Twelve Things I Learned On My Summer Vacation

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Here are some reflections gleaned over the course of the last several months, in no particular order, because that’s how life comes at you.

1) Life in transition is the new normal. Natural disasters, deaths, various forms of domestic upheaval… these things only continue as we get older. I’m getting used to it. I’m teaching my son to get used to it. Nothing is permanent.

2) It is so easy to make homemade mayonnaise. Even easier to make homemade ketchup.

3) Cape Cod is a treasure. In fact, any community in proximity to a shoreline is pretty fantastic. Unless your house gets swept away in a hurricane. Then it can kind of suck.

4) Reuniting with old friends is one of the best things in the world. It brings a long overview to life, and helps give perspective on the gentle passing of the years. Plus, it’s fun to gossip about people we used to know…

5) It’s OK to spend some time away from your significant other. Coming back together after missing one another is kind of like making up after a fight, and we all know how fun that can be.

6) Moving. Is. Hell.

7) I have muscles I did not even know existed. (see #6)

8) Barbecues. Are. Heaven.

9) I only want to work with people I really like. That is my new professional goal.

10) September will always feel like the start of a new year to me. Between the Jewish holidays and the beginning of school, that feeling was cemented in me a long time ago.

11) I’m working on transforming 9/11 into a healing day. I am drawn to exploring how grief and trauma can co-exist with a celebration of life. This year my company published a very healing book on 9/11. To me, this felt like a big step in the right direction.

12) Ten year old boys will teach you everything you need to know about tackling life with gusto. And fart sounds.

josiah in a box

Look Ma, I’m Publishing a Book!

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One With All of Thee book cover art and design by Jennifer Dopazo

BlueViolet Press, the digital publishing subsidiary of Project Mavens (the company I founded with my literary partner, Lillian Ann Slugocki), is proud to be sharing the word about our first e-book, due to be published on September 15, 2013.

One With All of Thee: Growing Your Sacred Connection is a practical book of wisdom that follows in the steps of other divinely inspired books such as A Course in Miracles and The Four Agreements. It offers sacred text for modern spiritual seekers, in the timeless spirit of The Gnostic Gospels and The Mahabharata.

Author Celine Koropchak has been receiving divine messages for nearly her whole life – words of empowerment and guidance that resonate on many levels. In One With All of Thee, she’s sharing these messages with all of us. This collection offers readers a sense of connection to the larger web of life, reminders that we already contain within ourselves, the spark of divinity that makes all things possible.

In language that vibrates with both grace and common sense, One With All of Thee offers a practical pathway to  navigating life’s challenges with a light heart.

We are grateful to Amit Verma and ModernLife Blogs for helping us spread the word about this exciting new project! Visit us on Facebook here.

Post holiday blues

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old willow tree for post holiday blues post

After every holiday comes the dreaded day after. The low after the high. As I get older, I think I’ve learned how to navigate those crests and dips a bit better, but inevitably, there comes a moment where I think, this is too low, I can’t do this… and then, gratefully, that feeling also passes…

I’ve lived a life of extremes. It’s true, I’ve seen my share of loss. Yet, I continue to get very excited about things – special times with family and friends, sharing pieces of writing, seeing my son achieve something important that he’s been working on… how can I not allow my emotions to run across the full spectrum of possibility?

And yet, you and I both know, the higher you allow yourself to be, the lower you’ll feel on the back end, in comparison. It’s simple physics. How can we navigate those lows? Surprisingly, having already banked a bunch of really awful experiences, I have a handy compass that has given me instant perspective on bad times. At this point in my life, I can honestly say that it takes a lot to rattle me. It doesn’t take the actual sting out of current pains and sorrows, but it does provide a buffer that prevents me from getting too deep into a pity party.

What I do find continually challenging, though, is witnessing the struggles of others. Sometimes it’s very hard to know what to do, especially when you know that you can pray, you can send love, and you can share a kind word, but the person you love will still be in pain, will still wrestle with their demons, still face their own fears head-on. It’s hard to accept the fact that we really can’t fundamentally change the substance of another person’s experience. We may be able to mitigate the effects from time to time, but that’s about it.

One place that can be particularly heartbreaking is in the experience of being a parent, especially as my son gets older, and I realize that my ability to intercede on his behalf out in the world grows progressively smaller with each passing day. I can’t tell you how much I treasure the time-stopping moments we share with one another, cuddled on the couch reading a book together, or watching a movie. At the same time, I realize that it’s my job to share as much of (what I consider) my wisdom with him, to arm him for the increasing task of facing the world as an independent human being. Wow. Talk about letting go…

Something that also continues to tug at my heart is the ongoing challenges of my adult friends and family. The older we get, inevitably, the more health problems we all face. Even as I work to manage my own issues, I’m acutely aware of the battles all around me. Some of them are more daunting than others. Taken together, it’s a strange collage of trial and tribulation.

Listen, I know that there’s a thin line between empathy and unhealthy identification. We can lose ourselves in the negative experiences of others, thinking that we can fix them or make it all better. At the same time, there is the danger of swinging in the opposite direction, of being so frightened by the struggles of another that we run in the opposite direction, as though mere association with misfortune is enough to bring it on one’s self.

As always, balance is key. I’m starting this day with a real sense of gratitude for my current state of well-being, and the hopes that my loved ones will each see their way through their immediate and long term challenges. I do know, from personal experience, that we are each capable of surviving things so much worse than we’ve ever imagined. You don’t know until you get there, just how strong you are. It’s something to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of MarilynJane

Summer Love

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It’s the end of the school year. I have a child, so my time is once again defined by the academic cycle. That particular kind of seasonal division had faded during my 20’s and 30’s. My cycles were much more defined purely by weather then, and not by the activities that were wrapped around it. But now, there’s a whole bunch of stuff bringing me back to my youth. On every level. He’s 10. Around that age, I was just flirting with buying my first bra. Things were just about to get really confusing.

But here and now, him having a girlfriend in his class still only means, “We like each other, and we’re friends.” Honestly, isn’t that really the heart of it? I mean, we should all be so lucky to have that as the center of our most provocative and consuming relationships.

I have to say, the 10-year-old zeitgeist is quite revealing. I remember a few years back, spending time with friends whose daughter was 10 at the time. I found her so winsome and pure-hearted, a sensitive poet with no real idea of how beautiful she was.

I feel the same way about my son. Sometimes, he is filled with a bravado and bullish intensity that clouds his ability to be an obedient boy. I admire him for that, even as I know I must carefully outline the boundaries of what he needs to recognize as the rules of society. But then later, he is recalcitrant and soft, cuddling in my arms as I read him Harry Potter until his heavy lidded eyes disappear from view, and he is all long eyelashes on cheeks, and quiet breathing. I cherish his need of me in those moments. The love we feel for each other is staggering.

Did you know that if you are a parent, you are almost certain to screw it up? You can count on it. I make it a point of singling out moments where each of us can learn from our mistakes. Perfectionism won’t be an issue for my son, if I can help it. I’m doing my best to normalize imperfection. I actually find it comforting. It takes the pressure off in a big way, and allows us to experiment to the point of failure. It’s the best way I know how to learn and paradoxically, to achieve excellence without anxiety.

To me, anxiety is the biggest obstacle in my path. I steer clear of it whenever I can. I navigate it like a seafaring captain of yore. Does that mean an expert from the olden days? Because that’s what I’m trying to say. I hope you can feel the depth of my intention. It’s that important…

The only way I know how to make sense of this amorphous rush of passing time in which my son keeps growing and figuring out more pieces of the puzzle, and I navigate my ever stiffening muscles and bones as though that couldn’t possibly be the thing that is going to define me going forward, is by capturing little flashes of tenderness and wonder in myself and the people I love in a picture or a poem, or even a story.

Here’s a smattering:

In Nantucket a few weeks ago, we shared a banana on the streets. I made silly faces and didn’t act my age at all.

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Later, my son looked too cool for school on the docks.

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Back in NYC, he rehearsed with his dance company, and I wondered what kind of adults they would grow into…

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Our friend Nusha experienced unconditional love with a snake at Tom and Bernadette’s house on the weekend.

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I felt it too. The snake just clung to my warmth and looked like a lush mix of white and dark chocolate.

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The kids gathered around the laptop – the new playtime hearth.

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My friend came over and finished the last of this lovely bottle of wine. I took a picture of the label so I’d remember what it was called the next time I was in the store.

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Tomorrow’s the last day of school. The summer is going to rush by so. very. fast.

Sell Some Shit – A Letter to Myself

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Dear Self,

1) Sell it. Go on, admit it, the tag sale you had last weekend felt great, didn’t it? And even though you got rained out on Sunday, you spent the afternoon throwing out old papers. That was awesome, right? It totally put you on a purging binge. So go ahead, take pictures of those old pieces of flight sim hardware, the box of Star Trek collectibles, and that crate of old Thomas the Train cars, and post them on eBay. People are going to buy them. You can do it.

2) Let it go. Seriously, when was the last time you or your son used any of that stuff. He’s done with it. Sell. It. Make some money and some space. See item #1.

3) Coat o’ paint. You need to freshen this place up. A little paint will make a huge difference. It’s a total facelift for the price of a facial made of cucumbers and yogurt. Invite your friends. Smoke a joint. Make a party of it. You really need a change.

4) Oh cut the crap already. Don’t you ever get sick of hearing yourself? I know I do. You’ve been saying the same shit for decades. Just stop it.

5) I remember stuff. A few important things. Like how intensely it hurt when the boy I had a crush on accused me of wearing an undershirt (I did), and not a bra (I was 10). I don’t mind tripping over this memory occasionally on the way to the store, or watching an angsty movie. But I certainly don’t want to live with it 24/7. Why would I? It’s a memory, not a blueprint for life. See item #4.

Oh, Thank God

6) The Beatles had it right. Enough said. Just listen to everything they ever recorded.

7) Share your stories… But, I’m a little self-conscious focusing on me, me, me all the time... That’s OK, everyone is doing it… It’s too fucking hard looking in the mirror all the time... And besides, the more you open your heart, the more of a chance you have to connect with other people… It feels risky to me… It is…

8) Take a leap. What have you got to lose? Your innocence? Your happiness? (seen both of those come and go so many times already) Your fear? (I’d be more than happy to see that go.) The worst you can be is disappointed – hope may certainly end up that way, but… you’ll never know unless you try.

9) Don’t even think of trying to control things. Well, you can try, but it’s kind of pointless. Here are some more realistic options:
surfing
gliding
leaping
whistling
breathing deeply
humming
singing
dancing
whirling
dreaming…

10) And for heaven’s sake, enough with the worrying. And the guilt. Pointless. Boring. Exhausting. Need I say more?

With much love,
Me

PS – So clearly, I just live in this space where I exist, and experience, and reflect. I’m not sure it really matters what we call what I write… I’m still gonna do it.

Pushing the Boundaries of Fear with STREB Extreme Action Company

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When is a dance not merely a dance? How do you create a show that changes all the time, yet still has a name, and sections, and a recognizable shape?

With their latest production, FORCES, the STREB Extreme Action Company is trying to create what director Elizabeth Streb calls “a perfect action show, that also has its version of a narrative.” Divided into thirteen pieces, termed “action events” with titles like Shake, Crush, Fall and Fly, the performance is peppered with big screen video clips of Streb sharing her thoughts about movement. The combination of her heady ideas, industrial inspired music, experimental video and mechanical equipment give it all “a kind of mad scientist” vibe…

I watch this show with my ten-year-old son, Josiah. We have seen the company perform several times before and have observed the evolution of their repertoire, their chemistry as a group. The performance is perfect for kids his age. We are encouraged to make noise, take pictures, share videos, show our enthusiasm in many ways. He’s sitting in the front row this time, and I’m diagonally behind him. He exclaims out loud throughout the evening, sometimes exchanging words with the man seated next to him.

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Members of STREB Extreme Action Company walking on the surface of the earth in “Spatial Rift,” where Josiah says, “They crushed Hawaii.”

The company’s home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is called S.L.A.M. – short for Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. It is indeed a laboratory for the exploration of ideas that Elizabeth Streb has been putting forth for over 30 years. She is interested in the pure elements of movement and action. This show explores these forces in the most fundamental way. Stripped down to their essence, housed in carefully constructed containers defined by custom designed pieces of equipment such as plexiglass walls and revolving platforms, a few carefully chosen movements are executed repeatedly in overlapping, echoing shapes until they lose significance as individual pieces of choreography – bodies slamming against one another, or exploring the centrifugal force of a whirling centrifuge as they jump and tumble into and out of the circle. They become part of a larger pattern, physical mantras, unleashed, exploded, again and again, until we as audience members are caught up in the cumulative effect of their sheer velocity, direction, impact.

There is one particularly scary piece called “Crush” that involves a steel beam, suspended from a heavy chain on a movable winch. It is spun around and around, sometimes raised, sometimes lowered, while dancers jump over and duck or roll under it. Sometimes the chain hangs down straight, sometimes it swings back and forth. At all times we are aware of the beam’s weight, it’s capacity to do great damage upon impact to flesh. Josiah says, “This music sounds like you’re gonna die.” While two dancers stand on either end of it, pushing it around and around so it revolves in an ever quickening circle, other dancers sit in its path, lying back quickly split seconds before the beam approaches their heads. It is a precision operation, a nail biting, adrenaline rush of an experience.

In one piece, “Flying,” dancer Jackie Carlson is strapped into a revolving contraption that makes her soar around and around in a wide arc, suspended in a harness that allows her to careen through the air like a graceful bird, but also enables her to roll and turn as she is being propelled around the circle. At moments she dips down to earth, then jumps up and over the heads of the other dancers who dive out of her way. She is a human physics experiment, a revolving, mechanically enhanced ballerina in space. It is hypnotic, exhilarating and intoxicating to watch her.

At intermission, I chat with Elizabeth about the show. I tell her that I perceive so many more layers in the company now. The level of interaction between the dancers has become more sophisticated, and subtle. The ever changing nature of these pieces has been deepened by the introduction of a narrative, developed with associate director Robert Woodruff… it’s a story of experimentation. Streb says, “… if I get tired of a move, I throw it out… modern dance eulogizes and holds sacred the great repertories, but action needs to be shifted all the time…” I say to her, it’s just like the kind of poetry I’ve been writing that stops on the edge of something, doesn’t end on a complete thing. She says, “…maybe it’s about what you’re wondering about, not what you know… why do it if you know what you’re gonna do? It’s about the exploration.”

Yes.

A week after we see the show, I have a conversation with Associate Artistic Director Fabio Tavares da Silva, who is also one of the company’s dancers. I want to know more about these amazing athletic daredevils who comprise the company. Although they hail from diverse backgrounds including dance, theater and gymnastics, they are all “adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers” with “a pretty high threshold for pain.” In order to be inducted into the company, dancers must pass a three day audition process, and it’s always interesting to see “… who is coming back on the third day.” Although the work is clearly physically demanding, it would seem that the true test takes place on the mental level, where each person confronts his or her own primal fears of pain, injury… and death…

The current configuration of company members has been in place for two years, with some dancers there as long as five or six. Fabio has been there for ten. He has seen people come and go, and understands the difficulty of staying inside this kind of psychologically challenging work that goes directly against the survival instinct. “We’re all there because we love what we do.” And it doesn’t hurt that Elizabeth has so much charm and charisma, that people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to give her what she wants, to fulfill her vision. There are  magic moments in there, and those who can would like to be alive inside the hyperkinetic events that are the product of their collective process.

The show continues to morph as the relationships between the dancers deepen and Elizabeth endlessly tinkers with movement, music and new pieces of equipment. Her desire to touch people’s hearts with the work is enhanced by the dancer’s deep trust and absolute commitment to her and each other. Fabio’s circus training and his love of playing and having fun is matched by the rest of the company. There is a levity in their performance now that was only hinted at before. “Now it’s like a different kind of explosion – joy, courage, beauty and endurance…” To be part of this collective, visceral experience an an audience member is an opportunity not to be missed.

Afterwards, I ask Josiah what he thought of the performance. “The show’s got more pizzazz to it, more flips and tricks… The girder thing… I’m scared someone’s gonna get hurt really badly. It’s like an inch close… makes me too nervous, but I still love it so much… it’s actually one of my favorite parts. It’s like no, don’t do it, don’t do it! Oh, my god they made it…”

Tickets to the current edition of FORCES are still available here for the final weekend of performances this Thursday-Sunday, April 25-28.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

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Last August, my longtime friend Deb Margolin performed her magnificent play “Good Morning Anita Hill…” at the Todd Mountain Theater Project, a summer theater festival in Roxbury, NY that was founded by another old friend, Suzanne Pred-Bass. Having written previously about this play, I thought it would be a hoot to go see it again in its latest incarnation, and hang out with both of these women whom I’ve known for so many years.

I thought I’d share with you this letter I wrote to Deb when I was still thinking of going.

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Dear Deb,

I will tell you a funny story. Stop me if you’ve heard it before.

About six years ago, Suzanne produced Anne Bogart’s play Room at the Todd Mountain festival. In a fit of synergistic ecstasy, I decided that since I knew both women for many years from completely different tracks of my life, that I should drive up to the festival and review this performance, in the context of the larger implications for me and my creative life.

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Ellen Lauren in SITI Company’s “Room” – image courtesy of SITI Company

The Saturday morning of the show, I had taken Josiah [my son] to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party in a big playground in Stuy Town, in Manhattan, where he fell on his face and shredded it to pieces. Not to be deterred from my great creative moment, not to mention mom’s first sleepover away from husband and child since childbirth (he was 3 at the time), I decided it was only a flesh wound, and we could still go forward with the “boy’s weekend” (Dad, Josiah and Uncle Hector with pizza, movies, etc.) while Mom drove upstate for a weekend of creative and professional ecstasy. I even carried my bloody child in my arms around the aisles of Best Buy, purchasing the DVD’s I’d promised to bring home…

Despite Ivor almost having a heart attack upon seeing his wounded child and a very traumatic washing of the face that took all three adults to hold my son down in the tub, I remained steadfastly and completely disassociated from any maternal instincts and persisted on leaving for the trip.

Of course, I wept most of the way upstate, and ended up being late for the performance – never a good idea for an Anne Bogart show. She is a former army brat and notoriously strict about classes, rehearsals and shows starting on time. I was lucky I was able to gain entrance.

My interview with Anne went well. It was a great reunion. She and I knew each other back from the early 80′s when I appeared in an accidental production of a deconstructed version of A Streetcar Named Desire, called Sehnsucht, that came about when an earlier show we had been rehearsing lost its funding. It was a post modern tour de force, in the great tradition of Jerszy Grotowski and Squat Theater, occupying an entire three story vacant building in downtown Northampton, MA, where I was living at the time, both inside, in various rooms, looking out to the street from the glass storefront and then at the entire building from across the street. I played one of ten Blanches. Several years later, I was part of an experimental theater workshop we organized with Anne at St. John the Divine, and then still later I took a directing class with her at Playwright’s Horizons, where I was promptly declared one of her weekly favorites. So our history ran deep to my sense of what theater could be and who I could be in it. I was thrilled to catch up with her on the last decade plus of our lives.

That night, I guiltily enjoyed the opening night reception, chatting up complete strangers while trying to ignore the fact that my family was without me in the Bronx, and then even managed to indulge in a bottle of wine with Suzanne and a couple other members of her inner circle who were also invited to stay with her at her residence that night. I was totally immersed, a theater person, dammit, just like I thought.

I drove home the next day, filled with grand thoughts about how I would roll out this post-modern tale that wove together so many strands of my life. And when I arrived, I found grief, relief, and silent judgement. By the time the next morning rolled around, Josiah’s face wounds had become infected, dangerously close to his eye, and we had to take him immediately to the doctor. A round of topical and oral antibiotics later, disaster was averted, eyesight saved, but my conscience deeply, perhaps permanently scarred, like my son’s cheek, that still bares the faint outline of the injured swath of skin that ringed around the outside of his right eye in the shape of a #7.

I never wrote that article. I was never able to complete it. Instead, I was blocked by the guilt of choosing my own need to be an artist over the welfare of my child (an artificial and untrue dichotomy to be sure, but try and tell that to a guilty conscience). I also carried the sense of failure of having promised a piece of journalism to two creative people whom I admire deeply, who took time to speak to me about their life, their craft, their work, and expected me to deliver a story in return.

To this day, although I have pages of notes from my journal before, during and after that trip, the interview I did with Suzanne, the two I did with Anne, one upstate and one in NYC at a SITI Company rehearsal, I have never been able to bring myself to articulate the story I wanted to tell about how everything came together from my past and present to bring to life a show based on Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own, whereupon a woman finds the joy of speaking her voice and baring her artist’s soul. Can’t you imagine the possibilities? With so many layers of symbolism, and parallel realities, and art imitating life imitating art??

So, you can understand why the fact that you are now doing your wonderful show up there stirs up certain desires in me to reconnect, bring the story to the present.

It’s actually not a very funny story. Not funny ha ha. But you know what I mean… Maybe this is just where it all led…

xoxoxo

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It turns out, I did not get up to see Deb’s play again last summer. Instead, I am left to share the vestiges of a vision where art and life intersect in many layered splendor, the desire to re-connect with old friends in this unique configuration relegated to a letter that describes what could have been…