Sunday, October 29, 2006

the O interview, 2017


Just want to 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.

O: (laughter)

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.

O: Amen.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

an addendum

I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. last night reading Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox. By page 134, Lynne was 18 and had swum the English Channel twice, and breaking the world record both times.

This I have learned. The English Channel is really, really cold. Also, depending on the currents, the swim can be 30+ miles. And it seems to me that she trained about six hours a day.

Now, she did break the world record, and that definitely wasn't part of my "swim the English Channel by 40" objective. I was going more for "make it across."

Well, I'll keep reading. And find an intermediate goal, maybe something close by and a bit shorter.

And I'll definitely get into the pool today.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

swimming the english channel

The English Channel is 21 miles wide. However, the hardy individuals who swim across the English Channel rarely swim only 21 miles because there are currents to consider and it's a major shipping thru-way, and then there is the weather...

Why do I know these interesting facts?

I got my pool membership today, and I’m drawn and drawn again to swimming, and to water. I can’t wait to get into the water. So of course, I think, why don’t I swim the English Channel? Isn’t that what anyone would think? Or is it this kind of thinking that makes me special/insane?

So I google “swim ‘English Channel.” Another interesting fact: most of the women who swim the English Channel are definitely – well, they are curvy, zaftig, however you want to put it. Bottom line: they have some weight on them, which (and this is very important) keeps them warm. From the photographs I’ve seen, this is not a sport for skinny people. Do you know that woman named Alison Streeter (that's her, in the photo above) holds the world record for channel crossings (43 and counting, including a triple crossing). Alison looks like a very nice person. Rather than giving the air of a super human athlete, she seems, well, down-to-earth, very much like she might get up in the morning and say, let’s go swim the English Channel again today -- wanna join me?

Back to earth. Two goals: start swimming 3-5 days a week, at least a half mile each day. And for the “Documenting the Sacred” class I’m teaching, commit to polishing at least three essays around the idea of spiritulity and water.

And if I do that, look into open water swims for this spring/summer.

Maybe I'll swim the English Channel by the time I’m 40. I feel a little foolish and audacious, but what the hell – it’s my birthday. And wouldn’t it be fun if it happened?

p.s. I’m also going to purchase Lynne Cox’s Swimming to Antarctica, because outlandish goals require new books.

na na na na na na today is my birthday...

and though not completely free of the funk of my last post, I'm having a good day. Lovely breakfast with mom & dad, lovely cake and singing from work-folks, lovely wishes and flowers and presents...and phone calls with good wishes.

and then out tonight on a surprise birth-day-date with L., and then we go to my folk's house on Friday for my favorite supper (chuck steak) and homemade mocha cake (thanks Oma!).

Then a weekend with no plans. It's kind of an amazing feeling. Who knows what I'll do! Or not do.

I'm grateful, grateful, grateful. For family, friends, a home, a sense of dark humor, for sustenance. I’m a lucky bird.

So thank-you, you, if you are reading this message. If I know you, thanks for all you bring to my life. And, um, if I haven’t called you in a while, I will. I really want to get together. Soon. More then likely, I miss you. It’s just that my priorities have been out of whack and I’ve been fighting a blue mood, and, and – well, I miss you. Y’all know who you are.

Maybe birthdays could be kind of like the day when the library lets you bring your books back without paying a fine? And you could let me back into your life even though I haven’t returned your phone call/email/etc.?

Not sure how all that came up.

Happy Birthday to me…and many more.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

i hate everyone

I can't quite stand films about shiny people -- for me, Meg Ryan personifies shiny -- who go through predictable, narratively simple life struggles that end in happy resolutions.

So of course, I loved Little Miss Sunshine.

I saw Little Miss Sunshine a couple of weeks ago, and the film satisfied me in deep ways. It was funny, sad, well-written, well acted -- I could go on and on. Most importantly, films about broken people who find hope make up my favorite genre. And when I say broken, I don't mean broken, like a horse is broken -- I mean people with visible fissures, messy people, people who don't have "it" together, whatever "it" is. I mean, of course, people like me, who couldn't pull "it" off even if I wanted to. Okay, I do want to, sometimes. Perhaps I could handle a little less of the delightful process of self-growth, the endless breaking down and building up of spirit and personality.

If you haven't seen the film, you can get the plot summary here, but essentially, the film is about the Hoover's, one of "the most endearingly fractured families in recent cinema history." And one of the characters is Dwayne, a Nietzsche lovin' teenager who has taken a vow of silence. He occasionally uses language by writing sparse words on a notepad. At a point in the film, he writes I HATE EVERYONE. When his Uncle Frank asks, "even your family?"Dwayne underlines EVERYONE twice.

Now, I do not hate everyone. I do not, especially, hate my family. But the sentiment connected with me in some way -- enough that I searched for a movie poster online, enough that I printed a copy and hung it up in my home office.

I'm not exactly sure why I'm drawn to the sentiment of "I HATE EVERYONE," but I’m beginning to wonder if morose is some essential part of my personality, if I’m kidding myself that I can become an integrated, spiritual person with joy in my (god damn) heart. If so, I certainly haven’t honored morose over these many years of my life. (I just looked up morose, to check and make sure it was the word I’m searching for, and it does work – “having a sullen or gloomy disposition".) Is it possible, that while fighting depression for more than a decade, I’ve demonized my sullen and gloomy side?

And how have I compensated for that demonization? I married a really angry person who did hate everyone. G. has a cute saying -- the difference between you and me is that you like people and I don’t. I found it charming. I was also pleased that someone who so evidently didn’t like people was in love with me. It made me feel special. Let’s not delve into that too deeply, shall we?

Since I wisely left that relationship, I’ve found other angry people to admire (and a kind, loving, and witty L. to date). My new credo: watch the angry people on television, but don’t date them. I’m drawn to really bitter comedians like Lewis Black, for example. To the understated expression of disbelief and outrage of The Daily Show. And of course, I adore Southpark – in whose anger, biting wit, satire, and refusal to hold back about anything I find a deep, satisfying release.

More times than I can count, when people have learned that I struggle with depression, I’ve been met with flat-out disbelief – occasionally shifting to an out-right refusal to believe me. “You’re so cheerful, so outgoing, etc. etc.” I still remember what a rather bitter goth chick wrote in my senior high yearbook – essentially, “you continue to smile as the world falls down around you.” Obviously, it was not a compliment. And even then, I sighed at the enormous gap between my public self and how I felt inside.

My hopeful, cheerful, outgoing self is real. I don’t feel like I’m “faking it.” But clearly, some part of that identity is an overcompensation for my depression. And I think my tendency towards depression has made me overly wary of my morose self. It’s scary to experience negative feelings when I don’t know if I’m having a genuine feeling or if the scales are tipping towards weeks or months when I struggle to get out of bed (note: “morning” and “morose” are in the same column in the dictionary).

And let’s face it, I want everyone to like me. Mostly everyone. I’m no saint – I do sarcasm pretty well. But I’m afraid a lot. My depression makes me vulnerable. I could (and do) screw up at any time. So I better dance, dance, dance while the going is good.

I do like people, especially people who are broken and not afraid to show it. Liking people makes it hard for me to be political on a large scale – I do better with relationships, dialogue, microcosm stuff.

I think mostly, I’m tired. I’m so tired I could weep. Taking a vow of silence sounds good to me. Alas, I am a professional extrovert.

It’s my 36th birthday this week, and I’m singularly unexcited. More trying, more trying, more trying. I know I’m not alone in being tired. I know I’m not alone in wanting peace. I know my mental illness doesn’t make me special, that suffering is perhaps the most egalitarian state of being.

Maybe I just want to hang out in morose for a while. Maybe I just want to know what morose would be like in public. What would happen if I let go of being so damn happy? What if I didn’t shove down anger, if I called people on their shit more often? What if I didn’t go so far as to hate everyone, but tried hating a few people, and what if (and this is a revolutionary thought) I went ahead experienced what it's like for a few people to hate me?

If you hate me and you are reading this, send me an email. I promise not to try to convince you to like me. Ok, I promise I’ll try not to try to convince you to like me.