Illuminating the Dark

I used to be terrified of the dark.

I was thoroughly convinced the boogeyman existed, and he lived in my attic.  As the sun would set, the dark shadows would envelop the door outside my room, and I imagined his glowing eyes waking and staring at me, his teeth bared, and his wicked grin widening in response to my terrified eyes and shortened breath.

And it wasn’t just the attic….underneath my bed held it’s own playground of demons, aliens, and misshaped creatures, who’s tentacles and long fingers would wrap around the edges of my comforter.

Did you ever feel like this?
What did you do to ward off the demons of the night as a child?

My defense was stuffed animals, and I had them on BOTH sides; piled high so no matter where the monsters arose from, I was protected. I would disappear under my sheets, because here it was safe.

Safe from the dark.

While I would love to share this fear fell away as my Barbie’s were sold, it actually dug in.

I remember seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller, Signs, and barely sleeping after seeing it, waking my then-husband in the middle of the night to walk to the bathroom with me.

I was 27.

This fear of the dark stayed with me, for ten more years, until I had to face what the dark was really about for me….loss of control.

 

At 37, I lost my home, marriage, my car, a dear friend, and many belongings that were stolen.

All of this was out of my control.  I felt like I was swirling in a tsunami. I didn’t know who I was anymore…
Who was I without these things?
These identities?
Mother to be, wife, artist?

I sat face to face with a Zen master and sobbed my deepest question which was hounding my days,
How do you let go?

He looked at me, gently handed me a box of tissues, and asked me the most powerful question,
Are you ok without him?

As if snapped awake from a terrible dream, an energy released in my body.  Indeed, I WAS ok.  I was sitting here breathing, my basic needs were being taken care of.  I was alive.

And something crazy began to happen.

I began to take solace in the dark.

I would come home from a busy day, or a disappointing date, and leave the lights off in my apartment.  I would sink down onto the floor and just sit in the dark, the vibrant city alive outside my window…and me, taking a moment.

Turns out there was no boogeyman waiting in my closet, or alien under my bed.  This space that once held such fear and uncertainty was now actually comforting.

The dark was just darkness….nothing else.  Now that I had realized I am ok within it, I was willing to spend more time there.

Being in a place of not knowing and releasing control actually was HEALING. I had spent so much energy in feeling I had to KNOW every step, control every aspect of my life, and that had only exhausted me, and stolen my ability to show up most powerfully as a performer.

I wanted to believe for the first 37 years of my life that things were permanent….and that I could control that. My year of loss taught me differently.  And to be honest?  It was a huge relief.

Maybe there was far more magic occurring.  What if I took my hands off the wheel and tried something IN PLACE of control….what if I tried TRUST?

Was this what was waiting under the bed for me all along?
What’s waiting for you?

 

Where do you control in your Art?
What monsters have you convinced yourself are waiting in the dark for you?

What is YOUR dark?

The creative process is full of magic and mystery.  And it requires we release control to allow not only the muse, but to enjoy it!

I watch so many Artists stop themselves because they get caught in uncertainty.  And trust me, I get it!  I could have won a prize for how many times I did this in my professional career. But, the dark was not what I thought it was.

I thought letting go of control would harm me.  Instead, it freed me.

Letting go of control freed me to take risks, to play stage roles I could have never played before.  Letting go of control freed me to launch a business, build a global fan base, and get back to my childhood love of writing.

 

What if the uncertainty is actually your gateway to powerful creation?

And if you released control, what would you do differently?

You may peek under your bed and see simple dust balls piling under the bed frame…..and beyond that?

That’s where the real discovery lies.

 

Photography: Caitlin Cannon Photography

Waving Through a Window

On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?

Have you ever felt this?
Feeling isolated and alone, watching life pass by?

Last week I sat transfixed watching Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony award Broadway musical, and every morning when I wake, all I hear in my head is,
I’m waving through a window,
Can anybody see?

And I knew I had to write to you about it.

I’ve been waiting to see this show for over a year.  It’s the hottest ticket on Broadway right now, rising in acclaim from a loyal fan base, and winning the Grammy for best album.But, what surprised me most was, I actually didn’t know what the show was about.

Somehow from some past conversation, I had thought the show was about bullying, so as I sat in the audience during pre-show, and watched the screens showing constant social media feeds, I thought,
Right…the effect of social media on teens….cyber bullying.

Then, the show began, and it was all too clear this was not about bullying.

The show is actually about teenage suicide and depression.

Not exactly what you would expect from a Broadway musical, right?
Aren’t musicals about happy people, dancing, and bursting into uplifting songs?

Why do so many people relate to this musical?
Why is it able to command some of the highest ticket prices and sell out every night?

Throughout the theater, the sound I heard was tears…crying….sniffling. And at the end, the entire audience was on their feet.

I’m waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?

 

I slam my dance clothes into my bag, holding back tears as I feel the hot sting of embarrassment.

I’ve been cut again.
It’s not fair.

I look at all the women being kept to sing, mourning my lost opportunity.
My voice is warm, I have my best song with me, and yet it doesn’t matter. They don’t want to hear me sing.

This won’t be my show. This won’t be my opportunity, and it’s back to another audition.

I see my colleagues, friends, all booking their Broadway show.  I feel like screaming,
Give me my CHANCE! Please!

On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?

And I jam my headphones into my ears, and walk out onto the city street.  I’m getting older, I’ve been professionally performing for over 15 years….and the question arises in me,
Will this ever happen?

Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?

 

Three years later, I slam the bathroom door, and slide down the wall, curling into the smallest ball possible.
I feel the heat pipe behind me, and wonder if I hold my hand to it, would it burn?

Then I look at the bathroom window, and wonder,
can I squeeze through it?

This bathroom is three stories up……

I’m losing this home anyway.
I’m losing this marriage…..I’m losing this life.

Could I fit through the window?
And then, would all the pain I feel pass?

For a moment, I stare at the window and consider, and then I come back.  I come back to the fact my entire life is falling apart.  My husband is leaving me.  I’m not getting pregnant.  Everything I had planned has slipped through my fingers.

I feel the pain, and realize I’m still breathing. And I realize I want to live. 

I want a devoted husband.
I want a family.
I want a life in the arts that fulfills me.

And I realize it’s not happening here….it’s been crying out for years, and now the truth is here.

And I take a breath, wipe my tears….and get up.

And I start to speak….
I start to ask for help…
I start to write about all that has been trapped inside me.

And the biggest surprise of all?
People listen.
People come close.

And I realize, I’ve been WRONG all along.

We actually have far more in common than differences.

All my doubts, all my fears, my heartache and vulnerability are actually what I SHARE with others.

I had thought I would be rejected for my vulnerability and people would leave.  Turns out, this is what was missing all along.

 

And the writers of Dear Evan Hansen knew this too.
They knew it intimately.

We actually all just want to be SEEN.
We want to be HEARD.

Starved for connection in our present age…..we deeply want to BELONG.

Dear Evan Hansen isn’t talking about something new.  Teenage depression and suicide have been around for a very long time, but the writers are giving it a VOICE.  They are releasing the shame and stigma around something that millions of families deal with, to offer the simple message,

You are not alone.

As an Artist, the greatest gift you bring to the table is your HUMANITY.  It’s not your perfection….it’s what you share with your audience.

We all cry.
We all feel loss.
We all have hearts that break, and bend, and burst.

And as an Artist, YOU have the ability to translate that.

You have the ability to translate these aspects that can feel so hidden to your audience into,
song
word
visual art
photography
dance

This is your gift. And it allows your audience to touch their humanity, and to open to loving their life.

So, take a breath, and tap in.

Are you sharing your Humanity with your audience?
Are you focused on what you have in common?

Listen, speak to them, and share what you have in common.

That’s when they will listen.

As Evan sings,
Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand

And oh, someone will coming running
And I know, they’ll take you home

So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found

 

We are stronger together.
Create your Art from our shared humanity.

Image courtesy of: Seattle Times