“The Way” To Warm Your Heart & Mind

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday.  Or it would have been, had she not died 16 years ago.  16 years!  My mind boggles at the idea… and I’ve asked my siblings if they feel the same way, if they can imagine Joy as a cranky old lady.  It makes me smile, actually, to think of  her as a kind of life-size version of ‘Maxine’ of Hallmark Cards fame, with lots and lots of martinis and seafood dishes standing by for sustenance.

I bring this up because I want to share a movie with you called “The Way”.  It’s written & directed by Emilio Estevez specifically for his father, Martin Sheen.  Full disclosure:  I adore Martin Sheen in what might be a somewhat obsessive fashion.  Not that I’m a danger to him, but I would need to wear a bib while around his physical presence because of the drooling, caused by a severe inability to form full sentences.  Also: my husband had lunch with Martin Sheen while he was part of the making of “The Final Countdown” aboard the USS Nimitz.  Mano a mano… and there was no drool involved.

You don’t need a(nother) review of “The Way” – you just need to know why you should see it.  I’ve already explained the first reason (see: Martin Sheen).  The second reason is that it’s wonderful, and all without a CGI gimmick or whiz bang in sight or sound.  It’s warm and comforting and thoughtful and demanding.  It’s about fathers and sons (although it could be just as easily about mothers and daughters in many ways), and finding your way to a real relationship with family and friends.

The journey in this instance is a long one, a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (a trek an Anglican priest friend of mine took several years ago, which he called a body killer and a soul reviver!).  It could have been any journey – a canoe trip through northern Ontario, a series of glider trips down the east coast of North America, biking through the Ardennes – but the symbolism of this particular journey being taken by a man who, in real life, has had his own fights with faith, is deeply moving.

You absolutely do not have to be a person of faith or religion to appreciate “The Way”.  I am not.  To the despair of my husband sometimes, I’m sure, I am much more skeptical than I am spiritual, but that in no way diminished the value or effect of what I saw. To me, the more important part of this movie was about the human relationships – the father & son who were so far apart and yet somehow, after death, managed to become closer, you just know it.  And it’s about the friends collected along the way who also affect his life.  And isn’t that true for all of us?  Don’t our friends change our lives somehow?  Their trajectory intersects with ours and so often make us go off in a different direction than we thought we were headed.  Often to the good but still… quite remarkable and yet, not often remarked upon.

So what I’m saying is, pick up a copy of “The Way”, make up a plate of cookies and a nice pot of coffee, maybe pour a little Grand Marnier (or if you have access to Emilio’s wine, open up a bottle of that), and sit down with a friend or two and watch a movie that will make you want to hug your friends and kiss your family, and wish for one more day that you had your mother, or your father, or both….

And if you do still have them… for goodness’ sake, call them and say “I love you”.  And maybe talk about a road trip….




Crazy Is As Crazy Does… Loudly

All families are crazy.  This can be good, this can be bad.  This can be happy, this can be sad.  This can be loud, this can be whispered.  But let’s be honest, all families are crazy.

Mine included.  Some days, I think mine especially.

I watch my friends and siblings who still have young children and I am amazed at how busy they are, the constant running, the activities, the school work, the obligations to other family and other friends and wonder how they hell they do it!  And then I watch my friends who are coping with aging parents, the slowing bodies and disengaging minds, the  fear and anxiety, and the pressure, and wonder how the hell they do it!  My own little whirlwind of activity and anxiety seems nothing in comparison although, as I have pointed out before, given the essentially selfish nature of most of us, my anxiety and activity will always trump yours!  Well… for the moment any way.

The reason for bringing this up are a few bitter moments I watched over dinner last night.  As it’s not exactly my story to tell, I won’t provide details but can make a few observations.  First, we all seek allies.  I saw that happen last night, one person confiding in another seeking the approbation needed or the confirmation desired.  The fact that we need to unload our troubles means we look for sympathetic shoulders on which to weep, even when what we should rather have is someone to slap us across the face and say “wake up! you’re actually fighting about something quite different here than you think you are!”

It is so hard for us to recognize when we have chosen the wrong path, or at least, are staying on a path was a good one for awhile, but has now become the wrong one for us.  I saw that last night too, but I think maybe I was the only one who did.  And it’s also hard for us to not get the support and kudos we think we should for doing a job that’s hard to explain to others, demanding of our time and even of our souls, and for which we sometimes feel that our successes and accomplishments are, if not denigrated, certainly ignored by the very people we need to hear say “good job!  I’m so proud of you!”  I also saw a little of that last night, although I might not have been the only one to catch that feeling.

What did the poet say – home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.  Substitute ‘family’ for the word ‘home’, and you know what we want family to be.  This perfect place of love and welcome, where we all think alike, and behave alike, and share values and goals and dreams that match each other to a ‘t’. Ha!  Maybe in Jim & Margaret Anderson’s perfect “Father Knows Best” world but not in mine… or yours… or yours over there in back corner pretending to be interested in something other than the fight that’s going on.

We are born into family, and they are ours for better or worse, and we always want them to love us and accept us. We make family out of friends, and because we have chosen them they may provide us with more validation but may also come to the dinner table with less honesty.  We marry into family, and they are ours until death us do part, and we make comparisons between the family by blood and by marriage and who does the stupider things, but we want our significant other’s significant family to also care about us as they care about the s.o.

Family is crazy, and messy, and demanding, and rewarding, and loving, and pitfall-y, and ugly, and imperfection seeking absolution.  We need it, until we don’t.   And then we miss it, and we ask to be let in again, and we wonder how could we live without family, and how do we cope with these crazies, and so the cycle goes.

Until it’s somebody else’s turn to host the next family dinner….

Saying I Love You; My Love Affairs, Part 2

I caught a re-run episode of The Big Bang Theory a few days ago, the one where Leonard says to Penny “I love you” and she says… “Thank you.”

Lord, isn’t that the bravest thing in the world, saying I love you to someone for the first time?  And I think it might even be braver if you say it and don’t know, have no way to be sure, how the other person feels.  Or maybe it’s just crazy to say it under those circumstances, I’m not sure.  I’m not good at saying it first.  I never have been.  I am, happily, in the position where I don’t have to say “I love you” for the first time to anyone again, or have it be said to me, at least not in the romantic sense!

But there are other relationships that sometimes ask for that phrase to be used.  Or maybe it’s just the people in those relationships.  Or, in my case, one of those people… and it wasn’t me who said it.  At least, not at first.

Let me take a giant step back here to open a curtain into a completely different portion of my life, the portion I spent living and working in New York City.  There is much to be told about those years, and I will share some lovely, funny, wonderful and sad stories from those times, but this story is about I love you.

My friends will know that the job I had in New York is the job I hold up to all other work opportunities.  I worked with a lawyer who has since become one of The names in entertainment law – not just in New York, but through the entire entertainment industry.  When we started working together, he was just starting out in his own practise after a few years with a major law firm and a talent agency.

George is one of those guys who knows what he wants to do and does it.  There’s no big scene about getting it accomplished – he just makes it happen. Of course, the fact that he’s incredibly intelligent, very well schooled and read, willing to put in the huge number of hours to accomplish his goals, and is smart enough to hire great people around him (like me!) has helped him achieve his goals, and move well beyond what he & I once shared.

I got the job with George because of a whale watching trip my brother Greg took.  Reader’s Digest version: We lived in Boston and Greg came to visit. Greg met a girl named Susan on a day trip he took alone because we were working. Greg & Susan tried to date long-distance for a while, didn’t work out. Susan moved to New York.  A year later, so did we.  I called Susan, we met up for drinks, but she was dating someone else and well, you know how that goes, trying to be friends with your brother’s ex.  Except that, a few weeks later, she rang me up and asked if I was free to come work for her for a day at this lawyer’s office because she had an audition and she was going to lose the job with the lawyer if she went to the audition and couldn’t find someone reasonably intelligent to take her place.  Still new to the city, still temping while I looked for a job, I went to the lawyer’s office, and worked there for five hours.  Three weeks later, I was his PA.

The first few weeks were crazy, busy, wonderful.  George discovered I had a gift for talking with people that made them feel great, satisfied even, without committing him to any course of action.  I knew how to write coherent letters, handle contract administration and his business financial affairs.  I knew all his clients’ names & phone numbers within three weeks of starting, and what their biggest problems/challenges/successes were.  And I never complained about working late.  He also discovered that it was fun to tease me, I brought weird food for lunch (and usually enough to feed him too) and that I am unswervingly loyal.

I remember quite clearly the Friday of our third week together.  George was leaving early to get to his house in the country with his wife, Joanna, and their daughter, Emma.  He was rushing to catch the train, throwing things in his briefcase and giving me last minute instructions, including not to stay late myself because the weather was too gorgeous to waste on work!  And just before he ducked out the door, he said to me “Thanks for a great week!  I love you!”

And then he stopped.

There must have been some… look on my face because he stopped and said, “What?  I do love you.”  My response was nervous, trying to masquerade as off-hand. “Oh, okay, sure.  Thanks.” Very Penny-like of me, although I would like to reassure you that, unlike that scene in The Big Bang Theory, this was taking place in the office, not bed.

George came back into the office, and closed the door.  He put  his briefcase down and looked at me very seriously.  “What’s wrong?”  I shook my head and tried to explain in a couple of simple sentences that I thought he – my boss – was completely off his bloody rocker.  How could he possibly love me?  It wasn’t meant as a romantic declaration, nor did I take it as such.  But love?  Of any kind?  After three weeks of working together?  Yeah, so not possible.  But I didn’t know how to say that without sounding like the judgemental prig I know the above paragraph sounds like.

Because I was fumbling for words, he started talking.  And he told me why it was possible to love someone after knowing them for such a short period of time.  Why my faith in him, my loyalty to him, my sense of humour and honesty, and most of all my incredibly bad coffee, all made him love me and value me as an important part of his life.  Did I understand that, he asked me.  I nodded yes, and he picked up his briefcase, opened the door and said again, “I love you.”  And this time, I said right back, “I love you, too.  Now go catch your train.”

Over the years we worked together, we really did love each other.  We went through some really challenging times professionally, and even worse moments personally, and I know that what we shared took us into places beyond where words like “boss” and “friend” make sense.  I also know so many years later we do love each other still.

George is the person who made me believe in myself, who made me see that there really isn’t anything in this world that I cannot do if I want to do it enough.  He thought I could run a film studio if that’s what I wanted to do, but I’ve been very happy with the chance to make a difference in running the theatre companies I’ve been part of.

It’s very hard to get hold of him for more than four minutes at a time these days, and since Emma has grown-up, I don’t return to New York as often to see the two of them as I used.  So when we talk, the conversations are about personal things, not unimportant stuff like work.  But still to this day, when I’m faced with a difficult decision at work, or about work, I ask myself what would George do or say, and I can hear his voice inside my head offering advice, providing guidance, even when I can’t hear his voice on the telephone.

At the most recent point in my life when the path I thought I should be on took a fork that could not include me, his words were the best piece of advice I got: “You’re the smart one. Make something else happen.”

And I think maybe that’s the greatest gift his love has given me – the continuing presence, even in his absence, of his faith in and understanding of me.

There is another part to the story of George & I, and Emma, too, for that matter that I hope to share with you, but we’ll leave it here for now.

Good night, George.  I love you.

My Love Affairs, Part 1

I was trying to explain to someone recently about why I blog, which first involved defining the word ‘blog’ and then explaining the process, which in turn lead to a glass of sherry, which took me off track for a while, but I’m back now.

In the process of explaining what a blog was, is, I used the phrase “it’s like keeping a journal”.  To which the response was, “But I thought you did that already!”  And, actually, I do.  A handwritten journal, in carefully selected books, a different one every so often! Imagine.

It’s not a daily thing, by any means, and in fact I can sometimes go for weeks without writing in it (although I usually feel guilty if I do that), but the journal to me is my chance to go on about others and, somtimes, myself.

I write, I muse, I bitch, about the people in my life.  Permanent residents and passing strangers alike, but I keep the journal a private book, mostly to protect the permanent people in my life from being hurt by the fact that sometimes I don’t like them very much. Which is NOT the same thing as not loving them, or even respecting them, but sometimes people (and this most definitely includes me!) are not nice.  They do or say things that I find… uncomfortable.  My journal, which is completely private, gives me the chance to vent about those weaknesses – theirs and mine.

Passing strangers I don’t care so much about hurting their feelings, but at the same time… one never knows if today’s stranger will become tomorrow’s BFF!

A blog, to me, is selfishly, gorgeously, endlessly about me.  About what I think, what I do, what I don’t do, what I look for, what I need, what I shouldn’t have.  And if I express all those things about me publicly, I find myself thinking better about myself.  I find myself thinking better about what I do.  Or sometimes, don’t do.  And it helps me, at least in part and some times, to put things into perspective.

One could, I suppose, find a therapist, and dump all this stuff on them.  But it’s possible one might find, after awhile, that the need to write is not lessened, and the therapist’s bills are too high, and also, that the therapist’s office smells vaguely of Mr Clean and gym bags, and that’s a disgusting combination.  So for now I, or rather one, blogs and finds invigoration in turning random thoughts into mostly coherent sentences.

As for the title of this particular blog, I found myself tapping out the word love on my iPhone about 97 times today.  Which, on my iPhone, often comes out ‘live’, but that’s not the phone’s fault.  I just type very fast.  And I got to thinking about the word ‘love’ and how easily it can roll off the tongue in some situations, and how slowly it seems to come in others. And I also got to thinking about how we use the word ‘love’ to talk about things and ideas and people equally, when we love them differently.

Don’t we?

For example, I love pomegranates, crisp bacon, lily of the valley, squishy pillows, new toothbrushes, Dick Francis thrillers, playing cribbage, and ice cold Stoli all very much.  I love them pretty much equally, but quite differently, and most definitely not that same way I love either my country or my husband. Yet I use, we all use, the word love to talk about these things, these ideas, these people as if they were the same.

The word love is either too small or too big; I cannot make up my mind which, but it is.  For now, however, it would seem to be the only word that we have at our disposal, so we will go on using it, and hope that the difference between my saying to my husband “I love you” and my saying to the first martini of the day “god, I love this” is clear.

Wait until I get to the part where I think it’s possible to love more than one person at a time…