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.

Monday, January 15, 2018

How It Happens

The first time you save someone’s life, people view you differently.  You think it is entirely accidental.  You know CPR and you happen to be present in the restaurant at the moment of the heart attack of the person standing next to you.  The second time you save a life, people no longer accept your “right place, right time” explanations.  They begin to attribute an unusual grace, a preternatural gift, to you yourself.  The third time it happens, you begin to be treated like a saint, a seer, someone with a direct line to God.

Even those who don’t believe in God feel that you are connected to a “greater life force.” Your friends regard you with something beyond love, a gaze approaching awe or even obsession.  You become for them an embodiment of the impossible made manifest, a worker of miracles.  They wait for you to speak.  Some of them write down your words when you do.  Despite your protestations that people should treat you like a normal human being, it doesn’t happen.  Friends want your time, your reading lists, your company at dinner.  You discover that many of them have, independently, assigned your calls the ringtone of a harp – because that’s the most heavenly choice available, they tell you. 

And suddenly, you’re an elevated figure to those you know well.  You’re the reason they will get on a plane in an hour, arrive at your door bearing gifts, defend you to the ends of the earth, call out their armies.  You are the recipient of outsized love, limitless loyalty, acts of courage and folly.  When you make mistakes, your friends seem thrilled to forgive you.  When you stumble, you must choose from among ten outstretched hands that wish to help you stand.  You are unreasonably cherished, irrationally adored, and nothing you say can change that fact.

If the world occasionally treats you with misjudgment – as it does all of us – you must beg your friends not to mount an indignant defense.  They have a righteous war in mind.  They imagine the Crusades.  And you can barely hold them back.  Their sabers are rattling in their scabbards -- their contacts are on the phone -- while you talk to them about the merits of doing nothing at all for the moment.  If there are other perfidies, you will allow them to have their day.  But for the time being, you persuade them of the merits of peace.  You carry no enmities.  Your joyfulness will not make room.

You wake up every morning with a strange river of vitality coursing through your veins – all its tributaries flowing with a limitless energy.  You try to describe the impossible sense of wellbeing that has engulfed you, but you fail.   When you attend a public concert, other people’s children take your hands.  When you go dancing, strangers won’t allow you to rest.  When you travel, your seatmates confess to you their most pressing secrets -- their unimagined griefs, which they haven’t put into words before -- the quiet triumphs that have transformed their lives.

You sense that your life is about to become more extraordinary than it has been already– and you reassure yourself that all is unfolding as it should.  Your friends declare their affection for you too often, because they want to be sure you know. 

You feel a tidal surge of love and compassion toward everyone you meet, even those few who would do you harm.  It’s not a choice.  It’s not a paradox.  It’s not a mystery.  It’s just how it happens.


Music 2

This week, I'm sharing the single piece that, more than any other music on the planet, reflects my spirit.  There's a clear timelessness in the progressions here -- a resonance in the breadth of sound -- and a pure compassion informing the voice of these strings.  Is it sorrow or is it joy that suffuses the crescendos within?  It's both.

Classical pick:  Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams (London Philharmonic, Bryden Thomsen)

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Viennese Ball

"Great dancers aren't great because of their technique;  they're great because of their passion." -- Martha Graham

Ordinarily, I'm dancing to rock, EDM, rap, retro, etc.  But on Friday, February 9th, I'll be attending Stanford's Viennese Ball -- an extraordinarily beautiful event -- one that feels like stepping through a portal in time to an elegant, transportive, fairy-tale-made-real.  Martha Graham describes dance as "a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening."  And what I know is that, when I'm spinning to the Viennese Waltz, the sense of speed, freedom, beauty, and exhilaration is indescribable.  It's simply a magical flight.  My feet no longer make contact with the floor, and I seem to fly in the arms of my partner -- weightless, spellbound.

All of which is to say, if you live in the Bay Area, please come join in on February 9th.  vienneseball.stanford.edu  Tickets always sell out -- but you can still purchase them at this moment.  If you haven't waltzed before -- or you need a refresher -- attend Friday Night Waltz in Palo Alto.  http://fridaynightwaltz.com/ Waltzing is very, very easy to learn.  In one evening of practice, (quite a bit less if you're athletically inclined) you will be ready for the main event!

Does anyone remember the waltz between Natasha and Andrei in War and Peace or the dance between Anna and Vronsky in Anna Karenina?  Because the beauty of this evening is on a par with the romantic elevation of these masterpieces.  Say hello to me if you attend -- and save a waltz for me among the many.  It multiplies the joy to dance among friends.



Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sighting Writers on Safari

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Writers, when working, spend much of their time in enclosed habitats – studies, dens, libraries, university offices and artists’ retreats.  They appear to prefer atmospheric lighting and relative seclusion during these periods.  As a result, little is known about their natural behavior in the wild.

After a long morning’s work in isolation, they can often be observed emerging from their hideaways at noon in order to frequent little grocery stores close to home, where they stock up on artisan teas and goji berries, camembert and toasted almonds.

In the early afternoons, they have been seen to situate themselves in trendy coffee shops where they sip fragrant hot tea while people-watching or reading the latest prize-winning novel.

That said, if you should see a writer skiing, dancing, biking, scuba diving or sailing on any day of the week while her novel is not yet complete, she has likely escaped from her sequestration and must be recaptured and sent home.  Call the National Association for Writers in the Wild for assistance.

Writers are very private people – and if you ever glimpse one in the wild, you should behave as if a unicorn has appeared in your vicinity – which is to say, make no sudden movements or sounds.  Don’t take pictures or shout to your friends.  Just smile politely in an attempt not to alarm them.  Writers possess disdain for loud and aggressive persons and they will run away with surprising speed, grace, and agility if misjudged or treated poorly.  That said, they have a talent for finding worthy and protective friends that is unsurpassed in the natural world; and though they keep it secret, they are confidantes of potentates and power brokers, who are drawn to their innate sense of discernment and integrity.

What should you do if you see a writer in a public space?  Say hello to her.  Join in some witty repartee.  Pretend not to be nervous.  Wait to see if you’re asked to share a meaningful conversation.

If you’re friends with a professional writer who has been officially sequestered, send her a text to ask when she last spent time in engaging company.  Ask her to take a walk with you or share a dinner.  She will no doubt appreciate the overture.

If you’re not friends with a writer, but you’re curious about these rare creatures, buy a pair of binoculars and wait at the likely places. 

Published writers are about to be placed on the endangered species list, because their numbers are dwindling.  Try not to injure them, as doing so can be considered malicious mischief and a general affront to cultural preservation. 

Most writers are charismatic, courageous, passionate, adventuresome, empathic and intelligent beings.  Be kind to them and they will return the courtesy with friendship and loyalty unequaled among their human counterparts. 

Weaknesses for dark chocolate, dry champagne, and the latest music are formally documented – and writers have been unfortunately snared by individuals offering lures of all of the above.  Call the National Association for Writers in the Wild if you should have any concerns about the treatment of writers in your area.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Visions in Cinema




Here's a clip from a short film I directed a couple of years ago.  This piece is related to my novel-in-progress.  (A big shout-out to composer Keith Power -- an enormous talent and a terrific person.  We recorded with a 47-piece orchestra at Capitol Studios in L.A.  Looking forward to working with you again, Keith!).

Happily, three Oscar-winning producers (two based in New York, one in London) have signed on to help realize this project as a feature film -- an auspicious beginning for my dual literary and cinematic passions.  I feel very fortunate that this talented cohort is as excited about bringing this narrative to life as I am.  A tremendous adventure awaits!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Reconciliation: The Wave Breaks

A friend of mine died last week.  A pure-in-heart friend – permanently young – eminently brave and wise and true.  Her name was Mary.  I loved her with my whole heart, and friends tell me my heart is over-sized.   One of the best things I did in 2017, or ever, was to insist that Mary reconcile with someone from whom she had become estranged.  There had been an argument years ago from which no one had recovered.  Everyone was simultaneously justified and unfair.  And now Mary was dying of a wildly aggressive cancer; time had simply run out. 

So, I did what I rarely do, which was to pull rank.  I insisted that my friends meet together in the same room.  I guessed that their love for one another would overwhelm their hurt feelings – like a great wave would overtake minor pebbles on the beach.  And, in actuality, this is exactly what happened.  So Mary spent the last weeks of her life without regrets or estrangements or love gone unexpressed.  And those facts bring me some abiding comfort in a world that no longer claims her wise spirit within it.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about reconciliation over recent days, about its unexpected power, its attendant freedom, about the ways in which it is nurtured into being.  Usually, someone has to decide to free themselves of their hurt feelings –  of their wounded pride -- and to simply set them down – like a cache of stones upon the shore.

If I’ve hurt someone, I ordinarily try to apologize immediately.  Yet, this autumn I did distance myself from a friend, and I fear my understanding of the pain I caused was limited and late.  I did the wrong thing, truly, and I would make amends if I knew how.

Also, I recently spoke to friends about a private predicament, only to learn that one of them confronted, without my consent, the person they felt had wronged me. This incident, too, calls for my apology.  I’ve learned it’s best to hold to Ben Franklin’s recommendation:  “Speak ill of no man, but speak of all the good you know of everybody. “   And there is a great deal of good to be spoken.

In honor of Mary, I’m striving to remember these truths:  that I intend to always extend forgiveness if someone asks it of me sincerely – that I never want to carry anger for longer than necessary -- that instead, I would much rather set it down and walk away from the outsized burden it represents – that I can best experience this exhilarating life when I’m traveling light.

So, I say to my friends, forgive me, please, as I will freely forgive you if you ask it of me. 

As Tolstoy said, “All, everything that I understand, I only understand because I love.”

Exactly this.  Wrongs are swept away as soon as soon as I’m capable of relinquishing them.  But my passion for life remains manifest – as vast as the turning sea – in the impossible gift of these hours, in each delicious breath, with each irreplaceable friend, each transcendent piece of music, each misunderstanding undone, each new page of writing, every new sail or dive or filmmaking adventure, each act of creation, each transformative book, each gesture of reconciliation.  This joy in living represents the utmost I have to give – and I hope to give it generously, abundantly, because I can.

Music 1

Friends often ask me to share playlist recommendations, so . . . here are a few songs I’m listening to this week:

Restless Sea by Louis Futon

I Found by Amber Run

Paralyzed by NF

Four Walls by The Broods

Retro Pick:  Anytime by Journey