noticing that I am accumulating the experiences that, to me, express a full and well-lived life.
I wouldn’t have as many regrets if it were to happen soon. I have a few regrets of things I’ve done & ways I’ve re/acted in the last two years, sure. It’s not as if I’m a saint, and sometimes I still choose experiences I know are more damaging than useful.
But instead of waiting to be “inscribed in the book of life” by some entity or religion or benchmarks of success otherwise prescribed to me by my childhood, my faith, my inner critic…
Instead I am coming to believe that I am following my own North Star: I may never get there, but I’m headed in the “right direction.”
And for the first time ever, I deeply feel that.
reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.
She’s a researcher on the topics of shame and vulnerability, and how the first can
keep you from embracing the second, and thereby keep you from “daring
from some of her interviewees. This mantra, cribbed from Voltaire, is my favorite so far: “Perfectionism
is the enemy of the done.”
more spot to scrub, one more hair to fix, one more jiggly arm skin to poke, one
more class to take, one more edit to make.
satisfaction and contentment are perpetually elusive.
of my blogs. She reflected that she always admires my writing, but this one in
particular should be submitted. To the New York Times.
woman. And she would be someone to know what she’s talking about.
looked up the submission guidelines, and promptly forgot them.
this morning, I printed out the blog, and edited it. Then went back online to
see the guidelines: 1500 words. Mine is currently 700. I need to double
around with me to read and make notes of what parts I’ll focus in on to expand
precisely this perfection that cracked. I was no better or worse than I’d been
for years. I had no more or less experience than I’d had before. What cracked
was my commitment to perfection. “When I practice, then I can play. When I’m
better then I can reach out to them. When I get lessons. When I …”
was entirely to eschew perfection. I
used paint on paper…without sketching it out first. There were no “mistakes,”
even though the lines aren’t perfect. There was no starting over, even though I
wished I could. My entire purpose was to put something down on paper, and to be
done with it. I’d had the idea of this art piece for quite some time, and I was
finally willing to do it imperfectly. And it hangs up on my wall, with lines I still fantasize about perfecting, my idol to “done.”
taken these few weeks to look back at it, because I have those gremlin thoughts
that say, “The NEW YORK TIMES?! Are you out of your MIND?! Who do you think you
are??” That say, What’s the use, it’ll never be used. That say, If you don’t do
it perfectly, you’ll always be a secretary.
day before, I reached for a coffee mug. I dug behind the enormous ones I
usually use, to find a modest sized one with something printed on it.
shadow of habits that draw me back into being small or angry or disconnected.
In the face of a choice to let myself be seen, as imperfect but good enough as I am, I reaffirm something preciously true: I
something very truth-y in my morning journaling, my handwriting becomes
name on a grain of rice, I find myself getting really tiny with my words – and that’s when I know I’ve struck
something important. Shh, don’t say it too loud or it might whisk off the page.
therapist I’m still seeing. Despite my doubts before every time I go, I always
leave laughing that I doubted). We hadn’t seen one another for about a month
due to schedules, so I had a lot to catch her up on.
options available to me in dating land. Like Goldilocks, I’d experienced the
too hot, the too cold, but have yet to find the “just right.” I mentioned this
yesterday because I was talking about my job search. I told her that as I was
driving over last night, I realized that it’s not that I don’t have any options
available to me in job land – it’s that I refuse to commit to one path.
“refused” or something else. And, surely, it is fear and paralyzation.
Doors. If you haven’t seen the movie, the
premise is based on Gwenyth Paltrow in one version of her life catching a
subway train before the doors shut; in another version, she misses that train.
At that point in the movie, we follow both these lives and their divergent challenges and
successes (and haircuts).
a leader, an organizer, a bringer-together-er.
directly one-on-one with the populations I want to serve, particularly youth.
any indication of truth, then the third one’s the charm.”
the most vulnerability, the most action, the most fortitude, and… the most uncertainty.
perhaps there’s another way.
with performance, starting with that Yoshi’s singer I mentioned yesterday.
Starting with that dream.
don’t let myself dream. It came up a few times yesterday when I had to correct
my “Yeah, But”s to “Yes, AND”s.
I get buried under a mountain of “Yeah, But”s. I don’t think I need to list
them for you, since I’m sure you have your own bevy that attack your own
of the session that I feel like my whole life has been an exercise in “Yeah,
But.” And she told me that that is changing; that I am changing it.
something I thought of after I came home yesterday that actually knocked the wind out of me. What I wrote
in the miniscule, micro-truth script:
will rearrange itself to help us.
viscerally were the words I’ve heard repeated for years: When we take one step
toward (G-d / Fate / the Universe / our Highest Good), it takes a thousand
will be helped. I won’t have to do this alone, because, “When the student is
ready, the teacher appears.”
actually heard and felt and believed it. It was a moment of belief.
heard this for years.
and too late, and this is for other people and other lives, and what are you
thinking of me right now as you read this and are you doubting me and rolling
your eyes, and how, and how and how.
the “What.” I only have to hold on to my dream. That’s my only job right now –
to not go back to sleep, to not abandon my dream, again. To not continue to break promises to myself. To not
drown myself in those fears and doubts. Because I am trying to live
my truth. And all this wisdom says that’s
all I need to do.
people in these professions, gathering intel, honing my vision, practicing and
learning the fuck out of it AND remembering that the pain of avoiding all this
is SO MUCH GREATER than the pain of trying to do it.)
perform onstage in dive bars? And at Yoshi’s? And be a lounge singer? You want
to feel proud and full and felt and heard?
“There, but for the grace of G-d, go I,” isn’t it possible that others can pass
us and say the same thing?
amazing: the talent, the showmanship, the technique and the bravery to stand
out there, bounce around a stage and invigorate a crowd of thousands.
Freddie Mercury’s shoes pretty darn well, when I realized that only the slightest
differences existed between the two of us.
compass is one degree off. You end up at the Nyack mall instead of JFK. One
degree. Completely different destination.
person I see huddled under the freeway gathering up their belongings as the cop car pulls two
wheels up on the sidewalk to shuffle them along to another temporary spot, isn’t
there just the “grace of god” between me and Adam Lambert? Or that woman I saw
perform at Yoshi’s a few years ago: She wasn’t perfect. Her pitch wasn’t always
on, but she was a performer. She had the
crowd completely, she enjoyed herself, she was proud, vivacious, and seen. And
she wasn’t perfect.
was, except she was the singer of a bluesy/jazzy band, and she was fierce. She
was a large woman with a large smile. And as I watched her, I thought to myself
that I wanted to do what she did; get up there and perform, without needing to be perfect – because if that were the case, I
don’t think any of us would ever do anything, including Adam Lambert.
point on the map. I am not so far away in the Canada hinterland, but perhaps
flying somewhere over Buffalo by now. (Can you tell I grew up back east?)
tenacity. It’s being a dog’s fierce jaw chomped around a toy rope, refusing to
10-minute long epic, cacophonous solo. It was like a safari inside of music
itself: strange, elegant, mystic, and ancient. I said to my friend, That’s what
happens when you spend 40 years doing only one thing.
that you’re good (enough) at one thing, that you want others to know you do this thing: You become great.
stood up with a group of 4 other people and played bass with a band in front of
actual people in an actual venue. – I’d started playing in May.
since our final show on New Year’s Eve, or the final show I played with them
before I left the band to pursue theater.
direction (one that I’ve always wanted to pursue, but never let myself try or
admit or commit to) has turned out pretty darn well in these last few months: I
got real headshots, auditioned about a dozen times, performed in one play, one
staged reading, and am preparing as the lead in a play at the end of the
miss the noise, the movement, the sound, the collaboration. I miss the
but there’s a difference. The former is literally more staged. It’s not like I
have acres of experience in either, and maybe I simply fell in with a great
group of people for my first band – which I did. But whatever the formula is
for happiness, I felt that when I played.
band. What it felt like. And I took her question with me to band practice that
week, and noticed how I felt as we fiddled and fixed and went over and over and
moved into a rhythm, and went totally off the reservation with funny lyrics and
made-up progressions: I was smiling. I was bouncing on the balls of my bare
feet – the only way I could practice – and I noticed that I felt content, engaged,
in the moment, fun, funny, “on.” That’s what “happy” felt like.
a friend and his friend, to prepare for a potential show in July, before my
theater rehearsal gets going. I’m feeling nervous and jittery – wanting to get
the music charts NOW so I can practice, be perfect, be better – because if you haven’t followed along,
I’ve only been playing a year, and not that consistently at that!
where C is on the fret board. I want to bounce on the carpet in my bare feet.
while ago that I wrote here that I wanted to “band” again … and here it is. Word.)
lounging by a public pool, a lifeguard. Watching, waiting for the people to
tire, and when they do, reaching in his scythe, and hoisting them out of the
got to witness how they’re handling, adjusting, chafing, and, sometimes, enjoying their lives. And if
I’m honest, I got to witness a good deal of loneliness. (“If you spot it, you got it,” the saying goes.)
over the week about my own life, my own story.
point, we have to give up all hope of our past being different.” There’s a lot
of standing in two worlds–past & present, present & future–that I got to witness this week, and see reflected in
myself. I had a line from Fiona Apple repeating to me on the plane home yesterday:
The child is gone.
marrow-deep understanding that the time that was is over. We’re no longer looking toward the top of the mountain and how to get there: it’s now a horizon we are looking toward. There is a plateau in the middle of the ‘natural’
course of life between the climax of our lives to come (if we
get to it), and its decline.
with where I am standing in my own life. I simply saw the story arc. I heard
the restlessness, the ambition toward something not yet attained, and I
believed for the first time, despite all cancer-awareness and mortality-facing,
that the long life we have is shorter than I’ve known, that the center of that life is closer than I’ve known.
career. Toward relationship and being “settled” and the timing of all that.
I’ve written before that being in a metropolitan area, I feel less inclined to
think “TICK TOCK” than some of my suburban friends. But, on the heels
of the new job proposal I handed into my work last week for myself, and the
idea that if I spend 7 or 8 years in that job, I’ll be 40, and then be poised
for a more senior management position. Seeing my professional future suddenly chopped up into finite chunks, seeing that I actually do want that kind of trajectory, having the ladder open up to me suddenly, and fucking taking a step onto it
– well… everything else seems to now be broken up into those same finite chunks.
never known enough about what I want to do to have any path whatsoever seem
like it makes sense to pursue in any certain direction.
lead to Rome,” but I’ve been so stilted in knowing where the fuck Rome is, that
I’ve sat at the base of the mountain, stared at the nailed signpost with its
array of choices, and drawn figures in the dirt with a stick, waiting for one
of them to illuminate or something.
opening, and I feel myself– well, no, I actually did take a step in that direction at work. And in seeing
that there is suddenly a path that I’m actually on and actually taking, I see
that there are all these other 5 and 10 year plans that I kind of have to be aware of now… and I see what implication that has for life. For
romance, for family, for place.
or, simply for as long as I needed to, but now I feel like I have to race to
catch up to the toll of the clock.
disappeared. That, “eventually” and “some day” are not allowed anymore. And not
really that they’re “not allowed” or “not permitted,” but that there’s just no
room for them. The dreaming must be directionalized now.
I feel more certain of what I want in my life, and a bit of a manic thrall
toward doing it. – Sure, All things in time, and All things in balance, but: I have
begun to think that this might be what ambition is; and what it is for.