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 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.