Transformation Complete

Dear Marilyn,

This is me as you from August 4, 2013. I feel the photographer captured something of you in this photo. Thank you for loaning yourself to me and for giving me a taste of the moments in time on your last day.

What I want to say for now it this:

we were always free

trapped in a golden cage

lit up like a torch of hips and lips

burning through all the old papers and heart saws

rest awhile beautiful

sleep in perfect wisdom

rock out your work of nowness

enter the back room territory

as i float above alone

Love,

Alice

This is a drawing of me as Marilyn by Anne Saitzyk.

I will be on retreat until the end of August, but look forward to sharing more experiences from the day of this performance when I get back. The live stream is still available if you want to watch any of the installation. Go here.

A Dancer Who Cannot Dance

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Andre de Dienes in 1953

Dear Marilyn,

I was so deeply moved by watching this recent film about you called Love, Marilyn. A friend invited me to her house to watch it and it was just beautiful, beautiful to see how all these wonderful talented actors were speaking your words with such humanity and truth.

In one of your journal entries you said “I am like a dancer who cannot dance.” So many of your words revealed someone who longed to blossom but somehow felt stuck in the bud. In one striking reading you wrote about Lee Strasberg being the surgeon who could cut you open to reveal all that was inside and then later reporting tragically that he found nothing, nothing inside.

When I was a child, I loved this book called Jackaroo. It was a story about a legend of a man named Jackaroo who went around the countryside doing Robin Hood kind of deeds. A young girl stumbles on Jackaroo’s clothes hidden away in a house and decides to start assuming the role of Jackaroo. She finds incredible freedom in being changed by this costume, going out into the world, being brave, riding horses and fixing bad deeds. Later on she discovers that there are multiple Jackaroo costumes in multiple houses and that there might have never been just one Jackaroo.

I thought of this book recently because of Truman Capote’s account of asking you what you were doing in front of a mirror, to which you replied “I’m looking at her.” I feel a little like the girl in Jackaroo lately, trying on the Marilyn costume to see what superpowers come along. It seems you were aware of the power of this costume.

I have been studying your physical movements lately. I just love the way you run in the movies. There is this small step run that is kind of out of control and shows your internal quirkiness. I find a little of this free-wheeling feeling in your voice too, especially in Bus Stop and your last few interviews. I have been able to see your growth as an actress through the films you made, and although you might have been missing days and showing up late, there is a kind of a self-trust that develops. And you always seem to be dancing.

Love,

Alice

Basic Goodness

Basic Goodness

Come clean with a child heart
Laugh as peaches in the summer wind
Let rain on a house roof be a song
Let the writing on your face
be a smell of apple orchards on late June.

-Carl Sandburg Honey & Salt

Dear Marilyn,

I’m writing to you about basic goodness because today has been proclaimed Basic Goodness Day by the teacher of my meditation group, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

I don’t know if there was encouragement in your time to see your goodness. For me, it’s just in the last five years or so that I have peeked underneath my confusion and discovered something wise, tender and brave. In the Shambhala tradition this is called basic goodness. It is available to us at all times because it is our inherent nature. No one is exempt, no matter what. Not even me.

Like you, I grew up suspecting that I might be bad because bad things happened and people were unhappy and I couldn’t fix it. I learned to hide this anxiety by eating, drinking and making sure I didn’t do anything to displease anyone. Sometimes I ran away. Sometimes I escaped through fantasy of finding a better life, becoming famous or moving to a new city. I was never enough for myself. I knew that if I was successful as an actor, married the right man, had a child and bought a house I would finally be okay.

I know now that these things may be wonderful but they don’t fix the bad inside feeling. So what is the answer? I found myself facing this question after completing grad school with honors and finally becoming engaged to a wonderful man. My life was headed in the right direction. Oddly enough (you might understand this) the closer I got to all this “success” the worse I felt. I was in constant danger of being exposed as crazy, angry, depressed, jealous, greedy and not enough.

In my constant and feverish search through self-help books I stumbled upon a book called Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. The first chapter is called “No Escape, No Problem” and the first two lines are:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement.

This was like a long cool glass of water after 75 days in the desert.

there’s more…

All these trips that we lay on ourselves – the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.

A couple of years later, I experienced my basic goodness on a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center. After meditating for 3 days we were told to go out and walk around the rugged Colorado land. Fat tears dripped off my chin as I walked around the land; so huge was my feeling of worthiness and belonging to this planet. It was such a relief to finally see that I am not really bad or wrong. Did you ever have a feeling like this? It was so sharp that it took my breath away. I called my father from a payphone later that day. “I love you Pa and I think about you all the time.” “You do?” he said. Then we talked about nothing much. I remember this experience sometimes when I start grasping for the next thing that will fix it. Which I still do all the time.

I find that I need daily reminders to open up instead of shut down. This is why I meditate with a community of practitioners. We constantly remind each other not to put too much stock in the clouds. And we make each other crazy sometimes. Just like marriage, a spiritual community is not really the answer. But it helps a lot.

Basic goodness is in all of us all the time. It’s in Carl Sandburg’s peaches and your sparkle glove photo shoot. It’s in this moment when I can feel my open heart and the next when I get afraid again. Knowing that it’s there allows me to make mistakes and still be kind to myself and others. And when the markers of success fall away I will still belong to this earth. Just like you did and still do.

Much love to you today.

Yours,

Alice

Photo (c) Bert Stern

Down The Rabbit Hole

Dear Marilyn,

I have been feeling really afraid. I’m ready to run. My whole objective here is to NOT avoid fear, so I can’t really run. And now i am terribly afraid. Here’s why I am afraid:

I don’t know where we will perform. One really exciting venue has expressed an interest. There are some great spaces to rent. It’s all do-able but unknown right now. The unknown thing is driving me crazy.

I don’t know how much I will really change. If I don’t change then what is this story? If I went around the world in a whole year and then came back to find all the same things still there…what is that? Is that the story? Am I coming home to me? How do I write about that and how do I perform that? Lately, I am struggling with all the same issues and it seems the more I change, the more I stay the same. How does one measure change anyway?

I suddenly feel I may not have your posthumous permission to be doing this. I have been thinking a lot about why I have chosen you. I know that I have always connected with your vulnerability, feeling myself like a very vulnerable person. It has occurred to me that I felt I needed your light and inspiration to embark on this project, which has allowed me to communicate some of my creativity, joy and sadness with a greater audience. Also, I feel that I may be claiming you as one of my ancestors. I am so curious about all the workings of women artists, being raised be one and being one myself. I feel I need your blessing in some way but am not sure how to get it.

I am not losing very much weight.  I don’t want to say anything else about that. Ok, maybe I do. Fear usually makes me want to eat and sleep. This project makes me feel afraid. I want to do things that scare me because I know it builds courage and I want to live a courageous life. I want to engage with the rich colorful deep mysteriousness of the world around me. And lately I want to engage with a lot of toast.

Someone commented negatively on my project. The exact words were: You don’t look anything like her…move on!!,,, get psychological help!!!! This is unsolicited advice from someone I don’t know, but I do realize that putting myself out there is an invitation for responses positive and negative. In some ways, I feel like I have entered into a new arena with this negative comment…like it is a rite of passage. Not everyone is going to like it. I wish I could create something that everyone would like, but that wouldn’t allow me to include all the mystery, confusion, clarity, and uniqueness of my own heart. How did you deal with those that thought you were crazy? I know that you feared insanity, as I do, and I think many artists do as we have to dive in to some unknown territory again and again.

On the very first day of this project I wrote this quote in my journal:

Our message is simply one of appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts and fears. We give up aggression, both toward ourselves, that we have to make a special effort to impress people, and toward others, that we can put something over on them.[…] We need to be honest, real, and very earthy, and we really need to appreciate things as they are.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – True Perception

So, I think I am supplicating you here Marilyn. Please help me to have the courage to face my fears and see this thing through. Please help me to let go of the need to impress and just be genuine. Please allow me to join you in the ranks of women artists and make something that rings out truth. Please guide me to the heart of the matter, bringing lightness, courage and right effort.

Much love and gratitude for you,

Alice

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Please see Katia Bishops’ funny and insightful blog “I am the milk” where my post Losing Babies/Growing Up is being featured today in her campaign to raise awareness about miscarriage and fertility. Thank you, Katia!

The Space Between Us

Sam Shaw

Dear Marilyn,

I was speaking with one of my meditation instructors today and he said that sometimes we can be aware of the space between ourselves and another person. We can recognize that there is you and there is me and there is also the space between us. Wide open space.

Bert Stern spoke about this space too in the documentary Bert Stern Original Madman. He said that a photograph isn’t about the subject or the photographer, but about “the space between us. It’s invisible space, a space where anything can happen.”

Lately I am wondering how close I can really get to you. I made a little video about that here. It’s odd but a few times recently I have caught myself looking like you. I don’t really look like you but I don’t really look like me either. Did you ever look at photos of yourself and think “who is that woman”? Is it because we carry around an image of ourselves that is fixed at some other age some other time?

Sometimes I wonder if we humans are meant to be photographed at all. A photo fixes a moment in time, but life is ever-changing. I will never be that person I was yesterday. Is there anything about me that does not change? It seems that you were somehow able to freeze in time and remain the same in my imagination for all these years.

August is rapidly approaching. In August I will spend a day with you (as you?). What will happen in the space between us, Marilyn? Sometimes I think that I want to give you another breath, another day. Sometimes I think I have been searching for you to find me.

Love,

Alice