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Pele: Reclaiming the Land

In Hawaii, one year ago, the Fire Goddess Pele spoke loudly, demanding to be heard. Pele reminded us of her power as molten lava made an agonizingly slow journey towards Pahoa… into Pahoa. Poor unassuming Pahoa, that just wanted to be left alone, clearly wanted to be left alone, in the middle of nowhere, on an already remote island. Pahoa… a place of locals, hippies, Hawaiians, real Hawaiians, not transplanted mainlanders likes me. Authentic off-the-beaten-path Pahoans, who found themselves on World News Tonight because Pele decided to take back the land and Pahoa was in the way. And it was nothing against Pahoa itself, of course it wasn’t. The Pahoans claimed they were honored that Pele chose them… set her black coal eyes on them. They welcomed the Goddess of Fire; they relinquished their property, their homes, and their schools to her. Through tears, they gave it all back. They said it on the local news, at town meetings, and on CNN. They gave it all back to the Goddess.

“Let’s divert the lava!!” a politician said at a town meeting back then. “Let’s divert its course. Protect Pahoa! Save Pahoa!”

Ironically it was the Pahoans themselves who said no to this plan, this ridiculous notion that one can try to divert or at all control the flow of lava… lava that crept across fields and roads on its slow journey towards Pahoa, broke down fences, entered homes… the lava — an invader, wanting only to make itself known. It was in no rush, no rush at all. It took 123 days for the lava to make its way into a private property.

“The lava has entered its first dwelling” someone who was there said. “Pray for us. Pray for Pahoa. Pray for Pele to go around us.”

But only Pele herself that make that decision. To burn or spare. To salvage or decimate. We all watched the trajectory of the lava. We watched it crawl on its black hands and knees, destroying everything in its path, turning green into ash, pouring toxic fumes into our already VOG-filled air, creating a sideshow that became a national spectacle. And there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, divert it, or contain it. Pele was taking back the land, beginning with a place where she is honored – the ultimate form of control. She was not attacking outsiders – the resorts or the multi-million dollar homes of Hualalai… no, she began with her own people, those who offered themselves to her, their Goddess.

So we watched, helpless, as Pele rolled through, reminding us that this is how Hawaii began. With lava. Black Sand. Volcanic eruption. A Goddess and her sister, battling for a place to land, and Pele, victorious, chose the Big Island. Pele set her sights on OUR island, and maybe we’ve been negligent, maybe we stopped caring or honoring, maybe we turned our back on an old woman on the street, an old woman asking for assistance of some sort… a sandwich, a few pennies, shelter. They say that Pele appears to us in the form of an elder. Do not turn your back when she comes to you, do not say no, and most definitively, do NOT walk by, ignoring her. Ah, but that’s another story, for later. The story of Pele in disguise…

And so, a year ago today, on the Big Island of Hawaii, Pele, The Volcano Goddess, reclaimed the land, returning it, or at least as much of it as she wanted, to what it once was… restructuring, destroying, recreating it in her own image. Of course, we must destroy to break down. It was biblical, it was from past lifetimes, it was familiar in its fierceness; it was the Mother’s voice – Medea – sacrificing her children so that Jason’s betrayal of her would be avenged.

I live on an island that periodically destroys itself to be reborn in the image of its Goddess. The Goddess of fire. Reborn, this last time, at the expense of a small town called Pahoa, an innocent whose only crime was that it sat itself down in the path of Pele and her volcano. And Pele doesn’t have companions.

Now, we can only stand back, in awe of lava and fire, of Goddesses who were maybe ignored or passed over or not honored. We can only stand back and let Pele take what she feels is rightfully hers, as we witness the ultimate power of The Feminine, the power of a Goddess who gives… and takes back. We can only stand back and witness, with deepest reverence, the power of Pele.















Going Home to Write

My parents lived in the same modest brick house in Winthrop Massachusetts, just outside Boston, for over fifty years. Now they live in Houston. It’s a new thing, Houston… Texas.

Next weekend, I’m going to lead two writers’ workshops for women around the corner — literally a two-minute walk — from the house where I grew up. The house I could return to, until last year, because it was mine. Ours. Now it belongs to another family. A family just starting out. I’ll be around the corner from my childhood, from the place of all my firsts; from the place I went, seven years ago, to recover from surgery for cancer, the adult child of my parents, recovering in the room of my childhood. The video of Rena, Iva, and our group of Emerson College friends was taken there, in 1981, before we headed into our separate lives, when Rena was still a girl, laughing. It’s a place of magic, of playing in suburban streets until long after dark, back when kids did that sort of thing without parents watching — our gang of scrappy Irish and Italian kids, and me, the token Jew. A place so alive for me I can barely walk down the street without falling into the euphoria of a first kiss; of running home from Lisa’s Brooks’ house, fast, fast, in the dark; of climbing onto the low roof of the red one-car detached garage, my hidden place under a weeping willow, to write in my diary… the one with the tiny gold lock and key, kept in a secret drawer; memories of piano lessons with bald Mr. Greslin, two houses up the hill; and my love affair with the slate gray/blue Atlantic Ocean, my first ocean, across the street and visible from my bedroom window, an object of longing; and my beloved Nana and Papa, both gone now — her four years, him forty-four — and the first day of school all those years, every first day, new clothes spread out on the bed, sometimes bright red clothes, accenting the fact that I was red, and yes the kids would circle around me chanting, “Red is dead, red is dead, we won’t play with you,” so there was also that, but later there was theater and all those musicals and suddenly red hair was a cause for celebration, not shame; and there was Marylou Cronin, the young girl who was murdered by her mother’s boyfriend back then, and when I came home from camp, and Marylou was still missing, Gloria told me she was hiding under my bed… I looked for her for years under that bed, even after they found her body in separate black garbage bags, under his porch… she’s part of that time too, the tragic lost girl from fourth grade, discarded like trash… and years of Hebrew School and a Bat Mitzvah, back when it wasn’t as important for a girl as a boy, and I could only have a dessert party, not the whole dinner thing my brother had later; and Howie Brooks’ wallet-sized school picture tucked under my pillow in sixth grade when he still had braces and wore a red and blue plaid cotton shirt; and the Monkees the Beatles the Partridge Family and Bobby Sherman, all that early music, 1971, ’72, black lights and BBG parties, stolen kisses with boys on Back Beach, and a cement beach wall, down a steep set of rickety wooden steps, where I could sit above the ocean, alone, dreaming of what life would bring, never imagining that I would end up in Hawaii, 5,000 miles away from this place I could always return to, later: this place of joy, of all those firsts, of my young beautiful parents and my little brother, back then… a house filled with love and memory a house that is no longer mine.

I’ll be writing around the corner from my childhood in five days with all of that swirling around me. It just worked out that way, that this is the space I got. It’s a wonderful bright room overlooking the ocean (the weekend after that we’ll be writing in a theater in Boston), and I’ve never written in a place so filled up, so loaded with history… my history. It could be extraordinary. I wonder if I’ll be able to breathe. The thought both thrills and terrifies me. Going home to write.




I woke up on a table, unable to breathe. There was a man, a Chinese man, Dr. Wong, a radiologist, ordering me, almost begging me to take in air, but I had forgotten how. I had never experienced pain like this, the pain of an organ suddenly missing; an organ taken, removed, cut out: my lung, the upper left lobe gone, and I woke up on a metal table and breathing was not a thing I knew how to do.

Panic. Memories of drowning, my belief that I had drowned in a past life, a ship with sails that went down; memory of an actual event: 1971, Mindy Solomon. I was eleven. Jewish sleepaway camp, pools, lifeguards; prepubescent girls who couldn’t see straight we were so alive with the sudden discovery of desire and the boys across the field, midnight bunk raids and stolen kisses. A secret stolen kiss with Bobby Savage in a bowling alley. My first kiss. A tongue in my mouth… magical rush of desire, passion, heartbeat; a cute blond-haired blue-eyed Ashkenazi Jewish boy’s tongue in my mouth.

In the pool that day, Mindy Solomon, all chubby Marblehead privileged Jewess, all wound up from her own first kiss with another boy, a dark haired Sephardic Jewish boy named Lawrence, not Savage and Sweet and blond-haired-blue-eyed like my Ashkenazi Bobby, my first-kiss Bobby — Lawrence: braces, awkward, acne; still, he kissed her and she felt all I felt… rush of desire, passion, heartbeat, and so it didn’t matter that she couldn’t swim when she jumped into the pool on that day. I had dared her and I promised to save her if she started to drown and when she did start to drown, I offered myself as a life raft and she climbed on, grasping for something, anything to buoy her up; she was bigger and more desperate, and then there was all that privilege.

So that on day in 1971, at Camp Litchaven in Southern New Hampshire, James Taylor blasting in the background and other girls stealing first time kisses behind colorful cabanas, Mindy Solomon, not intentionally, not REALLY intentionally, almost drowned me.

What I remember next is the lifeguard, an older man, a counselor: bald, distracted, he had been falling asleep in that high chair, he dove in and saved me, finally, pulled her off me and dragged me out of the pool, resuscitated me, brought me back to life with, “BREATHE!”

September, 2008.

I woke up on a table; I had forgotten how to breathe. Dr. Wong was standing over me, looking panicked. I couldn’t possibly be his first patient who didn’t know how to take in air with part their lung cut out, and after remembering drowning and before anything else, even before before I thought about what it would mean to my children to maybe grow up without a mother—-my son only ten, and my daughter fifteen—-what I thought about first was Paris.

That I would never see Paris.

So here I was, not yet knowing if this cancer that had taken part of my lung had spread, had made its way into my lymph nodes and bones; not yet knowing if the phone call to my children, the children I had just moved to Hawaii a year before, would be one of goodbye, of I am sorry to leave so soon, of please get on a plane to Boston, please make that 5,000 mile trip to see me again, one more time. See, cancer is that kind of thief, and this cancer, this shocking and most unexpected cancer in this lung, now taken/removed/cut-out, it crawled into my bed at night while I was asleep, an uninvited and unwelcome adversary, and now I am on a metal table, and breathing is a memory.

Mindy Solomon and stolen kisses with Bobby Savage back then, raiding boys’ bunks and the hot summer sun of 1971 sleepaway camp in southern New Hampshire, and all that would be ahead, desire-passion-heartbeat, and now Dr. Wong ordering me to BREATHE!, but I can’t; and in that nanosecond between my life flashing before my eyes and that first breath… the second first breath of my life… that excruciating, impossible, deeply sad yet ecstatic first breath that came with the possibility of rebirth, reawakening, of loss that would be transformed into abundance, the sliding glass door that opened in that moment and there would be exquisite gifts; but in that nanosecond between drowning and who I would become, later, that began with that first breath on that table that day, there was only Paris.

paris two

Hawaii Sunrise


I drove my daughter to the airport just before 5:00 am this morning, in the dark. On the way back from Kona to Waimea the sun was beginning to rise and the juxtaposition of ocean and seemingly endless black lava against our stunning mountains – Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai – that were shrouded in early morning mist, was one of the most breathtaking sights imaginable. Hawaii is a place of almost unbearable beauty, especially at sunrise and sunset. The lava becomes more vivid and otherworldly against the Pacific Ocean, which revealed itself to be that intense island turquoise as the sun rose higher in the sky, and the mountains hovering over all if it were the great gift. Gratitude for such remarkable beauty…

Embracing The Witch


A favorite moment of the day. I walked into the post office and a little girl – maybe five years old – screamed out, “Mommy, it’s THE WITCH! I thought she was dead!” and she hid behind her mother. (They obviously came to see “Into The Woods” over the weekend.) And here’s the BEST response ever. Instead of her mother saying, “That was just a show and she’s an actress who played the witch,” she said, “But remember? She lost all her magical powers when she became young and beautiful, so she doesn’t cast spells anymore. It’s fine.” And the little girl actually came up to me and said, “So are you a nice witch now?” It killed me. I said, in keeping with Sondheim’s theme that ‘nice is different than good’ (Chuck Hudson, this one was for you) — “Well maybe not nice. But good.” 🙂 I love that this mother kept the magic of theater alive for her daughter. So Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the Witch are all in place and that little girl wasn’t scared after that. She skipped out of the post office, even after encountering a witch.

Alone at the Kahilu

Waking up in HawaiiAlone at the Kahilu Theatre on the Big Island… 7:30 pm. It’s raining outside, and my acting and musical theater students all left. Now it’s just me, closing up. The silence in this theatre is filled with so much sound because the theatre is alive with every performer that has walked through its doors to grace this stage… Hawaiian music, classical, wild and vibrant dance. Talk Story. Hula — the fierce celebration of that sacred dance. The theatre is like the mountain in that you can’t separate it from its history. Alone in this theatre, shutting off lights and locking doors, I feel the ghost of Richard Smart, the Kahilu’s founder, now long gone — and the ghost of the man who gave his life when the theatre was being built and he fell to his death from the catwalk. There is a plaque for him that I imagine will always be here. Paintings in the booth of a young Richard Smart — once a bon vivant, a Broadway gypsy — he had a vision for what this space could be, this theatre he named after his Hawaiian mother, Thelma Kahilu Parker, and at one time this theatre was a house for Kahilu-produced musicals and plays. So happy to have been given the gift of directing a Kahilu-produced musical last January — the first one in decades — and now another one in June; to be part of bringing back a piece of this theatre that was once so significant. It’s a magical place, the Kahilu. It closed its doors and then came back to life and now it’s vibrant and full. Like Hawaii itself. Grateful beyond words to have a home in this house that means so much to me.

Waking Up In Hawaii

Waking up in Hawaii

Waking Up in Hawaii

Yes, Hawaii woke me up.

I left my happy New York life to move to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away from anyone I knew and everything I loved, and I was fine. Better than fine.

It’s not only about place, I learned… it’s the tapestry we weave wherever we land. I discovered, in Hawaii, that the weaving can be rich and complex with new colors, maybe even more vibrant than colors I had experienced before, if I said yes to the work of creating. If I said yes to putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, not focusing on what was left behind.

Not long after moving here I discovered that I had lung cancer. Instead of dying I woke up. That is, in part, because this place, the place nicknamed the “healing island,” held me in its black lava arms and rocked me back to health. That embrace was a deep healing. But there was more. Joseph Canpbell’s words, “Follow your bliss” became a reality… this was something I said to my daughter so many times in her life that she recently told me she wants it tattooed on her arm in my handwriting. I agreed and said that I would do the same, in her handwriting.

Since then, life after cancer has been all about waking up. Waking up to what I eat and a commitment to macrobiotics. Eating food I could grow, if I grew food. Luckily there are local organic farmers who do just that. I don’t eat meat or dairy. No processed sugar. No hard alcohol. And I feel good. I feel fit and I’m leaner than I was when I moved here. I sleep less because my body’s not digesting food all night. I’m literally awake.

Finding artistic collaborators whose work thrills me and creating with them — that came out of waking up in Hawaii. And that work had to be NOW; there would be no concession to later. Looking cancer in the eye is the loudest wakeup call and the reason that now happens before it used to.

Hawaii woke me up and the words took on much greater importance. And then people, mostly women, started walking into rooms and writing words based on prompts I create. And the words are hard and deep and funny and poignant and urgent and, for me, they’re everything. And then we all wake up, all of us, because we’re writing our truth and listening to others’ truths in this process I think of as mining for stories. Someone recently called it an excavation, this digging for our stories. I agree. But I associate mining with gold, and to me the stories are worth everything. So I’ll say mining.

There are stages to sing on and I do, with gratitude beyond words for a voice that can produce sound that people seem to want to listen to, and there are others to move around on a stage, which brings such pleasure to me and hopefully to the people who come to watch the shows I direct. And there was a theatre to rescue and I was part of that. A point of pride.

There were also two children to raise and that work is done. Off they go, this week, to college and grad school… one 2,500 miles away from Hawaii and the other 7,500 miles away. And now there will be Hawaii without them and waking up, even in the morning, will mean something else.

We wake up constantly until the day we no longer wake up. But it takes work and a conscious decision to live an awake life. I owe a lot to this island — the scene of this awakening.

And this site is where I’ll share what I do.

Waking Up in Hawaii

Waking up in Hawaii


Waking Up in Hawaii

Waking up in Hawaii  is the story of how Hawaii woke me up. That was going to be my first post on my new blog. The bigger story of that wake up call. But I woke up today wanting to tell this story about writing. So this is blog post number one.

Walking into the room

It’s early in Hawaii, a cold, rainy morning… a particularly introspective morning (for me, anyway), so it hit me hard when one of the first things I saw on facebook this morning was a photo posted by a dear childhood friend who recently lost her mother. It was a picture of the simple wooden rocking chair her mother sat in, tucked into a corner, accompanied by the words, “feeling emotional.” That’s all. I know how deep my friend’s despair is; I see it in these posts of hers. And my heart goes out to her.

And this is what occurred to me when I saw that post, and it’s about writing. If my friend could find her way into a room with others and write the story of her mother in that chair, stories pulled from the years of what was said, not said, imagined, experienced, shouted, mourned, held, celebrated, from that chair, not only would she have a way to connect to the stories that are sitting there, untold, but she would have a written piece about her mother. And that’s something she can hold in her hand and share with others who knew and loved her mother, or maybe didn’t know her mother, but we all understand the story of a daughter’s love. And while this doesn’t take away the sadness, it gives it a voice.

One of the things we leave behind are our words. Finding them and looking at them, even the hardest ones, maybe especially the hardest ones, heals us, and gifts others with our truth, with a thread of connection we don’t necessarily feel when we hold on to our stories and leave them unspoken. We humans must deal with loss in all its forms — with aging, with what haunts us, and if we’re lucky we also have joy to share. Bliss, even. This may sound like an ad for my writers’ workshop and yes I want to fill my workshops, but they do fill. This is more than that. This is the reason to enter one of these rooms and it doesn’t have to be mine. People who are curious about these workshops often ask what we’re doing all day. This is it. We’re bringing our truth to life; we’re connecting to a universal experience of what it means to walk on this planet and we’re holding a light on it. We’re pulling off the covers. I think of it as mining for stories, and maybe that’s as good or better than gold because we can wear all the gold there is and still walk around in despair, or we can write our truth and share it in a room.

I’m telling you, and I see this now, after all these years — writing our truth and having it listened to and held by others is healing. It breaks the chains. Because we all feel shame, we have all had our hearts broken, and we will all lose our people we love. But there is also happiness and laughter, often deep gales of laughter. And if a piece we write in the room finds its way out into the world, well that’s another gift. Because at the end of the day, the words remain.

Blow the lid off everything you’re sitting on and and write your truth in a room with other people who are doing the same thing. It will change you, I promise.

You don’t have to be a professional writer. Just pick up a pen and start digging.