Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Those Were The Days….

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas, where my husband and I drove five hours just to meet a few of my childhood friends for dinner. We have been reconnecting through facebook, rekindling the bonds of our girlhood. We were in grammar school and girl scouts together back then, but actually, we weren’t that close. We didn’t have sleepovers or vacations together, yet somehow it just makes my day to see them pop up on facebook now, and I miss them when they’re not there.

The irony is that I spent the majority of my adult years tamping down memories from my childhood. I never ever revisited the old neighborhood. Never wanted to set eyes on the house I grew up in. Those are not happy memories. But here I am in my forties, cherishing old ties, and rehashing silly stories from that time.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few days. What is nostalgia, and what is this hold it has on us as we grow older? Why did our parents idealize the 1950s, when we know it was a time of Cold war, racism, segregation, Mc Carthyism, and backyard bomb shelters? Why do our grandparents spin yarns nonstop about the good old days on the farm, when the reality is it was grueling, back-breaking work from sun up till sunset?

When I was a child living in my mother’s house, I used to watch the next-door neighbor through my bedroom window. He was a quiet, sort of grumpy man. At the time, he seemed old to me, but he was probably only about 40. He had a ruddy complexion and the lines in his face told a story. I didn’t know what the story was, but it seemed like a sad one.

Every weekend he would work on his yard while listening to the oldies station. Fifties doo-wop would waft in through my open window. It made me depressed and heavy
though at the time I wasn’t sure why.

Once in a while a certain song would come on, and he would stop what he was doing. It seemed to me like he would get lost in a world of his own memories, a world that didn’t exist anymore except inside those songs. Only when he went into this little world did I catch a glimpse of a smile dart across his face. Weekend after weekend he’d be out there, waxing his car, raking the leaves, painting the trim on the house, only half alive. Living only for those memories inside the songs as if today were inconsequential. As if right now did not exist. To this day, fifties music depresses me.

I made a promise to my young self to never be like that. You can’t live for something that has already gone. It can live in you, but you can’t live for it. Even still, I find myself reliving the old days and it surprises me. My childhood was not happy. Far from it. Yet there was something about that time. No matter how bad things were, there was a hope that lived in us when we were young. There was this belief that the world was ours to conquer, that we could have any dream we set our mind on. Everything was shiny and new and possible.

Now that we are older, it seems those feelings have been replaced by hard realities. Somehow we forget to believe in possibility even though life is still full of unexpected surprises. When I was depressed about turning forty, I had no idea that at forty-one I would have an unexpected pregnancy and would be shopping for preschools at mid life. There is still so much in the second half of our lives to be discovered and lived, but we don’t approach it with the same wide-eyed wonder. Why not? Has life jaded us so much that we forget all that we have overcome and accomplished, and what we are capable of? We are so busy reflecting back on the old days, when we should be excited about what’s yet to come. There are so many beautiful memories that are yet to be made, things we can’t even imagine now.

Nostalgia does have its place. I am thrilled to be reconnected with my childhood friends. I cherish these bonds and shared memories. But what I am most excited about is building new friendships with them based on the women we are today. We have all weathered some storms, suffered disappointments, and witnessed miracles. We are mothers, grandmothers, burnt out career women, survivors. We come to the table with so much more to share.

Driving home from Vegas in bumper to bumper traffic, I had six hours to ruminate on the experience. The sun was setting magnificently in the sky as we crossed the Nevada state line. I spied other passengers in cars passing us on the highway. Everyone looked dog-tired and downtrodden, driving home hung over and busted-flat broke, no doubt. Vegas will do that to you. But I felt I came home richer.

In my musings, what I came to realize was pretty much the same thing I always come to realize. As with all things, balance is what’s important. I can hold onto my fondness for the past, and keep hope for the future, but I must stay rooted in the present and enjoy every moment of it for the gift that it is.

Because my friends, These are the days….

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


It is now two days after Taylor and Aya’s wedding, and I am in bed with a head cold, which I had been fighting all last week but just didn’t have the time to succumb to. I am happily exhausted. Although not everything went exactly as I had planned, I think overall it was a success. The comment I got from the guests was that it was one of the most beautiful and deeply meaningful weddings they had ever been to. This was a wedding pulled together by a loving community of friends and family, and people could feel that.

I still can’t believe we made a wedding happen with only 20 days to plan. I suppose miracles truly can unfold in the presence of love. By the time the wedding day had rolled around, almost every guest there had contributed something to pull it all together, making it somewhat like an Amish barn raising.

Everywhere you looked you saw the handprint of someone who had put their time and heart into this wedding. Alice’s cake, our floral arrangements,100 white origami cranes that hung from the Oak tree, paper doily heart-messages strung by Darci, cupcakes and ceremony music by Taylor’s friends, Pam’s vintage clothes, quilts and tablecloths, Hayden’s handmade signs, Cristen’s custom Ipod mix that was the soundtrack to the reception- I could go on and on.

It made me realize in this day and age of consumerism, when the average wedding costs over $20,000, how much we lose. No cake in the world could have been more beautiful or tasted better than the one Alice made for Taylor and Aya, because we know how much love went into it. We could have bought 100 white cranes to hang from the trees, but then you wouldn’t have seen the handiwork of 12 friends who gathered, told stories and laughed while awkwardly trying to match Aya’s delicate precision in origami. No DJ would have been as thoughtful as Cristen staying up till 2 am selecting songs she knew her brother would love.

If I had hired a florist and a wedding planner, I would have missed out on all the time I spent staying up late making crafts with my new daughter-in-law, and watching my husband and son build a wedding arch together. I would have missed the sensory experience of shopping the flower mart with Aya and Erin, mad dashes to Costco, Starbucks runs for mid-day fades, joking and laughing while making floral arrangements with Erin, Beth and Cristen, setting the tables with Darci at 11pm, bleary eyed and exhausted but still laughing (after sharing a bottle of good wine). I wouldn’t have traded all that for the world.

I have to give a big shout out here to Mother Nature, for giving us one of the most beautiful, sunny days of the year while the rest of the country was buried under “Snowmageddon”. She also provided just the slightest breeze to make the tall green grass sway, lending a light rustling sound as background music for the vows. I know a lot of my friends were praying, thinking good thoughts, crossing fingers and toes, etc. So thank you one and all. It worked!

All in all, I used what was available to make this happen; Friends, family, creativity, the generosity of my neighbors, and the great outdoors. I suppose we could have spent $20,000 and had a beautiful wedding, aesthetically, but it wouldn’t have the heart of our small but mighty production. This wedding was about friends and family surrounding Taylor and Aya, holding them up as they enter into this new journey together. And isn’t that what love is all about?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No Worries!

No worries, my friends…Things are looking up!

Two days ago, the ten-day weather forecast for L.A. said that is was going to rain on Sunday, meaning our son’s wedding plans would be washed out. Obviously, I worried about that. What mother wouldn’t? Everything would be ruined! But the seven day forecast, as of today, predicts sunshine and 73 degree weather for this weekend! Crisis averted. Hooray!

Next, I sent the literary agent a response, thanking her for taking the time to read my manuscript, reiterating that the book isn’t finished and probably needs another 6 months of editing and rewrites. She sent me such a kind reply. She told me not to worry, she understood that the material was in rough form, and that I could resend it to her whenever it was complete. Crisis averted. The door is still open.

I highlight the word worry above, because that is what I want to blah blah blog about today. I spent a month of sleepless nights and hand-wringing anxiety over something I couldn’t control, when in reality, everything was going to turn out fine, as usual.

I don’t know what’s going on with the alignment of the planets right now (mercury in retrograde, no doubt), but it seems like all my friends are in a deep place of worry and pain, too.

Nine out of ten times, the things we lose sleep worrying about become non-issues down the line. So what causes us (and ladies, you know I’m especially talkin’ to you) to expend so much of our emotional energy on worry? Why do we repeat this crazy useless behavior that never produces the result we want? It’s almost as though we think we can protect ourselves from some terrible fate if we just worry about it enough.

Here’s where I step into the confessional for a moment. I am a recovering self-help junkie. In my basement, there is a closet. In that closet there is a bookshelf, and on those shelves you will find the evidence of my former self-help habit. There are titles like:
When You and Your Mother Can’t Get Along, Healing from Family Rifts, The Dance of Anger, Healing from Anxiety, How to Be Safe in an Unsafe World, Healing Fear, Bradshaw on The Family, I Am My Mother’s Daughter, The Dance of Deception, There Is A Spiritual Solution To Every Problem, The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation…..on and on.

I keep these books in the basement, and not on display, because I don’t need to broadcast my neurosis to everyone who visits my house. (I’d rather save that for my blog.)
And yes, I am aware that there are many titles with the word Mother in them.

Now you would think reading all those books, (in addition to years of therapy) I would have the tools to navigate my way through worry and anxiety. And you know what? I do! But sometimes it’s like I’m sitting there with a nail in my hand and wondering ….what do I do with this? Meanwhile the hammer is sitting on the ground next to me. Tell me if you can relate to this.

Here is what happens:
I wake in the middle of the night with my heart pounding out of my chest, and then I lie there with the same obsessive thoughts running through my mind. Can’t sleep, can’t eat. (okay that’s a lie, I can eat.) It’s like my mind is a runaway train on its own course to destruction.

Here is what I know:
Worry benefits nothing, and no one.
Worrying about the ones you love doesn’t protect them from harm, but it does harm you.
Worry makes you lose sleep, which leads to more stress.
Stress causes illness and strains relationships.

Here are the tools I keep forgetting to use (sometimes I do remember, thankfully):
If I stay in the present I will find that, unless I am hanging from a ledge at that very moment, everything is fine.
My pain is caused by regretting moments in the past that I can not change, or worrying about something in the future that will most likely never happen. Ninety nine percent of the time, my pain is not in this present moment.
When I resist what is, I suffer. Acceptance of what is brings peace.

As I write this, my dog Stitch is asleep next to me, snoring away. As far as I know, he never worries about anything. He doesn’t worry that a pit bull will eat him (although I do), he doesn’t worry that he won’t have enough to eat, and or that one day I will stop loving him. He doesn’t reflect on the fact that he was found abandoned in the middle of a highway before I adopted him. He lives in the moment. And accordingly, he can fall asleep anywhere at any time, and I am terribly jealous of that fact.

So my parting gift to you today, my dear friends, is to subliminally suggest to you this incredibly annoying song from the 80s, that will most likely become stuck in your head all day, and you will be rightfully pissed off at me. But it’s a good message so I’m gonna do it anyway.

...in your life there may be trouble
when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry….. Be happy
Ooooo ooo ooo ooo oo ooo oo oooo
Don’t worry…ooo ooo oooo Be happy
It will soon pass…

Friday, February 5, 2010

Our Family is Growing...

What’s going on with the Dexters? No Christmas letter this year? All these cryptic facebook postings…..I know, I owe everyone a million calls, and I have no excuse really, other than the fact that, well, a LOT has been going on over here.
Aside from my recent Charlie and the Chocolate factory moment gone awry, a few much bigger, life-expanding changes have happened in our family.
First of all, In January Cristen and Rob split. Their careers were pulling them in different directions, and the long distance was too much. It was a shock to everyone, and it’s been very hard for her. But she is a strong girl, and she will love again. (Not that it will be easy to find another tall, handsome, successful guy who dotes on her and cooks, but there’s got to be a few out there… she will find him)
In other news, as many of you know, last year when Taylor toured Japan, he met a beautiful girl named Aya. She was already planning to move to the United States to continue her education, so it was perfect. They fell in love, as young people do, spending every free moment together. Maybe they spent a few too many free moments together, because one night Taylor came to me in tears and said we needed to have a serious talk. And I knew. Aya was pregnant.
I know what many of you are thinking right now. Taylor is so young and has so much promise. This will ruin his life. But look, I am the result of an unwanted teen pregnancy. I haven’t ruined anyone’s life so far (that I know of). I fully understand why some people need to decide otherwise. For years I worked with teens in foster care, with girls who had been working as prostitutes and were now pregnant, on probation, living in a group home. I will always vote pro-choice. But in our situation, I couldn’t see a baby being anything other than a gift. An unexpected, life-changing gift, yes, but when you think about it, aren’t all our greatest gifts unexpected?
For several weeks we lived in an emotional whirlwind while Taylor and Aya decided how they would handle this. We told them we loved them and would support whatever decision they made, but if they decided to keep this baby they could live here with us. We would help them raise the baby while they stayed in school and continued pursuing their dreams. Eventually this is what they decided to do.
In November, Aya moved in, and we have all been living as one big, happy, multi-cultural family. She had her first American Thanksgiving and Christmas with us, and we are learning to speak Japanese. Some nights I cook dinner, some nights she does. She absolutely loves Evan. She spends time teaching him Japanese, plays with him, bathes him and feeds him. I can tell she is going to be a great mother.
Aya's due date is June 17th. She wants to stay home with the baby, at least in the beginning, but in doing so she will lose her student Visa and could be sent back to Japan. She's got to have a green card to stay here legally, so....we had three weeks to plan a wedding. If I pull this off well, I should be awarded some type of Mom Superhero name...I'll leave it up to all of you to decide.
Taylor and Aya were engaged on Christmas Eve, and will be married next Sunday, on Valentine’s Day. They will say their vows up on the mountain behind our home. The same person who married us will be performing the ceremony. We figured that was good luck. After all, Troy and I worked out pretty well.
As John Lennon said, life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. Don’t we know it! None of us were prepared for this, that’s for sure. But hello….the moment is here. So we roll our sleeves up and we say YES to it. We pull together as a family and lift up this young marriage, supporting them through the challenges that every new couple faces.
I'm not saying it will be easy, but through all these changes and upheaval, there is one thing I am absolutely certain of. This little baby will be surrounded with family and love and laughter. Those are things that have never been, and will never be, in short supply around here.
Now, cross your fingers everyone, and chant with me….NO RAIN on Valentine’s Day!!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fear and Loathing

One of my greatest fears is the fear of rejection, so why then, have I chosen the arts as my life path? I was a child actress, then a singer/songwriter, and now a writer. Doh! (Insert image of me slapping my forehead). Rejection is a daily part of life in those careers. I guess you could just call me a glutton for punishment.

Go ahead….say it.

Even when I worked in the corporate world, I was in sales. I worked on commission, had to do cold calls, the whole deal. Why couldn’t I have chosen a nice cozy stable career? Wait. Let me just fantasize about that for a minute. What would it be like if I didn’t have to worry every day whether I was good enough, if I’d ever work again, or if I’d even get paid? Funny, I can’t even conjure up the fantasy of anything different.

Fear of abandonment is my fatal flaw. It threatens to annihilate me, like that one location on the Death Star, where Luke set his missiles and he brings the whole thing down….Okay, I am also a Star Wars geek. One of my favorite quotes from Star Wars that I try to live by is:

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

Pretty awesome, huh? I'm trying to be more Yoda-like these days.

But back to the fear issue. I repeatedly put myself in a position where I am subject to being rejected, and being rejected feels like abandonment by the pack. Let’s face it, we humans are pack animals. Acceptance is crucial to survival. Loners get weird and become outcasts of society, like the Unibomber- or writers.

Maybe I repeat this pathological behavior for the same reason that people go skydiving or bungee jumping. Perhaps it’s what compels people to risk their lives and lose fingers and toes to frostbite climbing Mount Everest. I think that just maybe its because we want to feel that we are bigger than the fear we carry.

Right now, I don’t know that I am. I feel dwarfed by my fear. It stands over me like a big fat bully, threatening to sit on me and squash all the hope out of my very being. (flashing back on a moment from 6th grade where that actually happened. If you’re out there Lewis Seiden, I have not forgotten, and I will be avenged.)

So, in moving on from my terrible disappointment yesterday, I don’t know exactly what direction to head in, but I will try to be bigger than my fear. I will throw my arms wide open and take what comes.

I am embracing uncertainty, because it’s the only thing I know for sure.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I took a crushing blow today.

And what really sucks is that it never even needed to happen. Here I was minding my own business, writing my heart out these last five years for no reason other than to maintain my sanity, and then … a month ago I get this email.

It’s an email address I don’t recognize but I open it anyway, and lo and behold, it is from a literary agent in New York City. I had never sent my work out to any agents or publishers before, but through a synchronistic series of events, she ended up with a few chapters of my book, read it, and loved it. She asked if I would send her 50 more pages.

Suddenly I was Charlie with the golden ticket. It is almost impossible to get your foot in the door of one of these agencies, but in this case it was as though all the planets aligned and the doors magically opened themselves. It was surely meant to be, right?

After I finished running around the house screaming, I got straight to work. I had to respond in just the right way. Not too familiar, not too formal. Act professional, but not too casual. Oh and choose your strongest fifty pages, edit like crazy, and get it sent over while you are still fresh on her mind.

It took me two days and sleepless nights of rewrites, hand-wringing, pacing, sending it out to friends a family and hounding them for feedback, until I finally sent it.

Then I waited. FOUR WEEKS I waited. It was torture. On the bright side, if there was one, it really gave me an opportunity to examine the depths of my neurosis and insecurity. I had extensive dialogue with my inner critic.

Inner Critic: You blew it. She’s gonna hate it.

Me: Her email said that she loved what she had read, and was compelled to write me. Compelled. That’s a strong word, right?

Inner critic: Ugh... She’ll hate it.

Me: But she said…..

Inner critic: You will die homeless and penniless as a result of your horrible writing.

You get the idea. I laid awake nights listening to that awful voice ranting. I got up in the morning and ran on the treadmill, trying to outrun that voice. It didn’t work. (I did lose a couple pounds though.)

This morning I opened my email account, and there it is, the agent’s email address bolded, shining and golden, waiting to be opened. The subject line read “Memoir”. I closed my eyes and said a prayer. Whatever happens, I accept it as being for my highest good. I took a deep breath, and clicked it open.

It was a lovely, compassionate rejection letter.

BUT- she did say she knew this was a rough draft and she'd be open to reading it when it was complete.

I tried not to get my hopes up too high. I really did. But come on…it was impossible. You wanna know the truth? Secretly I banked my whole future on this. My music career has dwindled away to almost nothing. For the past year I have struggled inwardly with how to reinvent myself and where to invest all my creative energy. I have always written since I was a kid. This was what I was supposed to be doing all my life.

When I broke the news to my family and close friends, I did my best to keep my chin up. Everything happens for a reason, I said. But the truth is, I am heartbroken. It’s not just my manuscript that she rejected, it is my life story. It is me. Oh and that Inner critic bitch? Boy oh boy is she having a great time rubbing my face in it.

So what now? Get back on the horse. Yeah, I know, I know….But I can’t stop asking myself why this happened? Why did that agent have to drop into my Universe, open the door, and then slam it shut? And why oh why does life have to slap you upside the head every time it wants to teach you something?