Sunday, February 22, 2009


That is what my eldest son says when he needs to be comforted. I breastfed all three of my children and my Max was the hardest to wean fully. We did wean him, when I was pregnant with Buddha and then after three months of relentless asking, begging, crying and pleading - I let him nurse again. He was immensely grateful but never got over being told that boobies were over. He likes to cuddle me and put his head there for comfort. Breasts are important. Not their size or their shape - just them. They comfort, they feed and the nourish and they need to be taken care of.

There is a history of breast cancer in my family. Luckily I do not bear any of the genetic markers for it but I run the risk of having it later in life for several reasons. I have had one great aunt diagnosed with breast cancer who underwent a full mastectomy and one who died from it. My own maternal grandmother died at the age of 49 so we don't know how her direct line would have affected my mom, my sister and me. But at an early age I paid attention to my breasts and their health. I had them reduced at 27, nursed my children and had my first mammogram last year.

I am better today but still think every day about secondary cancers from the one I had. And I want like hell for cancer to eradicated in my lifetime. I think it can be. And I think the onus is more on prevention and education than on cures - but until we can get our American culture to see that planning ahead is pivotal, then we are left with research and cures. Chemotherapy is an amazing thing. Oncologists are amazing people. And I will never again sneer at traditional western medicine. None of it is perfect yet it is getting better. So to that end I decided to dedicate myself to healing the breasts of this world and joined the Susan G. Komen - 3 Day Walk for Breast Cancer. In October, I am walking 60 miles over 3 days in Philadelphia. Doing my small part to heal the breasts of the world. And hopefully laying a path should my breasts need additional help in the future.
I will be posting more about my preparations for this walk along with my preparations for the triathlon I am doing in September. And I will definitely ask you to do your part. I plan to raise $3000.00 for breast cancer and I know you are going to help me. Because all of us got here through a womb and a breast, whether we ate from it, laid on it or covered it with our tears - breasts have raised and nourished us. It is the least we can do.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Serenity Now

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
-Serenity Prayer

That is the serenity prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous. I have spent a fair amount of my time in self-help meetings. Beginning at an early age I went to them to deal with my father's many addictions. So I know it by heart, along with how to share without over-sharing and how to yell "Hello" to someone after they introduce themselves. I know these rituals the same way I know the Catholic Mass by heart and can sing my high school's "unofficial" school song. Practice makes perfect. Years and years of repetition will ingrain something in your head, heart and psyche. But there is one thing I didn't learn from all that time in "the rooms" reciting the serenity prayer - it was how to summon serenity as quickly as I summoned the words.

You would think it would be a kind of incantation like "Abracadabra!" Rabbit from hat - Serenity from me. Doesn't work that way. Know how I know? I've been praying silently and out loud for awhile now and I still can't manage to calm myself down with my children. All kinds of prayers: "Lord, help me." "Jesus wept." and my personal favorite - "Don't let me kill this kid!" Now before you call DYFS (and I think it bears saying that my Aunt is the director of Child Protective Services in Westchester - so I know the drill)my children can bring out the very best and the very worst in me. And I am practicing mindfulness and taking deep breathes and then my daughter will slam the door or talk back or roll her eyes one too many times and I see myself from outside myself. And the me standing there is blinking out. Literally she is gone - screaming, manically following the child from room to room and seeing all manner of physical retribution in her mind's eye. I know the neighbors can hear me. I am having an out of body experience. One that I am probably going to feel bad about when I regain consciousness. Why?!

Sometimes I really wish there was an audience to my parenting at all times, then I would behave better. It doesn't matter if I create an audience I know they aren't really there. So pretending doesn't work. There is something encoded in my DNA - probably in the collective maternal DNA - that has the scream gene. Some of us can fight nature and some of us can't. I fall on the latter end of the spectrum. And I feel badly about this. My mother was a screamer. And I often hear her and realize that I sound just like her. What's harder is that I hear my eight year old and she sounds just like me. I can fend off extreme guilt for only so long and then I have to do something about my behavior. Like stop yelling.

It is so hard. Yelling is cathartic. It gets the impurities out, sort of like an emotional facial. And since my vocal chord surgeries I don't really yell that loud. But yea, rationalization (see, I told you I've been to alot of self help meetings). So do I have a solution for this situation? Not really. I am practicing being in the moment. I am practicing having the prayers trigger a physical response in me other than blind fury. And I am carving out more time where I am child-free. I know I really need to have meaningful work outside of raising my children and that is a guilt bridge I haven't crossed yet - too busy standing on the side of it wondering how far down is the jump. All of these things are a process. So to all the Mamas out there here's my shout out for the day - commiserate or feel better about yourself. But I know I am not alone.

We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.

in peace

photo by: oddsock

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feed Me

There is nothing more intimate than feeding someone. Food, that is. My first relationship with my children (after carrying them) was feeding them. I breastfed all of my kids - but that's not what this post is about. It's about the intimacy of food. Preparing food that someone then ingests and uses to power their body - what?! I admit that sometimes I do not feed my children very good food. Back in the day we did run through a drive-through or two or three. But not any longer. And this post is also not about the "right" way to feed your family and yourself - it's just about feeding.

When my daughter was very little she would hum or purr when she nursed. She was really enjoying the experience of eating. As she got older she would hum when she ate something she liked - but it was usually only something homemade - preferably by me. She would sit and be transformed while eating as though she was soaking in the love that went into the food while it was being prepared. Have you ever noticed that when you are annoyed, tired or angry dinner does not come out well, even if it is your go-to meal? We put ourselves in our food and then we give it to other people to eat. I have a secret - I don't eat at other people's homes unless I know them - well. And there are a handful of people I will actually allow to cook for me. Food is that sacred to me. So, I started thinking why is it that I am overweight and have been most of my life? Why is it that I will eat mass-produced crap? If food is sacred. I realized, quite sadly, that I am not sacred to me. That I did not connect or value or love my body. And I was therefore really comfortable giving it crap because ultimately I thought that is what it deserved.

Recently, a silent prayer I launched into the atmosphere became real. I re-met and connected with some amazing women. All at the same time we decided to take care of ourselves. We joined Weight Watchers. We joined a health club. We signed up for a triathlon. We aligned ourselves with ourselves and made us a priority. All of us are mothers, most of us have three. So carving that time out for ourselves really took a lot of reprogramming. I watch them feed themselves with time and exercise and attention and even yummy smelling lotions and potions and I am inspired. I have air and life breathed into me. And I once again see the power of asking for what it is I want.

Don't get me wrong - getting to the gym (even though it is heavenly) is hard to do. And eating healthfully is still a challenge for me, no matter how sacred I think food is, I still have the tapes telling me that I am not sacred. But I know that this path will get easier to walk if I stick with it and I tell my mind to shut up and allow what I know to be real to lead the way.

This post is about food - and the many ways it shows up in our lives. Feed yourself something wonderful today!

We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing

in peace

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Here it is

You have asked, so now I deliver. Here is my graduate school essay. I know there are probably commas that shouldn't be there and run on sentences and maybe even a dangling participle or two (whatever that is). Sorry for not taking more of you up on that offer to edit - but I got tired. But it is done and as we said at Iowa - done is good.

I am fortunate to have had a very eclectic upbringing. I was raised in a Baptist family and attended Catholic school for nine years. I was the only non-Catholic in my graduating class and I graduated with the highest grade in religion. I spent weekends with my family visiting my Episcopalian paternal grandmother in Brooklyn. She lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant on the border of Crown Heights - the headquarters for the Lubavitcher Hasidim. My weekends were spent watching the throngs of black-clad men walking to and from shul. Friday afternoons were particularly interesting because I got to watch the women bustle to and from the shops making preparations for Shabbos. My closest cousin is a Buddhist and taught me to chant when I was three years old. And when I was ten, another cousin returned from eleven years in Haiti. She taught me to have reverence for my ancestors and to seek their counsel in times of crisis. I went to boarding school for high school and studied Dante's Inferno (still one of my favorite books) and read the Bible for the first time as a work of literature and not as a road map for life. This time in Massachusetts allowed me to ask tough questions of myself, my beliefs and my God.

My undergraduate degree was in Religious Studies and Theatre. I chose theatre because I love to create sacred space where people can enter, be transformed and leave. My obsession with the liminal led me to theatre when I could not decide which path to take after college. I considered the seminary after high school but I needed to do my own investigation of truth. I needed to find out what I believed and how I wanted to live my life.

That journey sent me down many roads, through Christianity and Catholicism – the home of my primary eduation. The Baptist Church where I chose to be baptized at the age of seven and where I remained faithfully until college. Then through Wicca where I understood the presence of God in everything. My desire to understand the religions of my ancestors led me to study Ifa and Santeria. My long abiding love and respect for Jewish tradition and ritual led me to explore Judaism. The desire to have my children in a spiritual community led me to Unitarianism.

All the time one thing has remained constant: there is but one Creator in my ontology. I have found my own path to Grace, what I call the Prime Mover, the Architect or God. I am in a place of peace with my understanding of Grace in the world. I acknowledge the divinity of Jesus while acknowledging the divinity in all of Grace's creations. I listen to Bob Marley with spiritual awakening and light the candles of Chanukah while bringing in our Christmas tree and Yule log. Some might say that this makes me a dabbler, not a true walker on a spiritual path. I diasagree. I have forged my own path in the wilderness of loss and confusion. I am comfortable taking what works for me from different traditions and creating a spiritual life for my family. I do not believe that to belong to a tradition you have to abandon your values and your personal truth. The things I believe are fundamental to me, and cannot exist in the same space as a dogma that insists that I act differently. I have sought an academic program that presupposes the existence of God but does not insist that I share it's specific beliefs to achieve a Master's Degree.

I have a MFA in directing from the University of Iowa. And even though that degree is in a different field I feel that theatre and religion are intimately connected. I have always been drawn to works that explore questions of belief and help make sense of our world. My thesis in graduate school was a collaborative piece titled “God's Mother.” In the workshop phase, this piece was a riff on Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac or The Binding of Isaac. I wanted to explore Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith versus his Knight of Infinite Resignation from Fear and Trembling. The workshops explored what if Abraham hadn't heard the voice of God and didn't recognize the ram? What if he killed his son? What would Sarah say?

My idea, then and still, was to explore the line between ecstatic vision and mental anguish – suffering. The question – What would Sarah say?, led me to explore her story as the mother of Isaac. The play became about Sarah, Hagar and Mary and their relationships with each other, historically and with their “famous” sons. What is it like to give birth to the founder of a religion? That is what the play asked. The play had a life outside of academia receiving performances in New York and Chicago.

My undergraduate thesis, which earned me magna cum laude upon graduation, was another play entitled “In Search of Eve” and it detailed the hypothetical conversation Eve had with herself before and after she ate “the apple.” All things being equal, and with all information and consequences at her disposal would Eve make the same choice? My work as a director has always been to do what the great Anne Bogart suggested which is “to put the questions onstage.” And my questions have always been of a theological nature.

The major theological dilemma I face is the one I have sought to answer through my own personal investigation of truth: the question of suffering and the treatment of death. I have suffered before I realized that suffering was a choice. I do not completely agree with Buddhism, in the most simple sense, that all suffering comes from attachment to the world and we will eliminate our suffering when we eliminate all attachment. I love my children, my husband, my family. And my attachment to them gives my life meaning. I do not suffer because of them I achieve joy and peace (and let's face it – anger and frustration) because of them. If I choose not to accept their death as inevitable I will suffer. If I choose to wallow in the negative, I will also suffer.

Last year I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. There were very few doctors familiar with the treatment or able to give me any kind of prognosis. I sought out the best doctors and did my own personal research to learn everything I could about this cancer and I made preparations in the event of my death. I learned something through that work. It was not depressing for me to think about my death. It was not hard to plan my funeral or my burial arrangements. What was hard was thinking about the future of my three children and husband without me. What floored me, each and every time, was their lives without me and the fact that they would be sad if I died. That proms, weddings and births would occur and I would be missed. I clearly understood how I could suffer in that moment; if I attached myself to their pain; if I stayed in that moment.

I chose to walk out of that moment and acknowledged that pain is a part of life. They would experience it and there was not a lot I could do to keep them from all of it. They needed it to grow. That released me from the suffering. I did not lose my attachment to them - I lost my attachment to something I could not predict or stop or change. What I could control was my ability to prepare them, to let them know I loved them and would continue to love them and that I would fight to get well.

My longing to make sense of the world has led me down many paths academically and professionally. I am a theatre director, a professor, a holistic health counselor, a mother, a wife and an artist. I love all these jobs and have not felt that any of them have wasted my time. They have all laid stones on my path.

I love to teach. I get joy and insight from it. I learn so much from my students and I get excited every time they figure out a problem or are able to do something they never thought possible – like standing before a room of people and giving a speech.

Being a holistic health counselor speaks directly to my desire to take care of people by helping them take care of themselves. Michael Pollan is a hero of mine and my focus on the ethics of food creation, consumption and access will always be at the top of my agenda. I find this lack of access to healthy, clean and safe food to be a moral issue. I believe that the study of religion, food and theatre are not mutually exclusive. All of them contribute to the quality of a person's life. And helping people have a great quality of life is as important to me as helping them have a good death.

Vocationally I feel that I am called to the chaplaincy. I plan to receive interfaith ordination and to work as a hospice chaplain. It feels as though all of my work and paths have led me to help ease the transition for people who are dying and to comfort the people left behind. Academically, I plan to pursue a PhD in Religious Studies, with a focus in Ethics. I want to continue to teach at the college level. And I plan to continue my work with creating access to healthy food for people living in poverty and urban areas especially women and children.

Today, I stand on the other side of cancer. But the lessons of that particular battle are not lost on me. And if it gave me anything it was clarity about my future. And if it took anything away it was the fear of going after it.

Photo: Linda Cronin

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For Mary

This is Mary. Mary Fons. Mary Fons-Misetic. She's been married since I saw her last. I love Mary. I first met her in graduate school when I was lucky enough to cast her in a production of Top Girls. And then I got to cast her again and again. She is talented - and that is no small compliment. More importantly she uses her talent to make things better for people. When I knew Mary she was quirky and funny and still coming into the comfort of her own skin. When I see and hear of her now she is there - in her skin and comfortable being there, although lately the inside of her skin is a painful place to be. Mary's been sick. She's been in and out of hospitals. She's had major - major surgeries. And she's carried on without a colon - come on people - no colon?! Through all of that she has managed to keep her spirits up and her attitude right. There is something I read on her blog Papergirl the other day that stood out to me. When she was going through another day of off the charts pain she said she wished she would die. And then she regretted having said that, lest the universe make good on her statement. There is something I wanted to write to Mary and to all of us out there who have wanted to die at one time or another.

It's okay. The universe - despite the people making money to tell you differently - is not a literal, unimaginative entity. It get's subtlety. It gets sub-text and most importantly it gets sarcasm. But what the universe gets and sees better than anyone or anything is our heart. At that moment when you said I wish I would die, the universe heard this: "This is pain I don't want anymore take it away. Take it away right now. Put me someplace without pain." Because that is what you said, that is what you wanted. It is coming, my love. It is on the way. It has been ordered by you. So many of us want to take away the pain of those we love. I want to take Mary's pain - so badly. I had a friend who would tell me to call her when I had to worry. She would worry for me. So, to my friends out there who have something they can't bare, send it to me for awhile. I'll hold it for you. And if you can't, know that I am loving you and holding you up out here. Holding a place without pain just for you.

We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing.

in peace

I love you, Mar

Little Plastic Castles

They say goldfish have no memory
I guess their lives are much like mine And the little plastic castle is a surprise every time
-Ani DiFranco

It is amazing to me what I remember and what I forget. But I never forget a kindness. And there is one tiny moment from my past that I've held onto for over 20 years. In high school I was in the musical Pippin. It was a happy moment because I was one of the youngest cast members and that year was a tour year - we spent Spring Break in England performing at various schools. It was a boon to get in. I worked hard. Learned the choreography. Sang my heart out. Mastered the make-up and the costume changes. And even managed to secure a line! But there was one scene that stressed me out. Every performance. The seduction of Pippin. I was never a skinny girl. Always a heavy girl. And while I am smart and funny and talented, I went to school with skinny girls - very skinny girls. So the seduction scene stressed me out. I had to lie on a box and undulate. And I did this after one of the skinnier of the skinny girls had grapes plucked from her bathing suit. I was in a corset and genie pants. More coverage that way. This scene always made me sweat but no more so than one performance at an all boy's school in England. I was off stage waiting for the grape girl to get plucked and I heard the raucous, construction site-like calls of the boys in the audience. I was next. And I remember the box getting pushed onto the stage and there I was undulating and the crowd went silent. Chirp Chirp Chirp. Now I have left out the fact that the grape girl was not just shapely she was blond - but truly I don't think that had anything to do with it. I think it was that she wasn't fat. I was mortified and I am quite sure that tears came to my eyes. And then it happened. Pippin. He pulled me off the box and grabbed me, as was his staging. And then he did something special. He pulled me very close to him and put his hand in the small of my back and hugged me. He made me look at him and he sang right to me. And I forgot that I wasn't the grape girl. I felt wonderful being me. And I remembered that I could sing and dance and be funny. In that moment he held me and saw me and did something he didn't need to do - he made me feel better. It was his birthday the other day - Pippin, and I felt the need to go back and listen to the soundtrack and remember his kindness. And as I wrote happy birthday on his face book page, I also wrote silently - thank you, for the day that you saw my soul.

We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing.

in peace

Photo by Lachlan

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I would NOT die for you

A strange comment. I have heard people say that they would die for their children. I know people, and if I tell you who they are then they would have to kill you, who would die for our President. Back in the days when drama permeated my life and I lived a rather high-strung soap-opera existence, saying that I would die for someone was the ultimate in fake love. It somehow meant that my love was deep, enduring and willing to be snuffed out for their benefit. Bullshit.
This week I celebrated a very wonderful anniversary. First let me say that anniversaries are not huge in our little family. Hubby and I jokingly forget the exact date we were married (we originally planned the 26th and then got bumped because some other people had a sentimental attachment to that date). We were in fact married June 25th. That day usually comes and goes with little fanfare. Our birthdays are equally low-key, although we do try to make more of an effort where the children are concerned. My excuse, er, explanation for this personal phenomenon was that we sought the sanctity in every day - so we didn't need constructed events to appreciate each other or to give each other gifts. But that was a bunch of new-agey crap. Mostly these days just snuck up on me and I wasn't organized. There was always a gift or two but never a huge blowout. But something changed this week. February 5th to be exact.
One year ago on that day it was Super Tuesday in the most hotly contested Democratic primary in a generation. And one year ago that day I had life saving cancer surgery.

I remember the moments leading up to that day so clearly. The fear, the excitement, the uncertainty. I had no way to prepare for the other side of that day so I just let my expectations go. But deep down I knew I would be alright, I knew I would do everything possible, and so would my surgeons, to make sure I lived. In the days leading up to this event I planned my funeral. And I had a great time doing it. I approached it like any theatrical event. My objective - to make sure the audience had a wonderful time. That there was a catharsis, that they entered sad, bereaved even, but that they were transformed in that sacred time and liminal space. That it was beautiful and bewitching to all the senses. And that no one was inconvenienced.

I wrote in an earlier post about my death that what scared me the most was the pain I would leave behind. The people who would miss me. The graduations, weddings, births and promotions that would go on without me. And that hopefully there would be a little whisper of me loving them still there in those moments. But in the moment when I needed to decide to live or die I chose to live for my children, for my husband for my grandchildren. Because there was no other way to make their lives better. My kids would not be better off without me. And they probably would never get over it. Once diagnosed, even though it went against my first holistic thoughts, I decided to go full on conventional medicine. I did the chemotherapy that literally felt like it's job - it was poisoning me - for an entire week every single time. I had the tumor resection and the subsequent 3 vocal chord surgeries. I traded in my melodic, resonant teaching voice for one that squeaks and sometimes loses breath. I did the radiation, even after vomiting several times from fear of the machine and falling asleep at the wheel while driving home from the hospital, and months and months of not being able to eat or climb the stairs without assistance. And even on the days when it felt easier to just go to sleep and stay there, I got up everyday. Because I love my children so I will not die for them, but I will live for them, over and over and over again if I have to.
I thank Grace for allowing me to stand here cancer-free. And even after all I've been through when asked if I would do it again I immediately say yes. Because this life will be lived by me but it will be lived for my children. And lest you get it twisted - my happiness, my health and my wholeness makes my children better people. It gives them a silent example of all that is possible. And all a mother will do for her children: she will dare to take care of herself.

We are blessed, may we recognize the blessing

in peace