Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Five years later

Five years ago this month, my marriage ended.  We didn't separate for several more months and the divorce took over two years to be final, but the marriage ended in April of 2009.

I have never experienced anything quite that painful.  It didn't help that I had also lost my job because of the economy and that on June 9, 2009 my mother died.  And my daughter decided to move to California and then I had to move.  So with two dogs and no job, the end of a 23 year relationship and the death of my mother, I somehow managed to get through the most intense period of fear and grief I had ever known.

I got so much support from friends.  I was so lucky to have resources like therapy and different communities (especially Friends In Deed).  The grief was so intense I don't think I could take a deep breath for months and I know that I lost probably 20 pounds within the first two months.  That was a perk, to be honest.  For years I'd struggled to lose those pounds and they simply fell off.

Five years later, I feel stronger in many ways and happier most of the time.  I feel grateful that I've learned to live an independent life and that the loneliness I feel sometimes is better than the loneliness I felt when I was married.

This too shall pass.  One day at a time.  Surrender.  

All those trite expressions really are true.  Everything I learned from reading Pema Chodron helped me.

I think I will go back to the Big Group at Friends In Deed tonight just to give thanks for all the support I got there and to listen.

Five years later I am not the same person was and I am deeply grateful for the lessons I learned.   They were painful lessons, but I think maybe that's the only way we really ever learn them.  And I am grateful most of all for my sense of humor -- which I sometimes forget about -- but somehow I'm always reminded to laugh.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Survey redo

I was looking back at the year 2010 for the book that I am writing about traumatic growth (i.e. my lousy divorce) and I found this little questionnaire/survey.  So I thought it would be interesting to answer it again, four years later and see how different the answers are:

Your cell phone: BlackBerry I phone
Your hair: Brown  Still brown
Your mother: Dead  
Your father: Dead
Your favorite food: Chocolate chip cookies   Eggplant Parmigiana
Your dream last night: I visited my mom  Can't remember
Your favorite drink: Champagne   Water
Your dream goal: Writing and making a living at it again   Writing and speaking and coaching public speaking
What room are you in: Bedroom   Bedroom
Your hobby: bicycling    Dancing!
Your fear: dying too young    Watching someone I love being sick
Where do you see yourself in 6 years: Writing and in love    Writing, traveling and in love
Where were you last night: Friends In Deed    Home (it was cold out)
Something you aren't: Daredevil    Depressed - sometimes I'm sad, sometimes I'm happy.  But there's so much in the world to worry about. 
Muffins: Chocolate zucchini from City Bakery    Chocolate chip
Wish list item:  Book contract or play produced   Play was produced!  Now I hope for a book/speaking tour
Where did you grow up: Long Island
Last thing you did:  Watched Jon Stewart   Ate lunch
What are you wearing: a T-shirt   Polar tech jacket
Your TV:  I'm addicted   Mostly watch TV on ipad these days
Your pets: Two beagle girls    Waaa
Friends: All around me   A few close friends
Your life: Up and down, mostly up   Interesting!  Challenging!  Travel, coaching, meeting lots of people.
Your mood: Edgy   Depends on the hour - right now, good.  Happy (considering it's winter)
Missing someone: My daughter   Lucy
Vehicle: Feet   Citibike
Something you aren't wearing: shoes   A bra
Your favorite store: Lord and Taylor (because no one else is there)   Still Lord & Taylor
Your favorite color: Blue   Still blue
When was the last time you laughed: Last night watching John Oliver on Jon Stewart  Biggest laughs 700 Sundays
Last time you cried: Last night watching John Oliver on Jon Stewart (kidding) Last night  A few days ago
Your best friend: Lucy   Karen/Abigail/Bella/Barbara   all great friends in NYC - I miss Emily
One place you go over and over: Movie theaters   Central Park
Facebooking: Too often   Annoying and helpful
Favorite place to eat: NoHo Star, Shake Shack, Gotham  Ummami Burger, NoHo Star, Lovely Day


Some things have changed...some remain the same.  Most of all I miss Lucy and Lola and I'm so grateful Zoe lives in NYC again.   

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another year older...and so grateful

A few years ago I thought that I had gone through some tough times and that life would spare me at least for awhile.  But now I know there is no sparing -- there are, in the course of every year, beautiful, joyous times AND really bad, difficult times.

This year was no exception.

The beautiful joyous times were simple days of spending time with my daughter, Zoe, with friends, traveling around the country and a trip to Dublin, all for work.  Riding my bike along the Hudson in the summer and taking long walks in Central Park in every season. 

There was a visit to Emily's house in the country -- bittersweet because of her absence, but still pleasurable.

My play performed at the Beckett Theater this year, with friends from all areas of my life, old friends, new friends, everyone showing up to see it and lend support.  And a cast and crew of the most wonderful people and the challenges that go along with every creative project.

There was the grief of losing my best friend, Lucy, my beloved beagle, who was with me for 13 years and who died at 17 years of age.  I miss her daily and am deeply grateful for having had her for all those years.  She was truly a faithful companion.

I'm grateful that my ex husband and I were able to forgive each other and start up a new... friendship.  I would not have imagined this a few years ago, but forgiveness is a powerful tool -- and cancer seems to completely change the landscape.  He really showed up for a harrowing summer and survived and we are all so grateful. 

2013 ends quietly... I feel that life has forced so many of us to seek comfort in being quiet, by going within. 

One of my favorite pieces of advice I heard recently came from the playwright Tracy Letts: spend at least 30 minutes a day staring at the wall, or looking out the window.  I don't have much of a view, but I think I will start at my wall and give thanks for this past year and gratitude for the coming one.  Just being alive is reason enough to be celebrate. 
Emily Squires' pond in Lake Ariel, Pa.  August 2013.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stepping Through Fear






When I was young, I was relatively fearless—I loved climbing trees and diving off high diving boards.

After college, I sold my car and went to Europe to travel for several months and when I returned, I moved 3,000 miles away from my family to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business.  I moved with a boyfriend, but quickly broke up with him when I realized I was only 23 years-old and had no desire to get married right away.

I had an interesting dating life, slow at first, but the highlight was my boyfriend, Doug, whom I adored and who happened to be the stepson of Art Carney.  We hung around with Art, Doug’s mom, and people like Robert Altman, Lily Tomlin and Lucille Ball. 

If I was intimidated to be in the presence of some of the greats who came to parties, you wouldn’t have known it.  I admit to being too shy to play charades with Lucy. She often jumped up after someone finished their turn and said, “Wait!  This is how you should have done it!” —and then proceeded to act it out her way, which quite honestly was always better.

One Father’s Day we were at Chasen’s and a parade of celebrities joined our table, including Frank Sinatra, Jack Haley (the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz”), David Janssen, and Liza Minnelli.  I appreciated those incredible opportunities to meet  people whose work I admired so much while my own fledgling career was beginning to take off.  For my birthday one year, Art wrote me a poem.  This was the first stanza:
Here’s to our dear Robin Amos,
who at this point is not quite so famous.
But she’s sure a fine gal and much more than a pal,
and I’m sure that in time she will tame us.

I became a television writer at 27 (“The Young and the Restless”) and then a couple of years later, I started making the rounds at studios to pitch movie ideas—and that was when my confidence started to wane.

There weren’t many women screenwriters in those days.  Nora Ephron wasn’t well known yet and the adage, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” felt true for me.  I soon got married, retreated to New York (telling myself that there were many great screenwriters in New York) and became a mother.  Though I kept writing, I still struggled with confidence and watched enviously as my photographer husband travelled around the world for work and I kept plugging away at writing. 

I had readings of screenplays and plays and started writing for a website, Club Mom.   Ten years ago, my own mother got really sick and for the last 7 years of her life,  I found myself becoming a caregiver.  It was one of the accomplishments of my life I’m  most proud of and yet the endless doctor’s visits, hospital stays, hospice care (twice), late night phone calls, racing out to emergency rooms… all made me put my writing on a back burner. I began to feel lost—and when it was all over, when my mother finally died—everything fell away.  My marriage ended, my daughter (now grown) moved 3,000 miles away and in my 50’s, I had to totally recreate my life.

Talk about fear.

There’s a phrase I’ve heard: “catastrophe is what often re-orders our lives.”  It felt like a catastrophe when I didn’t quite know what to do with myself after a 23 year marriage and all the care-giving I had done.  All I had left was two dogs and myself.

And…two big phobias.  One was flying.  I had always loved flying, but on a trip when my daughter was four and we were on a flight from Cancun back to New York, we flew through a Nor’easter, hugging the east coast.   The flight attendants barely stood up.  Fortunately, my daughter slept through the entire flight.  If she had woken up, she would have seen me clutching the armrests or holding the hand of the stranger sitting next to me.  After that, flying became something that I avoided—and if I had to fly, I would do so with a bottle of Valium or Xanax, ready to take the entire bottle, if I needed to. 

My other fear was speaking in public.  I was one of those kids in school who often raised her hand (except in math) and had always been comfortable speaking up, but after so many years as a writer, I was used to living a more solitary life and had no need to speak in front of groups of people.

At one point, I went to career coach and when he asked me to tell him the story of my life I had him laughing so much that he announced, “You must write and speak!  You are a performer!”  I said, “Yes!  I love that!”  and walked out of his office and told everyone I was going to be a writer and speaker—then never once had the nerve to try it.  Everything I wrote I gave to others to perform, even though a part of me thought, “I would like to try that…”  But fear stopped me cold.

Three years after my husband and I separated, I found myself in a public speaking class called OWN THE ROOM. I was terrified.

Privately, I said to the coach, Bill Hoogterp, “What if I’m the only person you’ve ever taught who could never get it?”  Bill laughed and told me to tell everyone in the classroom what I said.  They all laughed—they all felt the same way.  I found my voice in that class and around the same time I performed a solo show about being a caregiver to my mother called “Not My Mother.”  The first time I performed it I discovered what “cotton mouth” means—you literally cannot speak, your mouth is so dry.  It was embarrassing, but I learned to always have a bottle of water nearby, just in case. 

Now, exactly one year later, my life has taken a 360 degree turn.  I coach others with OWN THE ROOM, something unimaginable to me before, and I love it.  Our soon to be new mayor, Bill DeBlasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, shared about her own fear of speaking in public in a recent article in the Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/chirchirlane-mccray-fear-public-speaking-article-1.1541131#ixzz2oKwTrEgU] Addressing a room full of people, she froze. “Inwardly, not outwardly, I was shaking,” McCray said. “I just stopped.”

McCray also came to OWN THE ROOM to overcome her fear and has become a great speaker.  As she says now about public speaking, “It’s not that there’s any magic to it. It’s like a muscle. You just do it, and do it, and do it again.”

Life and fear seem to walk hand in hand, but I see when I step through the fear, life gets bigger.  And more scary.  And more fulfilling. The bottom line is that when I coach others and help them be more effective speakers by sharing their stories, I find the strength I need to tell my own stories. 

Breathing helps—and knowing that if you have a message, taking it out into the world requires courage and a big bottle of Xan…no, never mind. 

Courage.   It requires courage. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

White Christmas

"When I'm worried and I can't sleep...I count my blessings instead of sheep...
and I fall asleep, counting my blessings..."

Tonight I went across the street to The Crosby Street Hotel to see "White Christmas" - one of my favorite holiday movies.  It was co-written by Mel Frank, an old friend, someone I was very close to when I lived in California.  Mel's mother lived above me at the Harper House in West Hollywood and we became friends.  Eventually, I got to know Mel and most of the Frank family.  Seeing "White Christmas" or any of the movies Mel wrote or directed is always very special for me.  I can always hear his voice in the dialogue. 

And speaking of counting my blessings...here are a few of mine... my daughter,  Zoe, my loftmate, Abigail, good friends...family, Samson, the dog who is staying with us for a few weeks, my health, our lovely home...good neighbors, NYC...my work...my writing...

So much to be grateful for.  And it was also a difficult year.  We lost Emily Squires, our dear friend the night before Thanksgiving 2012, and then we lost our beloved Lucy on May 5th, 2013.  Then Zoe's dad was diagnosed with lung cancer -- he's doing well now, but it was a rough summer.  The play, Scrambled Eggs, was up this spring and we had a fantastic 3 week run.  I've gone to Dublin, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte for work.  I've done more traveling this past year than I have in many years.  It's been challenging and rewarding.

And I'm proud of the women in Congress who broke the stalemate over the debt crisis.  And Obama for getting his health care program up and running (imperfectly, yes, but still today is the deadline and millions of people have signed up.)

Laws are being passed all over the country to all gay couples to marry!  And next - gun control reform.  That must happen in 2014.  That will happen. 

So many blessings. Happy 2014 to anyone who reads this!  Onward. 


Friday, October 4, 2013

Men, Divorce and Love

My most recent Huff Po blog.  Since everything else in the world is such a mess (government shut-down, I'm filled with anger about all of that) -- I thought I'd focus on something lighter.  


One night, a few years ago, I went to a party for a professional organization I am a member of.  Most people there were getting pretty drunk, feeling the effects of the lousy economy.  I saw an old friend of mine, someone I hadn’t seen in many years.  He flirted with me and told me, “I’m married and I’m miserable. I hate my wife and I hate my life.”  I was a bit shocked at his honesty, but I had to admit I wasn’t particularly happy either.   He also told me that he’d had a crush on me when we were young—and would I have dated him back then?  I lied and said, “Oh, yes. I would have dated you.”  Truthfully, I wasn’t particularly interested in him way back then.  But now, he had evolved into a mature, attractive man, with a lovely sense of humor, and I was interested.  In fact, I went home and had my first erotic dream in a long time—and it was about him.    

Two years later we were both divorced.  Are we happier divorced?  Yes, at least I know I am.  Has he asked me out on a date?  No.  But I haven’t asked him either.  I have flirted with him and though it would make such a great Hollywood story if we did hook up, life isn’t all Hollywood, is it?  The point is, we were both miserable and we had the courage and honesty to do something about it. 

I don’t know if he initiated his divorce or his wife did.  In my case, I was the first one to point out that the patient (our marriage) was on life support and barely alive and then a few months later, it was my husband who pulled the plug.  Excellent teamwork, I have to admit.

We actually were a great team on some levels, we functioned well in so many ways. But there were simply too many losses, we were the Buffalo Bills of marriage.  One damn loss after another.  It was as if life was saying, “Just because you’ve suited up for so long doesn’t mean you have to stay in the game. Run!  Get out of there!  You’re dying inside.”

So I thought, well, if I can have so much fun flirting at that party there must be hundreds of interesting men out there.  And there are, probably hundreds of thousands, in the tri-state area alone.  But finding one that I actually want to spend time with, talk to, sleep with, and forsaking all others for—that’s a different matter. 

A friend of mine, also mature, but never married, told me her theory about dating men over 50.  Once the need to procreate is past, they are in no rush to get married.  And from my own research —neither are millions of women.  I’m reading a book called Sex at Dawn and one of its main points is that we are truly meant to be promiscuous, so what’s the rush to find Mr. or Ms. Right?  (Who, in fact, really don’t exist.)  What’s the rush to cook, clean, shop, spend all your time with one person?  Once your kids are grown, it’s actually quite nice to do whatever the hell you want to do. 

The truth is, I like being single and I certainly don’t want to settle for someone unless I totally adore him and he totally adores me.  I believe that is possible.  I know that is what I would want next time around.

I do know women who dated like mad after their divorce and met lots of men on-line and slept with most of them and then eventually, after a couple of years, got married.  Well, I know one woman. But she is very happy and she said the guy she married was nothing like she imagined he would be and it’s all worked out beautifully. 
Sometimes I think that like everything else in my life, when the time is right, when it’s supposed to happen, it will happen.  My mate will materialize.  I may have to do the work: go on-line, talk on the phone, go out for coffees, dinners, walks in the park, send emails and texts (just thinking about all of this makes me want to lie down).
Then again my neighbor reads Tarot cards and the cards say, “You know him already.  He’s someone you’ve known for a long time.”  So I look at every man I know and I think, “Is it you?  Is it you?”  So far it isn’t him. 
I have male friends I adore.  But moving from the friend category to the lover/partner category is fraught with danger.  I see a big X when I think about attempting that with any of my lovely men friends.
I did have love after my divorce.  I met D at a grief group (he’d lost his brother and his dad, I’d lost my mother).  We became best friends and hung out all the time  and watched movies, and rode our bikes and talked and we were inseparable.  He wanted it to be more and I knew it wasn’t supposed to be a relationship relationship.  I just wasn’t ready.  My heart was pretty shut down after my divorce and I cared too much for him to just fool around.  I met some men on-line and fooled around with them – they were lovely, but unavailable, both by time and inclination.  My friend D started dating one of my best friends, P, and that nearly killed me.  It nearly killed her too because it didn’t last and everyone’s heart was a tiny bit shattered. 

Now D is with the perfect woman for him, L, I love her almost as much as I love him.  We go to Sunday night movies together as a group—sometimes the three of us, sometimes with other friends from the alphabet.  I still love him deeply and I know he loves me too.

So where is Mr. Next Guy?  Beats me.  But truthfully, I know he’s coming.  One of these days.  Maybe it will be at another party and someone will say, “I had a crush on you back in 1983…would you have gone out with me then?”

And maybe I’ll have the courage to say, “No, probably not in 1983, but I definitely would now, in 2013.”