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, May 14, 2018

The Poet's Quest

I seek out evocative poetry when I'm writing fiction.  It's a quest of my soul to find the piercing image, the lyrical phrase, the resonant epiphany that compelled the poet to give life to verse.  And, because my current novel is set on Cape Cod, I recalled the sensuous poem, "Quahogs," which appeared in The New Yorker two years ago.

I'll post it here for a short time in the hope you might acquaint yourselves with the rest of Frank Gaspar's work.  I grew up watching the ritual of clamming, and even participating in it a few times -- and it's as salty and cold and wearying and delicious and transcendent as the poet describes.

                                    Frank Gaspar

It was for the wind as much as anything.  It was for the tidal flats, for the miles of bars and and the freezing runs between them, blued and darkened in the withering gusts.  For the buckets, for the long-tined rakes.  For our skin burning and the bones beneath, all their ache.  For the bent backs, for the huddle toward warmth beneath our incapable layers, how we beat ourselves with our arms.  The breath we blew, the narrow steam that spun away.  How we searched their tell-draggle marks.  Then the feel of them as we furrowed.  Then it was surgery and force together.  Like stones.  Opal or pearl or plain rock, ugly except they were beautiful, their whorls and purple stains.  The bucket's wire cutting with their weight.  For the sky blazing, its sinking orange fire.  For the sky's black streaks with night rising, winter-sudden.  Back, shoreward, home, the tide creeping like a wolf.  For the little stove warming, its own orange fire.  The old pot, the steam, the air in savor, the close room, the precious butter, the blue fingers throbbing, our bodies in all the customs of weariness, the supper, succulent of the freezing dark sea come up, and hunger, its own happiness, its own domain immeasurable,  It was for the hunger.

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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Beyond Time

"Time doesn't take away from friendship.  Nor does separation." -- Tennessee Williams

Some friendships exist outside of time.  I'll attend another Dartmouth reunion in June -- and I expect the usual magic trick of time's collapse to occur.  I'll run into friends -- and find immediately that my mind is flooded with pictures of our adventures together -- rowing on the Connecticut river in an eight-person scull at 5 a.m. -- or biking down the steepest of New Hampshire hills without brakes -- or cross-country skiing at midnight on the golf course under a full moon.  Seeing them brings every shared thrill into full focus -- that ridiculous biology exam -- the award-winning play -- the late-night donut runs -- every episode in which we couldn't control our laughter.  I reunite with them so infrequently -- and yet, they know I would get on a plane to fly to them if ever they needed my help -- and I know they would do the same for me.  The months or years of absence evaporate when we're brought together.  Our affection erases the intervening time -- vanquishes it.  And we pick up where we left off -- joyfully, effortlessly -- freed from time's grasp in a way that's both surprising and inevitable -- again.

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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Threshold

I've stood with others at the threshold between life and death.  I've helped people come into this world and I've held their hands while they've left it.  And I've had the unforgettable privilege of saving lives a few times -- when I was given the impossible grace to make a profound difference for another human being -- and all events, all gestures, breaths, seconds, conspired toward life.  So I know things I might never have learned if these experiences had not occurred.  I've stood in the doorway between worlds and the view has become unexpectedly clear.  The meaning of life is simple in the extreme, really -- and I understood it in an entirely new way when my father died two years ago.

My father was a world-renowned geophysicist -- not a mystic.  He loved facts, not intuition.  And like all great men, he embraced the difficult truth over the easy lie -- or any lie -- for all the years I knew him.  I placed tremendous stock in his integrity, his loyalty, his fundamental kindness -- and he never let me down.  So, I always knew my father would tell me the truth as best he knew it.

Two weeks before he died, my father told me he wanted to give me a gift -- something memorable, something important.  He was eighty-five years old and I handled all his finances, managed his home on Cape Cod, bought his clothes, arranged his doctors' visits, and supervised his daily care in assisted living.  Despite a lifetime of scientific achievements, age had stripped him of his world-class intellect, his prodigious physical strength, and his insistence on self-determination.  He was a man who had nothing left to give, I thought -- although his intent was laudable.

But I was wrong -- entirely, naively, magnificently wrong.  Because, as my father lay dying -- while I held his hand -- something happened to me that constitutes the greatest gift I've ever received.  I will try to describe to you the course of events, although words seem unworthy of them.

First, my father became clear-minded -- entirely lucid -- something he hadn't mustered in the several years since a catastrophic fall.  Suddenly he possessed perfect awareness, crystalline erudition.  He told me he was going to be "passing over" at 4 a.m. (and he did, at 4:03 a.m. to be exact) and he told me, with a sort of Jacques-Cousteau excitement, that he was going to be living and learning on a higher level now -- that I wasn't to worry about him, because the place he was going was "extraordinary" -- by far the most beautiful destination he had ever seen, and he had traveled the world many times over.

Then, while I held him, an impossible transformation occurred within his small apartment.  Everything that possessed material substance -- the chairs, the tables, the couches, the paintings -- these all seemed to disappear in a grand metaphysical magic trick.  He and I could no longer see the walls or the ceiling or the bed or the lamps.  We could only see that which was rushing in to take the place of everything we had known --a love so profound it crowded into the room like a weather from another world -- a momentous vortex-- electrically charged -- a living force.

In filmmaking terms, it was like experiencing a reverse zoom, in which some objects are traveling toward you and others are traveling away from you simultaneously.  And the love that filled the room became a palpable current, flowing as forcefully as an ocean wave, all encompassing -- overtaking all things known, visible, earthly.

A family member who stood close by said it looked as if we two had disappeared inside a white fog for a moment.  He said he kept rubbing his eyes, trying to clear them of the blurry space where we had been.

This unexplained "weather," whatever it was, contained within it the great secret to living well -- understanding life's illusion even while we're living within it.  Everything that looks permanent is in fact transitory -- while the love we manifest for one another, which may feel transient, is in fact permanent.  "That which is essential is invisible to the eye," as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said.

Because at the end of life, love is not an important thing. It's not the main thing.  It's the only thing.  We get to experience this euphoric, all-powerful force not just by being surrounded by it -- but by becoming it.  We're still our individual selves, but our connection to everyone else we encounter becomes abundantly clear.  We're all "related" in an elemental way.  We're all members of the same magnificent family.  No one person can be harmed without causing pain to ourselves.  No one person can be helped without our manifesting our own joy.

I walked my father to the edge of the world -- and that's the gift he shared with me as he left it.

Now, when I wake up in the morning, I can feel that electrical charge humming through me still.  It hasn't left -- in fact, it grows in force from one day to the next.  It's the reason why people are drawn to me, I think.  Because I can't help but share a small part of this feeling with them -- the abundance of it -- the wonder -- the pure unmitigated force of life.

I can't help but connect deeply with everyone I meet.  It's a new magnetic field -- a powerful charge that travels with me.  I haven't always wielded it well.  Sometimes, others care too much for me -- sometimes I care too much for them.  I haven't learned to limit my sense of love for people -- and I hope they can understand that, on a fundamental level, this is all new to me.  I've been overtaken by a force that's much stronger than I am -- and it has rendered me more awake than I've ever been -- more joyful, more engaged, more profoundly alive.

Words are not equal to the experience unless they can stand up and shout by themselves.  And they can't.

But I've tried to recount faithfully the events as they happened.  As improbable as they are, they're the truth.  They comprise the best, most unexpected gift anyone ever placed into my hands -- and they came from my father at his most impoverished moment, when he had nothing, and everything, to impart.

(This is such an exquisitely beautiful farewell song -- first written down in 1605.  Somehow, it reminds me of my father's leave-taking.  I'm looking forward to playing this on the piano -- and singing goodbye to my beloved ones whenever I leave on far-away travel.  The Parting Glass -- by Cara Dillon)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Tiger in a Cage

In visiting Thailand, I go to the zoo and find that my visit is rather peaceful and aesthetic and harmonious -- until I get to the tiger exhibit.  Here is something entirely different -- a masterpiece of a predator in a cramped enclosure, pacing back and forth, back and forth, marking his own kind of animal time.  On some level, he knows there's a life filled with wild adventure and the green, green jungle and a type of earth-shaking hunt that eludes him entirely.  Occasionally, a cricket or a field mouse wanders into reach -- and he bats it about.

But the truth is that he's terribly bored -- life-threateningly bored -- because the days he experiences are so stunningly small when compared to his capacities.  And there he is in his glorious gleaming coat -- with his eyes that shine like jewels -- and his mind that turns and weaves like the most beautifully complex maze you can imagine -- and he's trapped behind the bars.

I watch him all afternoon.  His inferiors sweep out his cage and throw him a steak now and then.  Sometimes I think he may have been held captive so long that even if the door were to be held open to him, he wouldn't leave his enclosure.  He likely feels safe with the daily routine, the predictable schedule, the institutional rules. (And yet I know instinctively that he has a hatred of all rules that are not his own.)  He may have relinquished his bold spirit altogether, and if so, there's nothing to be done for him.

But it's a tragedy to see the wild ways extinguished in such a beast.  It's a crime to see his beauty undone.  And if I were given the master key to the zoo and I could free any single creature from his fate, the tiger is the one I would release into the limitless jungle he constantly craves.

As I turn to leave, the tiger interrupts his unending stare to give me an intense predatory look.  I have the long legs of a gazelle and he is appraising them from his cage as I stride past.  His golden eyes have fixated on me like a double laser, and when they do, I can feel the boldness and stealth that define his spirit.  He is filled with envy of my form.  He loves me -- he hates me -- and he would like to consume me all at the same time.

I can feel his hunger invade me as I walk out into the wide world.  It's a bit hypnotic to combine his ravenous will with all that is fierce, luminous and pure in my own.  But I like the feeling as I go about my day.  It's potent, mysterious, unquenchable, driven, untamed, silent, self-possessed -- all of these.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright -- I've stolen the wildest piece of your spirit, and I'm not giving it back.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Spoken Secret

"He had two lives:  one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret.  And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people." -- Anton Chekhov

Some of you have asked me recently about my own secrets, since I've been writing about secrets in general.  My first impulse is to tell you that I don't like to keep things hidden -- but the truth is much more complex.  We all keep one or two things hidden -- at times, even from ourselves.

I needed anesthesia recently and was surprised to learn that, while regaining consciousness, I told the nurse I had a secret I had kept well guarded.  Apparently, I had wept through the confession of the secret's very existence.  In some ways, I had kept the secret from myself -- but in confessing its presence to the nurse, I immediately realized my secret's substance,  its import, its rarity.  And, while I haven't spoken of it to anyone since then, I'm aware of it every day.  It waits, undisturbed, like a hidden diamond in the territory of my heart and mind, as the most valuable secrets do.  (See The Unspoken Secrets, March 28)

Unexpectedly, as I was walking out the door, the nurse told me she didn't want me to leave her life -- she felt I was too important to her somehow.  I've seen her three times since that day six weeks ago, and I have no doubt she will remain a lifelong friend.  She carries the knowledge that I possess a secret -- and I carry the knowledge of her confidences in all their detail.  Our confessions aren't equal, but they're enough to forge a remarkable bond.

I have written that I don't know why people trust me so completely, confiding in me their deepest longings, fears, ambitions, regrets, passions, griefs.  But this isn't entirely true.  I do know why they seek me out, actually.  I just keep the story to myself because, well -- it's a life-and-death story and not one to be told in casual company.  It's because I was given a gift from a man who seemingly had nothing -- and I came away from the encounter with the most valuable knowledge there is -- the meaning of life -- its substance and shape and resonance and weight.  I know it in my physical body, in every gesture, every breath -- and I will never "unknow" it again.  The experience has rendered me rather passionately alive.  It has lit my internal fire with a flame that can never exhaust itself.

Will I tell the story to you?  Yes, since some of you have asked me -- I will.  Give me a four or five days to commit the words to paper, and I will post them here.

In the meantime, here's the song that reminds me of the man with the gift.  Suffice it to say that I loved him beyond the edges of the spinning world.

Into the West -- Annie Lennox

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.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Passion Within the Stone

"The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire, and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation." -- Auguste Rodin

Whenever I'm in Paris, I make a point to visit the Rodin Museum, where I'm always overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotion Rodin coaxed out of the marble and bronze, plaster and clay.  The pure passion within the entwined figures of The Kiss, the monumental intellect within the striding form of Balzac, the rapt contemplation within the mesmerized posture of The Thinker -- all are engaged in their own private worlds, which somehow convey a sense of breath and sensuality and vigor that seem more vibrant than the everyday lives we see surrounding us.  Rodin captured his ideal of life in all its intensity by depicting those moments in which people seem to transcend themselves in the service of something greater.  He conveyed the resplendent beauty of the physical figure, yes; but we're captivated by the spirit that surpasses the physique -- sometimes passionate, occasionally tragic, always true.

On Thursday morning, I'll take a break from the writing in order to visit the Cantor Arts Center exhibit, "Rodin: The Shock of the Modern Body."  The exhibition is free, and in the words of the curator, "celebrates Auguste Rodin's relentless pursuit to convey complex emotions, diverse psychological states and pure sensuality through the nude."  The exhibit runs all this week from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.  328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford, CA.  If you live in the Bay Area, I hope you'll try to see it for yourselves!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Beautiful Illusion

"We travel initially to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. . . We travel, in essence, to become young fools again -- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more." -- Pico Iyer

In Bolivia, at 12,000 feet elevation, near the crest of the Andes, there's a magical salt flat called the Salar de Uyuni.  In the winter, with an infrequent desert rain, a mirrored surface is created all the way to the horizon -- rendering a miraculous doubling of the sky.  So at night, we feel as if we're standing at the center of the universe somehow, with all the stars of the galaxy revolving around us -- like diamonds unstrung.

It reminds me of meeting someone who mirrors our own identity.  Their constitution reveals itself, like a magic trick, to reflect our own qualities back to us -- our kindness, our openness, our creativity, our internal fire.  Only perhaps the most astute among us can see what lies beyond the reflection -- the more complex, almost liquid identity that has given shape to the beautiful illusion.

I enjoy perceiving both -- the David-Copperfield magic -- and the mind that has created it.  Being a fiction writer, I'm fascinated by every detail -- by the mirror and by what lies beyond it -- by the art and by the artist.  It's my talent to notice every nuance, no matter how slight.  And so I see everything within those I meet, on the surface and at depth, simultaneously.  I don't do it voluntarily, this x-ray of the psyche.  It just happens -- like seeing beyond the normal spectrum of light.  Whether my abilities are a talent or a curse, I don't know -- but I'm often accused of knowing too much about the secret universes within the minds of others.

In creating my fictional world, I, too, arrange its universe with infinite care -- placing each star in its firmament as if I were arranging the first and last constellation that would ever matter again.  I'm telling a story with an intent to unveil a truth we've always known -- about identity, about transformation, about the connections between people that are unexplained and mysterious and necessary.  Without them, life would become dull and diminished.  The sky would only be half-full.  And who would choose a life lessened by this kind of want?  Everyone hopes to be truly understood, to be wholly loved, don't they?  Even those who consider themselves enigmatic and unfathomable.

"We travel to find ourselves" . . . Yes.  And finding ourselves, we must return home once more.  My books are scattered about me -- my Tolstoy and my two bright apples and a single silver pen.  In three days' time, I'll gather it all in my backpack and wend my way home as well.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Thoroughbreds

I rode thoroughbreds throughout my childhood.  Each one represented an impossible love affair of the sweetest apples offered in an open palm -- sun-drenched, bareback afternoons of free grazing in overgrown meadows -- intricate braiding of wild manes, both mine and theirs -- and mesmeric, cantering turns around the show ring.

My friends and I acknowledged that we were "horse crazy," passionately in love with the power of the bond with the animal, obsessed by the obsession of riding, unable to carry on with the normal ebb and flow of life without the presence of one's beloved equine partner.

I've commenced riding again recently, and I'm intrigued to discover that all the former passions come flooding back.  To ride well is to merge with the horse in some metaphysical way -- to harness their power as one's own and to re-emerge into the world as a more potent self, unconstrained by convention or expectation.  One's spirit unveils itself -- electrified, fast, fearless.

The thoroughbreds I have loved have taught me further lessons as well -- how to heighten my senses to life, so that I feel every shiver in the grass, every dimple in the wind -- how to connect to someone so closely that the sound of their voice and the grounding of their touch become as necessary and encompassing as the air -- how to open myself to gestures of kindness and guidance, mastery and flow -- because the dance of horse and rider is always choreographed magically for two.  The thoroughbred turns toward deep connection like a necessity of the soul.

But thoroughbreds have also taught me that miraculous ability to bolt suddenly, if not met by a person who is genuine and substantive and respectful.  I instinctively flee from fakery and pretense, and always from cruelty.  It's not really a choice so much as a physical mandate, a compulsion to stand with those who are protective and sustaining and true.

Thoroughbreds represent a mysterious alchemy of power and instinct, senses and spirit, grace and emotion -- and those who ride them can't help but reveal the same mysteries within themselves.  And the electric force that flows through animal and rider alike?  It's the force of life itself -- charged and overflowing, transformative and indomitable.  It's both a dream and the dream's awakening to reclaim this force as my own.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Music 7

I've made a few additions to my travel tracks -- so I thought I'd share them with you.  I hope to return home in a week or so, though I'll try to post before then.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Where's My Love -- Alternate Version -- by SYML

Numb -- by Carlos Vara

Never Tear Us Apart -- by Bishop Briggs

Dare You to Move -- Alternative Version -- by Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown

Supercut -- El-P Remix -- by Lorde

Make It To Me -- by Sam Smith

Retro pick:  Yesterday -- Remastered -- by The Beatles

Monday, March 5, 2018

The First Hero

"I am the master of my fate.  I am the captain of my soul." -- William Ernest Henley

Once, many years ago, my father wrote a love letter to my mother, even though he knew she was engaged to marry someone else.  In it, he said he knew they couldn't spend their lives together in the way he had hoped, but he wanted her to know he loved her anyway, unconditionally, irrevocably.  And if she ever needed his support, she could call on him -- at any time throughout her life -- just call on him and he would help her without question -- like a mysterious benefactor in a Charles Dickens novel -- like a mythical figure who appears in a Greek drama at the critical hour -- like a lover turning to his beloved.

Because my mother had a quality about her -- a passion for life, a purity of spirit, an ethereal beauty, a charisma -- that my father knew he would never again find in anyone else.  He might go on looking for my mother in other women, he admitted -- but he knew he would never again encounter her.  So, his life would be a pale imitation of what it would have been otherwise -- a shadow play of its potential -- a diligent exercise in going through the motions.

But fate, like all great narrative, is filled with reversals.  Love given freely is sometimes greatly rewarded.  I owe my life to the unexpectedly generous letter of a broken-hearted graduate student who was trying to figure out how to piece together his second-best destiny.  My parents were reunited a year after his letter was sent.

My father was an adventurer of the first order.  He rode camels past the pyramids in Egypt, he dove miles under the ocean in a one-man submersible; he spear-fished; he scuba dove; he raced sailboats; he rode horseback.  At 6'4", he swam the butterfly every day in the open ocean in a way that inspired open-hearted awe in those who saw it -- myself among them. He explored every continent and all seven seas by the time he was 40.  But he never showed more courage than he did in writing a simple letter, declaring an unconditional love for a woman beyond his reach -- a thousand miles and a permanent heartbreak away.

It's a remarkable risk to extend such a love.  And it's an astonishing grace to inspire it.  My parents did both, proving that sometimes the best love stories begin after their seeming end.

Thanks for being the first hero I ever met, Dad -- intrepid, brilliant, adventuresome, stoic, loyal, wise -- the strongest captain in any storm -- the first man to extend to me a love beyond all bounds.

*** Please note:  I am away on work-related adventures for the next several weeks, so please be patient when trying to reach me.  I will respond to emails, etc. as soon as I can during travel.  Thanks for your understanding, everyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


I'm away from home on work-related adventures!  Enjoy Oscar night, everyone!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Tall Guys

"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.  You know that your name is safe in their mouth." -- Jess C. Scott

I have a cadre of talented men in my life -- CEOs, surgeons, professors, filmmakers, composers, novelists, students -- tall and handsome, always in spirit, often in form.  They are educated, kind, articulate, athletic, insightful, artistically gifted, intellectually brilliant, thoughtful fellows.

But I love best the small ways in which they show their character on a daily basis -- the way they share their breakthroughs with me, with childlike excitement, eyes shining; the way they ask what I'm currently reading, what I'm currently thinking -- with palpable interest; the way they tell me their secrets, their hopes, their fears -- because they know I'm eminently trustworthy and I'll always maintain their confidence; the way they refuse to lie, either to me or about me -- because the truth is what they choose; the way they're undaunted by setbacks, knowing there can be unexpected opportunities within them; the way they're unafraid to care about me -- to grab my hand, to lift me off the ground, to shout with delight when I've said the insightful words, whatever they may be; the way they're protective of me -- body, mind and spirit -- because they tell me I'm something rare.

In a time when much is being written about those who are cowardly and dishonest, I'd like to give recognition to the great men, the brave ones, the fellows of character and good faith, talent and strength -- the tall guys.  Thank you for sharing your lives with me, gentlemen.  My days are so enriched by knowing you.  Your kindness, your courage, your love, your confidence and your fortitude bring me joy -- hour by hour.  I'm proud to stand by your side through all the grand adventures of this life.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Music 6

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  In celebration of the main event this week, I'm listening to the following tracks:

Dreamer by LaPeer (a Valentine for dreamers and creative spirits everywhere)

I Can Only by JoJo, Alessia Cara

Fix You by Coldplay

Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

Magic (Live at the Enmore Theatre) by Coldplay

Strange & Beautiful (I'll Put a Spell On You) by Aqualung

Never Knock by Kevin Garrett

Yellow Lights by Harry Hudson

Brighter Than Sunshine by Aqualung

Yours by Ella Henderson

Fire and Rain by Birdy (in honor of impossible reunions. . . See my Dancing With the Universe post.)

Retro pick:  Something -- Remastered -- The Beatles

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dancing With the Universe

One of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges, likes to refer to some of the most powerful experiences in his life as "dancing with the universe."  The coincidence that is too miraculous to be happenstance, the epiphany that retains its power over time, the transcendent feeling that accompanies the impossible reunion -- all of these are part of the dance to which he refers.  And I know just what he means.

On Friday afternoon, while getting ready for the Viennese Ball, I was overwhelmed by the presentiment that I would reunite that evening with someone important to me -- someone I hadn't seen in a long time.  I had no idea who it might be -- but I felt a profound sense of anticipation about the Ball as a result.  I chose my dress, my shoes, my jewelry with the excitement of going to meet a loved one.  It was an improbable conviction, given that one thousand people planned to attend the event  -- and the odds of running into acquaintances would be staggeringly low.

Still, at 9:00 pm, my beloved and long-lost brother materialized out of thin air.  He lives three thousand miles away -- travels the world on a hectic schedule -- and had fallen out of touch with our entire extended family.

So, the fairy tale of long gowns and tuxedos and the live orchestra was complete when I found myself dancing the Viennese waltz in the arms of my only sibling, whom I haven't seen in over a year.  We had a falling out surrounding my father's death two years ago -- and I wondered whether he was lost to me.  Would it be decades before I saw him again?  Would I ever see him again in this lifetime?  I had been speaking to friends in recent weeks about how terribly I've missed him -- about how much I've wanted to tell him I love him -- ridiculously, devotedly, unconditionally love him -- my big brother -- friend of my youth.

And then, we were together -- impossibly, redemptively spinning around the dance floor in one another's arms.  I don't know how often a magic reconciliation manifests itself in real life -- but, on Friday night, I was part of one.  I'm still airborne with euphoria over this reunion.

All of it makes me wonder -- what if we could summon our family and friends with the strength of our feelings for them?  What if our love for others were so powerful that it wouldn't allow long absence?  These are questions the answer to which is sometimes pure, inexplicable, unmitigated joy.

I love you, dear brother of mine.  I'm so grateful for your return to my life.  Take my hand, and let's dance.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

In 1812, Lady Caroline Lamb described Lord Byron as "mad, bad and dangerous to know" due to his drinking, his philandering and his generally dissolute life.  The description remains an intriguing one, whatever we now remember of the man who inspired it.

For those of us who are eminently responsible -- entrusted as legal guardian of other people's children,  executor of myriad estates, medical power of attorney for friends and family -- such an accusation would be a remarkable one.  My friends see me as trustworthy in all domains -- conscientious with their secrets, their hopes, their dreams, their progeny, their worldly possessions -- their unrealized ambitions in the realms of life and death.  They know I will move mountains to uphold their desires.

So, what is delightful about the prospect of being called "mad, bad and dangerous to know?"  It sounds a good deal more fun than being called a saint, for one thing.  And, as a writer, it implies a prodigious freedom.  What would I do if I actually were "mad, bad and dangerous to know?"

Fly to Paris tomorrow?  Begin writing all five novels I'm pondering simultaneously?  Go horseback riding?  Direct another short film?  Visit Machu Pichu?  Pick up the Italian language?  Learn to write a stage play?  The possibilities are endless, really -- and I find the exercise, alongside the laughter it provokes, to be exhilarating.

Someone who is "mad, bad and dangerous to know" is a powerful person in the world -- perhaps reckless, maybe impulsive, undoubtedly free.  I might try this on for size in the same way the infamous Lord Byron did.  I might experiment with being a force of nature in the way that he was.  I have the indomitable spirit, the high-flying creativity, the perpetual youth.

As Byron said, "The truth is always strange -- stranger than fiction."  What if being "mad, bad and dangerous to know" were not a condemnation, but rather six words on the path toward freedom from an unasked-for sainthood?  Somehow, the thought makes me smile.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Slalom Rediscovered

The best way to descend the mountain?  Performing the slalom while listening to a favorite rock playlist.  In a word:  exhilarating.  While I haven't been skiing in years due to a shoulder injury, I find that I'm skiing this weekend as though I've had no hiatus at all.  In fact, I'm better than I ever was -- faster than I ever was, somehow -- unencumbered by fear and its detours.

It occurs to me that fear needlessly distorts our path, not only on the mountain, but in life.  It twists our journey into something strenuous, harrowed, dishonest.  Plato said that "courage is knowing what not to fear."

Somehow, while skiing fast, if I don't fear falling, I don't fall.  I move with gravity, in an elegant undulating line that creates its own unique rhythm -- a personal music that gravitates toward a thrilling plumbline.

Fearfulness only leads to unforced errors -- strategic oversights -- needless crashes.  Fear unmakes us -- when all we need in its place is trust that the white slope ahead of us is a perfect canvas on which to trace our slalom line -- effortlessly, elegantly, timelessly.

If we trust and respect our own path, so, too, are we capable of trusting and respecting the paths of those traveling beside us.  There's a perfect line from the top of the mountain to the base -- which is both true to ourselves and protective of others.  We can only find that fearless path by envisioning it -- by creating it -- on the clean slope on which we write the story of our lives.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Gone Skiing

I'm escaping my four walls to go skiing with friends for a few days, as they tell me Tahoe's Mt. Rose has some passable snow.  Yes, I do realize I ought not to be fleeing the scene until my novel is complete -- but remember what Hemingway said:  "I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."  The breaks renew me, and it's lovely to return to the work with the writer's well brimming.

If you see me on the mountain, please don't report me to the National Association for Writers in the Wild.  Art and life must make their truce somehow.  And this weekend, life wins.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Music 5

"I often think in music.  I live my daydreams in music.  I see my life in terms of music.  I get most joy in life out of music."  -- Albert Einstein

Remember this track from LaLa Land last year?  It's almost time for the Oscars once more!

  • City of Stars -- Gavin James

A few new tracks I'm enjoying this week:

  • shallowman -- Taylor Mathews
  • Skipping Stones -- Claire Guerreso
  • Leading Man -- Gavin DeGraw

Because some of you messaged me requesting more Birdy -- I share the following, one of my favorites:

  • Not About Angels -- Birdy 

For those attending the Viennese Ball, this is a fantastic waltz -- Try it with double-fast spinning, with abundant centrifugal force --  heaven:

  • Iris -- Goo Goo Dolls

For those with classical tastes, I heard the Master Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra play Mendelssohn's Scottish symphony this week -- an outstanding performance -- and an extraordinary work -- well worth hearing again:

  • Symphony No. 3 in A minor -- Felix Mendelssohn

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Infinity Pool

"To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness." -- Confucius

I'm spending the weekend with friends at Post Ranch in Big Sur -- and the setting is otherworldly.  In the infinity pool at right, you feel as though you're flying above the Pacific, which sings in its rhythmic cadence hundreds of feet below.  This is a paradise for those who love to meditate -- and I count myself among them.  So, I'm contemplating Confucius and his thoughts on perfect virtue.  Assuming gravity does not preclude an abiding sense of humor, my friends tell me I do quite well with this list.  Evidently, I have chosen wisely, because my friends possess all these qualities in abundance. (In addition, they're witty, adventuresome, brilliant, loyal, passionate, erudite . . . I could go on.)

My favorite virtue is generosity of soul -- such an inexplicable and necessary thing in leading a joyful life.  Just as the infinity pool overflows its brim, so too does my love for this world pour past its edges.

Can we maintain the five virtues under all circumstances, as Confucius specifies?  Can we be generous in the face of dishonesty, or kind in response to an action that is intentionally misleading? These represent complex spiritual challenges even for the most evolved among us -- and the answers require more than a weekend of enlightenment.

In the meantime, here in Big Sur, we've met new friends from Paris, London, Chicago and Los Angeles -- a fascinating array of corporate tycoons, innovative artists and groundbreaking entrepreneurs among them.  Life is a bountiful adventure, in all its natural wonders, with all its opportunities for artistic and spiritual growth.  My cup runneth over.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Lantern Within

"We see the world not as it is, but as we are." – Talmud

As a fiction writer, this quote says it all.  Characters in fiction, just like the people we encounter in life, constantly see themselves reflected in the world around them.  Those who are fearful or angry typically see a frightening landscape, filled with imposters and enemies.  Think of King Lear, beset with paranoia, confusion, the sense of victimization.  Those who are joyful and at peace, by contrast, usually see a landscape of friends, adventure, and imminent discovery.  Think of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbevilles, whose appreciation for beauty is undiminished by anyone.  Tess is “brimful of poetry – actualized poetry . . .She lives what paper-poets only write.”

I don’t know to what extent our subjective experience is a choice.  But I do know I find it a privilege to embrace a joyful life – one replete with close friends, adoring family, transcendent literature and music, transformative travel, adventure, constant learning – and beauty – so much beauty that it reaches life’s brim and overflows it every day.

For those who know what I mean, I include a poem here from William Carlos Williams:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Williams is seeing an “objective” reality ostensibly – and yet, “so much depends” upon the beauty he finds there – his joy, his sense of the day’s meaning, his entire experience of life.  Of course, Williams’ appreciation of the world is a reflection of the resonant beauty of his own spirit, which invests all he looks upon with its reflected light.  The poet is the poem in this sense. 

We who witness illumination carry our own lanterns within. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Music 4

Because we can never have enough music -- I'll share with you a few tracks to which I'm listening at the moment:

Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons

People Help the People by Birdy

Speeding Cars by Walking Cars

Don't Blame Me by Jonah Baker

Walk Through the Fire by Zayde Wolf

Music 3 -- The Music of Film

My favorite film composers are Thomas Newman and James Newton Howard, alongside my friend Keith Power, whom I wrote about under Visions in Cinema.  My picks from among their compositions seem exquisitely oblique, resonantly expectant.  They are somehow conscious of the evanescence of life -- the heartbreaking temporality of our days --the inevitable destiny within them -- and the bittersweet knowledge that every experience we have is both a greeting and a farewell.

All of these tracks are available on Spotify.  Enjoy!

  • "Road to Chicago" -- from Road to Perdition by Thomas Newman (available on Spotify under the album, The Essential Thomas Newman.)  I love the sense of freighted expectation within the melodic line.  Time insists on passing by, even though what appears next may change life forever.

  • "That's the Deal" -- from the Green Mile by Thomas Newman.  Catch the segment from :47 to 1:07.  There's an exquisite tension within this progression -- just the right level of discord and resolution.

  • "Weehawken Ferry" -- from Cinderella Man by Thomas Newman.  Listen to how fantastically fated the strings segments sound here.

  • "The Wreck" -- from Unbreakable by James Newton Howard.  Such fateful resonance within this piece.  The hidden man is going to find his place in the world -- and we are assured of that by the sense of emergent and requisite identity within this work.

Monday, January 15, 2018

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.  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. 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.

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

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

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Wellspring

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.  I have no notion of loving people by halves.  It is not my nature." -- Jane Austen

People, places, literature, life -- I've lost the ability to love all of these by halves -- by measure or reason or restraint.  I woke up one day about six months ago -- and where I'd had blood running through my veins the day before, I now had a kind of river of life, electrified in its own way, a map of the world and what coursed through it as pure energy.  And, having spent my life as an introvert, treasuring as much invisibility as I could claim -- I became something else entirely.  I met people easily, effortlessly -- waiting in line at the coffee shop, the airport, the movie theater -- and they all wanted to tell me their life's stories -- their secrets -- their most pressing worries -- their greatest regrets -- the events that changed them forever -- the realizations that broke them or granted them wisdom -- the ways in which they fell in love.  I'd tapped into something elemental -- a wellspring of being -- that overflowed with profound compassion.  And it felt ageless, boundless, transformative, eternal.

My friends noticed.  Pragmatic scientists accused me of having an "aura" -- bohemians suggested I had somehow reversed time -- and my family members began to say "use your powers for good" each time I walked out the front door.  Friends whom I'd known for years told me they had fallen in love -- and strangers wanted to touch my arms, hold my hands, stroke my hair.

And the mystery is ongoing -- with no reasonable explanation anyone can locate -- except to say, "you've changed."  It's true.  The dress rehearsal of my life seems to have ended, suddenly and without warning or reference to the hour.  And the real adventure of life has begun -- where I cannot measure the intensity of my connection to everyone I meet.  I cannot love my friends by halves, nor parcel out the joy that overruns me.

The poet Dylan Thomas wrote, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/ Drives my green age."

It's a mysterious force, indeed -- and I hope it never leaves me.