Just want to say...it is singularly terrifying to post this piece of writing. I am afraid you will think I'm full-of-myself, or fooling myself, or that I'm just kind of stupid. I find it so much easier to be self-deprecating.
On the other hand...
I do believe that if we put our desires out into the world that God/Source/Spirit/Energy responds. So even if I don't end up on the Oprah show in 2017--well, the three pieces of art I mention in this post are gifts I want to give the world, and to create for myself.
Also, a cool thing that happened while I was writing this piece is that ideas came to me -- that I had never thought about performing the shopping play in a mall, though it makes lots of sense to me, and I didn't have a title for my series of essays on water, either.
If you do your own Oprah interview, I'll publish it here!
The Oprah Show: Sometime in 2017
O: So Dawn, in Water: An Autobiography, you write about your 36th birthday being a real turning point for you.
D: On my birthday, I made a list of my goals for the year. And at the top of the list were three things – get good sleep, exercise, and eat healthy. I listed other goals – spending more time with friends, shedding responsibilities (without taking on new ones!), and making time for my creative self -- but it was absolutely clear to me what my priorities needed to be – and sleep, especially was at the top of the list.
But of course, knowing what I needed to do and actually doing it were two very different things.
O: Oh yes, don’t I know.
D: I think it’s safe to say that everyone around me had heard me say for years, “I need to slow down. I need to slow down.” And it was frustrating that my number one commitment – just to get enough sleep! – was so difficult for me.
O: So what made the difference? What actually allowed you to make the changes in your life that allowed you to create – to produce these plays, films, and writings – and now a book! (audience applause) that people connect to in such an intimate way? Because that’s what I can’t get over – this book is so funny, and self-deprecating, and it’s – you know, I can sit on the beach and just flip the pages…but girl, when I put it down -- you are deep. You are DEEP! These funny little stories…
D: I’m so glad you think they are funny…
O: No, they are funny! But you are dealing with some deep – well, let’s talk about Water…
D: Well, I think that connects back to the other question – about how I, well, finally got enough sleep (audience laughter).
O: That is revolutionary, you know – how many of you in the audience get enough sleep (audience groans, 10-15 people raise their hands). And how many of you have children (about 10 of the hands drop). It's hard -- it seems to me that women, in particular, neglect their most basic needs, and don't even know that's what they are doing.
D: Right -- exactly. Well, what I did -- I decided to take the sleep thing really seriously. It began to represent something big to me – the whole idea that I was valuable, that I was a child of God, that I had ideas and passions to share with the world. I felt like, if I can’t actually commit to going to bed at a certain hour most nights, how seriously can I take the rest of my goals? How could I have faith in myself to step out into the world and follow my dreams if I couldn’t even commit to getting enough sleep?
And also, being bipolar, sleep is critical. Some people can go without sleep – put in a few all-nighters and be ok – but losing sleep sets me up for a big depression. My mood is so obviously sleep-dependent.
O: Ok, so sleep – what else happened?
D: Well, the other thing that happened is that I began to own my creative power. I realized that I had a number of creative ideas that were unrealized -- but that I could see, in their entirety, completed. That I knew the first step, and the second step, and believe, through my wobbly faith in God, that the next step would appear to me as I moved along. I have always had a lot of ideas, Oprah, too many, sometimes. But these ideas – they were so tangible, so solid I felt I could hold them in my hands.
O: And your first idea – it was a documentary, right?
D: Yes. An animated documentary about bipolar disorder. And how that happened – the path was definitely made by God. Who I met, the brilliant director I partnered with, the people who agreed to be part of the story, the resources that appeared – it was all already out there.
I lived with that knowledge for a long time – that creative projects could work that way. I had some small successes where I saw that the creative process could be, well, if not painless, at least it could be spirit-filled. So I believed that the pieces would fall into place, but I wasn’t ready to take the leap. And it was about the time that Water started to form in my mind. It seemed everywhere I looked, the idea of water, in all its incarnations – ice, vapor, flowing water, oceans, rivers – and also, floating, drowning, surfacing, swimming. Around that time, I also started taking my swimming seriously, training for open-water swims.
As all these ideas were floating around in my head (sorry about that), I kept going back to the thousands of laps I swam as a child on my neighborhood swim team. I learned to trust water. I trust the way my body moves in water. It’s a faith born out of practice, not just belief. I wanted to know – how could I build that same – that same embodied trust in my spiritual self, my creative self?
O: So many people think that you should be able to just transform overnight. It’s about building trust, building faith. Even the big leaps – the "aha" moments – it can take years to make the changes, to live into the “aha” moment.
D: Well, yeah (grimacing). It would be nicer if it didn’t work that way, but that does seem to be how it goes.
D: I think two approaches made it possible for me to move forward, to create the kind of life that I had dreamed of living for such a long time.
O: Right – because you said in your book that you feel you lost much of your twenties to depression, and that a lot of your thirties was a catching up time.
D: Yes, that’s right. So on the one hand, there was the microcosm: get enough sleep. On the other, there was the big dream: find a way of living that would allow me to spend a significant amount of time on the projects I felt called to do. And I decided in my birthday month that I would spend the next year learning the skills I needed to move toward my goals. Because honestly, if I had won the proverbial lottery and had all the money in the world and didn’t need to work any more, I don’t think at that time I had the skills to create the life I wanted.
O: Money is nice – it helps, I’m not saying it doesn’t make things easier (audience laughter) – ok, it can make certain things a lot easier – but it is not the answer. Speaking of which – I hear you got a sizeable advance for Water.
D: Yeah…not quite sure how that happened.
O: It might have been the success of The Art of Shopping – and believe me, there are not many plays that have reached that kind of audience. It first played in – where -- Durham, NC – (Dawn nods)and then in all these towns and cities all over the country. And then it moved to off-Broadway. That’s kind of backward…
D: It was just, well – how it happened! I’d done a bunch writing on my own – my partner said I didn’t need to interview anyone, that I had enough personal experience to write a thousand pages…but it was so much fun to talk to women about shopping! I’d done – I don’t know, fifty or sixty different interviews and mixed my own experiences with the interview sources.
There were three women who collaborated on the play with me. I’d never written a play, never staged a play, but there was a group of us that got really excited about it, and we pulled it off. We actually did the first performance in a mall – it was a fundraiser for a mental health organization that focuses in particular on women and children suffering from mental illness and living in that gap between Medicaid and having insurance. It’s a very personal cause for me, as you know – I’ve been so blessed to have access to health care, and the substantial support of my parents and friends.
O: You tell some of these stories in your bipolar documentary – the struggles of these women, and what they have to go through to get help – it’s staggering.
D: Right – so through my awareness work around these issues, I was asked to do a fundraiser, and we thought staging a a dress rehearsal of Shopping would be a good way to get a sense of the audience’s response. It was so much fun, Oprah! People stepped out of the flow of shoppers and came over to see what was going on, and they stayed! It was so exciting to see people connect with what was happening, in this enormous courtyard,, with the echoes of the spaces and so many of the shoppers bustling by… after that experience, we just decided to keep doing the play in, well, unconventional spaces. The set is so simple – three dressing rooms, a clothes rack – and of course, the clothes… we're pretty mobile. And even when we had a longer run at a “real” theatre, we kept the stages just that simple.
When I decided to write “The Art of Shopping,” it was at a time when I was recovering from, if not a buying addiction, at least a shopping addiction – meaning, it was the walking around a mall, or the Target -- Tar-jay -- and just looking at things, sometimes buying, but not spending out of control…it was a habit from my days of dealing with severe depression, when I was grateful just to have a distraction from the pain I was feeling – it was a time when being numb was hugely preferable to what I was actually feeling. And one evening, I was in a TJ Maxx around nine p.m. and I thought, what if the creative energy of the women in this room – because honestly, it is mostly women – what if this energy was harnessed into something else? What are we not doing because we are here shopping?
O: I don’t know, if I’d want to give up shopping, though (audience laughter).
D: No, of course not – me neither…because shopping – the way we present ourselves, the objects we choose for our homes, our shoes
O: You know I love some shoes (audience laughter).
D: Yes! Accessories, how we dress our children – shopping can be a supremely creative act. So I wanted to write about shopping in its complexity – not an anti-consumerist rant, but something we could identify with, a celebration that would also make us think about where our clothes come from, and that maybe there is something else we might do, some nights, instead. I still shop…
O: Especially since that book advance! (audience laughter).
D: Well, yes…but I’m present now when I shop. I’m not numbing myself. (Dawn tears up).
O: (Oprah reaches across to squeeze hand).
D: Honestly, Oprah. There were times – months, years, -- where I never thought I would get to this place. And I don’t mean Oprah’s couch. (audience laughter). I mean a place of contentment. A place of trust in God, in the universe. I’ve been – well, the best way I can put it is to quote myself from Water. I’ve been swimming laps for over a decade now. I’ve been swimming in a pool of faith. And thousands of laps later, I know – I don’t just believe, but I know – that all I have to do is dive under. And I’ll surface. And swim on.