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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Alone Together

My afternoon coffee shop jaunts give me a rather blissful escape into the alone-together sphere.  I read -- I write -- I run into friends and acquaintances -- I chat with strangers.  Art and life mix together in some seamless, aesthetic way in which writers do not need to absent themselves from the fascinating dialog of life.  I arrive at Hanahaus just when the lunch rush is departing -- and then settle myself for a couple of hours with tea and snacks and books and people.  Almost always, an intriguing conversation -- an unexpected introduction -- a fortuitous visit spring into being.  I've met painters, entrepreneurs, musicians -- I've run into a poet friend I haven't seen in years, and a documentary filmmaker friend of whom I had regretfully lost track.  I leave having steeped myself in the adventure of being alone together, a writer surrounded by people, an artist immersed in the bountiful world.

And all the while, my relationship to the page grows yet more intense.  I'm connected to it by a kind of electric charge -- an elemental force.  The words insist on themselves, passionately, indelibly -- and I bid them to come and meet me.  In mysterious answer, they do.

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

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

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.