We were in Indiana this weekend. Not usually a destination location for us but it was the final weekend performances of The Great Gatsby, at the Indiana Repertory Theater, and our daughter was Jordan Baker. And I say was in the most intentional way, as watching her metamorphosis on stage, well... it was fantastic. As was the show. The set. The story. The other actors. And my daughter. Simply fantastic.
And now she is coming home. Back to California and all the intricacies and unknowns that being an actor in Los Angeles will offer her.
And as I was thinking about this, and wondering what her next best role will be, the quote that Nick said to Gatsby, came back to me. You can't repeat the past.
Now my daughter knows this. With each new role she has, she jumps in new. Never trying to capture the experience she had with the character she was before, but instead tackling this new person with a clear and fresh mind. It must be an actor thing. Along with Meisner and Stanislavski, students of acting must also get a huge dose of let it go so that they can approach each new opportunity without expectation and open to the possibility that anything could happen. This is a lovely way to be.
Because usually we don't do this. And I say we, meaning me. But chances are, meaning you, too.
We want things to be as great as they were. And so we're always disappointed. You can't repeat the past. Now, that's not to say that you can't make things even better, but that also takes you out of the now. Because while you're still looking back, your planning forward. And that causes disappointment, too.
My daughter in law (to be) said it brilliantly just recently, when she reminded my husband to enjoy the journey as he builds a company that we all know will be incredible. You're almost at the top of the mountain, she said, but don't forget to pay attention to the end of the hike. (or something like that, but you get the idea). And she is right, too. (Does it make sense that she is also an actor like my daughter. They joke that acting training is really just intense therapy. I think they are right!) For when we rush to get to where we think we are going we miss the beautiful flowers along the path. And perhaps we may miss some other path, too. That we'd only think to walk along if we were paying attention to where we are rather than looking to where we are going.
So we miss things. A lot of things. Either because we are wising that what is is a lot like what was. Or because we are planning that what will be will be fantastic and so miss the wonder of what is happening now.
It takes practice to be present in each moment. It has to become a habit in just the same way as letting our minds go to that wonderful past that we want to repeat or that unknown future that we want to control, is a habit. And so we need to practice it. Remind ourselves to be aware of the moments we are in. Take deeper breathes and slow down and pay attention. Enjoy what is unfolding without worry that it isn't something other than what is, right at the moment that it is.
In my own practice of this, there are three stages.
Stage one is just noticing when you are doing (thinking, wishing) something other than enjoying what is unfolding for you at that moment. It's being aware. And taking note of that. I'm good at this stage. Oops, I say, I'm not quite in it. But then it gets tough.
Because my mind, it's a multi tasking mind, and so while I am trying to connect to stage two, settling into the now of things, my minds becomes two minds. One that is present and one that is watching me be present and thinking about it and wondering how long I can sustain it and still jumping around to the past and the future a few dozen times just for fun.
I think I need to meditate.
And that brings me to stage three. Which is the stage that my daughter is in when she is on the stage. The being right there, as an actor, present in each moment. Listening to her cast mates so that she is not just repeating the lines that she learned for the role, but speaking authentic responses to the dialog around her. Letting the story unfold in each moment and having it be different each time. All the world's a stage. But, unlike Shakespeare's script, she is not just merely a player.
And neither are we.
We can make it real. We can experience all the nuances that we will likely miss if we look behind ourselves or struggle to see what's coming in the future. So let's do it. Let's not miss the life that we have, but instead be in the moment, in each moment. Be aware. Be honest. Feel each feeling and taste each flavor. The opportunity is right here.
We went to Big Sur this past weekend. I believe I've been there before. Or had driven by. Rather had driven through. I'd been to Hearst Castle. I know that. I remember going when I was a teenager and we lived in LA. I remember the pool. That is a fantastic pool!
And I think, after visiting the castle, we then drove further up the coast to Big Sur. But maybe not. Maybe I just think I went there because how could I not have gone there if we lived in LA for those three years. Isn't it a place that everyone goes? Didn't we drive up the coast back then? Look at the views? Take in the trees? I'll have to ask my parents. See if they know. Or if they only remember the Hearst Castle pool, too.
Because I am not sure if I've been before, this visit this weekend to Big Sur was my first visit. As it was my husband's first visit, too. We had planned this trip a while ago. More than a year ago actually. Around our anniversary, 2014, but then the plans fell through and here we are now.
We had a full weekend, starting with a drive from Ojai to Morro Bay on Friday night. It took five plus hours due to early season mud slides on the 5 that closed the roads and moved everyone over to share in our trip. A stop in Los Olivos certainly helped and finally, we were in Morro Bay, for a deep night sleep and a planned early start to our day.
We left Morro Bay Saturday morning to work our way up the coast, stopping first at The French Corner Bakery, in Cambria, for perhaps the best cinnamon roll I have had in a long time (vegan diet be damned). And then worked our way along Route 1, stopping only once to take in the view and twice when the road became a single lane and we had to wait our turn. And then we were there, in Big Sur, which was not quite what I expected. Less a town and more pockets of restaurants and resorts, trails and campgrounds, scattered along the coast when the land became wide enough for something more to be built.
Now I can talk about the views and the trees, the smells and the sounds. I can share our delicious meal, perched high over the ocean at the family owned restaurant, Nepenthe. And tell you about the most amazing chocolate cake that we had for dessert. Or the ride we then took north of Big Sur, where the beauty of the coast became even more profound and we realized that the trip down from the north was even more spectacular then the drive up from our home. I can share our discovery of a resort called The Ventana Inn and Spa and how lovely it was to sit quietly in the sun towards the end of our day and plan our trip back - hopefully with our kids - perhaps next spring.
I can share all these things and more, but what really sticks with me was our stop at the beach as we made our way back to Morro Bay for another night of rest.
The sun was just getting to that low-in-the-sky point where the light is just right. Not quite pink yet but softer. And we hit a stretch of road that was flat, and pulled away from the edge with about a quarter mile of brush between us and the ocean. We parked the car to stand outside and just take in the freshness of the air and the beauty of the sky. And there, right next to where our car was parked, was this small, wooden stair, built just for us and beckoning us over and through the prickly bushes and low beach grass to the edge of the cliff.
It was not too high. Only about twenty feet or so. And we had watched, as we made our way along the often used path, a young man walk towards the ocean and disappear over the edge. There was a way down.
When it was our turn to climb down to the soft, wet sand, the sun mirrored our movements, sitting deeper into the sky, now reflecting pink against the sides of the bluff. Save for the man and his friends off to the right, the beach was ours and we walked away and around large rocks to a part of the sand that was empty and waiting for us.
The water was cold, too cold to swim, though the thought crossed my mind. Still we took off our shoes and our feet took in the coolness of the ocean tide as we waded along the silent shore. And soon the sun was gone. Nestled deep into its watery nighttime home and we knew it as time to go.
The remnant of light still echoed along the water and sand, and up the rocks and bluff we climbed. Easier than going down. And we followed the path back to the worn, wooden steps and over to the road and to our car. And we continued on our drive, towards the darkened sky in front of us as the last bits of dusk began to dim behind our backs and out over the ocean.
I am at the airport, Logan, Boston, Massachusetts. Heading west and home, from this, my home also. It was a good weekend to be here. The weather was warm, the sun still hot against my skin, with times throughout the day that my sweater came off and the sun touched my arms along with my face. It felt right to be here. More than the other times that I have visited (come home) over these last two years since moving across the country and setting up a new home in California. And not just because of the weather.
During my days here this time I was able to hold onto the familiarity that comes with knowing a place so well without being reminded of why I moved away. (Perhaps the weather did have something to do with it). The neighborhoods I lived in beckoned me in with good and strong memories and I smiled alone in the car as I brought myself to familiar places. The pace of each day was soft and easy, there was not much to do, and so I was able to sit in the comfort of the towns that I know.
I did not miss California.
Perhaps because I feel more settled there and so loving being here was not a threat to that. Perhaps because I see now that I have two homes not just the one that I live in at any moment.
I think there was a time, in this transition from east to west, where I felt the need to plant my loyalty firming in one soil. For how could I grow roots in the dry, brown earth of the west coast if I was still watering the plants that had so lovingly grown tall in the moist, dark soil of Massachusetts.
I did not really think about this. It was not a mindful, throwing my eggs into one basket kind of decision where I pulled myself out of the New England dirt, ripe with nutrients and full of memories, and intentionally set myself deep into the California landscape. Because I do not think it entered my mind that I needed that separateness when first we moved away (from here, or moved to there). But on this visit, where there was a shift in awareness and a deep taking in of my surroundings, I realized that I had stepped away from all that I love about here, so as to truly embrace all I love about there.
But I see that I belong to two places now. And because the celebration of being here does not take away from the good life I live now in California, I am able to let myself really enjoy the beauty that is only Massachusetts. The smells that are ripe and full. The light that shifts throughout the day and lands against the trees and the sides of buildings. The rhythm of the people who live here. The flight of birds and the bustle of dogs.
And then I can go home, to my west coast heart place, and take that in, too. Feel the stillness of heat that rises up each day when the coolness of the now autumn nights lends a few hours of relief. Harness the ocean winds that come up through the valley many miles away and cool the heat against my face as I sit on my porch overlooking orange groves that run down below me. Embrace the softness of the dry dirt that hungers for rain this coming winter and the brightness of the moon each night as it rises up from the red sunsets that fall over the water and reflect against the mountains that surround this place I, too, call home.
So I have been re-watching Dexter, in that lovely, binge-for-many-hours-at-a-time kind of way where I am able to go through a season in about two or three days. And then I take a break because I find that I am dreaming Dexter dreams intwined with my own life story. Only to find myself back again, cuddled in bed with my beautiful and smart Doberman puppy, or at the kitchen table, plugged in so my computer battery does not die and leave me hanging right before a kill.
I am obsessed with watching this show in much the same way that Dexter is obsessed with killing. A constant gnawing to get back to the show, to finish what I started, to complete the season. It is familiar. This way of thinking, this focus on something that really isn't a focusing at all but more an all consuming. A thought that isn't really a thought but comes from much deeper inside me. I can get like this easily. But only with a few things. The biggest one is food.
At this point in my life I have a pretty good relationship with food. But it was not always like this. I used to have a terribly toxic relationship to food. As in eating and binging or not eating at all. Food was not the fuel that supported me but the burden that weighted me down. I thought about it all the time. Whether because I wasn't eating it or because I ate too much of it and needed to get rid of it.
And even though now my food and I get along ok, the only time I really had a honest, we-are-in-this-together-food-you-are-my-friend, relationship with food was when I was pregnant and when I was nursing. I have heard that this is really rare. That women with eating disorders have a hard time with pregnancy, when our bodies become something that is out of our control. But for me, all the worry and stress, the coping and controlling, it fell away as my body became this amazing home to my babies. And while I nursed, and that extra 15 pounds stayed on, keeping my belly soft and full, all I felt was gratitude that I could feed my children in such a beautiful way.
But then when I was on my own again, my body separate from the children who before had been fed through me, the should and should nots, the overeating and withholding, it all came tumbling back in. Not nearly as intensely as when I was younger, but still a constant awareness of what I ate and how I felt. And when the stress was too much to bear I knew that I could fill up on something tasty only release my troubles as I released the food from my tired body.
Fast forward to now. So many years later where food is a companion that I have made peace with. We can eat together in a way where guilt is kept at bay. Where I can enjoy the tastes that sit on my tongue and the fullness that sits in my belly and nourishes me.
But then, watching Dexter, hearing him talk about his need to kill, how it takes him over and how he finds relief, I realize his description feels much the same as the role that food played in my life and I wonder how I missed this on first viewing. The similarities. The rituals. The sweet sameness of obsession.
Dexter says it starts with the blood, tricky down the back of my eyelids. The trickle becomes a stream and then a flood. It fills me up in all my empty spaces. But then the blood isn't red anymore, ti's black and pressing. It feels like my head is going to explode and then the only way to relieve the pressure is to open the floodgates and let it spill out.
Whoever wrote this is fucking brilliant. Or is a serial killer. Or has an eating disorder.
Because this is just how it feels. Because food, when it is not food, was the coping mechanism for me in much the same way as killing is for Dexter. That thing that filled up my empty spaces or distracted me from the struggles at hand. Food was the thing that was controllable, even when I felt out of control.
Food was my dark passenger.
And so I sit, watching Dexter struggle with his own dark passenger, knowing that his outcome will not be bright like mine. Because when I feel the pulse of obsession creep in, the tingling of worry, I now can remind myself that we have found a way to peace, food and I. We live together in a place where I am good enough and strong enough and thin enough (well, we are working on this one) and where, though the compulsion will always be there to control and withhold and where I still border on obsession more times than not, food really is a friend. A true companion. Dark no longer.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Rower, Runner, Dog and Cat lover.