Abstraction

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Georgia O’Keeffe Series 1-No 1, 1918 Amon Carter Museum

Ever since I started working with you, all words seem like too much. I want to pare back until I find the essence. I don’t want to talk around it but sometimes I don’t know how else to do it…I just keep staring and pointing like a fool.

Maybe it’s time to start painting.

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Conception

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Dear Georgia,

I have just been reading the letters between you and Anita Pollitzer. I feel like a big cheat because you both keep saying things like – you must keep this in the strictest confidence and this is only between you and me and here I am reading it like it’s mine. In the summer of 1916 you spent the days walking (2 hrs) reading (2 hrs) sewing undergarments (unknown) and painting or drawing (2.5 hrs). Today as I ironed my uniform for work, my hands looked useful to me. I am imagining myself as a mother.

I have a confession – just between you and me – I have been thinking the last week that I needed to take a hiatus from this project. Why on earth did I set out to do a FOUR YEAR project? Did I think I would not want to do anything else for four years?

there are a lot of life things happening that are wanting my attention/i can’t conceive of how I will continue to learn about your life and create a performance right now/you really don’t need me prying into your world, which is no longer yours but still/this might end up all about me and nothing about you/the project is always tugging at me/i’m always feeling that i’m not doing enough/the initial excitement of doing this project has worn off/what is left?

and there’s this:

My husband and I are trying to conceive because we want to be parents and I am forty so the time is now. There is a part of me that just wants to be very quiet with this decision. To settle down and allow my life to shift and shimmer into the world of child/mother/family and forget all that came before.

Conception [according to Ms. Merriam Webster]

a :  the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both 

b :  beginning <joy had the like conception in our eyes — Shakespeare>

:  a complex product of abstract or reflective thinking

d :  the sum of a person’s ideas and beliefs concerning something

e :  the originating of something in the mind

 

Then I started to think about commitment. That there may be more lessons for me in hanging out with you when it feels hard and stuck and wrong than those lessons that come from shutting the thing down. I’ve done that one before and I know what those lessons are.

The funny thing is: when quitting was not an option I had to think about how we could work together now. How you are not Marilyn, and I am not the Alice I was a year ago. Then I let myself off the hook a little and thought about what I could do with our time together.

So maybe I might write to you next week. Let’s stay in touch and see what happens with us – even with all the rest of it.

Love,

Alice

Also, Sean and I are going to the PO today to apply for our passports. In September we are going to Croatia, but first we will land in Budapest where I will look for your relatives if I can find where to look.

Mucking Around

60.O'Keeffe,LightOnPlains

Light Coming on the Plains II, 1917

Dear Georgia or Ms. O’Keeffe,

I’m not sure which to call you. Georgia seems too intimate but Ms. O’Keeffe too scholarly. Maybe others have struggled with this and that is why some resort to calling you simply O’Keeffe. I would be okay with you calling me Alice, but I’m not sure that the reverse would be true.

So I have set sail on this journey of research, transformation and creation and so far seem to be wandering around in placid waters, watching the clouds go by with no sense of direction and no sense of urgency to get any where at all. Is this related somewhat to who you are, or am I just directionless? I am very much enjoying reading your book, Georgia O’Keeffe (by Georgia O’Keeffe). I am wondering if -in your lifetime – you became comfortable mucking around in the realm beyond language, the space where there need not be labels in order to experience some truth in the body. I wonder if that might be why you refused to speak about your art in terms of what it was about? Maybe you didn’t know what it was about either, it was simply what your body wanted to say.

I love reading the letters between you and Alfred Stieglitz – the way you both describe the world around you with such detail and earthiness! In this book there are such interesting things in the footnotes, like how the artist Marsden Hartley thought your art “too personal”. Stieglitz said that Hartley “doesn’t want to feel struggle – he has had enough himself-he wants greater objectivity-less subjectivity” (pg 136 My Faraway One). I wonder if Hartley knew and was responding to what you said previously about his work; that “it was like a brass band in a small closet”. That makes me giggle. You had a smart mouth on you.

We don’t much write letters anymore, at least I don’t. Mailboxes are being taken off of sidewalks as we are learning to tweet/vine/blog our every moment. When I meet up with friends, we have little news to share because we already read about it on Facebook. I think about your wide open velvety close nights in New Mexico and I remember the night sky in January in Maine when I was a kid, so sharp and clear that I could almost disappear.

The truth is I am scared. I don’t know what is going to happen with you and me and it feels like the rules have changed. Where Marilyn pushed me to reach out in a deeply personal way, create a burst of color and light, and change myself physically you seem to be urging me to listen within. Take long walks. Make salad. Stare out the window. Clean the house. All I want to do is clean the house.

You warn me about the perils of housework. Somewhere I read that when you were painting you let the dishes pile up. For me it is much easier to clean, grocery shop, and make all sorts of lists than to delve into the unknown of creativity.

Today on my walk I was visited by a monarch butterfly swooping and soaring on the breeze. She would come close to me and then flutter away. Her pattern seemed to be effort, effort, effort…soar, swoop, crest…effort, effort, effort again, then maybe full stop for a moment, begin again. This pattern echoed something I heard yesterday in an acting class. We were encouraged to row, row, row the boat of our creativity until the current took us and when the current ebbed, row again. Maybe this is the best lesson for me for today, try to feel when to effort, effort, effort, when to swoop and soar and when to full stop: rest.

With admiration,

Alice

Philip Seymour Hoffman, God, and Discipline

Empty Swings

I cried when I heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman was dead. I was two parts incredulous at a universe that could allow such a thing to happen, and one part just plain sad. I wanted with all my heart for it to be not true.

I remember seeing several of the plays he directed at the Labyrinth Theater Company, one in which I sat in the row behind him and his mom, and couldn’t wait to call my mom (from the bathroom at intermission) to let her know that I was sitting behind them.  My mom and I were equally enamored with him as an actor, following his career and referring to him as only the sound “psh”, which made us giggle like school girls. He represented to me the time in New York, when I was acting in the theater, going to grad school and seeing amazing theater like his production of “The Little Flower of East Orange”.

I love the word God. When I speak this word it cracks open my heart and puts me right in touch with all that is big and mysterious in this funky world. It holds all the mystery of what I don’t know, can’t explain or find words for.  When I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman act I would think “He is touched by God” and by this I meant that the clouds were not obscuring his pure communication of truth.

When I set out to become Marilyn Monroe, this is partly what I was seeking.  To convey some unfettered moment of truth. I wanted to be touched by God, and share that with you. What I learned from the experience is that those moments of allowing God/truth/basic goodness to flow through come with practice.  And the practice is letting go. And letting go requires discipline.

In my research about Georgia O’Keeffe, I am finding a woman with immense discipline. From one anecdote I learned that she had to stop partying with friends all the time because she found that she could not paint when hungover. I found that she always ate three meals a day and plus two snacks and was very concerned with nutrition. When she was newly married, she tried to adapt to her husband’s way of eating which was hot chocolate and cookies in the morning and then nothing until dinner time. She found that she could not be at her best with this schedule of eating and soon established her own regimen. It seems she was looking for the people places and things that would allow her to do her best work. Allow her to let go and create. It’s such a paradox that small things like being well-fed, or having a morning routine that involves meditation, or taking a run allow us to let go and be our best.

This year, with Georgia O’Keeffe as my guide, I want to develop the disciplines that help me to do my best work. So I can more frequently let the unfettered truth flow. I’m so grateful that Philip Seymour Hoffman had so many years of sharing himself with us in this way, and I mourn his absence from this world.

In an interview with Simon Critchley at the Rubin Museum in December 2012, Philip Seymour Hoffman said  “Meditation is actually coming right up to the lip of death, and saying, ‘I’m here and I’m scared and I’m here and I’m scared’…That’s life, that if you can actually live in that place, that that’s happiness.”

Giving & Receiving

Dear Friends of Room One,

I have created an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to help this project come to fruition. If you are able to make a donation of any size (even $1 helps!), please do so here. Furthermore, it would be a great help to me if you could also share this campaign with your people and help get the word out.

I want to share some gratitude today. I have been thinking of the last year and all that has transpired since I set out on the path to become Marilyn Monroe. This choice has created a dialogue with a network of supportive and creative friends. My blog has attracted other creative and open-hearted individuals, and we have read each others writing, commented, liked and generally celebrated the act of engaging with this thing called life.

I have also grown closer with friends and family as a result of sharing myself in a more open way through this project. There is really something to be said for going to the places that scare you and then looking around to see who else is there. There is a special bond that grows when we can be with each other in a way that says “Yep, me too.” I have always craved this kind of connection and feel very lucky to experience this giving and receiving.

Throughout the year, I have had the opportunity to look with honesty at my relationship with this body of mine too. I started out thinking that becoming Marilyn Monroe would encourage me to slim down at last. What I discovered is that I am an emotional eater. When I feel groundless I turn to food to feel grounded. I have felt groundless a lot this year and I have turned to food a lot. And I am okay with that. I realized that this project, Marilyn Monroe, or any book, diet or exercise regime is not going to change this relationship with food.  Only I can dance this dance of not enough/too much until I tire the whole story out. Since it is a lifelong habit, I might need some time and space to really learn the dance.

I have been a witness to Marilyn’s relationship with her body and in the witnessing have found a lot of compassion for all of us women who fear the true beauty of our hips/breasts/mouths/minds and all the rest.

Often I ask myself if it is necessary to keep going with this project and see it through the performance. I have wondered if it will be of benefit to anyone. But lately, I have felt that I am cracking the code. I am opening the doors and saying have a look, don’t be shy. There is safety in groundlessness. We are born in the space of not knowing. In that space we live and die, each day a new chapter of the story is being revealed to us one moment at a time.

On August 4 I will perform as Marilyn. We will step into that unknowing together and exist there for a full twelve hours, our existences blending. This happens to be the last full day that Marilyn lived (She died August 5, 1962 at age 36). In the performance space I will be posing this question: How will we each spend our last day? I invite you to come and spend a few minutes or an hour or the day contemplating this question with me and Marilyn.

If you are unable to come, you can support by giving something to the Indiegogo fund. Also, I will make sure that you are linked in on the webcast the day of so you can take part from afar.

Losing Babies/Growing Up

1962 George Barris

Dear Marilyn,

I fear I am somehow losing the ability to write from my heart. In recent years we have been privy to many of your letters and journals and I find it quite comforting to know that you sat down with pen in hand and spilled out the contents of your heart. I can see your effort and struggle to find the right words. I can see that you didn’t intend for those words to be seen. And here I am, years later so grateful for a look inside your messiness; your insatiable desire to understand life.

I think I am like you in this regard.

I wanted to tell you that we have something else in common. I too lost a baby. We called her Ella, although we didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl. The night before I miscarried I was performing on stage. I started spotting before the performance, but decided to go on anyway. Oh God, I wanted Ella.

Please forgive me for bringing up a painful subject. I just wanted to let you know that I too have felt the spasms of my body doing exactly what I didn’t want it to do. I have lain on my side in the dark feeling the enormity of the event while my hips pushed out a baby too tiny for life.

Did you feel, as I did, that you had been chosen when you found out you were pregnant? Like everything was finally right in the universe?

I felt that there were many questions that I needn’t worry about anymore. Especially the whole “Why Am I Here” one.

Once the hormones kicked in I started to fear my own body. I was afraid to let go of control and let this baby take over. I struggled with quitting caffeine and never fully did which probably increased my chances of miscarriage. I was trying to do a lot and I was tired. My father told me after the miscarriage “Next time you get pregnant, just be pregnant.”

Now I am nearing forty and I don’t know if there will be a next time. Like you, I always thought I would be a mother. How do I reconcile my lifelong dreams with this reality of time marching on? Where do I find meaning in life if not with a child? While this thought is scary, there is also some bit of liberation. What if I do get to skip that whole thing? There are certainly enough babies in the world.

The miscarriage led me directly to you and the rest of this project. As I dive deeper into this I see it is a way for me to work with all these identities (mother/actor/wife/buddhist/daughter/sister/woman) and see what is underneath them.

Without putting too much pressure on you, I think becoming you might be an opportunity for me to create something. Something that is not really you and not really me, but both of us too. Do you mind if we work together in this way?

You see, you are the guardian of a part of my heart that threatens to harden with all this real life stuff. As a child I looked at your image on my bedroom wall and knew that all things were possible. As I got older I felt less and less possibility. I don’t want to harden my heart, Marilyn. I’m sorry if this is strange for you, but you are the person I choose to accompany me on the first part of this journey. I think you might understand. I imagine you saw all things possible in Marilyn Monroe too.

Thank you for your beautiful spirit that just gives and gives even these fifty years later. I’ll write again soon.

Love,
Alice

Red Lipstick Kisses

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I visited Marilyn’s grave last week. My friend Shelley and I were very excited to make this pilgrimage. I think we both had the feeling that this was something that we were meant to do since we were very young. You can watch a short video about our adventure here.

It was a beautiful and peaceful location although it was sandwiched between a parking garage and a sky scraper. We had some trouble finding it but once we did there was a sense of being welcomed into a secret place.

One of the most striking things was the way that Marilyn’s crypt was deeper in color than the others. As I got closer I saw the reason.  For years visitors had been kissing and touching the marble. The oils from hands and red lipstick kisses have polished the marble to a beautiful glow.

Two days later I heard about the bombings in Boston while at work. I spent the week glued to the media hoping to catch some piece of information that could make it make sense but none came.

Determined to take a break from the news, I listened to a recent podcast from Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. She led us through a contemplation where we imagined what we would do if we had one year to live. At this point I thought about this project and why I feel compelled to complete it. Then she had us imagine a month to live and I thought about my family & friends and letting them know how much I love them. Then a week and I thought about picking up my husband from work and just holding each other, kissing each other’s tears. Lastly, we imagined that we only had a few minutes left. The first thought that came to mind was that the only thing left to do in these last moments is to realize how truly good I am. And completely forgive myself all the times I forgot.

That Saturday before the bombings I too touched the smooth silky marble of Marilyn’s crypt. All those touches and kisses seemed to say “I care about your suffering and I see how good you are.” I wonder how long I can hold this aspiration in my heart before I forget again.

Eating Seagulls

Marilyn scale

iwanttobethin iwanttobethin iwanttobethin iwanttobethin iwanttobethin iwant iwant iwant ohgodiwanttobethin

When I started this project, I had a secret fantasy about something. I dreamed that as a result of committing myself 100% to this transformation I would lose weight. This is a common dream of mine lacing through my whole life and narrowly evading me.

In Buddhism this is called the realm of the hungry ghosts. The hungry ghosts have gigantic bellies and little tiny mouths. They can never seem to fill their bellies, and they are always ghosting around looking for just the thing. Not surprisingly, this is called a hell realm.

In January, I went for an annual physical and found my BMI to be in the overweight category and my cholesterol to be a little high. I was not losing weight for my art – I was gaining it.

This started yet another round of trying to find the perfect combination of food and exercise that would melt the pounds away. I have cut out a lot of meat and dairy to lower my cholesterol. I feel great about this because factory farming is terrible for the environment and animals deserve happy free lives too. I also went back to my favorite yoga class and increased my vigorous walks with the Finn puppy. And in March? Still the same. No change.

I look at Marilyn’s body in pictures and wonder why I can’t capture that.

I look at my beautiful strong under-appreciated body and wonder if there is another way.

What is going on with me and food? Why am I snacking away in front of a movie, or making multiple trips to the kitchen while surfing the internet. Finn knows the habit and he trails right along beside me because he knows I may drop a chip in transit.

On those nights when I don’t make the trip back and forth to the kitchen, I feel something is missing. It feels like life is dull if I am not trapped in this drama of being good/being bad/eating/drinking/more/less. It’s not so much the food I miss, but the torment of it all. That might sound weird, but it’s true.

So today I walked outside at work and ate a seagull.

I didn’t eat the seagull, but I ate the sight of the seagull swooping down to land on the building. I ate huge and wondrous mountains on my morning walk and three coyotes that passed by. I noted the life in between the food, and those feelings of blah. I acknowledged my glee around eating. God, I love to eat.

As of today, I am still holding the dream that in the four months before the performance I can slim down. I am holding in mind that this is four months of my life not eternity. I am decreasing my food intake, increasing exercise and reminding myself to notice that I am not in the hell realm but very lucky to be alive. I am buddying with a friend who also wants to lose weight, listening to a hypnosis app, and telling people about my goal. I call this the everything plan…do all I can so at least I know I tried.

The good news is that I have so much more time and energy since I’ve been exercising and leaving out the extracurricular snacks. I’ll update you about my progress. I have 17 weeks to go.

Here’s a brief video from the front lines.

Hair, Make-Up & Fear

Barris_hairdresser_Agnes 1962

“We have to make a relationship with our emotional energy. Usually, when we speak of expressing our energies, we are more concerned with the expression than with the energy itself, which seems to be rushing too fast. We are afraid the energy will overwhelm us, so we try to get rid of it through action. However, once you develop a harmonious relationship with your energy, then you can actually express it, and the style of expression becomes very sane, right to the point.” – Chogyam Trungpa

I spent the day today with my hair & make-up whiz Rachelle. It means a lot to me that Rachelle has jumped on board with this wild idea of slowly transforming my hair to the “ultimate blonde” (as she calls it).

So far, each time I get a little blonder I encounter a period of total self-doubt. I wonder WHAT AM I DOING? The physical commitment of changing my hair color pushes me farther along the path and the self-doubt that arises with that forward movement can feel really bad. I long to attach the sensation of fear in my belly, the trembling in my heart and the tension in my shoulders with a PROBLEM, so that I can just fix it and be done with it.  But my teachers & friends tell me that I cannot just escape the feelings by making a plan to better myself.

Pema Chodron encourages me to let go of that whole fix-it story and touch the feelings underneath. Today, underneath the story of not being (insert anything here) enough is a tender vulnerability that feels surprisingly like love. It feels much less rigid than all those grasping thoughts about fixing the problem. I’m grateful that today I remembered that this is an option: let go of the story and sink down into it. I’m grateful I meditated today too because I think that gave me a tiny bit of practice in letting go. I’m grateful that I am surrounded by friends and teachers who remind me that it is now that matters, not some perfect future.

There will always be room for improvement and what is really important is this moment (because who knows how long we have). And while I am planning a better me I miss the greatest opportunity I have. That opportunity is to be a human being, to engage with the fear of being passionate about something, to feel sad, to feel lost, to allow my friends to comfort me, encourage me. I miss my chance to connect with others which is all I really want in the end anyway.

Monster

Monster

I forget sometimes that life goes around in circles, at least mine does. I have wanted to do this project for a long time, but it was just recently that is struck me that I have already done it, sort of.

When I first moved to New York City in 2000, I co-wrote a solo show about Marilyn Monroe. I worked with my friend, Kim. She directed it and I toiled over the nine page script. I can’t find the review online any longer, but I do remember that they said it was the briefest performance of the evening.

I called the piece “Monster”. It was about a woman who was a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. She is talking to her therapist about why she hides behind Marilyn’s persona. Finally, (about eight pages later) she is willing to pull off the wig and reveal her true self.

When I think about this play, I feel kind of proud. I moved to New York City to be an actress, and within a year I was performing my own material off-off broadway and getting reviewed (in an off-off broadway journal). I found a friend to work with me, and we told a story. The effort was worthwhile.

I had a postcard of Marilyn taped to my make-up mirror. Each night I would say to her “Here we go!” before I went out on stage. Her image shined out to me, her curves and blonde hair telling me that all things were possible.