A few months ago, I had a conversation with my daughter who lives on the West Coast. This distance is always magnified when she’s going through a rough time. I wish I lived closer, but never did I wish it more than during this particular conversation. Decided to write her a letter. This is a lost art, but for those who still practice it (and their recipients), it can be a great gift. When I’m writing a letter by hand, usually my thoughts come out more accurately and with fewer words. Also, my daughter will then have something she can hold in her hands (unlike emails or text messages). I’m so glad I did this—not only for her sake but mine as well. I need to remember some of this stuff, too, from time to time. Chloe called me a few weeks later and told me she had found it so useful she thought I should post it to my blog, so here it is:
“…you’ve remarked in the past months how happy I seem, and you’re right. I am. I’ve been thinking about this. I feel a difference between how I am now and how I was, say, a year ago—and it’s hard to pin down. But the more I look at it, something is emerging that I want to tell you about…
All my life, I’ve kind of robbed myself of pleasure. It would go something like this: I’d hear a great jazz pianist on the radio, and the music would ignite me, and for just a moment my ears were connected to the rest of my being. And then, this sinking feeling would take over. “If I had just worked hard enough—or even tried at all—I could have been that good.” Or something along the lines of “That should have been me up there.” I had somehow linked together the recognition of how great the music was with the idea that I should have done it myself, and didn’t. It grew to include music, acting, singing, etc.
And further underneath that was this assumption that if I can do something, I should not only do it, but succeed magnificently at it. Publishing contracts. Voiceovers for Pixar. Book deals. Shows on Broadway. And if these things didn’t manifest, then I should at least die trying.
But something has been sneaking up on me lately, and it’s only hard to talk about because it comes from a wordless place. Perhaps it’s a result of the meditation I’e been doing, or the yoga teacher training program, or the little exposure I’ve had with Byron Katie’s work. Or, more likely, it’s just the culmination of putting one foot in front of the other for 58 years. But here I am, and I am happy.
I almost hesitate to say the next thing for fear it will be misinterpreted, but I will do my best.
I put down the fight.
I laid it down, and walked away. It hasn’t happened all at once, and I’m certainly not done with this process—but a big part of me has stopped trying to be bigger or better than I am. Has stopped trying to be “over there,” instead of here. It sounds so much simpler than it is. But truly, I have stopped fighting with myself.
I have come to terms with the fact that I’ll always be wanting the present moment to be different. Or that my ego will always be looking for something more—and I can see it happening now, as it happens, and smile at it, dropping back into the vast beauty of the present moment.
It works something like this: I’m in a funk. I’m upset. Gnashing my teeth in frustration that we were just getting some traction with Mrs. T (my 87-year-old mother-in-law, for those of you reading this on the blog), feeling confident in her healing—and now she’s broken her other hip and we have to start all over…with supporting her emotionally through the whole excruciating rehab experience, and then physically supporting her when she gets home, living with her off & on, cleaning up the bathroom after bouts of diarrhea, dealing with her attitude (she lashes out at Elena in really thoughtless, cruel ways, and really it only happens because she’s angry that we have to be there at all to care for her.). So. Let’s say I’m lost in that funk.
What’s different now is that I can catch myself in the middle of all that and tune back into my breath, reel in all the story, and know that right now this moment, it’s all there is. It’s all I’ll ever have, and it’s never gonna get any better than this. How do you get better than the whole universe in your hand?
Make no mistake—It’s not like I live in this state of grace. Sometimes I’m just sitting across from Mrs. T in the rehab center and her mood is in the tanker and I’m present enough to just know THIS IS PERFECT. This moment—of me running away into boredom, irritation, impatience, harsh thoughts, manipulations—this moment is custom made for my benefit. So I can practice not running away. So I can practice opening up to whatever it is I think will kill me if I don’t run. I practice for a second. Then completely forget ‘cause I feel so fucking sick and tired of this whole situation…then I remember and try to open again…and the next thing I know I’m locked in one of the stalls in the ladies room, desperately trying to get past level 9 in Tetris on my phone. I slog through the whole day like this, spending about 94% of the time in the roiling mess, and 6% in clarity.
But I’m doing the work that matters to me and that’s the bottom line. I’ve spent my life making the following meaning of the fact that I can put words and chords together:
1. It means I “owe” it to the world, or to myself, or whatever.
2. It means I should get paid for it.
3. It means millions of people should want to hear it.
And if these things don’t happen:
1. It means I was too lazy or scared to really try.
2. It means I was deluded and didn’t have the talent after all.
3. It means I started too late & became socially irrelevant.
4. It means I failed.
5. It means I’m spoiled.
6. It means the world doesn’t care about me.
NONE OF THIS MATTERS.
(Stop for a minute and take that in.)
None of it holds true for me anymore. In the final analysis, we are all going to die, and generations from now no one will know or remember or care whether I lived my life as a songwriter or just lived my life. So I’ve just decided to live my life as it is, and be happy. And in a way, I’ve become that jellyfish—“beautiful for anyone, beautiful for everyone, beautiful for no one, beautiful for no reason.” (Posted a recording of my song, “Jellyfish,” on January 26, 2011, if you wanna scroll back that far.)
I love you. You are walking the pathways, mapping out who you are and who you aren’t. You’re doing the work of being alive in the world, and it’s not for the faint of heart. You have tremendous courage and determination. I’ve seen it in many ways. Picking up and going to Italy your junior year of high school. And the courage involved in returning. Starting new jobs, moving to L.A., diving into Italy the way you did this year, and those are only the outward displays of courage. The way you have tackled the many challenges of being a survivor of abuse…the truths you have often told to family and friends…these all take courage. I don’t know why I’m going on about it. I guess it’s one of the things I admire about you.
I know you’re looking for a reason to get up in the morning; and now you have a part time job and that’s a start. Good for structure and making the rent. But wherever you are, holding this letter in your hand, breathing in and out, wearing whatever you may be wearing, feeling whatever you feel on or under your feet…that’s the best reason of all.
Loving you with my whole beating heart,