Saturday, April 18, 2015

That's What Friends Are For

As most of you know, I have a new book out about how we lost everything in a fire. One of my favorite chapters in the book is called “The Harvest.” It’s about how, when we were broke and homeless, our community of musician friends rallied around us and put together a benefit concert to lift us back on our feet. Hundreds of people showed up. When music and love intersect, it is an unbeatable force. It lifted us up financially, yes, but more importantly, it lifted us spiritually. In what was the ultimate “trust-fall,” we were caught, and held up by hundreds of hands. We swore then that once we were stronger, we would return that kindness, with every opportunity we got.

This is why my husband Troy and I are so happy to be part of the Jammin’ for Jones band, raising money to lift our good friend Jeff back onto his feet. Jeff is an incredible singer/songwriter/musician. His songs have been covered by Stephen Bishop, Art Garfunkel, and the band Alabama, to name a few. Jeff is now suffering terribly with both MS and Parkinson’s. Jeff can no longer sing, which crushes my heart. I melt for his singing voice. Listen here:

Just before our house burned down in 1994, Troy and Jeff were part of Stephen Bishop’s band, and had just toured Japan together. All Jeff and Troy did on the road, aside from making great music, was laugh. At home after the tour, the good times continued. Jeff can tell a story like nobody’s business, and had us laughing in our living room until the wee hours of the morning. Jeff is a good man with a huge heart, and so is Stephen. (Stephen has shown up and donated performances for me on countless occasions- to support my work with foster kids.) Stephen and Jeff have shared a close friendship for over 40 years, and were even roommates for 16 years back in the day. It has deeply touched my heart to watch Stephen work so hard to put this benefit concert together to lift his best friend. He has also helped Jeff to release his first and only CD of his own. This is what true friendship looks like.
Stephen Bishop and Jeff Jones on the Midnight Special. I love the shots of their faces singing together. Jeff looks about 16 years old.

This benefit concert for Jeff is one of the greatest labors of love I’ve ever experienced. I so hope you will buy tickets to witness this special evening, and tribute to Jeff. Bring some Kleenex. If you’re sentimental like me, you’ll cry, in a good way.
Tickets start at $50 and all funds go to help Jeff with his medical expenses. Buy your tickets here fast - its going to sell out:
If you can't attend but would like to contribute to Jeff's medical fund, please click here:

A few of the people who will be there on April 28 to pay tribute to Jeff: Kevin Nealon, Penny Marshall, Piers Morgan, LL Cool J.

Some of our show sponsors: Eric Clapton, Linda Rondstadt, Bette Midler, Art Garfunkel, Penny Marshall and more.

Video Tributes will be shown from: Michael Mc Donald, Jackson Browne, One Direction, and more…

The All-Star Band: 
Troy Dexter - Guitar
Robin DiMaggio - Drums
Debra Dobkin - Percussion
Jon Gilutin - Keyboards
Mark Goldenberg - Lead Guitar
Rob Shirakbari - Keyboards
Lee Sklar - Bass
Jim Wilson - Keyboards

Background Singers:
Leah Kunkel
Robbie Wyckoff
Hollye Dexter
Billy Trudell  


Friday, April 3, 2015

Hollye and Troy and The Seven Plagues

Plague finger puppets, just in time for Passover!

It’s Good Friday today, although I seriously doubt Jesus would have called it that. Talk about a bad day. With Passover and Easter upon us, I thought I’d share my own tale of the seven plagues. Or is it ten? I don’t know. I just know that recently Troy and I seemed to have experienced a few of them.

DEATH: Evan said the other day, “Ever since Anita died, everything has gone horribly wrong in our lives. It’s like she took all the happy with her.” He’s right. I was so shaken by Anita’s death, I got sick on the day she died, really sick. Lost my voice for a week, got bronchitis and couldn’t shake it for over a month. And that was just the kickoff to a string of other disasters. Like bugs…

BUGS: Recently Troy woke up covered head to toe in what looked like bug bites. His arms and legs swelled up and were hot to the touch. He went to urgent care, they gave him some meds but didn’t really know what was wrong with him. Last week, Evan woke up the same way and we knew we had a problem. We hired a company that brought a trained dog out to sniff for bed bugs. We didn’t have bed bugs, but in moving and turning over all our furniture we found out we had carpet beetles. I had no idea, as I had never seen one (still haven’t - they are smaller than a grain of rice and hide in your carpet and furniture). They don’t bite, but it turns out some people are highly allergic to them. So that began days of moving furniture and having all carpets and furniture steam cleaned and washing every thing in the house and bagging up all the pillows, etc. Ugh.

FLOOD – Two days after the bugs, the house still torn apart, I come home from yoga and Evan says, “Mom, don’t be upset. The whole house flooded.” Upset? Why would I be upset? Second floor bathroom flooded into first floor bathroom flooded into Troy’s recording studio and our basement. Spent DAYS dealing with that. Days of sweat and filth and throwing away photos and ruined Christmas decorations and trying to dry out an entire trunk full of my soaked journals. Cleaning carpets. AGAIN.
We realized that in the 15 years we’ve owned this house we have had six floods. Two caused by nature, three caused by toilets, and one by a burst pipe in the ceiling. We have purchased three new toilets, including one high-pressure flush toilet that was supposed to ensure that we never had another toilet flood, but THAT toilet spontaneously exploded, porcelain shards flying everywhere, and then flooded the bathroom. Yes, we had an exploding toilet (and are now part of a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer).

BLOOD: Two days after the flood, Troy was on the phone dealing with the IRS (who, on the day Evan was covered in hives, sent us certified letters telling us they decided we owe them more money for 2012) when Troy tripped over something and cut his leg wide open on a piece of broken glass. Blood everywhere. We were in the ER for four hours, three of those waiting to be seen, and one of them stitching his leg back together. 16 stitches. And while we were in the ER, the building inspector emailed us, wanting to know what we plan to do about our building code violations on our deck. SERIOUSLY?

HAIL: Yep, we had that this month too. Hello, global warming. No one got hurt though.
California beach covered in hail in spring....cause that's NORMAL.
And here’s a plague we hope we’re done with:
FIRE: Yep. We had that one big time. We thought we’d “burned through that karma.” Since then, we’ve been evacuated from this house twice during fire season, wildfires burning to the edge of our property. Twice. So I wrote this book Fire Season, which will start shipping in a matter of days, and I am praying this exorcises that chapter of our life. And I’m a nervous wreck.

...AND THE REST: I don’t really know what the rest of the plagues are but we’ve decided we’re giving them up for Lent.

So what is the moral of the story here? Are we unlucky? Cursed? Plagued?
I think it’s this. When awful things happen to us, we can choose to shut down and become bitter, or we can rise up again (like Jesus, or Obi Wan Kenobi, whichever works for you). Every one of us has lessons to learn, a cross to bear (sorry, Jesus) so to speak. Faith, courage, compassion…those are muscles that must be worked, or else we become, I don’t know… spiritually flabby. Those painful lessons are what grow our courage, empathy and compassion. Working as a gun violence prevention advocate, I have met and become good friends with many wonderful people who are survivors of gun violence or have lost children to gun violence. They have greater compassion and strength than anyone I know. In the midst of unimaginable loss, they rose up, and became stronger and kinder and more resilient than they ever knew they could. They give hope and encouragement to people like me who are dealing with silly little things like floods and bugs. They give me strength.

In turn, I share with you our crazy little tale of plagues, and I share in my book how we lost everything, including hope, and how there is always a way to turn ruin into redemption, and I think that’s the point of this thing called life.

Recently Evan asked me about that. “What’s the point of life, Mom?”  I told him it was to learn and grow. Distressed, he said, “That’s the WHOLE POINT of life?! That sucks!”

Yeah, I told him, sometimes it sucks, and sometimes it’s a grind and sometimes its so gorgeous it could break your heart wide open. But we’re lucky to have it. All of it.

Today I’m focusing on gratitude and looking forward to Easter Sunday, when I will gather with my family and be happy, count my blessings, my thoughts far away from any plagues.

Wishing you all a happy Easter, Passover, spring …and on Star Wars day, May the  4th be with you. 
Is it just me, or does anyone else think a solid chocolate "instrument of torture" is a little weird?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

May God Hold You in the Palm of His Hand

Erin, our art teacher Phyllis, me and Anita, Getty museum 2000
It’s Saint Patrick’s day, and though I push away the painful truth that she is gone, I can’t get through a single moment of this day without thinking of Anita. Her beautiful Irish brogue, her gentle voice, her kind and thoughtful manner. These are the qualities that come to mind when I picture her. And the love that exuded from her.

We met in painting class 25, maybe 30 years ago. Every Monday night we’d sit together and paint for hours, and while we pushed paint around the canvas, our stories poured out of us. We talked about everything. Our pasts, our fears, our families, motherhood, our hopes, our worries. She told me so many stories about her children Ellen and David when they were little, the beautiful ways they had changed her and blessed her life, her hopes and dreams for them. And before you knew it, you looked up and the scene had come together on the canvas in front of us, just as it eventually would in our lives. She was a brilliant painter, her brush strokes exacting and fine. Her paintings were delicate and soft, and beautiful, just like her. Anita was also a ballroom dancer. She wrote poetry. She went back to college in her forties and studied psychology, to try to better understand herself, her complicated Irish family and the life around her.
Anita and Bill met as ballroom dancers and were married for 51 years.
Anita told me all about growing up in Ireland, the strict Catholic schools she attended where the nuns tormented her, and her phobia of nuns after that. Though Anita was a sweet-natured, gentle soul with a soft voice that registered just above a whisper, after surviving her second heart transplant (yes, she had two) her edge had sharpened a bit, and I thought she was even a tiny bit sassy. My friend Erin and I decided the new Anita needed a warrior princess name, so we dubbed her “Danitra.” Oh, how that made her laugh. She would always marvel at how uninhibited Erin and I were. “You two are so outspoken,” she would say, astonished. It was incredible to her that people could just come out and say whatever they thought, and yet that’s something “Danitra” was starting to do, more and more. 
Anita and Troy at Erin and Beth's wedding, where Anita read the Irish blessing.
I loved her musical, soft Irish brogue, and also loved to tease her about it. She’d ask, “What do you mean? What do I sound like?” I’d respond with an over-the-top, “Always after me lucky charms!” and she would laugh and laugh. Every once in a while, though, her edgier accent would pop up, especially when she’d call George Bush an “eejit.” Of course I loved that and would holler, “Tell it, Danitra!”

She loved Hummingbirds and had feeders lining all the windows around the back of her house, outside the kitchen and living room. I have never seen more hummingbirds in all my life than I saw in Anita’s backyard. They came in dozens to visit her. And who could blame them. She was the female equivalent of St. Francis, her kind and gentle ways drawing animals and children to her, easily.

Anita and I on our birthday, 2003.
Anita and I shared a birthday. We called ourselves birthday sisters, and would always celebrate together. At painting class, our teacher Phyllis would bring out a cake for us, and her husband Bernie would play Happy Birthday for us on his saxophone. We lost Phyllis and Bernie some years ago, but we still always made it a point to celebrate our birthdays and Christmas together, no matter what else was going on. One year, we spent our birthday at her hospital bed in ICU. Erin, Beth and I visited and as she lay there with a million tubes hooked up to her, unable to eat any birthday cake this time. We put a tiara on her head and sang anyway.

She lived through two hellish heart transplants and a year in ICU. She survived more procedures and surgeries than anyone I’ve ever known. No matter how gentle she appeared on the outside, she had a resolute strength that came from the fierce love she had for her family. She was going to survive because she wasn’t done loving them, and dammit, she was going to live to see those grandkids. And she did. Just two weeks before she passed, we had a wonderful dinner together, and she couldn’t wait to show me pictures she had printed of those grandbabies, and tell me all about every sweet thing they had said or done.
Bill never left Anita's side a single day that she was in ICU.
I am finding it really hard to end this piece, because I don’t want my precious friendship with Anita to end, and truth be told, I’ve been trying to pretend she is not gone. From the time between her death and her memorial service, I have kept myself busy, attempting not to feel the loss of someone so monumental in my life. I felt, and really knew, that Anita loved me. That is the hardest thing to let go of. And yet I know I don’t have to. Anita’s love, the way she lived her life, her quiet beauty and strength will always be part of me. 

And so I bid you godspeed on your journey home, Anita. You gave us all the very best of you, and you did it well. You lived your life so beautifully. You loved your family so well. Heaven is lucky to have you.
I was lucky to have you.
As you said to me at the end of every phone call, “I love ya, Missus.”

The Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Look Me In The Eye

This week I’ve been reading my friend Nina Gaby’s book “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women.” I was not surprised to read that many of these breakups of friendships had taken place through emails and texts. Over the years, I’ve had a couple friends “dump” me this way, and am pretty sure that had we talked face to face, the friendship would have survived. But that was their choice, not mine.

Recently, someone lashed out at me on facebook over a certain politicized issue, criticizing my lifestyle and career choices. This was over an extreme misinterpretation of something I had posted. The greatest shock was that it was from a sweet, mild-mannered person I’ve known for years who has never before posted anything on my facebook page. I can say with 99% certainty that this person would have never looked me in the eye and said these things to me.

This is what bothers me about our new technological way of connecting with others. It isn’t real. It isn’t human. Texting, social media and email are all great ways to transmit information about work, events, politics, etc…but they are terrible ways to handle emotion.

When we are texting, emailing, posting comment, we “transmit” what we want to say without “receiving” - seeing or hearing the other person’s reaction. It’s a convenient way of unloading on someone else without having to see the hurt in their eyes, the shock on their face. This is why cyber-bullying has become rampant, and it’s not just teens who are doing it.

A few years ago someone ended a friendship with me through email with a 3500-word manifesto. I can guarantee she would never have stood in front of me and uttered those 3500 words (the majority of which had absolutely nothing to do with me) and if she had, she would have looked pretty crazy. After the shock wore off, I eventually realized this was about the toxic anger that had been building in her heart, and email made it easy for her to use me as target practice. True friendship requires the courage to sit down face to face and talk things through with respect and patience. Friends don’t fire off hurtful missives at one another and walk away.

In the years following the fire, when Troy and I were suffering with depression, we fought a lot. Our therapist taught us something invaluable that really turned everything around. “Look each other in the eyes,” he said, “because then you see who you’re really talking to, not the monster you’ve created in your head.” Another tool was to touch hands, to feel the energy of the person, to remember that you love that person. It is very powerful.

So this is my rule with technology: if I can’t look someone square in the eye and say what’s running through my mind, I’m not texting it, emailing it, commenting on it, tweeting it. Period.

As for the facebook friend, there was an apology, and an admitted misinterpretation of what I’d posted. But still, the words were said, the proverbial bullet can’t be put back in the gun. Trust has been broken and I’ll always have those words in the back of my mind.

How different would our world be if we all had the courage to look each other in the eyes?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Last week, my friend Sue sent me a message filled with kind and loving words completely out of the blue. She said she had been thinking and feeling these things, and her mother had always told her, "If you're thinking something nice about someone, tell them!"

It just so happens this has been on my mind a lot lately the last year. I often will be thinking something in my head about another person, something really lovely, but then the moment passes and I'm on to other thoughts. But I'm learning that it's really worth it to stop and express those thoughts when they come.

About a month ago, Troy and I were eating lunch in a very busy restaurant in the Seattle airport. Our waitress was clearly harried, rushing about. I was staring at her because she looked so pretty to me. She was Asian, pale skin and bright red lipstick, and her black hair was pinned up with a cluster of bright red roses. As she rushed past me, I said, "Excuse me..."
"Yes?" She looked stressed.
"I just wanted to tell you that you look so lovely with your flowers in your hair."
She looked surprised and embarrassed, and mumbled, "Oh...thank you." She managed a little smile and went on with her work.
About ten minutes later, she came back to our table and said, "You know, I was really having a bad morning, but when you said that, my whole day turned around."
And then I felt great, so the idea of expressing your positive thoughts? Sue's mom was on to something. HUGE win/win.

This week is Random Acts of Kindness Week. (Why just one week? Why not Random Acts of Kindness LIFE?) I decided to be a kindness ninja. I am secretly posting these on people's car windshields. It took me 5 minutes to make them, and will take me 5 seconds to put them on a windshield as I'm out and about each day. I'm going to get my son Evan involved, too. I think it will be great fun and a good lesson for him. And I'm going to make extras to carry in my purse all year long.

I remember once, years ago, I was returning a shopping cart to the front of a store, and a woman who was standing there said, "Thank you for doing that. You are a good person." It was such a small, silly thing but my eyes welled up. It was just really nice to hear someone say "You are a good person"- even though she was a complete stranger. It meant a lot to me and I never forgot it.

It is so easy to participate in Random Acts of Kindness week (or life). It can be as simple as saying a kind word, holding a door open for someone, making a phone call, sending a card. As the great Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." 

I'm posting my RAK each day on twitter ( Follow me and post your own acts of kindness with the hashtag #RAKweek2015.