My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have perhaps six months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Rush Forward Slowly

I visited Filoli Gardens with friends recently -- and found myriad secrets within the arbors, the blossoms, the gates leading from one green room to another.  At one point, I stood in an extraordinary exterior doorway of carved oak and mahogany from the nineteenth century.  Above my head was an inset stone plaque, inscribed with the words "Avanza lentamente," which roughly translates to "Rush forward slowly."  What lay beyond these words?  Hedges and blue irises, yew trees and camelias with heads as large as cabbages, trails and jewel-like swimming pools, lush terraces and life itself.

I find myself hungering for every small miracle I find -- not wanting to miss the beauty that invests itself in each adventure I undertake.  I'm constantly rushing forward slowly -- embarking with great energy on the next outing, while expecting to be halted by the transformative, the awe-inspiring, the new.  To make such discoveries among friends I love -- well, this transforms the garden surrounding me into a personal Eden, one I don't wish to leave.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

To Welcome Company, to Embrace Seclusion

"In order to write about life, first you must live it." -- Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway often spoke about the tension between art and life -- and the fact that there is a contest between the two for the serious writer.  If a writer retreats into seclusion for too long a period of time, the work becomes limited, self-referential, irrelevant.  And if a writer gives way to too much "living" -- too much travel, experience, adventure -- there isn't time for deep reflection, for revelation, for the quiet in which the best creative insight can occur.

So, the artist must try to do both -- to do and to be -- to welcome company and to embrace seclusion -- to accept the conflict between art and life if any of the mysterious alchemy of creation is to occur.  In the best of circumstances, the writer invests the work with life, emotion, vibrancy, transformation -- and the work returns to the writer more life, emotion, vibrancy, transformation.  The creator and the creation offer breath and sustenance to one another in a miraculous circuit -- an electric current -- that brings energy and renewal to everyone who approaches it.

How does this happen?  How can life and art join together to become something greater than the sum of separate parts?  It's a mystery.  And like all enigmas, it wants to be allowed its sacred space.  The tension between art and life continues -- in a dance, a dialog, a passionate affair -- that is sustaining and enlivening to both of them.  And this writer lives with one foot in both worlds -- that of the adventurer and that of the recluse -- until the work is done.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bending the Universe

A friend of mine recently slipped a surprise into my suitcase:  a letter I had written to him two years ago.  In it, I had told him that, while I realized he was already a great success in his career, I sensed his dream for himself involved something greater -- a new venture that he himself could own, a business he could nurture and grow to full fruition.  Today, that dream has been realized -- to the extent that my friend feels he is engaged with his destined life's path for the first time.  Given that I see his robust fulfillment frequently, it's strange to look back to a time when his entrepreneurship was a mere hunch I expressed in writing -- a recognition of his true potential -- a belief.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, used to speak often about "bending the universe" to his will.  He had a conviction that he could create the impossible with the right friends and sufficient belief.

And when the impossible has happened for me?  When the Oscar-winning producers have signed onto my current project?  When the agents have lined up to offer their support?  These events have always begun with belief, creativity and generous support from my friends.

I always like to pay forward such good fortune -- to bring my friends along with me on my outsized adventures, and to support them with dreams of their own.  It's a mysterious alchemy that allows our secret hopes to take shape in the real world.  There's a deep well of fulfillment in realizing our own dreams -- and there's an overflowing sense of joy in tangibly supporting our friends' hopes, too.

The universe truly can be "bent" to our will, it turns out.  When we understand this as the truth, all dreams become nearer to us, all ambitions live within our reach.

The German philosopher, Goethe, wrote, "Whatever you can do -- or dream you can -- begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

It's a delight to discover how right he was.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Laughter List: Adventure, Mischief, Good Friends

A few things inspire laughter in me -- a gentle, joyful waterfall of laughter I'm not conscious of creating until I hear it.  And it strikes me that our days should contain much more of this "living large," in which vibrant surprise, awakened senses, and pure delight rule over everything else.  So, what makes me laugh?

I've been contemplating my list: cantering on horseback, skiing fast in fresh powder, sailing with a 45 degree heel, dancing a dramatic tango in which smiling is forbidden, feeding a hummingbird nectar from the palm of my hand, hearing a little girl ask me if I'm a real princess while she adjusts her rhinestone tiara, being photographed by strangers while trying on evening gowns in a boutique -- because they're certain I'm "somebody," seeing a little boy stick his tongue out at me from a sense of sheer mischief, hearing Debussy's Clair de Lune the way my mother used to play it, swimming in the ocean at night, dancing to the best of rock and roll, entering a party of artists, writers and filmmakers -- where the joking is non-stop, giving or receiving a standing ovation, running into friends unexpectedly and abandoning my plans for the afternoon in order to share coffee with them, catching the very instant of sunset over the ocean, when the flame of the day surrenders.

There's more.  Much more.  Because laughter arises when the cup of one's life is so filled with adventure, it overflows its brim -- abundant, surprising, bold, artistic, true.  Each day when I awake, the cup fills itself again.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bright Lights

To bring a great play to the stage requires the best of courage and creativity combined.  On Saturday night, I had the privilege of celebrating the remarkable work of Carey Perloff, the longtime Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theater.  Tom Stoppard traveled from London to lend his appreciation for the remarkable acts of faith and perseverance that Carey has undertaken in the name of great art over the years.  We joined together with scores of bright creative lights at The Four Seasons in San Francisco to share champagne, dinner and dancing.  A fantastic night -- with laughter, gratitude, artistic passion, camaraderie, renewed ambitions -- and courage abounding.  My kind of celebration.

If you haven't already seen it, try to catch Carey's theatrical adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is currently touring around the country -- and will return to the Bay Area for two weeks in July.  I had the privilege of witnessing this work in various stages of development -- and what I can tell you is that it was thrilling to see Carey bring together musical, literary, visual and performing talents in one room to facilitate the creation of this extraordinary production.  The resulting play is evocative, resonant, moving, transformative, inspired.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Hypnotist

It's fascinating to me to perceive the extent to which an artist's relationship to the work conveys itself to the audience.  When imagining my characters' lives, I try intuitively to feel them, see them, witness them up close.  As with all lives, their experience reaches me in eminently subjective ways.  And great art, I would argue, thrives with a measure of uncontained subjectivity.

Van Gogh didn't paint a vase of sunflowers so much as he painted a vase containing the beauty that informed, enriched and redeemed his life -- a sort of euphoric view of those outsized blossoms, splashing the canvas in pieces of amber and gold and the hope the carried him forward in 1888.

How do I imagine the lives of my characters fully?  With my current novel, I listen to music that parallels the narrative -- I read literature that lays bare the elements of transformation -- and when I'm working in my library, I burn candles scented like honeysuckle and the sea.  The process feels a bit like meditation or even self-hypnosis.  If I manage to open a door to the fictional world, I can slip through it into a fully-realized universe of my characters' days.  Then, I'm just writing down what unfolds, rather miraculously, in front of me.  It's similar to what athletes refer to as "flow," an effortless engagement with the art, a day of creation that feels as fluid and seamless as breathing.

Later, when I meet with my professional writers' group to hear their impressions, I'm immensely pleased when they feel the same magic I felt while I was writing the words.

"How are you doing this?" they ask, as if I were levitating in front of them.  "Tell us your secrets."

But there's a mystery at the heart of beauty.  I don't like to question it too much.  When I'm fortunate enough to bring my characters to full and resplendent life, I would rather accept the inexplicable gift -- day after exquisite day -- until the story is told.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Unspoken Secrets

"As usual, there was a story behind the story, and that is where the truth was hidden." -- Kenneth Eade

People trust me, I know, which is why they tell me the secrets they share with no one else.  The banker recounts to me that his daughter is battling leukemia.  The entrepreneur at the coffee shop tells me that he survived a brain aneurism eleven months ago.  My seatmate on a plane explains to me that the 40-year-long love affair she shared with an extraordinary man has just ended with his death -- and because their relationship was secret, she cannot cry with anyone she knows.  Yet she cries with me, silently, while I hold both her hands.

I've come to the conclusion that, despite outward appearances, we know almost nothing of the private hopes and griefs of others.  Their internal lives, hidden from us, provide the narrative of their days.  Yet their family members, their co-workers, their best friends and neighbors -- may never know the truth of this silent story.  It often remains buried, like a diamond, in the vast rocky landscape of the mind.  But it's the stone of greatest value in that territory.  It's where the spirit returns again and again, checking, worrying -- is the diamond still where it was so carefully placed?

I don't know why people have begun to tell me their deepest longings, their most profound regrets, their unspoken truths.  I just know that I feel abundant compassion toward everyone I meet.  I love them, mysteriously enough.  And somehow they realize this mystery -- and begin to confide in me about love and death, joy and heartbreak, passion and loneliness.  And I listen -- honored to be the one they've chosen -- privileged to stand by them while they unearth their most hidden, most treasured truths.  Like diamonds cupped in their gentle hands, their secrets shine brightly indeed.