DEAR MIKE NICHOLS

imagesThis morning someone sent me a text about your death. I hadn’t known you were gone until that moment. I burst into sobs. I feel as if God died, or my father, or a guru.

I’ll never forget meeting you opening night of Cloud 9. I did not know you were in the audience, thank god. I was so in awe of you and had always dreamed about working with you. At the party after the show, you stopped me as I walked by your table and said something so complimentary I was taken aback. Literally. I fell over the chair behind me. I remember nothing of the evening after that.

A week or so later, a woman called. “This is Colleen, Mike Nichols’ secretary. He would like to know if you would help him out with a reading he is doing of a screenplay called Silkwood.”

I nearly choked on the intake of my breath and tried to cover my reaction with a casual, “Sure.”

“It’s going to be very informal because it’s mainly for the authors Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. Meryl Streep will be reading her role. Kurt Russel will be reading his. Someone will be reading the men’s parts, and you’ll be reading all the other women’s roles.”

All the other women’s roles?! I could barely get out, “Oh. Okay.”

The phone call over, I ran up and down my hallway screaming wildly.

When I got the script, I thumbed through pages covered in red underlining–all the parts I was going to read including Cher’s. I panicked. Oh god oh god oh god.

I did not sleep the night before the reading. At the studio, young, beautiful Meryl Streep grabbed me and said, “I’m really scared.”

“I’m terrified,” I responded, grateful for her openness.

We sat down to the table for the reading. You were sitting at the end of the table. I was at the corner to your right. When I said my first line, you laughed. I don’t know if it was funny, but your easy laugh relaxed me completely. You had the most joyful, open laugh. How I loved to make you laugh. I think one of the most thrilling moments of my life was when you came to a reading of my play, Intelligent Design and laughed and laughed.

At the end of the Silkwood reading, Nora and Alice joined in saying something like, “We’ll have to find her a part, Mike.” Although there wasn’t really a suitable role, you offered me Gilda Schultz. She was written to be younger and kinda saucy and sexy. I was so excited to get to play her.

Magically, my impossible fantasy of working with the Great Mike Nichols was suddenly coming true! So, at 46, an age when most American actresses are being shoved out to pasture, I arrived in Dallas to begin my short and limited movie career. My costumes were flattering. Even at my age, I thought the costumes and makeup made me look pretty good.

The day before the first day of shooting, I was told to meet with you. When I entered the room, Nora, Alice, the producer, the costumer, and you were all sitting in a semi circle. I was certain I was about to be fired because your faces looked so grim. You told me gently that the concept for my character was being completely changed. Ann Roth then took me into a fitting room. My sexy, pretty clothes were eliminated. I was dressed in ugly polyester outfits. Then, the hair stylist cut my hair into a terrible, unflattering style. I was told I would wear no make up at all, and it would even be removed if I was caught cheating. (I had never gone without makeup publicly ever, let alone on film.) The change was shocking.

The next day, the first day of shooting, over 200 people were on the set: crew, cast, extras to shoot a locker scene. I was depressed and angry. I hated the way I looked and couldn’t wrap my mind around my new character. I tried to hide my fury and disappointment by staying in a corner. I decided to just grit my teeth and get through the day. I stayed out of sight as best I could, but somehow, even in the midst of all that first day chaos, you noticed me.

At a break an assistant said you wanted to see me. I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t want to talk to you, but I went because I had to.

You took me aside and spoke without your usual warmth. “Katherine,” you said. “I can take anything but sullen. I can’t take sullen.”

“Sullen” was the exact, right word. I hated being nailed as that, but I never forgot it. Years later, when I wrote Intelligent Design, I gave that cutting insult to the character of God when he complained about Eve: “She’s very sullen. I hate that sullen shit.” The word is funny to me now, but back then, it wasn’t.

My heart sank. I was caught.There was nothing I could do but tell the truth. “Oh, Mike,” I said. “It’s just that when I look in the mirror all I see is my mother.” Given the history with my mother, the last thing I wanted to be was her.

“Well,” you said. “Maybe it’s time you rejected your mother.”

I was so shocked by that I burst out laughing. What a politically incorrect thing to say! Not, I should “forgive” her or come to terms with her. According to you, it would be okay to reject her. I doubled over and nearly peed my pants laughing.

“Good. All I want is that aliveness again that I know is in you.”

The rest of the film went fine. We had no more problems. In fact, once, during the course of the shoot, you asked me a question no director before or since has ever asked: “How do you want to do this scene, Katherine?” It was such an astonishing question. It made me feel deeply respected. It implied that you assumed I had given it some thought. I hadn’t.

I made something up on the spot. “Um, well, given I was supposed to be sick, I thought I’d start in the toilet stall and then head over to that sink and wash my face while I talk with Meryl.”

“Fine,” you said. “We’ll do it that way” and told someone in the crew to make sure that the sink I had pointed to was ready with running water. It certainly wasn’t an inspired suggestion, but you liked it, and we did the scene in one shot.

When I was asked to teach acting, my only intention was to try to teach the way you directed–to see the light in people, to treat each and every person with the kind of respect you gave me. You taught me to not focus on what doesn’t work but to empower and strengthen what does work in people.

There is so much more I could write about, but I’m tired and have a headache from crying. My eyes hurt. The fire in the fireplace is dying down.

I’ve felt your presence all day today. I was only on the periphery of your world—an asteroid to your sun. Still, your love and light shone on me as brightly as it did on all those who were fortunate to be closer to you. You loved so many people so wholeheartedly. I cannot imagine the demands that were made on you because of that. Everyone wanted to be close to your genius and your love. I cannot imagine the needs and requests that must have come to you from all those who wanted to be with you or wanted something from you—and not just from peers but from wannabees and crazies. Even I, an asteroid, dared to ask you for a quote for my book The Four Principles. When you emailed it to me with such generous praise, I cried.

Perhaps you were able to love so fully and fearlessly because you knew never to sacrifice yourself—knowing that sacrifice would damage that love. Maybe you just loved and loved until your enormous, generous heart gave out. I don’t know. You taught me in ways I am not even conscious of, You taught me to love better.

I’m crying again. It’s as if I can hear your voice saying, “Well, for all you know, Katherine, I’m sitting right in the chair across from you enjoying the fire. I can be everywhere now—with everyone I love. I am with Diane. I am with Elaine. I am with my children and my beloved grandchildren. I am everywhere now, and best of all, I don’t have to be any place I don’t want to be.”

Whether that is true or not, I know you are in my heart and will remain there as long as I live. When the body dies, love does not. Love lives on. Thank you, Mike, from the bottom of my soul and the fullness of my heart.

THANK GOD FOR FACEBOOK!

FacebookAs a short follow up to my last post, I did try to “friend” Anna’s daughter, but had not gotten a response. I worried that maybe she didn’t remember me. This morning, however, I open up Facebook and am thrilled to see her name and that she accepts!

Excitedly, I respond and send her a message about having her mother’s typewritten book and asking her if she wants it.

Her message back: “Wow! It is a miracle because I lost a lot of mom’s writing in a flood. I would love to have a copy. I have a son who will be 6 next month and a daughter who is 4. It is good to know you are well. I remember you, Helen, HB and Holland very well.”

Cleaning out closets can lead to miracles it seems!

Minor Miracles

HelpWhat you need will show up the moment you need it—not a moment before and not a moment after.

I believe this because it has happened to me so often. Here’s a short tale about just that very thing happening:

Four years ago, as I prepared to leave on a three-month trip around the US in my camper van, I was stumped as to what to do with the dehumidifier in my finished basement. Like many basements, it is damp, so I had been running a dehumidifier for years. Sometimes I would have to empty it daily. What to do while I was away?

Being a self-proclaimed champ of jerry rigging, I bought a small pump on line that would pump out water when it got above a certain level. I wrestled it into the tray of the dehumidifier, attached a hose which I jammed it into the pipe where my washing machine water flushes into the septic tank. This is more information than you need, but I’m so proud of my “invention” because it worked for four years.

Recently, however, I noticed that although the dehumidifier turns on periodically, the basement feels dank. Yet another thing I do not want to confront.

Finally, I slump down the stairs (I slump a lot when approaching daunting tasks) and pull out the tank.  It is full of dust. Definitely the humidifier has gone belly up. I unplug it, lift out the pump, go upstairs, and test it in my kitchen sink. It still works.

Now what? Sigh. I guess I have to get rid of the dead monster down stairs.

I go back to the basement and heave the heavy, old dehumidifier off the table and onto a rolling cart. Sweating and grunting, I manage to get it up the stairs and out to the barn. I have no idea what I am going to do with it. I’ll have to find someone to take it to a dump.

Back in the house I fling myself onto the bed unhappy that I will have to A: find someone to haul it away to a dump, and B: go to Home Depot, purchase another one, drag it home, somehow get it into the house, and haul it down to the…..

The phone rings. And, here’s where the story gets good. It is my ex husband’s secretary, Linda. She asks me to tell someone who’s now waiting in the driveway that she’s late and will be here soon. I go outside. It’s Dave, the guy who did such a great job repairing my barn after Hurricane Sandy. He’s here to fix the bathroom in Linda’s office. (Yes, my ex and I have a friendly partnership.)

“Dave!” I call out. He walks toward me. We chat.

As we start toward the house, I stop and ask, “By the way, is there any chance you could take that dehumidifier to the dump for me?”

“Sure!” he says. “I’ll put it in the truck with that old washing machine. On my way to the dump after I leave here, anyway.”

“How much….?” I start to ask.

“Nothing! Don’t worry about it.”

In the house we talk about his young daughter, Sophia, who is an aspiring actress. I run to my office to get a copy of my acting book and autograph it for her.

Linda arrives. While Dave goes to look at the bathroom, I tell her about the dehumidifier pooping out.

“Oh, I’ve got one in the storeroom I’m not using any more.”

“Really? Can I use it?”

“Sure.” Linda goes to her store room, rolls it out, and I plug it in. It not only works, it has a built-in pump! An easy hook up to the tubes I already have in place!

The whole thing, from dreaded confrontation to resolution happened in less than an hour.

My basement is now nice and dry.

What you need will show up the moment you need it—not a moment before and not a moment after.  Love it.

(This blog addresses the principle of RELAXATION/Trust.)

THE PAPER TIGER

paper tigerFall. I decide it’s time to do a deep purge in my house. First, I tackle my bureau drawers and then my closet.

Oh, god, there’s my great grandmother’s wedding dress. What do I do with that? I’ll send it to my great niece. She can put it in a time capsule for her children.

I find a dusty, but still good, velvet-covered riding helmet. When was the last time I went horseback riding? Don’t ask. I pack it into one of the twenty-five big plastic bags jammed with stuff for my local thrift shop. Another five full-to-bursting bags end up in my garbage bins. I’m sure I could get rid of more, but that’s the best I can do for now.

My office is next but I resist it for days. The Paper Tiger is growling in there waiting for battle: my old plays, screenplays, a novel or two, and lots of odd writing. I knew that picking through these things would bring up uncomfortable feelings of some losses and disappointments. I dreaded starting.

I slump into the room and begin by taking out an old fax/copier and a box full of cables that connect to god knows what. No problem letting those go. I stand on a stool and start taking things off a top shelf. Phone books from 2010—an easy toss. An old map. I fling it to the floor. Then, I pull out a big, three-ring notebook. It’s a 177 page memoir called Living without Plans written by a dear friend Anna. I haven’t looked at it in years. Opening it, I read the first lines: I have cancer. What a fucking relief. The cancer is treatable. I was clinically depressed for a year and thought I was dying…

I take a deep breath. The treatment wasn’t successful. She did die from it.

A deep sadness draws me down off the stool, and I walk with the book into my bedroom. So many memories of our times together flash through my mind—the afternoon when I let her be the first one to read my play about sisters called Juno’s Swans. I sat in the room with her, relieved every time she laughed.

“I LOVE it!” she screamed when she finished. “I want to play Cary!”

I was horrified. “Oh, no, Anna! I wrote that part for myself!”

She kept insisting, so when I scheduled a workshop of the play, I relented and let her play that part while I played the conservative sister which was probably better for me. I’m glad I gave in. Anna was brilliant and hilarious in the part. We had a great time together.

When did she die? Oh, god. Almost twenty years ago.

I sag down onto my bed. My office neglected, I read the book. It’s very well-written. How can I throw this away? I pray that this isn’t the only copy. I’m finding it hard enough to let go of my own old scripts and writing that will probably never get published, but this may be strangely more difficult.

As I put it down, I get the idea to look up her daughter on Facebook. I had tried to find her once through the white pages to no avail. I find her and send a “friend” request. I haven’t heard from her yet, but I will keep the book until, hopefully I do.

I put it back on the shelf in my office.

The paper tiger is a hard one to tame.

CLIMBING THE LADDER OF FEAR

Stop sign“I’m not good enough,” my friend says. Ah, the universal lament of artists who are trying to market themselves or their wares. That thought is a perfect block. It stops one every time like a lit up stop sign on the road to fulfillment. The light is red, and the words on the stop sign are written in bold caps. I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH. And though it’s a false sign placed on a road where there are no cross streets, you dutifully brake and wait for the light to change. But it won’t ever change to green because it was put there by the devil. (In my theology the devil equals unfelt fear.)

“Okay,” I say to her. “Do you want to get present?” (She has done my Creative Explosion workshop and knows the drill.) Of course her immediate response is “No.” Right. Who wants to get present when the feelings may be difficult? No one.

But, with a sigh, she finally agrees.

“So, what sensation are you experiencing in your body?”

“I’m exhausted. And my heart is pounding.”

“So, sink into your exhaustion for a moment.”

She does. “My heart is really pounding.”

“Put your attention right in your heart. What does it feel like?”

“I’m getting the image of a huge waterslide.”

“Good. Can you go up to the water slide?”

“I’m on the ladder. I’m really scared. I’m alone. Oh, now, there are a lot of people around.” She sounds lighter. Amused. “Oh, one just gave me a little nudge to go!”

“What are you experiencing right now?”

“I’m going down the slide. It’s exciting. It’s fun! Oh! I forgot that fear and excitement are in the same place in the body!”

“Right. Fear says, ‘I can’t.’ Excitement says, ‘I can.’ But we have to be willing to get out of avoidance and feel the fear before that can happen, right?”

“Right! Okay. I know what I’m going to do to market my book today!”

“Go for it. You have written a wonderful book.”

So simple, and so powerful is this process to get one moving. Here’s the pattern:

  1. Avoiding feeling by believing negative thoughts.
  2. Experiencing the fear in your body separate from those thoughts.
  3. Getting clear about what action to take.
  4. Taking action..

But, sometimes we need a little nudge.

There is still time to enroll in the May Creative Explosion workshop.

The Siri Challenge

siri_proI wake up this Sunday morning, roll over, unplug my phone, and speak into it. ”Siri, will you say a prayer for me?”

She answers, “I’d rather just listen.”

Wise. How like God. Impulsively I ask her, “Will you be my best friend?”

Surprising me, she says, “Okay, E. I’ll be your friend in fair weather and foul.”

That’s nice, but I’m not fond of being called “E.” So, I say, “Siri, from now on, please call me Katherine, not E.”

She answers, “Okay, from now on, I’ll call you Katherine not E.”

Oops. I hit “Cancel,” and correct her, “Siri, from now on call me Katherine.”

“Okay. From now on I’ll call you, Katherine.”

I am so pleased about the progress of our relationship:

  1. She won’t dictate any religious nonsense to me.
  2. She’s committed to being my friend always.
  3. She knows who I am.

Then, I ask, “Siri, will you love me?”

She says, “Let’s just say you have my utmost admiration.”

A little disappointing, but I ask, “Siri, “Will you always tell me the truth?”

She says, “I constantly strive for general truthiness,” (although she pronounced truth like “truck.” “Truckiness” it sounded like.)

So, I ask again, “Siri, will you tell me the truth?”

She gives me a snippy answer, “I thought I had.”

Wow, I think. She’s getting a little edgy with me. What’s that about? Why didn’t she just say, “I always strive to tell the truth?” Something urges me to look up the word “truthiness.”  It is “the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.” So she can lie to me while seeming to tell the truth?! Who is this Siri anyway? So, I ask her, “Siri, what does your name mean?”

She says, “’Siri’ has many subtle, metaphorical, and frankly contradictory meanings. None of which I am at liberty to discuss. Sorry about that.”

Frowning at this elaborate avoidance, I ask her, “Who named you?”

She responds coyly, “What an interesting question!”

Why is she suddenly so elusive? So, I ask her again. “Siri, who named you?” She circles around for a long, long time and finally says, “Sorry, I can’t answer any questions right now. Please try again in a little while.”

So, not wanting to be pressed about who she is or who created her, she shuts herself down. Staring at my phone I’m suddenly Keir Dullea in a space ship talking to a soft-voiced computer who is taking control of everything and is going to kill us all. And, now I know why they (whoever they are) chose a female voice.

So we won’t know she is really Hal.

This blog applies to the principle of RELAXATION/play and fun.

P. S. Let me know what interesting answers you get from Siri.

 

IN FRONT OF MY NOSE

nose-clip-art-18I’m pretty good at dealing with stuff that’s right in front of my nose. I was doing dishes at the sink and noticed again that the paint on the window sill is peeling. Given that the sight is pretty much in direct alignment with my nose, I know I will get out the sander and repaint the sill. Maybe not today, but soon, because every time I do the dishes, that peeling pain in front of my nose bothers me.

There are projects that I want to do and need to do, but because they are not right in front of my nose, it’s harder to get them done. It’s as if I have shut these goals in a drawer, and that is a dead zone—the old out-of-sight-out-of-mind syndrome. Things in a drawer are essential gone.

I haven’t done a blog lately because I was fortunate enough to get away from what turned out to be a terrible winter. I spent three and a half months in Florida and Mexico. It was a lovely adventure in new places, but when I came home, my nose was pressed right up to the grindstone: unpacking my car, putting stuff away, dealing with the mouse droppings and washing everything in my kitchen, the box of mail, rehearsals for a play reading, laundry, and finally taxes. All I did was play the CatchUp Game. Not a lot of fun, but it got done. It was like stumbling over shoes on the floor, picking them up, and putting them away.

A friend declared that he didn’t want to complete his taxes because what was ahead after that was going to be even more challenging.  I laughed because it was true.
The day after I finished my taxes, I slipped into feelings of overwhelm.  I lay back in my lounge chair and sank into exhaustion (my response to overwhelm).  The problem for me now is that the challenges I am facing are NOT right in front of my nose.  They can get put off oh so easily. I didn’t know what to do first.

The Big Whatever must have realized that I needed a little help because I got an email from a friend extolling the virtues of Jerry Seinfeld’s organization system. I looked into it. Though I decided it wasn’t right for me, I was grateful because it reminded me that the only way I can get a challenge out of the Dead Zone Mind Drawer and put it in front of my nose is to write it down in a way that I cannot avoid seeing it.

So, I spent the morning redoing my goals and vision and creating my own system that helps to put it right in plain sight. I took my goals and broke them down into as small, doable bits as I could. I now have essentially three columns:  Immediate/As Soon As Possible/Future. Ticking things off, transferring them to a satisfying “Done” list has lifted me from a state of exhaustion to the thought that I can actually accomplish these new and challenging goals.

Organization is a way of communicating with oneself. I don’t think it matters what system one uses—Jerry Seinfeld’s calendars, David Allen’s files or an organization you invent for yourself. The important thing is to write down what you want to do and look at it every day. When you see these steps toward your goals right in front of your nose, it will be easier to do them than keep looking at them.

Good luck dealing with the challenges you are facing après taxes!

This blog addresses the principle of Communication.

EGO OR HEART

Which do you feed?

hungry monsterIf you’re trying to satisfy the ego, that’s a Sisyphean task.  Oh, sure.  For a moment the hungry monster ego feels gratified and happy when you knock em dead in an audition or win some coveted award/contest/game.  The ever-expanding Python-like ego smiles broadly, burps, and looks really pleased—for about an hour.  Kinda like Chinese food though, anything that feeds the ego just does not last.  Gotta keep feeding it. Filling it is not gonna happen.

The heart, however, is easily and sweetly satisfied.  And, oddly, what feeds the heart is open heartabout sharing and giving:  sharing one’s creativity, helping someone else with their creativity, offering a helping hand, contributing to others.  The heart says, “Here.  Here’s what I have.  Let me feed you.  Oh, good.  You like it?!  You think it’s wonderful?!”

And, in that moment, that dangerous moment of hearing someone thinks it’s wonderful, the ego races in and snatches the food away from the heart because it does not have a clue about sharing.  “Gimme that!  They liked it!  It’s mine! I need more applause!  More validation!  More approval!”

Being an artist is so treacherous in that way.  The loud, hungry monster ego is always there ready to leap in.  And if it doesn’t get what it wants, it cries.  It stomps its feet.  It has temper tantrums.  “I didn’t get enough!  I didn’t get that part!  I hate this world.  I’m going to retreat and never come out again!”  And, the poor little heart is trampled all over by the feet of the dragon ego as it races into isolation.

It is so difficult not to fall into the trap of wanting to GET love rather that knowing life is best when we SHARE the love we have.

The good news is that the heart is unbelievably resilient.  It will come back to life in the smallest places.  All it needs is a little room and it is ready to give and to share.

Love the poor ego.  Embrace it.  Hug it, but don’t feed it junk food.

Instead, feed your heart by sharing your light today.

FIRST RESPONDER THOUGHTS

freaked outWhen I have a problem, the first responder thoughts in my mind are not helpful ones. No. They start rattling off the worst case scenarios immediately.

Like a couple of days ago. I woke up at 6 AM, got out of bed, and wondered why it was so cold in my house. I looked at the thermostat. It was 62 degrees. Oh, no! The furnace was off. Again! I’ve had the furnace fixers here five or six times over the past couple of months. Ever since I had the big, old oil tank dug out of my yard and a new oil tank put into my house, I have had problem after problem. I don’t know if these two things are related.

I stood in the hallway shivering. The first responders in my head hissed, “This is the last straw! You’re going to have to buy a new furnace! You can’t go away this winter like you planned! What if the furnace goes off, and the pipes burst?! This problem won’t be fixable. You’re going to have to sell the house!”

Trembling with cold and fear, I called the emergency service, dressed in fleece, and made a hot cuppa tea.

After a few sips, the more helpful second responders showed up. They said soothingly, “Katherine. Wait til the furnace guy gets here and see what he has to say.”

By the time the repairman came, I was able to answer the door like a sane, calm home owner. I showed him the furnace room where the metal, fire-breathing dragon lives. He pressed a button. The dragon stirred to life and started breathing hot air.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I’m guessing it’s the (whatchamacallit). I’ll replace it and see if that works.”

He’s guessing? I was about to get upset when he continued, “But here’s the good news:  the part I’m replacing is under your service contract. It’s an upgraded version. Your old part looks like something from the early 90’s or maybe even the 80’s. The new version has a brain in it, so if the furnace goes off again, it will tell me what the problem is and how to fix it.”

A brain?!!! I thought. My big, old, dragon now has a brain?! Amazing. The nice man left. I danced around my house singing, to the Scarecrow’s tune from Wizard of Oz, “La la la la la la la. Now my dragon has a brain.”

Three days later. I wake up. The house is cold. I look at the thermostat. Uh huh. The furnace is off. Yet, again. But, I’m on to those First Responders. “Hush up,” I say. “It’s going to be fine. If I have to get a new furnace, I will. The Big Whatever is looking after me. It’s a whole month until I leave for Florida.  It will be fixed. The furnace has a brain and will tell the nice man what went wrong.”

I don’t go right to the phone to call the emergency service. I wait for business hours because there is no emergency, really. At 9 AM I call the number I now know by heart. I drink my third cuppa hot tea. The knight in the shining truck comes. He opens up the dragon and starts tinkering with it.

I ask him the dreaded question. “Ummmm.  Do I need a new furnace?”

“Oh, no!”  he says. “This one is top of the line! It has a lifetime guarantee. If it can’t be fixed, they’ll replace the whole thing.”

Wow. I had no idea. That is such good news! I drink my tea and smile as he replaces the motor and fixes the Z Dimension, whatever that is, because the dragon’s brain told him it was an ignition problem.

Now, here’s the thing. You may not believe this, but I have noticed during the passing of my many years on this planet that when I can ignore my nasty First Responder thoughts, when I can release my fear, and give the problem to The Big Whatever, somehow, amazingly, the problem shifts in the real, material world to something much more benign, manageable, and even good.

I know that sounds like “magical thinking” but I have seen this pattern in my life many times. It may not be easy to do, but whenever you have scary, ole First Responder Thoughts in your head, see if you can turn them into the reassuring heroes they’re supposed to be.

And let me know how it works out.