Lost & Found

AliceAsMarilynTiger (2)

Dear Friends,

I am very excited to open the door to Room Two this week but first I want to spend a few moments looking back at Room One and Marilyn. It feels necessary.

I have been away from the project for about five months. I went on retreat shortly after the installation and then came back to a whole host of domestic things large and small to take care of. I went back to my natural hair color mid-September and haven’t read a single Marilyn article or book since August. This has been a welcome break. After more than a year soaking in the story that was Marilyn and transforming myself physically into her all the while; it’s good to be me. I have been taking my time coming back to the blog too because I wanted to allow the experience to settle in before attempting to describe or label it in any way.

Last week, I was able to articulate some of the experiences when writing a blog post for the Shambhala Times. (You can read the full post here) I wanted to share some excerpts, and then wrap up Marilyn/Room One with some well-deserved thank you’s.

Last summer I lived twelve hours as Marilyn Monroe.

I started at 9:00 am in front of a live audience and a video feed which was broadcasting across the country. By 9:15 am I was completely panicked. I couldn’t pick up the handle, the phone, the truth, the fullness of it. I had no way of managing the situation, no place to hide.  Furthermore, I created nothing, I had nothing to show…just the space, me, her, and the invited audience. I had no plan.

As was her custom, Marilyn arrived late, meaning that I was this weird herky jerky thing for the first hour, not sounding nor moving at all like her but also not entirely like me either. Sometime after 10:00 am I put on Frank Sinatra and start to dance around the room, and suddenly she arrived in full force, wild, angry, sad, lonely, manic, loving and so vulnerable. Emotions arrived suddenly like giant waves and then were gone.

In the emptiness I am hyper-aware that all my usual ways of coping – making a cup of tea, snacking on something, checking Facebook – none of these things are available to me. I have stocked the room with three record albums, a record player, three books, some personal papers, champagne, and about four outfits. I quickly explore these things in the first three hours, reading from books, listening to the albums and getting dressed and undressed as I get in and out of bed restlessly.

Throughout the whole day I am haunted by the questions: What if this was my last day? How would I spend my time? There is this itchy feeling of waiting for time to pass, yet knowing that time is short. At one point I ask the audience “How do we make this time matter?”. They are quiet, eyes wide open…my partners in silence.

It’s sad joy to live in this world, knowing that I will have to let go of everything. I always resist that truth by building up my identity, my schedule, my agenda, my goals, never letting go enough to just be seen and loved by others, always proving something. In that twelve hour space and time with Marilyn, I experienced all the messiness and beauty of being human, all the expectations, the neediness, the wanting to be loved, the mystery and the itchy terribleness of staying there all the while, with just these three albums, these three books, this cactus and this champagne (which wasn’t even real, by the way, so there was no escape there either).

I think this is what Marilyn offered as the gift of her lifetime…or at least this is what she gave to me. The most beautiful things that life has to offer: sensuality, beauty, sex, and playfulness. And the messiness of being human, the not being able to hold it together, the addictions, the drama, the holding on too tight for too long, the self-hatred and closing off from others. The waiting for time to pass, waiting to get it perfect, the forgetting about the preciousness of this experience and feeling overwhelmed by all there is to accomplish. And the moments of complete surrender, where life is only what it is and that is good enough.

thankyou

There are so many folks that helped out in ways large and small, and I am going to include everyone I can think of since this really was such a community effort. I’m sure I will forget some folks, and I apologize in advance. First, I want to thank my husband Sean. He offers so much time, patience, editing skills, laughter, and heavy lifting to this project. Here is a picture of him heavy lifting with Natalie & Alicia the night before the performance:

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Special thanks to the Fabulous Four, who made the set-up, performance and take-down a total dream. Lisa Blandford, Natalie Panaia, Shelley Ray, and Alicia Vogl Saenz.

Fabulous Four

Thank you to Jmy at Pieter for making it possible in that beautiful space.

Thank you to Kathy Gronau for publicity.

Thank you to Rachelle for being my hair and make-up guru.

Thank you to Greg Schreiner and Scott Fortner of Marilyn Remembered.

Thank you to Siran Babayan & Drew Barillas from the LA Weekly.

Thank you to these exceptional women:  Jude, Sonora, Cynthia, Alicia V-S, Alicia T, Katie, Shelley, Erica, Vicky, Jenny, Sharon, Anne, Debra, Amy, Laura

Thank you to the Indiegogo contributers who made things a lot more financially possible:

Dustin, Ava, Eric, Janice, Jared & Annie, Heidi & Ben, Elke, Kirstin, Natalie, Nicole & Dan, Shannon, Sharon, Matthew, Alicia T, Barbara, Jenny, Valerie, Suzanna & Philip, Sulai, Patty K, Annie May, Debra & Malcolm, Patrick, Alison P, Aunt Kat, Katie, Mary Beth, Cousin Anne, Mike & Amy, Shelley, Jessica & Jennifer (PPC), Beth & Truax, Jude, Lynn, Tammy, Joseida, Lee

Special thanks to Janice of Success is Sweetest and Ellen of Bohemian Bookshelf for engaging and inspiring me.

Thank you to Mykl & Mary Lynn, Guy Blume, Margaret Kemp, Mat Keel, Julie Civiello, Lisa Oxley, Jason Elias and Philip Lasker for asking me how it’s going, listening, and advising when asked.

Thank you to the Shambhala Los Angeles sangha for support and friendship.

Thank you to everyone who participated that day (near and far) and sat with Marilyn for a time.

And thank you to my family, each of whom continue to inspire and encourage me.

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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.

In Between Identity

It is the conflict between where I am and my version of you that holds all the truth and beauty of this piece – and because you are you – all your truth and beauty lies in the push pull of Marilyn and Norma Jean. Also maybe between what was expected and what you were able to manage in your life.

-Project Journal June 2013

Thanks to Sonora & House of Minerva for bringing this Shaw photo session to my attention.

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.

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

Impressionist

Jimmy James

I am loving Jimmy James’ Marilyn. He said on Donahue in 1987 that he realized he could do Marilyn because he was studying bone structure as a make-up artist and discovered that his was quite similar to hers. His Marilyn is delicious to me, he captures her in a way that has boldness and class without feeling like an impersonation at all. See his slightly raunchy yet very classy performance here.

Clear

[Meet this] moment to moment…mindfully,

open-heartedly in the present

where all that we seek is to be found.

-Stephen Levine

Idealist

Marilyn Monroe and Carl Sandburg by Arnold Newman_everythingsbeautifulhere

“I am an idealist. I don’t know where I am going but I am on my way.” – Carl Sandburg

Dear Marilyn,

I am dipping my toes back in the waters. I’ve been away for about two weeks, one week of travel and one of rest. I had the good fortune of the opportunity to dance at my mother’s wedding. My mother radiant and blessed.

Now it’s you and me again and I’m not sure where we are going. But it’s true we are on the way.

More soon,

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!