Life, Death, and Creativity

30 Nov


My family lost a member to suicide this week. For all involved, it has been a time to process this information while offering support. There is a legacy of loss here that can’t be negated. My mother’s death from seven years ago was on people’s minds as well.

Tragedy always strikes in the strong currents of life. There is a never an ideal time for loss. Often you’re already at max point with the demands of work and day to day, yet death insists that you stop. It insists that you keep going as well. When I received my mom’s suicide note, I was asked to come into work until I knew more because the hospital accredidation surveyors were there for their annual review. I thought this was the height of insensitivity, particularly from a mental health organization, but I went in and led groups and charted my notes. Three days later the police called me.

This is life. It will toss you about like a garment in the washing machine on spin cycle.

The day after news of the family death, I received confirmation that my male lead in the short film I wrote and am producing and starring in got cast on another film. He was already in Europe on a film and starts work immediately on a new feature.

Making a film doesn’t begin to weigh in comparison to the life and death of an individual. Yet in this chaotic swirl of the last few days, creativity affirms life in the face of death. We can collapse or create. Or collapse and then create. We film in a week in LA. Figuring out a new shooting schedule with a new lead who has the chops was like trying to solve a rubik’s puzzle but we did.

It is a constant honoring of loss while moving forward with life. After the film wraps, I see clients, finish up a course, and then get on a plane to see my grandmother one last time before she passes. She has held out beautifully on hospice living longer than we expected. Then it’s another plane ride and teaching for a week while we all continue to grieve for the recent death.

For the most immediate family members, they will not be moving on quickly. For them, they will need time to stand still. They will need to simply rest while remembering to eat and take out the trash. And then one day, the darkness will lift a bit. They will take a step out from the shadows and they will see a ray of light and life. During that time before and after, we will hold hands and make phone calls for this is God’s grace.





Resting Bitch Face

14 Nov


All my life I’ve been told I have a beautiful smile. Yet even at a young age, I got flack when not smiling. I can remember as far back as junior high people asking me, “What’s wrong? When you walk down the halls, you always look so intense.” I wish I’d known then to simply respond, “That’s just my resting bitch face.”

Resting bitch face is a term my colleague Angi coined. When she introduces herself to a group she is training, at the end of her spiel she remarks, “Oh yeah. I want to warn you. Apparently when I’m not smiling, I look like a bitch. I’ve been accused of ‘resting bitch face.’ So if I’m not smiling at you, don’t assume I’m mad or not approachable. Come up and say ‘hi’. I don’t bite.” At this the group always chuckles because Angi is dead pan funny.

Yet Angi is also knock dead gorgeous. Tall and dressed to the nines, she looks like a svelte, hip Barbie. She has close cropped blond hair, big blue eyes, and curves in all the right places. When she opens her mouth, she is intelligent and sometimes swears like a sailor. But when she doesn’t smile, she has ‘resting bitch face.’

Many of us do. Males and females can be accused of ‘resting bitch face’. For instance, I have a guy friend who teaches and he says that students often accuse him of looking stern and callous when in actuality, he is pretty laid back and at times, goofy. I do however think ‘resting bitch face’ is a label attributed to women; not to men.

Obama often has ‘resting bitch face’. (I don’t blame him – he’s got a lot on his plate). He has been accused of being cold, yet never a ‘shrew’ or ‘bitch.’ James Bond too often has ‘resting bitch face.’ It has made him an international sex symbol. Unfortunately, ‘resting bitch face’ has never gotten me any dates. I remember once being told that when I was angry, “all the beauty drained from my face.”

I wondered why beauty was even on the table. But if truth be told, the issue of beauty is almost always on or off the table for women. In college, a boyfriend once told me, “You’re very sexy when you cry,” after I had just poured out my heart to him about my father’s drug use. Of course we ended up making love, which was great, but I’m not certain he even heard the bit about what was happening in my home life.

If beauty is indeed always a factor then I’ll go with good ol’ Angi’s summation: “Women are their most gorgeous when pissed because they’re most in their passion and power then.”

There must be something about the name Angi… The other night I heard that Angelina Jolie was once offered the role of a James Bond girl. She apparently declined stating that she wanted to be James Bond. You go, girl!

I want to be James Bond. Well, not really. ‘Smiling girl’ is actually more true to my nature than ‘resting bitch face.’


The truth of the matter is that we have many faces; many moods. We need to embrace all of them because they represent all of us. We also need to see beauty in areas that often are viewed as negative. What if worry lines were viewed as intelligent lines and didn’t necessarily need to be botoxed away?

It’s okay to be a human being. And it’s okay to sometimes have ‘resting bitch face.’




I’m So Old School….

30 Oct

While bemoaning about my dislike of texting as a primary communication form, a friend of mine said, “I’m so old school, I actually answer the phone.” Taking the bait, the banter continued:

“I’m so old school, I actually answer the phone even when I don’t recognize the caller ID.”

“I’m so old school, I don’t text and drive.”

“I’m so old school, I actually turn off my phone in the car.”

“I’m so old school, I actually write letters.”

“I’m so old school, I actually have stamps.”

“I’m so old school, I actually read books.”

Well, here’s today’s addition to the list: “I’m so old school, I actually want to wait in line at the bank and talk to the teller while depositing a check.”

Every time I go into the bank to deposit a check, a clerk comes up to me and says, “I can help you outside at the ATM, Miss” (usually it’s the same employee). I always turn to the individual, smile and say, “Thank you, but I’d actually like to make an in-person deposit.” Then we get into a power struggle until I acquiesce and have the person show me what to do.

I know what to do. I just don’t like sending my checks off into a black hole. I also know how to deposit checks using my phone and the bank’s app. The thing is, “I’m so old school, about once a month, I like to cue up inside the bank, so I can stand at the teller’s window and deposit a check before the teller and the window are obsolete. It’s a nostalgia thing for me. I also want a few minutes to just vedge out while waiting for my turn.

You know what? I’m also so old school that I prefer to interact with a real check-out clerk at the grocery store before he or she no longer has a job. It makes no sense to me to hire someone to “assist” customers as they check themselves out. I also occasionally want to talk with a customer service rep instead of pressing 1, 2, & 3 on my phone’s keypad until I’m so frustrated I start screaming obscenities into the cell phone. (And yes, I miss my land line and preferred it to my crappy cell phone reception where everyone sounds like they’re mumbling).

I am old school. I miss human interaction. Yes, the modern way might be – and I repeat – MIGHT BE – more convenient and faster, and yes, the world is changing and I need to adapt, but gosh darnit, let me have a little bit of the old fashioned stuff before it is gone.

I actually prefer having a glass of wine with people in person vs. with strangers on the Internet or with folks far away via Skype.

I miss seeing movies in the theatre instead of streaming them.

I believe in practicing psychotherapy in person vs. on the phone.

I like children interacting with people and toys vs. I-pads and Game Boys.

I like looking out the window on an airplane instead of watching an in-flight movie.

I like sitting in front of a real fire feeling its heat and hearing the crackle of its flames vs. watching an image of a fire on screen (and I want real wood and newspapers vs. some Duraflame log).

Basically, I prefer real life intimacy in all its shapes, forms and delights vs. virtual reality.

While working with the bank clerk today, the ATM couldn’t read one of my checks because a signature was below a certain part of the check. Thus, we had to go back inside after already spending ten minutes at the machine. To finish the transaction, we had to do an old fashioned deposit. While waiting for the gentleman to finish helping me – help I hadn’t wanted in the first place – I glanced at the bank teller’s line. There was none. Had I stayed in the line, I would have finished five minutes earlier. It would have been faster and more pleasant to do it the old fashioned way.

“I’m so old school, I miss the old fashioned ways.”

I’m ready to ditch the cell phone and move to a remote village in Italy. I’m ready to eat pasta and dance and laugh morning, noon and night. No, I don’t want to be a slave to status updates or stat reports. The only selfie I want is one with loved ones printed out in a frame on my desk.

I’m so old school, I want to embrace and enjoy and squeeze every ounce of potential out of my life. I want photographs posted on my heart and soul and not necessarily on-line.

How old school are you?


Content to be Content

21 Oct

I have 15,000 things to do today but the sun streams in through the windows, bouncing off the hardwood floor, and I am content to sit here. I am content to be content.


Autumn is a time of sweet reflection. The heat breaks. The days are shorter and darkness drops in earlier inviting in cozy and rest. As a young girl, I loved being huddled under the covers in the bliss of childhood slumber. My mom would have to rouse me for school in the morning and I’d slightly protest, wanting to stay in the cave of oblivion that we only really get when young, cared for fully, and unencumbered by the pressures of the adult world.

In her recent memoir, “M Train,” Patti Smith writes, “The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there,” she writes. “Oh, to be reborn within the pages of a book.” Although I read voraciously year round, I associate books with Autumn and Winter and the start of a school year. I also think of holiday foods, the crisp in the air, and cherished television specials and films. It is a time of reunion with loved ones, past and present. The smell of a turkey and fragrant pines, reminding us of people no longer alive and memories yet to make with new players on the stage.

Our lives move in seasons – seasons of darkness and depth and seasons filled with the lightness of being. It is the light and the dark that provides perception, depth, and contour. That makes our lives a living, breathing piece of art in the process of becoming.

Harvest. Pumpkins. Leaves and fading sun. Lessons stored and drawn upon like a squirrel’s cache of nuts for Winter.

This is not a season to be glossed over and rushed through. It is time to sip the hot mulled cider, to put one’s feet up and to rest after a considerable amount of work and exertion. It is time to prosper and be content.


Swimming Upstream: Lessons from the Salmon’s Magic

20 Oct


I was teaching in Alaska a few weeks ago and as a gift to my colleague and I, we both received bracelets with animal totems specific to our personalities. Our host selected the “Double Salmon” totem for me. Delighted by the bracelet, I nodded when she told me that she had picked the fish as my spirit guide. “That fits,” I thought. “I can eat salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” It was only when I was home that I looked up the symbology of the double salmon.


Apparently, there is more entailed with this totem than a yummy tasting meal. One of the key traits is perseverance because salmon swim upstream, against the current. This isn’t the easiest way to journey, yet it is unique for the salmon. The fish transform from salt to fresh water conditions and then back again, if they manage to survive their arduous adventures. Although swimming against the current, they find a rhythm that enables them to do this with more ease than imagined.

I find this a lovely reminder to be faithful to our natures. When we embrace our paths, we fulfill our destinies. It’s not our job to tell salmon fish, “Hey, make things easier on yourself and swim downstream.” Instead, it’s our job to let salmon be salmon, allowing their unique encoding to unfold.

What if we were to fully embrace our natures instead of trying to fit into a mold of something else? What if swimming upstream is right for me and swimming downstream is right for you? What if we gave ourselves permission to simply be?

All my life I’ve wanted to be conventional. I suddenly realize there isn’t a conventional bone in my body. And that’s okay.

Double salmon also represent wealth and eternity. I like that.

Yet in Alaska, I was reminded of all the Great Spirits. While on a walk in the woods along the city, I actually saw a moose. Apparently, this isn’t so common. I was told I was lucky. Here was a huge male moose walking right across my path. Thankfully, he was somewhat calm. We watched in reverence, as the moose walked across the way and into the backyard of someone’s condominium with Denali as the backdrop. Moose are symbolic of many things: self esteem, mating, and a job well done and celebrated. I took note of this upon my return, when I did a bit of research on the moose spirit.

I’m reminded that there is magic everywhere in the air. All we have to do is dial into it and let it assist us. What a wonderful world it is, indeed!

Embracing Our Phantoms

3 Oct

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I’ve always thought of the “Phantom of the Opera” as a haunting and dark love story. Never did I see it from a Jungian perspective, i.e. that the Phantom represents a vital part of Christine, the heroine. But when viewed as such, the story reflects deeper power. And in a way, the story makes a hell of a lot more sense. It’s not just a gothic tale with plush costumes. Instead it’s a tale of cosmic beauty.

What would it be like if the very part of us that we despised, that lived in the bowls of a church, was also the part of ourselves that served as our angel of music? What if the deformed part of ourselves, hiding beneath a mask, was the part that inspired creativity? The part that drew out beauty, passion, and Divinity? Would it be possible to love this Phantom? Or would we run from him in fear?

The reality is that if we deny this part of ourselves, it will indeed possess us. It will keep us captive. It will haunt our dreams and wake us up at night. It will keep us prisoner from the Light of day and keep us forever victims. It will also bar those waiting to fully love us in a way we never imagined possible.

Perhaps meeting our Phantom side represents the greatest love story ever. Here is the epic tale of befriending him in the dark and delivering him a kiss. Maybe it’s about touching the deformed face under the mask with profound gentleness and compassion. And when we do that, perhaps we are finally liberated. Free to leave the basement of the church and free to stand in majesty. Uniting with the animus, we are finally whole.

Perhaps the world’s greatest lover is right here inside oneself, in the music of the night.

Grasping for Control, Love, and Acceptance?

29 Sep

Do you ever find yourself grasping for control, love, or acceptance? Have you ever tried to wrangle life or relationships, as if they were animals you could tame or bend to your will? If so, you’ve probably found yourself ultimately frustrated when you realize life and relationships are things over which we have very little control.

So often in life, we want to call the shots. We’re taught in our individualistic society that we can do anything and everything and that we can conquer the world. I have come to see this as a fallacy. Through Spirit, I have consummate power but flying solo, I am just another person striving for dominance and validation via my ego. It’s a setup for disaster. When I operate this way, I become rigid, exhausted, and unappealing to be around. It is only when I surrender to something Higher than myself that my beauty and strength become illuminated.

Surrender is key but how do we learn this if all we’ve known is trying to manage things on our own?

Years ago I worked with emotionally disturbed children. Some of them had been so abused that it was common for them to need to be physically restrained at times to help them contain their angry impulses. When upset, they were known to pick up objects and hurtle them in the air, bite peers, or bang their heads against the wall. But of course when touching a wounded child, one has to be very careful. You have to be trained to do this so that the child feels safe and protected, not further abused and re-traumatized.

I remember watching a very upset little boy. He was no older than four years old. Our music and drama therapy session was ending and he was quite sad. Yet he didn’t know how to process his feelings about the play coming to a close. When my co-therapist and I told him that in five minutes we would begin to pack up the instruments, the child began to run around the room in circles. Next, he picked up a trash can and threw it. My co-therapist gently talked to the boy, first giving him directives to stop. When this yielded no results, my colleague calmly picked up the child and brought him into a basket hold. And then like a wounded animal, the child began to cry and said he didn’t want to leave the music/drama group. He was having too much fun.

I think we could all benefit from the strong loving arms of someone bigger than us, as we rage about all the things that have gone wrong in our lives. If we let God put us in a basket hold, it might soothe the broken, skittish parts of ourselves.

We want to fight yet it is far wiser to surrender. In that, there is power.

The other day, this rose fell from its stem. It had been part of a lovely bouquet. Rather than toss it out, I placed it in a mason jar of water. I remembered that my grandmother had created gorgeous flower arrangements sustained in water alone.

Instead of dying, this blossom has remained strong. Contained in the safety of glass and water, it has thrived.

When falling to the ground with petals wide open, would that I let the Lord drop me in a glass of water and protection. Would that I thrive and radiate my essence.



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